Starting Off the Year with a Bang

Like it or not, kids are fascinated by things that shoot. And while we understand that some parents are completely against anything that looks remotely like a weapon, shooting toys aren’t going away anytime soon. In our view, there’s nothing inherently wrong with firearms (admittedly, my being a Marine Corps vet may influence that philosophy). So the solution is to learn to use them safely. This week we take a look at two amazing blasters and one other toy that stretches the definition of “shoot” a little

rapid madnessBOOMco Rapid Madness (Mattel)
Rapid Madness gives blaster fans two ways to shoot: one dart at a time or 20 in about 5 seconds. Either way, the foam darts can fly up to 50 feet. One of the drawbacks with other dart-shooting blasters is that you never know for sure whether you’ve hit your target. Not so with Rapid Madness. The darts have “Smart Stick” tips that cling to the included target, as well as to some glossy surfaces, which makes competitive shooting and scoring easy. Darts also stick to the pop-up shield that’s part of the blaster so you can seize your opponent’s ammo. Comes with 30 darts, a 20-dart clip, and the target. We generally don’t talk about packaging in our reviews, but the “certified frustration-proof packaging” means you can be up and shooting within minutes instead of running around trying to find a scissors or wire cutter. Ages 6 and up. $25-$40. http://shop.mattel.com/

xploderz mayhem Xploderz Mayhem Firestorm series (Maya Group)
We first saw Xploderz at Toy Fair a few years ago and were impressed with the unique ammo, which starts off as tiny pellets (that can’t be fired) and turns into gel-like marbles (that can be fired) when soaked in water. We also loved that they’re completely non-toxic, don’t stain, require virtually no clean-up, and really and truly don’t hurt. We mention that last bit just in case someone gets hit—we highly recommend that you have your children fire at non-human (or animal) targets, or, if they do fire at other people, they aim no higher than their target’s waist). Mayhem comes with 2,000 rounds and 250-round clip. So while your opponents are busy trying to find their darts under the couch and fumbling around trying to re-load them, you can keep blasting away (at two rounds per second, you’ve got more than two minutes of non-stop firepower). Plus, with an accuracy range of 50 to 80 feet, you’ll be invincible. Ages 8 and up. About $18. http://xploderz.com/

vtech smart shotSmart Shots Sports Center (Vtech)
Okay, this one isn’t a weapon, but it still involves shooting. The target, however, is either a basketball hoop or a soccer net. When your toddler drives in for a layup or shoots a half-court jumper, Sports Center’s LED screen keeps score. And when he or she finds the back of the net, Sports Center applauds, cheers, and shows encouraging animations. It’s a fun, energetic way to expose young kids to both sports. If your little one gets tired of shooting and kicking and wants to relax by brushing up on fine motor skills, there are plenty of buttons and other things to play with that introduce shapes and numbers and make all sorts of fun sounds. Comes with a small basketball, soccer ball, net, and hoop. All you need is batteries, which aren’t included. Ages 12-36 months. About $28.  http://www.vtechkids.com/

Color Me Healthy, Kiddo

Dear Mr. Dad: It seems like every meal in my house is a battle. I try to make healthy, tasty foods and my kids do nothing but complain about it. It seems like all they want to eat is white rice and plain pasta. Why won’t they eat anything else, and what can I do to get them to expand their preferences?

A: Ah, yes, the white food group. I remember it well. Besides rice and pasta, my two oldest kids were flexible enough to include French fries (or, sometimes, a baked potato with sour cream), cheese pizza, fish sticks, and salt. Lots of salt. For a while, I was worried that their limited diet would stunt their growth, but they’re both 5’ 7,” and incredibly healthy. When I think about it, they did eat non-white foods too: peas and carrots were okay (as long as they weren’t touching on the plate), tomatoes (cleverly disguised as pasta sauce), vitamins (in milk), lots of fruit, and even some protein (often fish sticks or chicken nuggets). I’m sure your children’s culinary repertoire is broader than you think. That said, I know I could have done a better job.
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Mama Gone Geek

Lynn Brunelle, author of Mama Gone Geek.
Topic:
Using your inner science nerd to help navigate the ups and downs of parenthood.
Issues: Playing with fire; electricity from lemons; nose flutes and armpit farts; raising lice; creating homemade washable body paint; dancing paperclips; growing your own germs; yummy homemade deodorant.

The Truth About Nature + Finding Your Inner Science Nerd


Ken Keffer, co-author of The Truth About Nature.
Topic:
Common myths about the great outdoors.
Issues: Do birds really sing because they’re happy? do bees really die after they sting you? to tornadoes always turn clockwise?; Do bulls always attack the color red? Many other myths and falsehoods.



