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
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
Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. The Seal recognizes products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.
Submissions are now being accepted for our 2014 Fall and Winter Holiday seasons.
The SMART Playbook (Suzanne M. Wind)
Sometimes (okay, often) it seems that manners have all but disappeared from our lives. But in an era when people barely make eye contact, mumble answers, text at the dinner table, don’t send thank-you notes, and are often just plain rude to each other, we need manners more than ever. Suzanne Wind has come up with a clever way to bring civility back into our lives. Using her SMART Playbook, Dad can coach his kids on what to do—and not do—in five broad areas where manners are needed most: Social interactions, Mealtimes, Art of conversation, Restaurant behavior, and Technology. But it’s not a one-way street—dads (and moms) can benefit from a manners makeover too. $19.95 for the complete set, or $8.95 for each topic separately. http://www.thesmartplaybook.com/
What Not to Do at the Zoo (Morgan and Linda Gresky)
We’re strong supporters of reading with kids and consider it one of the best dad-child bonding activities ever. What Not to Do at the Zoo this is a great one, especially for little ones,, and especially as a pre-zoo adventure warm-up. The book will get you laughing with its absurd warnings (things like “Do not give your homework to a warthog,” “Do not lend your library book to a gazelle”), and dads can extend the experience and promote creative thinking by encouraging the kids come up with their own things not to do at the zoo. The illustrations, by Doina Cociuba Terrano are wonderful. For any age, up to about 7. Available at your favorite bookseller. http://www.gobesilly.com
Building and Science
GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine (GoldieBlox)
The folks behind GoldieBlox are very open about their mission: To inspire the next generation of female engineers, and along the way, they hope to help girls develop the spatial and building skills they’ll need to succeed. What a terrific concept. GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine is anchored in the story of how Goldie builds a spinning machine to help her dog chase his tail. Along the way, she learns about wheels and axles, force, friction, and tension. This is a great way for dads to introduce basic engineering concepts to their daughters (or sons who don’t mind pink tool belts and ribbons). For ages 3-9, although we recommend Goldie for the lower end of the range. $29.95 http://www.goldieblox.com/
Laser Pegs 12-in-1 MLB02 (Laser Pegs)
The Laser Pegs® Major League Baseball kit is a Limited Edition set that comes with three new light-up Laser Pegs® (bat, ball, and glove) and enough classic Laser Pegs shapes and construction parts to build 12 different baseball-themed creations. Choose from 30 team decals to add to personalize your set. This is a great building set for any baseball player or game enthusiast. And, as with so many other building sets, it’s a great way for dads to bond with their kids. It might also spark an interest in baseball that could translate into other areas, such as playing catch, joining a team that dad can coach, or picking up some third-base-line seats at a real major- or minor-league game. $40 on http://laserpegs.com/
It didn’t take any more than a few minutes of playing with MiP for us to realize that the company is aptly named: WowWee! MiP is amazing. If you try to stand MiP upright, he’ll fall over, but as soon as you turn him on, he automatically balances himself by moving slightly back and forth—kind of like the way you might if you were trying to keep your bike upright without putting your feet down at a red light. Attach a tray (included), start loading MiP up, and he still autobalances himself. Download the free app and you can make MiP dance, roam, do tricks, respond to hand gestures, and even chase your dog around the house (our favorite activity these days). Although MiP is billed as more of a dad-son kinda guy, this dad and his daughter had an absolute blast together and in head-to-head competition. A great way to introduce kids (and dads) to high-tech robotics. Can be appreciated by kids of almost all ages—the older and more coordinated, the more they’ll be able to do. Until you become an adult, when all of a sudden the kids are better at everything. $99.99. www.wowwee.com/mip
ZOOB 175 Piece Challenge Kit (Poof-Slinky)
