Mr. Dad Seal of Approval Winners for Father’s Day 2015

air hogs sky stunt jet

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval

Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval for Father’s Day 2015. The Seal recognizes products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.

We’re now accepting submissions for our 2015 Fall and Holiday seasons.

Art, Crafts, and Beyond

alex toys cobra bandsDIY Cobra Bands (Alex Toys)
Got a boy who likes to make things but is having a hard time finding cool stuff aimed at him? Or is it more of an “ugh-crafts-are-for-girls” problem? The truth is that quite often, crafts and craft kits do tend towards the pink and sparkly. Honestly, not that many boys are going to be into making earrings and BFF picture frames. So what’s a crafty boy to do? Well, Alex, one of our favorite brands for all-things-artistic, has a kit that includes everything boys could possibly want to make their own cobra bands (basically bracelets, but in male-friendly colors and styles, and uber-boyish buckles). There are instructions to follow (a handy skill) and new knot-tying techniques to learn (if the Boy Scouts do it, it must be masculine, right?), including the dangerously attractive cobra knot. Even boys who aren’t particular craft-oriented will enjoy this one. $18. Age 6+. @alextoys http://www.alextoys.com

crayola color aliveColor Alive Action Coloring Pages (Crayola)
Recent research has found that coloring books can help adults de-stress and improve creativity. Yes, adults. So if you’ve been avoiding coloring with your kids because it seems so immature, get over it and make coloring a regular family activity. You’ll have a ton of fun. Color Alive Action Coloring Pages combines traditional coloring and technology in a very clever way. There are several Color Alive books: Barbie, Skylanders, Enchanted Forest, and Mythical Creatures. All have 16 pages and include seven crayons and one special effects crayon that unlocks special features. Start by coloring a page any way you want. Then scan the character with the free app (available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices), tap the 4D button, and your character nearly jumps right off the page. Kids and dads can interact with characters, take pictures (even selfies) with them, and save their unique creations for later. When you’ve burned through the original 16 pages (now that you know how much fun coloring with your kids can be, that’ll happen pretty soon), you can download more from inside the app. $6.49 for each book. Ages 4. @Crayola http://www.crayola.com/

Alex Hair ChalkGuy Gear Awesome FX Hair Chalk (Alex Toys)
Who says boys can’t color their hair? Certainly not Alex Toys. Their line of gear for guys is aimed squarely at school-age boys (and dads) who aren’t afraid to buck fashion trends. Getting ready for Crazy Hair Day? Want to try out a Mohawk without cutting any hair? Want to wear your favorite team’s colors? This hair chalk is just the ticket. It goes on easily and, best of all, washes out with shampoo (getting your child in the shower is up to you). Comes with six chalk pens (none of which are pink) and an instruction book/style guide. Ages 8+. $12.50. @alextoys http://www.alextoys.com/

 

light up trace case alex toys
Light Up Trace Case (Alex Toys)
Definitely a great toy for kids who love to draw. Actually, “toy” may not be the right word. Perhaps “art product” would be more accurate. Whatever you call it, this item is very cool for both boys and girls. The Trace Case itself is a child-ified version of the kind of light table that adult artists use to trace. It comes with 25 preprinted backdrops and 15 acetate drawing sheets with a huge variety of heads, bodies, eyes, and other stuff that your young artist can “mash up” to create his or her very own silly cartoon character. It’s fun, easy to do, and is a great way for kids to flex their creativity while learning some basic drawing principles at the same time. Requires 3 AA batteries. $35. Ages 5+. @alextoys http://www.alextoys.com

 

Building

citiblocs 200 piece setCitiBlocs 200-Piece Natural-Colored Building Blocks (CitiBlocs)
It’s hard to get more basic that this, but it’s also hard to find a toy that will enchant you and your children for longer periods of time. Bottom line: this set is awesome. There is something here for absolutely everyone, regardless of age, experience, or building ability. This set comes with a nice building guide that has illustrations of a bunch of creations to try: towers, ships, dragons, a whole town, and more. Of course the guide is nothing more than suggestions. You and your little engineer will learn about building, balance, cantilevers, and much more. Don’t be surprised if your child starts talking about wanting to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Julia Morgan. $60. Age 3+. @alextoys Poof-slinky.com

 

build & imagine day at the beach Day at the Beach (Build & Imagine)
With all the talk about the importance of STEM skills, building with our kids becomes more important every day. And while we don’t hear as much about them, cooperation, creativity, and imagination are way high up on the list of skills our children will need to succeed. Build & Imagine’s Day at the Beach kit gives dads and kids a wonderful opportunity to work on those things at pretty much the same time. All of the pieces in the kit—including two dolls (Lucas and Emily), walls, ceilings, clothes, pets, accessories—are magnetic, which means you can easily create any scenario you want, depending on the details of the story you and your daughter spin together. Sipping umbrella drinks by the pool could quickly turn to panic when a tsunami hits, wiping out all the buildings. But some of the pieces will undoubtedly float to nearby islands where scrappy survivors can rebuild. And even if you don’t have to deal with a natural disaster, the magnets make cleaning up (or having the characters clean up) a warm, ocean breeze. Several other water-themed sets are available: Marine Rescue Center and Malia’s Beach House. $39. Ages 4+. @buildandimagine http://www.buildandimagine.com

