What do hair chalk, a cotton teepee, an Attila the Hun strategy game, a flock of go karts, pancake batter, and a silver urinal (yes, a urinal) have in common? Well, not much, except that they’re among the nearly 50 winners of the Father’s Day 2015 Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. Be sure to check out these great products and all the rest here.
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
DIY 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
Color 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/
Guy 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) 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
CitiBlocs 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
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
DIY 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 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
Large 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
Modarri 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-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
Dinosaur 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
Hand 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 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 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 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 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 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 (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
Ready, 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/
The 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 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 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
Delta 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
Ground 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
Kidizoom 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
Outdoor 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 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
Sidewalk 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/
Sonic 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
Animal 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 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
Dominate: 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
Leaps 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
Thomas & 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 (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
Batter 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 (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
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 (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
“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)
Deluxe 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’ 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
If so, the MrDad.com team wants to hear about it!
As one of the leading websites promoting positive parenting for dads, we’re pleased to announce that submissions are still open for the Father’s Day 2015 Mr. Dad Seal of Approval.
But hurry. As you can imagine, Father’s Day is kind of like our Christmas (although we have Christmas awards too), and we’re already receiving lots of entries. The deadline for submissions is June 9, 2015. We’ll announce the winners the week of June 14. You can find out more and get the application process started here.
Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval for the 2014 Winter Holidays. 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 Spring and Father’s Day seasons.
My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary, Big Move: A Workbook for Children Moving to a New Home (by Lori Woodring, Ph.D)
Even though about 40 million Americans per year do it, leaving one home and moving to a new one is often a hectic, stressful, anxiety-provoking experience—especially for children. Psychologist Lori Woodring has put together a workbook that takes kids through every step of the moving process. She helps children understand change, and gives them specific strategies for managing their emotions, saying goodbye, making new friends, and a lot more. And for younger children, she offers a way to understand their emotions, even though they may not be able to articulate them. Although the book is meant for children 5-11, it’s also for dad and mom. Going through the exercises and activities together can help parents understand and support their kids, and is a great way to spark conversations about moving. $15.99 on Amazon or at movingwithchildren.com
On the Go and Princess of the Year, personalized books for boys and girls (My Custom Kids Books)
Young children are fairly self-absorbed little creatures—they love mirrors, they love to hear their own name, and they love to see pictures of themselves (one could actually say the same thing about teenagers, too). These personalized books incorporate your child’s image (from a photo you upload) and name in a fun story that they–and their personal readers–will enjoy. On the Go, puts your child behind the controls of more than a dozen vehicles, including a dump truck, car transporter, helicopter, snow plow, and tow truck. Princess of the Year turns your child into a dozen different princess, including tooth fairy princess, flower princess, Halloween princess, and mermaid princess. A great way to get kids interested in reading and to strengthen that all-important dad-child bond. $36.99. mycustomkidsbook.com.
The Principles of Our World (David Esposito)
This is actually a series of short books, each built around a value that we’d like to instill in our children (and plenty of adults too): compassion, courage, honesty, hope, perseverance, teamwork, and sacrifice. The lessons are introduced through real-life stories that put the characters in situations where they have to display the value in question at home, at school, and at work. But the best part of the books are the “What Would You Do?” sections that get kids thinking about the issues. For example, what would you do if you bought something and the clerk gave you too much change? Those questions give dads and kids a wonderful opportunity to talk together about important issues. The books are written by a U.S. Army veteran. $9.95. Available at Amazon.
- Great Asian Castle (Playmobil)
- Large Crane with IR Remote Control (Playmobil)
- Furnished Shopping Mall (Playmobil)
Playmobil toys and sets are tons of fun and they don’t get quickly tossed aside like some so many other gifts. These sets inspire imaginative play, are marvelously low-tech (although some have remote-controlled elements), and since the pieces are interchangeable with other Playmobil sets, the kids can build amazing universes.
One of the nicest things about Playmobil is that many of their sets are equally fun for boys and girls. Zoos are zoos—who really cares what gender the zookeepers are? Some sets, though, seem a little more oriented toward one sex or the other (such as the shopping mall or the construction crane set). Left to their own devices, though, the kids may very well put the two together. Who’s to say that the crane operator won’t pick up lunch at the mall, or that the shopkeepers won’t visit a construction site? These sets are great fun for everyone and provide plenty of opportunity for father-child playtime. Sure, you may have to be a giant panda, but hey, that’s what parenthood is all about. Oh, and if you or your child decide that playtime is somehow not complete without an online element, playmobil.com offers games and downloads that go with their toys. Playmobil sets are available wherever you buy toys. Prices vary greatly, depending on the set.
