Got a creative kid at home? If that kid is like most, he or she probably wants -- no, probably needs -- the newest thing in high technology. And if you're like most, you may feel a bit wary about it: What happened to crayons and clay and pipe cleaners?
But then, what parent wants to stifle a kid's desire to master what is undeniably a necessary skill in modern times? Sure, technology has its downsides -- hours spent texting or pressing buttons on a controller or staring passively at a TV is not exactly brain-teasing. But there's another side to the tech world: software and gadgets that encourage active, creative pursuits.
For artistic kids, the perfect gift can be one that uses technology to enhance a creative pursuit like drawing or movie-making or music composition. Here, five excellent options for your little painter, composer, photographer or documentarian, beginning with a common gadget wisely redesigned for little hands ...
We've all been snapping away with digital cameras for years now, but until pretty recently they were considered too delicate (and expensive) to turn over to the kid. Now, kid-safe digital cameras are all over the place, most running less than $50 and sporting lots of fun bells and whistles for your little photographer. Some come with special effects, frames and stamps to snazzy-up prized shots, while others even have a reverse view that allows for easy self-portraits.
The best part? You don't need to keep reminding anyone to be careful. These cameras can survive a good drop. Probably even a good throw.
Storage space ranges from hundreds to thousands of photos, and some models have digital zoom. They can be easily connected to a TV or computer for viewing and editing photos.
Next, a bit more motion ...
Digital Video Camera
If you've got a budding movie-maker at home, consider one of the many digital video cameras available for kids. They feature simple functions and sturdy construction, and some of them look just like the one you've got, all sleek with a foldout viewfinder. Others are chunky and have image-only controls for kids who aren't reading yet.
Storage space and mega-pixels vary by model, and all connect to TVs and computers. If you already have one of those handy "learning tablets," you might check to see if there's a video-camera accessory available, because some offer that.
Most of these video-camera models cost less than $50 and include computer editing software.
Next, for a possible future in cartoons (and so much more) ...
Whether it's stop-motion or digital, animation is where's it's at right now. If your child is itching to create his or her own animated films, shorts, greeting cards or Web site images, you have a bunch of options appropriate for younger skill levels.
Some are in the form of software, which turns a computer into an animation studio that allows your child to easily create animations and upload them to the Web. Others are standalone units with the animation and viewing tools built in, some designed to animate real 3-D objects like action figures or other small toys.
Recommended ages begin around 5, so they can start young! Products in this category run as little as $20.
Next, making music ...
Composer, singer or wake-the-neighbors drummer, your little musical genius can take it up a notch with one of the "music studios" available for kids.
Like the animation tools, some are in the form of software and others are standalone devices. Whichever you choose, the range of options is sure to entice: Depending on model, you'll find keyboard keys that both play and teach, several instruments and styles to choose from, mixing software, built-in songs and beats, recording functions, a microphone -- pretty much everything your little one needs to indulge a love of all things musical.
These types of music toys range from super-simple, designed for infants and toddlers, to pretty high-tech but still suitable for school-age kids. Prices start around $20 or $30.
Finally, for the dedicated doodler ...
If your kid is doodling aliens during class, you needn't fight it -- encourage it at home! Technology, in the form of a "drawing tablet," can turn a doodling habit into a real skill.
These digital tablets work with a stylus and have a range of features depending on model. Lots allow for drawing in a variety of media, such as water colors, charcoal and paint, all neat and clean in digital form. Most models connect to a computer via USB for saving and uploading artwork, and some offer extras like drawing-related games and lessons.
You can find drawing-tablet add-ons for some game systems, so if you have one you might want to check that out.
Ages start as young as 3 years old for these devices, with easy operation that requires minimal adult supervision. Tablets cost anywhere from $30 to more than $100, depending on features and age ranges. There's no reason why your tween or teen wouldn't love a full-featured "adult" tablet, which can cost more but offers more serious options for creative development.
Of course, using creative technology needn't be a serious pursuit. It need only be engaging and fun. If you happen to end up with the next Mozart or Picasso, that's a bonus.
For more information on technology, art and stimulating creative kids, check out the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks finds out what 'Hour of Code' is all about and how it can help children and adults learn about computer programming.
More Great Links
- Buckleitner, Warren. "A Drawing Tablet for the Wii." Gadgetwise -- The New York Times. April 17, 2010. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/a-drawing-tablet-for-the-wii/
- Study Shows Kids Tethered to Technology. ABC World News. Jan. 20, 2010. (Feb. 6, 2012) http://abcnews.go.com/WN/kids-electronics-study-shows-kids-spend-hours-day/story?id=9616699#.TzBAdvlWpm4