We asked a selection of toy-sellers and kid experts about what tech toys they anticipate will be hot this year, especially those that might be fun for a parent to join in on. Lots of these innovative gifts are a bit like Jessica Seinfeld’s desserts: attractive treats that secretly hide good-for-you lessons in science and tech. Get these into kids’ hands this holiday season, and not only will they love you now, you’ll be on easy street when you’re 80 and they designed a nurse robot to take care of you.
Parents strive to treat their families to amazing experiences. Catapult, in partnership with Intel, is the field guide for the modern mom, offering tech-based at-home activities that will build lasting memories.
For ages 3+
The idea of three year olds learning coding may make you want to go live in a cabin in the woods somewhere, but relax: Cubetto, which comes recommended from the Chicago store Toys Et Cetera, is a Montessori-approved, screen-free way for kids to learn programming in an analog format. In fact, Cubetto is actually rather lovely and could hang out with your most beautifully designed European wooden toys. At $225 and up, it’s a good gift to ask Grandmas and funcles to get your little one, while you can spring for AAA batteries it requires.
For ages 5+
You and your kids will love exploring the world with this amazing portable camera. The camera works as a microscope, otoscope, and endoscope and connects with any PC or Android enabled device. It’s waterproof, so you and your kids can explore the bathtub or the fish tank. Sneak up on a fly or spider, hiding in the corners of your house. Or if your kids are anything like mine, they will want to see up their noses, which is it’s own kind of learning, albeit gross. But at $39.99, it’s perfectly priced for exploration.
For ages 6+
This learn-to-code toy seems like something from a cool science museum but it’s an innovative, addictive-looking way for kids to learn how to code at a nice $23.99 price point. Plug it into your computer, follow the storybook, and kids (and maybe parents) learn to code using hand movements, sort of like a theremin. Once kids have mastered the basics, there are music-making and game-designing options for fun, extra challenges.
The folks at the delightfully nerdy and weird American Science and Surplus store are especially excited this year about Klutz’s conductive clay circuit kit. The kit’s moldable clay, along with wiring, batteries and LED lights, will teach kids about electronics while they make the 15 projects in the accompanying book. This $21.95 gift hits the sweet spot for parents, who want to encourage both creative expression and hands-on scientific learning.
This gadget’s relevance as a tech toy is perhaps questionable but there is no way we weren’t going to include a toy car that’s driven by a cricket. That’s right, we said a cricket. This moving habitat uses motion sensor technology to let its buggy residents cruise around the house or race against other daredevil cricket drivers. Cricket not included (they’re easily procurable at pet stores or the basement, but the toy also includes an autodrive function for those days when you just can’t get acquire a live cricket — like Christmas Day.) At $15, it’s a bargain way to let Jiminy cruise around in style and a lot less hassle than a puppy.
For ages 7+
Zack the Lego Maniac could never have foretold this: thanks to this monster five-in-one kit, Legos can now come to life while your kid hones programming skills. Build a robot, a cat, a guitar, a rover or a miniature Lego factory—each includes a CPU that plugs into your tablet or PC so that each project can be programmed to do fun stuff like tell jokes, dance, create sound effects, emote, or shoot stuff. At $160 the 800+ piece (!!) kit includes a move hub with Bluetooth connectivity, interactive motor, and a distance sensor.
For Ages 8+
The cute little Ozobot combines things kids love — coloring, stickers, robots, dressing up said robots — to teach kids coding from the simplest to more advanced levels. First, kids can draw or use the included color code to get Ozobot to light up and move around, and then advance to building code online using the program Ozobotly. Your bot can then read the code you built online and then show off in three dimensions what you “taught” it online. The kit is used in nearly 10,000 schools to teach kids STEM, so consider the $60 price tag an investment in your kid’s STEM education.
As the wife of a handy guy and the mom of a kindergartener, I can attest to the popularity of Snap Circuits: The kit we have at home has captivated both the five year old and the 38 year old for hours. This particular kit teaches kids how electronics work by letting them play with light and sound: The projects in the $56.95 package include color organs, strobes, IR detection, LEDs, color spectrums, motor control, photo resistor and transistors, and can even interact with the music on your smartphone. Fun and easy to use, the electronics lessons imparted by Snap Circuits are so hands-on that grownup employees at Science and Surplus use them to get trained in electronics
For Ages 10+
This one is just damn cool: Kids build their own frilled lizard robot (basically a tiny version of the dinosaur that felled Wayne Knight in Jurassic Park) that comes with an infrared sensor. The dragon uses AI to read your hand movements and act appropriately frightened, threatened, inquisitive, or affectionate. The $35.90 kit is for older kids with patience and good direction-following skills, and just requires some AAA batteries to get going.
A wise friend once told me she only buys her kid toys that she would like to play with, so maybe this is the toy for you to get “your kid” (wink wink.) Made out of soft, durable material, the goggles work with iOS and Android devices (you can check to see if yours is compatible before you buy here) to watch all sorts of videos and play futuristic games. If you feel a bit weird about dropping your kid into the VR pool, Merge’s goggles have been carefully vetted and approved by orgs like Common Sense Media and Consumer Reports. The list price is about $80, but you can score them for less than $50 as well.
Claire Zulkey is a freelance writer and mother of two in Evanston, IL. You can learn much more about her by going to Zulkey.com.
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