Physical Toys and the Power of Touch

by Nancy Zwiers | 10 May 2021

The Bloom Report

Q. My company only sells low-tech toys. How can we effectively compete in an increasingly high-tech world?

A. Let’s reframe: Physical toys are not low-tech…they’re high-touch!

Physical toys competing for market share against digital offerings have one clear cut advantage: the power of touch, the most ancient and fundamental of our senses.

Exercising our motor skills (both gross motor and fine motor skills) is crucial to how we wire our brains. In fact, neuroscientists contend that the very reason we developed brains in the first place was to be able to move in our environment—the motor cortex rocks! 

Toys that encourage children’s fine motor skills have good “fiddle factor.” Not only is this manipulative play good for kids, but it is also irresistible!

For infants, deliver age-appropriate fiddle factor through allowing opportunities for grabbing and holding, batting at dangling objects, and more.  As infants grow into toddlers, classic “put ‘n take” play is endlessly mesmerizing, not to mention pulling levers, spinning dials, opening doors, manipulating blocks and balls, etc.

Among kids 3+, manipulative play value abounds--putting together racetracks, rolling a car, activating a poseable body, moving pieces on a game board. Including a brush with each Barbie doll delivers instant fiddle factor. From the enduring strength of Lego to the recent growth of Kinetic Sand, offering satisfying high-touch play in a sea of high-tech play is a winning strategy.

Here are some things to consider as you look to increase manipulative play value:

  • Ask yourself, “How will little hands manipulate this toy?” And then make sure you build in the answer(s) in an age-appropriate way!
  • Build articulation into your figure as a cost-effective way to increase play value—even if it is just one joint. This helps bring the fantasy to life, as well.
  • Include a removable weapon, prop, or fashion piece with figures/dolls.
  • Include as many moving parts as possible in a play set, using hinges, levers, slides, etc.
  • Include hand-held prop in role play sets (e.g., wand, weapon) as an impetus for action.
  • Consider collectibles that can be combined, sorted, re-sorted, and rearranged. 
  • With games, create tactile satisfaction through movable parts and texture.

Screen time cannot fully deliver on the rich manipulative play value kids crave, so make sure you are fully leveraging this opportunity in all your toys. 


#powerofplay #playexpert

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