From colourful crafts to construction, 'kid-powered creativity' rules summer toys

TORONTO - Whether they're building blocks or using the pavement as a canvas, notable summer playthings are aimed at helping children keep both their minds and bodies active.

At its annual Hot Toys of Summer event, the Canadian Toy Association featured more than 80 toys, games and activities for kids to stay engaged and entertained whether playing indoors or outdoors.

Association spokeswoman Margot Somerville said what's innovative about the items showcased was their focus on "kid-powered creativity."

A cross-section of toddlers and young children was on hand for Wednesday's event at the Toronto Zoo. Many channelled their inner pavement Picassos using multi-hued chalk. Several youngsters also gravitated to the Discovery Kids jumbo-sized inflatable ring toss set and a miniature trampoline from Little Tikes with a handlebar for stability.

"It really is all about burning that energy, getting healthy, getting fit and finding really fun ways to have kid-powered energy," said Sommerville.

Mellissa Ruscio said she is very interested in outdoor toys that will allow her seven-year-old son, Hayden, and five-year-old daughter, Hannah, to be self-expressive as well as using their physical fitness.

"My kids are very active. They like to be able to draw themselves. They like to be able to do things when they're moving," she said.

"My daughter in particular ... she's actually the one that liked to crush up the chalk and put it in water and make her own paint. She wants to do things where they're using their own skills, their own imagination, their own creativity."

Several of the products offered novel twists on classic play. In addition to colourful outdoor bubbles from Crayola, some kids got a kick out of the Bubbly Mermaid from Lalaloopsy, which creates a crown of foamy globules when her tail is squeezed.

Girls in particular gravitated toward the Play-Doh DohVinci Style and Store Vanity Design Kit, using a sculpting tool and styler to create swirls, stripes, flowers and other decorative shapes.

The boys on hand were particularly keen on the Boom Co. Rapid Madness Blaster designed to fire darts at a target. Boys and girls were equally drawn to staples like motorized vehicles and construction toys.

Among the unique offerings was a colourful addition for a splash pool. Gelli Baff powder creates a goo when sprinkled over the surface of the water, then converts to a drainable liquid when a dissolver is added.

Somerville said items like Gelli Baff illustrate the focus on creating items that allow kids to be self-expressive without a ton of extra work for parents.

"Innovation in the toy industry is really about solving two problems: one is making sure the kids are entertained, and two is making sure that mom and dad are really happy with the final (outcome)."

Valerie Reisch sat alongside her daughter, Aliyah, as she role-played with miniature figurines inside the Lego Friends beach house.

"I really like building stuff and using my imagination," said the seven-year-old.

Reisch said her daughter is drawn to construction toys, particularly those geared to girls. For the outdoors, the mom enjoys the no muss, no fuss of chalk which can easily wash off.

"I don't want her to be watching TV all day long. I want her to enjoy the outdoors and be active as much as possible."

Reisch said play items with an educational component are key.

"I want her to be hands on. I like her to construct things. I want her to use her imagination and see what she can use on her own."

Ruscio said she and her husband are both educators, and both find it important to keep education in their thoughts as they're teaching their kids new skills through play, like discussing primary and secondary colours while working on art.

"We definitely like to keep the education in mind, but we do like to have summer fun too; get on the bikes and go out there."

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