Childhood in Motion

As anyone who’s ever spent time with little kids can attest, children are geniuses at play and can quite literally make something out of almost nothing. Salt and pepper shakers and bags of artificial sweetener on a restaurant table become Dad, Mom, and the rest of the family. Cardboard boxes become rocket ships, and sticks become swords. What’s especially nice about imaginative play is that everyone—regardless of age—can get involved. This week we take a look at several simple toys that run on imagination (and, in two cases, batteries).


speed boat green toysSpeed Boat (Green Toys)

Children don’t usually care where a toy is manufactured from or what it’s made of. If it’s fun, they’re all in. Green Toys consistently delivers, with their line of simple, low- or no-tech toys that encourage imaginative play. Parents, however, are often looking for something more meaningful than just fun—and Green Toys delivers here as well. Their toys are manufactured in the US from 100% recycled materials and are dishwasher safe. The packaging (also made of recycled materials) delivers some subtle messages to Mom and Dad about sustainability, saving energy, and minimizing our carbon footprint. For ages 2 and up. $11.99.


paw patroller spinmasterPaw Patroller (Spin Master)

If your kids like Paw Patrol, they’ll love this multi-level vehicle transporter and command center. The Patroller can carry three Paw Patrol vehicles inside—just drive ‘em in, close the door, and you’re off to help those altruistic pups on their next rescue mission. The pups themselves ride in the cab up front. There are a few buttons that play sounds that the kids (and you, if you’ve ever watched the TV show) will recognize. And there’s a kid-powered elevator to move the vehicles up and down between levels. Comes with one Ryder figure and his ATV. For ages 3+, $59.99 at your favorite retailer.


zoomer kittyZoomer Kitty (Spin Master)

If your child has been asking for a pet but you’re not quite ready to make the commitment to a real, live animal, you may want to adopt Zoomer Kitty instead. With touch sensors on her head and elsewhere, Zoomer Kitty loves to be petted, leans in for more, and even purrs contentedly. The “True Vision Technology” allows her to follow your movements. She stretches, pounces, plays with her kitty toy, naps, kneads the ground, and occasionally hisses—pretty much everything a real cat does except scratch you and fill the litter box. For ages 5 and up. $99.99 only at Kmart.


submarineSubmarine and Jungle Jams Drum (PBS KIDS and Whole Foods Market)

jungle jams drumLike Green Toys, PBS KIDS and Whole Foods Market care about how the things our kids play with impact the earth we live on. So all of their toys are made from responsibly sourced materials. Plus, 100% of PBS KIDS’ net proceeds go to the organization’s non-profit work with kids, and Whole Foods is donating a portion of their proceeds to their foundation. The adorable submarine—complete with rear propeller—comes with its very own diver, and both float in water. And the drum, nicely decorated with cute animals, comes with a rubber-headed drumstick so your little ones can play to the beat of their own drummers without driving you cray with the noise. The submarine ($14.99) is for kids 12 months, and the Jungle Jams Drum ($24.99) is for ages 19 months and up. These and the rest of the toys in this line (including boats, puzzles, musical instruments and even a golf set) are available exclusively at Whole Foods Markets nationwide in their Whole Body section.

Time to Bring It on In

As the days grow shorter and chillier, you and the family are going to be spending more time indoors. This week, we look at some games that will keep kids and kids-at-heart entertained at home or on the road.

chibi robo zip lashChibi Robo Zip Lash (Nintendo)
Aliens have invaded and stolen all the snacks. As Chibi Robo, your job is to move through the game, using your cord and plug to take out enemies (ouch) and obstacles. Plug that cord in and you can power up to Fire Chibi-Robo and Ice Chibi-Robo, both of whom add some really fun elements to the game. For the most part, game play is of the 2D-platforming variety. But Chibi also has amiibo support. Just tap Chibi on your console and you can unlock Super Chibi Robo, collect in-game figurines, and open bonus levels. Available by itself ($29.99) or in a game bundle ($39.99).

animal crossoing happy home designerAnimal Crossing Happy Home Designer
In the latest incarnation of Animal Crossing, players help design their very own town, including exteriors, interiors, and gardens. In the process, they’ll be helping the sometimes-design-impaired locals of Animal Town with their artistic challenges. Each of those challenges is different and players need to use their own personal style to accommodate the clients’ requests. Finish one challenges and you’re on to the next one. With hundreds of clients to work with, the game can be as long or as short as you’d like. Happy Home Designer also supports the new amiibo cards (similar to the amiibo figurines, but not actual toys), which unlock special characters who serve up even more design challenges. This is a great intro to gaming for young kids or for adults who’ve been waiting for something easy. Available everywhere either as a stand-alone or part of a bundle that includes a specially designed 3DS XL.