What makes ZOOB such a unique building set is the fact that once you put the pieces together, your creation can move, so you can actually play with them instead of just admiring them. The 175-Piece Challenge Kit is definitely for the advanced builder. It comes with instructions and suggestions for building about 40 different projects, but encourages imagination, exploration, and innovation. What we like best, though, are the 26 open-ended challenges, each of which has multiple possible solutions. Things like make a target and hit it, build a ramp, make a ball that bounces, and build a zip line. A wonderful, fun way to encourage those all-important STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) skills that 21st century kids will need to succeed at work and in life. For ages 8 and up. $42.99. http://poof-slinky.com/
Dolls, Puppets, and Snugglies
Fuzzy Wuggs Hand Puppets (Manhattan Toy Company)
The sweet, adorable hand puppets are the perfect addition to your puppet box (you DO have a puppet box, don’t you?). These monsters—there’s the Orange Bolie and the Pink Girlie—are anything but scary, and would be perfect for a brother and sister (or any opposite-sex pairing: mom/son, dad/daughter) to play with together. Fuzzy Wuggs are the simplest puppets to operate: there’s just a sleeve for the arm and the thumb and fingers make the mouth open and close. They’re easy to manipulate for even for the smallest of hands, which makes them a great choice for young kids who are just building their dexterity and motor skills, as well as puppet enthusiasts of any age. Besides being great for creative and imaginative play, playing with puppets gives dad a special window in to how his children’s minds work. $24 from http://www.manhattantoy.com
Nursery Time (Adora Dolls)
What better topic than dolls. Wait, dads and dolls? Absolutely. Any man who’s got a daughter—and wants to connect with her—really needs to know his way around the world of dolls, since that’s where girls spend a lot of their time. It’s an amazing way to say, “I love you.” Adora babies are incredibly lifelike. They’re a little lighter than most babies but heavier than most other dolls. Their skin (which comes in a variety of tones) is super soft, their little noses and toes and fingers are irresistible, and they even smell like real babies. Great for dad to show his daughter how tiny and adorable she was as a baby, but also very effective if that little girl is preparing to be a big sister. Nursery Time babies are dressed in a onesie and come with a nice doll carrier so your junior mommy can take her baby everywhere. Ages 3 and up. $79.99 at specialty stores and http://www.adoradolls.com
Twinkling Firefly Frog (Cloud B)
As parents, we all know that bedtime isn’t always fun. For anyone. But a snuggly companion—especially if it lights up—can help sooth even the most savage toddler. This cuddly friend is perfect for enchanted playtime and helps children transition into nighttime. Fireflies twinkle in Frog’s belly to create a magical glow that helps ease fears of the dark. Twinkling Firefly Frog also plays a choice of two soothing sounds: rain with crickets, or a relaxing lullaby, and shuts himself off after 45 mintes. Kids who are old enough can control Frog’s light and volume. Needs 3 AAA batteries (included) which last a really long time. $35. http://cloudb.com
Long Story Short (The Game Chef)
Another clever family game from the folks at The Game Chef, this one mashing sitting-around-the-campfire storytelling with social media. Each player gets a turn to be the Storyteller. He or she picks one of the story starters for a little inspiration, and then starts talking. When the narrator is done, all the other players have to make that long story short, turning it into a text, a tweet, or a drawing (depending on how the dice roll). Dads often tell us that it’s hard to find games that tweens and teens will want to play with the rest of the family, but this is sure to be a hit. It’s easy to learn (takes about five minutes), can be hilarious at times, and is a great way to learn all sorts of new things about your family members. For 4-8 players ages 10+. $24.99 . http://thegamechef.com/
If you’re in the mood for a fast, fun word game but only have 10 or 15 minutes, this one’s for you. The first player pulls a card containing a word or phrase from the deck (for example, “song titles”), taps the timer, and has 10 seconds to come up with something that fits the category (“Pop Goes the Weasel”) then pushes the tab with that letter, taps the timer, and the next player has 10 seconds to shout out an answer that starts with any of the remaining letters. As the letters disappear, it gets harder to find accurate answers, but it also gets a lot funnier. Play continues until all the letters have been used (the manufacturer has thoughtfully eliminated Q,U,V,X,Y,Z, which are the least common first letters in English) or someone doesn’t get an answer within those 10 seconds. For ages 8 and up. Two to 8 players, but the more you have the more fun it’ll be. $19.95. http://usaopoly.com/