imagination supply diy go kartDIY Go Kart (Imagination Supply Co.)
If there’s one stereotypical dad-child activity, it’s building. And what’s more fun for a child than to build something with dad and then be able to play with it? If you agree—and even if you don’t—you and your child will have a blast putting this go kart together. The kit is made of wood and requires absolutely no tools to assemble. Besides building confidence and helping with manual dexterity, spatial reasoning, and problem solving, the plain wood pieces are just begging to be painted, drawn on, stickered, and customized any other way possible. Truly STEAM in action. Ages 7+. $24.99. @imaginesupplyco http://www.imaginationsupply.co

keva brain bender juniorKEVA Brain Builders, Junior (MindWare)
KEVA is one of the lowest-tech toys available, but also one of the most versatile, most educational, most mind-expanding, and most fun. But while master builders (and their dads) may have a few thousand KEVA planks in boxes all over the house, that can be a little intimidating to the novice builder. And sometimes having endless possibilities (which is what you have with KEVA) can be panic-inducing. This set, with just 20 planks, is a perfect way for someone who’s just getting started and maybe needs a little inspiration and confidence building. It comes with pics of recognizable objects (flower, snake, towers, and more) and instructions for how to take those 2D images and turn them into 3D reality. Plus, it all neatly packs up in a zippered carrying case. $15.95. Ages 5+. @mindwaretoys. http://www.mindware.com

moulin roty large toolboxLarge Tool Kit (Moulin Roty)
If you enjoy woodworking and using tools and you want your child to share your interest, you‘ll absolutely love this tool kit. The “wow!” factor starts even before you get to the tools: the wooden storage box is well-made, with nice clasps and a solid handle, and has a familiar, retro feel (plus you get to learn how to say “toolbox” and “toys of yesterday for today’s children” in French). Before you open the box, get your camera ready so you can capture the wide-eyed, open-mouthed joy on your child’s face. Inside, you’ll find a variety of fully functional, child-sized tools (no plastic here), including a hammer, philips and regular screwdrivers, piers, t-square, ruler (with metric measurements), c-clamp, sanding block, and more. Some of the tools are less-than-fully functional: the saw, chisel, and planer are dull, which is a good thing and emphasizes that adult supervision is required when using any tools. $75. Ages 8+. @bonjourpetitUS http://www.bonjourpetit.com

modarriModarri Cruzer and Camo (Modarri)
Racecars are not just for boys, and neither is building them! Designed by three dads, Modarri cars (we tested the Cruzer and the Camo models) can be configured and reconfigured in a variety of ways. And when you own more than one model, you can mix and match to your heart’s desire, swapping elements of the chassis, hood, seat pan, seats, fenders, frame, and wheels. There’s a lot here for dads to love. First, introducing your kids to the idea of working with their hands is a great way to spend time together. Second, speaking of hands, these cars come with a real suspension, which makes it really fun to steer your Modarri through the tightest loops and hairpin turns using only your thumb and index finger. $20. Ages 6+ @modarri_cars http://www.modarri.com

zoob galax-zZOOB Galax-Z Z-Star Explorer (Alex Toys)
The ZOOB Galax-Z Z-Star Explorer is completely out of this world. Really! This kit is massive, and comes with 304 ZOOB pieces, engine shells, domes, tail wings, blasters, support beams, cockpits, turbines, and two helmeted Zoobonauts to man your vehicles. You and your future astronaut will be able to build some truly amazing space ships and saucers to explore outer space, infinity, and beyond. The kit also includes detailed instructions for how to build a Drifter, Light Speeder, Cosmic Craft, or Z Star Explorer, but you and the kids will have just as much fun creating your own vehicles. ZOOB products encourage kids (and those who put a roof over their head) to use their imagination, create, design, and, when necessary, follow instructions. There’s plenty to learn here, and even more fun to be had. We love it, and you will too. The box is reusable for storage as long as you don’t tear it apart getting it open—so don’t do that. $150. Age 8+. @alextoys http://poof-slinky.com/

 

