A trip down memory lane. When I was growing up, we’d never heard the words, “hi-tech.” And some of the most challenging toys around were the wooden spoke and wheel toys from TinkerToys
and the steel girder and nuts and bolts sets from Erector. Both brands have been around more than a hundred years, and you can still find them at Amazon and elsewhere. Both brands have changed hands. TinkerToys is owned by K’nex. And Erector is owned by Meccano. But today it’s a whole different world, and we suspect that your grandkids are going to be after something a little more contemporary, so here goes:
Kid Friendly Smartphone – Motorola G5 Plus – Yes, we are a little reluctant to suggest buying a smartphone for your grandchild, since it means Mom and Dad will actually have to foot the bill. But the fact is that in this day and age they pretty much need one to function. Even more to the point, many of the best toys are only operable with a smartphone app. When it comes to smartphones that are a great value but are modern and can take a beating, the Motorola G5 Plus is at the top of the list. This isn’t your typical, plastic smartphone, so your kids won’t be embarrassed to pull it out of their pockets. The aluminum exterior looks great and feels premium. It has all the latest bells and whistles, including a fingerprint sensor, fast charging, and a 12-megapixel camera. This phone is unlocked too, which means the folks can pick the carrier of their choice without being tied to a contract. It’s available directly from Motorola for about $230.
Kids Fitness Watch – The Garmin Vivofit Jr. 2 brings fitness tracking and much more to the grandkids. The watches come in Disney, Star Wars or Marvel character designs with either stretchy or adjustable bands, and there’s a 1-year battery included. Parents can track kids’ steps and sleep, remind them of homework or chores, and there are even “rewards” when they meet their activity goals. The Vivofit Jr 2 is waterproof and of course, it’s also a watch with alarm & stopwatch features. $99.99 direct.
Drone – The Striker-X Drone takes photography and videography to a whole new level. Drones are a great way to help get your grandkids off the couch and outside. The Striker-X durable lightweight body only weighs four pounds and has four channel controls allowing the drone to fly up/down, forward/backward, strafe left/right, and rotate left/right. There is a built-in 2.4Ghz 4.5Ch HD picture and video camera with a 2GB MicroSD card. Get it from Amazon for $78.48.
Stem Computer Kit – The Piper Computer Kit is a beginner’s guide to the world of PC hardware and programming. If your grandkid likes to build and solve puzzles, then the Piper Computer Kit epitomizes just that by combining both Minecraft, a virtual game that consists of building a 3D world from a variety of cubes, and actually constructing their own PC. This provides a fun way to expose your grandchild to the world of computing in a controlled environment. The kit includes a hand-crafted wooden computer case with an LCD screen monitor and Wi-Fi enabled gameplay with the Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft. Get it from Amazon for $239.00.
Yoda Not I Am – A cute communicator for grandkids too young to have their own smartphone, Elfkins is a 9-inch tall, 3.5 pound hard & soft plastic device in the shape of a cartoony elf, that can speak to kids, move its mouth & arms, even light up its ears. The idea is that kids can use it to send verbal messages to parents and grandparents who have the app (iPhone 5 and above only), and the adults can speak back to the children in their own voice, send “kisses” and even join in non-screen activities – see their video. $150 direct with free ground shipping.
Headphones for Kids – The Coby Light Up Headphones not only offers premium stereo sound quality, but lights flash to the beat of the music making your grandchild’s listening experience interactive and fun while the padded earpieces make it comfortable. The wireless feature eliminates all frustrations associated with tangled cords. There is also a built-in microphone and call answer button. Available on Amazon for $34.99.
Smart Robot – The Cozmo Robot is a small, interactive robot with a variety of functions that will entertain any grandchild interested in coding. The robot is fully equipped with Code Lab designed to help beginning coders learn how using MIT’s Scratch programming language. The Cozmo Robot also features numerous games such as Memory Match and Keepaway. Your grandchild can even take the Cozmo Robot out on explore mode in conjunction with a smartphone. Available on Amazon for $149.99.
Robot Coding Kit – The Ozobot Evo is a pocket-sized robot is great for the older coders in your life. This robot can be programmed with OzoBlockly, which is based on Google’s Blockly, a language designed for kids. Your coding grandchildren can also program Evo with markers and color codes on paper. Get it on Amazon for $84.99.
Real Race Cars Meet the Digital World – As if it’s not confusing enough to have Cozmo and Ozobot, add the Osmo Mind Racers to the mix. This game uses real Hot Wheels cars, then launches them into a virtual world of challenging race courses. The big plus here is that many of your grandkids are already familiar with Hot Wheels. The only downside is that the game requires an iPad. The game is available from Osmo for $59 but you’ll also have to buy the iPad or iPhone base for another $29.
Artificial Intelligence Robot Kit – The Meccano M.A.X. is a personable robot that your grandchild can first build piece by piece and then interact with it in multiple cool ways. It features artificial intelligence and customizable programming. This little robot will ask questions, tell jokes, sing songs, greet people, and much more. The Meccano M.A.X. is a crowd pleaser and great with families. Get it on Amazon for $112.99.
App-Enabled Droid – When it comes to ball-shaped robots, Sphero has cornered the market, but their amazing miniature replica of the Star Wars series’ most iconic droid R2-D2 is easily their coolest and most entertaining. Amazingly animated, it’s almost like having a robot pet. Like all Sphero robots, however, it does require a smartphone or tablet to control via the free to download app. Get it from Amazon for $129.00.
