From primary school age at the latest, digital media play a central role in children’s lives: they are also seen as ‘toys’. Parents are thus faced with the question of how to prepare their children for the digital world.

The Ulmer psychiatry professor, Manfred Spitzer, warns that the toy industry should not simply aban- don the brains of children to the market. “What you get with the supposedly modern buzzword Toys 3.0 is really the beginning of a career in addiction and the beginning of a mental decline,” he says. In contrast, Axel Dammler, partner of the Munich Youth Research Institute Iconkids & Youth and leader of the Toys 3.0 study, sees no threat to children’s brains. Children need to be prepared for digital media. In addition, he urges the toy trade to make electronics touchable by linking them with classical play worlds. As a result, they will also be easier to sell.

“We see great opportunities to combine the digital with the haptic”, says Ravensburger AG via its spokeswoman Cordula Schnieber. “We have different approaches, which have become well-established on the market. In addition to tiptoi®, for example, we have our two Children’s Games of the Year “Catch Hubi” and “Who Was it?”. Tiptoi is an interactive educational game comprising an electronic digital pen and a board, book, or puzzle with digital paper. The pen is held in various locations on the printed surface and detects a grid of dots, which can be tapped with the pen. The infrared scanner in the pen reads the code and plays audio les, which explain the game or pictures in the book, impart knowledge, or give people a voice. However, a whole game can also be created using a simple programming language. According to Ravensburger, more than three million pens and three times as many tiptoi® books, games, and toys have been sold since autumn 2010. According to the manufacturer, almost every second child in Germany in the target age group has played with the pen.

The electronic digital pen tiptoi® by Ravensburger has been established for many years.

The Ravensburger Group achieved a turnover of 444 million euros in the last financial year. 331.7 mil- lion euros were generated by the games, puzzles, and hobbies division. The large Western European toy market, which is important for Ravensburger, developed positively last year and increased by 5.6%.“In Germany, for example, traditional toys grew faster than digital games in the past five years. Haptics is indispensable for children now, they need and want something to touch,” says Ravensburger Group CEO Karsten Schmidt.

David Völker in Witten is attempting something similar with the development of the play rug, Teppino, which connects classical and digital games. With an app, children can scan selected buildings on the rug, such as a fire station, and thereby learn how much water a fire truck tank holds or what happens when the re alarm sounds. The start-up company has been on the market since late autumn 2015 and has, by its own account, sold a mid-four-digit number of the play rugs. “We will expand our range to include rugs with more themes and develop the app more in the direction of augmented reality,” says Völker on his plans for 2016.

Connected to an app, the play rug teppino offers useful common knowledge.

The start-up company Vai Kai is also seeking to combine to combine two worlds that have until now seemed incompatible. In their Berlin work- shop, Matas Petrikas and Justyna Zubrycka have developed wooden dolls that react to noise, light, and touch thanks to built-in microchips. The dolls can express more than a dozen feelings: shouting for joy or grumbling angrily. If two dolls approach each other, you can feel a vibration coming from inside them, as if their hearts are racing. The dolls will thus be sold in pairs as “Avakai Twins”. “Electronics in wooden toys can make sense as a niche product,” says Wolfgang Schühle, President of the Wooden Toys Section of the Toy Industry Association.

The Avakai twins are a wooden toy with an electronic inner life.
Entwickelt wurden sie vom Start-Up Unternehmen Vai Kai.
The minimalistic look gives room for creative play. They were developed by start-up company Vai Kai.

Fox & Sheep in Berlin is another successful start-up company. It describes itself as a leading publisher of high-quality children’s games apps for children aged 2 to 8 years. It was founded in 2012 and has a portfolio of 16 apps. Its bestsellers are “Sleep well!”, “Little Fox”, “Petting Zoo”, and “Little Builders”. They have been translated into 17 languages. Habermaaß GmbH (HABA) were won over by more than 12 million downloads of the apps and acquired an interest in Fox & Sheep in 2015. “Digital games are increasingly establishing themselves as a complement to physical games from early childhood on. Within the HABA corporate family, we will be significantly expanding the digital games sector and educational offers,” reads the press release announcing this new collaboration. Fox & Sheep has opened a digital workshop in Berlin for children, who can learn there how to program and how to do 3D print- ing and animation.

“Robo-Wunderkind” is a child’s toy full of processors. It was launched by Vienna start-up Robo Technol- ogies in 2015. Children as young as ve can build and program robots. The miracle robots can be assembled from different modules, which each have a specific function. Some components have a bat- tery, while others have speakers, LEDs, or a camera.

“Robo-Wunderkind ts the trend, of introducing basic programming concepts to much younger chil- dren. We are also working to produce a learning curriculum,” explains Anna Iarotska, co-founder of Robo Technologies. Sales began in July 2016. Marketing Manager Abra Coros describes a “pre-sales hit in the sense that it proved a huge success on Kickstarter, where more than 1,000 buyers placed orders worth nearly 250,000 dollars in just four weeks.”

Last but not least, Lego has also entered the new market with its Mindstorms robots for children. Using the Lego Mindstorms kits, children can build complicated machines right up to a complete production line in miniature. With its Education WeDo programme, the company is seeking to ini- tiate 2.0 cooperations with primary schools. The idea is for children to build models and lean child-appropriate programming in special classes.

“Through touching and trying, your pupils will learn technical, physical, and biological precepts as well as the elementary logic of programming and they will receive a sound basic understanding of everyday phenomena,” promises Lego. Given the country’s low birth rates, Michael Kehlet, Managing Director of Lego for the DACH region, believes that his company faces major challenges in Germany, where it already has a market share of 16.7%. “I firmly believe that children should continue to play physically,” says Kehlet. His conclusion: “You can see and learn a lot in front of a computer, but playing and feeling things tactically, where you create something in your head, recognise und understand dimensions and why you should build something a certain way – you just can’t get that from the experience of playing digital games.”