By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media parenting editor
They say good things come in small packages. Tech toys may not be the biggest items your kids will unwrap this year, but they certainly will be full of good stuff. With advanced features such as fast wireless transfer (Nintendo's amiibo figurines), motion sensing (Leapfrog's LeapTV) and clever parental controls (Kurio's smartphone for kids), this holiday's hot tech toys for kids are fun, enriching, easy to use, and just plain cool.
Also, these choices all reflect values you can feel good about giving. They let your kids get more out of the toy than simply the fun of owning it. Replayability, STEM activities for girls and active learning are among the features baked into these gifts, so you can introduce technology on your terms.
Target ages for all products except the Movie Machine are based on our best guesses.
LeapFrog LeapTV $149.99; age 3-8. This educational, active video game system combines activities such as jumping, dancing and marching with lessons in core skills such as reading, math and more. A wide variety of ways to play, a multiplayer feature, auto-adjusting difficulty levels and tons of games provide a lot of options.
Why we like it: Active learning. The research is piling up: Movement helps kids learn.
GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine Free for the app, $29.99 for the kit; age 8+. From the creators of the girl-empowering engineering toys comes this stop-motion moviemaker. The free app can be used as a standalone product, while the Movie Machine kit comes with a storybook, a character figurine, a DIY zoetrope assembly and more. Both let kids learn step by step how to make their movies, adapting projects that have already been started for them or starting one from scratch.
Why we like it: STEM exposure for girls. In a world where engineering is one of the fastest-growing careers, it's important for girls to gain experience in the field.
Kindle Fire HD 7 Kids Edition $149; age 8+. Distinguished by its colorful case (in blue, green, or pink), the Kindle Fire for Kids is one of the most affordable tablets for families. With a full year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited with access to thousands of books, movies, TV shows, apps, and games -- plus smart parental controls that let you manage screen time, access, and educational goals -- this Kindle Fire is a multidimensional device that can grow with your kids.
Why we like it: All-in-one entertainment and education. The kids' Kindle Fire is a practical hybrid device, giving your kids the ability to read whenever, wherever, and offering some games when the work is done.
Kurio Phone $159.99; age 10+. Giving your kid a "kid's" smartphone is tantamount to a lump of coal, right? Not anymore. With a front and rear camera, an Android operating system and other sophisticated features, the Kurio Phone looks, works and plays just like a grown-up phone. But under the hood there's Web filtering, parental controls, emergency features and preloaded, hand-selected apps just for kids. The Kurio Phone eases your kid (and you!) into the world of cell phones so she can learn responsibility as she goes along.
Why we like it: Highly adjustable parental controls. Many parental controls are all-or-nothing blunt instruments. Kurio lets you modify settings as your kid needs change.
Nintendo amiibo $12.99 each; age 10+. Whether you love Donkey Kong, Pikachu or Mario, the brand-new amiibo figurines let you play as or with your favorite Nintendo character. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the first release to use the amiibo technology (with more games to follow). Just touch your amiibo to your Wii U gamepad to transfer its unique data into the game. Amiibos gain new abilities and characteristics as you play to make every game a new experience.
Why we like it: Replayability. Sure, your kid will probably want to collect as many amiibos as possible, but he'll get a lot out of each one -- and you don't have to own a Wii U to play, because your kid can use his amiibos on a friend's device.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to www.commonsense.org.