Like many parents, I am currently sheltering in place with my husband and our two little kids. On the plus side, our kids aren’t school-aged yet, so we haven’t had the, ahem, pleasure, of trying to teach young kids common core math, or make sure they’re staying current with the required reading lessons. On the not-so-plus side, the learning experiences we typically rely on to teach our kids and keep their bodies moving—because toddlers with too much energy to burn? Ooof—are closed: the park, the local play place, preschool, the library, you get the idea.
So, we’ve had to get creative. We’ve done baking projects (math!) (also: delicious!), we’ve read books, we’ve painted, we’ve colored. We even made a game out of seeing who could find the most Magnatiles and put them away (spoiler alert: this was more “fun” for me than it was for the kids). But if I’m being completely honest, when you’re trying to work, keep the kids from running amok, and living all within the same four walls, creativity can get depleted pretty quickly.
And I’m sure I’m not the only parent out there wondering what next, what can we possibly do next to keep our kids engaged and happy. For many parents, I would not be surprised if this worry is second on their minds next to the groceries we can or can’t get our hands-on. And thankfully, during this pandemic, toy manufacturers are on hand to keep producing books and toys and games and more, and innovating to keep kids engaged (and maybe even out of your hair a little bit!) The JPMA Show (which went virtual this year), as one example, just awarded an Innovation Award to the Lamaze 3-in-1 Airtivity Center, which has 360 degrees of air-powered play and is designed to grow with kids from babyhood to toddlerhood.
The school/play balance
If you’ve been following social media at all, you’ve probably seen no less than 10 of your friends with kids stressing out about having to suddenly become homeschool teachers. Thankfully, teachers are supplying lessons and projects that kids can work on, and many are having Zoom meetings so they can at least see their students’ faces on the regular. And thanks to these new homeschooling classrooms, there has been a surge in office supply sales. “As a result of children participating in virtual classrooms, traditional back-to-school supply list categories grew by 18 percent overall during this week, with triple-digit growth for crayons, children’s watercolors, and colored pencil sets,” notes a post on Gifts and Decorative Accessories.
Between homeschooling and trying to keep kids from zoning out on screens for the rest of the day, that’s a lot of hours of activity to fill for kids. But, families are prepared, and along with school supplies, stocked up on entertainment options for a lengthy time at home. So much so, that total toy sales in the U.S. grew 26 percent for the week ending March 21. Here are some of the top categories of growth:
- Games/puzzles: +228%
- Building sets: +76%
- Arts and crafts: +70%
- Chalk: +56%
And across a lot of the country we’re (FINALLY!) seeing warmer weather, which means just as we’re all—parents and kids alike—about to start revolting from being stuck inside, we can move playtime outside. The sad part, however, is that parks are closed. The good news, though, is that home playgrounds are not.
Don’t have a home playground? Don’t worry, there are options like swing sets, bounce houses, trampolines, and more. And according to research from The NPD Group, parents are grabbing up these toys like crazy. Outdoor toy sales rose 20% for the week ending March 21. With kids out of school and daycare, said Dana Macke, director of US Reports for Mintel, sheltering at home during this pandemic is an opportunity for toy manufacturers to “serve parents looking to occupy their housebound children.”
To help parents make it through the days and weeks of sheltering in place, retailers are taking this time as a chance to increase engagement with consumers. A bookstore outside of Indianapolis, for example, is making home deliveries of books and toys from its shop that are ordered online. The store owner noted that many of the orders received are for workbooks and supplementary educational items, along with puzzles and games and fiction books. As store owner Cynthia Compton noted in this Publisher’s Weekly article, “With Amazon warehouses right here in town, we are very conscious of our competition. So we need to be both more personal and prompt in our service.”
In Baltimore, a toy store and bookstore collaborated to deliver purchases to customers and added curbside pick-up as well, relying heavily on their e-commerce sites to help keep them going during these changing times.
Though we don’t know when life will return to “normal,” or rather, a “new normal,” parents need not fret: there are toys and games to help, and unlike milk and toilet paper, they don’t seem to be running out any time soon.