Touch is one of the five senses that bombards our lives every day along with sound, sight, taste and smell. While we often take these senses for granted in our everyday life we might take it even more for granted in none other than our toys. The stretchy latex of stretch Armstrong, the fuzz on your Furby’s head, or just the gloss feel on that shiny new action figure all provide a unique sense of play to kids and adults alike. Toys that provide tactile and kinetic stimulation are especially popular among autistic children and adults alike, and help provide teachers with new and engaging methods of instruction.
Non-Productive.com reporters James and Nate noticed that there was not just a lot of wonderful new toys to see at Toy Fair, but so many new toys to touch! Just as young children dive hands first into new experiences our reporters threw their hands into some interesting new experiences at this years event.
Floof – Play vision Products – http://www.playvisions.com/
NATE- When I first got my hands on some Floof, I expected it to have a sandier texture, but it felt more like air dry modelling clay, a little like foam and very lightweight. It was very easy to tear off chunks and shape them into whatever I wanted and they held their shape well, but were also easy to squash back into place. Its ability to make shapes went beyond sandcastles, it could easily be used to create sculptures like dogs and people that can be picked up and played with, and then squished later.
Unfortunately, it was very sticky- which can, in itself, often be fun, but does make it a bit of a messier option for playtime, as my hands were sticky for twenty minutes afterward until I could find some water to wash my hands in. This sticky, lingering feeling was pretty unpleasant, and in the context of autistic development I think would be especially so. If a little sticky residue doesn’t bother you, though, this floofy foam was fun in that it never dries out, is easy to mold, lightweight and squishy.
JAMES- I was incredibly excited when I saw Floof from across the show floor, it looked like someone had found a way to preserve snow for you to play with, with setups like snowmen and snowballs I was ready to get my hands on it. While the actual product did not work like snow (which in retrospective it not being cold was way better) I was impressed with what I got my hands on. It was like a modeling clay that never dried out, giving you the ability to sculpt and play as much as you wanted. It was light weight even when packed together, making the snow ball kit a fun idea knowing that you could throw it at your friends without worrying too much that you would hurt someone.
I was not so disappointed about how sticky it was as compared to the fact that it had a subtle stench. It had almost a modeling clay smell to it that stuck with your hands for a while after, even drying out your skin a bit, which was a little bothersome. It’s stiffness could also make it a little hard to mold if you have trouble with your hands you may be more interested in a more malleable product.
NATE- Play Dirt and Sandsalive were two sands on a combined table, and when I got my hands into them I expected them to be more similar than they were. Dirt was colorized like real wet dirt, like the kind you might find in a sandbox a day after it rained, which I think is particularly fun for a sand table and early education play. It was much heavier than other tactile sands that I’ve handled before, in a good way. It felt delightfully clumpy and made good mushy piles and did pile like proper sand, but with far less mess- I rubbed my hands together when I was done and they felt pretty clean. It would hold its shape for a sandcastle, but perhaps not a sculpture like a dog. It had a very satisfying, dirty experience and aptly named.
JAMES- you know what I loved to do as a kid, play in the dirt. Do you know what I dread my future child doing, playing in the dirt. I was amazed when I finally got to touch the dirt and I felt how different it was from a basic sand. It really felt heavy and moist even a little cold like real dirt. Its texture was super pleasant to play with and could easily be built into things like sand(dirt?) castles or walls that you could ram a truck through. Everything I used to love about a wet sand box. Best of all, no strange lingering smell like the Floof. Dirt just seemed like such an obvious and unique concept, I have to give props to the team at Play Vision for it, definitely my favorite from their booth.
NATE– Sandsalive was almost shocking in comparison after Dirt, as it was the exact opposite- another tactile sand, it was so incredibly soft, like touching sandy cotton candy. It was very light and fell apart as soon as I pulled at it, without dissolving like dry sand would. It was more difficult to shape than other tactile sands, but significantly more interesting to pick up and feel, because it didn’t settle into shapes I put it into- it was constantly trying to dissolve back into the tray like water. Like dirt, when you were done, it would still cling a bit to your hands like sand does, but it comes off easily enough with just rubbing your hands together, for the most part.
