The advent of digital technology and the vast array of electronic devices currently on the market has ushered in a whole new generation of innovative toys. This makes purchasing decisions difficult, confusing, and perhaps overwhelming. The National Association for the Education of Young Children provides helpful guidelines for various age groups, advising that “toys for young children need to match their stages of development and emerging abilities.” Any electronic toy should be labeled as “UL Approved,” which indicates that the Underwriters Laboratories have inspected and rated these products as acceptable for children. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also provides information about safety hazards in toys and equipment intended for children’s use.

This year’s Toy of the Year Awards (TOTY), which were recently announced, provides a list of the top toys from the past holiday season in a number of categories. TOTY recognition is like an “Oscar” in the toy industry. A judging team of designers, academic experts, inventors, journalists, trade media folks, and retail buyers review and rate more than 700 product nominees to select finalists for these awards. A third-party lab also tests them to ensure they meet safety standards for toys sold in the U.S.

I checked out this year’s winner and finalists for Innovative Toy, and was pleasantly surprised. All the products are responsive electronic toys that include interactive elements. The top prize went to Hatchimals, a toy for age five and above that’s as close as you can get to a live pet waiting for human-powered TLC to hatch and be taught how to interact. And note that Hatchimals was honored with 15 other awards, so it’s been a big hit.

An intriguing aspect of all the finalists for TOTY was the intentional capacity for a child to communicate with them. They all include some degree of control over what the electronic toy does, such as moving, playing games, performing tricks, or learning how to behave. More searching for trends with tech toys echoed that theme. That got me thinking; children have always had plenty of opportunities to interact with inanimate objects, but today’s kids get to strategically apply new skills with ingenious products that respond to their own directions.

Flashback: As a child, I lived in a house full of living pets, where I learned about responsible, compassionate caregiving. For kids who may not have those opportunities, perhaps electronic pets and devices fill a valuable developmental need.

Here’s a list of TOTY’s Innovative Toys of the Year:

WINNERHatchimals – MSRP: $59.99 | 5+

CHiP – MSRP: $199.99 | 8+

Cozmo – MSRP: $179.99 | 8+

Fisher-Price® Think & Learn Code-a-pillar™ – MSRP: $49.99 | 3-6 years old

Mebo – MSRP: $149.99 | 8+

Project Mc2 H2O RC Car – MSRP: $69.99 | 6+

Special Edition Battle-Worn BB-8™ with Force Band™ – MSRP: $199.99 | 8+

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