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What is the future of child’s play?

There seems to be a preference for open-ended play and hands-on activities, which both parents and child can be do together

Versatile and open-ended toys have emerged as bestsellers. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Versatile and open-ended toys have emerged as bestsellers. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

When the pandemic broke out last year, one area that it had an immediate impact on was children’s outdoor activities. Due to fear of infection, kids had to stay cloistered at home, away from the playground and from other social spaces. Gone were the days of waiting for their turns at the swings and the slides, or building castles in the sandpit. Parents across the world had to come up with some quick solutions to keep the children engaged indoors. It’s no wonder then that in the US, by the second week of March, sales of jigsaw puzzles soared. According to a report in the NPR, Ceaco, one of the largest producers of jigsaw puzzles and family games in the US, “noticed sales at one of the largest retail customers...were up 300% over the same week the previous year.”

In India, however, this growth in sales of board games, puzzles and hobby kits took some time to catch up to the international levels during the pandemic. “Even when e-commerce resumed in India, toy sales did not begin immediately, as toys and games are not classified as essentials,” R Jeswant, CEO, Funskool, was quoted in a Financial Express article, dated September 2020. However, once the companies started direct-to-consumer models, there was a sudden spike in online orders. “The pandemic has driven companies to develop products that address need gaps in the market. Funskool, for example, has introduced a new product called Activity Table, which Jeswant says, “is like a child’s workstation”. Faber-Castell has launched an art and craft kit called My Creative Buddy,” mentioned the piece.

Around this time, there was a rising concern among parents about their children’s daily screen time, which increased manifold during the pandemic. Hence, parents decided to opt for DIY kits and educational toys that would allow kids to learn as they played, away from the screens.

The trends seen last year are likely to carry forth in 2021 as well and define the future of play in India. According to a study by the sustainable toy brain Shumee, based on its survey of consumer behaviour and data gleaned from its website and social media platforms, 40 percent more fathers can now be found shopping for toys. “This is a very heartening trend. Shumee has been around for 6 years, and in that time we have seen mostly mothers being the decision makers when it comes to children. However, now fathers are getting to spend more time at home and they are realising what children like to play with,” says Meeta Sharma Gupta, an alumna of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and Harvard University, who started Shumee after seeing her two boys play and engage with simple wooden toys.

While earlier most of the consumers would shop for toys from their mobile phones, today desktop traffic and purchases have boomed, with parents indulging in some online shopping in between Zoom meetings. There has been a significant increase in the number of customers from tier 2 and 3 cities such as Kota, Patiala and Jabalpur shopping for toys online.

“We are seeing a lot of traction in the high engagement toy segment. Versatile and open-ended toys have emerged as bestsellers,” says Gupta. Products like activity triangles and balance boards, which have no expected outcomes, and allow the children to explore their creativity, are becoming popular. Puzzles, which focus on problem-solving and cognitive development, are some of the most searched for items on the website. Families are trying to recreate outdoor activities indoors, and hence children’s tents and mini bowling pins are greatly in demand. Activities that parents and children could do together have become popular.

“While earlier on our social media channels, we would see parents simply putting up images of their kids playing, today their posts now carry descriptions of how the children are playing, and the impact of the game on them. It shows parents are a lot more engaged with their child’s play,” says Gupta.

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