Edutaining Kids .COM                        2009 Holiday Gift Guides for Kids
Guide to Children's Products for Fun & Learning

 

Best Children's Edutainment Products 

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Throughout the year, we were busy evaluating and testing kids' games, toys, music, books, and other edutainment products, and now it's time to round up the titles we deem the year's best releases.

 

The New Leapster L-MaxLeapster L-Max

Last year's Leapster has already been updated. The Leapster L-Max is a handheld portable unit that mimics Nintendo's GameBoy, but with important differences that make it not only more kid-friendly, but exceptionally more educational as well. The comparatively large screen is also a touch screen, and kids interact with the games by using a directional pad and an attached stylus. Game cartridges, available separately, offer children "edutaining" games that support learning. What's the main difference between the Leapster and the Leapster L-Max? Besides a slightly less bulky unit, the L-Max can be played as a portable or can be plugged into the TV and played on both the little and "big" screens. The unit is backwards compatible -- the original Leapster game cartridges can be played on the new unit. Most of the original games play on both the portable and TV screens, while some only play on the handheld. Read our full review of the L-Max here.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Leapster L-Max]

coverLeapster

The original Leapster is still available, and, since the release of the L-Max, can usually be found at a reduced price. See our full review of this product.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Leapster at Amazon.com]

Why do we recommend this product? Children love portable games, yet most portable games are mindless offerings. Software for the Leapster L-Max offers brain-boosting games that kids enjoy playing.

Who is it for? Best for children ages 3-8. 

Our rating: A+ 

 

 

 

Leap Frog Videos/DVDs

Last year, Leap Frog characters came to video with the excellent Letter Factory and Talking Words Factory videos/DVDs. In 2004, two new videos in the series were released, and they are impressive. 

Leap Frog: Math Circus demonstrates addition and subtraction with an effective, visual approach that is difficult to find elsewhere. The educational agenda is clear, yet the video remains fun to watch. With Math Circus, children aren't only learning facts by rote, they are seeing the meaning behind addition and subtraction.

Leap Frog: Code Word Caper is the follow-up video to Talking Words Factory. It extends phonics concepts to incorporate some of the trickier rules, and offers valuable lessons in word-building and word-decoding. Once again, this video is a valuable one for young children who are on the road to reading.

Why do we recommend these videos/DVDs? The videos are highly entertaining, yet offer valuable lessons in early learning concepts. When learning is this fun, 

Who is it for? Best for children ages 4-7. 

See our full review of Math Circus.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy:Leap Frog - Talking Words Factory 2 - Code Word Caper (VHS) or Leap Frog - Talking Words Factory 2 - Code Word Caper (DVD) 

Leap Frog - Math Circus (VHS) or Leap Frog - Math Circus (DVD)]

Our rating: A+ 

 

 

 

 

Zoo Tycoon 2

We love Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon series, and this latest edition features improvements that enhance gameplay, not to mention offer an exciting visual experience for players. With Zoo Tycoon 2, players can build, manage, and maintain their very own zoo in 3D, complete with realistic animals that act like their real-world counterparts, exhibits, and more.  

Why do we recommend this title? Success comes to players when they research specific animals, manage their funds effectively, hire and monitor staff, and build thriving as well as eye-pleasing exhibits. These factors add tremendous educational value to the fun. New to this edition is a Zoo Guest mode which allows players to step into the zoo they've created and experience it first-hand as a guest. New ways to build make it easier for players to create exciting exhibits, random and dynamic challenges enrich gameplay, and free downloadable content adds variety. There is now an option that is excellent for younger players--kids can choose to play "freeform", which offers unlimited funds and immediately-available animals, scenery, and buildings. This is an outstanding simulation software for kids. Children can build their very own zoo, but they use their brains as they do. They are managers as well, and they learn quite a bit about animals as they play. Although not explicitly educational, this program is excellent for developing thinking skills. an outstanding simulation software for kids. Children can build their very own zoo, but they use their brains as they do. They are managers as well, and they learn quite a bit about animals as they play. 

