Minivan Not Included: Family-Friendly Vehicles for Cool Dads

cars for oool dads

cars for oool dads

When you became a father, you knew there would be some less-than-glamorous moments, like changing diapers on squirming babies, cleaning up Lord-knows-what from the carpet, and rocking sick kids to sleep at 2 a.m.

What you didn’t agree to was driving a minivan.

Granted, minivans have plenty of good things going for them: they’re comfy and can carry kids, pets, soccer stuff and whatever else you need to schlepp from point A to point B. But minivans are also ubiquitous and pretty generic in their looks. So while you might appreciate their usefulness, they’re not usually a dad’s first choice.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other family-friendly vehicles on the market that are ideal for cool dads like you. Consider the following options:

Nissan Rogue

This great-looking vehicle can carry everything a minivan can. The Nissan Rogue boasts almost 40 cubic feet of cargo space with all of the seats still in place. This means you can drive your kids and their mountain of gear all over town and still have room to pick up some takeout pizzas for dinner. As a major bonus, the Rogue has an estimated MSRP of around $23,000 and has comfortable seats and a large center console bin. Dad-friendly amenities include Bluetooth, cruise control, a trip computer, and a nice sound system.

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Summertime Toys: You’re Outa Here!

Looking for some great to get the whole family outside and work up a sweat? If so, you’ll haves a blast with these new, summertime toys.

sonic boom batSonic Boom bat and ball (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 and up. $27.99. https://www.backyardsports.com

trickster discTrickster Flying Disc (Malibu Sports)

The Trickster bills itself as a new twist on flying discs, and they’re right. With more traditional discs (AKA Frisbees), the focus was on the spectacular catches. But with Trickster, the disc itself provides the entertainment. You can still make long, accurate throws, but the “Stunt Tech” design, with its sleek holes, enables some pretty amazing in-air tricks, including a 360-degree corkscrew spin. Made of slightly soft foam-like material, it’s easy to catch, which is a big advantage when playing with young ychildren. Ages 6 and up. http://malibu-sports.com/  (but be aware: the website is under construction).

Building a Childhood, Part 2

This week we continue our creativity and building theme.

Play Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style SalonPlay Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style Salon
If you’re a My Little Pony fan—or you have one under your roof—you’ll love the Rainbow Dash Style Salon. It’s a little reminiscent of the Play Doh Disguise Lab that we reviewed last week, where you put your favorite Minion into the styling chair and made wild and crazy hairstyles. With this style salon you can still grow, cut, and style your pretty Pegasus’ hair. But that’s just the beginning. The body and wings are actually built-in molds that you can fill with Play Doh to decorate your little pony using the six included colors (or, you can mix them up to create completely new colors). Sam had a toy like this when she was little and it was a favorite. It’s not the fanciest toy—and it’s certainly not the techiest. But it’s fun, creative, and a great way to create build memories that you and your child will cherish for years. For ages 3 and up. Retails for about $18 on Amazon.com and other toy sellers.

Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)
If you like Bun Buns (reviewed last week), you’ll also like Stackins. They’re soft, cute, stackable, collectible, and reasonably priced—what could be better than that? Right now there are four characters: Poppy the Puppy, Checkers the Cheetah, Bonny the Bunny, and Kiki the Fox. But Funrise has several dozen new characters about ready to hatch. They also have plans to introduce larger size Stackins. To keep your child busy ‘til then, there are games and coloring pages on their website, http://www.funrise.com/stackins/.  For ages 3 and up. Stackins retail for $7.90 and they’re available exclusively at Justice.

Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie EditionEiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition (Ravensburger)
Have you ever built a puzzle? Not done a puzzle, or put one together, but actually built one? If not, Ravensburger’s Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of 3D puzzles. There are two ways to build this puzzle (and any of the others in Ravensburger’s line). For more experienced puzzle hounds, use your eye (and maybe the image of the completed puzzle on the box). For novice builder/puzzlers, each if the 216 pieces is numbered, so all you have to do is follow the sequence. Either way, the pieces snap together—no glue required. With images of Micky and Minnie decorating the outside, this is the Eiffel tower like you’ve never seen it. You and your kids will feel mighty proud of yourselves when your 17-inch high tower is complete and on display for everyone to admire. For ages 5 and up. This particular kit sells for $27.99. Others include a medieval house, a lighthouse, the Taj Mahal, Empire State Building, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and a variety of other famous landmarks. All are available at https://www.ravensburger.com

spongebobInvincibubble Talking Action Figure
Pop-a-Part Spongebob
League of Heroes Figurine Set
Still haven’t had enough of Spongebob? Not to worry. The Spongebob movie, “Sponge Out of Water,” has spawned a huge array of Spongebob products, including the Pop-a-Part Spongebob ($11.50), Invincibubbles Talking Action Figure ($15.80), and the League of Heroes Figurine Set ($39), all of which provide everything you could possibly need to build an amazing adventure with the one-and-only wisecracking sponge. If you’re a Spongebob fan, we’re guessing that you’re already on the way to Toys R Us or wherever you buy your toys. If you’re not (yet), Spongebob and his buddies are really hard to resist. And you truly haven’t lived until you’ve seen a sponge with a six-pack.

