Winter 2017
Informative & Fun By Zeke Jennings

This collection of companies offers innovative, educational and fun toys and games

3 questions with ASTRA’s Sue Warfield

Is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) still a major focus in the toy industry?

STEM and now STEAM (adding Art to the list) is definitely still on the forefront as more and more schools build programs based on these core educational elements. Manufacturers are touting the STEM and STEAM benefits of their toys as early as six months. At ASTRA, we have always spread the word that it is vital to find the right toy properly chosen for each individual child based his or her needs and abilities, as opposed to simply their age. If this is done, then that toy and the play involved with the toy is developing parts of the brain that build on these key areas. This is a growing trend as far as media attention, but one that has always been a core belief and product focus within our organization.

What’s trending for babies and toddlers?

There is a push back to more simplicity. Softer fabric toys, fewer bells and whistles on things. Better quality, less quantity.

Are you noticing any other trends overall?

The overall trend is to move away from overly scheduled and organized events to more individualized play and interacting one on one — parents with their children, with no digital before age 2 and limited screen time thereafter. From TIA’s “Genius of Play” campaign to ASTRA’s Certified Play Expert course, educating consumers on the benefits and necessity of play in the overall physical and social development of children is a priority. Millennials — digitally connected nearly 24/7 — are seeing and feeling the need to also be connected in person, not only with their friends, but also with their families. After seeing families going out to dinner and conversing with their phones via text at the table, there is beginning to be a backlash. Technology and digitalization is not going away, but it cannot replace human interaction.

— Sue Warfield is the director of member relations for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association.

No kid wants to unwrap a present and find socks. They want fun. Parents want educational and safe.

They can both be satisfied with products from these four companies creating innovative and fun toys, games and puzzles.

Trolliver Troll

Trolliver Troll, a new plush line from Fiesta Toy, was an unusual endeavor for designer Molly Rodman, but one she found extremely fulfilling.

Fiesta Toy designer Molly Rodman created Trolliver Troll and friends with hopes of introducing a new generation to traditional folklore.
Fiesta Toy designer Molly Rodman created Trolliver Troll and friends with hopes of introducing a new generation to traditional folklore.

“I’ve always been a big collector of vintage mythology and fairy tale books with giants and trolls,” Rodman said. “We mostly work on animals and don’t do a lot of dolls, so I’m very passionate about this line; it’s been very rewarding.”

Rodman created an entire backstory on Trolliver and accompanying characters, including sister Faebelle, little brother Trolley Poly, parents (Mr. Trolof and Mabel) and Billy goats. She feels the family aspect makes Trolliver relatable to children. “Trolls are a little more earthy- and family-based versus mermaids and fairies,” she said.

Trolls and that style of folklore are coming back in trend, Rodman feels, and she’s excited by the idea of helping to bring the genre to a younger generation.

“It’s great to tell kids about history and fairy tales and how we can bring that folklore back to the mainstream,” she said. “I tried to make something that feels alive and that’s comforting. I went back to my childhood and thought about what made me feel secure.”

XPlorer maps and puzzles

No one can say artist Chris Robitaille learned about the places he draws from a textbook. A Toronto native, Robitaille has not only traveled the world, he’s called places like Kenya, China and now Abu Dhabi home. Robitaille’s map illustrations are the basis for XPlorer Maps, the company he and brother Greg co-founded.

XPlorer Maps are educational in that they are not just about geography, but also culture, terrain and animal species native to that part of the world through inserts and pop-out drawings. “XPlorer Maps is all about connecting people and place,” Greg Robitaille said.

XPlorer Maps are hand-drawn to provide education on geography, terrain and wildlife of a given region.
XPlorer Maps are hand-drawn to provide education on geography, terrain and wildlife of a given region.

Maps selections include regional areas, such as national parks, ranches and cities, or larger areas like states, countries and continents. A full world map was recently added as well, which has been popular with teachers who want to hang them in their classrooms. “Standard sizes are 18-by-24 (inches). The world map is 24-by-32. We can do custom sizes, and we’ve had a lot of teachers ask for custom sizes,” Robitaille said.

Their products include much more than maps, however. The illustrations are available on giftwrap, notecards, coasters and wooden postcards. They recently added jigsaw puzzles.

“Our intent is to add kid-friendly versions with floor puzzles, larger-piece puzzles and foam puzzles,” Robitaille said.

Nature-based board games

Tim Paczesny, an avid outdoorsman himself, had a two-part goal when he created a line of board games for his company Education Outdoors. Paczesny wanted to teach people about the outdoors, obviously, but in a way everyone in the family could enjoy at the same time.

Education Outdoors' Camp Boardgame was designed to that players of all ages would challenged and engaged.
Education Outdoors’ Camp Boardgame was designed so that players of all ages would challenged and engaged.

“It’s all about bringing the family back together, being engaged and playing together for 15 or 20 minutes,” Paczesny said. “Each one of us during the day have gotten away from eating dinner together and things like that. As a corporation, we try to develop products that bring families together and learn about the outdoors.”

The board games feature four levels of questions — one for very small children (ages 4-6), one for slightly older children, another for adolescents and teens and an adult level. The varying skill levels allow for people of multiple age groups to not just participate at the same time, but also be challenged and learn new things. “The concept is the adult is engaged and so is the child,” Paczesny said.

Selections include Camp, Fishing Camp, Biking and the Appalachian Trail Game.

Plant-based plastic toys

Bioserie Toys’ motto is “A New Kind of Green.” Indeed. The baby and toddler toys, available through Kids Preferred, are made from plant-based plastic.

Bioserie Toys are made from plant-based plastic.
Bioserie Toys are made from plant-based plastic.

The company uses a special blend of modified PLA (Polylactic Acid) that contains no petrochemical additives. They are non-brittle and heat resistant. The toys are made entirely from renewable resources and contain no oil.

Bioserie’s line of toys includes familiar standards for babies and toddlers, such as teethers, rattles, stackers and sorters.

Bioserie has been recognized by numerous environmental and innovation awards programs, including Think Beyond Plastics, Europa Bio, Ohio State University and the Nova Institute.

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, Michigan 49345
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