skylanders superchargersSkylanders SuperChargers (Skylanders)
How do you put a new fresh face onto a game that’s already been updated four times? Easy: SuperCharge it! Skyland is in trouble (what a surprise) and Kaos is at it again (really?) This time, your Skylanders can get off their feet and into a vehicle. Then, you’re off, following race tracks or flying through the air, trying to defeat Kaos’s Doom Station of Ultimate Doomstruction. There are plenty of obstacles along the way, as well as a new currency, Gearbits, which allows you to buy supercool upgrades for your vehicle. In addition to other new characters, there are Donkey and Bowser figurines that you can use in Skyland or as amiibos in other games. It’s like getting two toys in one. Available everywhere for Wii U, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One for about $75.

super mario maker nintendoSuper Mario Maker (Nintendo)
If you’ve ever been playing a Super Mario game and thought, “I could do better than that,” now’s your chance to show your stuff. In this game, players actually create new levels that they can share with friends or other players around the world. It’s fun and simple, but beware: creating the perfect level is definitely not easy. We suggest that you try one of your own, then spend some time exploring what other players have created. You’ll be amazed at the variety, from easy or super hard to plain or beautiful. Super Mario Maker is amiibo compatible, so if you put your Sonic the Hedgehog figure on the controller, Mario changes to Sonic and the background music changes accordingly. For Wii U. $59.99 at retail stores or the Nintendo eShop.

Hey, Let’s Take a Road Trip!

When you’re hitting the road with the family, comfortable and occupied kids are quiet. And quiet kids make for a far more peaceful experience for everyone. Here are some new road trip accessories for kids of all ages to help you keep on truckin’.

Junkie orgznizerJunkie and Sneck (BubbleBum)
Junkie is a car organizer/activity station combo that keeps kids’ stuff all in one place and your car cleaner. Just stock it with your children’s favorite toys, harness it into the backseat, and you’re ready to roll. There are two retractable trays, two cup holders, an insulated area for cold items, and plenty of storage for coloring books, snacks, crayons, and anything else you can think of. There’s also a removable tote bag so you can bring your finished (or in-progress) projects into the house, hotel, restaurant, or wherever you’re headed. Sneck is a travel pillow (microbeads on the inside, plush on the outside) that makes easy for kids to nap in the car. You can use the Velcro strap to attach it to almost any headrest and your child can then adjust it to the perfect spot. Sneck also has a small mesh pocket that can hold a small toy or electronic device. Junkie and Sneck are both available at  or most major retailers.

Necknapperz (Necknapperz)
Like Sneck, Necknappers are microbeads-inside-plush-outside neck pillows. But they’re also adorable, cuddly stuffies that your kids will love to play with while they’re waiting to board the plane or entertaining themselves in their car seat. When they get tired, a few zips and shakes and they’ve got a supportive U-shaped pillow that will minimize the stiff shoulders and necks caused by sleeping with your head flopping around. All 22 Necknapperz have snaps and are easy to attach to your (or your child’s) luggage so they won’t get lost. Retail for $19.99 at

EquiptBaby (EquiptBaby)
This portable bassinet is so small, you can fold it up and put it into your diaper bag. The outside is fine, see-through mesh that lets you keep an eye on your baby from any angle. Besides keeping bugs away, the mesh has an SPF 50 rating to protect your baby from the sun. The padded insert is machine washable, so post-diaper-blowout cleanup is easy. Setup takes literally three seconds (folding it back up takes maybe 10). For ages 0-6 months. $69.95 at

If you’ve ever run out of sleeping space on a camping trip, grandma’s house, or even a kids’ sleep over at your own house, you really need to check out Kid-O-Bunk portable bunkbeds. They look a little like army cots, but they’re smaller, come in far more attractive colors, and are much more portable. Setup takes just minutes, no tools, mattresses, or ladders required. You can also configure Kid-O-Bunks as a bench for daytime use, or as two single beds if you’ve got the space or the kids can’t decide who gets the top bunk. Regardless of the configuration, they come with plenty of pockets that are ideal for holding books, glasses, pens, and—if you’re allowing it—electronic devices. The material is machine washable, which is always nice. And they come in a zippered bag which makes storage and schlepping really easy. Recommended for kids up to age 12, each cot can hold up to 200 pounds, so weight (hopefully) won’t be an issue. Tall kids, however, may have a little trouble fitting. Comes with two bunks, adapters for stacking, two carry bags, two organizers, and a set of footpads (to minimize ground sinking outdoors or floor damage indoors). $289 at or