Building a Childhood

Kids and building go hand in hand: Make it bigger, higher, better, greener—whatever strikes their fancy that particular day. Not only are building toys a good time, but they‘re also great for parent-child bonding, and have been shown to improve motor skills, hand-eye coordination, social skills, cooperation, creativity, spatial skills, and more. No wonder we love ‘em so much!

play doh minionsPlay-Doh Disguise Lab Featuring Despicable Me Minions (Hasbro)
Sometimes we all feel like minions. But what do minions do when they want to feel like someone else? Enter Play-Dough Disguise Lab. Just put your minion into the hair styling chair (one purple minion, one yellow minion, and chair are included) and give him as many silly and crazy hairstyles as you’d like. Your child will have so much fun with this, and you will too. You can trim their hair, choose different colors, and even make things that Minions love like ba-na-nas. The kit also comes with scissors (not sharp), a comb for styling, and four cans of Play-Doh. With the Minion movie coming out this summer, this Play Doh kit will be even more popular. About $18 at Toys R Us and other retailers.

 

 

 

lego batman penguin3 LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face off
LEGO, of course, are great building toys. With a dizzying number of sets and sizes to choose from, there’s something for every kid (and every parent) to play with. “LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face” off lets kids recreate and act out their favorite superhero moments. In this kit, the goal is to help Scuba Batman bring justice to that diamond-stealing, umbrella-wielding waddler, Penguin and his minions (no, not the yellow ones—this villain’s minions are robot penguins). The kit comes with Batman and Penguin (and two minions) mini-figs, the “diamond,” a ton of weapons—including Penguin’s umbrella, and all the ingredients to build Batman’s scuba vehicle and Penguin’s duck boat. Penguin and the duck boat appeared in the recent movie “LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.” The title is quite a mouthful, but it was pretty funny, and a good flick for the whole family (especially all those LEGO and/or Superheroes fans). If your child isn’t into superheroes and prefers something a little more “real,” take a look at the Swamp Police Starter Set, which comes with four mini-figs, an alligator, boat, raft, “hideout” spot, and quite a few accessories, including a spider, snake, handcuffs, walkie talkies, a shovel, and more. Ages 5-12. Batman is about $13, Swamp is about $10. http://shop.lego.com.

bun bunBun Bun! (The Bridge Direct)
If you think that all building toys have to be blocks or bricks and have hard edges, you need to meet Bun Bun. These cute, cuddly (and collectible, of course) animals were created to be stacked and piled up. Stacking plush toys have already created a splash in Japan and other countries, and they’re just now hitting the US markets. Bun Bun combines two things kids love: building and animals which is great. Better yet, both boys and girls we tested Bun Bun with loved them and couldn’t get enough. The first wave of characters includes Kit Kit (Cat), Moo Moo (Cow), Pup Pup (Dog), Shu Shu (Monkey), Bit Bit (Mouse), Pip Pip (Pig), Bai Bai (Polar Bear), and Bon Bon (Rabbit), and they come in four sizes: mini (4”) small (7”) medium (10”) jumbo (16”). But regardless of the color, size, or animal, Bun Bun encourages kids to be creative and get their engineering on. For all ages. Prices range from $5 to $20. http://www.bunbuntoys.com/

You’re Outa Here

Spring is in the air, so let’s get outside and start having fun!

backyard adventures base camp shelterBase Camp Shelter (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Journeys—whether they’re a thousand miles or just out to the backyard—start with a single step. But before you start stepping, you need to plan out where you’re going to rest along the way. The Base Camp Shelter is a 3-sided tent, which means you won’t want to use it in the rain. However, it’s perfect for fair-weather overnights, rest stops, shade at the beach, or as a place to observe birds, bugs, and other natural wonders. It has a zippered rear window, moisture-proof floor lining, mesh storage pouches that you can fill with healthy snacks for your weary adventurers, and D rings for hanging lanterns and other gear. It’s also light, extremely compact, easy to carry, and sets up in minutes., thereby removing many of the obstacles that keep kids from enjoying being outside and encouraging them to get out and start having adventures. Ages 5+. About $49. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

