Coding, customizing and poop may seem to have little in common, but they could shape your child's wish list this year.
With more than 1,000 exhibitors, including big names such as Hasbro and Mattel, the Toy Industry Association's annual Toy Fair can be a bellwether of where the market is headed. Wandering the show floor, attendees can spot some of the major themes and sometimes baffling ideas that toymakers hope will catch kids' attention.
But it's not a full picture.
"The show doesn't shape what people are going to buy," said Jim Silver, CEO and editor of TTPM, a kids entertainment site that puts out a holiday hot toys list each year.
Manufacturers keep plenty of toys in development under wraps to announce later in the year, both to prevent knock-offs and generate consumer excitement closer to the shopping season.
"Why get excited in February, if I can't buy it until September?" he said.
These nine trends could influence the toy market this year.
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By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 22 Feb. 2014
Educational toys are aging beyond toddlers who are learning to distinguish shapes and how to count. One of the trends is toys that interest kids in science, technology, engineering and math, aka STEM.
(Read more: Why tonight's homework may involve reading comics)
Some of the cooler offerings come from smaller companies, such as ThinkFun's Robot Turtles game ($24.99), which turns basic programming into a fun game, and Goldiblox kits ($19.99 to $29.99), whose storylines challenge girls to engineer devices to solve a problem.
Plenty of the newest toys are aimed not at kids but at adults who crave a collection. Lego has a series of minifigures from "The Simpsons" ($3.99 and up) out this spring, including a set to build the family home ($199.99).
"Lego has always been very collectible for adults," said brand relations director Michael McNally.
(Watch: Hot holiday toys at Toy Fair 2014)
Hasbro has lines of action figures ($19.99 each) for Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which a spokeswoman said are aimed more at adult collectors. And it's probably not kids who want Gund's line of Grumpy Cat products, designed to look like the real-life feline behind the Internet meme.
Screen time and play time continue to blur, with new toys that offer extra features when paired with a video game or app. Girls can play with Jakks Pacific's miWorld mall play sets ($14.99 and up) on their own or through the linked app, which uses an iPad's camera to "see" the play set and bring it to life on screen, letting a digital avatar shop and play.
"All our research tells us kids don't want to have boundaries around their play," said John Frascotti, global chief marketing officer at Hasbro. "They want to put their own stamp on it."
New toys offer customization at varying levels. Kids could add flames and other designs to cars with Mattel's Hot Wheels Airbrush Auto Design Custom Kit ($34.97) or build their own pony from scratch—manes, stickers and more—with Hasbro's My Little Pony Pop Kits ($3.99).
(Read more: Will one of these be the next hot holiday toy?)
Parents (and toymakers) already know the siren song of characters like Batman and Elmo—a big movie release or popular TV show can translate to sales. And this is a big movie year, said Silver, with new flicks in the Spiderman, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchises, among others.
But many companies are also getting involved on the content side, creating their own new shows and books with toys attached. One of the newest Barbie lines, Style Core ($19.99), draws from her Web series Life in the Dreamhouse. Spin Master co-created Paw Patrol with Nickelodeon, with a toy line due out this spring.
The latter could be particularly hot, said Silver, adding, "We know on the social media channels how people are just going crazy for the product to come out."
Several makers pointed to new toy offering as a way to bridge the gap between items for toddlers and those for older kids. Based on feedback from parents who said multistep transformations were tricky for their preschoolers, Hasbro is introducing one-step changers Transformers ($9.99) that convert from a robot to a dinosaur in one move. (There are other lines with more complex changes geared to older kids.)
Lego's Juniors line is aimed at the same age group, offering some already-built and single-piece elements—like a house or fire-station—to make construction easier on little hands.
Groundhog Phil said six more weeks of winter, but toymakers are keen on summer, with spring debuts of synthetic sand along the lines of what Brookstone already sells.
Several small companies had it on offer, as did Cra-Z-Art and Spin Master, priced at roughly $10 a jar. The compound is a mix of factory-made sand and polymer that makes it easy to shape—think perfect sand-castle consistency, without the need for water.
For reasons possibly only the toymakers know, your 7–year-old desires facial hair. The show featured moustache-shaped slap bracelets, wearable light-up novelty versions and more.
Spin Master will have a Moustache Smash game ($15.99) out in fall that asks players to use their handheld 'stache—which has a suction cup on it—to compete for cards on the table.
As the well-known kids' book reminds us, "Everyone poops." Even toys. Both Mattel and MGA Entertainment plan to introduce dolls that come with pets that poop.
Barbie Potty Training Taffy ($19.99) arms Barbie with a pooper scooper to clean up after her dog, Taffy, and the Moxie Girlz Poopsy Pets ($19.99)—a rabbit, unicorn and koala—defecate glitter, rainbows or jewels, respectively, for their dolls to pick up.
Of course, plastic poop is included with all the toys.