There's something about the interactivity and just plain coolness of smartphones and tablets that draws children to the devices like zombies to a plate of fresh brains.
Unfortunately, despite offering a wealth of content to expand young minds, tablets and smartphones also tend to be expensive and, in some cases, easily damaged.
So what should parents of gadget-curious children do? In recent years, a range of products have been developed that interact with smart technology, allowing kids to tap into information on a vast amount of topics while minimizing the danger to mom or dad's beloved device.
CTA Digital 2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat
* What it is: A training toilet that features an adjustable docking station for an iPad and a clear cover to prevent smudges and other mishaps to the attached device. Fold the lid down, and it becomes a play seat for regular activities.
* Why kids want it: Because learning to poop like a civilized person is boring, but iPads aren't.
* Why parents want it for them: By starting up an engaging, interactive app, tots are less likely to get fidgety and try to leave before the job is done. The inner potty bowl, seat and splash guard can all be removed for easier cleanup.
* MSRP: $40.
* Website: www.ctadigital.com
Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn AppTivity Monkey
* What it is: A cuddly, plush monkey with interactive elements that becomes even more fun to play with once mom or dad plug in their iPhone or iPod Touch.
* Why kids want it: AppTivity Monkey is soft enough to hug and features 10 built-in songs to teach basic letters, numbers and other essentials.
* Why parents want it for them: AppTivity Monkey offers a way to protect parents' expensive devices while helping their early learners acquire important skills. Adults can download free Fisher-Price programs from Apple's App Store that add more activities once a compatible device is secured in AppTivity Monkey's tummy dock.
* MSRP: $30.
* Website: www.fisher-price.com
LeapFrog LeapPad2 Explorer
* What it is: The newest entry in LeapFrog's kid-centric line of e-learning tablets.
* Why kids want it: With front- and back-facing cameras and 4 gigabytes of storage for downloadable apps, games, videos and music, the Explorer is a lot like a grown-up tablet but at a fraction of the cost. Many apps feature familiar characters from Disney movies and TV shows such as "Dora the Explorer," "Arthur" and "Scooby-Doo."
* Why parents want it for them: The LeapPad2's 5-inch screen and rounded edges make it suited to smaller hands, and the apps are auto-leveled to keep the learning experience rewarding and challenging. Parents can keep track of their child's progress online via LeapFrog's Learning Path service.
* MSRP: $100. Cartridges are $25, and apps start at $5.
* Website: www.leapfrog.com
* What it is: An interactive, smart map with additional features unlocked when used in tandem with an iPhone or iPod Touch.
* Why kids want it: Even without an attached device, the iTikes Map helps kids learn about subjects such as geography, dinosaurs, music, the solar system and wildlife through the six included maps. Touching a map with the attached "smart pen" reads relevant facts to kids.
* Why parents want it for them: It's never too early for kids to learn about the world around them, and iTikes lets kids self-guide their learning. Even more options open up when parents attach a smartphone to the included holster and hover over the map to reveal additional information, fun animations and interactive 3-D models.
* MSRP: $60.
* Website: www.itikes.com
* What it is: A full-featured Android-based tablet designed from the ground up just for kids.
* Why kids want it: With its colorful design and rounded edges, the Nabi 2 is clearly made just for younger users. With a processor that is comparable in power to their parents' tablet, however, they can have a similar experience without "borrowing" mom or dad's more expensive device.
* Why parents want it for them: The integrated Fooz Kids University teaching system rewards kids with age-appropriate games, music and videos as they master skills in educational apps. In addition to looking inviting to kids, its rounded bumper also is drop-resistant.
* MSRP: $200. Unlimited streaming of the 700 hours of content on the Spinlets+ library starts at $2 a month.
* Website: www.nabitablet.com
* What it is: Up to 12 touch-, proximity- and movement-sensitive cubes interact wirelessly with one another to play tabletop games and puzzles. A selection for Popular Science's Best of What's New and Best Gadget awards.
* Why kids want it: They look cool. Each cube has a colorful screen that displays part of the game. The touchscreen offers the high-tech feel of a smartphone or tablet, but the cubes react to being tilted, shaken and placed next to each other, offering a physical experience closer to a puzzle or board game.
* Why parents want it for them: While some are purely for entertainment, some apps -- including those included with the starter set -- teach math and language skills. The need for physically moving the cubes to play tests kids' logic, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Because the apps range in age, mom and dad can turn Sifteo games into a family activity.
* MSRP: $130 (includes three cubes, base station and four games). Additional cubes are $30 apiece. A six-cube pack is available for $200. Additional games can be downloaded for $8-$12 each.
* Website: www.sifteo.com
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...
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