Happ E-holidays! Just ask any kid: electronics are among the hottest wish list items again this year. iPads, iTouch, iWant It All ... iKnow!
But does this mean you need to give into the gimmes? We asked two experts — Ken Denmead, Wired Magazine’s Geek Dad columnist and author of the New York Times-bestselling book, Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects for Dads and Kids to Share, and Kim Lachance Shandrow, Tecca.com’s Tech-Savvy Mom columnist — for their advice and recommendations.
First things first: Denmead urges parents to think about online security before investing in any tech devices. “At a minimum, you never want a kid looking at a computer screen you can’t see,” he says, going a step further to recommend tablets with pre-loaded kid-appropriate apps or online filtering tools like Open DNS. And Shandrow advises parents to consider tech products that get kids off the couch. “We all want to please our kids with electronics but it’s important to put physical activity first,” she says. “Some of the best toys out there combine the two.”
Now, let’s go e-shopping, shall we? Here are 15 hot tech gifts plus 6 app-a-licious stocking stuffers for the screen-savvy kids in your heart.
Noisy Good Fun: Gadgets for Babies and Toddlers
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Screen Laptop, ages 6 months–3 years, $19.99 (ToysRUs, Drugstore.com, Kmart)With big, round buttons for pudgy little fingers, an animated light-up screen that teaches tots numbers, letters, shapes, opposites and even Spanish – this is a laptop that’ll keep the little one occupied while you knock out your holiday spreadsheet. A volume control button keeps noise surges at bay.
LeapFrog Talking LapPup, ages 6 months and up, $17.99 (Amazon, ToysRUs, Walmart)
If portability is what you’re after (or, say your tot is already clamoring for her first pet) consider the Talking LapPup, which includes more than 40 songs and activities to help bring on a headache – er, we mean help your baby explore shapes, colors, counting, opposites and peek-a-boo play.
Kuchipaku Dancing Animal Speaker, $69.99 (Gizmine, Genius Jones)
These adorable stuffed animals (elephant, rabbit, penguin, frog) are pricey, sure, but plug in your iPod or other music player and all of a sudden, Mr. Froggie is gettin’ jiggy. Here’s a gift that definitely gives what it receives.
VTech Slide and Play Smart Phone, ages 24 months–6 years, $14.99 (Amazon, ToysRUs, Walmart, Yoyo.com)
Text much? This play phone includes a slide-out keyboard and LCD screen that looks just like Mommy’s, and even includes four “friends” kids can text or call, teaching letters, numbers and counting. “Wrong numbers” add to the fun.
Snap, Tap and Learn: Preschool APPropriate Gizmos
Kid-Friendly Digital Cameras, ages 3 and up, $39–$69.99 (Amazon, ToysRUs, YoYo.com)
Why risk yours when you can give the gift of indestructibility? These gadgets are built to survive, drop after drop – and kid-friendly controls, photo effects and plenty of memory keep roving photographers snap happy. Hot picks (er, make that pics) include: the LEGO 3MP ($44.98), Fisher Price Kid Tough V2751 ($39.00) and the VTech KidiZoom Plus ($69.99).
LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer Learning Tablet, ages 3–9, $99.00 (Amazon, Walmart, Target, BestBuy, Fry’s)
It looks, acts and functions like a “regular” tablet in nearly every way – and yet it’s completely customized for kids, with a tough case, front-and-back cameras, music, e-books, and creativity apps focused on reading, art, math, music, science, language. In fact, there are over 325 apps and games to choose from (five are included, the rest are sold separately through LeapFrog.)
Smart TV & Safe Kid Vids, ages 2–10 ($3.99–$4.99/month subscription)
For anyone who’s concerned about the over-commercialization of traditional TV or the anything-goes aspects of YouTube will find plenty of wholesome, educational and safe content via these kid video channels. Ameba TV (amebatv.com, $3.99/month – available via Roku, LG Smart TV, Google TV, the web and iPhone/iPad) has a range of musical, educational and science-oriented shows including Hot Peas & Butter, Sugar Free All Stars, Recess Stories and Busytown Mysteries. Kidobi (kidobi.com, $4/month, online, iPad, Android) allows parents to customize profiles and filter according to family values. Shows include Hoppin in the Rainforest and The Funky Numbers 1–10.” Toon Goggles (toongoggles.com, $4.99/month via Panasonic Connect TV, iPad, iPhone or the web) is you guessed it – mostly cartoons, of the indie, non-violent variety.