Soothing the Savage Infant and Toddler

We often think of the first few years of childhood as a time of total dependence on dad, mom, and anyone else who’s willing to change diapers and clean up vomit. But while that’s true, those early years are also a time when kids start hurtling towards independence, trying to do everything on their own, whether that’s crawling, walking, eating, reading, using the big-kid toilet, or anything else. This week we take a look at a number of toys that little ones will want to do on their own. You may need to be around to help or explain a few things, but even the smallest humans need some “me time.”

zing stikbotStikBots (Zing)
Got a budding animator in your home? If so, this is definitely for you (as long as your child is old enough not to put small things in his or her mouth). The idea is pretty simple: kids can pose the cute plastic figures and use the free StikBot Studios app (for iOS or Android only) to create their very own stop-action. Suction cups where hands and feet would be allow the StikBots to do all sorts of neat tricks. The Bots themselves don’t always hold their posed position and the app can be confusing for very little kids, but overall, it’s a really fun way to bring out your child’s creativity. Ages 4+. $9.99 for a kit with two Bots and a tripod.

sleeperheroSleeperHero (SleeperHero)
When kids are little, bedtime can be tough on everyone: they may be afraid of the dark or of being alone, and you may be afraid (then angry) that you’ll be up all night dealing with them. SleeperHero is a doll-book combo that’s aimed at eliminating some of that nighttime tension. The book is about a child who has trouble falling asleep in his own bed but is befriended by SleeperHero, who’s there to comfort and banish the bad guys and monsters hiding under the bed. For the parents, the doll has a light on his chest that glows red when it’s time for the child to stay in bed, then changes to green when it’s okay to run around and wake everyone up. Naturally, you can set both times. Ages 3+. $49.99.

troboTROBO (Trobo)
If you’re completely opposed to exposing young children to technology, you’re out of luck here. But if you agree that technology can be wonderful in moderation and with an adult around, you’ll love TROBO. This friendly plush toy pairs with an iPad or iPhone and tells stories to your child. The stories subtly expose toddlers to science and technology concepts, and by incorporating your child’s name and a cartoon avatar, he or she becomes part of the story—and stays interested, which hopefully builds a love of learning. TROBO isn’t quite out yet, but he’ll be available just in time for the Holidays. Pre-order at

tiny love mobile + crib toyDouble-Sided Crib Toy and Hide and Seek Mobile (Tiny Love)
The crib toy attaches to the inside of your baby’s crib and lets your baby pound, bang, poke, and twist five colorful elements that produce a variety of sounds and effects. Flip it over and it switches to nighttime mode, with softly twinkling lights and soothing music.  The mobile is not your father’s (or even your) mobile. Sure it has adorable animals that gently go round and round, accompanied by music. But these figures also play hide and seek with your baby, sometimes hiding behind something that looks like a leaf, sometimes not. The mobile also gives your baby some control over the music. 0-24 months. Prices vary.

Now Boarding…. You and Your Family

With airports gouging you for every little thing, you want to keep your bags as small and light as possible, packing no more than you absolutely have to for any trip. Whenever you can, limit each person to a carry-on and avoid those nasty baggage fees. Between that and the one small bag (like a briefcase or purse) most airlines allow, you’ll be able to make every inch count!


comfy commuter travel pillowComfy Commuter travel pillow (Comfy Commuter)

The first thing you want to pack—and this one won’t count towards your carry-on-and-one-personal-item limit—is a head-and-neck pillow for the flight. Unless you’re in first class, those seats tend to be awful, and there’s no comfortable way (especially if you’re over about 5’ 8”) to sit that doesn’t cramp up your neck. And trying to sleep? Dream on… Comfy Commuter’s new travel pillow will make you comfortable as possible, the plush material enveloping your neck so your head stays upright. (We travel a lot and this is one of the most comfortable pillows we’ve come across.) It has a chin strap to keep it from falling on the floor. It’s available in several colors for $40 at .


waldlauferWaldläufer shoes (Waldläufer)

Travel generally involves a lot of walking and Waldläufer has shoes for every journey, no matter where life takes you. A new take on the “comfort shoe,” Waldläufers are comfortable and stylish—none of those giant, clunky soles or orthotic-looking designs here. They come in a number of categories (dress, casual, walking, outdoors, sandals, and more) and you’ll usually have a choice of colors and materials. Women have more than 40 models to select from. Men, sadly, have only six. Just put ‘em on and get ready to hit the road—and you’ll be looking sharp while you’re on it. To see their entire line and find the nearest store that sells them, visit


eagle creek bagMarket Handbag (Eagle Creek)

