Toys, learning platforms, and gadgets for kids is a booming market as manufacturers harness the power of playtime.
It has long been believed that playtime is an important part of childhood, allowing kids to be kids, while also helping them learn to interact with their peers.
However, in recent years a growing number of scientific studies have confirmed that some toys and games are more educational than others. This has seen child development experts put an even stronger focus on the realm of play, emphasising that with the right toys and some guidance, parents and teachers can help in creating a fine and balanced learning experience.
In the UAE this creates a booming business. According to analysts Euromonitor International (EMI), consumers spent $869 million (Dh3.1 billion) on toys, games, and video games in the UAE in 2015, comprising nearly a third of the Middle East’s $2.9 billion retail value for the year — with this set to be an upward trend.
Watching the way youngsters learn these days may be a daunting experience for anyone above the age of 25. Take for example the Lughati initiative , which aims to support Arabic language education in kindergartens and schools by using smart tablets and a special new app — Horouf.
Experts say learning through these devices allows children to engage more fully via quizzes, games and more.
“Lughati is an important cultural and educational initiative that was conceived to facilitate learning Arabic the smart way,”
said Badria Al Ali, Manager of Lughati. “It functions to share experiences and [help in] the exchange of knowledge in order to reach its goals.”
Vicky Duggan, Nursery Director at Mosaic Nursery in JLT, Dubai, says there is a better understanding of the value of play these days, but that traditional toys can be just as powerful a learning tool.
“I am passionate about the use of wooden blocks and natural materials in play,” she said. “There are some great examples being used in schools and nurseries in Dubai. However, toys which appeal to and stimulate a child’s imagination and desire to play can be as simple as a collection of random, free Happy Meal toys or the latest craze.”
But there is no escaping the fact that new technology will enjoy a growing presence in places of education.
Learning company Pearson has launched its latest augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) educational technology in the Middle East. This includes content for Microsoft HoloLens, the brand new augmented reality viewer, as well as content for VR including interactive 360-degree courseware.
Mark Christian, Learning and Innovation Director for Pearson believes augmented and virtual reality has the potential to advance learner outcomes across the region.
“The technology used in immersive offerings like that of Google Expeditions or HoloLens was not a possibility a few years ago,” he said.
“Virtual and augmented reality open up a world of experiences to learners. A fifth grade student in Dubai now virtually experiences Mars or the Great Barrier Reef — imagine what that means for learner engagement .”
Parents are a big consumer market and though some impressive new toys exist, parents shouldn’t feel pressured into getting the flashiest product, says Zabeen Ahmed, a parent of two and an experienced UAE education and training consultant.
“Toys have evolved, and while there are all these new products with flashing lights and all the bells and whistles, it is often the simplest toys like building blocks that are the most useful. So go with your gut.”