Let's cut to what counts. What toys are your kids going to ask you for this fall? I'm back from the annual Toy Fair convention in New York City, and I think I know.
It isn't going to make you happy, but the Shopkins craze means more tiny figures by the hundreds. The appeal of mini toys is that packs are relatively affordable (under $10 for figures, under $30 for playsets). The bummer is that your child will always want more.
Some of Hasbro's Disney Princess Little Kingdom, for ages 4+, is already on shelves, featuring the favorite ladies and about a million accessories.
Moose Toys, creator of Shopkins, designed a series of minis aimed at boys ages 4+ called the Grossery Gang, due out this summer; the figures are sold in packaging that resembles convenience-store snacks, such as a potato-chip bag, candy bar, and soda can. (A container that looks like a giant Big Gulp can hold a boy's collection!)
This fall, Mega Bloks will come out with a line of American Girl Collectibles aimed at the 8+ crowd (and smaller than the Minis sold in the American Girl stores); it starts with eight $4 figures and goes up to a $70 house. And old favorites such as Hasbro's My Littlest Pet Shop and Mattel's Thomas and Friends Minis are getting more and more sets for 2016 as well.
Many 2016 toys are capable of sophisticated interaction. Love2Learn Elmo, out this fall (pictured at right), can be programmed with your child's name, favorite color, and preferred foods. My favorite feature of the toy (for 18 months+) is that it connects to an app that includes "parent helpers." Mom or Dad can hit a button and have Elmo ask something like, "Jacob, do you need to use the potty?" You know, because a kid might be more inclined to answer Elmo!
There's also a new robot-dog from WowWee, called CHIP, that learns its name and, thanks to voice-recognition, responds to someone saying it. Your child (age 8+) wears a wristband that connects to CHIP via bluetooth, and that signals the dog to follow your kid around and go crazy-happy when he or she comes home after being out. Because your child can "like" CHIP's behavior, the robot dog can be trained to either be more mellow or more energetic, more affectionate or more focused on tricks. But warning: At $200, this was one of the priciest toys at the show.
Kids can also get to know and nurture a Spin Master Hatchimals, a virtually top-secret toy (no photos! no videos!) that I predict will be a craze. Part of the appeal is—along the lines of a blind-bag—buying a toy without knowing what it looks like; your kid (age 5+) has to pet, love, and knock on an egg for about a half-hour straight before the toy (a robotic bird about the size of a Furby) pecks itself out and you see it for the first time. (An Instagrammable moment if ever there was one!) The nurturing play goes on (and on and on) from there; I predict they'll be hugely popular this fall, even at $60 each.
Toys that incorporate basic coding are finally getting fun. And they start so young! Kid-O has a Myland line for toddlers 2+ that includes figures that control lights, and figures that control sounds, and putting them in the right spots to make, for instance, the Myland Car light up and rev is a basic lesson in input-output. The Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar, for ages 3+, comes out this fall; preschoolers connect the caterpillar segments to make it move forward (sequencing) and add-on packs will let them program trickier moves. But the cutest coding toy in development is the WowWee COJI (pictured at right),which combines emojis and coding so that kids 4+ can program the robot to both move and do things such as enjoy a hamburger emoji.
Other broad trends from Toy Fair included superhero role-play for girls, a funny number of toy food trucks, a lot of construction play (I hope kids like to build robots, especially), and a welcome move toward gender nuetrality in dollhouses and dolls. I even saw a doll from Corolle, the Mon Premier Bebe Bisou, that says both "mama" and "papa." Strange that something so simple stands out! Overall, I think we can take heart that there is a lot of good coming, even if we have to resign ourselves to starting our holiday savings account now.
Jessica Hartshorn is Entertainment Editor for Parents magazine, and thanks to her two kids and her job, there are toys in every room of her house.