Portable & Playable: Tech Gifts for School-Age Kids
Diggin GoGo Pogo, ages 5 and up, $59.99 (Amazon, ToysRUs, Imagine Toys)
A zany electronic pogo bouncer that get kids moving and also helps develop counting, memory, sound recognition, music and rhythm.
MONOPOLY zAPPed, ages 8 and up, $29.99 (Target, Walmart, ToysRUs)
Using your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, MONOPOLY goes high tech with multiplayer mini games, audio, animation, virtual cash cards and fun landlord tools.
Furby, ages 8 and up, $54 (Target, Amazon, ToysRUs)
The famous interactive pet is … back! And more demanding than ever. Feed him, talk to him, play with him, learn “Furbish,” – but beware, if you don’t treat Furby well, he’ll turn into the worst pet imaginable.
Wild Planet Spy Gear Capture Cam, ages 8–12, $24.99 (ToysRUs, YoYo, Target)
Now kids can catch “suspects” in the act with this cool-looking spy camera. Heck, you may never settle sibling disputes the same way again. Hmmm.
Nintendo 3DS XL, ages 6 and up, $199.99 (Target, Walmart, Amazon)
No glasses required… the new Nintendo DS is pure 3D awesomeness, including the ability to take 3D photos. Also check out Common Sense Media’s nice list of age-appropriate 3DS games (commonsensemedia.org/game-lists/best-3ds-games-kids).
Plugged In: Smart Toys for Big Kids
Kindle Paperwhite, $119 (Amazon)
She’s asking for the Kindle Fire, iPad or Nook Color, but here’s the thing. She’s in love with reading. Don’t distract her from that simple pleasure with the lure of apps and videos – stock up on dozens of great e-books instead.
Wowwwee Paper Jamz Pro Mic Series - Kids Karaoke, ages 8 and up, $29.99 (Amazon, Best Buy, Target)
Sing like your favorite pop star! The free app allows your in-house Biebers to add their own music and play around with voice effects like vibrato, harmony, melody, and auto tune.
LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0, ages 10 and up, $279.99 (Walmart, Target, Amazon, ThinkGeek)
Get your nerd on and create your very own custom robot in 30 minutes! Bet your iPad can’t do that. Using LEGOs and programming software, your up-and-coming engineers can spend hours customizing thousands of robotic combinations, and even make their robots do all kinds of non-tech things, like walk, talk, close a door, or even turn off the TV.
Plus 6 Hot Add-On App Stocking Stuffers
Easy e-gifts that’ll make kids smile — and learn:
Stack the States — Even the little ones can learn U.S. states, capitals, shapes, flags and more – unlocking free bonus games along the way. Ages 4+. $0.99
Paper Town Friends — Dress up paper animals in whimsical (and totally adorable) mix-and-match outfits and accessories. Ages 4+. $1.99
Toca Band — Each character has their own beat. Put band members on stage and experiment with different sounds and musical rhythms to create your own hit songs. Ages 4+. $1.99
Love to Count by Pirate Trio — With more than 700 math tasks, kids are introduced to counting, sequencing, subtraction, addition and ordering. Parents get a tracking system to evaluate progress. Ages 4+. $3.99
Drawing Pad — Look mom, no mess! Kids use photo-realistic art tools to create mini masterpieces that can be saved into virtual albums. Ages 4+. $1.99
My PlayHome — A virtual dollhouse where kids do all kinds of house stuff: take a shower, make breakfast, and change up the music in the CD player. Ages 4+. $3.99
Allison Ellis is a mother of two, freelance writer and children’s media consultant who lives and writes in Seattle. Read more of her work at Allison Ellis.