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The KAPi 2020 Toy Awards Prove That Classic Play & Technology Can Work Together

The year 2020 just sounds like the future Marty McFly showed the world. Everyone's already well beyond the idea of flying cars and hoverboards as their main mode transportation, but the Kids at Play Interactive (KAPi) 2020 Toy Awards prove that technology and science are exploding in every facet of life, including your kids' playrooms.

I know, the holidays already have you swamped in toys, but this list, which includes all-new 2019 toys, features apps and online video games, robots, digital content, and play experiences that bridge the gap between imaginative physical play and screens. More than 500 children's technology products were evaluated and reviewed for the 12th Annual KAPi Awards, of which Romper is a proud media sponsor. Organizer and producer Tonda Bunge Sellers tells Romper that when it comes to curating this list and selecting winners, the KAPi awards "recognize excellence in design and innovation." And this year, that means a lot of "tech-fluid play," according to Sellers.

"We now have Generation Alpha, a generation of kids that have never know life BI (Before Internet). They are as fluid with shopping and e-commerce and to use of social media as they are with Little League and ballet lessons," she tells Romper. "We look for toys that inspire play, teach, and entertain supporting their family lives. Tech has become a cornerstone of new possibilities from birth to the end of life."

She also says that because tech works its magic with every young learner, kids are now able to move "seamlessly between the world of tech and the physical world, and each of the KAPi winners captures this trend."

But don't let all the tech jargon make you think your kids are just mindlessly tinkering with toys that need your assistance. Sellers says this list is full of "strong play patterns, and simplicity for kids to pick up the toy and play without instructions or parental nudging." It's the "magic of childlike innocence," but tech adds another layer to extend the play.

Creator of the KAPi awards Robin Raskin, who is also the founder of Living In Digital Times, agrees, telling Romper, "The best products that incorporate high tech into kids play are exploratory, meaning that the child directs the process, whether it's creating something, discovering something, or immersing themselves in something. Our judges are all play specialists: educators, UI experts, industry analysts, and very familiar with child development."

There seems to be a big up-tick in trying to get "back to basic" toys, but Raskin says that these tech-toys don't have to feel intimidating or any different than a non-tech toy. "There's a real move away from staring at screens," she says. "Winners included the lightsaber sword, a coding critters toy and a play 'ring' that all use tech, but not in the traditional 'playing in front of a monitor' play pattern. Play is more based on traditional play patterns that use technology to enhance the play."

And because the price points of tech toys have dropped, Raskin says they've become much more affordable and the market has changed, so robots aren't $500 like they were just a few years ago.

According to the producers, the 2020 Awards were evaluated by an independent jury of industry and editorial experts under the direction of Warren Buckleitner, Editor of Children's Technology Review, who "looked for products that raised the bar for innovation and design excellence." An awards ceremony will be held at CES in Las Vegas on January 9th at the Kids and Family Stage at the Venetian.

Basically, this toy list keeps all the classic things a family loves in a toy — imagination, parent-free play, and innovation — but with an added layer of tech to bring everyone into the new decade.

Best Overall Technology Toy: Hasbro Star Wars Lightsaber Academy Interactive Battle Lightsaber

Winner of the Best Overall Technology Toy is the Hasbro Star Wars Lightsaber Academy Interactive Battle Lightsaber, which is as cool as it sounds. Using an app on an iPad or iPhone, this toy lets your kids train with the greatest Sith and Jedi in the galaxy, battle Masters, and compete with their friends. The lightsaber has technology that works alongside the app, tracking your angle, speed, and accuracy as you move the lightsaber.

And for even more realism, the lightsaber is packed with character phrases and other sound effects from everyone's favorite galaxy series.

Best App: LEGO DUPLO WORLD

It's 2020, and LEGOs go beyond the box in your playroom now. LEGO's LEGO DUPLO WORLD won the Best App award, and it's easy to see why. My own 5-year-old loves actual LEGO building sets and the sweet LEGO DUPLO WORLD app where she can build her own tiny town with just a swipe of her finger. There are also animals, trains, and other vehicles to build.

Best STEM/STEAM Product: Learning Resources’ Coding Critters

The Best STEM/STEAM award goes to super cute little guys: Learning Resources' Coding Critters. Without screens, your child uses a storybook to learn basic coding, which allows their interactive pets to be fed, pet, and played with. They also come with basic play sets that you can make them crawl and play through as you code. I'm partial to the tiny little dinosaur critter.

Best Creative Experience: BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment’s Tori Explorer Pack

Winner of the Best Creative Experience award goes to the tori Explorer Pack. The kit is a mixture of screenplay and actual physical crafting, where kids can see their toy moves play out on the digital screen. Bonus: it really taps into your kids' skill-building with colors, numbers, problem solving, and motor coordination. It's a great one for the whole family, and will open up a wave of imagination and creativity for your little ones.

Noteworthy School Product: FableVision Studios’ Keenville

The Noteworthy School Product award from the KAPI Toy Awards was given to Keenville, a game-based assessment for first and second graders in Georgia. By designing their own avatar and adventure on the map, kids can play through math and literacy games assigned by their teachers. As they answer questions correctly, they earn beans that they can use to buy things for their little avatar's home.

Pioneer Team: ELENCO

The Pioneer Team winner is ELENCO, a brand that creates innovative products like Snap Circuits, Snapino, Timberkits, Engino, and Teach Tech. The products aim to make coding simple for kids, and offer a fun, creative way for them to work through technology.

Legend: David Small and Paul Rago’s Shoot the Moon

The Legend award goes to Shoot the Moon, a product invention company known for favorites like Hatchimals, Little Live Pets, and the original interactive BFF: Teddy Ruxpin.

Best Robotics: Educational Insights’ Artie 3000 The Coding Robot

More coding, because it's 2020. The winner of the Best Robotics award goes to Artie 3000 the Coding Robot. This robot takes kids from beginner level to professional, with seven coding languages. Kids ages 7 and up can use drag and drop, remote control, point and click, javascript, Blockly, snap!, and Python to learn how to code creatively. It also helps that Artie's pretty cute.

Judge's Choice: Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure

Like the giant toy lists of my own youth, Nintendo is on this one with an award for Judge's Choice. Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure combines RPG and exercise with a sweet fantasy game for you to defeat a bodybuilding dragon. I'm 100% in.

Best Use of Emerging Technology: Virsix’s St. Noire

And the winner of the Best Use of Emerging Technology award is St. Noire, an Alexa-powered murder mystery board game. A full play-through is anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, and there are multiple storylines so you're never bored game after game. The identity of the killer is also random with each play, so it's an actual mystery every time you start to play.