Kids can delight in any gift, or even the box that it came in. But it takes something special to inspire and teach a kid each time they play. Here's our pick of tech gifts designed to make kids smarter and happy with their holiday haul.
VTech Count and Learn Turtle
This standalone gadget teaches young kids (ages 2 to 5) how to count to 20 in English and Spanish, and how to do basic addition. It also has a memory mode, which makes numbers on its keypad light up, and challenges kids to repeat the sequence.
Buy now: VTech Count and Learn Turtle
Tinkergarten offers group activities for kids that take place in parks across 45 states. The idea is to get kids outdoors more often. Tinkergarten classes are play-oriented and lightly structured to engage little ones from 18 months to eight years old. Leaders get the kids singing, looking for bugs, and climbing trees, among other activities, while accompanying parents can hang back and chill. A series of 8 classes runs around $130. Gift certificates are available online in $25 increments.
Buy now: Tinkergarten gift certificate
Epic! digital library app
This app offers kids from pre-K through sixth grade a digital library of age-appropriate fiction, non-fiction, videos and interactive games. Kids can use Epic! to read and play online or offline. A gift subscription, redeemable online with a code, ranges from $38 for 6 months to $108 for two years. The app is for iOS and Android, and works on both phones and tablets.
Price: $38 and up
Buy now: Epic! app
Backed by the Andre Agassi Foundation, the Square Panda toy teaches kids from two to eight years old to read and spell confidently. It requires the use of an iPad. The system includes 45 large letter pieces and a rack where kids can lay out their letters, exercising spatial reasoning as they learn to read. Digital games and activities can be downloaded by parents through a Square Panda portal. It's appropriate for kids two to eight years old and costs $79.95 (iPad not included).
Buy now: Square Panda
Roominate Cozy Corner Cafe
Known for DIY dollhouses that inspire girls to get involved in engineering, Roominate Toy now offers a kit called the Cozy Corner Cafe for kids aged six and older. The kit includes plastic parts that snap together to form the walls and floor of the cafe, as well as furniture, two figurines, and most excitingly the circuits, a motor and more to build a real, moving fan. At $17.99 it's an affordable intro to some basic electrical engineering concepts.
Buy now: Roominate Cozy Corner Cafe
Magformers Creator Carnival
Many tots will already be familiar with Magformers, the plastic geometric tiles that connect magnetically to make a range of different structures. The Magformers Creator Carnival set, labeled safe for kids as young as three, adds intrigue to the simple-to-use building blocks. It includes 46 pieces, enough to build model ferris wheels and carousels. And the pieces work with other Magformers kits for more extensive structures.
Buy now: Magformers Creator Carnival
The PixlPlay Camera turns old, but still working smartphones into durable, kid-friendly cameras. Compatible with smartphones as far back as the iPhone 4, and most Samsung smartphones, the PixlPlay is a kind of shell with rubber grips, a focus lens and a film advance lever that clicks when kids play shutterbug. The camera, which evokes an old 35 mm one, comes with activity sheets and stickers, and a scavenger hunt mode that sends kids on photo-snapping adventures. The camera encourages creativity and
Buy now: PixlPlay Camera
Ozobot's Evo and Bit robots, each about the size of a golf ball, will follow lines that kids draw with markers on white paper. Different colors change the way the robots move and react, cueing them to flash their lights or make different sounds. The more advanced Evo can be programmed using the Ozobot mobile app.The company sells a range of accessories to turn Evo and Bit into characters like Iron Man or Groot and Rocket (from Guardians of the Galaxy). A bare-bones Bit costs $59.
Buy now: Bit robot
A high-end subscription service, Little Passports aims to get kids between the ages of 3 and 12 interested in world history and cultures beyond their own. Among other things, the company sends boxes packed with maps, stickers, stories, activity sheets, puzzles and codes that kids can use to access online or mobile games. A year's worth of "adventures" costs $203 plus shipping, or about $17 per month.
Price: $203 and up
Buy now: Little Passports subscription
Snap Circuits Jr. 100 Experiments
Snap Circuits made by Elenco are designed to teach kids how electricity works, and what's happening inside of everyday appliances and gadgets. The Snap Circuits Jr. 100 Experiments kit includes a large, circuit board and pieces that snap onto it. A manual is included that teaches kids how to assemble things like a musical doorbell, a lamp, a fan, or a voice-activated light. The kits are powered by AA batteries, which are sold separately. At $34.95, this kit is accessible and one of the company's best sellers.
Buy now: Snap Circuits Jr Kit
LittleBits Droid Inventor Kit
LittleBits makes color-coded electronic components that are easy to assemble into nifty gadgets. The company's kits generally teach kids mechanical and electrical engineering fundamentals. But its hottest product today is its Star Wars-inspired, Droid Inventor Kit. Aimed at kids eight-and-up, the kit includes a battery, motor, sensor, speaker, stickers and other "blocks" that make a programmable R2 droid. The sensor inside allows kids to "use the force" to move the droid with a hand gesture.
Buy now: LittleBits Droid Inventor Kit