Meditation toys to help kids manage their feelings. A Lego kit for coding, with a focus on problem-solving skills. And an Amazon video chat portal that uses holograms, games and puzzles to keep little ones engaged on calls.
A recent crop of toys and products that launched during the pandemic aim to help young children reacclimatize to everyday life and redevelop their social and emotional skills after spending much of the past 21 months stuck at home. Put simply, these products may be designed to cater to “parents who are worried about whether their children will be OK,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development.
A mix of technology and traditional toy companies have launched products with tech bells and whistles that foster social-emotional skills, a term which refers to how kids interact with others and manage their feelings. These skills typically begin to develop early and are often considered the biggest predictor of a child’s success later in school and beyond, according to Klein.
In September, for example, Amazon introduced the Amazon Glow, a device that promises to bring video calls with family and friends to life for kids. Glow projects a 19-inch interactive space onto the surface in front of the screen where kids can play games, draw, and interact with storybooks and characters from franchises like “Frozen” and “Sesame Street.”
Friends or family members using the free Glow app on iOS and Android or Amazon’s FireOS can engage with the projections in real time, allowing real-time play as if they’re in the same room. It also features an object scanning tool, so a child can turn a toy into a jigsaw puzzle. Glow costs $249 and comes with Tangram Bits puzzle pieces and a one-year subscription of Amazon Kids+, a hub with thousands of books, shows and educational apps for kids.
Interactive video chat portals aren’t entirely new. The Facebook Portal features animation, augmented reality effects and music that can be used during calls or its Story Time tool, which turns users into storybook characters as they read from a digital library of children’s books. But Amazon, which has long had a collection of Alexa-controlled video gadgets, said it became increasingly interested in how technology connects families during the pandemic and wanted to improve on the experience for young people.
“Kids are excited to be on video calls with grandparents or other family members for 30 seconds and then walk away,” a spokesperson told CNN Business ahead of the launch. “We wanted to design something that erases the feeling of physical separation and brings families closer together by letting kids be the kids and bringing the grownups into their world, as opposed to what we’ve done in the past. We think this could positively impact lifetime outcomes for kids.”
LEGO blocks have long been considered useful toys for social-emotional development, but the company recently launched a kit called LEGO Education SPIKE Essential ($275) specifically designed to better develop these skills. The kit, originally made for the classroom but available for home purchase, aims to help kids understand coding and other science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) concepts through storytelling and working together. It comes with a handful of motors and a Bluetooth-enabled hub that connects creations, such as cars or robots, to a corresponding app that brings them to life.
The kit also features four mini-figures with their own personalities and learning styles that make them approachable and relatable for young learners. When users start a lesson on the app, a character leads them through each problem and helps them find a solution. LEGO said this is designed to encourage self-awareness and the communication skills necessary for social-emotional development.