Scientific/educational toys include any toy whose primary function is to educate children in science, geography, history or other academic discipline. In 2019 sales of these toys reached EUR378.9 million in Western Europe with an annual growth rate of 2% over 2014-2019; similar to the global growth rate. However, the region holds some untapped potential that companies can take advantage of.
COVID-19: Curse or blessing for STEM toys?
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the entire world, forcing governments to impose lockdowns in their countries to control the spread of the disease. In most of the countries in Western Europe, schools were closed, forcing more than 57 million children between 3-12 years of age to substitute classroom learning with online classes. Some parents opted to home-school their children. However, home-schooling presented parents with unique challenges, especially if they must work from home at the same time and if they have no teaching experience.
To make home-schooling easier and more productive for children, some parents opted to purchase STEM toys. STEM toys are not only physically appealing to children, they also introduce them to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in a more intuitive way – these fields are some of the most in-demand professions in Western Europe according to the OECD Better Life Index.
So, what are the challenges of home-schooling children?
The biggest challenge in fostering STEM skills is competition with screen time (either tablet, mobile phones or even the TV) and a lack of fun learning options that capture and hold their children’s attention. Children end up being more tech savvy than their parents and due to this, most parents struggle with helping their children learn. While not all STEM toys are high-tech, many are, which could present a potential barrier to parental involvement when using these toys.
Another challenge for parents is getting their children to study independently, especially during elementary years when learning involves a lot of hovering from the teachers. Despite these challenges, STEM toys offer some opportunities that manufacturers can take advantage of.
Age-oriented STEM toys are essential
Parents recognise the importance of their children acquiring STEM skills from a young age, most of them worry about their children spending too much time “in the digital world”. To address this concern, some toy makers are now offering age-oriented STEM toys to ensure children are more gradually introduced to technology. So they will also be able to capture a wider customer base. Furthermore, companies can transform the challenge parents face when trying to home-school their children into a growth opportunity for these types of toys.
Mattel’s iconic brand for toddlers Fisher-Price, is offering the Kinderbot™, an interactive learning toy that teaches toddlers (aged 3-6) early maths concepts, colours, shapes, etc. The educational laptop from the Chinese toy maker VTech is designed to support children with school topics such as mathematics, the alphabet, spelling, animals and geography. These topics are taught in a fun and interactive way making these toys highly attractive for both children and parents.
Endless possibilities for children within all age groups
According to Euromonitor International, scientific/educational toys are expected to post 4% growth in sales in Western Europe. To leverage from this expected growth, toy makers need to ensure their products are targeted to a specific age group as this will be essential to ensuring the toy is suited for the age, interests and skills the children are learning.