Star Wars Command Millennium Falcon Set (Hasbro)
What better way to bond with the kids than with toys you played with when you were young? And who didn’t (and doesn’t) love Star Wars? It’s un-American, really. The Star Wars Command Millennium Falcon Set is a lot of fun, and includes everything (and everyone) you need to fight and defeat the Dark Side—or to become one with it, whatever suits your fancy, you devil, you. Maybe you and mom on one side and the kids on the other. This set includes everyone’s favorites like Chewbacca, R2D2, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, as well as AT-AT drivers, pilots, soldiers, and AT-AT walkers. Seven vehicles and 24 action figures in all. And the Millennium Falcon vehicle itself pulls back and releases (blast off!) right into the fight. That’s a whole lot of stuff for $29.99. If you haven’t already introduced your kids to Star Wars, it’s not too late to redeem yourself. Available at your favorite retailer or at Hasbro.com.
Dolls and Puppets
The Mensch on a Bench (MenschOnABench)
Like so many great ideas, this one was born out of frustration. In Neal Hoffman’s case, his son wanted an Elf on a Shelf (a Mr. Dad Seal of Approval winner), but Hoffman wanted a toy that would be more in keeping with his Jewish background. So why not a Mensch on a Bench? The Mensch, like the Elf, watches over children during the holiday. But the Mensch also comes with a story book and eight rules (one for each night of Hanukkah). The rules include naming your Mensch, having him hold the shamash candle (the one used to light the others), and just having fun. But the one that really captures the essence of a true mensch, is Number 7: “… don’t open presents for yourself, instead, buy presents and give them to people in need.” That’s a message that more kids (and parents), Jewish or not, should be incorporating into their holiday traditions. $30. themenschonabench.com.
Education and Science
Helping a child learn at home—whether it’s part of a homeschool program or just some academic reinforcement—is a wonderful way for the two of you to bond with each other. But it’s always a struggle to find activities that both satisfy our natural fatherly desire to educate and guide, and also make learning fun (for the kids and for us). If that sounds familiar and you have one or more kids in the 3-7 set, you’ll definitely want to check out Brainzy. Developed by education.com, Brainzy is mostly a math and reading program, with 300+ games, songs, stories, and activities that we think will get kids excited about learning before they get too jaded. On the math side, games introduce and hone categorizing, sorting, and pattern recognition skills, as well as basic addition and subtraction. On the reading side, games encourage the children to spot rhymes, learn spelling, recognize the difference between upper- and lower-case letters, and a lot more. Brainzy isn’t terribly expensive, but the fact that each account accommodates up to three players, makes it a real bargain if you’ve got more than one 3-7-year old. And if you happen to be a teacher, you can get an account that will cover up to 35 kids. $6.99. education.com/games/info
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (Putty World)
Not your father’s Silly Putty. You can tear it, smash it, stretch it, pound it, roll it, leave it under the couch, and it never dries out. Thinking Putty comes in a huge variety of options: glow in the dark, color changing, magnetic, UV reactive, and more. Use it as a stress-reliever, draw on it with a black light pen, or use it to illustrate a whole host of science-based concepts, including measuring the speed of light, capturing shadows, defeating fingerprint scanners, and a lot more. If you run out of ideas, there are all sorts of fun, educational tricks and experiments on the website. Comes in dozens of colors priced at $14.95. puttyworld.com.
Elements 4D (DAQRI)
One of the top toys we’ve seen all year. Elements 4D consists of six beautifully designed, white blocks. Each face (a total of 36) is dedicated to a single element from the Periodic Table of Elements (remember that from High School?). Beside the name, there’s the symbol (O for oxygen, H for hydrogen, and so on) and the atomic number (how many protons in one atom of the element). But when you view them through a smartphone or device running the free, augmented-reality app, those blocks go from nice-to-look-at to really interesting (or, as my middle schooler put it, “coooooool”). You get a more information and a virtual representation of the element. But wait, there’s more! Put two blocks next to each other, and you’ll see the chemical reaction and the resulting compound. For example, oxygen and hydrogen are both gasses, but together they become water. Similarly, combine sodium (actually a metal) with chlorine (a greenish gas) and you get salt. These visuals upgraded “cool” to “awwwwwwesooooome.” Overall, Elements 4D is a fantastic way to introduce or develop an interest in chemistry and it’s an engaging resource for home or school. We wish the product were a little easier to find in stores and that it were available to those of use who use Windows phones. Right now, only 36 of 118 elements are included. But that could actually be a good thing, driving an interested child (and his or her dad) to want to learn more. elements4d.daqri.com.
GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine (GoldieBlox, Inc.)
Another winner for young girls from GoldieBlox. Kids (boys can enjoy this too, even though, there’s no shortage of pink) and dads can read the story and follow the prompts to build a zoetrope, a device that pre-dates the movie projector. Although you may not recognize the name, you’ve probably seen a zoetrope before—imagine a cylinder around a foot tall and a foot in diameter with slots cut in the sides. You then put a series of images, each slightly different from the next, around the inside of the cylinder, turn a crank, and as you look through the slots, the images blend together and look animated. It’s kind of like a flip book. (The word zoetrope means “wheel of life,” based on the Greek words zoe (life) and trope, meaning turn.) The folks at GoldieBlox have designed this set to build spatial skills, teach engineering principles, and encourage reading. Ages 3-9 or so. $29.99. goldieblox.com.
Groovy Lab in a Box (Groovy Lab in a Box)
There are a lot of science kits on the market (many of which we’ve reviewed), but Groovy Lab in a Box kits—which were created by science educators—are the only ones that come with absolutely everything your child will need to do the experiments (under your watchful eye, of course). Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but a few missing ingredients could mean that the kit goes back on the shelf and never gets used. That won’t be a problem here. We reviewed the Here Comes the Sun kit, which takes you through the process of building a solar balloon, a solar oven, and more. The ingredients are easy to use and the results are fully functional. But in some ways, the Lab Notebook is the best part, introducing the scientific process and explaining the concepts behind the experiments in a fun, engaging way that will leave the kids (and you too) wanting to do–and learn–more. There’s also a website with activities and interactive videos that take the young scientist deeper into each specific kit’s subject matter. Single kits cost around $36, but if you do a year subscription, the price goes down significantly. groovylabinabox.com.
- I SPY Challenger for Windows AIO devices (Scholastic Media)
- The Magic School Bus Field Trip Frenzy for Windows AIO devices (Scholastic Media)
Scholastic has been publishing great children’s books for, well, at least since we were kids. And with all the new technology our kids are into, Scholastic has branched into apps. The two apps we evaluated are definitely educational, but they’re also great fun for dads to play with their kids. Both are for the Windows AIO (All In One) devices, which feature seamless gameplay and knock-your-socks-off beautiful graphcs.
I Spy Challenger is based on the popular I-Spy board games and books, but you don’t have to be familiar with I-Spy to have an absolute blast. The game features the classic “I spy a….. “ riddles, hoop drop item categorization, math games, and some really fast-paced variations. Can be played by one person, but accommodates up to four—and the more people are playing, the more fun you’ll all have. Helps kids and adults improve critical thinking and quick decision making skills, and develops a sharp eye for patterns and differences. Best played on an 18-inch or larger device. I Spy Challenger retails for $5.99 and is available now from the Windows App Store.
The Magic School Bus: Field Trip Frenzy takes players on adventurous multiplayer quests. You’ll explore the human body, fly through outer space, excavate dinosaur bones, and visit many other exotic locales. Best for two or more players using a 10-inch or bigger—preferably waaaay bigger—AIO device. The action happens in a game-show format and is so well done that it’s sure to spark (or further) an interest in science and exploration. Got a big screen tablet or touchscreen device? You owe it to yourself and your kids to grab this game for your little ones. Magic School Bus: Field Trip Frenzy retails on the Windows App Store for $1.49 and is available now.
Fitness and Outdoors
Fitivities (Sandy Spin Slade, Inc.
This game is absolutely terrific. It’s simple, easy to set up, and fun—a lot of fun. That by itself would be reason enough to buy Fitivities. But there are lots of games that fit those criteria, right? What sets Fitivities apart is that it’s physical. There is no way to play the game without working up a sweat. As an obsessive exerciser who’s had trouble motivating his kids to do some kind of workout every day, I found Fitivities to be the perfect antidote. Kids want to play the game—with friends, with family, and sometimes even by themselves. Plus, it’s the kind of thing they can do indoors or out. The only downside is that you need a large area to play. The game board (actually a durable plastic mat) is about 3’x4’ and you need plenty of space where the players (2-24—yes, 24) can jump, shadow box, lunge, and more all at the same time. $39.95. fitivities.com.
