Springtime is Play Time!

Spring is sprung!

I don’t know about you, but this has seemed like a l-o-o-o-o-o-ong winter! From where I sit, I love to look out the window at the park below me, and one of the first things I always notice is how the light begins to change as the season changes. This year, it made me especially happy. Here in the Northeast, we didn’t have that much snow, but it was frigid, so much of the time that it felt a little bit like lockdown.

Amber Gray is Persephone in “Hadestown.” Photo: Matthew Murphy

But, the world has kept turning, the light is changing, and if I squint I can see the faintest hint of new life coming from the trees. The ancient Greeks believed that this time of year was when Persephone returned from the Underworld bringing spring, and life, back to the world. Every culture has its myths and celebrations about the coming of spring, and they are mostly celebratory. (We’ll set aside Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for the moment.) So, whether it’s the arrival of Easter, the start of baseball season, or your own personal rituals, the sense of newness and possibility is palpable in almost everything. (Now go listen to “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. BTW, I got this album in my Easter basket when I was a kid)

Let’s Talk Spring, and Celebrations

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la!

The sense of newness and excitement certainly extends to toys, and there are lots of new playthings on the market. Thanks to COVID-19, we saw a big boost in toy sales for Easter in 2021, and all indications are that will continue this year. Parents have been spending, and we see as much the gift beside the basket as much as the gifts in the basket. It’s doubtful that Easter will ever rival Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa as a gift-giving holiday, but as the winter holidays fade into memory, and kids are looking for new play experiences, the arrival of the Easter Bunny brings its own kind of excitement. And let’s face it, what kid doesn’t like the thrill of a new toy.

Easter celebrates rebirth

Of course for people who celebrate Easter, like Christmas, there is a mixture of the sacred and the secular. The secular celebrations and icons have their roots in paganism with eggs, flowers, and other symbols of new life. For many years, particularly since the mid-19th Century, Easter was a time for new clothes and fashions. And, yes, the notion to emerge from the darkness of winter and show off new finery continues to this day.

The famous Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York began informally in the 1870s as parishioners from St. Thomas Episcopal Church went for a stroll after services. In that era of the Gilded Age, it was a time when people could show off their fashions. Over the years more and more people took part, and in 1947 the parade became a formal event. One year later, the 1948 movie Easter Parade starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland established the holiday walk as a staple and distinctly New York event. Hopefully this year the parade will return.

The Easter basket has an even longer tradition, some dating back to the 7th Century. It’s generally agreed that the word “Easter” comes from the name “Eostre,” a pagan god of spring and, yes, fertility. The Easter Basket as we know it today comes from Germany in the 17th Century where the legend is that baskets of eggs were delivered by the Oesterhase (or, literally, “Eostre’s rabbit”). Early Easter baskets contained eggs and treats for children, as well as sprigs and sticks, symbolizing new growth. That tradition has evolved into the colorful Easter grass that is part of most contemporary Easter baskets.

The history of toys at Easter began in the late 19th Century. That famous store FAO Schwarz took the lead. In 1897, now under the direction of founder Frederik’s son Henry, the store began selling papier maché eggs for Easter as a means of boosting the store’s business, which fell off after Christmas. Easter toys during the early part of the 20th Century were often stuffed animals, pull toys, and novelties mostly with themes of ducks, bunnies, flowers, and other spring-like icons. It was really in the 1980s and beyond that toymakers decided to promote Easter toys heavily. Nintendo moved some its launch dates to spring, and major toy companies began to introduce toys in the Easter season to capitalize on what they believed was a less crowded market time and to begin to get an early sense of what toys might be successful for the holiday season at the end of the year.

What’s New in Toys?

I know you’re thinking, “Well, Chris, this is all very interesting, but what are my kids going to want this year?” Good question. Unlike other holidays, kids don’t tend to write letters to the Easter Bunny…yet. Many families have traditions around gift-giving at Easter. For instance in our family, whatever else was in the basket, we always got a book, and that’s continued to the next generation.

This is also a great time for learning toys, where the learning is part of the play, and things that kids can do together are always fun, particularly as we’re starting to be able to be more fully back with family and friends.

Here are some of the toys we’re looking at that might make great additions to your Easter baskets.

Perfect for Baby’s First Easter

VTech Turn & Learn Ferris Wheel from VTech
For 6 months and up
$15.99
Where to Buy
We always get asked, “What’s good for a baby’s first Easter?” This is a great option. It’s bright colorful, engaging, and small enough to travel. The spinning Ferris Wheel is really fun and lets babies go from random actions to purposeful play as they explore animals, numbers and objects, all to the tune of three original songs. Plus as the wheel goes round and round, the stars flash, delivering a lot of opportunities for exploration and engagement. The suction cup on the bottom sticks to a high chair tray, keeping the toy in place all during snack time or meal time. Really, it’s tough to look at this and not smile…even if you’re a big ol’ grown up.

Make your egg hunt…monstrous.