Dolls and Puppets

moulin roty dinosaur shaadow puppetDinosaur Night Time Shadows (Moulin Roty)
Most of us have made shadow puppets, either for our own amusement or for our kids. But, honestly, how many do you know how to make? We’re guessing four or five: a bunny for sure, a dog, a horse, a bird, and maybe a swan. Those are great, but a little limiting. What if your story really needs a T-Rex or a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus? If you’ve got Moulin Roty’s Dinosaur Night-time Shadows, you can easily add a little pre-historic adventure to your bedtime routine. Actually, why limit your daddy-child bonding to bedtime? You can use these nicely detailed, laser-cut silhouettes anytime, anywhere. Other themes include Castle, Circus, and Paris Rooftops. $18.50. Ages 3+. @bonjourpetitUS http://www.bonjourpetit.com

moulin roty penguin dad and baby puppetHand Puppets (Trudi/Magicforest, Ltd.)
Although this line of adorable, plush hand puppets by Trudi is officially called Mama & Baby, it could just as well be Papa & Baby. Our first reaction when seeing these puppets was, “Awwww.” They are absolutely irresistible. And the fact that they’re incredibly soft just adds to the charm. There’s something about puppets—perhaps more than any other toy—that allows parents glimpses into what’s really going on in their children’s head. That’s in part because there’s something about puppets that helps kids “tell” us things they might not be able—or want—to verbalize. The daddy puppets are easily operated by dad or child; same for the baby finger puppets. But whether you’re doing a deep dive into your child’s head or you’re just having some good, old-fashioned make believe, your whole family is going to be spending a lot of time with Trudi. These puppets come in four styles: Hen, Penguin, Owl, Koala, and they’re all machine washable. Ages 3+. $25. @bonjourpetitUS http://www.bonjourpetit.com

 

Education and Science

Clifford water scienceClifford Water Science (The Young Scientists Club)
Of all the childhood age groups, preschoolers are by far the most curious–and many of their questions have to do with science: Why is the sky blue? How old are rocks? Why do boats float but rocks sink? Unfortunately, most kids don’t start learning about science until they hit kindergarten or 1st grade. Enter Clifford Water Science (part of an extensive line of science kits), which will turn your preschooler into a scientist. It starts with the 20-page manual, which is narrated by a spunky kid named Emily Elizabeth. She introduces a whole series of engaging, educational, and fun water-based experiments. You and your child will learn about floating and sinking, the water cycle, how to make rain, suction, and some very cool things you can do with celery. Comes with a measuring cup, pipette (a little dropper), chromatography paper, and test tubes—everything but the celery. Ages 3+. $19.99. @TYSclub http://www.theyoungscientistsclub.com

Mirari Flip Flop ABC BlocksMirari Flip Flop ABC Blocks (Patch Products)
As kids, most of us had ABC blocks, but you’ve never seen any like these. On one side of these clear plastic cubes is a bold, colorful letter. Turn it around, and dancing on a string inside is an adorable animal or object that starts with the same letter (unicorn for U, star for S, grapes for G, and so on). There’s also a magnetic “magic wand” that your toddler can use to control the figures. Flip Flop blocks are incredibly engaging (for adults and kids) and they’re great for building fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and of course, letter recognition (who knew that learning the alphabet could induce so many giggles?) They also introduce the concept of cause and effect. Our only complaint is that not all of the letters have a corresponding figure (the ones that don’t feature a dancing letter instead). 12 months+. $49.99. @PatchProducts http://www.patchproducts.com/

gelly wigglers scientific explorerGelly Wiggle Bugs (Scientific Explorer)
Remember “Creepy Crawlers”—those realistic, wiggly bugs that you created by squirting some kind of mystery goop into metal molds that you baked in a little oven (usually burning and scarring yourself in the process)? Okay, well Scientific Explorer’s Gelly Wiggle Bugs are kind of like that—except that you can skip the burning-flesh part of the process. Instead, you mix powders and water, pour the concoction into molds, and let them set for the allotted time. Then, voila! You’ve got yourselves some colorful bugs. The instructions say to keep your creations in the airtight container, since they’re basically gelatin. We didn’t follow those instructions and our bugs shrank to about half their original size. But it’s pretty hard to play with the bugs while they’re in their container, so we stand by our choice. $12.99. Ages 6+. Okay for younger kids as long as you make sure they don’t eat the bugs, which look a lot like gummies or Jell-O Jigglers. @alextoys. Poof-slinky.com

i-mat animal worldi-Mat My Animal World (Creative Baby, Inc.)
When we first got this product, we were a little hesitant. Do toddlers really need technology in everything they do? But after trying it out, we’re big fans, in part because the tech part is a nice-to-have option, not a must-have one. The mat itself consists of four 2’x2’ pieces that you put together to create a 4’x4’ soft mat that’s covered with illustrations of 50 animals from all over the world. The name of each animal is in a speech bubble above it. You and your baby can roll around on the mat and you can have him or her name various animals or make the appropriate noise; no tech needed. But if you want to go further, break out the “voice pen.” Turn it on, pick a language (English, Spanish, or Chinese), and when your child touches the pen to any of the animals, the pen says the animal’s name and makes its noise (don’t worry—all the electronics are in the pen). There are also two games: one where the pen asks the child to locate a particular animal by name, the other where the quest is to find the animal by its sound. Your toddler will love it, and happy baby = happy daddy. 18 months +. $79.99. 18 months+. @USACreativeBaby. https://www.creativebabyinc.com

