Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
With winter comes another holiday season. And with another holiday season comes an opportunity to wade into the candy-colored plastic land that makes up the kids’ toy market. Some kids are very clear about what they want for Christmas, but offer up items that are difficult to obtain (fire-breathing ponies). Other children are shy about suggesting what they want, or they just can’t make up their minds.
In either case, you don’t want to give them something uncool—that would burden your conscience for the rest of the season, wouldn’t it? Heck, that’s the reason why our very own Scott Steinberg has a blog at Sears Toy Shop where, as resident Toy Tech Expert, he saves himself untold embarrassment in his family’s eyes under the guise of helping other parents pick the perfect technology gifts for kiddos. Looking for a quick cheat sheet to the best the year has to offer? Check out his blog, or have a look below, to quickly get yourself up to speed on the top 10 best holiday toys for 2012.
Furby – Furby is back. Sorry. The little gremlin-thing with “A Mind of Its Own” was in huge demand back in the mid-‘90s, and Hasbro is hoping that 2013 will be the year that everyone starts speaking Furbish again. Furby’s personality will develop according to how you interact with it, and if all else fails, it’ll dance to your favorite songs.
Wii U – Nintendo’s next video game console features a built-in tablet that changes how players interact with the game on the TV screen. Games can be switched to run off the tablet exclusively mid-play, so no more battles over the family TV. The Wii U is also launching with tons of games, including New Super Mario Bros. Wii U and Nintendoland, a Nintendo-themed collection of minigames.
LeapFrog LeapPad 2 Learning Tablet and LeapsterGS– If your kids aren’t quite at the iPad stage yet (maybe you’ve decided the time won’t be right until their fingers aren’t perpetually covered in jam), LeapFrog’s LeapPad 2 Learning Tablet is a safe, hardy alternative. Kids can use the LeapPad 2 to play with exclusive games and apps that are easy to download and use. Also check out the LeapsterGS – among the best new learning handhelds parents can find for kids today.
Kidz Bop Ultimate Hits and Musical Toys – The Kidz Bop kids are back, and “Ultimate Hits” ensures that everyone of all ages can enjoy today’s pop hits. Tracks on this collection include “Tik Tok,” “Party in the USA,” and “I Gotta Feeling.” Imperial Toy actually has a full line of musical gear that’ll help kids get the party started right, and quickly, from Mega Star microphones to Glimmerati electric guitars – definitely check them out this holiday season.
Razor Pocket Mod Electric Scooter – Kids love bikes, but they go absolutely bananas for small motorized vehicles. Razor’s Pocket Mod Electric Scooters can go up to 15 miles per hour and up to 10 miles on one charge. It comes in a variety of models and colors, and at $199.99 USD, it’s relatively affordable.
LEGO Ninjago Epic Dragon Battle – This huge LEGO playset delivers what it promises: Ninjas, epic playtime, and enormous battles wherein a four-headed dragon takes center stage. An ideal gift for the young ninja or kunoichi in your life.
Doodle Roll – Doodle Roll is essentially a tube of paper that’s easy to tear off, easy to unroll, and most importantly, easy to draw on. Doodle Roll is an inexpensive, mess-free and hassle-free way to promote your kids’ creativity. Crayons included.
Micro Chargers Time Track – Tiny cars are fun. Tiny cars that zip around tracks at incomprehensible speeds are even better. Toy cars go careening around the Micro Chargers Time Track at crazy speeds. Race your opponent to the finish line!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Secret Sewer Lair Playset – The Turtles have achieved relevancy again (it seems to go in and out with the phases of the moon). Help your kids celebrate with a TMNT “sewer” playset that’s almost as big as they are.
Monster High High School Play Set – Halloween is over, but the Monster High toy series remains popular. In fact, the Monster High School Play Set stands to be one of the hottest toys this holiday season. Your kids’ favorite Monster High dolls can hang out in the cafeteria, in the hall, and even in class—but who goes to school to study, right?
Don’t forget to check out other top picks like VTech’s Switch & Go Dinos (which morph between dinosaurs and vehicles – awesome!), Fisher Price’s Disney’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates Bucky Pirate ship and more either. The good news for parents? Dozens of great options exist for kids of all ages.
According to a recent infographic from MDG advertising, more than half of 5 to 8 year olds have used a tablet, and 10% of kids have used one before their first birthday. While the majority of kids covet Apple and its products (i.e. the iPad, iPod and iPhone) as their most desired gifts every holiday season, a number of companies are designing tablets specifically made for kids that are rugged enough to deal with rougher playground or home usage and focus on educational apps and parental engagement. Here’s a look at several of the best new tablets for kids, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new technology and gadgets for children of all ages:
LeapPad 2 – Utlizing a touchscreen and stylus, the LeapPad 2 features games and software that come as either cartridges that are bought at a retail store, or apps that can be downloaded wirelessly. LeapFrog places emphasis on education, so all apps and games have high educational value. LeapPad 2 has a front and back camera, which can be used for inserting faces and pics into funny movies with built-in apps, like Cartoon Director which lets kid make their own animations. There’s also a song-creation app and an art app that come already installed. The LeapPad 2 is recommended for kids between 3 and 9.
