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Oregon Family’s Top Ten

12/03/2014 21:11 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

“Put it on your Christmas list…”

Like many families, we have spent the last several months uttering this phrase to our kids when they ask for the latest toy or gadget. And as the mailbox fills with wish lists and gift guides and toy catalogs galore, the drumbeat of the holiday season gets louder.

In my search for some of the best gifts this season, I came across lots of great ideas that may not be on your radar. From the little ones to tweens and teens, we found high-tech, low-tech and even some mixed tech.

Our 2014 Top Ten

1.     DODOCase Virtual Reality Cardboard Toolkit ($24.95; Barnes & Noble and DODOCase.com) — Want a decidedly low-tech way to access high-tech cool? Try cardboard. I was skeptical, but it didn’t take long for the “wows!” and “whoas!” Our favorite app was a virtual reality roller coaster. It was a huge hit with both my kids (ages 2 1/2 and 8). If you have an Android phone, you’ll have more app choices, but the two we tried on the iPhone were great fun.

2.     Silverlits Nano Falcon ($49.99; Amazon, Toys R Us) — This tiny helicopter holds the Guinness World Record for the smallest RC vehicle. The little ones are mesmerized and the older kids have a great time flying it. The controls take a little practice and I will attest to the durability of the ‘copter. Ours spent a great deal of time bonking into the ceiling and falling to the ground. It also completely freaked out our dog. But it didn’t take long for my third grader to zip it around the house like a pro.

3.     Ollie by Sphero ($99.99; Amazon and GoSphero.com) — This little robot is super fast! It’s app-controlled and can spin, drift and do flips. With simple finger directions on the smartphone screen, Ollie flies across the floor. The app is a free download and it’s very easy to get the hang of. My kids loved the “trick mode” and older kids will enjoy the custom features.

4.     Junior Explorers ($19+; JuniorExplorers.com) — From kids toys to goodies for mom and everything in between, subscription boxes are everywhere! Junior Explorers is a creative twist on this model by sending kids on a new “mission” with each box. The missions are related to animal conservation around the world. The box comes with a bunch of goodies — maps, stickers, guide books, trading cards and activities. Kids also get access to an online portal that has additional games and activities for exploring that month’s focus. My third grader really enjoyed the demo box we tried out and it looks like we’ll be joining the official list of Junior Explorers in the near future.

5.     Morph-O-Scopes Sports of All Sorts ($22.50; Amazon and OozAndOz.com) — This kit is definitely low tech — ancient tech, in fact. The drawing and coloring pages rely on a mirror anamorphoscope, an art technique used by Renaissance artists and even spies to hide secret images in plain sight. The drawings on the page appear warped, but when you put a cylindrical mirror in the right place, the image becomes clear. The kit has coloring pages, mazes, fill-ins and puzzles that had my son fully concentrated and completely engrossed in how the mirror changed what was on the paper.

6.     Remote Control Machines DLX from Thames and Kosmos ($124.95; Amazon and ThamesAndKosmos.com) — If you have a LEGO fan in your household, this amazing kit will take those skills to the next level. Think LEGOs with motors and remote control! The kit comes with an instruction guide that walks you through 20 different models, each progressively more complicated. Beyond the guide, the configurations are limited only by your budding engineer’s imagination.

7.     The Riddle Show ($21.00; Amazon and Fat Brain Toys) — Jokes and riddles help kids understand the complexities and nuance of language. They’re an excellent way to increase listening comprehension and critical thinking skills.. plus, they’re hilarious! The Riddle Show gives your little performer more than 145 jokes, riddles and tongue twisters in pre-recorded content with sound effects and music. The toy doubles as a working microphone, so they can perform their own material, too. 

8.     Little Builders App (2.99; App Store or Google Play) — My toddler knows his way around our tablet and I’m always on the hunt for well-designed games that don’t have ads, in-game purchases or frankly, aren’t annoying. Little Builders fits the bill. The setting is a building site where kids can dig, paint, pour concrete, build a roof and create a brick and mortar wall. Simple to understand and play, but with lots of great interactions. Fox and Sheep apps are some of my favorites and this one is no exception.

9.     Measure Up! Collection ($38; Amazon or DiscoveryToys.com) — This set didn’t keep my toddler from raiding the pots and pans from the pantry, as I’d hoped, but he was fully engaged in playing with this set and enjoyed the Discovery Toys-suggested activities we played together. I’m impressed with the selection from Discovery Toys and can see we’ll be going back to the catalog for additional ideas for gifts this season.

10.  Smartphone Projector ($27; UncommonGoods.com) — We’ll round out our top 10 list with another fun cardboard gadget. This one, a smartphone projector, magnifies your phone’s screen onto the wall. A pretty clever (and very inexpensive way), to use your phone to share those viral videos with a group or even watch a movie. As you might expect, there are some limitations in brightness and picture quality, so don’t expect a cinematic experience, but for easy sharing with friends, it seems like a great tool.

Extras & Accessories

Two things didn’t make our top 10, but are worth checking out as stocking stuffers or add-ons for other gifts.

It seems we are always in need of chargers. With three tablets, three smartphones, e-readers and gadgets that need charging, it feels like there’s a cord hanging from every outlet in the house. The Ezicharge IC is powerful 5 port USB charger that’s perfect for just this dilemma. It charge almost any USB enabled device including iphones, android, game consoles, cameras, tablets and removes the need for multiple outlets and cable spaghetti. ($29.95; Amazon)

Cases for a tablet never quite seem like the right combo of protection, style and actual usefulness. The Fold-it-Up Organizer from Thirty-One Gifts is very cute (I like the plum chevron… hint. hint.) Besides doing the basic job of protecting the tablet, it has an inside flat pocket with notepad and interior zipper pocket give you room for a few extras. Elastic straps hold a variety of tablets. ($30; ThirtyOneGifts.com)

There you have it. Your kids may not be asking Santa for these yet, but I’m sure you’ll find something clever and unexpected on our Top 10 list that will be a hit! Happy Holidays!

Kelli Matthews is a mom to two boys with seemingly boundless energy, ages two and eight. She's always on the hunt for outside-of-ordinary holiday gifts… This gift guide definitely gave her an excuse to start her shopping early!  When she’s not kid-wrangling, Kelli teaches at the University of Oregon and does public relations and social media consulting. You can find her on Twitter at @kmatthews.

In Print Holiday Gift Guide, December 2014 issue, toys, apps, puzzles, Christmas shopping, buying
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