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HomeGreat GiftsHigh Tech Toys

Nine go-to gadgets for the holidays

Our tech expert picks her favorite digital gifts -- from the basic to the deluxe -- that will keep your kid learning all year long.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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GeoPalz

GeoPalz

Sure, WebKinz, Club Penguin, and RuneScape offers wee ones plenty of online fun. But while their avatars — puppy dogs, sea birds, or medieval warriors — are getting a workout, the kids are just sitting in front of a screen. The cleverly designed GeoPalz pedometers ($19.99) change all that by making a game out of walking and running around. 

Kids simply clip on one of the cute characters (such as a princess, skateboarder, or ladybug) and start moving. Every step your child takes in the real world will also move her avatar through the virtual one, where she can earn points and unlock new games. Unlike in other virtual worlds, points here translate into actual prizes: toys, sports equipment, Target gift cards, and games (you pay for shipping). In the current version, kids must follow an honor system by logging on and entering their steps taken (so you'll have to stop them from, say, clipping a pedometer to the dog and taking credit for his perpetual motion). Future versions will log steps automatically.

Bottom line: Turn online gaming into real-world exercise with these kid-friendly pedometers.

Christina Tynan-Wood has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, PC World, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and many others. She currently writes the "Family Tech" column in Family Circle and blogs at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/4/2012:
"I need to buy school suply for my kids. Where to go? "
09/9/2011:
"The Livescribe Smartpen is an amazing tool for any student but especially for students who struggle to listen and write notes at the same time. The audio is tied to the text. Even if the student doodles, the audio records and he/she can listen to what they missed. I have both a high schooler and a college student in RI schools who successfully use the smartpen. They both seem to benefit from hearing parts of the lecture more than once. Prior to using the Smartpen we often struggled with our children studying from incomplete or incorrect material. This tool is an investment in complete and accurate notes for your child to study and learn from from! As for the expensive pricetag, it is coming down. I purchased our first pen for $130 and our second identicle pen for $83! In my opinion it is easy to use and worth every penny! "
12/13/2010:
"I wish the tech editor would have chosen more gadgets geared toward the 2-8 age group."
12/8/2010:
"We agee with others, we are not reading further and closing out of this website. Expensive. Not sure why the camcorder is under electronic LEARNING."
08/30/2010:
"I live in Lowell, Massachusetts. I dropped out of school after I stayed back in 8th grade 3 times! I'm now gonna be 17 years old in less then 3 months. I honestly, with everything in me, want to go back to school. I want to either graduate from the 8th grade then go to regular highschool, or just take a placement test to go to highschool. I would honestly give anything to go to a regular highschool, and not have to settle for my G.E.D. I talked to the Lowell school board about it, and also my old principal and they said because I'm gonna be 17 already, I won't be able to go back into the 8th grade and I can't take a placement test because they don't do that anymore! I'm so lost, and I've been very depressed because I haven't been in school. It was the dumbest decision in my life to drop out and I honestly feel that if I could take that mistake back, I would!! My past isn't great at all, it's actually pretty bad but the one thing I would love more then anything is to get anot! her chance and make a change in my life. Any tips or ideas on how I should go about that? Please feel free to leave any comments, or advice on how I should try to do this. Thank you, Ashley!"
08/26/2010:
"I read this article with tongue in cheek until i saw the one about the Sony DSLR-A330L for $450 at which i fell on the floor laughing outright!!! Wow!! I love all the comments!! What were you guys thinking??"
08/26/2010:
" Disappointed Great Schools. The four hundred dollar camera is what got us ready to write a review. We're closing out now...not going to bother reading anymore."
08/16/2010:
"Funny article. Next article: Clothes that should be worn to school to make good grades. Gucci, Couture, Prada, and if you don't get these clothes, expect your little darling to fail."
08/16/2010:
"the Pandigital Novel is somewhat unnecessary for the purpose described. Amazon allows their Kindle app to be downloaded to a computer or laptop for free - and book downloads can be done in minutes. One of these seems like a risky investment for a kid who can't keep track of a book."
08/16/2010:
"Anything that encourages a child to read can't be all bad. I have one of these Pandigital Novels and I love it. Many of the Classic Books are free online and can be put on this device. I like the size for reading and the font can be made larger if the child has a vision problem. It currently does not support Adobe flash but I’m hopeful it will in the future. I can see that in the future everything can be put on these devices saving trees and allowing the child to cut his load of many books. As you read you can type up notes or apply bookmarks within this device. The novel can be purchased for less than $125 if you look. I remember the day when a parent refused to let his son learn to use a calculator in Junior High math class NOW how many adults don’t use a calculator. Get with the future this Novel is really not a gadget but the future of books."
08/2/2010:
"GreatSchools, I believe you are officially what we in the real world call a SELL OUT. It's pretty clear you don't have kids' learning as your top priority. "
