Up-to-date toys don't have to beep, blink or buzz to be trendy. At the 2013 Toy Industry Association Toy Fair, there were lots of familiar old favorites and low-tech toys—with a twist—for the modern child. One of the benefits of the back-to-basics movement is the interest that these classic playthings spark in parents. When Mom and Dad see something that reminds them of their own childhood, they'll be more motivated to play together with their children and engage in the kind of intergenerational play that gives kids an added educational boost.
Check out these toys that successfully combine the new and the nostalgic:
Cityscapes 4D Puzzles. (4D Cityscape; ages 8–12; $29.99-39.99) Venture into the fourth dimension without electronics or expensive accessories. Your child can build the cities of London, New York and Paris from the ground up by piecing together the incredibly detailed, multi-layered landscapes and 3-D landmarks. The added dimension here is time—these puzzles pieces actually let curious kids assemble the city through history. The Manhattan puzzle, for example, includes topographical features and buildings from the 1800s through today. Kids can learn urban and architectural history while sharpening motor and logic skills. Parents will be captivated along with their kids, making these educational puzzles a great family activity. Available now.
Tic-Stac-Toe. (Accomplice Productions; ages 5 and up; price TBD) Everybody knows how to play tic-tac-toe—but both parents and kids will be surprised and challenged by the stackable version of this old chestnut. In a nutshell, Tic-Stac-Toe is the old, homespun strategy game played in 3-D with "expandable" features. Get three (or four or four) in a row, and you win! The rows can be up and down, sideways or multilevel matches. The big, bright X's and O's come in multiple colors and are "fat-finger friendly”—suitable for any of the family’s hand sizes. There's a reason that the super-simple game of tic-tac-toe has lasted through the ages—it's extremely addictive—and the stackable version is no different. There's an app that goes with the physical game—but that's just the cherry on top. Available summer of 2013.
Roll & Play. (Thinkfun; ages 18 months and up; $19.99) Your toddler isn't a baby anymore and she's starting to want more out of playtime than static stuffed toys and simple blocks. Still, she's a little too young for tech, and savvy parents know that toddlers and preschool playtime shouldn't be dominated by screens. Are there any low-tech toys that pack the same educational punch as the electronics and apps that are overwhelming the toy universe? Roll & Play is an automation-free game for the tiniest tots that reinforces rule recognition, logic, reason and cooperation, all in a toddler-friendly package. The plush cube comes with a pack of cards in bright colors with illustrations and some text (although no reading is required). Kids roll the cube and match colors to the card. Each card has an activity that parents and kids can act out together. Roll & Play is an actual game, not just a toy, and there's a right way and a wrong way to play. Learning the rules helps toddlers practice learning and school-readiness basics like listening and following instructions. The game is designed for two or more players, and your child will also be able to practice the all-important skill of "playing with others" before she hits preschool. Available now.
Zingo! Sight Words. (Thinkfun; preschool–1st grade; $19.99) Zingo keeps the words coming in this fast and fun-filled game for kids just learning to read. Zingo is just like Bingo, but with words. Designed for two players, each competitor gets a card that's similar to a bingo card, but it’s filled with simple sight words and illustrations. There's also a stack of playing cards and a "Zingo machine” that spits them out. Speed is important for sight word recognition and kids will be motivated in this game to recognize words quickly as they pop out of the machine. A great no-tech early literacy option for preschool through kindergarten. Available now.
Skunk Bingo. (Gamewright; ages 3 and up; expected price $16.99) Simple and thankfully not smelly, Skunk Bingo is a sweet preschool matching and counting game. Kids put cards into a log and match whatever comes out the other side to their "bingo" card. The idea is pretty straightforward, but what makes this game stand out is the enchanting artwork and cute characters that enhance the game elements. Just because a game is simple and created for preschoolers doesn't mean that the appearance needs to be babyish or an afterthought—children are discriminating and so are their parents. Thoughtful design is one of the hallmarks of Gamewright, the company responsible for many other family friendly options for all ages like the adorable card game Slamwich and the clever Rory's Story Cubes. Skunk Bingo is new and upholds the high standards of these award-winning games. Created for pre-school age children, there's no reading required. Available summer 2013.
Grandparent Talk. (Continuum Games; ages 3 and up; $7.99) “Grandpa, what kind of toys did you have when you were little? When was your bedtime as a child?” These and other questions are the essence of Grandparent Talk. Every card in the pack has a question for your little one to ask Grandma or Grandpa, and the idea is to spark connections between grandkids and grandparents. "Connecting Generations thru Play" is the motto of the company that created this game, and it's a powerful idea: There aren't many toys on the market designed specifically for old and young to play together. This activity will bring everyone together—Mom and Dad might learn something about their own parents too! Some caveats: The game is advertised for kids as young as 3, but the cards are too text-heavy for children younger than about 7 or 8 to use by themselves. Also, the language of some of the questions is a little stiff for kids—but this is an early version, and the awesomeness of the idea overrides any minor flaws. Available now.