Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Modern Parents Want from the Toy Industry- ChiTAG Crushes It

Bubble Soccer.  OMG. OMG. Can anyone say, corporate retreat? Beat down on Boss Lady or Boss Man? How about a family retreat? Beat down on Dad but not Mom, okay? 

How do you know which toys will work for your child?  Ask him to make a list? Based on what? Commercials? Black Friday Flyers? Ads.... hmmmm...

When is the last time you saw an ad for your favorite extra virgin olive oil? How about your chef's knife? Your favorite hot sauce? Things that you just don't compromise on, ever - like your kids' learning tools. Sure you can buy silly stuff too but if you are reading this blog, it's because you know that toys are investments too.

You may already have some great toys in mind but let's face it, sometimes, those really great toys can be a little intimidating. The day of unwrapping is a moment of joy, not just for them but for us too but you want that moment of excitement to go on after the holiday season so what can you do??? Here is a solution from Chicago that should be replicated everywhere.

Like a busy cafeteria, you had to wait for a seat sometimes. KLASK is an amazing game from Denmark. What is it with Denmark and toys? LEGO, Plus-Plus, and now KLASK!  

Keep reading to discover our Top Toolbox Essentials Pick for ChiTAG (Chicago Toy and Game Fair)!!!  All the way on the bottom.  Saving best for last....

By: Rachel Ford* and Jenn Choi

PLAY BEFORE YOU PAY - The Smart Family's Way to Toy Shopping Success

Trying stuff out is often the best part of shopping but with online retailers and their algorithms shaping much of our shopping habits today, we need sharp, progressive, and most of all, sincere industry leaders to think outside the box and help families come out winning each holiday season.

Meet Mary Couzin (pronounced like 'cousin'). She is so well-known in the toy industry that its hard to meet someone who works with toys and games who hasn't heard of her or the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. I first heard of her about a month after I began this blog.

This booth drove me to tears. First, it was a group that was raising funds for two badly-burned brothers who had lost their mom in a fire. Mary Couzin has non-profits like this and more at ChiTAG year after year giving them booth space free of charge. For real? Mary Couzin says yes! "Because they're helping children. Really, isn't it about the children? In the end, it's about our future, right?" Share this photo if you agree.   photo: Rachel Ford

Mary Couzin wants your children to try the toys before you buy them but more importantly, she just wants your children to have fun with toys and games. And guess what? Admission for kids is only $5 dollars. For nominal fees, a family can attend this indoor fair, (comfortable temps, I may add) and go try out toys and play games with their friends and families. They will be able to see stuff they never heard of before or are being released that month or that day!

Here are some highlight photos and videos with comments.  

I've been a fan of Marbles the Brain Store but now, I am a devotee, check out this booth.  They sell so many games and even make their own but their booths were all about their two new games KLASK and Otrio.

The look on this young lady's face is killing me. Games are serious for her! This is a large size version of Otrio by Marbles the Brain Store.

More giant versions of games like Giant Word Winder. Have you ever played it? I love this game.  

Razor Crazy Cart- I am crazy for not having tested this yet. What is my problem? 

Berg Toys - How can you pass up the option to try this out?  Note to self: wear pants. 


Here are tweets from Strategy Consultant, Ms. Rachel Ford, whose family tests a majority of the girls' products for Toys Are Tools as well as tech products.

Rachel was in awe of MEL Science, a brand completely new to us. We were completely blown away by the quality of their products and the simplicity of instructions.

Have you seen Chrono Bomb? It's a game from France but Patch Products, a veteran toy company here in the U.S. is bringing it to us!  Here is a rather easy scenario for a child to try --- taken at ChiTAG this past weekend. How fun would this be for your child?

Let it be noted that this is GREAT packaging but still, it's so much fun to try before you buy. This is going to be a hit this holiday season.   

Watching little girls play Kooba is awesome. 

The force is with her. Levitator Wand from Uncle Milton. I am testing this one soon! 

This was a new and happy find. Q-time Buddy. Emotional intel games and books. 

Laser Pegs fit very well with LEGO bricks but I like how they are wonderful light sculptures in itself.  Can you imagine controlling them as you do HUE bulbs? That would be soooooooooooooo coooooooool! 

These little guys are the cutest things ever!  I love their games. Their little house is super cute.  Sago Sago
I loved this scene. Sago Sago's lounge for game play. I wanted to take one of those animals home. 