KaZAM Balance Bike (KaZAM)
There’s something about teaching your child to ride a bike that just screams, “I’m a dad!” But teaching your little one doesn’t have to involve training wheels or the skinned knees and elbows you got when you fell off the bike your dad was pushing, with you pedaling wildly and holding on to the handlebars for dear life. Although I’ve always considered bruises and skinned knees to be something of a childhood rite of passage, there is a better way to go: the KaZAM balance bike, which is based on the philosophy that balance is the hard part and pedaling is easy. So, KaZAM has done away with pedals altogether (aside from that, it looks like a regular ol’ small bike). The child climbs onto the seat, straddles the frame, and scoots himself along using his feet to stay upright. As confidence builds, she can take her feet off the ground and put them on the footrest. Once she’s completely balanced, you make the transition from KaZAM to big-kid bike. Make sure your child wears a helmet—it’s never too soon to think about safety. $59.95 – $119.95. kazambikes.com.
MightyTykes Infant and Child Weights (MightyTykes)
What a heartwarming story. MightyTykes Infant and Child Weights were designed by Isabella Yosuico after her son Isaac was born with Down syndrome and diagnosed with an associated condition called hypotonia, or poor muscle tone. Yosuico had some help from physical and occupational therapists who—along with many parents—use MightyTykes to help with children’s strength, balance, vision, and sensory issues. They’re latex- and lead-free, and are made in the U.S. Best of all, they give dads of special needs kids a wonderful way to engage and interact with their child, as well as the confidence that comes from knowing they’re doing something that may truly improve their child’s life. Of course, you should consult your child’s doctor before starting any workout routine. But once you get the green light, visit the MightyTykes site for some great ideas on how to use them. MightyTykes come two at a time in three sizes ($19.95-$22.95) as well as a complete set ($59.95). mightytykes.com.
Battle Sheep (Blue Orange Games)
Simple to learn, fun to play, but a new challenge every time. Players start off with four tiles (there are a total of 16, so up to four can play), which they take turns laying out until the playing board is complete. Each tile contains four “pastures.” Then, each player takes his or her herd (a stack of 16 color-matched sheep tokens) and places it on one of the pastures along the edge of the board. The goal is to put your sheep on the most pastures. On your turn, move as many of your sheep as you’d like—but you have to leave at least one behind, and you can only move in a straight line. Seems simple enough, but if you’re not paying attention to your opponents and plotting out your own moves a few in advance, some of your flock could get penned in. A really fun strategy game that kids will want to play and that dads will enjoy playing too. For 2-4 players, ages 7 to adult. $24.99. blueorangegames.com.
Frozen Spot it! Alphabet (Blue Orange Games)
A much-appreciated break from all things electronic, this Spot it! game is simple, easy to play, and incorporates Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and many other iconic people and objects from the hit movie Frozen, along with all the letters in the alphabet. Each of the 55 round cards has a variety of images, and there’s always at least one thing that matches between any two cards (you wouldn’t think that would be mathematically possible, but somehow it is). Young children will enjoy making the basic matches. Slightly older kids will have fun playing the other games (instructions included, of course). And dads will enjoy it too. Ages 3 and up. blueorangegames.com.
Grill Party (Simply Fun)
Imagine you invite everyone over to your house for a little backyard b-b-q. Then imagine that all the guests bring their own grills—and their own ideas about what they want to cook. That’s kind of what Simply Fun’s Grill Party is like. Except there’s a lot less to clean up. In this game, players place food cards on their grill and try to match situations depicted on the Grill cards. Be the first to match ‘em all and you’re the Grill Master. For 2-5 players ages 8 and up. Takes only 20-30 minutes to play. $30.00. simplyfun.com.
Pack It (Simply Fun)
Everyone ready? We’re all going on a hike, so you’d better start loading up your backpack. Players are dealt several Item cards (compass, tent, frying pan, map, and so on, each of which includes a value in miles) that they use to stock their backpack. The goal is to put together a pack with the greatest number of miles. Once your pack is full, you’re ready to hit the trail—which is the only way to earn points. During the hike, players take turns drawing cards and try to match them with the items in their pack. If you match, you’re okay, no match and you risk losing valuable supplies. And watch out for the Hazard cards (Bear, Skunk, Blister). If you draw the Blister and have socks in your pack, you’re okay. But if you don’t have socks, you lose your highest value card. Draw the Skunk and you’re really in trouble. Great for improving logical and strategic thinking skills. 20-30 minutes play time. For 2-5 players, ages 8 and up. $24.50 at simplyfun.com.
