Kids of all ages get excited about the latest electronics, and tech-savvy parents know that sharing in their kid’s enthusiasm and wonder for technology is an excellent way to bond. When kids have reached their screen time limit, it’s time to get real with physical games and toys that engage them the old-fashioned way. For every child on your list, here are 10 great gifts that help kids grow in their understanding of technology, develop their creative skills and encourage connection with others.
Two hit wonder
For those of us of a certain age who remember the rock-em-sock-em toy robots, whose heads popped off with a firm jab to the jaw, there’s a new heavyweight in the ring. Big Robot Data Rate and Tenderizer Remote Control Fighting Robots are eight-inch fighting machines with Innovative Motion Control Technology so that each user can steer, maneuver and punch using a handheld nun-chuck controller. The trash talking robots also feature quote damage tracking LEDs and other effects to keep the match fun and exciting. Ages 4 and up. $59.99 each or $99 for two-pack. Available at Toys R Us.
The sky (and imagination) is the limit
Portal masters can take their creativity to the outer limits with Skylanders Imaginators, the latest iteration of the popular Skylanders video console game franchise with new capabilities that empower players to unleash their imaginations and bring their creations to life in an all-new adventure with puzzles, battles, a compelling storyline and new lineup of heroes and villains. Take the fun to another dimension with the Skylanders free Creator mobile app which allows kids to design and print out their own unique playable 3D printed figure. Ages 8 and up. Skylanders Imaginators Starter pack includes two Sensei characters, one Creation Crystal, Portal of Power and game disc available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 1, Xbox 360 and WiiU. The Starter Pack is available for $39.99 at Toys R US, Target, Wal-Mart and all major retailers. Custom 3D printed figure available for $49.99.
Crack the code
Dick Tracy decoder rings of yesteryear were child’s play. Today’s coding toys teach real world computer coding skills, such as Monster, an intelligent iPad game by Osmo that helps budding computer developers master AI technology and harness their creativity to animate physical drawings, with the help of Mo the Monster, who comes to life to interact with children’s drawings. The Osmo Monster Starter Kit includes an iPad stand, iPad camera reflector, and two sets of game pieces with alphabet letter tile sets and wood tangram shapes.
Once kids get the hang of coding, they can expand their talents with additional Osmo learning tools, like the Coding game that uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character that kids use coding skills to direct on strawberry-munching adventure. Starter kit $74.99, Coding game $49. Ages 6 to 10. Available at www.playosmo.com.
Sometimes kids don’t listen, and then sometimes they listen to much, by way of earphones with the volume turned up too loud, which can be especially harmful to hearing when using low-end earphones that come with electronic devices. Etymotic’s ETY•Kids Safe-Listening Earphones are engineered to protect young ears by sealing off ambient noise so kids are not tempted to crank up the volume to unsafe levels. The earphones’ s high quality, clear playback is safe for listening for up to eight hours (or four hours at the highest volume levels), so parents can rest easy, and kids can experience their music, games and movies as they were meant to be heard. $39.99, etymotic.com. Ages 5 and up.
Smart and cool phone
When it’s time for that first phone, kids want the coolest bone, but parents don’t want to outlay a chunk of cash for a device that might get lost or broken. VeryKool smart phones fill the bill for kids who want a feature-filled phone of their very own – with a front- and rear-facing camera and lots of multitasking abilities, and parents will love its affordable price. The VeryKool Fusion SL4500 and the Jet SL5009 are available for $109.00, and the line includes several models under $75. No contracts are required, and the phones will work with every GSM carrier across the US including AT&T, T-Mobile, Tracfone, etc., (Note, VeryKool phones are not compatible CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint) Ages 10 and up. Available on Amazon.
Once kids have their very own phone, they want to protect and individualize it with a cool case. Ballistic Case Company has launched a line of protective, sleek cases in limited edition colors that protect phones from dust, bumps and dings and will help kids distinguish their phone from their friends’ phones. The lightweight and durable Jewel Series, Spark and Neon editions offer reinforced silicone corners and is engineered with six-sided drop protection technology. The Neon collection boasts bright hues that even glow in the dark, so they are easy to find in a backpack. Ages 10 and up. .$20 to $30, available at www.goballisticcase.com.
A ton of bricks
Kids love LEGOS, and now they can combine their favorite brick building activity with their affinity for video games with LEGO Dimensions. To begin the adventure, kids build the minifigure heroes and then assemble bricks into the LEGO Gateway, which they place onto the LEGO Toy Pad. The game expands as kids collect more mini figures, vehicles and gadgets and go to new levels with Expansion Packs, that call up the likes of Fantastic Beasts, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, making the game completely customizable and infinitely expandable. Ages 7-14. The Starter Pack is available for $79.99 at Target, Toys R Us, GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon. Additional expansion packs range from $11.99 – $49.99.
