Apps, Websites and Video Games
For one parent who rated the Little Things app ($3 in the App Store), this "seek and find" game is the new alternative to the bedtime story for her children, ages 2 and 5. Little Things offers up collages - images such as a dog, a pair of scissors, a pony and cupcakes - that are actually art built from thousands of "other" things.
There's a different game, complete with soundtrack, each time your children play with it. As your kids find listed items in the game and solve timed puzzles, they collect 99 jigsaw pieces that can eventually be assembled into a new picture.
"NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS"
The iPad is a great way to read and interact with magazines. National Geographic is one of the leading publishers with titles created for this tablet computer, and National Geographic Kids was added in late May.
The app itself is free, as is a free sample of how the magazine works and looks on this portable device. The June/July issue of the magazine is available for the introductory price of $2.
This interactive publication is chock-full of videos, reader-submitted photos, games, puzzles, fun facts (Did you know: it takes 2,220 cupcakes to reach the top of the Washington Monument?), quizzes, jokes, and lots and lots of animal stories. National Geographic Kids is published 10 times a year.
The Sesame Street kids' site is fun and easy to use. Children can play games, watch videos, meet all of the Sesame Street characters, and create their own page. One neat feature: Sesame Playlists, where characters, videos and games can be combined to teach one concept or skill. There's lots of content and ideas for parents as well, and the emphasis is on school readiness. -Laura Nawojchik
NINTENDO'S Wii U
During the Electronic Entertainment Expo last month, Nintendo introduced the world to the next iteration of its home video-game console. The new system - called the Wii U - takes yet another offbeat approach to video games, though it's not as groundbreaking as the accessible-motion gaming of the Wii.
The Wii U, which will miss the holiday 2011 season and arrive on shelves sometime in 2012, represents a further evolution and update to the Wii itself. The new game system finally brings high-resolution gameplay to the Nintendo platform and promises video on par with Microsoft and Sony's current game systems.
It'll also continue to support the games and add-ons developed for the current Wii - including Wii MotionPlus, the Wii Remotes and Wii Balance Board.
The new innovations of the Wii U focus on the player's interaction with the system. Instead of a traditional button-laced handheld controller, the Wii U uses an iPad-like touch tablet with a 6.2-inch LCD screen built in. This new controller/display combination allows play even without a TV connected and includes a camera to track and augment traditional on-screen games.
The Wii U release date is about a year away, so a price has not been announced. Neither has much else about the system, besides that the Super Smash Bros. game series will be converted for the new Wii.
Parents who want to stay in the know should keep an eye on the Wii U. Undoubtedly, gamers young and old will be putting it on their birthday and Christmas lists next year.
MUSIC FOR KIDS
"SING ALONG!" by Caspar Babypants
Due out Aug. 16, this is the latest offering from the liquid tenor tones of "Caspar Babypants" (aka Chris Ballew), who outdoes himself again with a supporting cast of musician pals like Pete Droge, Stone Gossard, Weird Al Yankovic and Outtasite. But the street cred is not why you should listen to this guy's music. CB has a genius knack for taking the best of blues, classical music (name that Beethoven tune woven into "Wild Wild Time") and even African call-and-response music, and turning it into kid music that adults will love. It's a musical education in an album, and deserving of a Grammy nomination. You can purchase through Amazon, iTunes or CD Baby, but the best price option is the $8 download from babypantsmusic.com. -Jane Hawes
"THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE"
One of the most impressive features of the iPad is how the gadget can bring books to life and make reading an interactive experience. This app ($4.99; $2.99 for the 15-minute animated short) takes the art of iPad reading to a whole new level. The story is about the love for books and the magical power of a good story. The cartoon uses miniatures and computer animation to present an absolute visual delight. The app then takes the highlights of the story and offers them up as interactive puzzles, music, games and other forms of fun. This one is a must-see. -Phil Pikelny
"CRAYOLA'S COLORSTUDIO HD"
You might think Crayolas and the iPad don't mix. You'd be wrong. Griffin Technologies starts with a free app that lets youngsters color pages using their fingers. Add in the iMarker digital stylus (available at Best Buy for $30) and your child can add music, backgrounds and sound effects to their drawings. The iMarker also offers additional art tools - crayons, paintbrushes, markers, colored pencils - for your budding artist to use. As you might expect, the art created in this app can move side to side, can be animated, and allows users to zoom in and out. For the more creative among us, the Crayola's ColorStudio HD also allows for freestyle doodling. -Phil Pikelny
"CUT THE ROPE"
This app ($0.99 for iPad, iPhone and iTouch) is a game of physics that's just as much fun as "Angry Birds." Om Nom is a cute little monster that wants to eat candy. The player cuts the ropes to get the candy into Om Nom's mouth. At the same time you must collect as many stars as you can for a high score. The player must use cause-and-effect smarts while selecting which ropes to cut and when. When Om Nom eats its candy, you move to the other level. If you miss, Om Nom gives you a very sad little monster face and you can try again. -Kris Hickey
"MADDEN NFL 12" ($60, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii; rated E for Everyone)
This popular sports franchise returns with updated rosters and a more realistic impact system built to make players feel the crunch of every tackle. "Madden 12" also introduces custom playbooks for dedicated armchair quarterbacks and supports one to four players on the same console or two to six players online.
"HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2" ($60, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii; rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and older)
The end has arrived. The final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort explodes in this video game based on the film. Players take up the wand to help the heroes of Hogwarts turn back dark tide of the Death Eaters. Play alone or with a friend as you struggle to destroy the dark lord. -Shawn Sines