 

House Monsters from LUKI Lab
Ages 3 and up
$18.99
Where to Buy 
We first saw these a couple of years ago…pre-pandemic. So we’re hopping happy that they’re finally here. The basic ideas is that these are the monsters that live in your home…in all the places you might suspect. But don’t worry! These are cute cuddly, friendly monsters just begging to come out and play. Still, when things happen in your house you can’t explain, you might want to blame these guys. (Hey, it’s worth a shot.) There are six to collect in all: Munchy, Dizzy, Fluffy, Drowsy, Sudsy, and Bumpy! (We’ll leave you to guess where each hides based on their names.)
Plus, for Easter, you can amp up your Easter egg hunt by hiding these around the house for kids to discover. Kids are likely to love the comedy of these…and the friendly monster vibe is just right for kids’ senses of humor.

The word is…fun!

Mrs Wordsmith Storyteller’s Word A Day from Mrs Wordsmith
Ages 7-11
$25.00
Where to Buy
You know what we were saying about learning that’s fun? Well, this is it! As we often say, knowledge is a kind of currency for kids. This Word-A-Day book goes beyond just vocabulary. It encourages storytelling, too. So there’s a new word every day for 180 days. There are tons of ideas for how to use the word including synonyms, word pairs, and more. Obviously, kids learn words when they use them, and there are games that can be played as well. We kind of like, “Define ‘putrid.'” That’s kid humor right there.
But we also like the springboard for storytelling to help develop thinking and verbal skills, particularly as the building blocks for other types of learning and expression. This is part of a whole line that uses gamification and interaction as a way to build knowledge, sure, but also to build self confidence and pride in the learning kids acquire.

Spin out your imagination!

The Original EggMazing Egg Decorator from Hey Buddy Hey Pal
Ages 3 and up
$19.99
Where to Buy
This is the super cool item that’s transformed egg decorating. Kids will love spinning out as they create and decorate with no mess. Simply place a hard-boiled egg in the machine and turn it on. The machine holds and spins the egg while users touch the marker to the surface creating bright, stripey designs. The set comes with eight non-toxic markers in different colors.
This product got a shot in the arm after it appeared on Shark Tank, and if you want to hear the guys who created it tell the story, click here.

Readyland by Readyland
Ages 3-7
$14.99
Where to Buy
Reading becomes an active, engaged adventure with a series of books designed to interact with Amazon’s Alexa (sold separately). The book turns into an engaging experience as the books come to life and kids can respond to questions, choose songs, and so much more.
There are a lot of reasons this is cool. First, and foremost, it promotes traditional reading. Then, it uses auditory learning to stimulate imagination and game play. It also helps kids build language skills. And because of the interaction with Alexa the content can be upgraded so that the activities have depth and long-term play value.
The Readyland program uses an Alexa-enabled device at home, and there is a smartphone app that kids can download for fun on the go. The current library has two books: A Playdate with Rosie and Ricky and 3 Little Pigs. The books are humorous, age-appropriate, and gorgeous. Plus, because they use technology already in the home, they’re simple to use, and the interface is elegant and seamless.
Readyland is compliant with all COPPA requirements, and no information is collected about users.

It’s always sunny with this chameleon.

Little Live Pets Chameleon from Moose Toys
Ages 4-8
$15.99
Where to Buy
The official name is Sunny the Bright Light Chameleon, and it is so cute! And it’s appropriate for all kids. Soft, squishy and fun to hold, Sunny responds to love and attention with more than 30 sounds and reactions along with a full body of coloring changing rainbow lights that reflect Sunny’s mood — from happy to super happy, full to sleepy and warm to cold and more.
Sunny also has a talk-back mode, that responds to the tone of a child’s voice. And, when you want to rock out, switch to party mode, and Sunny flashes to be beat of the music. Get Sunny dancing on the ceiling, walls, windows – wherever – with the suction feet feature of this one-in-a-chameleon pet.

Hippity hoppity fun from Playmobil

Playmobil Rabbit Pen Gift Set from Playmobil
Ages 4-10
$9.99
Where to Buy
What would Easter be without a rabbit toy? This adorable set combines imaginative play, great value, and, of course, the outstanding Playmobil design. Great for play and display wit two hutches that have beds of make-believe hay so the bunnies are cozy, carrots, four bunnies, and two figures.
Not surprisingly, this has been selling out because it’s a great Playmobil set for under $10 and it’s perfect for the season. If you see it, you better hop on it!

We’ll be updating this page every week during the season, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back often.

DISCLOSURE: PURCHASE LINKS ARE TO PLACES THAT HAD IN-STOCK AVAILABILITY AT THE TIME OF PUBLICATION. THE TOY GUY DOES NOT RECEIVE ANY COMMISSION OR FEES IF YOU PURCHASE THROUGH THOSE LINKS. WE DEFINITELY RECOMMEND SHOPPING AROUND. PRICES LISTED HERE ARE MANUFACTURER’S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICES. IN SOME CASES, PRICES MAY VARY.

 

 

 

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