Looking for something for a young one in the electronics department? There are lots of choices and plenty of down-sized, simplified gadgets that are great gifts for kids of all ages. Here are some general things to keep in mind when shopping.
** If the product runs on batteries and not on an AC source, make sure that you don't mind pitching in the extra cash down the road to replace the batteries.
** Some toys don't use your basic AA batteries; this may pose a problem in the future, especially if you live somewhere rural or if the product is ever discontinued.
** Check reviews to see what consumers say about an item's battery life. This will give you a better idea of how often you will have to replace them.
** Young kids tend to play rough with their toys. Make sure that the product you want to buy is built for some roughhousing if it is destined to be used by kids under eight. Better yet, only buy electronics that are built kid-tough. Once children grow up a bit and are mature enough to handle a sophisticated piece of equipment, you can consider moving to the next step up.
** If you see the product firsthand, examine it to see if there are any flimsy parts that might easily snap off or if there are sharp corners that could poke or scratch.
* '''Toy vs. Gadget'''
** There is a difference between toys and gadgets. Toys are meant for kids: they should be entertaining, durable and multitasking. They are built to be tossed around a bit and should be designed for simplicity and ease of use.
** Electronics are best left for older children, as they are not always made with kids in mind. This is important to consider when buying--especially when you think about cameras, computers, MP3 players, etc. These items should be very intuitive and have a minimal learning curve to make the experience fun and easy for a child.
* '''Cost and Usage'''
** Consider the product's longevity. Will it be thrown out in a year or is it meant to last? Gadgets usually break or lose their novelty within a relatively short period of time because they have a "play limitation." Nonetheless, practical electronics can last a child's lifetime, especially those that can be upgraded as he or she matures.
* '''Volume Control'''
** There is no way to express the importance of having either volume control or an off switch on any electronic toy. This is mostly a concern for toys destined to children under 10.
New in Electronics
Top Picks by Age
Infants to Three Year-Olds
When it comes to babies and toddlers, electronic toys are probably the last things you would think of. Nonetheless, there are some good developmental toys for children of this age. Most of all, look for toys that light up, make noise and teach letters and numbers. Other electronic toys that work well for toddlers are ride-on toys. They love the idea of being able to drive their own tiny vehicle.
Three to Seven Year-Olds
For those in preschool or kindergarten, it is preferable to look for toys that are educational and that allow a child to use his or her imagination. Excellent choices include interactive learning systems, such as those made by LeapFrog and V.Tech. They help a child work on essential skills such as learning the alphabet, numbers, matching, spelling, reading and how to identify common objects. The majority of these learning systems grow with a child and many have won toy awards. It's no wonder since they are fun, educational and they travel well.
Learning systems are also good for those who have just started school. Of course, be sure to choose the appropriate system based on the manufacturer's age recommendations. Be careful to watch your child's progress -- as the system's activities get easier, you'll need to upgrade to more challenging ones. This helps keep the learning system fun and fresh for the child.
Eight to 11 Year-Olds
Children at this age are still happy to play with toys even though they no longer want to be considered "kids." Indulge them with toys and games that reflect their interests and that help them develop what they are learning in school. Video games are extremely popular for this age group and this is often the time, if any, to give a child their first video game console or a handheld gaming device. Consider music-oriented toys, such as electronic games, boomboxes and, perhaps, even digital music players and speakers for them. Other great options are learning laptops (a not quite laptop that emphasizes learning), RC cars and robots, and construction kits.
12 Years and Up
This is the perfect time to consider giving children gifts that are more "adult-like", such as digital music players, cameras, and computers. Avoid expensive electronics and find a happy medium that will be well suited for the child's maturity level. Video games and consoles are ideal for this age group, but be careful choosing these for children who don't belong to you -- talk to the parents first to make sure there is no conflict of interest. Nice electronic musical instruments might be well-suited for the artistically inclined. RC cars and robots are great picks, especially for boys.
When it comes to electronic toys, kids are not limited to video games, robots, and personal video players. There are actually interactive books that help children read, spell, and familiarize themselves with sounds. Get your child started early with electronic books from LeapFrog that feature their favorite characters.
* '''LeapFrog Leapster Learning Game Toy Story 3''': Kids must help various Toy Story characters navigate a vending machine, a dump, and a playground while learning spelling and solving math problems. Parents are also able to go online and check their child's progress.
* '''Tag Classic Storybook The Little Engine That Could''': Children will enjoy developing their reading comprehension skills through learning activities as they discover if the little blue engine will be able to reach the top of the mountain.
* '''Tag Disney-Pixar Take-a-Chance Storybook Pack''': Join your favorite characters from Up and Cars as they race through fields and the rain forest. Kids will learn facts about nature, spelling, compound words, and much more.