The M.O.M. Method
We all want our kids to grow up and be self-sufficient, right? Maybe self-sufficient enough that they’ll be able to support us in our old age. Well, the M.O.M. (Manage Organize Myself) Method can help. It’s a slick, new Web-based parenting tool that empowers kids to become more independent and responsible so that dads (and moms) can stop playing the role of task-master (reminding, nagging, bargaining, bribing, yelling, etc.). What’s especially important is that the Method is not about dad and mom pulling out yet another chore calendar and laying down the law. Instead, the goal is for parents and kids to work together to give kids the time-management, planning, and decision-making skills they’ll need as they get older. The M.O.M. Method makes those goals easier to accomplish in a way that everyone in the family will actually enjoy. They’re in beta right now, so it’s free for the time being. mommethod.com.
Pick-Ease (Pick-Ease LLC)
The feeding utensil category hasn’t seen a whole lot of innovation in the past hundred years. There’s the spoon, fork, knife, maybe a spork or a runcible spoon (if you’re an “Owl and the Pussycat” fan), chopsticks, and, of course, fingers. Now there’s one more in the mix: Pick-Ease, which was designed to give picky eaters a more fun way to feed themselves. Pick-Ease has an easy-to-grip, chunky handle and it can be used to skewer just about anything—sandwiches, veggies, meat, fruit, probably everything except peas (now there’s a million-dollar idea for you…). With 12 original cartoon characters on the handle, there’s a pretty good chance that your little picky eater will find something to love. And when the kids are well-fed and happy, dad and mom are happy too. $8.99. https://pick-ease.com.
Sushi Roll Gift Sets (Satsuma Designs)
If your kids have already passed through the drooling, spitting, teething, and slobbering years (say between five and 24 months), you’ve probably forgotten how many wash cloths you went through on a daily basis. And you’ve probably forgotten how many t-shirts, long sleeves, and pant legs you wiped your hands on after you discovered that all those wash cloths were in the dirty clothes hamper. You could go down to Home Depot and pick up a bundle of cheap shop rags, which would do the job pretty well. But for not all that much money, why not wipe up in style? Satsuma Designs new Sushi Roll Gift Sets feature five or six ultra-soft, 8-inch-square, absorbent, organic cotton and bamboo rayon flannel washcloths tied in green ribbon (which really does make them look like an order of California rolls). Hey, if it gets dad more involved in basic baby handling, we’re all for it. $20.00. satsumadesigns.com.
SwaggerTag Identifiction Tags (SwaggerTag)
SwaggerTags are a fun way to identify your luggage, school bags, strollers, or anything else you feel the need to mark as your own. Let’s face it, kids lose things and SwaggerTags can help you keep track of your stuff while adding your own personal flair—and may improve the chances that those lost items will get returned. Include as much personal information as you feel comfortable disclosing, then add your own photo, logo, or favorite image, and you’re done. The tags come in six colors, and are water- and impact resistant (important for those airport carousels and school hallways). $3.99. swaggertag.com.
Just Plain Fun
This tiny, hands-free camera is specially designed to take time-lapse photos. Just set the interval—one shot every second, minute, hour, day, or longer—and you’re ready to go. Blynk then puts all those photos into a single movie (or saves them as individual JPEGs). Now you can condense a week-long adventure into a few minutes, create your very own 30-second video of flowers blooming, or marvel at how quickly your baby (or your puppy) is growing up. Available in pink, blue, and black. $129 on lyfeshot.com.