lazer bug vacLazer Light Bug Vac and Bug Watch (Backyard Safari)
A bug vacuum? It’s not as weird as it sounds. Kids like bugs and other creepy crawlies that they find in the dirt or elsewhere. The vacuum gently sucks the bugs into an observation chamber where you and your budding entomologist can study them. From there, you can either release your tiny friends back into the wild or transfer them to the “bug watch” (a slightly smaller observation chamber that’s worn on the wrist) for closer examination. The lazer (spelled that way to indicate that it’s not a real laser) illuminates those bugs in the dark, dank places that bugs like to hide and kids like to find them. What a great way for you and your child to get a close-up view of nature. Be gentle—bugs outnumber us and they have lots and lots of friends…. This toy, er, science equipment, needs 4 AA batteries. $34.99. Ages 5+. @alextoys http://www.backyardsafari.com/

petra's planet
Petra’s Planet (Dramaforum)

Petra’s Planet is an online, virtual world where kids can learn and explore different parts of the globe and learn about cultures, animals, and more. Petra herself is a curious, good-hearted 7-year old girl. One day, while exploring a wardrobe at the theatre where her Mother works, Petra discovers a magical way to travel around the world. She dresses up in different costumes and has amazing adventures with her new friends. She discovers exciting countries and learns about their cultures while helping her new friends with all kinds of problems that they might have. Petra’s Planet is a warm, wonderful way for dads to encourage their children to develop an appreciation for the world around them. The on-line world is safe—and free—for everyone. There are premium memberships that unlock additional content and features. Prices range from $2.50 to $3.99 per month. @PetrasPlanetEDU http://www.petrasplanet.com

alex ready set shapesReady, Set, Shapes! (Alex Toys Little Hands)
A really fun way for dads and kids to explore colors and shapes. There are actually several ways to enjoy this kit. First, use the geometrically-shaped ink stamps and stickers to create anything you want. Second, use your creation to encourage your child to see shapes in everyday objects. If you look for them, squares, circles, rectangles, and diamonds are everywhere. Hey, It’s a great way to get your preschooler ready for high-school-geometry. Ages 4+. $17.99. @alextoys http://www.alextoys.com/

 

 

 

science explosion young scientists clubThe Magic School Bus Science Explosion (The Young Scientists Club)
The Magic School Bus has a long history of making science accessible, fun, and memorable for kids—and plenty of adults. We’ve reviewed a lot of their products and they never disappoint. Science Explosion is actually two games in one. The first is a matching game; the second is a little harder and involves strategy and critical thinking. Both expose players of all ages to nature, physics, chemistry, biology, and more. Move your pawns through the board, passing challenges as you go. First one to the end gets to explode the volcano. Magic School Bus provides the education, you provide vinegar, baking soda, and the players. The combination is a recipe guaranteed to turn learning about science into a real blast. $29.99. Ages 5+. @TYSclub http://www.theyoungscientistsclub.com

 

Fitness and Outdoors

air hogs sky stunt jetAir Hogs Sky Stunt Jet (Spin Master, Ltd.)
The Sky Stunt is a great plane for dads and kids to fly together, but it’s not for complete novices. At least one participant should have some experience with RC planes or helicopters. Yes, Dad, there’s a good chance that you’ll be taking lessons from your child. But if the goal is to spend time together, does it really matter who’s teaching whom? We think not. You launch the Sky Stunt by throwing it into the wind and once you get the hang of the controls you can start experimenting with banks and stalls. And when you’re ready to get your daredevil on, push the red stunt button and hope for the best. Having the ducted fan (which, for those who don’t know, means that the fan—aka propeller—is inside a cylinder) right below the fuselage protects the blades from damage. Given that you’re going to be doing a lot of crashing at first, that’s a good thing. $49.99. Ages 10+. @SpinMaster http://www.airhogs.com

cotton canvas teepee pacific play tentsCotton Canvas Teepee (Pacific Play Tents)
Got a little one who loves the Old West? There’s no better way to live out your fantasies than with this awesome cotton and canvas teepee. It assembles in minutes (a little longer if the kids are helping), and once it’s up, it stands a full eight feet tall and is big enough inside to accommodate one dad, a couple of kids, and a dog. There’s a mesh window so kids can watch out for bad guys (or know when to attack if they happen to be the bad guys. Hey, you’ve got to be ready for anything. There’s also a Velcro opening, which makes comings and goings easy and, because sometimes you’ve gotta ditch the sheriff, right? When you‘re done, you can either take the teepee apart and store it in the cool bag it comes in, or you can just “hug it” closed and put it into a corner until you until the great outdoor calls again, which will be in about an hour. $246.99. @PacPlayTents http://www.pacificplaytents.com

