You’re Imagining the Whole Thing

Imagination is a wonderful thing. But in an era of “teaching to the test” and laser focus on grades and performance, it’s in short supply. A large body of research shows that children who engage in imaginative play have larger vocabularies, think more flexibly and creatively, and do better in school than less imaginative kids. And as they get older, those children turn into adults who have more empathy for others, work better on teams, are more adaptable, and generally have more fulfilling careers. And it all starts with stories. Here are some of our favorite imagination- and creativity-stimulating toys.

safari figurinesFigurines (Safari LTD)
Safari LTD makes a dizzying variety of figurines that are perfect for imaginative play. Whether your children’s fantasy world takes them to a farm, a faraway land, under the sea, or has them playing with mythological creatures (or maybe a mash up of the above), Safari’s figurines will be at their side for years to come. They’re fun to collect and meticulously detailed and painted, so your first reaction may be to put them on a shelf and admire them. But they’re quite sturdy, meaning they can survive a dog attack, being tossed out a window (not that your child would ever do that), or a washing machine adventure. You’ll find creatures in all shapes and sizes at

haba puppetsPuppets (HABA USA)
HABA puppets are great for children of any age (HABA recommends age 1 and up, but as they’re soft and don’t have any loose parts or buttons, they’re okay for younger kids too.) HABA’s puppets easy to manipulate—one finger for the head, thumb for one arm, and middle finger for the other—and their cheery, smiling faces make them irresistible. You can get individual puppets or assemble groups of themed characters such as Red Riding Hood and a royal family for more involved stories. There’s also a whole line of delightful finger puppets. Oh, and they’re machine washable (hang to dry) too. Most are around $15. Visit for choices.

folkmanis puppetsPuppets (Folkmanis)
With their attention to detail and creative designs, Folkmanis puppets are visually stunning. They’re also as plush as high-end stuffed animals. That combination makes mom and dad want to play with them as much as the kids do. The puppets vary in size and articulation, but they’re always wonderfully unique, with wings that flap, heads that spin, tails that uncurl, tongues that stick out, and more. Some of them are easy for small hands, but some require five fingers, and others need two adult-sized hands to operate. These puppets will get everyone’s imagination working. If your dragon breathes fire on imaginary an imaginary villages and kidnaps the LEGO residents, you can send brave knights up to vanquish it. Or maybe the hero is a princess from a neighboring kingdom. There are literally hundreds of puppets. See all the newest ones at

yottoy girl scout dollGirl Scouts Friendship Dolls (YOTTOY)
YOTTOY brings fantasy and real life together with its new line of soft Girl Scouts Friendship Dolls. These dolls promote what the Girl Scouts are all about: friendship, diversity, and taking care of the community. They also bring in an element of fun and personal style. One especially nice feature is that they come in several ethnicities, which means that your child can play with characters who look just like her (or close to it) and create her own Girl Scout meetings, go on camping trips, or sell cookies. Friendship Dolls retail for around $17 at YOTTOY, Walmart, and Or visit

My Baby Doesn’t Like Me

Dear Mr. Dad: My two-month-old baby doesn’t like me. He’s perfectly content with my wife, but when I try to hold him, he gets upset and cries. I’ve backed off a little, thinking that he just needs a little time to get used to me, but that doesn’t seem to be working. I’m starting to think I’m just not a very good dad. Is it too late for me to build a relationship with my baby?

A: There’s not much in this world that can make a grown up man feel more incompetent than a baby can. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to get past those feelings—and no, it’s not too late. Not even close.

Before we get into the what-to-do part, we need to do something about the way you’re thinking. First, get the idea that your baby doesn’t like you or that he thinks you’re a bad father out of your head. Do you really believe that someone who’s a few months old is qualified to make a judgment about your parenting skills? What other dads could he possibly be comparing you to?
[Read more…]

Superfoods for babies and toddlers

Dana Angelo White, author of First Bites.
Superfoods for babies and toddlers.
Issues: Defining superfoods; what growing bodies need; what they don’t need; simple recipes that emphasize fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, dairy, and eggs; getting kids to make good food choices on tier own.