Star Wars Science Jedi telescopeStar Wars Jedi telescope (Uncle Milton)
Star gazing is a classic parent-child activity, one that can spark an interest in ancient mythology and/or science. There’s plenty to see with the naked eye, but a telescope can make the whole experience a lot more fun—and educational—for everyone.  The Jedi telescope works like a real telescope, allowing a closer look at the moon, stars, planets, and other celestial objects. When you and your child get tired of seeing things the way they are, you can always explore that famous galaxy far, far away. The Jedi telescope has 10 Star Wars-related images built in, including planets such as Tatooine, Dagobah, and Kamino, and even the Death Star. Ages 5+. $22.00 http://unclemilton.com/star_wars_science/

backyard adventures walkie talkieWalkie Talkies (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Communicating with basecamp is an important part of any outdoor adventure. And with its two-mile range, you can give the kids some freedom to explore without losing contact. These walkies come two in a pack and include basic instructions and an adventure guide, but not the 8 AAA batteries you’ll need. They’re easy to use and the sounds quality is good—as long as you’re in an open area where there’s not too much to interfere with the signal. Perhaps the nicest thing about these walkies is that they allow you to communicate with your child the old fashioned way: using words. No texts, no apps, no data plan required. $30. Ages 6+. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

little scholar school zone tabletLittle Scholar tablet (School Zone)
When the adventure is over, it’s time to get back to the real world. And the Little Scholar tablet can help with that transition. Made by School Zone, which has been manufacturing educational materials and products for more than 35 years, the Little Scholar comes preloaded with 150 apps, e-books, songs, and videos, all of which are ready to use right out of the box. The apps are the full versions, which means there’s nothing to download and none of those annoying in-app upsells that we’ve seen in some other tablets. The apps cover a wide range of subjects, including math, spelling, and reading in a playful, creative way. Popular titles include the “Start to Read!” E-book series and the “Charlie and Company” video series. The password-protected A+ app is designed for parents, and lets us pick the apps our kids have access to and monitor their progress. Little Scholar runs on Google Android 4.2.2 and has an 8-inch screen with 1024×768 resolution. For kids 3-7 (anyone older than that will want a more adult tablet). $169.99 at online retailers and www.buylittlescholar.com .

No More Bedtime Battles

Getting the kids to go to bed—and actually stay there—can be of the most challenging parts of any parent’s day. The best solution is to have (and keep) a good bedtime routine. But what’s a harried mom or dad to do when the routine doesn’t work? Sometimes, having the right helper is just what the Sandman ordered. Check out some of these fun and innovative new products for bedtime and beyond.

melody mates blanketMelody Mates (Melody Mates)
Most kids (and most grownups too) want a soft, snuggly blanket to cuddle up with. And what could be better than one with a gently glowing, soothing animal face on it? Melody Mates actually goes one step further, pairing the blanket with a matching (and washable, yeah!) pillow. Push a button and calming lullabies play and the LED lights glow—just enough to be friendly and put an end to those bedtime battles, but not nearly bright enough to interrupt sleep (that would be evil, wouldn’t it?). Soft, plush Melody Mates come in six flavors, including cow, duck, frog, and monkey. For ages 12 months and up. About $30. Unfortunately, batteries aren’t included. www.MyMelodyMates.com

broboBrobo (Brobo)
If you haven’t met Brobo and his friends, we’re glad to introduce you. These fun, adorable, cuddly buddies first hit the market in 2012 but were pretty hard to find until now. There’s Brobo himself, Pep, Mumu, Trex, and Dog. All of them have a futuristic, robot feel and a glowing center that looks like Iron Man’s Arc Reactor. They’re great company for your little one, and they’ll definitely help scare away the darkness when it’s time for lights-out. The glowing center has a very bright “flashlight” mode and a much-less-bright nightlight mode. Just swipe a hand (or tail) over the lights to activate. Both shut off automatically after five minutes. $35 at www.brobo.com

 

ok to wake clockOK to Wake! Clock (Patch Products)
If you’ve got a child who gets up at 5am when you were looking forward to sleeping in, the OK To Wake! clock will be your new BFF. The clock will let you child know—even if he or she can’t tell time—when it’s okay to get out of bed and demand breakfast or cartoon time. Just set the desired time and the faceplate will light up. And for those weekday mornings when the kids would like to sleep ‘til noon instead of going to school, the OK to Wake! just switch to alarm clock mode. You can also use it as a night light. Batteries required. $33 at http://www.patchproducts.com

dino petDino Pet (BioPop)
Although Dino Pets are shaped like dinosaurs, they don’t really have very much to do with those prehistoric reptiles. The Pet’s name comes from dinoflagellates, which are the bioluminescent phytopankton that live inside its clear, plastic body. (Yes, we know that dinoflagellates sounds like a dinosaur that has gas or is being whipped.) Like most other pets, Dino Pets are alive and are fun to play with. Unlike other pets, you don’t have to take them for walks or clean up after them. You will have to feed them with the provided Dino Food, though, but only once every few months. During the day, the algae soaks up energy from the sun or low-wattage lightbulb. But at night, they put on an amazing light show—all you have to do is touch the dino’s body or gently shake it. Part night light and part science project, Dino Pets are absolutely fascinating. $59.95. Additional dino food is $14.95, and if your colony suddenly goes extinct, you can order refills for $49.95. http://biopop.com/products/dino-pet