JamesGames.com On the Perri Peltz Show On Sirius Stars!
Santa's packing the sleigh, but he, Mrs. Claus, and the elves are still taking requests. I'll be appearing on the Perri Peltz Show on SiriusXM's Sirius Stars channel (109) with some last minute suggestions.
Joining Perri and me will be "expert" 3 & 6 year olds trying out some of the top toys of the season.
I'm often asked how early to introduce tech-enabled toys to children. First, tech-toys should supplement the toy-chest, not rule it. Traditional toys, games, and books are essential. Resist the urge to plug your young kid into a smartphone or tablet; they can act like a vampire, robbing developmental time, energy, and desire. Also, too often tech-enabled toys are more of a novelty, fun to play with on Christmas morning, but soon set aside. I'm not a Grinch, there' is room for novelty toys, but just as you wouldn't give your child a diet of just candy, too much tech can be detrimental, while a little can brighten the day. For instance, Hasbro's Fur Real Chewbacca ($59.99) will be a "for real" hit with Star Wars fans; think of it as this year's Tickle Me Elmo. It moves its mouth, raises its arms and has a lot to say in Wookie.
On the other hand, don't feed your child a diet of toys that are only tied into movie and TV properties. They tend to encourage violent pretend play, and substitute their creator's imagination for your child's.
For our in-studio three year olds I've selected two toys from Leapfrog. Many of Leapfrog's electronic learning toys deliver a bit of magic, and put your child in the driver's seat, as an active colaborator in play, rather than a zoned-out, passive receiver. Best of all, they don't require a screen.
Leapfrog Learning Friends 100 Words Book ($35) is a digital book. Kids can touch the pages to hear the words associated with the pictures spoken in English and Spanish. There are plenty of catagories: pets, animals, food, mealtime, colors, activities, opposites, outside, vehicles, clothes, and more. Each picture has its word-name underneath in both languages. In the basic mode the toy says the name when the picture is touched. In the advanced mode it also gives a "factoid" about the picture, such as "the banana is yellow". There are also a couple of built-in, mostly forgettable, songs. Without a screen, and all the negatives we know they hold for young minds, this toy manages to be entertaining and interactive without turning kids into zombies.
LeapFrog Go-with-Me ABC Backpack ($23.99) The focus here is on letters. The pretend backpack opens up like a clamshell. On the left are the letters of the alphabet, on the right, a small black and white screen, a magnetic writing pad, and a stylus. Press a letter and the device speaks its name and a word that starts with that letter. It can also, rudimentarily, help kids learn how to print the letters via the LCD screen. However, unlike Leapfrog's more expensive systems, the stylus in this set is not interactive with the software; it is merely a magnetic drawing pad.
Supplement these electronics with traditional toys, games, and books. Even in the 21st Century, kids need to move their bodies, exercise their minds, not just press buttons!
If your child already has wooden trains, consider the Hape Kids Wooden Railway Propeller Steam Engine ($23.99) a fanciful battery powered engine with a propeller and train sound-effects. I also like the Hape Hand Crank Powered Train ($42.99). It is a motorized train engine that requires no batteries. It magically gets it electricity via a hand crank!
Toyland is full of robots this year. Some teach programming, some have personality, but Wonder Workshop Dash ($118.85) does it all. Working with your smartphone or tablet, it works as a radio controlled vehicle out of the box. Kids can customize the way it looks, add their own voice to it, and drive it around the house. But, the magic happens when they discover the apps that come with it that gamify programming. For six year olds it is the absolute best on the market. Older kids will love Ozobot's Evo App-Connected Robot ($87.52) which can be programmed visually with magic markers or by app. Tweens, teens, and even grown-ups will love Alexa enabled Vector from Anki ($174.99).
Amazon Echo Dot Version 2 ($19.99) is last year's model, still available and ten dollars less than the (now out-of-stock) Version 3. Though it's not as loud as the latest model, it is the one I have in my office to listen to SiriusXM, and even control the lights!
As parents we take a lot of videos. Viewing them can often be less fun than taking them, because all the shaking makes them nearly unwatchable. The way around this is with a stablizer called a gimble. DJI OSMO Mobile 2 Handheld Smartphone Gimbal ($119) works great with many cell phones. It has a 15 hour battery, makes your videos of vacations trips and dance recitals smooth as silk, and can even do time-lapse photography and panoramas. The only downside is that it is kind of bulky to carry around. As an alternative consider, from the same company, the DJI OSMO Pocket Handheld 3 Axis Gimbal Stabilizer with Integrated Camera+ ($349). It fits in your pocketbook and shoots 4K video, albeit with a substantially shorter battery life.
Movies lose something when you watch them on TV. Blockbuster films need to be seen on the big screen. PIQS Q1 Home Theater HD Projector ($420 after applying coupon on Amazon's product page) can project a bright image 100" wide or larger on a screen, wall, or sheet! Best of all it is WiFi enabled and has Netflix built in, so you can even use it without a computer. When the weather gets warmer you can even have a backyard "drive-in"!