Editor’s pick: Originally published Jan. 8.
For the most part, this year's Consumer Electronics Show revolved around smart home technology and automated cars, but one other category that surprisingly took up a lot of space in the exhibition areas was educational toys for kids.
Companies from around the world brought their connected toys and showed off how they could better educate children in a fun and 21st century way.
According to NPD, the U.S. toy market grew to $18.24 billion in 2014 from $17.5 billion in 2013. And as of October, the market was on track to increase another 7% in 2015.
The opportunity for toy makers is even bigger when considering the shifting digital habits of children and parents' desire to keep digital activities productive and creative.
"As children spend more and more time interacting with digital devices, they don't have very many opportunities to create and experiment," MIT Media Lab's Mitchel Resnick recently told NPR.
"Oftentimes it's playing, clicking, consuming, as opposed to designing and expressing," Resnick said. "I would tell parents to look for either the apps or the toys where the child is in control. If it feels that the toy or tablet is in control, then I'd be much more cautious about it."
Here are six toys that were showcased at CES this week and demonstrate the growing and changing category.
1. The Code-A-Pillar
Mattel's (MAT) Fisher-Price unveiled Code-A-Pillar, a caterpillar that is made up of movable segments. Each segment has a different direction on it -- forward, right, left, or pause -- and the caterpillar moves based on how the segments are arranged.
The idea is that the Code-A-Pillar teaches early principles of coding through sequencing, problem solving and goal-oriented programming. The child can set a specific target for a location he or she wants the code-a-pillar to reach.
The toy is geared towards kids ages three to eight and will be available in the fall for $49.99.
2. Lego WeDo
Lego stepped up its game with Lego Education WeDo 2.0, which offers a Lego-tied educational experience for kids in grades 2 to 5. They can explore different areas of science such as frog metamorphosis in the rain forest, weather-related events and Mars, using a special app that has them build a specific Lego project that is connected to the science theme, like a rover.
The Lego project itself is then connected to the app via Bluetooth and can be programmed to teach early coding principles.
The WeDo construction set is available for $159.95, with the accompanying software included.
Edwin, the smart rubber duck, takes an old bath-time tradition and turns it into an interactive activity for kids. The waterproof toy, which was created by Indiana-based Pi Labs, connects to an app via Bluetooth.
The app goes through a narrative that asks the child to move the duck in specific ways to complete different tasks in the interactive story. For example, you have to shake Edwin up and down to brush your teeth, and you have to toss Edwin in your hand to put away the laundry.
Edwin, which is geared towards kids under the age of 9, costs $99 and is available online, at Best Buy and at Apple stores starting next week.
4. The Square Panda
The Square Panda aims to help kids learn to read and spell by pairing an iPad with a playset accessory. The accessory connects to the iPad, where kids can access different challenges that require them to arrange the letters. Parents can also personalize the challenges with their own words.
The Square Panda is available for pre-order starting at $99.
Wonder Workshop's Dash is a mini robot that can respond to a child's voice, move around the house and sing. Through accompanying apps, kids can program Dash to do things like play their favorite song, move along a set path and blink an eye.
Dash is available for $149.99.
Parihug's matching bears aren't really educational but they are developmentally important for kids whose parents are constantly traveling. The pair of stuffed animals (they can be bears or another animal) are connected via Wi-Fi so that when a mom or dad hugs (squeezes) one bear, the other bear vibrates, no matter how far apart they are.
The stuffed animals will be on Kickstarter later this year at $120 for a pair.