-- Good tech toys enhance play and learning through the use of technology. Here is a look at some of this year's best:
For younger kids
- Fisher-Price Computer Cool School
For ages 3 to 6, from Fisher-Price, www.fisher-price.com, $60 (add-on software sells for $16), requires computer running Windows.
This tech toy allows young children to play on their parents' computers without ever letting them get into their parents' files. It bundles a special keyboard (with traditional keys as well as big trigger buttons, a drawing tablet and an attached stylus) with its own learning software that offers fun activities in reading and writing, math, science, music and art. Additional software lets kids continue the edutainment with favorites including "Scooby Doo," "Clifford the Big Red Dog," "Sesame Street" and others. Kids use this keyboard so they never gunk up Mom and Dad's.
- Tag Reading System
For ages 4 to 8, from LeapFrog, www.leapfrog.com/tag, $49.99 (add-on books sell for $13.99), works with Windows or Mac computers.
With Tag, kids can learn to read by holding this special outsized pen over books. Tap the device anywhere inside a Tag book and it responds by either reading the book, reading individual words, making the illustrations talk or make noise, or playing a game using the words and illustrations on the page. It is amazing to watch. The system comes with one book, but four more books can be added into its memory by connecting it to your computer. Additional books include many children's classics, such as "The Little Engine that Could," or ones featuring branded characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Kung Fu Panda.
For older kids
- EyeClops BioniCam
For ages 8+, from Jakks Pacific, www.eyeclops.com, $79.99.
One of last year's most exciting toys was the EyeClops Bionic Eye, a 200x microscope that you could plug into your TV. The next generation of that toy is this year's EyeClops BioniCam, which adds 400x magnification, the ability to take photos and videos of what you magnify, and portability. Kids just turn it on and point to see the world up close as it is displayed on the toy's built-in color LCD screen. The toy has three magnification settings of 100x, 200x and 400x. Photos and videos that you take can also be viewed on the TV or via computer.
For younger children (ages 6+), the EyeClops Bionic Eye is still available, but this year's version adds a 400x magnification setting to last year's model, which had only 100x and 200x. It costs $49.99.
For ages 7+, from Mattel, www.masterorprey.com, $149.99.
Not exactly cuddly, but absolutely adorable is this fierce biomorphic robot dinosaur. He walks on his hind legs, makes fascinating facial expressions, feels like a reptile, and roars to make a variety of sounds. He responds to both touch and voice, and comes with a bone that you can feed him. He can be programmed to step forward and roar (attack), guard a room, follow your voice, make funny sounds, or answer questions by nodding or shaking his head. He's expensive, but so entertaining, and would be the perfect "pet" for a dino-loving kid.
For ages 8+, from Hasbro/Tiger Electronics, www.UDanceGame.com, $74.99, plugs into a TV.
Here's a way to bring the popularity of "Dance Dance Revolution" game play to your television without having to own a console gaming system. Plus, with this dance game, there's no dance mat, just your feet wearing slip-on Motion Tags (a special button attached to an elastic band that you slip over your feet or shoes). To play, you follow footprint icons that show up on the screen, and the game tracks your dance movements, which can include jumping, sliding, crossovers and more. This dance game allows for more innovation than "DDR" as you dance through the 12 songs and other games.