razor delta wing scooterDelta Wing Scooter (Razor)
Let’s face it: some kids who want to ride on scooters don’t always have a great sense of balance. That, in turn, can leave them less-then-completely confident in their ability to ride. Here’s where the Razor Delta Wing comes in. It’s sort of a V-shape and the rider puts one foot on each of the wings and holds on to the handlebars that are on a post that comes out of the apex of the V (it’s easier to see this in the picture to the left). You don’t need to be able to balance, and you move it by wiggling your booty side to side. Yes, you’ll look a bit odd, but it’s a hell of a workout for the legs, thighs, and butt. One of our young testers loved, loved, loved the Delta Wing—more than his bike, his scooter, or his roller skates. And he was always up to go for a ride—even on hot days. The Delta Wing handles well, brakes quickly and easily, and is a smooth ride. Does it get any better than that? Always wear a helmet and other safety gear. $90. Age 6+. @RazorWorldwide http://www.razor.com

razor ground force drifter furyGround Force Drifter Fury (Razor)
Kids don’t have a license but they’re still after the coolest wheels in town? No prob. The Razor Ground Force Drifter Fury is the most awesome go-kart-on-steroids that you’ve ever seen, with speeds up to 12 miles per hour (so don’t forget your helmet). The kart comes pretty much assembled and what little there is to do is quite simple. The Fury comes with rechargeable batteries that last up to 40 minutes of continuous use. It also has a flag, spark bar (how cool is that?), and hand operated rear brakes. Once you get the hang of it (which isn’t hard), you’ll be able to do some very cool tricks with the Fury. And by “you,” we actually do mean “you”—but only after you’ve given the kids a turn. There’s supposedly a 140-pound weight limit, but at Toy Fair earlier this year, we saw a full-grown man really working it, and he weighed quite a bit more than 140. You and your kids will have an incredible amount of fun with this thing. Just make sure your camera or phone is fully charged because the Fury is made to be shared on social media. Owner’s manual included. $350. Ages 8+. @RazorWorldwide http://www.razor.com

VTech kidzoom action cameraKidizoom Action Camera (VTech)
Action cameras are pretty hot right now, and for good reason: it’s really fun to get those action shots and footage. And the Kidizoom is built to capture every bit of action your little ones can get into. The camera comes with two mounts and a waterproof case so the kids can strap it to a bike, a skateboard, a helmet, or just about anything they can think of. As we all know, kids aren’t always going to get the mounting right, but that’s okay, since Kidizoom is durable enough to take a tumble. Whether you’re capturing their first rafting trip, learning to ride a bike, or just a hike through the woods, this is the perfect all-around camera for kids. It’s easy to set up, easy to operate, and, best of all, will make sure you don’t miss any of those precious memories. $60. Ages 4+. @vtechtoys http://www.vtechkids.com

crayola outdoor colorfoamOutdoor Colorfoam (Crayola)
When I was little, one really hot day my dad had me and my sisters strip down to our underwear and we went into the backyard and painted each other. The fact that I so vividly remember that day decades later is a testament to how much fun it was. Painting your kids or having them paint you is just one of the delightfully fun things you can do with Crayola’s new Outdoor Colorfoam. Just attach the nozzle (included), and spray away. Works on walls, dirt, grass, sidewalks, possibly even the dog (but be careful of the eyes). The foam easily washes off or disappears over time. But the memories of the fun and the laughter will last a lifetime. $3.99, Ages 4+. @Crayola http://www.crayola.com/

razor jr. mini modRazor Jr. Mini Mod (Razor)
Razor is all about getting kids and adults outside and moving. The Mini Mod, part of the company’s Razor Jr. line, is a great introduction to motorized scooters and gives toddlers a chance to zip around in style (“zip around” is a relative term, since the max speed is 2 MPH). Mini Mod is very stable and moves only when the foot pedal is pushed. More important, it stops moving when the pedal is released. Comes with a rechargeable battery that allows for about 40 minutes of continuous riding, and will take you 10-15 minutes to put together. At 2 MPH, it’s doubtful that anyone could get hurt, but make sure your little one always wears a helmet and stays out of the street and away from potential falls (I wish we didn’t have to say that, but you can’t go a month without hearing about a child who was injured or killed in a completely preventable accident). $70. Ages 3+, up to 44 pounds.@RazorWorldwide http://Toysrus.com

Crayola Sidewalk Chalk Mega PackSidewalk Chalk Mega Pack (Crayola)
Crayola’s sidewalk chalk doesn’t have much science behind it, which means it can focus on what Crayola does best: giving kids tools to make colorful art. The Mega Pack includes 12 large chalk pieces: 3 neon, 3 glitter, 3 tie dye, and 3 basic bold colors. No instructions required. The chalk itself is especially easy to clean up—just hose it off—a big plus if your neighbors are persnickety about their sidewalks. Unlike most other sidewalk chalks, these pieces aren’t cylindrical, which means they won’t go rolling down your driveway into the street—with your child running after it. Ages 6+. $10. @Crayola http://www.crayola.com/

 
backyard sports sonic boom batSonic Boom Bat (Backyard Sports)
There’s something magical about the crack of a baseball meeting a bat. It’s a sound that every fan wants to hear and that every player, regardless of age, wants to make. The Sonic Boom bat has a large, hollow barrel (called the “sonic boom chamber”) that makes it easy for young players to connect with the ball (one is included). The chamber also produces that major-league home run sound with every hit. Baseball bats are among the lowest-tech playthings available, but Backyard Sports has managed to incorporate a bit of technology. The bat has a small display that generates QR codes that players can scan to unlock parts of a free online game and power up in-game characters. The more you hit, the more codes you get. Ages 5+. $27.99. @Official_BYS https://www.backyardsports.com

