Space is the Place: A Return to Out-of-this-World Learning & Play

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago during the early 1980s, it seemed like “space” was everywhere. The UHF stations in Chicago were still airing a lot of sci-fi carryover from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, with shows like Lost in Space, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, and The Great Space Coaster airing in reruns constantly, while mid-day and weekend movies would bring classics like 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still or Disney’s The Black Hole.

Of course, being born in the ’70s and raised in the ’80s, nothing could top George Lucas’ Star Wars for me, with the original Kenner action figures, vehicles, and play sets fueling constant visits to a galaxy far, far away. Beyond fantasy (lest we forget that the Transformers were from Cybertron and He-Man from Eternia), kids of that generation were children of the Shuttle era—a time when we could see regular updates about real people embarking on frequent missions beyond our own atmosphere in search of knowledge and adventure while riding in a reusable spacecraft that looked pretty close to some of the toys we loved.

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I had pictures of various Space Shuttle Orbiters on my bedroom walls, not terribly far from where Boba Fett’s Slave I was docked, just past Skeletor lurking from his perch high atop Snake Mountain. There was always some doses of reality to balance things out, and all these years later it’s exciting to raise children in a time where space-based play is back in full-force, but with a genuine focus on learning and inspiring curiosity in kids. Here in our home, the enthusiasm for things not-of-this-world is so big, our youngest daughter, Finley, asked Santa Claus to bring her just one thing last year… a space station.

This year, space adventures are popping up with increasing frequency: Skye from Spin Master’s PAW Patrol got her own rocket ship, Air Hogs launched quadcopter versions of both the Starship Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon (who would win that battle?), Hot Wheels will soon have Carships, and the next wave of Wonder Crew gear features a rocket-themed “Dream Adventure” set. So what’s hotter than a Space X thruster right now? Check these out:

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Miles From Tomorrowland: One of Disney Junior’s biggest hits is also winning audiences in the STEM community and has been backed-up by a fantastic line of toys from the folks at Tomy. Since the toys hit shelves, the Stellosphere (a sizeable, three-ships-in-one playset) has been the pinnacle of the collection, with smaller vehicles and a growing assortment of action figures available to keep the adventure growing. This fall, the new focal point will no doubt be the new Mission Rover: a six-wheeled vehicle that opens up into a full-function space lab with room for six figures. I first saw this on display at Sweet Suite, and now having it in our fleet at Rock Father HQ, it’s impressive. The detail, quality construction, fun accessories and lights & sound make it a great addition, or a perfect starting point for any kid’s Miles from Tomorrowland collection.

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Geosafari Jr. My First Telescope: Back in May, there was a short window of opportunity where Mars was quite visible with the naked eye (very close to our moon), but even more brilliant under the view of a telescope. While it’s not the most powerful set of lenses available, Educational Insights’ My First Telescope was the perfect tool for our oldest daughter, Adalyn, to catch a glimpse of the red planet—and yes, it did look red (I looked)!

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Star Wars: With The Force Awakens firmly putting the Star Wars franchise back on-track as a cinematic franchise, The Force is strong in our household, but it was actually Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels that really got our daughters infected with the Star Wars bug (despite my showing them the Classic Trilogy very young). Later this month, licensees including Hasbro, Mattel, Jakks Pacific, LEGO and more will start unleashing products from the next big movie, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (in theaters December 16). For our family, the primary interest is still those classic 3.75-inch scale action figures, but there’s just so much good stuff to look out for, so you can bet it will be a big fall. Fun fact: I was actually in some of Target’s commercials for The Force Awakens last year.

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Aeromax Toys’ Astronaut Space Gear: Illinois-based company Aeromax has been releasing some fantastic role-play and dress-up items for nearly two decades, and while their newly-issued Robot Scientist gear fits firmly with STREAM values (STEM with an R added for robotics and an A for art), their astronaut suits are top-notch. Available in both orange and white (Shuttle throwbacks, for sure!), you can get the whole thing in kid size, including the suit, gloves, boots, helmet, backpack and even the off-duty-style flight jackets and hats.

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Ready, Jet, Go!: Wind Dancer Films’ space-and-science adventure series has been airing on PBS Kids since early Spring, and while there aren’t any toys just yet, an announcement is expected at any moment, as the toys have been promised since the adventures of young Jet and his human-looking, yet alien family have been enjoyed by millions of families in less than a year since its launch. One of the cool aspects of this series is that beyond the animated adventures in our solar system, a live-action (and very real) scientist drops by to share some of her knowledge.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- Beyond the Known Universe: Even Mikey, Raph, Leo and Donnie have been blasted into orbit, and April O’Neil and Casey Jones went right along with them! The fourth season of Nickelodeon’s relaunched Turtles series found the crew having to face-off against some new enemies, and that took them right into space. Available now on DVD, Beyond the Known Universe also spawned a fun assortment of action figures and vehicles from longtime master toy licensee, Playmates Toys. Finn recently acquired “Space April” on a Toys “R” Us run, and that made for a happy kid.

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Barbie – Star Light Adventure: Over the years, Barbie has visited space on occasion, but this year she’s traveling the galaxy in a feature film (out on Blu-ray and DVD this month from Universal) and a new toy line from Mattel. The setup for the new collection is that Barbie must travel the universe as part of a special mission team out to save some dying stars. We have a few of the dolls here at HQ, and it’s been fun to see them interact with other space-based characters. Indeed, Kylo Ren has visited the Malibu Dream House.

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Floogals: Back in January I called out Zodiak Kids’ Floogals as “the next great space program for kids,” and audiences seem to agree. Airing daily on NBC Universal’s Sprout channel, the Floogals teach kids about experimentation and discovery by presenting an “alien” view of common items located in just about every earthling home. Finley has been asking for Floogals toys since the show first made its debut, and soon her wishes will come true—the folks over at Just Play recently inked a license to bring Fleeker, Boomer, Flo, and I’d assume their awesome spacecraft, to toy aisle next year.

Trends in play tend to be cyclical, and while it might be hard to tell just how long the new space craze will last, it looks to be carrying on well into the coming year, and I look forward to seeing my girls having new imaginative adventures inspired by far-off worlds.

What do you think about Space is the Place: A Return to Out-of-this-World Learning & Play?