Lynn Brunelle, author of Mama Gone Geek.
Topic:
Using your inner science nerd to help navigate the ups and downs of parenthood.
Issues: Playing with fire; electricity from lemons; nose flutes and armpit farts; raising lice; creating homemade washable body paint; dancing paperclips; growing your own germs; yummy homemade deodorant.

Robots and More—Lots More

Robots and game figures were really hot in 2014 and we’re predicting that they’ll be even hotter in 2015. Here are some of our favorites as we move into the New Year.

tipster wowweeTipster (WowWee)
Remember MiP, the terrific robot we reviewed a few months ago? Well, Tipster is MiP’s little brother. Tipster can balance on two wheels like big bro, but because he’s young, he prefers four. Tipster has five different play modes. With Tippy Tunes, Tipster starts playing a tune and your child tries to pile as much stuff on him as possible before the music stops. Then Tipster starts spinning and everything flies around. With Dizzy Builder, Tipster starts spinning first, and the child tries to attach as many objects to him as possible. The other three modes also feature variations on stacking and knocking over—exactly what little kids (and plenty of parents) love. The buttons on Tipster and the remote are big, colorful, and make this robot easy to operate right out of the box. Ages 4 and up. About $50 at your favorite retailer or http://www.wowwee.com/

ozobotOzobot (Ozobot)
These little robots are aimed at a much more sophisticated audience. They’ look pretty simple—like mini R2D2s—and their talent lies in following lines. You can draw your own or download dozens of patterns from the website. Ozobots change their color to match those of the line they’re following. But the real fun starts when you use the ozocodes, combinations of colored dots that tell your ozobot how to move. For example, red+green+blue slows the bot to a snail’s pace, blue+green+blue gives him a turbo boost; you can also change the ozobots’ direction and even make them dance. Our favorite was the brain teasers, which are mazes with missing sections; to get your bot through maze, you need to color in the right codes. Ozobots come two in a pack so they’re perfect for parent-child competition (or cooperation). For ages 8 and up. About $60 at Amazon or http://www.ozobot.com/

nintendo amiiboAmiibo (Nintendo)
What a great way to interact with your favorite Nintendo characters—just touch them to your Wii U GamePad controller and they jump right into your favorite games. No system upgrades and no portals. Whew! That cuts the cost and makes them more accessible to everyone. Buy only the ones you want, customize them in the games, and interact the way you want to. About 39 Amiibo figures are available now, with more on the horizon. Each retails for about $15. Ages 5 and up. http://www.nintendo.com/

hasbro optimus primeEpic Optimus Prime (Hasbro)
Epic Optimus is a really big (22 inches tall) transformer that doesn’t actually transform. But take it from us: your child won’t care. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but his size and the chest compartment that opens to reveal a command center that fits mini-figures (sold separately) will more than make up for the lack of transformer capabilities. Ages 5 and up. About $25.

think fun robot turtlesRobot Turtles (ThinkFun)
Coding for preschoolers? Absolutely. The object is to move your turtle from one of the corner spaces of an 8×8 matrix to a matching colored jewel in the middle of the board. Cards give directions on how to move the turtle: one space forward, turn left, one space forward, turn right, etc. The kids are the programmers—bossing you around like real programmers boss around computers—and you’re the computer, simply following directions. The first round is pretty easy, but once the kids have mastered it, you (the adult) can add obstacles that the players have to navigate around. Best for 2-4 preschoolers plus one adult. Each round gets more complex—and more fun. $24.99 at Amazon. http://thinkfun.com/

Reducing Screen Time–Even Just a Little–Makes a Big Difference

mrdad - screen time ripple effect

mrdad - screen time ripple effectDear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have an 11-year-old who’s very tech savvy and spends a lot of time on her phone and computer. A lot of experts—you included—talk about how we parents should cut back on our kids screen time. That sounds like a great idea, except that we both work full time and are exhausted when we get home, and neither of us has the energy to get into a battle with our daughter. We tried limiting her screen time, but after a few weeks, we didn’t see any difference in her behavior or her grades. Is there really any point in forcing the issue? Our home seems a lot more peaceful when don’t bug our daughter.

A: I love technology, and I’m constantly amazed at the marvelous things it allows us to do. But when it comes to kids (and many adults), there can be too much of a good thing. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children spend an average of seven hours per day in front of some kind of screen (TV, computer, phones, and other devices). In addition, quite a bit of research indicates that there’s a direct correlation between screen time and obesity, eating disorders, poor academic performance, and other problems.

In our gut, most parents understand that we need to monitor our children’s screen time, but given how pervasive screens are in our daily life, limiting them is really hard. What makes it even harder is that, as you pointed out, it doesn’t produce immediate benefits. As a result, we can get frustrated, question why we’re trying in the first place, and simply give up rather than risk getting sucked into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
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