This CD-ROM strikes an excellent balance between fun and learning. 

Who is it for? Best for children who enjoy simulation software games, ages 8-12.

Our Rating: A+

See our full review of the game.

Note: Pay extra attention to the system requirements for this game!


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Zoo Tycoon 2 with Bonus Animal Pen (Monkey or Tiger) at Amazon.com]

 

 

Encarta Reference Library 2005

coverNow there's even more reason to own an Encarta Reference Library. The 2005 edition includes Encarta Kids, designed to meet the research needs of elementary-age children. Of course, all of the features that won our hearts in previous versions make Encarta Reference Library 2005 Premium a must-own family software program. Translation dictionaries, homework helpers, an interactive atlas, video content from the Discovery Channel, exceptional multimedia, dictionary and thesaurus, hand-picked editors' links, and more.  A DVD edition is also available at the same price.

What does it do? Children will find the up-to-date information they need for school reports and projects. Project starters are also included, as well as games that help hone their trivia and geography skills.

Why do we recommend this title? This series is vibrant and alive with up-to-date content and fabulous features that attract both kids and parents--and hold their interest. Kids won't only be turning to this resource for their homework needs -- they'll enjoy browsing the reference library just for the fun of it!

Who is it for? Best for children ages 7 and up. Adults will turn to this reference suite as well.

See our full review.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 CD (CD-ROM set) or hEncarta Reference Library Premium 2005 DVD at Amazon.com]

Our rating of the software: A+ 

 

 

 

LeapPad Plus Writing & Microphone

LeapFrog has raised the bar in the electronic learning toy department. Its fantastic LeapPad series is case in point. In many ways, this electronic pad plays like an electronic storybook software program, with the added convenience of portability. Kids use a touch-sensitive pen to interact with special books they place on the pad. This toy is supported by a large—and growing—library of books available that teach early reading, math, music, and science skills. This latest release adds writing and speech to the learning power of the toy—kids can use the magic pen not only to point and activate hotspots, but to write letters, words, shapes, and numbers; and they can interact with microphone-enabled books. The package comes with two sampler books. Additional interactive books are sold separately.

Note that there are a number of LeapPad versions available. Last year, LeapPad Plus Writing was released, and the latest version released this year is LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone. These two latest versions are backwards compatible. In other words, they will accept any LeapPad book, whether or not the books are microphone-enabled. Common sense suggests purchasing this latest version with the writing and microphone features.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone or the previous versions: LeapPad Plus Writing, LeapPad and Pink & Purple LeapPad]

 

 


Robosapien

One of the season's hottest toys, Robosapien is a battery-powered "humanoid" that can dance, pick up objects, walk, whistle, yawn, push, kick, and even give a "high five" in ways that mimic human behaviors. Sensors in the robot's feet allow him to walk around objects. Robosapien was developed by former NASA robotic physicist, Dr. Mark W. Tilden, and is far more graceful than other toy robots. Kids operate the 14-inch tall robot with a remote control. The humanoid includes 67 pre-programmed functions and can be programmed to perform functions in a chain. Don't think that this toy is only for boys—girls (and parents, too!) will have a blast with this highly entertaining robot as much as boys.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Robosapien Robot at Amazon.com]

 

 

Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS is a new portable gaming system that is the next step in the GameBoy line. This exciting new unit features dual screens and is happily backward-compatible with GameBoy Advance games. There are two cartridge slots on the unit: one slot for the GameBoy Advance cartridges, and another for the smaller DS game cartridges. The new wireless connectivity feature is impressive. We have seen the wireless feature in games like Pokemon Leaf Green and Fire Red, and the DS has a built-in feature that supports this exciting technology. Effectively with the technology built into the Nintendo DS, players will be able to play games with touch (touch screen) and voice (microphone), monitor two-screen action, and compete wirelessly with others. Of course, DS games will take advantage of the unit's technology. Kid-friendly DS titles that have already been announced include such titles as Animal Crossing, Pokemon Dash, Frogger, and Super Mario 64. 

