For the kids


While picking technology gifts for teenagers and adults is more a process of narrowing down a wide range of options, it’s only been in recent years that technology for the smallest of humans has really started to come into its own.

On that basis, here are my recommendations for some technology-based toys that will not only keep the kids and grandkids happy but likely teach them something along the way.

One of the biggest trends in kids’ technology toys has been the idea of allowing toddlers and young children to begin to use computers and even the Internet without giving them too much access to the wide world of cyberspace or guaranteeing a trip to the computer repair shop.

Imaginative Minds (www.comfyland.com) offers the Easy PC ($60) — a USB keyboard and a variety of coordinating software that allows toddlers and kids up to 7 to play educational games in a safe environment.

Fisher-Price’s Easy Link Internet Launch Pad ($25) offers access to Web sites featuring some of kids’ favorite cartoon characters, all without outside advertising or the ability to stray from safe zones. Kids 3 and up simply plug in a key ($10 for two) depicting the character to visit that site and play entertaining and educational games — all without risk to the parents’ PC.

V-Tech (www.vtechkids.com) has a new Whiz Kid PC Learning System ($50, add-ons about $20) that allows kids ages 3-6 to interact with educational game cartridges and interactive pages in a device that’s suitable to take on the road. At home, software and a USB cable allow the device to be plugged into the parents’ computer for even more fun and learning.

Parents of young children should already be familiar with the Webkinz phenomenon, wherein a la Beanie Babies kids have been desperate to snap up a variety of stuffed animals for their collections.

The twist with Webkinz is that the stuffed animals come with an Internet component that allows the kids to play online with a digital version of their toy, taking care of the pet and playing a variety of games to earn points with which they can purchase toys and furnishings for the pet’s online home, as well as talk to each other.

The ePets ($10) from Rescue Pets are another option in the same concept, and both offer a relatively inexpensive and entertaining way to get kids used to computers, as well as to teach lessons about earning, spending and saving money, as well as caring for pets.

Fisher-Price also offers the Smart-Cycle Physical Learning Arcade System ($100), for kids 3 to 6. This system combines the kid game console experience with a stationary bicycle designed for the little ones and features a variety of educational games with all their favorite characters. They can bike their ways through games or take a rest and continue to play with the built-in joystick. Some smart parent faced with too much bad weather and an energetic child had to have thought of this one!

Zizzle’s Hooked on Phonics Smart Sticks ($15 or so) are intended for kids 2 or older and offer fun interactive games that encourage them to learn their colors, shapes, letters and numbers, all in a portable package. With letters and numbers 1 through 10 mastered at just over 2, my son and I are now working with the shapes/colors Smart Stick, and it’s a lot of fun for us both, in one small, inexpensive package.

Kids from 3 to 10 have an increasingly wide range of options in kid-friendly digital cameras these days. None of the ones that are out really compete with adults’ digital cameras, but they are beginning to offer decent print quality combined with easy-to-operate functions and some cool features that don’t come on adult cameras.

VTech’s KidiZoom, Fisher-Price’s Kid Tough and Disney’s Pix Click ($60 and up) offer features for a variety of ages, as well as a tougher-than-average format to ensure they’re at least less likely to get broken if dropped. With digital picture storage, kids can do just like their parents do and shoot unlimited shots until they’re satisfied, deleting the unwanted ones along the way.

Fisher-Price has a similar Kid Tough FP3 music player (about $60), which features big buttons, chunky headphones and the option to download special kid-friendly music and audio books, as well as to put your own music on its built-in storage or an SD card for them to enjoy.

Sansa’s Shaker is also designed to be kid-friendly, using a drum- or salt shaker-shaped design and unique navigation features to allow parents to share whatever music they like with their kids. The Shaker features a speaker, in addition to a headphone port, and navigation is by twisting the top one direction or the other. The Shaker name also refers to the ability to move to the next tune on the player simply by shaking the device — a kid-friendly feature for sure.

Finally, for something that’s sure to wow the whole family, WowWee’s RoboPanda ($150) is one of the hottest toys this holiday season. We’re not quite to the point where kids’ toys can help them with all their homework and serve them a snack, but RoboPanda brings things to a whole new level in interactive robot toys, offering songs, stories, games and even conversation, as well as being controlled by touch, movement or sound instead of a remote control.

I don’t know about anyyone else, but seeing the kids enjoy exciting new tech toys and learning the skills these toys offer is one of the best parts of the holidays. It makes you wish you were a kid again, for sure.