Family Travel and Adventure + First Bites

travel & adventure showJohn Golicz, CEO of UNICOMM, which produces Travel & Adventure Shows.
Travel & Adventure shows.
Issues: Travel options for families, couples, and singles; budget and luxury travel options; domestic and international travel destinations.

peter greenbergPeter Greenberg, Travel Editor, CBS News and
Family Travel.
Issues: Preparing for a trip; being smart about food safety; should you buy travel insurance? The secret to breezing through airport security; biggest mistakes families make when traveling;

Dana Angelo White, author of First Bites.
Superfoods for babies and toddlers.
Issues: Defining superfoods; what growing bodies need; what they don’t need; simple recipes that emphasize fruits and vegetables, grains, protein, dairy, and eggs; getting kids to make good food choices on tier own.

To Tech or Not to Tech? How ‘Bout Both?

Although we love toys that don’t have an on/off switch, there’s definitely a time and place for apps. Here are two very clever games that combine tablet and touch, a sleek tablet, and something totally low-tech.

Recent research shows that young children are spending so much time on tablets that they their muscle tone and hand-eye coordination aren’t developing the way they should. That’s where Tiggly comes in. Tiggly develops interactive apps that incorporate object manipulation to help kids build spatial- and fine-motor skills, creativity, and reasoning. Tiggly Counts is an award-winning math-learning game for kids 18 months to 6 years old. To get the correct answers to simple math questions, kids have to physically put the right number of special Tiggly devices in the right place on the screen. Tiggly Shapes brings the same basic technology to shape- and pattern recognition. Each game comes with the appropriate devices and several additional apps. They’re colorful, entertaining, educational, and kids can play by themselves or with mom and dad. For Android and iOS (sorry Windows Phone). $30 on

painting luluPainting Lulu
Part coloring book, part app, Painting Lulu is a delightful blend of technology and design. It starts with an actual paper coloring book (remember those?) where kids start their drawings. Then they (or a nearby adult) scan their drawing into a tablet using the free Painting Lulu app. The art shows up on the screen, where those little artist can color, erase, retouch, and change as much as they’d like (using the included digital crayon, of course—wax and screens are not a good combination). When the masterpiece is complete, print it out and send it off to Grandma and Grandpa. For iOS and Android devices. Sells for $9.99 on

camelio skinCamelio Table (Vivitar)
The Camelio Tablet is great for families that would like everyone to have a tablet but don’t want to spend the dough on each one; hey, those things can get pricey. Camelio features Android 4.1 and can accommodate up to five users using “Personality Packs.” Those packs allow each user to customize wallpaper, camera, widgets, lock screens, games, and, of course include a themed skin for the device. Prices vary.

burg watchBURG Smartwatches 
There are a lot of smart watches out there, but BURG watches are among the very few stand-alone phones, meaning you can make and receive texts and calls without being connected to any other device (although you can if you want to). BURGs accept SIM cards so you can take them on the road, and you may be able to add yours to your wireless family plan. Features vary widely depending on the model. The BURG 25 has as 2.0MP camera, step- and calorie counters, and GPS. The 16A doesn’t have any of those. But both have MP3/MP4 players, Bluetooth, calendar, calculator, alarm, and can store up to 500 contacts.  Prices vary by model. Aat major retailers and 

silly mcgillySilly McGillly
And just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and gleefully devoid of technology, comes Silly McGilly, who’s the Irish version of the “Elf on the Shelf” or “Mensch on a Bench”—an impish little elven creature who plays tricks and creates mischief leading up to his favorite holiday. McGilly comes with a book and an adorable little leprechaun that will help you and the kids spend some quality time together between last-minute runs to the grocery store for green food coloring. The little leprechaun doesn’t have a beard and is about as huggable—and as far from scary-looking—as it’s possible to get. The set retails for $29.95 at