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Late dad makes up for school-supply snafu with tech gift ideas

Dear child of mine who started school this week,

Mistakes were made.

I’m sorry about the school supplies. There. I said it. I thought the school supply list (which was very, very long, I might add) was mostly a set of friendly suggestions. I mean, two boxes of pencils? Who needs that many pencils? Do you kids still even use pencils that aren’t digital? You do? Every day? OK. Now Daddy knows.

I think 6 is old enough for you to understand that life is hard and sometimes Daddy doesn’t have all his ducks in a row. Sometimes the ducks are under the couch or behind the TV or up on a tall shelf where your little sister can’t grab the duck and drown it in the toilet.

Why are you crying? Please stop crying. There are no real ducks in our house.

Now you want a duck? OK, listen, we’ll discuss that later.

Right now, Daddy has to run to the store and get these school supplies (eight glue sticks? Really?), but here’s what we’re going to do. Daddy has learned over time that the right kind of technology can sometimes improve a bad situation. To make up for this school-supply oversight, Daddy is going to put together a back-to-school tech gift guide list for other parents.

Yes, I know school has already started. That’s one of the wayward, out-of-line ducks that Daddy was talking about.

No, it’s not a real duck.

No, your sister didn’t drown it.

For younger students: When I was your age, we only had sticks, rocks and Play-Doh. Alright, that’s not entirely true. We had Atari and very underpowered personal computers, but it seems like children now have an enormous range of digital products that also have a strong educational component.

In addition to all the mainstream tablets, computers and smartphone apps you already have access to, there are a lot of kid-friendly tech products. Two tablets, for instance, the Nabi Jr. ($140, nabitablet.com) and LeapPad Ultra from LeapFrog ($150, leapfrog.com), are cheaper than most tablets, have built-in Web-safety features and are made with tough, rubber cases to keep them from getting broken. Remember that big crack on the screen of Daddy’s iPad? Daddy does.

The Nabi Jr. features Nickelodeon characters such as Dora the Explorer and Team Umizoomi in a variety of learning exercises. The LeapPad has a huge library of games and learning videos featuring “Sesame Street” or Disney characters among others, as well as flash cards and ebooks.

The Ubooly ($30, ubooly.com) is much less expensive and a lot cuter. It’s a brightly colored stuffed “Smart Toy” into which you can insert an iPhone or iPad. The device screen becomes the face of the Ubooly, who comes to life to talk, interact and teach. It began as a Kickstarter project bringing together techies and educators and is continually updated with teacher-created games and activities.

And because I know it’s a challenge for little hands to keep digital screens tidy, there’s Toddy Gear Screensters ($10, toddygear.com), cute cartoon figures available in 10 different styles. They’re made of microfiber, perfect for clearing off smudges and dust.

For older kids and college-bound students: Students who’ve outgrown kid tablets but are still too young to handle an expensive, full-featured ultrabook or fully loaded iPad have some inexpensive options, like the recently updated Google Nexus 7 tablet (starting at $229, google.com/nexus/), a powerful 7-inch device with long battery life and a full-HD screen.

For students who may have already opted for the comparable iPad Mini, the Magnus Mini ($30, tenonedesign.com) is one of the cleverest accessories I’ve seen, a practically invisible stand using magnets to keep the small tablet firmly in place. It’s rubberized to avoid scratching or scuffing.

And for a style-conscious teenager getting a first mobile phone, one option might be the new Moto X (starts at $199 with two-year contract, motorola.com), which debuted last week on AT&T and will arrive later on other wireless carriers. Most notably it’s the first smartphone that can be customized online; you can choose from a variety of accent colors, a black or white front and even a welcome greeting before it arrives in the mail.

If you were older, these are some of the things I’d buy for you (maybe). If you were heading to college, having somehow academically survived your father’s ongoing school supply blunders, I might send you to the dorms with a few goodies including the Targus Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for Tablets ($64, but available for less at some retailers, targus.com). There are lots of wireless keyboards for tablets, but this one is versatile enough to work with not only Android and iOS tablets, but also with Windows tablets and even Mac computers.

You may still need paper for school, but for college I would hope you’d have some kind of digital backup for class notes. The Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine (starts at $25, moleskine.com) includes three months of Evernote’s Premium service for getting your digital life in order. Taking photos of handwritten notes and drawings syncs them to the online service with Evernote’s free apps. Stickers included with the notebook made it easy to tag and categorize everything.

College students are always on the go; who has time to charge anything during the day? The PowerBinder by Powerstick.com ($199, powerstick.com) is pricey, but it’s a full-blown mobile office. It can hold a tablet, will charge various devices via USB, can double as a stand and, best of all, is solar-powered. It’s not the most attractive carry-along, but when you to go college, you are not there to impress people, you are there to learn, got it young lady?

Lest you think Daddy is completely no fun at all, he will suggest Sphero 2.0 ($130, gosphero.com), a new version of a robotic toy ball. The new model is faster, has brighter lights and includes a rubberized off-road cover and two ramps for stunts. It can be used with “MicroLab,” an app for learning basic programming. It seems like it could be a great dorm toy.

And now your father is all out of ideas.

This won’t happen again next year, I promise.

Omar L. Gallaga: ogallagastatesman.
com

Images of LeapPad and Sphero courtesy of
Amazon.com

Legacy Comments1

Any evidence that computer games for six-year-olds actually teach them anything? Or that middle schoolers with tablets do anything but text and plagiarize? Just because somebody's selling it doesn't mean it's good.

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