We co-authored the following post with Dan Donahoo of Wired’s GeekDad.com, featured here on GeekDad on Dec. 15 2011.
With the holidays in full swing and stores brimming with crazed parents scrambling to pickup the hottest toys, we thought we’d take a break from the Mall Madness and Plastic Pandemonium to propose a saner, greener, cheaper, and uniqu(er) alternative: a Digital Toy Box. Sure, mobile phones and tablets are great for digital games like Pac-Man and Angry Birds, but with their large touchscreens, microphones, and GPS sensors they’re also quickly becoming amazing platforms for digital TOYS.
With this in mind, GeekDad’s Daniel Donahoo and Launchpad Toy’s Andy Russell have put together the following Top 10 list of our favorite apps for open-ended, creative, constructive, and exploratory play – not just substitutes for plastic toys, but tools that empower kids to create, learn, and share through play.
So have at it, parents! Drop those car keys, put away the wrapping paper, and build your kids a Digital Toy Box!
A Digital One-Man-Band: Isle of Tune
Drums and triangles giving you a headache? Try this wonderful beat sequencer that enables kids to create and share their own songs through a whimsical and playful interface that (bonus!) teaches them a bit about rhythm, tempo, and tone along the way!
Digital Marble Play: Marble Mixer
For those of us who always struggled to position the marble just so in your index finger before flicking it into the circle, you can now introduce your kids to the grand old schoolyard game of marbles. This is an addictive game of marbles for up to four players. It encourages group gameplay around your mobile device and tests those fine motor skills as you have to weight the marble just right to get maximum points.
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A Digital Puppet Theater: Toontastic
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include Launchpad Toys’ own app, Toontastic, on this list. Just like dolls, puppets, and action figures, Toontastic makes it easy to create your own stories through play – EXCEPT now you can actually record your stories as animated cartoons complete with narration and share them online via ToonTube! Ok, we’ll stop now… but check it out yourself (it’s free) – you’ll be amazed at what kids have created and shared.
A Digital Coloring Book: Kidoodle Pirate
This sophisticatedly simple electronic coloring book offers great story starters and then actually brings your drawings to life by animating them as part of mini-scene cartoons. Beautifully designed, intuitive, and lots of FUN – perfect for the young storyteller/illustrator in all of us.
A Digital Workbench: Casey’s Contraptions
Second only to Grandpa’s Workshop, this confoundingly addictive physics puzzler challenges kids to invent and solve their own Rube Goldberg machines using stuff they’d find around the house like tennis balls and tin cans. Great for any budding inventor/engineer!
A Digital Butterfly Net: Project Noah
Sick of your kids being sucked into digital screens? Want to get them outdoors, running around, and exploring nature? Project Noah is a brilliant photo-sharing platform for “citizen scientists” to photograph plants and animals all around us, engage in exploration “missions,” and discuss their findings with other nature enthusiasts around the globe.
A Digital Slot-Car Track: Dream Track Nation
Be it Hot Wheels, Slot-Cars, or Carrera Racers, boys (and many girls) around the world LOVE building and driving their own race tracks. Dream Track Nation makes that easier than ever and even lets you share tracks with friends once you’re done. Brilliant!
A Digital Beauty Shop: Toca Hair Salon
Ok, time to fess up. Who amongst us DIDN’T play barber at one time or another to a doll, pet… or sibling (cough, sputter, wheeze). Toca Hair Salon is just that – a whimsically fun hair styling toy for kids to cut, color, and blow-dry the hair of funny creatures and characters – all without scissors! A terrific app for social play (Toca Boca has also just released Toca Kitchen for roleplaying cooking on your iOS device).
A Digital Board Game: Pictureka
Touchscreens have turned Pictureka into a zoom in, zoom out race against the clock which tests children’s visual and observational skills as they try to find items amid the many images on the screen. This is a game that translates so well to mobile devices and engages children in play that involves memory and recognition.
A Digital Foosball Table: RAMPage
Another game for more than one player, children can use their tablet to challenge each other to foosball where the spinning footballers are replaced by marbles shot from behind the net to try to score goals. It is fast, dynamic and is another screen-based game encouraging the development of social skills through multiplayer game play.
There is so much more on offer than simply first person shooters and level-based puzzle games. What other toys would you add to your digital toy box? Let us know in the comments.