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2008 Gift Guide

Kids

I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the latest crazes in the wee world of children. The site of Bratz merchandise sends me ranting: Seriously, who markets a toddler doll with gold go-go boots, and a rhinestone “Rock Star” tank top? And while they’re fleetingly delightful, I’m not usually a big fan of the latest talking whatsit with siren sounds. Isn’t part of the fun inventing the conversations and firing up your best “VroooomVrooooom”?

Play has a purpose. Those precious videos of baby monkeys frolicking about—that’s how the little simians learn to survive. And the same goes for our kids. That’s not to say play has to be all flashcards and factoids, but in a year when the stick—yes, the stick—was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, here are a few toy suggestions that will stretch your kids’ minds and imaginations.

The toy car has been around for, well, probably even longer than the real car (you don’t think some kid snuck a scale model out of Karl Benz’ workshop?), and it’s been reinvented with Automoblox. These sleek, sturdy, wood-and-polycarbonate cars double as blocks for quadruple the fun. Available in a wide variety of models, the front and rear blocks, main body, roof, wheels, tires, even the driver and passengers are interchangeable. Aesthetically pleasing enough to roll across an executive desk, they are created for children first. Automoblox retail for $38-40 in their original size, and $10-12 for the recently released mini-version that fits in the palm of your hand. Start your collection with a mini three-pack ($28), which will have kids mixing, matching, and racing their way across the carpet in no time.

In other dual-action fun, marble mazes meet construction toys with Q-Ba-Maze. Available in packs of cool and hot colors, this multi-award-winner’s clear cubic blocks connect to create sculptures and skyscrapers, and channels in the blocks create a marvelous marble run that’s new every time. A pack of 20 blocks will run you $20. Or splurge on 50 blocks for $40.

As the economic crisis continues to unfurl and we point fingers at bank executives and politicians, it’s important to remember that some of the fault lies with our own nationwide financial irresponsibility. So take this opportunity to teach your kids some basic money- management skills that will last them a lifetime. Moonjar has created a classic tin moneybox with three separate compartments, labeled spend, save and give. Moonjar encourages kids to allot a set percentage of their earnings for each category: some to save, some for gifts or charity, and some to run off with to the comic shop or candy store. And just like your grown-up bank book, a passbook helps kids monitor their funds. The classic tin money jar, passbook and family-friendly finance guide will run you $24. Moonjar also offers the kit in a more economical but less enduring cardboard variety for $7.95. If you’re willing to trade a little of the learning for some do-it-yourself fun, the paint-your-own Money Monster Banks from Creativity for Kids, sold as a pair of monsters (one for change and one for bills) for $19.95, are so darn cute, even the spendiest tyke will want to feed them some freshly earned dough.

For family game night, Merillian Games presents Flibbix. Each time you play, you create your own board, and your own rules. Chosen as the No. 1 game of the year by a bevy of judges, the Washington Post’s fifth-grade toy testers declared it one of the best games they’ve ever played. For 2-5 players, and recommended for ages seven and up, Flibbix retails at $39.99.

And for the budding photographer, Fisher Price has perfected their Kid-Tough Digital Camera ($50) by making the already nearly-indestructible gizmo waterproof. The Web site actually depicts a kid dropping the thing in a fishbowl, pulling it out, and taking a picture. And while a digital camera might seem like a high-tech contraption for the Fisher Price set, it is loaded with benefits. For one, if you’ve ever turned your camera over to your favorite little one, you know that there is just about nothing more fun for a kid than running around snapping pictures and marveling at the instant gratification of digital media. And that digital media can save a bunch of money—as any parent who’s developed a disposable camera’s worth of blurry cat photos will know. Most importantly, through their picture snapping, your little shutterbugs will discover new ways of seeing themselves and their world. And, after all, isn’t that what play is all about?

—Kathryn Geurin

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