See our full review of the Nintendo DS.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Nintendo DS at Amazon.com]

 

 

Balloon Lagoon

Balloon Lagoon, by the makers of Cranium, is a carnival "board game" (without the traditional board) that is truly exciting and educational at once. Best for kids ages 4-7, this game involves spelling simple words, unscrambling pictures, and more, all to the sounds of the merry-go-round musical timer. The object of the game is to collect the most plastic balloons the quickest. The game is battery-operated. Very fun! 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Cranium Balloon Lagoon]

 


Super Saver Teaching Bank by LeapFrog

Don't be fooled by the distinctly kid colors of this practical learning tool—it accepts real U.S. coins, not plastic ones. Kids set savings goals, learn about coin values and how coins add up, and save money all at once. How practical! How fun! When kids insert a coin, they hear its name and value, a fact about the coin, and they are treated to fun sounds and lights. Children also get a total (or sub-total!) of their savings thus far, and actually get to view their progress in terms of the big picture—how far they are on the road to their personal goal is measured with lights in the goal meter! Fantastic toy that combines fun not only with education, but with practicality as well.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Super Saver Teaching Bank]

 

Sesame Street: Big Bird in China 

This Emmy award-winning Sesame Street special first aired in the eighties and is now available on DVD. Big Bird in China is a  memorable musical featuring a treasure hunt theme and a most delightful host--the lovable, curious, and personable Big Bird. 

Big Bird and his pal Barkley set out on an adventure to find a legendary Chinese phoenix by visiting Chinese landmarks pictured on an old scroll. The pair begin their hunt by searching for The Great Wall of China. Along the way, they discover more than just famous landmarks—they meet friendly people, watch a ballet, learn Chinese vocabulary, play games with children, visit a schoolhouse, listen to legends, and more. The duo meet up with a sweet little girl who speaks English and accompanies them on their journey. What an adventure! 

Although originally released in the early eighties, this musical remains charming, engaging, and memorable. Besides offering children a unique look at Chinese culture, Big Bird in China serves up suspense, wonder, and heart-warming moments. Highly recommended!  

Also available: Sesame Street - Big Bird In Japan.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Sesame Street - Big Bird in China (DVD)]

 


coverSesame Street: A Celebration of Me, Grover

"It is I, Super Grover!"

This direct-to-video Sesame Street feature starring "lovable, furry old Grover", Sesame Street: A Celebration of Me, Grover, is a hilarious salute to a favorite Sesame Street character. Big Bird, Elmo, Zoe, and the gang celebrate some of Grover's most memorable moments, treating viewers to vignettes in which the multi-talented monster takes on some of his many roles, including Super Grover, a rather frustrating waiter, a confused marshal, and more. What better time than Labor Day to celebrate this hard-working Muppet? 

Grover has won a Frequent Flyer of the Year award, if only he can make it to the dinner! While the gang waits for the guest of honor to arrive, viewers are treated to some of Grover's most memorable moments. These inculde Super Grover stories, in which Grover often declares, "and I am cute, too!" after making a crash landing, as well as vignettes that has the fuzzy blue monster delivering a singing telegram, taking on the role of waiter, and more. 

The always-eager but often beleaguered Muppet goes to great pains to introduce children to basic concepts, as in the video's "Around, around, around, around; over and under, and through" vignette. Grover demonstrates these concepts to the point of exhaustion, but with unmatched dedication. Mr. Blue, the man who is all too often at the receiving end of Grover's mistakes and fumbles, is one of the many guests at the dinner, hosted by Big Bird. 

