Yolanda Brooks looks at Christmas toys you can also use in class. Photography by Colin Crisford
Putting the world in global perspective The starter globe from Crayola is more than just a look-and-point resource. The 30cm-diameter globe is accompanied by an activity book with information on all the places mentioned on it. The book also has six reusable stickers of animals, places and famous landmarks from each continent.
The globe costs pound;34.95 and is available from toy stores and from Latitude. Phone 01707 663 090 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lego lands a 'smart' brick Is it a plane? Is it a car? Is it a robot? Yes, it's MyBot, the flexible, reactive three-in-one toy from Lego. Children as young as four can interchange parts using a child-friendly screwdriver to create the toy of their choice. As well as building a plane, car or robot, children can add interactivity by using "smart" bricks in the microcomputer cockpit. One brick brings up a fuel gauge on the LCD screen, another sets off an alarm and the third produces a flashlight. MyBot has sensors and a series of sound effects correspond to different movements.
It is compatible with all Lego and Duplo products and costs pound;49.99.
Computer goes under the microscope Intel has made its first foray into the toy market with the computer plug-in QX3 Microscope. The digital microscope comes with a pack of prepared slides, but it is its flexibility that allows young children to get a close-up view of the world. The magnifying tube can be pulled out of the frame so children can focus on their skin, hair or even eyes. They can also hold other objects, such as leaves and food, up to the lens without having the bother of preparing tiny fragments.
The microscope is built on the traditional model, so older children can still prepare slides like the grown-ups.
QX3 is linked to a computer, allowing every specimen to be enlarged on the screen. Images can be saved for use with presentations or to create an animation using time-lapse photography.
The microscope comes with a CD-ROM which suggests other ways to use the images.
The QX3 Microscope is part of the new Intel Play range. It costs pound;79 and is available from major high street retailers, including Dixons, Toys R Us and Argos.
Pal prolongs active learning Forget slim, anodised aluminium laptops, the computers turning hads this Christmas will come in two-tone plastic.
A range of computers aimed at the children's market has been launched and designers trying to ignore the beige and black of the PC and laptop have combined fun with functionality.
My Computer Pal from VTech retails at around pound;59.99 and is aimed at five-year-olds. It offers 26 activities covering maths, music, language and art and design. Additional games can be added by slotting in extra cartridges. It familiarises children with the QWERTY keyboard, allows them to develop mouse skills and guides them through tasks with an English accent.
The Extreme multi-purpose laptop, price pound;89.99, is aimed at the older market. It has more functionality than My Computer Pal. As well as playing games, users have access to French, German and Spanish translators, a currency converter and an encyclopedia. Extreme has word-processing capabilities and pages can be printed on a compatible printer. E-mails can be sent with the VTech e-mail kit, which is sold separately and costs pound;54.99. Call VTech on 01235 546810 for stockists.
Comquest has gone for the wannabe adult look with its Ultraslim. Priced at pound;99.99, it is built to resemble the sleekest of models costing pound;2,000, with its overall thickness of just one inch. It has a large LCD screen, printer connection and mouse, and comes with a wordprocessing capability, a calculator, games and a homework help programme. Ultraslim is available from Team Concepts on 01279 715600.
Here's one trip they made earlier During its 41 years as a children's favourite Blue Peter has clocked up some amazing worldwide expeditions. You can now follow in the footsteps of John Noakes et al with the new Blue Peter Explorer.
Participants answer questions on Blue Peter expeditions and general geography with the aim of completing a jigsaw-style map of the world. For each correct answer, the players pick up a piece of the puzzle from a pile of up to 76 pieces. The pieces are lying face down, so players have to memorise the shapes of the regions they need to complete their map.
The game is suitable for players aged seven upwards and can be played by two to four players or teams. It costs pound;14.95 and is available from the John Lewis Partnership and Ottakar's bookstores. Or you can contact the Green Board Game Co on 01494 538999 or visit the website on www.green boardgames.com.