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The Future of Toys Is STEM

Toy manufacturers have found its newest niche, and tech has a lot to do with it. We are now at that point in time where education is not just an advocacy but also a sales proposition, and going digital is a business strategy. Toy companies are banking in on this, and as a result - suddenly - we find ourselves building a generation of future software engineers, game developers, and designers.

The big shots are on the forefront of this, and you would know this is not going away anytime soon. Just recently, Amazon launched a subscription-based toy delivery service: for $20 a month, they will custom pick a toy for your child and ship it to your doorstep. They work with trusted Amazon-exclusive brand partners that build STEM-related toys (think programmable robots, coding and chemistry kits, and arithmetic toys). It’s actually a smart move by Amazon - by offering STEM toys, it perfectly positions itself as a multi-service company that promotes early childhood learning, at the same time adding another recurring revenue stream.  

The peak of learning toys is now. There is a growing list of brands out there in the market that takes this as an opportunity. Osmo for one attempts to train problem-solving and critical thinking skills in kids through its coding set, Osmo Coding, and so far over 22,000 schools have been using their products. The beloved brand Lego now has Boost Creative Toolbox (yet to be released by August 2017) and Mindstorms EV3, new lines of product that feature programmable blocks, motors, and beacons among other things. Bloxels by Mattel allows kids to design and build video games. And there’s Blinkblink, a company that offers toys that teach girls circuit theory, design thinking, and engineering. As a consumer, you don't have to invest much in them, and they are all strategically branded and affordably priced as well. As a startup, if you could get early adopters interested in them, you know you’re on the right track. Finally toy companies have found the sweet spot between fun and learning, and the marketplace is expecting more companies to emerge in this area.  

Starting kids early on coding. In a New York Times article, Alison Gopnik points out that kids learn best through play. She makes the argument that the best learning environment for children is one that promotes innovation rather than imitation - a space that gives them the freedom to create and speculate, build and test, and what better way to do that than through a fancy plaything.  

That opens up a market opportunity, and also adds a new criteria to the consumer thought process that goes into purchasing. It’s not only just a question of fun; The product has to answer yes to the question “Would this toy actually make my kid any smarter?” Not only do we have STEM (science, tech, engineering, math), but now we also have STEAM (with the addition of arts) and STREAM (robotics) - endless possibilities for businesses in terms of innovating new products. There is a growing interest in parents capitalizing on STEM learning for their children, and it would just make sense for toy companies to follow that path.  

Now imagine your toys as a kid - all gone digital. Good ol’ Play-doh has decided that yes, it’s time to go digital, and in fact collaborated with Apple to come up with Play-doh TOUCH Shape to Life Studio. It’s still the same play experience we loved as a kid, but now with the additional virtual dimension into it. Would it actually live up to the hype? Maybe - probably. But I take that as a call for the rest of toy companies to reassess their strategy and think about how they would change their approach in designing toys for kids. 

(Photo: via Goldieblox)

Klein, when advocating for more computer science education more broadly, cited the world’s 8.2 billion connected devices. He contrasted that growing number with the existence of only 50 million coders worldwide. "If we don’t close that gap, we’ll have a generation of kids who are really good at making flashy apps onscreen, building off of other people’s stuff, but we won’t have people who can reimagine the foundation of computing.”

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