Besides what it does to your neck and your feet, travel can also be hard on your gear, so everything you bring needs to be able to take a punch (or a kick or survive a fall). Eagle Creek’s Market Handbag is aimed mostly at women and it’s comfortable, durable; lightweight; has plenty of pockets for all your big items; smaller, easily accessible spaces for things like pens, keys, pens, phones, and business cards; and even outside pockets for water bottles or sippy cups. Speaking of water, the outside is water resistant, just in case… The strap is adjustable so you can wear it over the shoulder or across your body, and one end is detachable so can secure it to your chair or table to keep purse-snatcher wannabes at bay. The Market Handbag also has a lifetime warranty, which gives you some indication of how much confidence the company has in this product. Costs $80 at


eagle creek specter pill organizerSpecter 7-Day Pill Organizer (Eagle Creek)

It’s hard to find a family in which there isn’t at least one person taking medication, vitamins, or supplements every day. Pill bottles can take up a lot of valuable space in your luggage and many hard-plastic pill holders randomly pop open. The Specter has seven clear, numbered, zippered pockets that show what’s in each compartment. The Organizer itself zips shut and you can even lock it. The Specter also has convenient pockets for a pen and emergency numbers. Comes in three colors and costs $25 at



We’re Baaaaack—in School

Back to school is a crazy time of year, and not many parents relish all the last-minute shopping for supplies. But no matter what your kids need for school this year, they’ll definitely need a backpack to haul it around in. Here are some fun and functional choices for your students.


bixby backpackBixbee

Got a little one entering Pre-K or Kindergarten this year? He or she will love Bixbee, and so will you. These packs are adorable and come in a variety of great patterns and styles. Some have wings, some have animal faces and ears, heck, there are even shark fins. Bixbee also has a line of more typical backpacks and tamer color palettes for bigger kids. These backpacks are well-made, PVC-, BPA-, phthalate-, and lead free, and come in several sizes, which is more important than you think: The American Occupational Association says that to help your child avoid chronic pain, backpacks should rest “in the curve of the lower back” and never more than four inches below the child’s waistline. Not content to simply combine style and safety, Bixbee also donates a schoolbag with supplies to a needy child for every backpack purchased. For more info, visit


wildkins backpackWildkin

Wildkin’s matching backpacks and lunch bags are great for kids who like all their things to match (or for parents who find it easier to grab everything when it all looks the same). Besides backpacks and lunchboxes, there are also matching nap mats, sports bags, duffels, pencil cases, big-kid bedding sets, and more. The patterns are delightful. The only drawback is that they aren’t quite as sturdy as some others, so if your child is tough on his or her gear, you may not be able to use this year’s pack next year. Prices vary.


chooze backpackChooze

Chooze bags and coordinated lunch boxes are really durable (meaning that they can stand up to being used by adults) and come in great patterns. They also have padded straps (those packs will get heavier and heavier as the year progresses), plenty of pockets and pouches, and zippers that stay zipped and don’t catch, As an added bonus, they’re completely reversible—just turn it inside out and you’ve got a whole new look without you having to buy a new pack. $25-$44 at


noosa yoghurtNoosa Yoghurt

Looking for something delicious to stick into lunchboxes this year? Noosa’s great taste and flavor combinations, along with the fact that it’s produced in small batches on a family farm, make this unlike any other yogurt on the market today. Made with all natural whole milk, fresh fruit purees, and honey, it’s also all natural, gluten-free, and probiotic, so it’s good for the whole family. Comes in lunchbox- and grown-up sizes in unique flavors like Cranberry Apple, Pumpkin, Honey, and Strawberry Rhubarb, and more traditional ones like Vanilla and Blueberry.  Find a store that sells Noosa near you at


simply7 sea saltSimply 7

Another easy lunchbox ingredient is chips. No, not all are very health, but Simply 7’s are. Chips come in Quinoi, Lentil, and Hummus (unusual sounding but incredibly tasty) and are vegetarian, non-GMO, kosher, gluten free, and have up to 50% less fat than regular potato chips. Flavors include sea salt, spicy chili pepper, roasted red peppers, creamy dill, and jalapeno, BBQ, cheddar, and bruschetta. Best of all, the ingredients are simple and pronounceable (except possibly bruschetta). Available at many large and small retailers. To find one near you, visit