Baby, It’s Still Cold Outside

If your family is one of the millions that have been affected by the recent Polar Vortex-induced weather craziness and you’re spending more time inside than usual, we’ve got some great ideas for fun, imaginative, affordable indoor play.

fashion doll coupeFashion Doll Coupe (American Plastic Toys)
You won’t be driving a real convertible for at least another few months, but there’s no reason why your child’s dolls and stuffed animals should suffer. This is a basic, no-frills, open-top roadster built for two. That means no batteries, and no remote control. It’s powered by plain, old fashioned imagination (and your child’s hands, of course). The plastic “tires” don’t leave those annoying black marks on your floors like rubber tires do. Made in the USA, the Coupe costs only $5.00 (really!) and is available wherever you buy your toys.

Fashion Doll Delightful DollhouseFashion Doll Delightful Dollhouse (American Plastic Toys)
If your little one has been hankering for a dollhouse, this is a great time to get her one (assuming you can find your car under all the snow). This dollhouse is huge—three entire floors—so big, in fact, that several kids (or parents) can play at the same time. It comes with plenty of furnishings and other accessories: several beds, a couch, ottomans, a bathtub, tables and chairs, lamps, a washer/dryer set, pillows, and more. And there’s enough room left over to accommodate anything you’d want to add. If you’re buying online, one particularly nice feature (for you, not the UPS driver) is that the dollhouse comes partially assembled, so you and the kids can be playing within minutes. The Delightful Dollhouse costs around $100 and is widely available. For $50, there’s also a smaller version, the Fashion Doll Cozy Cottage, which also comes with plenty of accessories.

hexbug tony hawk skateboardTony Hawk Circuit Board (Hexbug)
If you’re into fingerboarding, it would be hard to imagine a more fun way to play than this. The large kit we reviewed comes with pretty much everything you’ll need to build your own skate park: an inner bowl, an outer bowl, two quarter pipes, a roll-up ramp, a rail, and, of course, a skateboard. We’ve always loved Hexbug’s attention to detail and well-built products, and the Circuit Board doesn’t disappoint. All of the park components snap firmly together and have a realistic look and feel. The board itself feels quite real too, complete with grip tape and sticky-ish wheels. If your fingers get tired, you also get a Power Axle, a remote control unit, a tiny screwdriver, and even-tinier screws that you’ll use to attach the axle. The controls are a little odd—push the right stick and you go left, push the left to go right. But once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be ready to start grinding rails. $49.99. Hexbug.com

hexbug shark tankAquabot 2.0 Shark Tank (Hexbug)
You and the kids can have plenty fun with your robotic Angel Fish—at least until the shark decides to turn him into a meal (that part’s fun too). The kit comes with one Angel Fish, several pieces of decorative “coral,” a sturdy hexagonal tank, and a shark who’s attached to a ramp that snaps onto the side of the tank. When you push the shark down, his mouth opens; pull back and the jaws of death close. If you’re lucky, he’ll have a mouth full. You can increase your chances by dropping in a few more fish. Hexbug’s technology keeps getting better and better: This generation of fish are water-ready and go to sleep after five minutes of inactivity. You can wake them up, though, by tapping on the glass. $29.99. Hexbug.com

Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce?

Coping with divorce is never easy, but you can make things a lot easier if you choose a strategy that allows you to divorce without going to court. Staying out of court reduces time, expense, and trauma for everyone involved, especially the children.

There are several ways to handle a divorce without court. Ultimately, your personal and family situation will dictate which option is best for you. If you’re a dad, you may be concerned about visitations and the impact that your divorce will have on your children.

I spoke to the divorce lawyers at Galbraith Family Law, in Barrie, Ontario, who said “Although separation and divorce can be heartbreaking and challenging with the emotions that come along with it, having an experienced divorce or family attorney can help with this process tremendously. These lawyers can help you with your cases and settlements using out-of-court options such as Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Law. This is the best way to ensure there is minimal effect on all parties involved. Especially those fathers who most often experience suffering after divorce, as well as the children.”

