Bob the Builder: Build and Learn Workshop, Tiger Electronics; $24.99;
www.tigertoys.com, 847-913-8100; ages 3 and up.
Bob the Builder pops up on the large LCD screen and asks tykes to provide the correct tool to complete various projects using the sturdy plastic workbench, tools, screws and nails. The authentic-sounding voice gives children guidance and encouragement.
Phonics Firefly, Educational Insights; $34.95; www.educationalinsights.com, 800-995-4436; ages 3 and up.
Designed to teach letter recognition and phonemic awareness, Phonics Firefly’s digital speech is crisp and clear, ensuring that kids will hear words pronounced properly. By pressing the large alphabet keys, the child advances through seven levels, learning how to spell more than 400 three-letter words. Music, lights and sound effects enhance the experience.
Pretend and Play Calculator: Cash Register Deluxe Set, Learning Resources; $39.95; www.learningresources.com, 888-800-7893; ages 3 and up.
This solar-powered cash register with a working calculator includes life-size play coins and bills, a booklet of suggested activities, a credit card -- even a talking scanner. It may not sound exciting to adults who are way beyond the notion that grocery shopping is fun, but our kids played with it for hours!
Intelli-Table, Fisher-Price; $54.99; www.fisherprice.com, 800-432-5437; ages 9 to 36 months.
The new Intelli-Table, designed by Fisher-Price and Microsoft, is packed with smart learning that advances as your child grows. The three interchangeable "Play and Learn Rings" offer self-directed learning in three important areas: basics, music and games. Highly recommended.
Barbie "Sing with Me" Karaoke Machine, KidDesigns Inc.; $49.99;
www.kiddirect.com, 888-867-8697; ages 5 and up.
This toy lets kids sing along with 24 popular songs on three cassettes (included). It comes complete with three song books, echo sound effects and an auxiliary jack to connect to an external CD player. Sturdily built and colorfully designed (mostly pink!).
Turbo Twist Vocabulator, Leapfrog Inc.; $39.99; www.leapfrog.com, 800-701-LEAP; ages 5 and up.
Kids will have a ball twisting, turning and bashing the sturdy knobs on the Vocabulator through several modes of speech-enhanced play: Word Wizard, Jumble Tumble, Root Rodeo, and Treasure and Hunt. Keeps score automatically while children increase their vocabulary by more than 1,200 new words.
Math Labs, VTech Industries; $24.99; www.vtechkids.com, 800-521-2010; ages 5 and up.
Math Lab provides a colorful, tactile environment in which children are encouraged to pull one lever to learn the "take away" aspect of subtraction, push another to "add" and twist a knob to increase or decrease number sequences. Math Lab also teaches young mathematicians the beginning concepts of fractions and telling time through visual representations. Well made and chock-full of value.
Shelby, Tiger Electronics; $24.99; www.tigertoys.com, 847-913-8100; ages 6 and up.
Shelby is an interactive companion that responds to its surroundings through light, touch and sound. Shelby plays games, sings, does exercises and loves to have its shell rubbed. Its eyes and antennae are animated to show expression. Improving on its predecessor and relative,
Furby, Shelby has a bigger vocabulary, more memory and has twice as many features that can be unlocked through play.
GeoSafari Laptop, Educational Insights; $49.95; www.educationalinsights.com, 800-995-4436; ages 8 to adult.
Think of the GeoSafari Laptop as a quiz machine in a compact, durable, battery-powered, go-anywhere case. The lesson cards pose questions to players in sequential or random order. Topics cover geography, sports, nature, history, science, trivia and much more. GeoSafari Laptop can be played solo or in competing pairs or teams. Lights and entertaining sounds keep track of scores.
e-Chat, Tiger Electronics; $29.99; www.tigertoys.com, 847-913-8100; ages 8 to 12.
Designed to be a sort of cross between a Palm-type handheld device and a walkie-talkie, e-Chat comes equipped with a stylus that allows kids to tap out messages on the touchpad and send them wirelessly to e-Chat-equipped friends up to 100 feet away. e-Chat also features a phonebook, notepad, calculator, clock, calendar and games. It can even be password-protected.
Rumble Robots, Trendmasters; $29.99; www.trendmasters.com, 847-913-8100; ages 7 and up.
Trendmasters’ Rumble Robots take top honors for originality and lasting interest. The next generation of battling robots, these combine cool-looking collectible cards and strategic action. Swipe the cards through a Rumble Robot to imbue it with special abilities and powers, then stand back. Kids control the ’bots with wireless controllers. Fun just with one, even better in pairs.
Harry Potter Book of Spells, Tiger Electronics; $24.99; www.tigertoys.com, 847-913-8100; ages 7 and up.
Just in time for the fall deluge of all things Harry, here comes a hand-held personal electronic encyclopedia based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. By highlighting a character, creature, item or location, players can pull up complete information along with animated graphical displays. The Book of Spells also includes an organizer and notes functions.
Charles Carr, a father of two, is an award-winning writer and software author. He’s the new products editor for ComputerScene magazine and reviews editor for ComputorEdge magazine.