Toy Fair New York 2020 is bigger than ever, and toy trends feature water play, pushing boundaries and developing gross motor skills, to name but a few. Check out the best toys for eco-friendly parents we found!
The Toy Fair New York is a huge event. Toymakers from all over the world come together to debut products and show the world how their toys impact our children.
As natural-minded parents, when it comes to toys, we’re obviously looking for more than just the latest trendy toy. All too often, those are not the eco-friendly, sustainable products we’d hope they’d be.
But that’s changing! While walking the countless aisles of the show, we were surprised (and delighted!) to find that more toy manufacturers are looking at what mamas like us want for our kids. We want toys that encourage imaginative play, getting out and getting dirty, socio-emotional intelligence building, eco-friendly, screen-free/limited and non-toxic. Not only are manufacturers looking at what we want, but we’re also encouraged to see that they’re listening to us, and the power of our dollars is making an impact.
Toy Trends For This Generation
Some of the trends that the Toy Association shared were ones that we natural-minded mamas already have been fans of for years.
For instance, a hot trend is toys that use water as the main component of their play. Many of the toys on display were ones that included surprise toys that use water to reveal hidden messages, colors, characters and more. Aquatic-themed toys like boats, sharks and mermaids are hot, and educational toys that teach about underwater life and conservation are also popular this year. Most of us know that kiddos and waterplay is often a winning combination, and the toy industry agrees!
We also LOVE seeing more toys that encourage kids to explore their physical boundaries and limits. We saw tons of toys for toddlers to teens that encourage the development of fine and gross motor skills, encourage team-playing and civil competition and have our kids wanting to get up and move, particularly outdoors. Again, the toy industry seems to note that kids being ‘kids’ is important not just to their childhood enjoyment, but their brain development as well.
“Kid-powered” toys are also big! Toy companies are taking note of the power of play in the hands of kids, and we’ve seen more toys that encourage building, tinkering, creating, designing and thinking critically when playing. Open-ended toys are big, as are toys that allow children to exercise their creativity in many different ways.
And what we really love is a focus on play being part of family life, and emphasizing that play across generations. The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative supports that when children play with adults, they end up displaying higher levels of language and problem-solving skills. Additionally, parents and grandparents engaging in toy play with their kids and grandkids take walks down memory lane sometimes as they think of their own childhoods, and bonding is priceless. There’s a big focus on family games, outdoor crafts, nostalgic and retro brands and crafts that the whole family can enjoy, and we’re ALL IN!
The Best Eco-Friendly Toys For Kids At The New York Toy Fair 2020
As is so often the case, we fall in love with the premise of a toy only to find that it’s made with materials we can’t trust for our kids, or without fair labor practices, or at an extreme detriment to the environment.
But mamas, that’s changing, and rather quickly! So many of our favorite finds at the show used recycled materials, or ensured that the materials they used were non-toxic, phthalate-free, responsibly and sustainably sourced. Additionally, many company brands shared their commitment to doing better for both the environment and our kids.
We also found a big focus on the social and emotional development of our kids, in games and toys. Realizing that that aspect of our kids’ development is vital, we loved companies that made feeding our children’s brains and hands with age-appropriate toys that were good for them and good for the earth.
And now, without further ado as there were SO many great finds, here are some of our favorites. Many are available now, but some debut later this year and we’ll be sure to keep you updated when they’re released!
This is the ultimate outdoor must-have toy for kids. We want our kids to be outside being kids, right? Getting dirty, developing motor skills and all while having fun. How to do that? The Slackers NinjaLine! Designed for versatility and from a company who believes that kids need to be outdoors, working their energy and their exuberance out while they learn all that nature has to offer, it’ll be THE toy that will have all the kids in the neighborhood in your yard!
We walked by the softest stuffed animals and couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that they were made from plastic water bottles! We met the founder of Shore Buddies, Malte Niebelschuetz, who told us that when he moved from Germany to California, he was surprised there was not as much an initiative to save the ocean. His video explains how he came to do so with these super soft plushies, fully recyclable and made from plastic bottles. AND every sale of the Shore Buddies helps save the oceans with a donation to $1 For The Ocean. Malte says his mission is to educate children, and the storybook that accompanies sweet little animals like Sammy the Seal is making a big splash in the eco-friendly education field!
