Are you the mom on the playground that nods along when your in-the-know techie friends dish about their lastest app discovery or their cool new tablet when really you’re thinking to yourself, why have I never heard of those gadgets before? If you feel like you’re always left in the dust when it comes to family-friendly tech finds, then you’ll definitely want to read on.  Our very own Cheyenne aka Red Tricycle’s awesome Portland calendar editor recently attended The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to marvel at the latest innovations. While there were a bevy of amazing new tech finds (think, a flexible mobile phone screen), we narrowed it down to five new and lesser-known, family-friendly gadgets (some aren’t even out yet) that you’ll want to keep an eye out for this year. And, if you want to impress your friends with all your new knowledge, don’t worry, we’ll let you take the credit.

1. Flip Boom Cartoon App
Toon Boom is no stranger to accolades. Their animation products and technologies have won them a ton of awards, from the Editor’s Choice by the prestigious Children’s Technology Review to several Parent’s Choice awards. They even have a Primetime Emmy® Engineering Award on their mantel.

Their Flip Boom Cartoon app lets you and your kids easily create cartoons on your iPad, complete with sounds (or your recorded voices). You can share the cartoon with family and friends and turn your drawings into fun collaborative projects. Then share with everyone on Facebook, YouTube or via email. My five-year-old and I are already working on an alphabet cartoon that we can’t wait to share with family. Would be a great tool for kid-created e-cards, too.

Available for $2.99 on the iTunes App Store (launch special—regular price $4.99). A desktop version will be available soon and Toon Boom is developing new apps for Android, Windows 8 and RT.

2. Brush Buddies
The concept is simple: toothbrushes that play music while you brush your teeth.  But sometimes simple is best. There was always a crowd at the Brush Buddies booth. Highlights from their product line were the Lady Gaga singing toothbrush and the PSY singing (Gangnam Style) toothbrush.

These singing toothbrushes play songs for two minutes to keep kids and teens entertained while they brush longer. In addition to pop-music-themed brushes, Brush Buddies has a line-up of cartoon animal brushes that even gives your child brushing tips, telling them when to smile big or open wide. This writer went home with a Justin Bieber toothbrush that has already made toothbrushing something to dance about.

Brush Buddies toothbrushes range from $5 – $15 and you can find them at pharmacies and several retailers as well as online.

3. Polaroid Kids Tablet
Polaroid was a big winner at CES. They debuted not just instant-print and other cameras, but a whole slew of well-designed electronics, including a kids tablet. Now, a tablet that’s just for kids isn’t a completely new idea, but Polaroid’s new 7-inch Android tablet is packed with unique, and thoughtfully designed features, all for an affordable price.

The buttons are big and easy to press, and it looks like jam would wipe right off of it. It comes loaded with over 200 educational and entertaining apps, books, and videos (filtered by age and topic). There are plenty of parental control options. And the employee who showed it to me even let me drop the tablet to test its rubberized design. Yep, it’s kid-proof (and clumsy-parent-proof, too).

Available now for $150.

4. MyScript Calculator App
The Mobile App Showdown at CES is a fierce competition. And the top prize this year went to … a math app. No, really. The MyScript Calculator helps you perform mathematical operations using your own handwriting. It’s easy and intuitive—just like writing on paper. A terrific app for budding mathematicians or parents who need to make a quick calculation.

What’s revolutionary and impressive here is the handwriting recognition technology. Write “3+2= ” on the screen and MyScript converts symbols and numbers to digital text and delivers the result: “5”.  You can even scratch-out your mistakes, just like you would in real life. It can even help your child with spelling. MyScript also tells you if letters and words are shaped and spelled correctly.

Available for both iOS and Android, the MyScript Calculator is free at app stores.

5. iPotty
No CES round-up would be complete without mentioning the iPotty. The press has been abuzz about this child-sized toilet with a built-in iPad stand. And reviewers and consumers feel strongly about it, too. Some say it is bizarre; some say it is groundbreaking. Its makers say it can be a revolutionary tool to help children toilet train. Sure, pooping is more fun when you are watching Dora the Explorer. Whatever your feelings about it, it shows a trend that is in full swing: iPads being added to everything.

Debuts in March on Amazon for around $40.

What family-friendly tech find do you expect to hit big this year? 

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–Cheyenne Terbrueggen