Gift Guide 2011: Top educational toys and gifts

From Baby Einstein to educational apps, parents are eager to find holiday gifts that are both smart and fun. This top 2011 tech guide has the perfect gift ideas for students of all ages. Check out the latest trends, browse the coolest educational toys for all ages, and find out which gifts will be the talk of the lunch room in 2012.


Elementary school: Lego® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0

Lego® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0

Starting at $279.99

  • Why it's smart: Good news: the iconic blocks you loved when you were a kid are just as cool today. Tots start on basic blocks, and by elementary school you can bring high-tech fun into the mix with the Mindstorms collection. This robotic kit includes simple software to get your creations moving.
  • Why it's fun: What's more fun than a Lego robot? A Lego robot with a sworn mission to shoot Ping-Pong balls at the family dog.

Elementary school: Stardoll® by Barbie® Collection

Stardoll® by Barbie® Collection

Dolls $20.99, accessory packs $15.99/ea

  • Why it's smart: Get your fashionable youngster thinking about patterns, design and basic interaction with a doll that comes with unlimited access to Stardoll, the world's largest virtual fashion and dress-up community for girls.
  • Why it's fun: With pretty choices like Fallen Angel, Bonjour Bizou, Doll Space and Pretty n' Love, these dolls will be the envy of everyone in the miniature pink convertible.

Elementary school: Leapster®2



  • Why it's smart: This hand-held gadget goes way beyond games. Build basic skills in math and phonics or explore puzzle-based games and develop motor skills, all while giving Mom a little quiet time at the grocery store.
  • Why it's fun: New games for 2011 include Cars 2, The Disney Pixar Collection, and Crayola ($24.99 each).

Middle school: Dell Inspiron R Series

Dell Inspiron R Series

Starting at $499

  • Why it's smart: This entry-level laptop is big on features. "The Inspiron R series does a great job of offering current market parts and technologies at a really modest price," says David Chen, a PR representative at Dell. "Students are able to get a fully-featured laptop that doesn't sacrifice capabilities or performance just to meet a niche size or super entry-level price."
  • Why it's fun: Ready for the ride of your life? If your child is over the age of 13, he or she can set up a Facebook account — and you can get ready to start monitoring his or her account. Talk about fun!

Middle school: Cruzer® Fit™ USB Flash Drive

Cruzer® Fit™ USB Flash Drive

Starting at $24.99

  • Why it's smart: Small enough to fit into that tiny pocket-within-a-pocket on a pair of jeans, this dime-sized memory expansion means your middle-school student will never leave home without his or her homework again. Customize with a little or a lot of extra space; Cruzer comes in 4GB to 16GB capacities.
  • Why it's fun: This little device is useful enough to last through high school and cheap enough to be replaced if it's crushed during an epic ollie on the backyard half-pipe.

Middle school: XBOX 360 with Kinect

XBOX 360 with Kinect


  • Why it's smart: Aspiring tech developers can play with Kinect Fun Labs, a constantly evolving program designed to show off updates in Kinect technology while giving kids a chance to experiment and save their creations.
  • Why it's fun: From Skyrim to Just Dance 3 to Fruit Ninja, this is one console that will be the center of your entertainment system long after the wrapping paper is cleared away.

High school: HTC® myTouch™ 4G Slide

HTC® myTouch™ 4G Slide


  • Why it's smart: Upgrade your teen's communication with this multi-function smartphone powered by Android and be prepared for the deluge of unlimited text messages. Note-taking apps make it easy to jot down a few essay ideas on the go.
  • Why it's fun: Packed with game apps and Web applications, this "starter smartphone" is the perfect mix of fun and educational tech.

High school: iPad 2

iPad 2


  • Why it's smart: Despite its high price tag, the iPad 2 could end up taking the spotlight this holiday season. With 140,000 apps and counting, video chat with FaceTime, a 10-hour battery life and 200 new software features, this mini monster holds its place as the sleekest and most desirable tablet on the market.
  • Why it's fun: Students can load up note-taking applications, download fascinating lectures free on iTunes U, and buy and browse books. It's a powerful learning tool your high school student can take to college, plus you can play Angry Birds on it. What's not to love?

High school: Tocky



  • Why it's smart: Is your high school student the world's deepest sleeper? Make sure they're up every morning with this innovative device. Tocky is an alarm clock that hops off the bedside table and rolls away after the alarm goes off, finding a new hiding place somewhere in the room and playing a customizable mp3 as it goes. Crank up the volume and your teenager has to roll out of bed to stop the madness.
  • Why it's fun: Record your own voice telling the sleepyhead to wake up and enjoy endless hours of fun imagining a cranky high school student trying to reach your cheerful voice emerging from a Tocky hidden behind their dresser.

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