Light up the little ladies on your gift list with Gemmies the next evolution of 3D beading craft. With a click and connect process using elastic rings, kids can design crystal creations, from sparkling jewelry to flowers and tiny toy animals. The intuitive design templates use a repetitive pattern that lets kids develop their cognitive abilities and progress to designing their own creations. The kits come with a storage Design Studio with a light up pedestal to display creations. Ages 6 and up. $24.99. Available at Target or www.makegemmies.com.
Puzzle me this
For families on the road, take a break from mobile video games for some real, tactile interaction with a travel puzzle that engages kids in creative play while helping them to build an inner sense of the relationships between forms and colors. Bella Luna’s Magnetic Tiles Indian Squares puzzle comes packaged in a handy 8×8 metal storage box that doubles as a play surface with 36 magnetitic birch wood pieces enclosed. All ages, from children to adults, will enjoy coming up with beautiful designs and geometric forms. $39.95, ages 3 and up. Available at www.Bellalunatoys.com.
PlayMG, a smartphone-ish Wi-Fi Android app gaming system for kids, is just the ticket for parents whose children always ask if they can play on Mom or Dad’s phone. The sleek design, feel and weight of this handheld device is similar to leading smartphones, so kids won’t know the difference, except this device does not have a phone feature.
For sophisticated very early adopters, i.e., kids as soon as they are able to hold a cell phone, those silly mock smartphones are no match. These savvy tech toddlers know by the kiddie colors and light-weight plasticy feel that those made-for-children devices are toys. PlayMG on the other hand, with its 4” touchscreen, front-facing camera, and stereo headset jack would pass as the real deal even to an adult; in fact, its styling is superior to many authentic smartphones out there.
The obvious main advantage of the PlayMG over a true smartphone is that there are no data charges and kids can’t rack up high phone bills; but that does not mean a child can not incur charges. As with all Android devices, some downloads are free and other apps and media cost money, which can be paid with a few taps on the device. To help prevent this, PlayMG created the MG Family Collaboration System which includes a $10 offer when you by the system from SpendSmartTM prepaid MasterCard®. Other features include the “Digital Wallet” and “Remote Trust” notification functions so that parents can oversee what kids are spending.
Because the ICS 4.0 system operates on Wi-Fi, there are not data charges, but you do need to connect to a network to access certain games and media. While you do have to either find a free hot spot or otherwise get a subscribe to a carrier to get Wi-Fi service, with PlayMG there are no monthly charges or expensive cartridge games to buy.
As a bonus, several top games come pre-loaded on the device, including $10 worth of top EA Mobile games ‘Need for Speed Hot Pursuit’ and ‘NBA JAM’ preloade, eight Com2uS popular game titles, Slice It, Swing Shot, Homerun Battle2, Tiny Farm, Tower, Defense, 9 Innings Baseball, Super Action Hero and Derby Days.
The only stand-out odd detail of PlayMG is its egg-like shape. It has two rounded handles at either end, with cut-outs presumably to thread with a lanyard or wrist strap. The disadvantage of this peculiar profile is that the device does not fit any existing cases on the market. The concern of course is that the device may break if dropped; and because of its slippery, smooth design, this is a real concern, especially in the hands of children.
Besides the awkward shape, the PlayMG is a welcome alternative to turning over a fully functional smartphone to a child; so next visit to a restaurant, long car ride, wait in the bank line, or wherever else bored kids nag to play a handheld video game, PlayMG is a great answer.
PlayMG is available at Target, Amazon and Toys R US. PlayMG Product (8GB) $159.99;
PlayMG Bundle w/ Charger (24GB) $149.99; PlayMG Bundle with Charger & Case (40GB)
Gift Ideas for Young Gadget Lovers
Topping the gift wish list for kids of all ages, are Swann’s new line of Easy-Fly Gyro Technology indoor remote controlled helicopters — Micro Lightning, Micro Hornet, Emergency Strike, Military Thunder and Missile Strike. Controlled by dual joystick controls, these choppers perform death-defying stunts and flight maneuvers with military precision, powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery. The remote control operates on six AA batteries. Ages 14 and up. $59. Fry’s Electronics, BrandSmart and other major retailers.
Why should grown-ups have all the fun with tablet technology? VTech’s InnoTab (ages 4 to 9. $79.99) lets kids read, learn and create with a rich collection of aps in a multi-function, touch screen tablet format. Includes e-books, MP3 Player, learning fames, Art Studio painting and drawing aps and a Photo Viewer/Editor and Video Player for pictures and videos transferred from a computer or direct from a VTech Kidizoom camera (ages 3-9. $39.99). Toys R Us, Target, Wal-Mart and other major retailers, and online at www.vtechkids.com
Headphones with Character
Be a super hero with the comic fan on your list by giving them Coloud Marvel Comics Headphones, branded with Marvel comic icons. These stylish quality sound headphones feature Coloud’s signature triangular plug, cable guard and comfort design. $40. www.coloud.com