Kids forget things, and while notes tucked into the lunch box are a sweet way to remind little Jimmie or Susie that they need to go to Grandma’s house after school, they are more likely to lose the note (or forget they ever read it) than remember what you told them. The clever little Talkatoo is a simple digital memo recorder that appeals to kids. Its 30 seconds of recording time is more than adequate for an important message or a simple “I love you,” and it has unlimited re-recording for an entire year’s worth of daily affirmations.
A nifty lock-out switch can be set to prevent your child from accidentally recording over your urgent memo, and the entire gadget is smaller than an Oreo cookie. Hung around their neck with the included safety-release lanyard, or simply clipped onto a lunchbox or a backpack, the Talkatoo is a novel way to communicate the simple things to children ages 3 and up. It comes in six designs (we dig the Green Monster) and you can choose between a necklace or clip attachment. It’s a mere $17 at the Talkatoo website or Amazon.com
While we’d like to believe that kids will get all the learning they could possibly need while sitting behind their school desks, many parents have figured out that a little practice at home never hurts (and in some cases, is necessary.) If the thought of your 1st grader peering over cheap workbooks has you wishing for something a bit more motivating, consider the line of educational software solutions from School Zone.
With bundles available for single subjects like Spelling and Math, you can pick the area your child needs the most help in and get started right away. We appreciated that the programs have multiple user modes, allowing for siblings to share a single copy, and the program rewarded each lesson with a rather impressive arcade game. Without a lot of the annoying music and extra “screen clutter” that many programs force on children, it was easy to help our student focus and work through problems without distraction. Our kid tester couldn’t get enough of the basic questions, asking to do them over even after he mastered them.
Both the Math and Spelling bundles offer Windows-compatible CD-ROM discs in one package, and the Spelling program allows additional words to be added to the word lists for learning that is complimentary to classroom work. With a $25 price tag for each bundle, you’ll get your money’s worth after school, on weekends, or whenever school breaks (and your child needs practice.) All products can be viewed at the School Zone website and purchased at Amazon.
Bags are a big item on every kid’s back-to-school list, but how can a parent decide just “which” bag is the best one for their child? If your choice is influenced by how environmentally-friendly a product is, then the Ecogear line may just be for you! In addition to being affordable (they start around $25), they are super sturdy and can handle being packed full of everything your kids may be dragging to and from a hard day at school.
The Earth Series Fjord Messenger Bag was our favorite, offering a super-light bag with enough pockets and sections to carry a couple of books, pens, random gadgets, and even a netbook. The shoulder strap was comfy, and the entire bag could easily fit into even the smallest school lockers. Extra features that kids will enjoy include a moisture-wicking mesh back panel and the handy Mp3 player pouch with port. Crunchy types will appreciate the material – the bag is made from recycled PET bottles – and all dyes and materials are non-toxic. Small enough for kids as young as 7 to carry comfortably, its sleek silver (or pink) styling is appropriate for tweens and teens, as well. The Fjord is available at Ecogear’s website and Walmart for $24.99.
Samsung USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer
Many kids’ first laptops are actually netbooks, lacking the optical drives needed to play DVD’s or install software through CD-ROM discs. While the netbook’s cheaper price tag and smaller size will be a big hit with families, this lack of functionality will prompt parents to look into getting an external drive. The Samsung USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer External Optical Drive for Mac and PC is a great option for all netbooks (and even a dysfunctional desktop), offering a true plug-and-play set up that requires no additional wizards or software.
The drive requires two USB ports, and it can be a bit cumbersome to work around if you are also using external speakers, keyboard, or mouse. The sleek design and very slim profile, however, make it perfect for tucking into a small bag. It played all the DVD’s and CD-ROM discs that we tested, and the speed was more than adequate for our computing needs. Kids as young as 6 can get the hang of plugging in and operating this drive, making it a perfect pairing for that netbook they may be using for homework this year. The Samsung Optical Drive comes in glossy black, white, or blue and is available at Amazon for under $55.
Kids at school can benefit from replacing sugary drinks with plain old water, but what if accessing a filtered option is difficult? The Water Bobble is an ingenious solution, giving kids practically unlimited refills of water from any clean source (a drinking fountain, for instance) that they can filter as they drink. The sleek design and variety of colors makes it perfect for taking on the go to extracurricular activities or sporting events, and its durable carbon filter is good for 3 months or 300 uses before needing to be replaced.
The water tasted great coming from the bottle (we tried it at several public drinking fountains), and while the bottle’s plastic walls aren’t the sturdiest, they will survive the rough-and-tumble that most kids will give it in a typical school year. Parents can breathe a sigh of relief when giving kids these bottles: they are both made from recycled materials and are BPA free! Keep several on hand for each kid in your family – this eco-friendly and very budget-worthy item runs just $9.95 at the Water Bobble website and comes in a clear body with blue, pink, black, yellow, green, or red filter spout.
Most every middle-school child will be familiar with The North Face products. The rugged and practical product lines have always been popular with teens and adults, and it’s only appropriate that their backpacks be considered a back-to-school essential. The ability to tote many heavy textbooks without undue strain on a student’s back may make its high-end price tag a secondary consideration for parents, especially since the American Chiropractic Association recently endorsed several of the packs.
Features we love include injection molded shoulder straps that help alleviate pressure point strain and improved fit in the back panels (which keep weight off the spine.) They even boast that their shape is suited to fit boys or girls individually! While the bags themselves are pretty heavy, they have the ability to handle the load of several textbooks, being shoved into lockers, and a necessary washing when needed. Our favorite style is the Borealis, which comes in 7 colors for guys and 5 for girls, while sporting a padded laptop sleeve that can fit most 17” models. The bungee cord accent in the front also makes for quick stashing of most anything! The backpacks are available at most retailers and The North Face website, starting at $79.
While parents hope that their kids are getting in plenty of exercise while at school, the reality often couldn’t be more of the opposite. Kids who get recess usually spend less than 30 minutes engaged in activity, and that’s assuming that they choose an athletic method of play (instead of trading collectible cards or chatting quietly on a bench.) The S2HReplay (Switch 2 Health) is a new kind of incentive for getting kids off their bums and into some physical play.
It acts similar to a pedometer, but tracks all kinds of activity, giving kids a visual indication of how much they’ve moved in a 60-minute time period (broken into three 20-minute intervals). Worn like a watch (it actually tells time), the gadget issues a code as a reward for staying active during the hour. Codes can be entered at the S2H website and banked towards tangible prizes and entries into drawings. (Currently, the smallest prizes include ringtones and $5 gift cards, while enough points could net your student a Wii gaming console.) While no one can guarantee that the prizes and point levels will stay consistent as more people sign up for the free online component, the functionality of the S2HReply alone is probably worth the cost. The accessory can currently be purchased in blue (interchangeable color bands are also available) from the S2H website for $19.95 and can be worn on the left or right wrist.
With schools becoming even stricter about the items that kids can bring onto school property, it may be difficult to feel like your child is equipped with what they need to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation. When approached by bullies or feel threatened by a stranger, your child may find that a new product by iSafe can save the day. This security-enabled backpack may seem like something out of a spy movie, but it’s actually just a good-looking bag with a built-in “rip cord.” Kids who need assistance can pull the cord, and a very loud alarm will go off -- which can scare away predators or divert attention long enough for kids to run away fast!
With all the benefits of a handheld siren, but with no need to remember to pack it (and with less possibility of a teacher confiscation), the iSafe bags are great for all ages – including adults! Various sizes and styles are available at their website for around $60.