The child who inherits an old iPod Touch, begins a lifelong relationship with the joys—and, let's be real, frustrations—of technology. Still, pre-teens today have it pretty good. Nearly every handheld gadget around—from most low-end cell phones to Kindles and iPod Touches—rivals the computers and consoles of yore in terms of the speed and multitasking they offer. Of course, nearly all of these portable play games, too, and you can use these helpful suggestions below to be a gift-giving superstar to the little lady in your life.
It's a safe bet that the kid you're looking to hook up with some digital love is very familiar with the slingshot-happy antics of Angry Birds already. But she may not know about the sweeter, gentler avian gameplay of Tiny Wings. In it, you help a chubby, flightless bird swoop down inclines and launch skyward to grab the airtime it so craves. Andreas Illiger's hit iOS game takes the soaring, sweeping peaks and valleys of emotion in every tween's life and makes them playable.
($1 on the App Store, a small price for immeasurable cuteness)
Those rumors about alligators in the sewers? Turns out they're true? But, don't worry, all the giant lizards aren't rabid maneaters. In fact, one of them—a cute little dude named Swampy—just wants to get clean. The goal of this iOS game is to route water past traps, blockages and hazards into the pipes of Swampy's bathtub. Finger swipes clear paths through layers of bedrock for and taps activate switches that will re-route the flow up, over and around the game's 80 levels. The fluid physics are simulated well and the puzzles will keep challenge the problem-solving skills of most third-graders. Still, with great music and hilarious animations, there's lot of fun to be had in helping Swampy get his scaly epidermis scrubbed.
($1 on the App Store; be ready to answer questions about exfoliating scrubs for alligators)
Grown-ups are always telling kids about the virtue of saving. Some of them actually get it, too. Maybe your daughter/niece/neighbor's kid is saving spare change up for something big, like the inevitable iPod Touch hardware upgrade. This cleverly capped repository automatically scans the U.S. coin currency entering it and keeps a running tally of the money inside. It's not just the kid who'll love it, either. Any adult who's ever had to tally up the contents of low-tech piggy banks—which are so kindergarten, by the way—will thank you, too.
($8, practically pays for itself!)
In most of Western civilization, kids don't have jobs. While all that free time's great, it also means that they don't have spending money of their own. For the youngster hankering to add some apps or music to their portable—with parental supervision, of course—a virtual allowance is the perfect way of making sure they get exactly what they want. Setting it up is a snap and the adult on the account will be able to choose an amount that gets refreshed every month.
(Available for amounts from $10 to $50)
Whether it's the dead of winter or the hottest day of the summer, no grade-schooler's ever going to say no to ice cream. This cordless churner comes with a recipe book that helps them whip up their own frozen desserts. You can concoct frozen yogurts and sorbets, too, and serve them out of the same bowls they get mixed in. Who knows, maybe you'll come to an upcoming ice cream social and find a flavor named in your honor.
($35, sprinkles not included)
As magical as an iPod Touch is, it's no replacement for good old-fashioned creativity. The P'kolino Chalk Table's the perfect place for your future graphic designer to sketch out ideas and experiment with color. There's built-in storage under the reversible table top, too, so things need not stay messy after playtime's over. This kid-friendly furniture should provide plenty of artistic diversions while the battery on their electronic companions take some time to recharge.
($90 for table and two benches)
Even when they have their own bedrooms and play areas, kids need their own space. You know, a proper grown-up free zone. It'll take a little bit of adult elbow grease to set up this cute purple abode but, once it's built, a little girl's imagination can turn it into anything she wants. Whether it's a Lucy Van Pelt-style psychiatrist's office or Princess Peach's Mushroom Kingdom castle, you'll probably have to knock before you go barging in.
($340, PVC pipe or wood for frame not included)