Products aim to help children rebuild social skills in the pandemic

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Meditation toys to help children control their feelings. A Lego coding kit, focusing on problem solving skills. And an Amazon portal for video calling that uses holograms, games and puzzles to keep youngsters engaged in video calling.

A recent crop of toys and products launched during the pandemic aims to help children get back into their routine and re-develop their social and emotional skills after spending much of the past 21 months trapped in the home.

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Simply put, these products can be designed to serve “parents who are concerned that their children will be okay,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development.

A mix of technology and traditional toy companies have launched tech products that encourage social-emotional skills, a term that refers to how children interact with others and manage their feelings. These skills typically begin to develop early and are considered the biggest indicator of a child’s success in school and beyond, says Klein.

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In September, for example, Amazon launched Amazon Glow, a device for kids that promises to bring video calls with family and friends to life. Glow projects a 19-inch interactive space onto the surface in front of the screen, where kids can play, draw, and interact with storybooks and characters from franchises like “Frozen” and “Villa Sesame.”

Friends or family members using the Glow app, which is free on Amazon’s iOS, Android or FireOS, can interact with the projections in real-time and play as if they were in the same room. It also has an object scanning tool, so it 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 of thousands of educational books, programs and apps for kids.

Amazon Glow lets kids interact with family and friends from a distance through puzzles, holograms and other real-time activities / Amazon Interactive video calling portals aren’t entirely new. Facebook Portal features animation, augmented reality effects and music that can be used during calls or in the “Story Time” tool, which transforms users into fairy tale characters as they read children’s books available in the digital library. But Amazon, which has long had a collection of video devices controlled by Alexa, said it became increasingly interested in how the technology connected families during the pandemic and wanted to improve the experience for younger people.

“Children are excited to video call grandparents or other family members for 30 seconds and then walk away,” a spokesperson told CNN Business before the launch. “We wanted to create something that removed the feeling of physical separation and brought families together, allowing children to be children and bringing adults into their world, unlike what we’ve done in the past. We believe that this could positively impact children’s lifetime outcomes.”

Susie Allison, creator of Busy Toddler, a popular online community for parents, said a video call with family or friends “never counts” as screen time because it’s vital for children to make connections with family members far away. “When we’re looking at toys, we want something that’s active [como este] so the kids are involved and using lots of skills – not something passive where the toy is driving them through the play and doing the work for them”.

Lego blocks have long been considered useful toys for societal development, but the company recently released 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 purchase at home, is designed to help children understand coding and other science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) concepts. through stories and working together. It comes with a handful of gear and a Bluetooth-enabled hub that connects creations, like cars or robots, to a corresponding app that brings them to life.

The kit also features four miniatures with their own personalities and learning styles that make them accessible and identifiable for little ones who are learning. When users start a class on the app, a character walks them through each problem and helps them find a solution. Lego said it is designed to encourage self-awareness and communication skills necessary for social-emotional development.

“Even before the pandemic, we thought about the skills children need for the future, and social and emotional learning is at the heart,” Lego Education President Esben Staerk told CNN Business. “It’s been on our agenda for a long time, but we accelerated it during the pandemic and focused on the need [de um kit como este] when students return to schools”.

Other products aim to help calm the minds of young people. The Yoto Player ($99) is a small music radio that encourages children to meditate or engage in mindfulness. By putting physical cards into the system (some sold separately), the device unlocks audiobooks, music and podcasts, including a relaxing bedtime meditation developed by a yoga teacher and a Montessori teacher, without the distraction of a smartphone screen. (A smaller, more portable version called Yoto Play Mini – $60 – was released last week).

One of the most popular children’s products in recent months is Pop It! – colored silicone cutouts that provide the same satisfaction and stress relief as bubble wrap popping. Sales of Pop It! have increased tenfold from last year, industry trade group The Toy Association told The New York Times, in part because of their popularity on social media. There are unicorns, Mickey Mouse and Peppa Pig from Pop It! as well as key chains and bracelets.

Some toy companies have also created products following the pandemic to help children better adapt to the changes brought about by Covid-19. The list includes a Fisher-Price My Home Office set, with a toy laptop, headset, and coffee cup; dolls with masks; and an antivirus chemical kit to create soap and make projects that “fight viruses, bacteria and fungi”.

While there is an increase in social-emotional learning toys with technology, Allison said the key is for parents to buy items that can hold their children’s attention for an extended period of time. Toys such as dolls, building blocks and action figures, although low-tech, still remain essential learning tools that encourage creativity, simulation and cooperative play.

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

(Text translated, read original in English here)

Reference: CNN Brasil

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