Growing up in the Charara household in the '90s, my sister Helene and I had Game Boys and N64s and Age of Empires on PC. You don't need me to tell you that those Pokémon didn't look photo-real. We also had Disney figurines, whose character traits changed daily, a bulging folder of our detective work and a karaoke machine with a mic and a 'record' button for our radio show.
What these playtime activities had in common, aside from excellent parenting all round, was that they stretched our imagination muscles.
Now, what I'm not going to do now is bore you with a lament about my young second cousins staring at their iPad and Samsung phone screens when I see them at Christmas. Because actually they also love NERF guns and Eddie Stobart trucks (odd, I know). One of them is even into baking crazy cakes when she's not on her phone. Call it fancy or creativity or active play, I call it being a kid.
The other reason this isn't just a rant is that there seems to have been a bit of a shift back towards prioritising imagination and the idea of play when building tech toys. When I see a Nintendo 3DS on the bus, I don't begrudge the kids their better graphics and faster loading times. But when I try out fun wearables and connected toys like the Moff Band (below) and BB-8 Sphero, I do get a twinge of envy. Because that's more time kids get to spend really playing.
Remember children (and grown ups), make believe is terribly important. Just pay attention to the real world when you're crossing roads.
WEAR - Moff Band
This awesome motion sensing kids wearable lets you control Pac-Man with your arm but that's not why we love it as an imagination enhancing gadget. The $54.99 Moff Band (for ages 3 -12 and up) also lets kids 'play' air guitar and act like a ninja by tracking gestures and adding the right sound effects to help with the illusions. Bonus: it's brightly coloured and looks like those slap-on bands that children can't get enough of.
NEARLY THERE - Mover Kit
Crowdfunding on Kickstarter now and due to ship in October 2016, Technology Will Saves Us' $65 Mover Kit is a wearable that kids build and code themselves. With motion sensors and LEDs, it is designed to be used to help with everything from inventions and costumes to obstacle courses. We reckon something like this will not only get kids moving and problem solving more but also coming up with new, wacky, silly ideas for playtime activities.
SQUARE - Disney Infinity
Disney Infinity, its toys-to-life gaming franchise, isn't in this slot because we think it's a bad idea. Far from it. It's because Disney is shutting it down after Alice in Wonderful and Finding Dory sets of real world games that connect to games. Now, you might think this is a blow for imagination expanding kids tech but there is hope.
Disney also has Playmation, its line of connected wearables and figurines that don't need a console or mobile phone game for most of the action. It kicked off with Avengers toys and Star Wars and Frozen editions are on the way. Let's hope they sell well enough.