[Read more…]

How to Give Your Child a Cultural Education

cultural education

cultural educationIf you asked your kids what culture is, would they know? Today’s society seems to have little focus when it comes to cultural education; however, understanding culture of all types is necessary for a child’s social and academic development. This is an area your kids might not learn at school, so consider doing it yourself. The following includes timeless cultural influences and what you and your child can do to learn about them together.

Performing Arts

The symphony. The opera. The theater. Dance. Stand-up comedy. Concerts. The performing arts are a part of culture that flourishes in the best of times and survives the worst. The reason is simple: people love to watch performances.

If you child is into music, take him or her to the symphony to hear classical music, and then discuss how it has influenced today’s music. Then, you can compare and contrast it with a concert of his or her choice to continue the lesson.

[Read more…]

2015 Toy Trends to Watch

Every year, hundreds of toy manufacturers flock to New York, in the middle of February, to showcase their latest and greatest. Thousands of buyer s and media folks are close behind, anxious to uncover hidden toy gems for their customers and readers. This year was no exception (except for the fact that it was 20 degrees colder than usual), and your parents@play team was right there on the front lines. Here are some of trends that we think will be hot in 2015.

backpacksBackpacks. Backpacks are no longer simple bags with shoulder straps designed to carry stuff. This year, they’ll be a major fashion statement, too. They’ll be colorful, fanciful, often-customizable, and some will combine form and function, allowing the wearer to dress up as a favorite character.

 

owlselephantsOwls and Elephants Are the New Teddy Bears. Of course, we won’t be saying goodbye to teddy bears forever, but there’ll be a lot more hooting and trumpeting in the toy aisles this year. Owls and teddy bears plush toys will also showing up as book illustrations, mini figurines, and, of course, in apps (more on that below).

 

talking backTalk amongst Yourselves. Toys that “talk” are nothing new, but as technology evolves, manufacturers are using it in very clever ways. Minions, for example, are pretty chatty and musical. But sometimes, if you put a few of them together, they’ll sing in harmony. Some doctor toys will change what they say depending on which patient is in the exam room. Others will speak differently when their wardrobe or location changes. Dogs and cats may chase each after other, otherwise-peaceful dinosaurs may fight each other in groups, hot dogs will sizzle when you put them on the grill, and so on.

 

 

blind packBlind Packs. Many collectible toys, from My Little Pony to The Walking Dead, will be available in small bags that don’t say who or what is inside them (some may give you a hint, though).

 

 

appThere’s an App for That. Technology is a wonderful thing, except when it isn’t. A huge number of physical toys now come with a virtual component. Many times, these apps augment your child’s playtime experience by adding new app/tablet-based dimensions and features. But sometimes, the apps add absolutely nothing—and may even detract.

grossThat’s Disgusting. Last year, we saw molds for making your own “poop” (complete with pieces of “corn” to heighten the effect), fart keyboards, and rainbow-pooping unicorns. Those will still be popular. Plus, we’ll see toys that eat, poop, vomit, and then combine all of those actions in a variety of disgusting ways. And we’ll add a new sense to the mix with fart sprays—some make a noise and produce pleasant odors, while others have a more “natural scent.”

frozenFrozen. We thought the movie was wonderful. But Disney has done such a good job licensing its characters that they’ll be popping up on toys, games, dolls, karaoke, cell-phone cases, apps, and everything else, that we’re predicting that within a few months, you’ll have completely OD’d on building snowmen, and the cold will bother you. A lot.

dino/movieMovie and TV Tie-ins. Speaking of movies, you’ll be seeing a huge number of entertainment-related toys, games, figures, and apps. Of course there are the superheroes from DC and Marvel—including some relatively rare ones like Ant Man—but there are also Minions, dinosaurs, and a variety of new characters who’ll be making the jump from the screen to your playroom.

role playRole Play. Now kids (mostly girls) can do more than just play with their dolls—they can dress up as them with brand-licensed skirts, tops, and footwear.