JAMES- I liked Sandsalive, I did, but it was the least impressive tactile toy at Play Visions booth. Compared to the fun and uniqueness of both Floof and Dirt, Sandsalive just felt like any other kinetic sand. It was fun to touch and molded easily. An excellent feeling to run through your fingers, but still stuck to you when you were done and had a bit of that kinetic sand smell.
Orbeez – http://mayatoys.net/
NATE- We were fortunate enough to be given a tour of this year’s new Orbeez products, and while most of us at Non-Pro have had the opportunity to get hands on with Orbeez before, I never have. It was a really wild experience- they didn’t feel anything like I expected, and at the same time, exactly like they looked like they would. It was like putting my hand in a pile of moist, squishy marbles.
JAMES- I love Orbeez, so I was super excited for the tour we had scheduled that day of the new Orbeez products and i was very amazed at the creative uses Maya Toys had come up with for the Orbeez. From little hand foot and body spa’s to the idea of crushing Orbeez’s down to create this weird chunky paste like texture that was meant for decorating fake cakes and other fun fake food products.
I was both excited and a little disappointed by the new line of Orbeez products titled Zorbeez. I had not realized how much Maya Toys had gendered Orbeez into a girls toy so much so that they felt they needed to create a new line of toys Zorbeez for boys. That being said I liked the little monsters filled with crushed Orbeez, that when squeezed, would ooze out of them. We even got to see a cool monster that would spit out the crushed orbeezs, sure to create a real mess unfortunately it did not work as intended so there was no fun mess for us.
MadMatter – Relevant play http://www.relevantplay.com/
NATE- The most exciting thing I had the opportunity to touch all day was Mad Matter. We stopped by their booth before lunch and I could not stop myself from gushing about it for the rest of the day to the point we had to go back and get more photos. It initially reminded me of Kinetic sand from a distance in texture and color, but it was more different than I expected. Mad Matter is silicone based and so only sticks to itself- I was also excited by the fact that unlike kinetic sand, no matter how much I rolled and mashed it in my hands there was no dye residue in my skin. It wasn’t sticky or unpleasant and didn’t stick to my skin, it didn’t have an unpleasant smell like some texture toys do, and it made almost zero mess. It was easy to mash into complex shapes like bricks or pyramids or animals but easy again to mash into blobs, and pull apart into soft, fluffy mush. The gentleman presenting it told me that when if you mash it into a dense little ball, it will sink in water, but if you pull it thin it will float. I love this. It’s such a unique toy to experience and I’ve found myself mashing my sample in my hands ever since. Mad Matter has truly risen above all other texture toys for me and mostly replaced everything else I already owned.
JAMES- If I had to choose the grand prize winner of of all the Kinetic experiences I had at toy fair it would be Mad Matter. Mad Matter is a silicone based sand which is simply mind blowing. The fact that it is made out of silicone gives it some amazing properties, it only sticks to itself. It can be pulled apart as light as air or compressed into a hard solid state strong enough that they had tools allowing you to make interconnecting bricks to build with. It would never lose it’s shape unless you pulled it back apart and never dries out so you could build anything you wanted and leave it up.
Mad Matter might be the most pleasant thing I have ever touched…, I have my free sample here as I write this article and I have to say even on further inspection it holds up. It doesn’t stick to you, or leave you feeling gross, it has no strong smell, and really makes no mess.
We had the pleasure of interacting with many other great tactile experiences at Play fair, some others were still winners, soft and fluffy, or strong and fun. While others maybe did not feel so great. It’s clear that this new way of thinking about the tactile experience in development of a young mind or those who struggle with disabilities is becoming an important part of they way toy makers are thinking about toys. We really recommend you check out some of these products!