I’ve been toy shopping for kids ages 3 to 14 and am discouraged by the poor quality and lack of educational value in what I’ve seen. With money tight, I’d like to invest in toys they’ll love and learn from. Any reliable resources to help me choose?
Even Santa checks these sites before loading the sleigh.
Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) helps parents manage and enjoy family media use. The site is packed with “Holiday Gifts You Can Say Yes To.” Look for the 2009 Recommended Lists of: Best Video Games for Kids and Families; Best TV on DVD for Kids and Families; Best DVDs for Kids and Families; Best Music for Kids and Families; Best Books for Kids and Families.
Recommendations come with reviews, kid and parent ratings, and suggested age levels. You’ll also find guidance from experts on topics ranging from avoiding violent content to setting Internet filters.
Greatschools.net, a site that helps parents become involved in their children’s education, features a special section this month, High Tech Holiday Guide, accessible from the home page. “Toys with three qualities — educational, fun, and inventive — are less likely to be banished to the back of the closet,” says Bill Jackson, president of GreatSchools. “We suggest a range of guilt-free gifts that will inspire without breaking the bank.” Look for The Best Educational Toys of 2009; reviews of do-it-yourself science kits and cool gadgets to tinker with; software that encourages reading development, DVDs that teach and entertain, and even a list of iPhone apps for toddlers.
If handing off your “smart phone” to a 3-year-old child wouldn’t occur to you, think about it, says Warren Buckleitner, founder of Children’s Technology Review. Buckleitner, a respected guru when it comes to kids’ technology, cites a Joan Ganz Cooney Center study showing that 60 percent of the 25 top-selling paid education applications in the iTunes App Store are for toddlers and preschoolers. Buckleitner says kids learn from the iPhone and iPod Touch, a version without a phone function, because it allows them to “manipulate abstract symbols in way that they can control.” Buckleitner cites the $2 app “Itsy Bitsy Spider!” from Duck Duck Moose Design as an example. “It’s like handing your child a bushel full of hidden surprises, where each touch or swipe can lead to an associated action. It’s anywhere, anytime learning.” Teachers and parents subscribe to Children’s Technology Review (www.childrenssoftware.com) to check reviews of nearly 8,000 products, including the latest children’s apps.
Worried that techie gifts will isolate kids? “It’s a concern only if you let it happen,” says Jackson. Media and technology tools and toys can and should bring families together. What’s more fun than making a family video together or a holiday slide show to send to a cousin far away? Or choosing a game three generations can share? Wii Sports Resort, named Best Family Game of 2009 by editors of Common Sense Media, provides hours of entertainment that will keep grandparents and grandkids laughing and talking throughout the year.