This celebration of the always eager and well-meaning Grover is as warm and fuzzy as the super monster himself, and will delight both kids and their parents. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Sesame Street - A Celebration of Me, Grover (VHS) or Sesame Street - A Celebration of Me, Grover (DVD) at Amazon.com]

 

 

coverBaby Laureate's For the Love of Art

For the "refined" baby, here's a beautifully produced video and DVD offering that will not only engage little ones, it will appeal to the sensibilities of parents. Stunning works of art, cute animations, live-action video, and a fully orchestrated soundtrack are packed into 30 minutes of For the Love of Art, and the production is truly magnificent. Everything flows beautifully, and the choreography is outstanding, making this production a true treat for the senses. 

Instead of presenting a slideshow of static images of artwork, For the Love of Art offers intriguing scenes in which the paintings come alive in sync with classical music. For example, the petals of a vibrant red rose slowly fall into place, like a puzzle, and become Salvador Dali’s Meditative Rose; and tender depictions of love scenes, such as The First Kiss, da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne, and The Bath, are revealed with Beethoven’s Fur Elise as the musical backdrop. 

"Star", an animated yellow star character, appears from time to time, and segments featuring real children painting pictures and talking about imagination are included. For example, Star moves fast and slow, then spins around, opening up a segment about Movement.  

The pace of For the Love of Art is smooth and unhurried, so it may not be the best choice for restless toddlers and babies. However, this gentle introduction to the world of art and music will inspire the whole family.

Also available by Baby Laureate Inc.: Baby Laureate's For the Love of World Travel

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Baby Laureate's For the Love of Art (VHS) or Baby Laureate's For the Love of Art (DVD)  at Amazon.com]

 

 


coverLittle People Friendship Collection

Most toddlers instantly recognize the chunky Little People characters, and now they come "alive" with fascinating claymation in a new line of videos and DVDs. The first volume, entitled Little People Friendship Collection, serves as an introduction to the Little People characters, with themes revolving around the importance of friendship through 10 mini-episodes, each approximately 5 minutes long. 

The clay animation is sharp, with vibrant colors and lush environments – plenty of eye candy for preschoolers! While toddlers will certainly find the graphics appealing, the social themes are especially appropriate for preschoolers who are just discovering their own friends. 

A friendly narrator helps reinforce some of the underlying messages of the stories, which include such values as pitching in and working as a team and learning that helping friends not only makes them happy, it also feels good. Designed with the target audience in mind, this video features simple, easy-to-follow story lines as well as fun characters and settings. 

The second volume in the series is Little People - Creativity Collection.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Little People:Friendship Collection (VHS) or Little People - Friendship Collection (DVD) at Amazon.com]

 

 


For the Kids Too!

A set of eclectic, unpretentious family-pleasing songs makes up this follow-up album to For the Kids. Proceeds from For the Kids Too!, this time around, are going to the Lili Claire Foundation, a nonprofit organization that benefits people born with neurogenetic disorders, such as Down's Syndrome and Autism.

The album features sixteen songs, including covers and new tunes. I'm Different is a fantastic, endearingly raucous song that celebrates individual uniqueness. David Mead's I Like to Run, I Like to Jump is a sweet, wistful melody that explores both the feeling of invincibility and elation that comes from running free. Shivaree, a US-based trio, does the delightful Everybody Came; and a cover of Prince's Starfish and Coffee proves that some songs originally designed for adults make wonderful fare for kids as well.

Some of the songs were previously released, such as At the Bottom of the Sea  by Ralph's World from Ralph Covert's album of the same name, and the hilarious John Lee Supertaster from They Might Be Giants' 2002 album entitled "No!". The remainder of the songs on For the Kids Too are all-new. Some are reworked classics and covers, such as My Favorite Things, a tune originating from The Sound of Music, and performed by Nathan, as well as Matthew Sweet's Goodnight, a Beatles cover song. 

The range is wide in this eclectic album, featuring alternative, rock, indie, folk, and a bit of country as well.  

[For more information, or to buy: For the Kids Too at Amazon.com.]

 


coverRhinoceros Tap

Fifteen original songs are featured on this unique children's recording. The "seriously silly" lyrics were written by children's book author, Sandra Boynton, and music by Michael Ford. The result is fabulously silly fare with loads of class.

