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Toys become social again

by Ellen DePasquale

One of the heartening trends from last week's Toy Fair in New York City was the use of technology to promote social interaction among kids instead of just mesmerizing them with a screen. Of course, technology is still a huge component for many toys, but it's starting to be used as an accessory instead of the pillar of play. Clearly, technology can do more than just make us watch something; it can make us do something.

I have two examples of products that have important computer-based elements but also use that technology to promote interactive play away from the computer. The first is a fun new product called Flipoutz, which may be the 21st century's answer to the charm bracelet. Instead of charms, you personalize rubber bracelets with "coins" that have colorful designs and a range of sayings, including Smarty Pants, Choose Kindness, Green: the New Black, and my personal favorite, More Cowbell!

The social element arises when the coins are traded. Kids can log the coin's number into the Flipoutz website and find out the coin's travel history. They can also "friend" and chat with everyone who has ever owned the coin, building an online network. No personal information is allowed and all posts are moderated to make sure the site rules are followed. Kids can create profiles and avatars but they can't upload pictures.

A bit more on the high-tech side, robotics company Robonica is promoting "the rise of robotic gaming." Well, I guess time will tell but their latest offering Roboni-i, "a robot with attitude", is a pretty cool place to start. This remote controlled robot – think small with big wheels, not a humanoid – is fun to play with and comes with accessories, including a base station and energy port so you can set up your own courses.

The twist for this product is the controller, which doubles as a virtual game controller. You use it to play online, where you hone your skills earning credits that are then transferred to the robot in real-life mode. Competition and team play is where the excitement is, and Roboni-i will bring out the geek and the kid in all of us, boys and girls alike. However, with starter packs priced at $199 and the competition pack costing even more, it may be a while before Roboni-i extends beyond hardcore robot fans.

As technology continues to evolve, so do high-tech and computer-based toys. They are becoming less intrusive and more cooperative and social. There is a welcome return to the basics, which include physical activity and human interaction.

Can you recommend toys that use technology to promote physical interaction and social play? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom! 

Comment by Regina Bonolo, posted 3/3/2010, 8:30 AM:

Thanks Ellen for writing about the current trends of tech toys for kids. My 8 & 10 yr.old kids would love all your recommendations. The younger generation is so tech-savvy, they would probably instruct us how to use these new toys. Glad to see some interactive play away from the screen. Look forward to your next posting! Regina
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