Once upon a time, being a tech-savvy kid meant you were the one in the family who programmed the clock on the VCR. Today, it means you’re the one who digs the VCR out of the basement, takes it apart, and rebuilds it into a voice-activate robot that streams Netflix! Or something like that. If that kid sounds like one of yours, here are gadgets, tech kids toys, and STEM toys to keep them busy this holiday season.
Octopus Watch By Joy
Because few things are more frustrating as a parent than a toddler who consistently shows up late to family meetings (did we say 8 or 8:30?), Octopus by Joy is a colorful, icon-based watch for kids who can’t tell time, but still need to get stuff done. It comes pre-loaded with 600 icons that represent daily activities — from “Wake Up” to “Brush Your Teeth,” to “Feed the Fish” — and parents can program their kid’s schedule via the iOS/Android app. Time to “Eat Breakfast” ? The cereal-bowl icon lights up. Time to get dad a beer? You still have to do that analog with this holiday gift.
At first glance, Maze is a modern-day refresh of the old marble game, except now players get to design their own mazes using the removable magnetic walls. But, what happens when your kids get bored tilting that maddening marble back and forth? They get inside the maze! Because, technology. Yes, they can scan the actual wooden board into the iOS app, change the theme to spaceship, kingdom, ancient ruins (and add pics, sounds, riddles), and — using the included virtual reality viewer — start exploring.
Since children never sleep anyway, you may as well just ship them off to Ibiza to make that crazy DJ money. The Dato DUO is a cleverly designed synthesizer from the Netherlands designed to keep 2 kids entertained at once by making literal house music. One side of the board is a “flashy” sequencer with keyboard-like buttons for playing/looping a melody. The other side is a “gritty-sounding” synthesizer with 2 large sliders and dual touch pads – one to add percussion, the other to achieve an “aggressive bit crusher” effect. Only this one doesn’t need a bag of frozen peas and a few days off of work.
Designed especially with your kid in mind, Cinemood is a digital projector that’s built into a 3.14-inch cube and connects to the cloud via Wi-Fi and your phone via Bluetooth. The obvious upgrade over your phone is screen size, as the holiday gift can project a movie up to 100-inches on a white wall; that’s 250 times bigger than your phone, so it must be 250 times better. Cinemood also comes loaded with 50 cartoons — worthwhile stuff like Winnie-the-Pooh and Treasure Island — and there’s even a sleep timer, so you could theoretically ditch the books once a week, point it at the nursery ceiling, and use it like a 21st Century mobile while you do something else. Like eat a meal in peace.
Urbanears Humlan Washable Headphones
Designed to keep you from ruining your kid’s expensive headphones in the washing machine (check those pockets), these Urbanears also include a shareable plug to keep multiple kids occupied at once listening to the soundtrack from Home. When the holiday gift gets dirty (and they will), just take the headband and ear covers off and can toss them in the hamper — along with everything else in their filthy life.
BOSEbuild Speaker Cube
Apparently making a speaker isn’t nearly as hard as Best Buy might have you believe. According to the instructions, an 8-year-old should have it put together in about an hour. Bose provides the cables, connectors, and 4.75 by 4.75-inch, high-performance plastic cube — you provide the tunes. No soldering or tools are required, which means that neither are you. And as they run through 15 fun, step-by-step activities on the included iOS app, they’ll unwittingly learn about the science of sound; everything from magnets (how do those work?), to frequency, to waveforms. Sadly, it will never unlock the mystery of why your children prefer Kidz Bop to Led Zeppelin.
These 3-string beginner guitars make playing music easy without dumbing down the sound. Every holiday gift includes a printed guide and link to the Loog Academy app for more lessons, and comes unassembled because damned if every toy isn’t a building toy. Truthfully, they do that to strengthen the bond between player and instrument, or the bond between father and child learning how it felt to assemble their IKEA bedroom set.
Gululu Water Bottle
This colorful vessel combines a “smart” water bottle and a Tamagochi-style virtual pet (that fortunately never gets thirsty). It works by calculating how much water your kid needs based on their age, weight, and location and then measuring the amount they’re knocking back during the course of the day using motion, level, and inclinometer sensors. The holiday gift records all that info via Wi-Fi and posts it to the scoreboard in a free app. And to trick kids into carrying around the bottles and downing all that damn water, their Gululu pet (located on the outside of the bottle) grows, gains powers, and reaches new levels the more they consume.
At its most basic, the Garmin Vivofit Jr. is another in the recent wave of glorified pedometers for kids that gamify exercise and track how much they’re exploring the studio space. In addition to counting steps, it notes how much Junior sleeps (or pretends to sleep) and tallies the number of minutes he spends each day not playing Super Smash Brothers. It then reports that “activity” data to your smartphone app. Motivate kids with games where they unlock levels or earn coins (to be redeemed by good old you for agreed-upon rewards), assign chores, and set reminder alarms. When the band beeps/flashes: your kid knows it’s time to stack that IRL firewood.
The click-click-click 3D View-Master of your youth is now a sleek, safe-for-kids-to-drop Google Cardboard virtual reality headset that holds any 6-inch (or smaller) smartphone. And that popular Batman: The Animated Series cartoon you watched religiously in middle school? It’s now a VR game with the same voices (Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, etc), the same villains (the Joker, The Riddler, and Two-Face), the same sets (the Bat Cave, the trophy room, the crime lab). The only difference is that you (and eventually your kids) get to fly the Batwing, go on missions, and help save Gotham.
Magination is a Norwegian kit that allows users to build structures and play games using little more than a handful of different sized collapsing magnets. Magnetic micro golf? Check. Air hockey? Check? Magnetic curling? You betcha! There’s also an online community to help come up with new games, so you’ll never run out of ways to play Magination. Designed for ages 14 and up (but seriously, the game police aren’t checking), the holiday gift comes in three sets — the Magnitude (20 pieces), Magtastic (39 pieces), and the Magneato (52 pieces). Looks attractive.