LEGO Robot – For kids who love to build, Lego’s robot, LEGO Boost set lets them unleash their imagination in countless new ways. Boost promotes not just creativity, but basic programming skills as well, as it guides kids (and adults) through the process of creating robots and gizmos that can do all kinds of fun things from funky moving robots to zany noisemakers and more. Available on Amazon for $159.95.
Hi-Tech Building Blocks – When it comes to great building kits, Lego isn’t the only game in town. Brixo Blocks use Bluetooth connectivity and conductive blocks to tie together some simple looking but very powerful combinations that make things go. The Brixo kits are available in sets beginning at about $30 and going all the way to $300. Brick types include battery bricks, light sensor bricks proximity detector bricks, magnet bricks, LED lighting bricks, and lots more. The only thing that will limit your grandchild’s ability to create is their imagination, that and how much you’re willing to spend. Available directly from Brixo Toys and other locations.
Bug-Themed Robots – Mattel’s Kamigami are mostly bug-themed remote control robots that are a lot cheaper than the competition and tend to look that way, but the actual smartphone/tablet app used to control them is surprisingly adept at both letting kids have a ton of fun with the durable toys and teaching them some very basic coding and instruction logic. The “skins” are interchangeable and can be bought separately, so if they want to switch out that scorpion look for a ladybug they can. You can even get two and have them race and mock battle each other. For example, the Kamigami Scarrax Robot is available on Amazon for $47.96.
Race Car – Sphero’s Lightning McQueen is expensive and absurdly detailed and may well be the coolest RC car you’ll find in the toy section. The windshield is an LCD screen, so the beloved Cars character’s eyes are completely animated. When he talks, his lips move. More than that, as RC cars go, while the learning curve to control him (again via a smartphone app) can be a little steep, Lightning is fast, precise, and fun. Available on Amazon for $245.99.
Battle Bot – Straight out of the gate, Reach Robotics MekaMon is one of the ultimate robot toys this season. The awesome four-leg design gives it impressive mobility compared to the competition, it includes plenty of games to play, and if your grandkids know someone else with one, they can battle each other thanks to the MekaMon’s advanced sensors and laser light show. It’s pricey, but impressively high tech and sure to enthrall robot-loving kids. MekaMon is available for $299.95 here.
Build Your Own Robot – If your grandchild is a Star Wars fanatic then they can now build their very own R2 companion with the Create Your Own Droid Kit from Hammacher Schlemmer. The kit comes with the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) curriculum to help customize their own R2 unit. Their new R2 sidekick can make 20 authentic droid “bleep bloop” sounds from the Star Wars films. The droid also works in conjunction with your grandchild’s smartphone where they can control the direction, movements, and embark on 16 different interactive missions. It’s available from Hammacher Schlemmer for $99.95.
Kid’s Night Vision Device – Help your grandkid get ready for their next spying mission with the Children’s Night Vision Recorder from Hammacher Schlemmer. This spy tool has five different night vision modes that can stealthily capture both photo and video. The two 5-LED infrared light clusters on each side of the device can illuminate objects up to 50 feet away, which is ideal for nighttime spying. Your secret agent can capture up to 80 minutes of video and 10,000 still photos. In addition to the device’s night vision modes, your spy can also use the thermal-tech filter, ghost recon, long/short range scope, and daytime mode. Get it from Hammacher Schlemmer for $99.95.
Illuminated Racing Tubes – Get your speed racing grandchild ready to hit the race track with the Gravity Defying Car Speed Pipes from Hammacher Schlemmer. The kit comes with 24 curving illuminating tubes where two remotely controlled cars race each other and defy gravity. Your speed racer can design the tracks go straight, around, up and down, and upside down. They can challenge their friends to a race because the track can fit two five-wheeled race cars. The track is powered by a miniature electric motor and two AA batteries. It is available from Hammacher Schlemmer for $99.95.
Remote Controlled Snowplow – Now you can put your grandkid to work and doing winter time chores with the Child’s RC Snowplow from Hammacher Schlemmer. This remote-controlled snowplow can traverse at a top speed of 1 mph over pavement and icy pathways. The 2.4 GHz radio-frequency remote moves the plow forward, backward, right, and left to clear away snow from the driveway and pathways. Get it from Hammacher Schlemmer for $69.95.
Albert Einstein BrainGame Robot – There is no need to hire a tutor for your grandchild when they need help with their homework and studies when there is the Personal Einstein Genius from Hammacher Schlemmer. This is a 14.5 inch tall Albert Einstein robot with a personality that helps with math homework, teaches scientific concepts, and even cracks jokes. The professor robot works in tandem with a Wi-Fi-enabled app that enables him to do everything. Get it from Hammacher Schlemmer for $159.95.
Kids Tablet Computer – The LeapFrog LeapPad is a tablet designed specifically for your grandchild to make learning fun and interesting. The tablet is only compatible with LeapFrog apps and games, however LeapConnect offers a huge library of downloadable apps. The LeapPad offers a bigger, higher-resolution screen to enhance your grandchild’s tablet experience with Wi-Fi capabilities. It’s available from Amazon for $139.99.