LeapsterGS – A learning game system for ages four and up, this award-winning toy gets some welcome upgrades in the form of motion controls, a built-in camera and the ability to record videos or edit pictures on the fly. It also adds a microphone and the ability to share memories you’ve captured and created online, and boasts a sizable software library of over 300 titles, which include virtual pets, educational gaming activities and a variety of high-tech entertainment options that take advantage of the system’s touchscreen. Featured options include eBooks, games, videos, music and educational amusements that teach math, spelling, science, geography and more.
Nabi 2 – The Nabi 2 blends a durable form with the functionality that kids and parents want. Featuring an iIntegrated educational tracker called Fooz Kids University, the device also lets parents create and manage a chore List and Treasure Box to virtual and real-life activities and help kids work to earn things they want. The Nabi 2 offers more than 10,000 kid-friendly music choices as well as a $2.99 a month streaming subscription to popular kids shows from Cookie Jar entertainment (like Busytown, Strawberry Shortcake, Sonic the Hedgehog, Inspector Gadget and more). Each app available for purchase and download is also “curated,” meaning it’s approved by a person. And as an added convenience, there are no wires or cords necessary for syncing – it’s all done wirelessly.
Meep – From Oregon Scientific, the Meep was designed with the concerns of parents in mind. The focus is on allowing kids to do what they want, but in a safe environment. Parental controls are accessible from any computer, where parents can monitor activity and set time limits. Also, the Meep allows parents to easily set a virtual allowance to allow kids to buy games and apps. Meep has perhaps the most rugged protective case of all the tablets available for kids. Recommended for ages 6 and up. $150.
Tabeo – From Toys R Us, the Tabeo makes “online safety a top priority”. The device comes with 50 pre-installed apps that include many of today’s most popular games, such as Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Temple Run, Cut the Rope, Tike Golf, built-in educational apps and iStorybooks. There are also many parental control options that regulate Internet access and app access. With the backing of a Toys R Us, there’s access to a vast amount of content on Tabeo: At launch in 2012, there were already 7,000 apps to choose from in the Tabeo App store.
InnoTab 2 – From vTech, the InnoTab is focused on making education fun for kids from preschool to elementary school. The Innotab comes with a rotating camera and an eReader for interactive storybooks. Educational games and apps are available for download, or also can be played via cartridges. The Innotab provides all the basic functionality and fun of tablets, like motion control, and at a reasonable price is a good choice for a kid’s first dedicated tablet of their own.
iPad – Although we’ve looked at those designed for kids, it’s worth mentioning the unquestioned leader in tablets. However, one of the main reasons these other kid-focused devices exist is because the iPad is a bit more fragile and doesn’t provide nearly the level of parental controls or restrictions as the others. It is possible, though, that with some work, you can take steps to protect your iPad such as blocking in-App purchases, restricting access to content rated by age and even installing apps like Mobicip that block access to websites or chat programs.
Interested in a few more tablet options for kids? You may also want to check out:
Our increasing fascination with gadgets and technology admittedly hasn’t always been a boon for Mother Earth. Sophisticated electronics can be a drain on energy resources, they tend to be tossed on the scrap heap after a few years of service, and both manufacturing and distribution can pollute the soil and water. But nature and technology don’t always have to be at odds. In fact, there are many green gadgets on the market that can help you monitor your environmental conscience.
From saving energy to reusing batteries to recharging your Kindle with the sun’s aid, here are five of the best green gadgets currently on the market.
AOC USB-Powered HD Monitor – AOC’s 22-inch USB-powered monitor is slim, lightweight, and comes to life with the aid of a USB port, not a separate power cord. It’s also mercury-free, made from recycled materials, and is compatible with PC and Mac.
Solio Classic2 Battery Pack and Charger – The Solio lets you harness the power of the sun to charge your electronics (hey, the sun’s gotta be good for something, right?). Pretty much any electronic that utilizes a USB cord can be charged up via the Solio Classic2. It’s environmentally friendly, and it’ll save your butt if the dreaded “20% Battery Remaining” message pops up during a long flight.
Shakenergy Mint Battery – Disposable AA and AAA batteries still languish in our landfills. The solution? Mint Battery, the battery that you charge by shaking. A few flicks of your wrist will bring the battery’s flagging energy back to life. It’s an environmentally-conscious gadget, but if you ever find yourself cut off from the power grid, it can also be a life saver in an emergency situation.
Solar Lighted Cover for Kindle – More and more of us are turning to Kindles for our daily dose of reading, but what happens when the battery goes kaput? A smart solution is Solar Focus’s Solar Lighted Cover for Kindle, which converts sunlight into energy for an LED lamp that brightens the screen without relying on the main battery. When the lamp is charged, the extra solar energy can be re-routed to the Kindle’s battery. That equals more reading time for you.
Nest Self-Learning Thermostat – No matter how much you fiddle with your thermostat before you go to work, your house is a sauna or an icebox by the time you get back. You immediately start fiddling with the thermostat, and then you continue to toy with it hour after hour. Nest is a self-learning thermostat that builds an effective schedule around your habits and preferences. You can even control your house’s temperature from your laptop or phone. A sentient thermostat sounds a little unsettling, but the savings speak for themselves.
For more green gadget recommendations, visit:
CES 2012: Best Green Gadgets at DesignBuzz
Top 10 Green Gadgets to Buy in 2011 at GadgetCage
10 Green Tech Gadgets at PCMag