Kids are clamoring for toys, toy, toys -- but your house is already over-flowing. Here's what to get them instead. Jennifer Jolly, Special for USA TODAY


Everyone’s asking me what tech toys to get their kids this holiday, and I have a ton of ideas because I’ve played with this stuff all year. But that's not all.

Considering that companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children and teens — and that our kids are bombarded with more than 25,000 ads on TV alone — I always want to make sure I recommend tech toys that are as good for their brains as they are fun. Oh, and the toys shouldn’t break the bank or get on your last nerve either. Let’s dive in.

WANT: Virtual reality

Depending on how old your kids are, VR can be a great gift, and a glimpse into future worlds to come. But buying into this rapidly evolving medium can be super expensive.

GET: Augmented reality

Take a look at the just released Star Wars: Jedi Challenges ($199) instead. Lenovo and Disney partnered on this timely Star Wars tech that lets kids (and their moms!) fight realistic light-saber duels without consoles or computers. I can’t get enough of this game. It takes less than five minutes to set up and before you know it, you’re perfecting your Jedi skills against the most menacing villains the dark side has to offer — right in your own living room.

More: Baig's best tech picks of 2017 will eat at your wallet

WANT: Laptops for little 'uns

The rapid pace kids pick up technology these days is crazy. Like it or not, they’re logging screen time earlier and more often than ever before. Rather than hand over your laptop, or splurge for one of their own before they hit double-digits, why not have them build one instead.

GET: DIY computer kit


I really like the Piper ($299) build-it-yourself DIY computer kit for kids ages seven and up. It’s simple, yet smart, and teaches them about coding and engineering beyond the screen. It also encourages them to tap into their own imagination, which fosters confidence and creativity. It uses a customized version of the Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft — so they will dive right in. This is exactly the kind of toy that just might inspire the next generation of inventors.

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WANT: Top tablets for tots

Sure, we know that babies can swipe, tap, and scroll — but do we really want them to?

Rather than handing kids fragile tablets, that don’t encourage tactile learning, treat the tablet as an enabler for an  add-on built just for their young minds.

GET: Tactile learning tool

There is a lot of research that shows children learn best by touching, tasting, and hearing — not just by tapping a screen. For this, check out Square Panda phonics and reading games for kids ages 2-8. It works with any iOS or Android tablet you already have and a series of free apps and plastic letters that teach early language development in a hands-on  way. As tennis pro Andre Agassi first showed us at CES earlier this year, Square Panda helps builds early reading skills through fun and engaging games grounded in research.

WANT: Robots! Robots! Robots!

Robots have come out of science fiction and joined us in reality. But don’t rush out and sell a kidney so you can afford one. It’s still early days.  Even these expensive ones still don’t do much — yet.

GET: Cleverbots for teens and kids


I love when a gadget sneaks cutting-edge learning into something so clever and fun, kids just think it’s another awesome toy. That’s what Wonder Workshop does with its newest Cue robot ($199.99) for ages 11 and up.

Cue’s basically a cheeky little comedian hiding inside a sensor-packed round robot body. Pre-teens can engage in witty banter, chat, create, and code at the skill level that’s right for them. Younger kids might prefer Dot ($49.99) for kids ages 6+. It sports its own quirky personality and array of fun DIY projects with hundreds of unique challenges. With the new Dot Creativity Kit ($79.99) kids can learn about robotics and develop fundamental coding and problem-solving skills

WANT: Drones!

Drones are a blast no matter how old you are. But they can be crazy expensive, are super easy to crash, and cancut you pretty badly if you get hit by one.

GET: Might minidrone

The Parrot Mambo FPV is the first “almost fail-proof” little drone I’ve flown. Press a button on the controller and it takes off. Use joystick-like controls to zip it around. It’s also affordable ($149) and ultra-cool. The drone itself is tiny. But don the VR headset and it takes you airborne, giving you a drones-eye view of everything it sees through its 720p HD camera.

More: '10 Worst Toys' list includes swords, drones, fidget spinners

WANT: Toys that make noise

I love Fingerlings, Hatchimals, and Tomagotchi. I even have a soft spot for good ole’ Tickle Me Elmo. But there comes a time in every parent’s life when all those giggles, squeeks, beeps, and rings, become a looping soundtrack that tests every last shred of sanity.

GET: Selfie-soundtrack (and headphones) 

Some kids just need to make a soundtrack of their own. The SoundMoovz ($70) wristbands let them do just that. Strap on the band, download the app, and move. That cues up the sounds — everything from robots to action sound effects to instrumentals. You might want to include some headphones to go with this. Just a thought.

WANT: Fancy smartphones 

A bunch of surveys show that teens want an iPhone X. That’s a cheeky ask for a gadget that starts at $1,000. But what do they know? They’re bombarded with marketing. While they might make good use of a smartphone — there are some clever ways kids use them to do well in school — it hardly needs to be the most expensive smart phone ever.

GET: Smarter phones

There’s no reason why a teen who sleeps-in till noon and eats you out of house and home needs an iPhone X. You can tell them that. And then offer one of the many alternatives that will do just fine, and then some. Like the Essential ($499) phone. Stripped of junk with a focus on fine craftsmanship and a commitment to work right out of the box.

More: Which iPhone should I buy?


Or, how about the Second Generation Moto Z Force ($720). I know, it still costs more than my first car, but it’s one teens can grow into in clever ways. Just snap off the back and snap on a ‘Mod” to change its look or function. Snap on the ($300) Hasselblad True Zoom camera and you have a DSLR camera. Snap on the Insta Share Projector, Amazon Alexa, wireless charging case, battery, or other mods. All are integrated physically and intelligently with the phone. But, if your kids are anything like mine, the feature you will like best here? It’s nearly indestructible. (I dropped mine down a flight of cement stairs, picked it up, and kept chatting.)

Or how about the Google Pixel 2 ($650) or the super slick Samsung Galaxy 8 ($725.) Or even an iPhone 8  ($699) or older version for a more palatable price tag overall?

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