Schmovie, a popular game all about making super fun movie titles (it's really about being creative with your words) was there to play all weekend long! Now they have a younger kids version 8+
You can see why it's so good to be introduced to a game rather than reading directions and lucky families from Chicago were introduced to it by the makers themselves! This happens a lot at ChiTAG.

First time driving a zero gravity car.  Loved it!  Spin Master's Star Wars Air Hogs.

Have you played Ticket to Ride? Rachel and I have always been curious but at ChiTAG, it was the first time we had ever seen the board. It is absolutely beautiful. If we ever get a review unit, we will likely wrestle over whose family gets to keep this one. My goodness! Whoa!

Some people are K'nex people and some are LEGO and some are Hot Wheels. Now they can be joined together -  seamlessly. Four years ago, I thought this would be impossible. Versabricks. Get to know them. 

But there is more: There is also the TAGiE Awards which salutes leaders in the Toy and Game industry.  

Laurie Peterson won Rising Star Innovator of the Year receives a TAGiE Awards for Build and Imagine, the magnetic building and storytelling toy that has captured our 6 year old tester's heart and imagination.  She dedicated her award to the entrepreneurs in the toy industry who are thinking beyond pink and blue and driving much needed change
There is also the Young Inventor's Challenge which was very cool.  Here are a couple of favorites: 

OKAY- Here is the Top Toy Pick for Jenn and Rachel at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair 2015!


Meet Edwin the Duck but he's no ordinary duck

He's soft to the touch.
He has a loving face.
He can go everywhere with you.
Bathroom, Bedroom, Dining Room, Living Room, Outside.
He is going to be your helper and he is going to be your child's BFF. Watch this video.

There is a word my testers and I use often:  transition

I think the existence of this word is a recognition that change can be good but change can also be hard. Edwin is designed to help you and your child through these changes. He's rather versatile -kind of like your iPhone or your kid's tablet.  With helpful apps, bluetooth tech, fun games, songs, stories, and a toy duck that senses motion, touch, temperature (oh yes, wait for that app!) and by the way, he's waterproof, dishwasher safe and you will find it very hard to bust him up without using power tools. 

Here is what kind of help you can expect from Edwin now:

  • Going to bed
  • Being a nightlight and noise machine with timer
  • Getting ready for dinner
  • Taking a bath
  • Quick play when you're bored.
  • Learning something important
  • Being your support when you're feeling insecure - like a blankie
  • Materials/Curricula developed by professional educators and therapists, even ABA. Whoa! Knock our socks off! Applied Behavioral Analysis is awesome.
No, I haven't played with Edwin for 50 hours to figure this out (very few journalists can say this as Edwin is super new) but I have already known Edwin for almost a year now (very few journalists can say this too). Rachel and I are big fans. Hal Eagar, Toys Are Tools tech advisor is very much impressed by Edwin too. Gosh, I was even impressed by their booth and the way the staff engaged the children and parents.

If you find that your child needs help in any of those issues above Edwin could very well make your year. Additionally, if you find that your child is great with those transitions above, Edwin will likely just help to reinforce such wonderful habits and open your child to embracing all the other wonderful lessons Edwin has to offer.

Here's to Chicago. Mary Couzin, Ambassador Scott Goldberg, and all the amazing toymakers I've met at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair and especially Pi Lab's Edwin the Duck, who is really a Top Toolbox Essential!

Best wishes to you and your family this shopaholiday season. 

May the force be with you.

Like this article? Check out Why Geeks, Gamers, and Makers Make the Best Customers at my blog at Forbes.com

*Rachel Ford has been with Toys Are Tools in so many capacities. First as a reader then parent toy tester.  She is especially well versed in tech toys as well as toys for girls (STEM + empowerment). Her counsel is a major factor in editorial decisions from toy submissions to which issues are covered in Toys are Tools. 

Disclosure:  Toys are Tools was not compensated by the manufacturers of anything mentioned here for the publication of this story. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair provided transportation and hotel to Jenn and Rachel to the Windy City to explore ChiTAG. As always, reviews, mentions, nothing is ever promised. Still, we feel extremely grateful to have been invited and very fortunate to have witnessed what we experienced at ChiTAG.  Now, we're only depressed that ChiTAG is ChiTAG and not NewYorkTAG and LATAG and SanFranTAG and BostonTAG... Let's change this.

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