Meditation toys: These products aim to help children rebuild their social skills in times of COVID

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By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business

Meditation toys to help children deal with their feelings. A Lego kit for coding, focused on problem-solving skills. And an Amazon video chat portal that uses holograms, games, and puzzles to keep toddlers engaged on calls.

A recent harvest of Toys and products launched during the pandemic aim to help young children re-acclimatize to everyday life and redevelop their social and emotional skills after spending much of the past 21 months stranded at home. Simply put, these products can be designed to meet “parents who are worried about whether their children will be okay,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development.

A mix of technologies and traditional toy makers have launched products with technological bells and whistles that promote socio-emotional skills, a term that refers to the way children interact with others and deal with their feelings. These skills usually begin to develop early and are often considered the greatest predictor of 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 calling with family and friends to life for kids. Glow projects a 19-inch interactive space on the surface in front of the screen where children can play games, draw and interact with story books 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 interact with the projections in real time, allowing real-time play to be played as if they were in the same room. It also has an object scanning tool, so that a child can turn a toy into a puzzle. Glow costs $ 249 and comes with Tangram Bits puzzle pieces and a one-year subscription to 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 calls Story time tool, which turns users into storybook characters when reading from a digital library of children’s books. But Amazon, which has long had a collection of Alexa-controlled video gadgets, said it was increasingly interested in how technology connects families during the pandemic and wanted to improve the experience for young people.

“Kids are thrilled to make video calls with their grandparents or other family members for 30 seconds and then walk away,” a spokesperson told CNN Business before the launch. “We wanted to design something that erases the sense of physical separation and brings families together by letting children be children and bringing adults into their world, unlike what we have done in the past. We believe it could have a positive impact on the outcomes of children’s lives. “

Susie Allison, the creator of Busy toddler, popular online community for parents, said that a video chat with family members or friends “never counts” as screen time because it is essential for children to bond with parents who are far away from U.S. “When we look at toys we want something active [like this] So a child is engaged and uses many skills – not something passive where the toy guides him through the play and does the work for him.

LEGO blocks have long been viewed as useful toys for socio-emotional development, but the company recently released a kit called LEGO Education SPIKE Essential ($ 275) specially designed to better develop these skills. The kit, originally designed for the classroom but available for home purchase, aims to help children understand coding and other science, technology, engineering, arts and math (TO SMOKE) concepts by telling stories 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 includes four mini figures with their own personalities and learning styles that make them accessible and accessible to young learners. When users begin a lesson on the app, a character walks them through each problem and helps them find a solution. LEGO has stated that this is designed for encourage self-awareness and communication skills necessary for socio-emotional development.

“Even before the pandemic, we thought about the skills children need for the future, and social and emotional learning is at the center,” LEGO Education president Esben Staerk told CNN Business. “It has been part of our program for some time, but we accelerated it during the pandemic and we focused on the need. [for a kit like this] as students return to school.

Other products, such as Player Yoto, intend to help calm young minds. Yoto Player ($ 99) is a small music player that encourages kids to take the time to meditate or engage in mindfulness. By inserting physical cards into the system (some sold separately), the device unlocks popular audiobooks, music, and podcasts, including a relaxing bedtime meditation developed by a yoga teacher and Montessori teacher, without the distraction of a smartphone screen. (An even smaller, more portable version called the Yoto Play Mini ($ 60) launched last week.)

One of the hottest kids products that have grown in popularity in recent months is Pop It! fidgets – colorful silicone cutouts that provide the same satisfaction and stress relief as burst bubble wrap. Sales for Pop It! increased tenfold from last year, according to industry trade group The Toy Association Recount The New York Times, due partly to their popularity on social networks. There are unicorns, Mickey Mouse and Peppa the Pig Pop Its !, as well as Pop Its key chains! and Pop It! bracelet.

Some toy companies have also made pandemic-themed toys to help children better adapt to the changes brought about by Covid-19. The list includes a Fisher-Price Home Office Set with a toy laptop, headphones and a coffee mug; dolls with masks; and an antivirus chemistry kit to create soap and carry out projects that “defeat viruses, bacteria and fungi”.

While there is an increase in tech-infused social-emotional learning toys, Allison said the key is for parents to buy items that can hold their children’s attention for a longer period of time. Open-ended toys such as action figures, blocks, and dolls, despite being incredibly low-tech, remain key learning tools that encourage creativity, simulation, and cooperative play.

“I’m pretty confident that in a hundred years the kids will still be playing with a set of wooden blocks,” she said. “You might have a little robot dog in your house, but the wooden blocks will probably be there too. “

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