The changing world of children’s gifts

Children playing with toys including Furby Boom!. PA Photo/Handout.
Children playing with toys including Furby Boom!. PA Photo/Handout.
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Santa, take note - the annual Dream Toys list has been announced, revealing the games, gadgets and play-things expected to top kids’ wish-lists this Christmas. Abi Jackson takes a peek

Scanning the top 50 list of toys expected to be best-sellers this Christmas, there’s a few familiar names, like Lego and Monopoly.

‘They’ve stood the test of time,’ I think.

On closer inspection though, while the brands and concepts might be the same, these toys are not replicas of the ones we played as kids. Things have changed, rather a lot, and toys are a little more hi-tech nowadays.

“Everything has evolved,” says Gary Grant, chair of the Dream Toys committee which compiles the list.

“Nothing on this list is exactly the same as it was years ago, when you or I were young.

“Yes, Lego’s on there, but it’s not the same Lego we played with. Back then, the developments we saw were things like window panes and roofing panels - now things are far more advanced.”

As for Monopoly, with this year’s Monopoly Empire, gone are the dog, old boot and top hat. Kids can now play with a Coke bottle, Xbox controller and carton of fries, as they battle it out to buy and sell modern multinational brands like Apple, McDonalds and Samsung, rather than hotels in Mayfair.

“These are all common words in their [kids’] vocabulary,” notes Grant.

The new Monopoly Empire (RRP £19.99) made it onto the Top Ten. But, how exactly is the list compiled?

It’s a very thorough process. It starts with the Toy Retailers Association calling in lists drawn up by various toy retailers, indicating which items they think will do well this year. Once all that is merged, the Dream Toys committee, an independent panel representing 80% of toy retailers, including Hamleys, Argos and Toys R Us, assess each suggestion, and compose the final lists.

“It takes a whole day with a room full of people, thrashing out the pros and cons of each item against another,” explains Grant.

“The only criteria of the Top 50 is that it’s representative across all sections of the industry. So it wouldn’t be a whole list of crafts, a whole list of games or a whole list of dolls.”

So first, the committee decides on the top selections in six different categories - the ‘Let’s Get Busy’ toys which promote creativity, the ‘Playground Banter’ bunch (the ones that’ll be the talk of the school), the tech based toys, the ‘The Name’s the Game’ - toys linked to movie and gaming characters, or pop stars (One Direction dolls made the cut), the ‘Granny Knows Best’ which covers new takes on old favourites, and the £25 and under category.

Finally, from these six groups, the Top Ten list is then compiled. (Though there are actually 11 things on the list this year, because the panel couldn’t decide between Leapfrog’s LeapPad Ultra (RRP £119.99) and VTech’s InnoTab 3S (RRP £99.99), so they put them both on.)

Tech clearly rules this year, and it’s incredible to see how much things have developed in only a short space of time. Furby’s set to be popular again, for example - only now, the Furby Boom! (RRP £59.99) comes with an App that kids can use to feed and shower it, or even help it have a baby - a Furbling!

There’s also a Robo Fishbowl (RRP £14.99), Teksta Robotic Puppy (RRP £59.99) and the Flying Fairy by Flutterbye (RRP £34.99), which hovers in the air above your hand.

“Kids expect more from their toys these days - their brains have evolved and things are far more complex now,” says Grant. “Technology is kids’ daily diet now. It doesn’t freak them out like it might an older person - it’s just what they’re used to.”

Talking of ‘freaking out’ - the ‘£25 and under’ category is good news to families on a budget.

Four items on the overall Top Ten list cost under £25 and, on average, the must-have toys are £10 cheaper than last year. “And bear in mind that these are the beacon items on a child’s wish-list,” adds Grant. “We’re not looking at stocking fillers - these are the top ‘main’ presents.”

Once again, the list has created a buzz in the media, flashed across newspapers within hours of being revealed on November 6. This comes as no surprise to the industry experts.

“Toys aren’t frivolous things,” says Grant. “They’re not just something to keep kids amused. Yes, they’re playing [with toys], but they’re learning so much at the same time - they can go off into a dream world where they’re using their creativity and imagination and figuring things out as they go.”

So should parents be rushing out to buy all items from the list?

Not necessarily.

“The list is only a prediction,” Grant explains. “We don’t know yet which toys will actually end up selling out, but we are pretty accurate; over the last 15 years we’ve been doing this, we usually get about eight out of 10 predictions right.

“So if your child has written their wish-list early, and it has one of the Top Ten and is already selling fast, then don’t wait until the last minute to buy it.”

That said, Grant advises taking time and thinking carefully about what to pick off the shelves, and for this reason he recommends going to a toy shop, rather than buying online.

“I’m not bashing internet shopping, but if you go into a toy department, you’ll be greeted by somebody who knows their stuff, knows the market, and can advise on age-group suitability and what might be suitable for your child.

“So you can go home knowing you’ve bought the right toy.”