Toys that welcome imagination
Playmobil, the German building set invented by Hans Beck in the early 1970s, is one of the most enduring toys worldwide. The Children’s Store has carried this line for over 30 years. The brilliance of Playmobil and toys like it was on my mind as I was read an article about the new Hello Barbie being released in November 2015. This doll has a chip inside her with thousands of prerecorded responses that are triggered by the child speaking to her. So this isn’t just pulling a string to hear a doll “speak.” This is a Barbie doll that, to a child, will seem to be conversing. I found this amazing, but also kind of disappointing. I remember the best part of playing with dolls as a child, besides changing her outfits every 5 minutes, was changing her personality and surroundings just as often. Barbie in her tennis outfit was a different Barbie than the one in her wedding dress. Will Hello Barbie constrain a child’s imagination because her personality is too formed?
Before Playmobil became a toy giant with hundreds of themed sets each year, it began with the iconic Playmobil figure, still basically the same today. Beck came up with a figurine that fit in a child’s hand and had a large head, a big smile, and no nose. Just the way kids draw people. Its sets are different from Lego in that it is less about building and more about playing. Playmobil is definitely defining a theme for each set with the tiniest props provided, but what happens to it after that is up to the child.
Playmobil keeps up with the times and even has a new animated TV show on Netflix called Super 4 with toy tie-ins, but they haven’t changed their basic concept because it works. New themes come out every year, and as with most of the toy companies we deal with, I am amazed that there are still new things to be thought of. That’s what I love about this business—new technology is embraced, but the basic idea of helping children have fun and learn remains.