There's a whole new class of toys which are slowly gaining appeal, and which promise to secure an even bigger share of the overall toy market in the very near future. The reason for the toys' burgeoning appeal to the public is the fact that they're educational toys, and while they thus serve a dual purpose, they deserve their own class because they're helping to make kids smarter at a younger age.
Retailers take notice
Considered to be the most important trend in toys over the past several decades, they are referred to as STEM toys, meaning they educate along the lines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. At least theoretically, these are the kinds of skills which will be most needed in the future in a world crazed for technology, and these toys are intended to give youngsters a head start along that path.
Already some of the biggest department stores in the country such as Target, Walmart, and Best Buy, are creating entire sections within their stores to offer STEM toys. Mega-retailer Amazon is also offering memberships in a monthly club wherein members receive a new STEM toy each month, which will presumably fascinate as playthings and teach children valuable skills as well.
Another major toy retailer, Toys R Us, has recognized the value of this kind of product line, and has partnered with educators and manufacturers to establish its own proprietary lines of STEM toys, one of which is called Edu Science and the other being known as Imaginarium. The store has even gone to the trouble of identifying its offerings as STEM toys, so that parents can locate them quickly, and make selections accordingly.
At present, sales of STEM toys account for less than 3% of the overall market, but industry analysts predict that figure will rise very quickly over the next few years. Most likely, domination of the overall market is not in the cards for STEM toys, but as more and more parents become aware of them, and choose them to give children a headstart on life, their popularity will soar.
In order to be considered a STEM toy, a specific product must change in some way as the child uses it, and must provide some bit of knowledge or lesson in the area of science, technology, engineering, or math, even if only a lightweight principle is involved. At their core, these kinds of toys teach basic skills like building, planning, matching, and sequencing, and these principles can be embedded into practically all toddler toys, e.g. gears toys.
For the moment, there is no clear-cut definition of exactly what constitutes a STEM toy, but it is expected that industry analysts will convene at some point to clarify this. It will be beneficial for all concerned, including retailers, educators, and parents to have toys clearly identified as STEM toys, so that more informed choices can be made by interested consumers.