An opinion piece by Catherine Van Reeth, director general of TIE, on how innovative companies can highlight the skills their products bestow on children.
Catherine Van Reeth leads TIE in promoting the toy sector with policy makers at the EU level. Its goal is to ensure the sector can thrive and continue to bring safe and fun play experiences to children. TIE provides information for stakeholders, members and policymakers and offers a platform for discussion and exchange, working for fair and proportionate regulation. Catherine has worked in EU public affairs for more than 25 years.
Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) works closely with the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) on issues impacting toy companies on European issues. The BTHA is an active member of TIE.
Toy Industries of Europe is at the heart of toy policy discussions in Europe to try to ensure new regulations will be fair – to consumers as well as the companies that contribute to the success of Europe. That is increasingly important given the heavy scrutiny politicians give the toy industry. As our products are for vulnerable consumers, it is only natural that we meet strict regulations. But children’s worlds are made up of many other, non-toy products that are not treated with the same intensity of scrutiny, posing difficult dilemmas for policy makers and industry professionals alike.
There is an interest both policy makers and the toy industry have in common: they both want to ensure European children have the skills they will need to thrive in the future, and to compete and prosper on the international stage. And in that shared interest there is a real opportunity for innovative companies to shine.
Never before have children lived in such a fast-changing world. With the Play for Change Awards, Toy Industries of Europe wants to celebrate those toy makers who want to equip children with the necessary skills to adapt to the demands of 21st Century life and make them resilient for what the future holds. The Awards’ Future Skills category recognises the pivotal role the toy sector can play in helping children thrive. The judges consider entries that aim to improve literacy and ITC skills, communications and collaboration as well as enhancing children’s analytical reasoning, problem solving, adaptability and initiative taking.
The Awards have recognised a number of fantastic ideas over the past two years. The most innovative initiative we saw this year, winning the Gold Future Skills Award, was the Lego Education Spike Prime Set by The Lego Group. This toy combines Lego building elements with hardware and coding to afford children the opportunity to engage in different learning activities that help them develop critical-thinking skills, expand their creativity and further explore real-life STEAM themes such as engineering and computer sciences. The judging panel was impressed with the variety of challenges proposed to children which could be adapted to different learning levels.
The Silver Future Skills award in 2021 went to Cyborg-Hand made by Franckh-Kosmos Verlags. This large-scale robotic hand teaches children about hydraulics as they build the hand through play. Once built, children can then test the hand by making it write or pick things up. The toy teaches mechanical skills and introduces children to hydraulics in a fun way. The jury welcomed the open-ended play possibilities the toy offered to children.
The Bronze Future Skills prize went to Amazing Inside from Miniland, a little plush monster that lets young children recognise and locate their body organs. The augmented reality cards provide surprising facts and even the sounds the organs make – a fun and slightly gruesome introduction to the human body.
The brilliant ideas behind these toys, and the skills they are teaching children made them the outstanding winners of 2021, but the range of entries was inspiring to see. Could you be our change-maker 2022? If your company has a toy (launched in 2021) that is inspiring the next generation of mechanical engineers, scientists, doctors or programmers, we want to hear from you. We also want to hear from companies that help children to explore their feelings, improve their communication skills or help them to collaborate, as we wish to recognise the essential role that toys play in developing good mental health – particularly given the toll that Covid disruption has had for many children.
Indeed, the last few years have been difficult for many, both personally and in business. A silver lining has been the positive refocusing of many families on the benefits of play. Whilst the world went into lockdown and families played, learned and socialised within the same four walls, the role of play in a child’s life was shown to be more essential than ever. Often play is seen as a trivial pastime, when in fact, it develops the skills children need for life, and toys are the essential tools that elevate and prolong the play experience. TIE, and its national association members, are all trying to emphasise that important message to families and policymakers across Europe. We hope the Play for Change Awards will contribute to that by recognising some of the best new initiatives.
The Play for Change Awards aim to highlight the good work of the toy industry in the areas of environmental sustainability, empowerment and inclusion, and encouraging the development of future skills. Entries will be invited in February for the 2022 awards. Visit https://playforchangeawards.eu to find out more. There is also a link where you can register your interest so you will be notified when the awards open and to read about more of the initiatives that received commendations from the jury.
If you would like to keep up-to-date on policy news, find out more about the topics in this article or join the discussion on future legislation, please get in touch to find out about membership – https://www.toyindustries.eu or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like more information on UK policy or how European issues impact UK companies please contact the BTHA at email@example.com.