 

Games

mindware animal trivia challengeAnimal Trivia Challenge (MindWare)
Think you know animals? Wanna bet? How far can an owl turn its head? How many gallons of saliva does a horse produce every day? Rank reindeer, moose, and elk by the size of their antlers. The play format is pretty basic: roll a die and make your way from Start to Finish, answering questions to advance and avoiding nasty predators that will make you go back. Questions come in three categories: “Know It” cards ask multiple-choice and true/false questions. “Name It” cards have you identify an animal from a photo. And “Rank It” has you order a list of animals based on something like speed or antler size. Some board games turn into bored games when the questions are too easy for the adults or too hard for the kids. With Animal Trivia Challenge, there are always two options: Beginner or Advanced, so everyone will be challenged, learn a lot, and have a wild time together. $24.95. 2-4 players ages 7+. @MindWareToys http://www.mindware.com

attila blue orange gamesAttila (Blue Orange Games)
Just about a year ago, we reviewed Battle Sheep, another strategy game from Blue Orange. Like Battle Sheep, Attila is deceptively simple, allowing you to set up your pawns (in this case they’re knights) anywhere you like on a multi piece game board that you and your opponent also set up however you’d like. And as with Battle Sheep, the goal is to block in your opponent. Seems pretty simple—there are only a few pieces (all of which move just like knights do in chess: two squares up and one over, or two over and one up) and the board is so small. But don’t be fooled. This game takes a lot of planning, strategy, and spatial reasoning. Thinking that being taller and making more money than your child assures you of victory is a big mistake. But win or lose, Attila is a great one-on-one game that you and your child will want to do over and over. $15.99. Age 7+. @BlueOrangeGames http://www.amazon.com

idel dominate sliding gameDominate: The Sliding Game (Ideal)
This is a fast-paced, two-player game that’s easy to learn, but presents a new challenge every time you play. Here’s how it works. Players each have a set of 17 tiles emblazoned with a piece of road, straight or curved. Arrange them in six columns, any way you want on your side of the board. Then, in the middle, lay out the six orange tiles—each with a shape on in—randomly. One player rolls the dice (one die has numbers, the other shapes). Now, both players frantically slide their tiles around trying to create a path from the column that matches the number on the die to the shape on the other die. First one with a path wins. The whole thing takes two minutes max, but you won’t want to stop after one round. Play best of seven or nine or 21 or any other odd number. This is a great test of spatial reasoning, strategy, planning, and quick thinking. Be prepared, Dad: kids are almost always better at this than we are. $29,95. Ages 8+. http://poof-slinky.com

leapsandlegends2Leaps and Ledges (MindWare)
Another winning game from MindWare, this one combining strategy and luck in a very frustrating way. Just when your plan is coming together, when you’ve got your pawns in the perfect position, you’ve blocked your opponents’, and you’re on the brink of victory, some crazy thing happens that turns your plan on its head and sends you back to square one. That balance of luck and strategy makes Leaps and Ledges a great game to play with kids of different ages. In a lot of games, your age and wisdom will outweigh your kids’ youth and inexperience. Leaps and Ledges manages to level the playing field in a way that leaves you with no choice but to snort, giggle, and generally have a good time. For 2 to 4 players, ages 8+. $29.95 @mindwaretoys http://www.mindware.com

inroad play tapeThomas & Friends Track PlayTape (InRoad Toys)
Most dads—and some moms—have fond childhood memories of playing with cars and trains, and of creating long, meandering stretches of track or roadway all over the house. Cleaning up, however, wasn’t nearly as fun. And we can all still remember the profanity-laced yelps whenever mom or dad stepped on a piece of leftover track (or a leftover train or car) in the middle of the night. Now, along comes InRoad Toys with their new PlayTape, which makes you wonder why no one had thought of it before. PlayTape is essentially a roll of roughly 2-inch wide tape imprinted with a pattern of either a roadway or a railroad track. It sticks to most flat surfaces, you can run in anywhere you want, and if you decide to move it, it comes up easily without leaving any gunk behind. Best of all, you can step on it all night long without doing long-term damage to the soles of your feet or teaching your kids any new words. PlayTape comes in a variety of lengths, widths, colors, and roadway styles. $7.99 to $14.99. Ages 3+. @InRoadToys http://www.inroadtoys.com

Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 (MindWare)
Whether you’re a huge marble maze fan or you’ve never heard of them, there’s something wonderfully engaging about Q-BA-MAZE 2.0. On the most basic level, it’s a construction set consisting of colorful cubes that you can interlock to create just about any shape you want. Each cube has one of three tunnel-like holes designed to let a marble pass through. Some of those holes go straight through from top to bottom. Some go in the top, then turn 90 degrees and exit through a side. And others go in the top and have two side exits. The general idea is to build your maze so you can drop a marble in at the top and have it come out the bottom. How you do that is up to you and your child, but whatever you do, you’ll be using plenty of spatial reasoning and artistic juices. The real magic happens when you use the double-exit cubes, making it so you never know for sure which way the marble will go (kind of like Pachinko, if you’re familiar with that insanely popular Japanese game). The double-exit cubes introduce an element of probability into the mix: what are the odds that the marble will go to the right or the left? If you put in more double-exits, how does each one change the odds? You and your child can build identical structures and race, or build one together and try to get your marbles to go in certain directions. Either way, it’s a great way to spend time with the kids—and that’s what it’s all about, right? $39.95. Ages 6+ @mindwaretoys. http://www.mindware.com

Home Life

batter worldBatter World (Batter World)
Weekend mornings are for lazy breakfasts, comics, and coffee (okay, maybe juice) with the family. But what if that lazy morning turns into a mad rush, or you decide that you want that Sunday breakfast experience on a Tuesday? If pancakes are on your menu, Batter World can make your life a little (or a lot) easier. Batter World is pre-made batter that comes in ready-to-use pouches that you keep in the freezer and thaw out the night before you need them. Open the cap, pour out what you need, re-cap, and put it back in the fridge ‘til next time (you’ll need to use it within a week or so). The package is so easy to handle that young children can actually help out. Comes in three varieties: original, multigrain, and gluten free. All are delicious (not an easy task for gluten free, which, all too often, manages to be taste free as well). $5.99 for original and multigrain; $6.99 for gluten free. @Batter_World http://www.batterworld.com/

pediatrics for parents newsletterPediatrics for Parents (Rich Sagall, M.D.)
With all the time we spend talking about the amazing benefits of playing with our kids, we sometimes forget that there’s a lot more to being a dad. One of the most important things (arguably more important than playing) we can do is to make sure our kids are as healthy as possible. That means going to as many pediatrician visits as we can and reading great dad books. Pediatrics for Parents is a terrific monthly newsletter that’s chock full of interesting articles on an amazing variety of topics—all written in perfectly understandable English. Editor Rich Sagall takes what he describes as a “commonsense approach to childhood health care,” and he stresses “preventative action, accident prevention, when to call the doctor and when and how to handle a situation at home.” http://www.pedsforparents.com

jahgoo weepotWeePot (Jahgoo)
Let’s get this out of the way up front: moms can help toilet train boys, and dads can help girls. But having a same-sex teacher makes it a little easier, especially for boys, who have different routines for Number 1 and Number 2. Number 1 can actually present a bigger challenge because of the aiming and splashing factors. WeePot has a whole new take on potty training for boys that reduces both problems by encouraging boys to, as their slogan goes, “pee like a wee man.” It’s also—considering what it is—a rather stylish bathroom addition. But back to Number 1. The idea is really rather simple. Find the right height for your son, then attach the device to your bathroom wall in seconds using a powerful suction cup (no holes to drill). Make sure he sees the small target. A few years ago, cleaners in Amsterdam’s airport noticed that when they put an image of a fly on the inside of their urinals, the surrounding floors were about 80% dryer. Apparently, we’re a lot more careful when we’ve got something to aim at. Laugh if you must, but WeePot turns peeing into what it’s truly meant to be: a wonderful father-son bonding experience. Ages 2+. $19.99. http://www.babiesrus.com

worry eaters haywire groupWorry Eaters (They Haywire Group)
Got a kid who won’t sleep due to nightmares? Or maybe it’s those first-day-of-summer-camp jitters, or the fact that mom is having a new baby, or even just the stress of learning to use the potty. Or it could be something that seems like nothing to you but is a huge deal to your child—it’s a big, bad world out there and kids worry about a whole lot of things. Enter Worry Eaters, adorable, plush, flat-ish toys that kids can snuggle with and confide in. Better yet, these little guys snack on worries! So have your child tell the Worry Eater what he’s worried about, or have her write it down (or you can help with that part if she can’t write yet) and let the Worry Eater chow down. Boom, worry gone! (Burp). Listening in on those conversations may give you some important insight into what your kiddo is fretting about. Sometimes kids will tell their inanimate pals things they won’t tell us. Here’s a thought: wouldn’t you like a new snuggle buddy who can keep your worries at bay? So why not get a big one and a little one, and you and your child can both sleep better tonight. Prices vary by size and model. Ages 2+. @haywiregroup http://www.haywiregroup.com

