No longer an afterthought, technology is as much a part of a well-balanced kid's diet as milk or fiber. No longer an option, it's interwoven and always present -- at school, at home, online and all points between.
So many of kid's digital playthings today hold their interest for all of 10 minutes. So many are limited, closed loops with little regard to stretching imagination or exploration. But behind the YouTube videos of young girls primping, and the near-heart attack experiences of watching kids play around with Instagram and Vine, there's something really important going on out there.
Some of these may not be on the bestseller's list of this past holiday gifts, but each of these promote what's best in a kid's play experience: exploration, freedom and age-appropriate creativity.
Osmo by Tangible Play
It's a really simple idea. A mirrored gizmo attaches to your iPad and it recognizes physical objects you place on the screen. What does that mean? Kids can play with real tangram shapes and figure out how to duplicate what's on the iPad. They can play word games with real manipulative letters.
Lumikids By Lumosity
Your brain is a muscle. Like any other muscle it needs a good workout. The same folks who created Lumosity for us oldsters, have scaled it down as brain training for the pre-school set. Shapes, sequencing and logic puzzles, all timed to develop quick reflexes keep kids' brains in shape. Downloadable at the Apple Apps Store.
Monument Valley by ustwo Games
For older kids, this app has a quiet beauty that encourages kids to experience mazes, illusions and tricks in a breathtaking introduction to architecture and building. Gears and spinning towers, water play and illusions that would make MC Escher proud, challenge kids without frustrating them. Available at the Apple App Store, Google Play and Kindle.
Creatorbox by Creatorbox
Getting something special just for you in the mail every month has always been a treat for kids. The magic doesn't stop with high tech kids. With CreatorBox they get a subscription to be an inventor and a maker. Watching them build a catapult does a parent proud. Some of the projects are low tech and some involve high tech components from companies like littleBits' robotic parts, which makes for a well-rounded experience.
Moss By Modular Robotics
What if building your first robot was as easy as snapping cubes together and as pretty as you wanted to make it. Snap together robot parts that can detect motion, respond to light or propel themselves and pretty soon you're building a robot that's only limited by your imagination.
Ozobot By Ozobot
A big year for robotics, these are little pocket sized R2D2 style robots that have optical readers and sensors, so they can see, hear and move. But the cool part is that they sense and respond to color. Red means stop. Green spins them around. You get to use your smartphone or tablet to download challenges, or whip out your own set of markers (included with the Ozobot) and create your very own Ozo paths.
LeapTV By Leapfrog
Parents have always kept a guarded eye on what young kids are doing with their PlayStations and Xboxes. Honest, kids need a game player they can call their own. Welcome LeapTV from Leapfrog, the same folks that bring you tablets, reading games and other high tech fun for kids. LeapTV lets kids physically interact with the screen (hopping, jumping) by incorporating a motion sensing controller and a place for cartridge games. Hook LeapTV up to your TV and suddenly your kids have access to great entertainment driven by Leapfrog's trusted content.
Disney Fantasia Music Evolved By Harmonix
Harmonix, the creators of mega-digital hits like Rock Band, Dance Central and Guitar Hero, upped the music intelligence big time on this collaboration with the Walt Disney Company. Run on the Xbox One it takes advantage of the camera to put you into Fantasia as the conductor of a masterpiece. Imagine waving your arms and having a symphony orchestra respond. With special graphic effects that accompany your movement, the experience is sort of like imaging a meeting between the Grateful Dead and Leonard Bernstein.
*These products were selected after a lengthy judging process involving a group of journalists, educators and thought leaders in children's digital play arena. The produces described above will receive awards at the KidsatPlaySummit at CES in Las Vegas on Jan 8th.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.