California-based educational toys company Popular Playthings exhibits its products at the 2019 North American International Toy Fair in New York on Feb 17. [Photo by Zhang Ruinan/China Daily]
Parents are increasingly looking for products that encourage children to experiment and gain new learning experiences
Chinese companies, which provide most of the toys sold in the United States, are responding to industry demand to produce technologically advanced educational toys favored by parents.
"If we could make them (toys) in the US, we would," said Mark Pasin, director of international sales at Learning Resources & Educational Insights Inc. "But it (producing toys in China) is the best value and quality we can find－that's why people go to China."
Pasin's company, which he says relies heavily on China, is following this trend. Its Botley "The Coding Robot" won the Innovative Toy of the Year Award at the "Oscars of the toy industry", presented by the US Toy Association.
Rebecca Mond, vice-president of federal government affairs at the Toy Association, told China Daily that the infrastructure and capacity of the Chinese toy manufacturing industry make it crucial to US toy companies, even irreplaceable for some.
Data from the US Toy Association show that some 3 billion items－about 85 percent of the toys sold in the US－come from China.
Chinese companies were heavily represented at the 2019 North American International Toy Fair in New York, the largest annual toy show in the Western Hemisphere, which concluded on Feb 19 after four days. It attracted more than 1,000 exhibitors from 30 countries and regions along with some 7,000 registered buyers representing almost 3,000 retail outlets.
US companies are also following the trend and introducing toys that innovatively educate children and cultivate creativity.
Artie 3000, recognized as a leader in the category, is a robot that allows children to control its drawing path with drag-and-drop codes on a tablet.
"This is a great way to teach kids not only code, but also creativity－we want to encourage kids to learn to code" through art, said Lee Parkhurst, digital brand manager at Educational Insights, the developer of Artie 3000.
Artie is among STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) toys that are increasingly welcomed by today's parents.
The $21.6 billion US toy industry declined by 2 percent last year for the first time after four straight years of growth, with the closure of leading US toy retailer Toys 'R' Us being a factor.
The overall decline has not halted trends in several categories, including STEM and STEAM toys.
Parents are buying more STEM toys for their children to experiment with and gain learning experiences, allowing them to play with microscopes and learn about DNA, energy, motion, crystals, earth science, circuits, conductors, interactive pets, robotics and other complex topics, said Technavio, a market research firm, in its report Global Educational Toys Market 2017-2021.
Technavio's analysts also predicted that the STEM toys market will achieve a compound annual growth rate of nearly 5 percent by 2023.
A 2018 report by the Toy Association said that toys play a crucial role in teaching STEAM concepts to children by helping develop these necessary skills and competencies through play.
"At this age, play is the way kids learn－this is the way they enjoy (learning)," said Dinesh Advani, co-founder of Play Shifu, a company that specializes in educational toys and learning toys for kids.
"We are using technology to create learning experiences, gaming and fun experiences," he added.
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