This amazing little robot is eco-friendly, and comes from MeandMine, a line of products founded by educators, pediatricians, toy geeks, psychologists and parents. Their goal is to inspire love of self in every child and they have incredible eco-friendly toys that empower kids. We adored ILuv because he’s something that kids can put together on their own, and the brightly colored-gears encourage kiddos to explore emotions and feelings.
This Momma Bear is one that your kiddos will love having around! Made from chemical-free rubberwood (sustainably harvested), it’s non-toxic and finished with German-made, VOC-free water-based paint. It’s perfect for creating some cool beats in a clean and eco-friendly way!
Our kids love music, and they love adorable characters. My Audio Pets combine both and we could not believe the quality of the sound that came from these babies. My AudioPets allow your kids to listen to their favorite jams, and now, even have stories read to them with the introduction of MyAudioStories. Written by founder and Dad KJ Robinson, these stories are quality tales that teach good values and recognition in our children, while using the adorable My Audio Pets to help. One of our FAVORITE things about My AudioPets was the “Hide and Speak.” You can hide the cute little speaker and then using the My AudioPets app, you can give clues and make sounds to ‘help’ your kids find it. Talk about hours of fun on a rainy day!
These scooters, balance bikes and mobility toys (and travel accessories) are uber neat and oh-so-light (in more ways than one)! Micro’s mission is to create and offer fun, superior-quality products that enhance health and use the power of their business to give back to difference-making organizations across the globe. Four times a year, Micro donates a portion of their proceeds to causes they’re passionate about…causes that focus on sustainability, exercise, housing and childhood nutrition and more.
Kids will LOVE the cool lights on this sleek Maxi Deluxe Scooter, and the new Sprite Deluxe offers tweens and teens some cool independence with a tube light LED that lets them be out and about more safely.
This simple-looking toy is actually an impressive piece of equipment that offers fun and development for our kiddos. It allows them to have moving fun spinning and climbing, and they don’t even realize they’re enriching their proprioceptive and vestibular systems while they’re at it. Yes, it’s plastic, but it’s made in the USA, which is important, as much of the plastic in toys are made in China, which creates significantly more pollution and poorer carbon footprint than USA-made plastic. This is the type of toy that will last through generations because of its limitless play opportunity and durability. And, Simplay3 uses recycled as well as recyclable materials to watch its environmental impact.
The Wobble Disk offers more than imaginative play; it offers developmental growth too!
Created in conjunction with Mojang (the creators of Minecraft), Builders and Biomes lets our kiddos have a new Minecraft adventure (screen-free!) every time they play. The instructions are easy to learn and kids can explore new Overworld grids or new building and Biome strategies each time they play. It’s a great cooperative play game that appeals to kids who love Minecraft, and you can let them play to their heart’s content without worrying about screen time!
Speaking of games, we fell in love with DogCrimes from ThinkFun. A witty game that accompanies the popular Cat Crimes game, it’s minimally packaged and allows kids to develop critical thinking, reasoning and deductive skills while having a howling good time solving crimes. There are 40 challenges, ranging from beginner to expert, and players have to use sequential reasoning to figure out the final order of the dogs around the board.
And seriously, the adorable artwork? Kids won’t be able to resist playing with Suzette and Daisy, and they’ll love poor old Beans!
We also found ThinkFun’s CodeMaster to be a great way for kiddos to work on STEM skills, but screen-free! Too often, companies believe that the only way to teach STEM is to use electronics, and that’s simply not the case. The best STEM/STEAM toys are the ones that strengthen our children’s logic and critical thinking skills first. Code Master teaches programming logic without a computer, using 10 maps and 60 levels to solve. The challenges become increasingly more difficult as kids play through them, and they’re building coding and programming skills without even knowing it. They’re just having fun!
