1. TV-based games -- for babies! Several companies have designed toys so that babies as young as 9 months can interact with television-based games. Leapfrog introduced the Little Leaps Learning System (9 months and up, $40; out at the end of summer) which uses fun, real footage of babies and kids as well as puppets and animation. The V.Smile Baby system, from VTech (9-36 months, $40; out at the end of summer 2006) uses more traditional animation and teaches concepts such as baby sign language. Both work with simple buttons a baby can push, and both get more advanced to hold a kid's interest through childhood. And of course there are plenty of TV-based games for preschoolers. For instance, ION, from Hasbro, literally puts kids on the TV. It works with a camera so kids can see themselves on the screen, playing a game alongside favorite characters such as Dora and SpongeBob (ages 3-7, $100; out in fall 2006).
2. A place for everything. Here's a mom-driven trend: Having toy sets that come with their own storage. Playmobil has My Take Along Dollhouse, My Take Along Farm, and new this fall, a Knights Treasure Chest (all $25-$35), which have all the play pieces necessary in one carrying case. Play-Doh's Creativity Center (age 3 and up, $30; out in fall) comes with 45 pieces in a big box, including dough and accessories -- the lid flips over to become a tray that kids can make their designs on.
3. Pretend tech. Kids like to imitate adults, so role-playing toys have to get with the times. RC2 has a Bob the Builder Talk and Play Camera Phone, which displays different images from the show (age 2 and up, $10; out in fall). Chicco has the Bilingual Taking Videophone toy that gives messages in English and Spanish (18m+ $40; out in fall). Playskool's My Play Dance Along MP3 player is preloaded with about 100 songs for a child to choose from (age 3 and up, $15; out in fall). But if kids balk because they want the real thing, Fisher-Price is introducing the Digital Song and Story Player -- a real download-ready MP3 player -- and the Kid Tough Digital Camera (each for age 3 and up, each $70; out this summer). They're both built to withstand rough treatment, and kids will be able to download age-appropriate songs from a Fisher-Price Web site.
4. Art for the littlest kids. Art supplies are moving into the baby realm. Crayola's new Crayola Beginnings line will target kids 18 months and up, with crayons appropriate for a First Grasp, Second Grip, and finally Third Grip. ALEX's new Little Hands line, for ages 2 and up, includes products such as the Funky Artist set of big, unusual brushes and My Tissue Art, which lets toddlers create with wadded-up tissue paper (each $10; out in summer).
5. Plush is either super realistic or total fantasy. On one side, the talk of Toy Show 2006 was Hasbro's My FurReal Pony (ages 4 and up, $300; out this fall), a life-size "pet" that responds to petting, pretend-feedings, and more. On the other are brands like Ugly Doll (birth and up, $20; uglydolls.com) which feature crazy plush fantasy monsters for babies. You could pick up a cat that looks like the real thing from Gund, or one that's red with a cartoon-giant head from Latitude, depending on your preference.
All prices and product information were accurate at time of publication (February 2006). Please check with individual manufacturer for latest details.
Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, February 2006.