The songs in this hilarious collection range from an ode to lonely peas to a celebration of plumply pleasing pigs ("fabulous swine"). We love the calypso song in which the singer prefers Alaska to the tropics ("I got the sand in my hair and the sand in my face/I think I got the sand most every place"). Kids will adore "Barnyard Dance" in which they're told to "trot with the turkey, leap with the frog", amongst other things. There's plenty for caregivers to enjoy as well. Case in point: "Turkey Love Song" in which a turkey attempts to woo the different birds on the farm.

The liner notes include full lyrics as well as trademark Sandra Boynton illustrations. 

[For more information, or to buy: Rhinoceros Tap at Amazon.com]

 

 

cover Sing Along with Putumayo  

This lively, refreshing children's recording features top artists singing family-friendly folk, blues, and reggae classics. Arlo Guthrie, Keb Mo, Taj Mahal, and more American roots artists perform familiar songs like Old MacDonald Had a Farm, You Are My Sunshine, Love Train, Michael Row the Boat Ashore—plenty of sing-along fun for the entire family. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Putumayo Kids: Sing Along With Putumayo at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

cover Beethoven's Wig 2: More Sing Along Symphonies

This follow-up to the decidedly unique, Grammy Award nominee, Beethoven's Wig, features 11 new songs that help introduce kids to classical music in fun and inspired ways. Silly lyrics grab children's attention in renditions of classical music from the likes of Dvorak, Chopin, Schubert, and more. Designed to help children remember composers and their musical pieces, this collection of songs helps build appreciation for classical music. What fun!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Beethoven's Wig 2: More Sing-Along Symphonies at Amazon.com]


 

coverGeronimo Stilton Chapter Books

The flash and lure of video games and television can make good old-fashioned books seem rather boring in the eyes of young children. Still, once children get turned on to reading, they're raring to go.   

There's a new series of chapter books on the market that doesn't star Barbie, Arthur, or any such recognizable character, yet still manages to attract young readers: Geronimo Stilton. 

This new series is a monthly series of chapter books featuring the adventures of Geronimo Stilton, a resident of Mouse Island, and a rather reluctant adventurer. The pages of these books come alive with full-color art as well as plenty of highlighted, colorful text that is often rebus style. Right away, young readers are drawn in. 

Geronimo Stilton is the number one bestselling series in Italy, surpassing even Harry Potter. The series has been translated into 36 languages in over 180 countries. This is Scholastic's first monthly series since Goosebumps.

The first four books in the series have been released, with new editions on their way each month: #1: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye Geronimo's sister, Thea, finds a treasure map of an island, and the two quickly become involved in a fantastic treasure hunt. #2: The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid Geronimo travels to Egypt to interview an archaeologist, but becomes lost inside the Great Cheese Pyramid along the way. #3: Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House Cats haunt an old castle that Geronimo finds when he loses his way in a dark forest. #4: I'm Too Fond of My Fur Geronimo visits Mouse Everest, and getting there is an adventure in itself.

The vocabulary used in the books is strong, so although the series is great for reluctant readers, it's not ideal for struggling readers. These books are hearty reads, presented in such a manner that they seem like light fare. Excellent!

To buy: See all Geronimo Stilton Chapter Books


 

 

coverThe Peace Book

"Peace is watching it snow..."

This wonderful book is filled with Todd Parr's trademark bold and colorful artwork, as well as straightforward yet profound statements about peace. 

Kids and adults will likely pause to reflect on peaceful things and actions with sentences like, "Peace is everyone having a home" and "Peace is wishing on a star". A two-page spread shows a bird soaring in the air, along with the message, "Peace is being free".

Peace is an abstract concept that has many meanings—it's both a feeling and a state—and The Peace Book effectively illustrates this powerful concept to children through bold illustrations and thought-provoking statements. 

[For more information, or to buy: The Peace Book]
 

 

 

 

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