Zoku Ice Cream Maker (Zoku)
Another quality, fun-for-the-family product from our chilly friends at Zoku. Their new Ice Cream Maker lets you create individual portions of ice cream, custard, frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, or sherbet in as little as 10 minutes. This product is fun and simple to use even for the youngest children and newest Dads (and Grandpas). Comes with great-tasting recipes for peach, vanilla, and lemon sorbet, but you can make your own out of pretty much anything you want. The only advance prep you need to do is to freeze the bowl over night. $25.99. http://www.zokuhome.com
Music and Language Learning
Beamz Home Edition and App (Beamz Interactive)
Let’s get something straight up front: Beamz is a toy—a really cool looking one that’s fun for kids as well as adults. But it’s still a toy. It looks kind of like a futuristic harp, but with four lasers instead of strings, and you create sounds by breaking the laser beam. Using the Beamz app, you can make each “string” sound pretty much any way you’d like, whether that’s a steel guitar, a violin section, drums, dijeridoo, a DJ scratch, barking dogs, or any of a hundred other effects. Beamz essentially lets you improvise along to music by a wide variety of artists, from Disney to Debussy, in an even wider variety of genres. And the way it’s programmed, the effects you produce are always in the right key so they fit in perfectly with what you’re playing along with. If your family isn’t particularly well musically educated, you’ll have an absolute blast with Beamz. But if you’re a musician, you may be frustrated at its limitations (you can’t, for example, control the pitch or the tempo of the notes you “play”). So as long as you keep your expectations in line, your family will enjoy hours of music-filled time together. $249.95. thebeamz.myshopify.com/
“Daycare Dance Party” music CD by Preschool Popstars (Charm School Records)
I find a lot of music aimed at young children to be very frustrating. If we want them to actually enjoy music, shouldn’t we have them listen to something that isn’t dumbed down? In my family, whenever the kids were given a choice between “real’ music and “kids” music, they went for the real McCoy every time. So when I popped Daycare Dance Party into my computer, I was ready to hate it. But from the first notes, it was clear that it’s anything but dumbed down. The songs are well-written, catchy, and performed by excellent musicians (although the fictional band members, Hailey, Bailey, and Jasmine tell us that they’re only four years old). And there’s also a nice mix of styles: pop, hip-hop, and country. This is a great CD (or mp3) to have in the car—it’ll make those long drives a lot less painful. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along—and enjoying it. $12.99. Available on Amazon.
- ¡Sabor! Spanish Learning Songs CD (Whistlefritz)
- On Va Jouer French learning DVD (Whistlefritz)
Whistlefritz has created some really fun ways to introduce your kids to Spanish or French, or to supplement the language education they might be getting at school. Created by a mom to help her own kids learn Spanish, Whistlefritz is available in both CD and DVD formats. What’s important is that you do not have to speak anything other than your native tongue to give your child the well-documented benefits of learning a second language, which include larger vocabularies, better problem-solving skills, greater cultural sensitivity, sharper memory, more self-control, and more efficient ability to communicate (along with a whole lot more people to be able to communicate with). The list goes on and on.
The two programs we evaluated, ¡Sabor!, (Spanish Learning Songs CD) and On Va Jouer (French learning DVD), are engaging and age appropriate. However, while childhood is the best time to learn new languages, if you’re just starting out yourself, there’s plenty here for adults as well. ¡Sabor! is $14.99, Jouer is $19.99. whistlefritz.com
Friday’s going to be a really big day: We’ll be announcing the winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval for the 2014 Winter Holidays!
Sam and I and our army of evaluators have been hip deep in toys and games and apps for weeks and we’ll be awarding the Seal to more than 30 great products that meet our criteria of getting dads and kids engaged with each other and helping facilitate father-child relationships.
Stay tuned to www.mrdad.com/seal for the complete list.
Do you know of a great product or service that encourages dads and their children to spend more time together?
If so, the MrDad.com team wants to hear about it!
As one of the leading websites promoting positive parenting for dads, we’re pleased to announce that submissions are still open for the Father’s Day 2014 Mr. Dad Seal of Approval.
But hurry. As you can imagine, we’re already receiving lots of entries, which is why we’ve extended the deadline to November 21, 2014. We’ll announce the winners the week of December 1. You can find out more and submit your products at http://mrdad.com/seal/
Next to “I love you, Daddy,” some of the sweetest words a father can hear are, “Hey Dad, can we play that again?” But it’s not always easy to find toys, games, and activities that have the “play-it-again” factor. That’s why we created the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval: to help dads (and those who love them) identify top-quality, fun products and services that will help them and their children stay connected at every age. Each Seal recipient has been field tested by other dads to ensure that it truly accomplishes that goal.
Putting a Mr. Dad Seal of Approval on your product tells customers that they’re looking at something dads and kids will enjoy together. Past recipients include Lego, Haba USA, The Smithsonian, Nintendo, B. Toys, Ravensburger, Wild Creations, Putumayo, and many more.
The Mr. Dad Seal of Approval is managed by Armin Brott and Samantha Feuss (Have Sippy Will Travel). Seal winners will be promoted on Armin’s and Samantha’s websites as well as through their extensive social media contacts (>20,000 on Facebook, >50,000 on Twitter). Winners may also be featured in “Parents@Play,” the nationally syndicated (by McClatchy) toy-review column Armin and Sam co-write, as well as on the toy review segment on “Positive Parenting,” Armin’s radio show that airs on more than 500 stations.
For more info and to submit your products, visit http://mrdad.com/seal/