Global Observer

Solar-powered toys: educational or just gimmicky?

Solar-powered toys: educational or just gimmicky?

Posting in Design

HONG KONG -- Tiny solar panels featured strongly among eco-friendly toys at this year's Hong Kong Toy Fair.

A solar panel helps turn on the LED lights of this toy house by Amazing Toys Ltd.

HONG KONG — Sitting in his booth at the Hong Kong Toy Fair, Samuel Sy, the general manager of Amazing Toys Ltd., was elated that a television crew had just come through to feature the company’s products in a local news show. The host had touted the educational value of its solar-powered toys into the camera.

Sy was quick to point out to me that a particularly elaborate toy-house set that comes with a spinning windmill, watermill and electric lights had just won a toy-design award. Dozens of the Hong Kong-based company's products, under the Greenex brand, allow children to assemble houses, police stations, hotels and other structures, but what immediately sets them apart from regular toy houses are the shiny black panels affixed to the roofs.

“Kids can interact with the solar functions of these toys while learning about environmentalism,” Sy said, demonstrating the toy’s hand crank that can be used to store a few minutes of energy in battery packs. The house could also be powered by wind with an included mini-turbine.

Amazing Toys is not the only maker jumping on the eco bandwagon. Throughout this week's huge Hong Kong Toy Fair, which each year welcomes tens of thousands of manufacturers and buyers, solar panels could also be found attached to toys ranging from plastic Ferris wheels and wooden planes.

One thing most of these products had in common was a need for meticulous assemblage, which lets children discover some of the mechanisms behind the energy generators. "It makes kids value their toys more when they have to put them together from start to finish," Sy said.

But is a solar-powered toy more fun than one that runs on plain old AA batteries? Since this was a trade show, there were no children in sight to offer testimonials. Here's a look at a few of the toys that run on renewables:

A wooden model plane made by Robotime Technology

Amazing Toys Ltd.'s toy bug

This solar panel is hooked up to a spinning Ferris wheel made by Felida Toys

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure