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Tech Toys top Christmas lists

Christmas is almost here, and the items on children’s wish lists this year are a bit more advanced than baby dolls and building blocks.

With the emergence of STEM-based curriculum in schools, toy companies such as LEGO, Mattel and Fisher-Price unveiled products that reinforce what children are learning in the classroom. There are toys designed to teach basic coding to preschoolers, gadgets controlled by apps and artificial intelligence in everything from dolls to robots. Even toys that have become mainstays in letters to Santa Claus in years past have been ushered into the digital age.

Hatchimals, which retail for around $70, were a standout in 2016, and the trend is expected to continue this Christmas. The bright-colored plush toys are packaged inside eggs, and use artificial intelligence to “grow” from an infant to a toddler to child. Throughout this growth, the Hatchimals need constant attention as they learn how to walk, talk and ultimately play games with their owner.

Kelly Smith, an Oxford resident and mother of three, says Hatchimals have been on her children’s Christmas list for a while.

“They asked for it last year, but that didn’t happen,” Smith said. “They’re getting one this year that has twins in it. It’s all they’ve talked about.”

Currently, Hatchimals are sold out in the Oxford area, so parents may need to shop online to have one under their tree Christmas morning.

Another toy that made Amazon’s 2017 Top 100 Toys list is the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox Building and Coding Kit, which costs around $160. This 847-piece kit can be transformed into five different designs that feature a Bluetooth-powered Move Hub, an interactive motor and a color and distance sensor.

Children can program the robots to perform simple tasks, such as walking and picking up small objects, as well as complete obstacle courses.

Casey Foley, a fourth-grade teacher at Lafayette Upper Elementary School, says she supports STEM-based toys in and out of the classroom after attending a conference about them over the summer.

“The kids love using them,” Foley said. “They don’t even realize they’re learning.”

For children ages 3 to 6, the $40 Fisher-Price Think & Learn Teach n’ Tag Movi is designed to encourage physical activity and develop critical thinking skills. The small three-wheeled robot has 360 degrees of movement and over 60 facial expressions.

Robots aren’t the only high-tech toys children are asking for this year. Zanieya Booker and her siblings Zaylen, Amarrie and Quidarius all say they want toys that keep them moving.

“I want a new hoverboard this year,” Zanieya Booker said. “I have a black one, but I need a pink one.”

Even toys that could be considered Christmas mainstays are getting revamps this holiday season. The latest incarnation of the Barbie Dream House costs around $170 and features voice-activated controls, smart accessories, and a smartphone-sized “flat screen” display that allows children to play videos in one of its seven rooms.

Treehouse Toys owner Jennifer Kincaid says one of her best sellers this season has been the LuvaBella Doll, similar to BabyAlive. LuvaBella retails for around $85 and uses voice recognition and artificial intelligence to interact with children, learning to say over 100 words and play games.

However, Kincaid says that no matter how advanced toys become, people still keep coming back to her store for classic items, like toy trains, firetrucks and stuffed animals.

“It’s fun to sit and do things with your kids,” Kincaid said. “People are interested in classic toys at Christmas because they have memories of playing with them themselves, so they want to share that with their child or grandchild.”

Whether children ask for tech toys or trains, or both, technological advances mean there are Christmas gifts to suit every preference.