 3 Bonding Activities for Preteens & Dads

dad-preteen bonding

dad-preteen bondingAs your kids grow closer to their preteen years, it might be difficult to find sustainable ways to connect and bond. Your preteens are asserting their independence and likely vocalizing their opinions on clothing, television choices and the friends that they prefer. Dads might struggle with trying to find a middle ground during this transition, but it is important to stay involved to provide them with the love, guidance and support that they need. Bonding over activities is the best way to create a dialogue with preteens.

Skiing

Preteens who enjoy adventure will definitely love to go skiing. Skiing is an activity that will offer the opportunity to bond on the slopes as well as provide some downtime when you head back to the lodge. As you and your tween ski together, you can converse about the beauty of the terrain and share a few moments when you are riding the ski lift together.

[Read more…]

Having Kids Later in Life? Read This First!

While the numbers certainly suggest that most married couples will at some point have kids, the actual parenting notion strikes some of us rather late. Whether it be schooling, a career focus, or just not believing that it’s the correct time either financially or emotionally in order to take on this momentous undertaking, some of us just wait longer in life to have children.

For your average dad, the reasons vary as to why you’d elect to have children later in life, but financial security, stability and job security are always among the top reasons. At some point in life, you’ll wake up, realize that you’re nearing middle age, and realize that it’s really now or never. While men can father children for most of their lives, their wives have far different complications with advanced age pregnancies. For those of you wondering about the term, “advanced age” it’s commonly accepted to mean age 35 and older when referring to women intending to start a family.

So, why is this such a problem?

Well, for one, risks of pregnancy complications increase significantly in women age 35 and older. Another contributing factor is fertility. Fertility rates begin declining in a woman’s late 20’s, although it’s not as drastic of a decline as we’ve been led to believe in previous years. That said, this decline certainly exists, and it picks up significant steam in a woman’s mid-30’s.

Fertility Concerns
Approximately 1 in 3 couples that feature women 35 and older have some form of fertility problem while trying to conceive. The most common cause of age-related declines in fertility among women 35 and over are less frequent ovulation, and egg quality. As women age, they begin to have less frequent ovulation, and the eggs that they do release are of a declined quality in their 30’s and 40’s. To increase your chances of successful conception, you and your wife should ask your doctor for a fertility evaluation if you have been trying for 12 months or longer to conceive. If your spouse is over 35, it’s often best to ask for this evaluation after six months.

While these numbers don’t lie, breakthroughs in medical technology, such as in vitro fertilization, fertility treatments, and intrauterine inception have helped many advanced age couples who were previously unable to conceive.

Pregnancy Complications
Women aged 35-45 have a 10 to 15-percent higher risk of miscarriage than mothers younger than 30. Additionally, research has found that advanced age pregnancies lead to a higher instance of premature birth, high blood pressure, and a need for delivery by Caesarean section. Ectopic pregnancies (a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb) are also quite common, and research shows that the majority of ectopic pregnancies occur in women between the ages of 35 and 44.

Birth Defects
The overall risk for having a child with a birth defect is rather small. However, the risk of genetic defects such as Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), Trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome), or Trisomy 13 (Patau Syndrome) increase significantly in advanced age pregnancies. Luckily, we now have a noninvasive prenatal test that screens for these trisomies. This test involves a small sample of the mother’s blood being sent to a lab for screening. You can view the results with your healthcare professional within 5 days from the date the lab receives the initial sample.

Is there anything I can do?

Aside from planning your family earlier in life, there isn’t really anything you – as a male – can do to lessen the impact of an advanced age pregnancy. For the mother, ensuring good health before and during the pregnancy can go a long way to minimize complications. Exercising and eating well can help to reduce the risk of diabetes and hypertension, which are two significant factors in conception, pregnancy and delivery. In short, keep your family healthy by taking care of your body. This is the biggest single item that you can do to reduce risk of complications.