Music and Video

baby-manual-dvd-with-discs-large“The Baby Manual” Movie (Parent Education Media)
Co-created by a new dad in search of answers, this is a concise, entertaining, visual tutorial that deals with just about everything new parents will face. You’ll see and hear from real families with real problems, as well as from a wide variety of experts, including baby sleep coaches, pediatricians, lactation consultant, CPR instructors, and many others. $59.99. @BabyManualMovie https://vimeo.com/ondemand/thebabymanual (enter code “FREE” to watch)

kidzgear headset+splitterDeluxe Stereo Headset Headphones with Boom Microphone (Kidz Gear)
I’ve never been too keen on loaning out my headsets to other people—even my own kids. Could be because of the various lice scares we’ve been through. Or because I don’t want my rather expensive equipment to get trashed. But whatever the reason, I think everyone in the family should have their very own set. And even if I didn’t have a problem sharing, most adult headsets are usually too big for little kids. These kid-sized headsets solve all of those problems: They fit smaller heads, their over-the-ear pads are so comfortable that your child won’t want to borrow yours anyway, and they’re reasonably priced. Kidz Gear headphones have “KidzControl Volume Limit Technology” which, as you might guess from the name, keeps the volume well below danger levels. And the boom mic, makes it perfect for interactive game, learning languages, or just talking on the phone. These headsets ship with a nice headphone splitter cable which lets you plug two headphones into one jack so you and your child can snuggle up and watch or listen to something together. Available in a variety of colors. Ages 8+. $29.99. @KidzGear https://www.gearforkidz.com/

let's boogie rock 'n' rainbowLet’s Boogie! (Rock ‘n’ Rainbow)
Let’s Boogie! is a CD full of songs about the joys of getting outdoors and being active. And just a few notes into the first song, “I Like to Ride My Bike,” you and your kids will be up and dancing (or out riding your bikes). Other activity-inducing songs include “Let’s Boogie” and “I Can’t Fly” (which goes on to say, “But I can jump like a kangaroo”). The band members are, quite literally, a colorful bunch: Lady Red, Blue Elvis, Purple Stardust, Doctor Orange, and Mellow Yellow. You may find their goofy antics to be a little much, but if your children are anywhere from 4 to 6, they’ll love the pure childishness and you’ll eventually give in–with a big smile on your face. “Everybody Farts,” with lyrics that include, “I’m farting in the morning time/I’m farting when the night time comes/I’m farting in the pouring rain/and I’m farting in the sun,” is guaranteed to get everyone in the house (except maybe mom) giggling. $14.97 for the CD, $9.99 as a download. Ages 3+. @RocknRainbow http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rocknrainbow

Father’s Day Staycation: A Guide for Gifters

A staycation is the perfect way to get dad to relax without breaking the bank. Whether you decide on a local resort or to set up a tent in the backyard, you’ll love the memories.

Set Up the Gift

If you and your dad live close to each other, make him breakfast and give him a card detailing his staycation plan. If you and your dad aren’t in the same city, have some flowers or a plant delivered to his doorstep. He won’t know about the staycation part of his gift until he reads the card. Of course he’ll have more questions, and you can answer ’em all on the phone.

father's day giftsEstablish Ground Rules

[Read more…]

Raise a Wild Child

Scott Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child.
Topic:
The art and science of falling in love with Nature.
Issues: What is nature and why do we need it? discovering nearby nature; mentoring young children; how to instill a love of nature even if you don’t love it that much yourself; balancing technology and nature; rethinking nature and childhood.

Packing Shoes and Carrying Blankets

Here are two travel add-ons that you’ll definitely want to have along on your next road trip.

eagle creek shoe sacPack-It Specter Shoe Sac (Eagle Creek)
Shoes. We need ‘em, but they present a packing dilemma. Besides taking up a lot of space in your luggage, they’re often dirty and/or smelly. A lot of people use plastic grocery bags to segregate shoes and clothes, put the shoes in a separate compartment, or both. Eagle Creek has come up with a better way. Unlike grocery bags, Shoe Sacs are sturdy and water repellant—which means you don’t have to worry about your muddy, wet shoes making everything else in your suitcase filthy. They come in several colors and are washable. As nice as they are for travel, Shoe Sacs are also great for any time you might need to change shoes (such as after a long hike or run). $18. http://shop.eaglecreek.com/

skip hop travel blanketSkip Hop Zoo Travel Blankets (Skip Hop, Inc.)
Part blanket, part pillow, and part stuffed animal, these travel blankets are perfect for snuggling with on any trip—or even at home. If you start your adventure with the animal in portable-pillow mode, your child can easily pull out the blanket for nap time and just as easily stuff it back inside after. And the straps make it easy to lug around. Comes in Ladybug, Monkey, and Owl. $20.00. http://www.skiphop.com/product/zootravelblankets.html

The Giant Book of Creativity + The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature

Bobbi Conner, author of The Giant Book of Creativity for Kids.
Topic:
500 activities to encourage creativity in kids ages 2-12.
Issues: The principles of childhood creativity; being creative as a family; art activities, music activities, pretend activities; dance and movement activities, creativity with words.

Scott Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child.
Topic:
The art and science of falling in love with Nature.
Issues: What is nature and why do we need it? discovering nearby nature; mentoring young children; how to instill a love of nature even if you don’t love it that much yourself; balancing technology and nature; rethinking nature and childhood.