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Oregon Family Magazine

Inspired, Expressive and Smart

12/01/2013 ● By Sandy Kauten
Gadgets, apps, consoles, tablets and other tech dominate the wish list from kids of all ages. Choosing the right tech for your kiddo can feel overwhelming. I explored the less beaten paths of kid tech options for Oregon Family that can help satisfy the kids and also give you some peace of mind.

Musically Inspired 

Kids and music. Music and kids. They go together hand in hand. Or hand and tambourine. Or mouth and microphone. You get the picture. Whether your toddler is just starting to bop his head to the beat or your teen has found her true calling as an indie rock star, there’s some tech to encourage involvement in music.

JoyTunes Piano Duster 2.0

Learning to play an instrument in a way that is somewhat recognizable as more than just random noise feels like such a great accomplishment for kids and such a relief to parents’ ears! Piano Duster 2.0 is a mobile app that teaches kids to play the piano. The character in the game is a grandma armed with a duster. As different dust balls fall toward the piano, kids strike the right key at the right time to play the right notes. You can use the app with a real piano, too. Practice first, and then follow up with a concert to earn points and get to the next level.

App for Apple and Android. Free with optional in-app purchases.

Starmaker: Karaoke + Auto-Tune and The Voice: On Stage

Singing along with songs on the radio is universal. “Mom, turn it up!” often comes from the back seat of the car. Starmaker: Karaoke + Auto-Tune and The Voice: On Stage are two karaoke-style apps that let you belt out a tune without any extra gadgets - just sing straight into your phone or tablet. As you sing, the app tells you how many notes you hit - my score was an embarrassing 57 percent. The app is free and you can earn tokens with your song scores that let you get access to more songs. But if your kids are into it, you can buy a subscription with unlimited access. It was nice to see that songs were all “radio” versions (nothing explicit).

App for Apple and Android. Free with optional in-app purchases.

Rock-it 3.0

As a teen, the music you choose is part of your identity. Little says “independence” like taking your tunes with you anywhere. The Rock-it 3.0 is a portable piece of tech that lets you turn anything (really, anything!) into a speaker utilizing vibration technology. It plugs into anything with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack (iPhones, laptops, and even walkmans). The Rock-It will create different sound depending on what you stick it to, creating a bonus lesson in how sound travels.

$19.99 online at and in select retailers across the country

Expressively Artistic

From the first scribbles on a piece of paper with crayons (or on the wall with a Sharpie…), kids are naturally drawn to express themselves creating art. Nothing replaces the tactical feeling of creating on paper, but phones, tablets and web browsers open up so many options.

Nomad Brushes

Made in Oregon, Nomad brushes allow you to turn your mobile device into a canvas. You’ll find quite a few art-creating apps and the Nomad brushes take you from finger drawings or stylus scribbles to painting. We’re big fans of Nomad brushes in our house and were excited to try the new Nomad Mini 2, that has a soft, retractable brush tip on one end, and a highly responsive rubber tip on the other.  And at 5" long, it is super portable.

$35.00 at


Another Oregon-based company, WearShare, is the 2014 version of the friendship bracelet. My teenage-self loves this idea! Create a unique, personalized canvas friendship bracelets using your favorite photos from Facebook and Instagram. Orders cost $7 and come with two identical bracelets - one to wear and one to share with someone you love.

$7 at

Illustory A+ and My Comic Book

Storytelling builds young brains and the ability to put that story to paper (or screen) reinforces a love of writing, reading and illustration. I was enamored with the idea of  Illustory A+ and My Comic Book immediately. You can buy kits at major retailers that will mix offline and online story creation. In addition to creating a physical book, each kit includes a code for creating your book or comic book using the online editor. My older son loves creating comic books and spent a great deal of time crafting his story via the online editor for My Comic Book, sharing his experience with me along the way.

$29.99 at major retailers or

Scientifically Entertaining

Science, technology, engineering and math get a lot of attention these days - and for good reason. Building these skills early for both boys and girls creates critical thinking and problem solving abilities that serve them well in all subjects - and life. But even better, it’s fun!

Quick Attach Microscope

There’s nothing like taking a look at every day objects up close… REALLY close. The Quick Attach Microscope every iPhone, iPod, iPad or Android device can become a 30x magnifying lens. It easily snaps over the device’s camera lens, and the camera will automatically adjust to focus in on cool microscopic discoveries like follicles of hair or microprint on money. Users can capture photos or videos of their magnified findings with the existing capabilities of the camera. Science is cool.

$14.99 at major retailers

Simply Adorable

Toddler and preschool-friendly apps for tablets can help develop hand-eye coordination and aid in early literacy skills. Monitoring screen time is important, but the wee ones can get some clever toys under the tree, too!


Tiggly Shapes are educator-designed toys that interact with iPad apps. The shapes bring together the best of physical play and digital learning, helping children as young as 18 months learn fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, language and creativity. Tiggly has three apps right now - Tiggly Safari, Tiggly Stamp and Tiggly Draw. The science behind the apps and the way the toddler-friendly shapes work is sound. My 18-month old was delighted with both (that’s him, pictured). Fortunately the shapes are also drool-proof; they spent a good amount of time in my son’s mouth as we explored the apps and played together.

$29.99 via the Apple Store, Amazon or Nordstrom

Smartly Accessorized and Safely Browsing

Gadget investments can be significant and teaching Internet savviness takes diligence. With tech-savvy kids, comes responsibility to protect the investment with accessories and to protect the kids from unsafe content online.


Man, those gadgets can be fragile and are notorious for cracking, breaking, shattering when dropped at just the right angle. I’m impressed with the SafeGrip from Kensington. It’s designed with kids in mind but not silly or childish, so families can share a device and also keep it safe. The durable, padded shell is built to withstand the rigors of the school bus or the walk to and from school, as well as the abuses of the classroom. The SafeGrip handle is made specially for little hands, to prevent slips. The built-in screen protector guards against scratches and scrapes.

$49.99+ at major retailers


I love the idea of kids and parents having discussions about Internet use. For parents, knowing how each member of the family is connected to the web, for how long and for what purpose can create opportunities to manage use better and to have open conversations with kids about screen time, unsafe sites and other common pitfalls. Skydog is a wifi router that lets parents manage every single connected device on the home network - PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, set top cable boxes, streaming media devices, e-readers, anything. An online and mobile app dashboard comes with a plethora of management features.

$149.99 on

So many great options for kids. In fact, so many we couldn’t fit them all in this article. Visit for additional articles, reviews and ideas.