I've always said that battery operated and other high-tech toys are good supplements to toyland, but should never wholly replace traditional toys, books, and sporting accessories. Kids need to develop their imagination and the skills provided by tried-and-true toys and books. Nevertheless, hi-tech sometimes brings magic and excitement to playtime, and can empower kids to try their hand at things usually reserved for "when they are older." Here are some of the best for this season:
Canal Toys Photo Creator Instant Print Camera ($45.96) This kid-friendly camera was a big hit with our kid testers and their parents. The camera with a thermal black and white printer built in gives great creative power to kids, and the fact that it uses thermal paper rather than expensive instant film packs means that it is economical to operate. Remember, though: this is a toy, so the output is not meant to compete with a grown-up's camera. Still, while not up to Ansel Adams quality, the black and white prints were remarkably attractive.
Thames & Kosmos Kai: The Artificial Intelligence Robot ($99.99) Half the fun of this toy is assembling it, one of the more complex plastic model kits we've seen. But, once assembled the amazing robot scurries across the floor on its six bug-like legs. When the six-legged insect-like robot is done you can control it by remote control app or use the built-in AI to teach it to follow verbal and physical commands using your (not-supplied) smartphone. Keep in mind that the parts need to be separated using a sharp wire clipper, not-included. You'll also need 4 AAA batteries and a small Phillips screwdriver.
Abacus Brands Penn & Teller VR Magic Lab - Virtual Reality Kids Magic Book and Interactive STEM Learning Activity Set ($64.99) I've been a fan of Penn and Teller's magic since first seeing them off-Broadway years ago. This set is an above average collection of basic magic tricks, but what sets it apart from the rest are the interactive video that teach you how to perform them. The included VR goggles and a smartphone (not included) are a gateway to learning. The set includes instructions and props for 28 different tricks. The set comes with an box that neatly organizes the many pieces for future use.
Twister Air Game ($14.97) This is not the Twister you knew as a kid. That one still exists, but this is a modern reduc that uses a (not-included) tablet and sensors you strap onto your ankles and wrists to see if you can follow the body bending tests of coordination.
Sesame Street Elmo Slide Singing and Dancing 14-inch Plush ($49.99) Animatronic Elmos are as much an annual part of the Christmas season as the Hess Trucks. Like the Elmos that have come before him, he moves and sings...magical at least for the first few times it does its thing. The magic may wear-off faster than a traditional plush doll that relies on a child's imagination, but there is something undeniably smile-inducing in this toy that encourages youngster to get up and dance.
Amazon Fire HD Kids Pro Tablet 2022 ($149) I could tell you that I would rather your child's play time be filled with blocks and books and dolls and crafts, but the reality of 21st century child-rearing involves some screen time for most kids. There are 8" and 10.1" versions priced for Black Friday at $74.99 and $124.99 respectively. Please limit your child's screen time.
Ravensburger RAV GraviTrax Junior ($110) The oringal Gravitrax marble maze sets were designed for older kids. This one marked for kids 3-7 looks to appeal to a younger market with fanciful animal figures and 100 pieces used to make jungle themed marble runs. I think the age-ranking may be overly optimistic.Even seven year olds may need some parental help and encouragement to figure out how to get the most from the set, but once engaged there are hours of engineering-fun ahead.
NEX Playground ($179) Unfortunately, only available for pre-order, this new console, like the Wii before it, is designed to promote active play in video games. Four games are included, but subscriptions to an optional, larger game library are available on a quarterly or annual basis.