We told you how much we loved Chalk of the Town a couple of Toy Fairs ago, and this time, they’re introducing the coolest thing! They’re introducing patches that can go just about anywhere, and using fine-point chalk markers, you can leave messages over and over and over for your kids. Stick them on the mirror and tell kids to brush well! Stick them on the lunchboxes and tell kids a funny joke each day. Stick them just about anywhere you want to leave messages in a fun and eco-friendly way!
Brio has been a trusted name in toys for generations because they’re beautifully crafted with sustainably and responsibly sourced materials. The European beechwood used is FSC-labeled, which means that it all comes from renewable forests and no biospheres are destroyed in the process. And while this fun Brio Builder Motor set does include plastic pieces, Brio is known for using clean plastics that don’t have any PVC or plasticizers (like phthalates) and only with purposed intention for a quality product.
We think this STEM-based Builder Set is the Bee’s Knees because it promotes open-ended play while helping kids develop hand-eye coordination, fine-motor skills, logical thinking and task-completion. For budding designers, it’s a quality toy that will last for years, and the real motor included will delight little engineers everywhere.
We’ve loved HABA for generations because they’re a family-owned and run business that believes in making quality products for children. They’re rooted in Germany as are the sustainably managed forest trees used for their wooden toys. They earn lots of awards for their eco-friendly and socially responsible practices, and we love that their toys are non-toxic and safe for kids while still being stimulating. We came across HABA’s Valley of The Kings game, which won the German Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s Game Of The Year). That’s a pretty prestigious award, and this is a pretty impressive game. It encourages cooperative play, calculated risk-taking, and adventure and is completely screen-free fun every time it’s played!
We also got a sneak peek at an upcoming game, Cloaked Cats. It’ll be out later this year, and it promises to offer kids a fun way to learn about drawing conclusions, using deductive reasoning and again, playing screen-free!
We love these stepping stones! Why? Endless play. Endless opportunities for creativity, hopping, jumping, balance-building and more. Children can create paths over and over and over, and the multiple sizes and shapes encourage kids to stack and organize and plan and PLAY.
And talk about fun! The Playzone-Fit Wheel Walker is an indoor-outdoor pedal walker and what we love is that it keeps kids moving and encourages them to strengthen their core without even knowing that’s what they’re doing! As kids get older and more balanced, you can take the rails off too!
We know kids love building toys and we do too. There are so many different reasons why, but it’s often hard to find ones that are eco-friendly. That’s why Plus-Plus uses puzzle-like pieces to create all sorts of amazing and fun projects and it’s made from PE plastic. That means it’s PVC and phthalates-free, and certified according to the EN71 (European) standard because it originates from Denmark. PE plastic is non-toxic, biodegradable and is most often used in food packaging, but in this super cool glow kit, it’s just fun for kids!
These adorable and beautifully crafted cards are perfect for young children. They inspire natural curiosity with questions and answers, and the fun is that there are cute little hints to help kiddos along as they explore the riddles and topics. Perfect for car rides or restaurants or just some snuggle-fun on the sofa!
Today’s kids crave sensory experiences, and that’s what this Squishy Beads Lab offers. Kids will learn about the science of solids, liquids and gasses while they play with sensory water beads. It’s a great science kit for kids who have sensory sensitivities or extra input needs, and all kids will love the mood lamp they get to create and learn with! They’ll be able to build and create sensory crafts that in turn can offer them calming properties while they learn about the science behind them!
This STEM Kit encourages skill development without screens, and lets kids build over 120 different projects. They can build a working FM radio, a one-finger DJ and more. Creativity and technology come together in a fun way that kids are motivated to use again and again!
Team-work, problem-solving, social development skills, cooperation–this Little Medical School Kit has it all. The plush puppy is included and up for adoption, and your kiddos can put the lab coat on and go through the process of making sure the puppy is in tip-top shape.
We met Tony Hu, the fun founder of Brainy Yak Labs, who showed us his cool party lamp kit. Kids build it, design it and use their creativity to personalize and exercise their artistic abilities. Tony says this was because his kids wanted to build and tinker but they also wanted to be creative, and this was the result. It’s a cool way to learn how real products are engineered and designed, and kids can do it themselves!
We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.