The American International Toy Fair gets underway this week in New York, and the ParentsPlay team will be there. As in previous years, we'll be meeting with manufacturers (small, medium, and large) and checking out the latest, greatest, unique, innovative, weird, entertaining, puzzling, creative, and just plain fun toys and games that parents and children can play together. Naturally, we'll be telling you about the very best. One never knows from year to year what the hottest trends will be, but when it comes to making predictions, we've got an excellent record. Here are some of the categories we'll be watching this year.
• Digital tech. Doesn't it seem that there's an app for just about everything these days? Over the past few months, we reviewed a number of tablets and other tech devices aimed at kids. We expect to see many, many more this year.
• Tech crossover. From Furby and Build a Bear to Skylanders and talking books, there are getting to be more and more toys that include a video game/Web component with physical toys.
• Social responsibility. Anti-bullying campaigns are everywhere. And they'll be showing up in stores near you soon, where you'll be able to buy toys and games that emphasize and encourage compassion, empathy, and ethical behavior.
• Licensed figures. Just about every popular TV show, movie, and performer is getting involved in licensing. So in addition to classics such as "Star Wars," "Toy Story," "Iron Man," and other superheroes, expect to see characters from "The Hunger Games," "Doc McStuffins," Miley Cyrus, "Mr. Peabody," and even "Breaking Bad." They'll be available as action figures, plush toys, and even Lego figures.
• Building systems. Although Lego still dominates the building space, there are dozens of other systems out there that encourage creativity, teamwork, and engineering.
• Fitness. 2013 saw a huge boom in family fitness apps and gadgets, including fitness trackers that go far beyond old-fashioned pedometers. Expect to see games, apps, and hardware that encourage families to get their daily 60 minutes of exercise.
• Remote control. Joysticks may still be the primary way of maneuvering RC devices, but they're no longer the only way. One of our favorite RC toys from 2013 was the Puzzlebox Orbit, which uses brain waves to move a helicopter up and down. We can hardly wait to see how far the technology has advanced in the past year (and what else RC will control besides robots and helicopters).
• Retro. If you're experiencing a sense of déjà vu when you walk through your local toy retailer, you're absolutely right. Many of the toys and games we played with as kids are making a comeback. Some are exactly as we remember them (but safer). Others are pretty close.
• Back to the basics. As much emphasis as there is on technology, there's also been a resurgence in wooden toys and other items that don't squeak, blink, whistle, move by themselves, or talk back.
• Environmentally friendly. Manufacturers will be flaunting their green chops. We'll see a lot more BPA, PVC, and phthalate-free toys, products made from recycled or all-natural materials or painted in non-toxic dyes, and games that encourage players to use items they have around the house.
With more than 1,000 exhibitors previewing tens of thousands of new products, we're going to be seeing more than we can possibly write about in a weekly column. However, we'll be tweeting and blogging as often as we can, so we encourage you to visit parentsatplay.com for regular updates.