- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

Many of today's educational toys contain a high-tech element, from electronic learning cues to embedded computer chips that track progress, which may cause apprehension for befuddled parents trying to help Johnny build the latest robot.

However, mom and dad should not fear today's toys, as most of these new-age marvels have their roots in some pretty basic play products that have been around for centuries.

To quell any anxiety over finding the perfect gift, take a look at some of these items call them traditionally cutting-edge to give the child and parent a balanced learning experience.

Children 18 months to 3 years

Wooden toys, like the Shape Sorter ($16) box from Kids II, available at BabyStyle.com, have been a staple in children's toy boxes, encouraging shape and color recognition as well as fine motor coordination. Nine different shapes in bold colors fit into precut matching holes on the top and sides of the 6*-inch-square natural-wood-finish box.

A modern-day equivalent of the classic wood shape sorter comes in the Baby Smartronics "Cookie Shape Surprise" ($14.99). This roly-poly smiley-face cookie jar features five shapes in red and blue primary colors and a magical opening that senses baby's hand, or the cookie shapes, responding with song. Press the face's light-up nose for light and sound responses.

Preschoolers will enjoy learning with Talking Mouth Putt-Putt ($29.99). A brightly colored, 3-D game center that looks and sounds like the adorable purple car, guides children in learning and recognizing the alphabet, play a "follow-me" game, learn and find numbers and listen to cheerful musical selections.

Ages 3 to 7 years

Children like to mimic mom and dad, but sometimes those little hands can really get in the way as they press the buttons on the telephone and the computer keyboard.

Growing-Smart by Fisher-Price introduces a line of toys that replicates those fascinating grown-up toys, the Little People LapTop Computer and Telephone.

The Growing-Smart LapTop Computer ($29.99) keyboard has 20 large, bright keys featuring letters, numbers, shapes and objects and a flip-up display screen with five bright light-up images. Children learn in free play or quiz modes.

Keep little Sally from calling overseas with the Growing-Smart Telephone ($29.99). Toddlers chat with their favorite Little People on a colorful phone that encourages children to learn numbers, dialing sequence and even their own home number.

Embedded with S.M.A.R.T. Chip technology, these toys automatically advance the challenge level to match the child's ability, keeping game interaction fresh and interesting for an extended period of time.

Today Kidology's Counting Cat ($19.95) gives little hands an electronic toy that teaches addition, subtraction and counting as users look, listen and touch the 10 sliding counter squares. It also narrates play, for example, "You had two and have added three. Now you have five."

Helping children to see things differently, the View-master Discovery Projector and Telescope ($19.99) updates the hand-held viewer into an easy-to-use telescope with 18X magnification. Doubling as a projector, this telescope sends bright, clear images from View-Master reels onto almost any flat surface. It includes three "Secrets of Space" Discovery Channel 3-D reels.

Children ages 7 to 13

Learning to read becomes electronically interactive with the LeapPad Deluxe Talking Tutor ($69.99), complete with three storybooks. As children read along with the narrator, the attached stylus allows them to touch pages to identify letters, or spell and sound out words. For fun, touch the characters on the page and hear them talk as well as identify objects within illustrations.

From Lincoln Logs to Tinker Toys to the futuristic LEGO MyBot Invention System ($49.99), children love to build.

With MyBot, tikes can build and operate robots that begin with a basic body. Creators then attach the wheels or wings to make a race car or plane. Using smart bricks and motion-sensing technology, the robot will respond to light and sound actions based on how it is programmed by the builder. Comes with LEGO figure and special LEGO screwdriver.

GeoSafari toys offer interactive math, science, nature, geography and history adventures. Its Word Challenge ($44.99) uses a talking 12-inch globe that challenges children and parents to test their geographical knowledge with more than 11,000 questions.

After learning about planet Earth, youngsters can look to the stars with the GeoStar Telescope ($79.95). The 50mm refractor telescope is equipped with a glass optical system, and features a 3X magnification finder scope and two eyepieces providing 50X and 100X viewing power.

Inspire junior astronauts to explore the planets with the K'NEX International Space Station ($49.99). Measuring 2 feet wide and featuring motorized solar panels, NASA stickers and space sounds, the station is built from more than 900 pieces.

Also, the Capsela 1000 Max Out ($84.99) combines more than 100 interlocking parts to teach physical science principles while the child builds real working machines.

See-through design allows builders to observe gears and wheels, learning about speed transformation, electricity, buoyancy and other physical science concepts while demonstrating motion energy, electrical circuitry, friction and traction. A Discovery Science Manual and science booklet with assembly instructions are included.

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