Americans may be cutting back on clothing, electronics and travel during the coronavirus recession, but they are spending handsomely on toys.

Toy sales have surged 18 percent so far this year, with parents spending more on games, outdoor activities, building sets and crafts to keep children entertained at home, according to NPD Group. Analysts expect that growth to continue into the holidays.

But the season’s hottest toys look a bit different this year. There are a host of nostalgic favorites, including Care Bears and the giant piano mat from “Big,” as well as pandemic-appropriate newcomers such as Breathe With Me Barbie and Theo the Therapy Dog. Also in high demand: family-friendly games, educational toys without screens and just about anything related to The Child from “Mandalorian.” Here’s a rundown of what’s in high demand for the holidays:

Toys that provide comfort and promote well-being

It has been a tough year for everybody — and some of the season’s hottest toys are meant to not just to entertain children, but also comfort them.

There’s Mattel’s Breathe With Me Barbie ($20), which leads children in guided meditation exercises, and Roylco’s Theo the Therapy Dog ($50), a weighted comfort toy that comes with a heat pouch and soft, floppy ears. Present Pets, a “self-unboxing puppy” from Spin Master, paws its way out of its gift box on its own. The glittery stuffed animal, which sells for about $50, wags its tail and blows kisses when cuddled.

The See My Feelings Mirror ($12), meanwhile, teaches young children to identify their emotions using photos and emoji.

“I can’t think of another year when we’ve put emphasis on this type of play aimed at helping kids and adults de-stress,” said James Zahn, senior editor of the Toy Insider, a trade publication. “This has been a stressful year for everyone.”

Care Bears, the line of colorful stuffed animals popular in the 1980s, made its way back to shelves in July — and promptly sold out. The plush toys, which come with names like Funshine Bear and Share Bear, are back in stock and selling fast, according to Jay Foreman, chief executive of Florida-based toy company Basic Fun. He expects to sell 1.5 million Care Bears this year, three times what he had originally planned for.

“Everybody is emotional,” he said. “We could all use a hug.”

Baby Yoda

With theaters closed and major releases on hold, toymakers have struggled to drum up excitement for movie-related toys.

But there’s one exception: anything pertaining to “The Mandalorian,” the Star Wars spinoff on Disney Plus.

“The bright spot in licensed merchandise has been anything pertaining to the Child from ‘The Mandalorian,’” said Zahn of Toy Insider. “Every other movie tie-in has pretty much gone bust.”

“The Mandalorian” has spawned a number of the season’s hottest toys: Hasbro’s Star Wars The Child Animatronic Edition ($60) moves its head up and down, giggles and babbles. The Child Plush Toy from Mattel ($13) — this year’s top-selling plush toy, according to NPD — is a cuddly version of the same character, while The Child Real Moves Plush ($60) moves its head and ears, and shuffles around on its feet. Hanna Andersson has matching Mandalorian pajamas for dogs, children and adults ($28-$50), while Build-A-Bear is promoting its customizable version of the popular toy (starting at $44). Monopoly and Lego are also pushing “Mandalorian”-themed products.

“The biggest challenge this year has been selling movie merchandise because there haven’t been any movies,” said Chris Byrne, an industry consultant who bills himself as the Toy Guy. “But then there’s the Child from ‘The Mandalorian.’ It’s one of those toys that appeals to adult collectors as much as it does to kids.”

Hands-on activities and crafts

This holiday season, many parents are going back to the basics, with crafts, activity kits and other open-ended toys to keep their kids engaged.

There’s the Crayola Paper Flower Science Kit ($30), which comes with supplies to make and dye a dozen paper flowers, and the Rainbocorns Sweet Shake Surprise ($35), which comes with do-it-yourself mini slime milkshakes. Kinetic Sand, which comes with “squeezable” silicon-covered granules, is expected to remain popular, as children and adults look for tactile ways to unwind.

“We’re seeing a boom in crafts because parents want to get their kids off their phones and tablets,” said Foreman of Basic Fun.

The Play-Doh Slime Variety 6-pack ($15) comes with new varieties of the popular putty, including “super stretch,” “foam” and “krackle.” Lego’s new Dots line includes supplies to build and decorate colorful pencil holders, jewelry stands, picture frames and desk organizers for $15 to $20 apiece.

Other craft sets help children create any number of novelties, including puffy stickers, friendship bracelets, bath bombs and snow globes for about $15 to $30.

Surprises and collectibles

The coronavirus recession has affected millions of families who are dealing with job losses and other financial challenges. While some may be splurging on toys, analysts say many will have to pull back this year. As a result, they expect collectible brands like L.O.L. Surprise, Hatchimals, Funko and Cloudees, which start at about $4, to remain popular.

“The good news is that there are wonderful toys available at many different price points,” said Byrne. “L.O.L. Surprise remains one of the hottest toys in the industry and it’s $6.99. Those types of brands allow parents to buy a hot item without breaking the bank.”

For those who do want to splurge, the L.O.L. Surprise O.M.G. Remix Super Surprise ($130) comes with 70 pieces, including eight dolls and four miniature instruments. Part of the appeal, executives say, is just how long it’ll take to unwrap the toy.

“The Super Surprise will literally take an hour to open and play with,” said Isaac Larian, chief executive of MGA Entertainment, the company behind L.O.L. Surprise, Bratz and Little Tikes. “They’re small items but they really keep the kids busy, and that’s what parents want right now.”

Also hot this year: CurliGirls dolls ($10), which have colorful strands of hair that can be curled, then straightened again using warm water. Zuru’s 5 Surprise Mini Brands ($10), meanwhile, come with tiny replicas of popular products, such as Dove body wash, Barbasol shaving cream, Skippy peanut butter, Lipton tea and Twinkies.


Classics are making a comeback this year, as children — and parents — reach for Lego, Barbie, Hot Wheels and other tried-and-true toys.

Target has revived the Giant Piano Dance Mat ($40) from the 1988 movie “Big,” while Playmobil’s Back to the Future DeLorean ($50) commemorates the movie’s 35th anniversary. Other decades-old toys have also gotten a makeover: The new Baby Alive Grows Up ($55) transforms from newborn to infant to toddler, and along the way learns to stand, eat and speak English and Spanish. Meanwhile, the Hot Wheels City Robo T-Rex Ultimate Garage ($100) comes with parking spots for more than 100 cars, as well as two racetracks — and a hungry T-Rex that likes to eat vehicles.

Executives at Mattel say they also expect the Barbie DreamHouse ($200), a top-seller that comes with a working elevator and swimming pool, to remain popular during the holidays.

“Parents are prioritizing spending on their kids right now,” said Steve Totzke, the company’s chief commercial officer. “They are looking for quality products and brands that they trust.”

Families are also stocking up on traditional games, with Hasbro reporting double-digit sales increases for Monopoly, Jenga, Connect 4 and Operation.

“It is all about classic play this year,” Byrne said. “People are anxiety-ridden, and those nurturing games we remember from our childhoods are like comfort food.”