07/30/2010:
"You are kidding me right??? Buy your kid an expensive electronic gadget so they do better in school? I am sorry but this is gratuitous advertising on a site which should know better. I am very disappointed with this post. Try sitting down with them with a pencil paper and your undivided attention and play education games with them. That's a 'high-tech' educational toy in our house."
07/30/2010:
"This bogus, ad-driven story hurts GreatSchools' credibility."
07/29/2010:
"How do you prevent these expensive gadgets from being stolen at school?! I would love to get them for my son, who is very 'techy'; however, even though he is very responsible, he has had items stolen from his backpack and even his locker at school. Additionally, he is starting high school this year and I have already heard of many of these same theft issues . . . . and we are in an upper-middle-class district! I can't afford to replace these expensive items or have my son beat-up after school for them!"
07/29/2010:
"Great 'toys'- for the 0.1% of us that can afford them! Love the flash drive, hate the price; and most kids can download tons of stuff with half a gig (512mb)flash drive, which is far less expensive."
07/29/2010:
"Sorry to say this but this goes against everything kids should learn. With these things we only teach kids that they are consumers. We teach them that it is ok to spend hundreds of dollars for items that can be replaced by far more valuable knowledge. How about calling a friend when you forget homework and do it together? How about volunteering to make sure low income kids have an opportunity to access internet in the first place? These toys only teach kids to spend money they don't have , or better don't have earned, yet! No wonder they are prone to credit card debt when they are collage students. Please teach them to come up with creative solutions, work together with others and how much it takes to earn a decent living in this country. These items are all wants, not needs."
07/29/2010:
"This article was not helpful at all. Suggesting we buy an iPhone or iPad for our children? Seriously? In this economy- or any economy for that matter- we should be teaching our children the value of earning something. Not to mention, this obsession with 'being connected' will backfire on our children if we're not careful. "
07/29/2010:
"What on earth??? OK jokes over, now give us the real article... shame on u, Great Schools."
07/29/2010:
"I am a high school Special Ed teacher and my family owns 3 iPads. I believe children can be responsible when given the opportunity to do so. However I DO NOT see how any of these expensive gadgets were related to education. The j much better options for technology usage that are available today. At a minimum the author should have listed specific practical examples of how each gadget could help a child in school. For example, the use of audio books on iPods or iPads are great for struggling readers .... not those who don't do their homework. This article needs to be rewritten and the author needs to do more research."
07/29/2010:
"Not sure what all the hub-bub is about, the article title says it is about high-tech gadgets, and that what they show. I agree that some are them are not the most educational, but they are a good represnetation of the digital goodies that are available, and what your kid might want. No one says you HAVE to buy the produsts, that is your choice. I know I won't be buying them...except maybe the Sony Bloggie, that thing is way cool! :) I don't know if GreatSchools is getting a 'kick-back' or not, but so what if they are? If they can get money from sponsers and still offer free service to us parents I am all for it."
07/29/2010:
"these 'gadgets' look like they would stimulate a LD kid in trying and having fun at the same time. The comments about the 'gadgets' and article are exactly what you would expect from today's majority of selfish twits who call themselves parents."
07/29/2010:
"As a teacher, it seems to me that most of these items missed the point. As a parent - you've got to be kidding! The audio books will only help the child read if he or she is tracking the words in a print book at the same time, though I s'pose the audio could help with comprehension since the kid would at least have heard the story. If a kid has trouble taking notes in class, the tape recording pen is probably also too difficult for consistent proper use. I also agree with the other posters - $500 per item is hardly chump change for school 'supplies.' Clearly Ms. Tynan-Wood has not spent much time in middle class public schools lately!"
07/29/2010:
"Now it is clear. Great Schools is just another advertising platform. Adios. I'll unsubscribe."
07/28/2010:
"This is the dumbest article ever."
07/28/2010:
"I will admit, I wish I had the Smart Pen for my math class back in high school. MAYBE the Whiz Key. The rest of this stuff is utterly useless. I agree with the rest of the posts. It's an advertisement for these gadgets. Makes me wonder how much of a kickback GreatSchools is getting for this? "
07/28/2010:
"Ah, yes. Media consumption is the answer to kids' educational needs."
07/28/2010:
"I was looking for ways to use different tech devices to enhance and encourage learning. Disappointed that I didn't get that from this article. "
07/28/2010:
"Does it have Adobe Flash player?"
07/28/2010:
"Was very disappointed with this article. I have a 5 yr old and was expecting something other than an electronic advertisement."
07/28/2010:
"I'm really disappointed in this not even cleverly disguised sponsored 'article'. Are you kidding me? I'm unsubscribing to Great Schools newsletter. "
07/28/2010:
"Thanks, but I'll keep my Kindle and use that, if necessary. The Pandigital is more expensive and has access to LESS books. Face it. Amazon is the MASTER of eBooks."
07/28/2010:
"None of these are required for a good education and frankly most of us can afford this nonsense. "
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