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Teaching With Technology: Getting Smart About Smart Toys

Investigating electronic toys that reinforce skills

  • Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K

Calling All Readers 

There is ongoing controversy over whether or not smart toys are appropriate for early childhood classrooms. Do they belong in the home, in the classroom, or both? Write to us at Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012-3999 and let us know what side of the fence you're on.

Don't Forget the Batteries!

All smart toys require alkaline batteries, which can add to the price of the toy (especially considering that it will probably be used extensively). The good news is that each of the above toys turns itself off if it isn't in use, and many can be plugged directly into the wall with an AC adapter.

YOU SEE THEM ALL AROUND YOU-TOYS THAT BEEP, BUZZ, and blink. In fact, some of today's "smart toys" contain microprocessor brains with more power than yesterday's room-sized computers. As a result, they have enough "smarts" to talk in clear voices, respond to children's actions, and even adjust to an individual child's interests. Children often bring these gizmos and gadgets into the classroom and share them with their classmates. It makes sense to stay informed about what's out there so that you can help parents decide which new "smart toys" will support your curriculum and the skill areas you are working to develop and reinforce.

Here are some examples of ways in which high-quality smart toys can help children build skills in different curriculum areas:

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Smart Toy: Intelli-Table, a joint venture between Microsoft and Fisher-Price (www.fisher-price.com)

Description: An electronic busy box, this toy consists of three different activity rings that snap inside a portable toddler-high table. At the center of the table is a coffee plate-size translucent disk, full of lights and surrounded by buttons and switches.

How It Works: Each time the child touches the plate, she hears a sound and sees a light pattern. The toy is highly responsive, and the patterns build upon one another, which makes them fun to play with.

Skills Reinforced: There are a total of three activity rings, including: "Basics" (including opposites, letters, and number concepts), "Music" (including pitch, animal sounds, and instruments), and "Games" (including a memory game).

Age Range: The Intelli-Table is best suited for younger preschoolers (ages 1 to 3).

Price: $70 (requires 4 "AA" batteries)

MUSIC

Smart Toy: Little Smart DJ Jazz 'n Jam, VTech Industries, LLC (www.vtechkids.com)

Description: A 24-note keyboard that lights up when you press a key

How it Works: Kids can record their own compositions and play them back for a large group, or simply experiment with the 40 voices, four drum sounds, or the microphone.

Skills Reinforced: Music, comparing/contrasting sounds, one-to-one correspondence. Age Range: 3 and up

Price: $39.99

EARLY LANGUAGE

Smart Toy: Little Linguist, Neurosmith (www.neurosmith.com)

Description: A very simple smart toy with IS plastic characters and language cartridges (one for each language)

How It Works: Kids play with the toy by placing the characters on the base and inserting it into the base. As this happens, the toy recites the character's name in Spanish, for instance "el perro" for dog. At upper levels, the toy teaches colors and sentence structure.

Skills Reinforced: Exposure to English, Spanish, Japanese, and French languages, word recognition, color recognition.

Age Range: 1-5

Price: $69.95, additional cartridges, $19.99 each

Remember: You know better than anyone the value of hands-on, tactile experiences for young children. Play with smart toys is a great supplement to traditional toys and materials.

  • Subjects:
    Early Learning, Arts and Creativity, Play, Games, Toys, New Teacher Resources, Technology, Computers, Educational Technology
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