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It's a small, small tech world

Little ones have lots of tech-related toys from which to choose, from pretend cell phones to night vision goggles.
Image: Dora the Explorer cell phone
The Dora the Explorer play cell phone from Fisher-Price ($15) lets children "chat" without running up a monthly bill. Fisher-Price

I don’t have kids. But I’m still enough of one inside that I get a certain amount of glee from seeing what’s out there for today’s generation. That, and I tend to spoil my friends’ kids silly, but so far it’s been real young kid/toddler stuff. I’m ready to step it up.

When I was a little one, there was no baby laptop, no cutesy MP3 player, no big-button, child-friendly play cell phone. Is it me, or does it seem like some toys encourage kids to prep for adulthood way too soon?

I had my books, Star Wars action figures (no dolls for this girl, ever), some stuffed animals, a Sesame Street playhouse block and a Beta video recorder (I fiddled around with that).

Today, don’t be surprised to find Fisher-Price’s Talking Dora Cell Phone ($15) in the hands of little ones. It combines two things kids love: Dora the Explorer and developing communication skills.

It also gets a low risk rating from, a project of The Ecology Center, a non-profit group based in Ann Arbor, Mich. This toy stayed in the “green zone” of the project’s testing, which includes gauging levels of different chemicals.

The group’s list of “Best Toys” includes Fisher-Price’s Sesame Street Silly Sounds Giggle Remote, which means it’s a toy that “had no detectable traces of lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, mercury, antimony, tin, bromine, or chromium in any components tested.”

Also in the green, low-risk zone: LeapFrog Baby’s Learn & Groove Musical Table is an aspiring musician’s dream (and possibly a parent’s nightmare, given all the sounds it makes).

But they can’t test every toy out there, so is just one place to start.

The I-Dog Amp'd ($35) nods its head in time and taps its paw to music played through its speakers.

Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics division has the I-Dog Amp’d, an “Interactive Music Companion,” ($35) that looks like a robot dog, but nods its head in time and taps its paw (its ears and tail respond, too) to the music played through its speakers.

It plugs into the headphone jack of an MP3 player (or, if you’re kickin’ it old school, a CD player), and the songs are heard through the dog’s belly and back.

This device also lights up with LED spots on the dog’s “face” when the music plays. Playing with the tail adjusts the volume. I have to admit being a little bit smitten with this one.

Brushin' to pop music
Tiger Electronics also came up with the Turbo Tooth Tunes ($10), an electric toothbrush that plays pop songs for two minutes, the recommended amount of time for brushing.

This amuses me, the idea of a 6-year-old or so bopping up and down in the bathroom, wearing jammies, humming along with a favorite song from “High School Musical” or Miley Cyrus’ “Hannah Montana.”

Little ones also can brush to Devo’s “Brush It” (yes, this would be a remix), or Neil Sedaka’s “Waking Up is Hard to Do.” These kids have probably not heard the original “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

I’m a chronic shutterbug, so I figure my future child might get some of those same genes. But chances are a kid is not going to be as careful as I am about a $300 camera. Fisher-Price’s Kid Tough Digital Camera ($70) allows a young photojournalist to bump it around and still snap up to 50 pictures using the 8 MB built-in memory.

The wrist strap keeps the camera from flying out of little fingers, which can grip the big handles made for pre-schoolers. It also has two eyeholes, so kids don’t have to strain, and the images can be seen instantly on the 1.3-inch color LCD screen. That will make them feel like mommy and daddy are not skimping on their experience.

A built-in flash gives plenty of opportunity for blinding shots when you’re most bleary-eyed, and an SD card slot gives kids more capacity to shoot to their hearts’ desire.

For future forensic examiners
Having been a fan of “Get Smart” when I was young, I would have gotten a kick out of all the spy kid gadgets out there now. JAKKS Pacific’s EyeClops Bionic Eye, a handheld magnifying gadget that plugs directly into a TV to view magnified objects on the screen, started a line of similarly inventive devices.

The EyeClops Night Vision goggles, by JAKKS Pacific, due out in fall, has three different magnifcation lenses.

Kids can experience night vision technology with the EyeClops Night Vision goggles ($80).

For future CSI’ers and forensic anthropologists, the original Eyeclops Bionic Eye has been enhanced for a fall release with three different magnification lenses, download capability for images captured on the EyeClops and an LCD screen.

It even has a built-in camera and flash drive so kids can capture their images and videos of specimens. The USB key included allows them to upload the info and e-mail, post, share or print out what they find.

Finally, in the event I have a daughter someday, I would probably be sucker-punched into getting her something like JAKKS’ G2: Game Girl ($50), another product in the company’s Plug and Play line that will be available later this year.

My future daughter would probably be all over the “Hannah Montana” game made by JAKKS Pacific and Disney Consumer Products, which allows the typical tween to play in the first-person, choosing outfits, going to school, hanging out with friends and pulling off a sold-out show. It’s just a typical day in a Disney superstar’s life.

If your tween wants a little variation, there’s always the “High School Musical” game (another collaboration between JAKKS and Disney) that seems to simulate school a little too much (minus the dancing and singing for auditions and the big show). Gamers are encouraged to e-mail and text using one of the cell phones provided on the game.

I have no idea what’s going to be around by the time I have kids, but I am going to look forward to it and embrace it, make sure it’s on the safe side – and then go gangbusters. I want my kid to have what I didn’t, but still enjoy their childhood, too.