UnNatural Selection (R&R Games)
Fun for any family that likes card games, UnNatural Selection™ lets kids and dads (or moms, of course) mash together a creature with features from all sorts of other animals, using the “Mod Ray X5000.” Then use the cards in your hand to undermine your opponents’ creatures’ skills and abilities. Finally, everyone presents their creature and pleads their case to the referee who decides which one would emerge victorious in a battle. The one who wins the most challenges become the “Ultimate Warrior.” It’s fun and fast-paced and costs only $11 at http://www.rnrgames.com/
Just Plain Fun
Invite Bandz (Marked Private)
Dads know that our kids want to be social on the Internet—and we try to support that (knowing all the while that they’d figure out a way to get online even if we didn’t support it). But we’re also worried about safety. Invite Bandz can turn Dad into a party-planning hero by satisfying both of those seemingly incompatible wishes in a wonderfully creative way. Here’s how it goes: The party host whips up an invite web-page that becomes a private mini-community where people can chat, post pics, and more. But no one gets into that exclusive digital enclave unless they’ve received a silicone wristband that comes with a unique access code. And after the party, the page—and the private community—can live on. It’s a cool, fun twist on traditional party invites. $14.99 for a 9-pack, $7.99 for a 4-pack booster. http://markedprivate.com/
As much as we love our kids, we don’t always know what to do with them. Even if they’re booked with wall-to-wall camps, there are all those weekends. Personally, the phrase “I’m bored,” coming out of a child’s mouth drives me crazy. Fortunatley, with KidNimble, you may be able to banish that phrase from your kids’ vocabulary. Simply put, KidNimble is an amazing database of kid-friendly activiites. You can search by zip code–which means it works just as well on the road as it does at home–and specific a mileage radius. Then filter your results by distance, gender and/or age of the kids, program type (camps, classes, etc), and category (sports, religious, performing arts, academic, special needs, and more). Free at http://kidnimble.com
Wubble Bubble Ball (NSI Toys)
Have you ever made giant soap bubbles, the kind that get to be a few feet across? Fun, isn’t it? But there’s always something a little disappointing when the bubbles pop—and they always do. Enter the Wubble Bubble Ball, which looks like a bubble but plays like a ball. It starts off about the size of a sock, but when you inflate it (a battery-operated inflator is included), it expands up to three feet across. It spins, floats, soars, just like a bubble. But go right ahead and toss it, kick it, smack it, sit on it—the thing is so indestructible that the company offers a lifetime replacement warranty. Take it to the park and kids will drop everything they’re doing and ask to play. Use it in your house (which is really fun) at your own peril. You may get some cool-dad points from the kids, but we’re betting that your spouse won’t be nearly as thrilled. $19.95. http://wubbleball.com/
China is a growing economic force and there’s a good chance that learning to speak Chinese will benefit your child when the time comes to get a job so he or she can support you in your old age. ChineseCUBES is designed for beginners of all ages, and lets dads learn Chinese with their kids through play, stories, videos, and augmented reality blocks that spring to life when you put them in front of your computer. We first saw ChineseCUBES at Toy Fair earlier this year and were absolutely amazed. I’ve studied Russian, French, and Hebrew and have never seen a more engaging, entertaining way to learn a new language. http://www.chinesecubes.com/
ChineseCUBES app (ChineseCUBES)
Chinese is a tough language. But the way this app breaks things down, it almost seems manageable. We began working on vegetables. Pick one—we went with tomato—and start learning. Tomato in Chinese consists of two characters. If you break them apart, you get “foreign” and “eggplant.” Tap either one, and you get audio of a native Chinese speaker saying the words. Put the two characters back together and hear the whole word. Tap on a pencil icon and you see how to write the actual characters. Once you feel confident, you can test your knowledge in a variety of ways, including a matching game where you match a picture of a particular veggie with the Chinese characters. tap for how to write the actual symbols. It’s very cool, very interactive, very addictive. The lite version is free in the Apple App Store. In app purchases start at $1.99.
Washdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)
A lot of kids have fond memories of helping dad wash the car on those hot summer days. My dad wasn’t all that car-focused, so for me, washing the car was often an excuse to spend an hour or two hosing each other (and sometimes the car) off. But today, when everyone’s concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what’s an environmentally savvy dad with a filthy car supposed to do? Well, all you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops. It’s non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. The stuff is completely non-toxic—no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia—so when you’re done you can use what’s left in the bucket to water your garden. With Washdrops, dads and kids can still enjoy quality time together. You’ll be a little drier, and a lot smarter about the environment, and the car will actually get clean. One additional note: We live in a complex where washing the car in the driveway is prohibited. But Washdrops is okay. washdrops.com
After spending the first few years of their children’s life as human pack animals, most dads are ready to celebrate the day the kids child can start schlepping their own stuff. And with PaddlePaks, that day may come a little sooner. PaddlePaks are adorable, water-resistant backpacks that come in a whole menagerie of aquatic animal forms, including shark, killer whale, frog, blow fish, clown fish, lobster, and octopus. They’re great for a day-trip to the beach, a sleepover at grandma’s, or even a jaunt down to the pool for swim lessons. They’re fun, practical (wet swim suits don’t soak your car seats and dry clothes don’t get soaked when you child drops the pack in a puddle). $25-$30. http://www.trunki.com/
Motorworks (Manhattan Toys)
These are not your father’s model cars—but they may be your grandfather’s. These charming wooden—yes, wooden!—cars are definitely a blast from the past. Each one (there are about 15) snap-fits together easily and is fully customizable using stickers and a variety of accessories. Parts from any Motorworks car are interchangeable with all the rest. Plus, you can buy extra parts (including wheels, rims, cabs, chassis, and more) or swap with your friends. Great, low-tech fun for dads and kids. And starting at just $10, they’re easy on the wallet. Beautifully crafted and durable, they’re the kind of toy your children may be playing with their own kids one of these days (and yes, that would make you a grandfather). http://www.manhattantoy.com
Start Wars Yo Men Yo Yos (Yomega)
These cool Yo Yos combine the fun of Yo-Yos with the inter-generational awesome that is Star Wars. (If you don’t love Star Wars, you really need to get your priorities straight). The Star Wars Yomega Yo-Men Yo-Yo line is a collection of 12 of the most popular characters from the Star Wars movies, including Yoda and Darth Vader. A few practice rounds while the kids are asleep and dad will be able to demonstrate walking the dog or going around the world. These high performance yo-yos let you do some amazing tricks (or learn them) with or without using the Force. When you’re done playing or teaching your kiddo, place the yo-yo in the action stand to complete the Yo-Men character. Prices range from under $15 to over $90, depending on collectability and availability. http://www.yomega.com
My BuckleMate (My BuckleMate)
Most dads wouldn’t think of letting the kids ride in their booster seats without buckling up first (yes, we’re talking to you). But how many times have you mumbled profanities under your breath as you’ve tried to unite the female and male ends of the buckles, or strained your back leaning over fishing around to find the end that’s slipped behind or between the seats? My BuckleMate solves both of those problems by propping up backseat buckles so they’re easy to find and reach—so easy that kids will be able to buckle themselves in. http://www.mybucklemate.com/
Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. The Seal recognizes products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.
Submissions are now being accepted for our Spring and Father’s Day 2014 seasons.
Apps, Video Games, and Technology
Reading Rainbow App
The new Reading Rainbow is a completely re-imagined and interactive experience reminiscent of the original TV series. It’s an on-the-go library of quality books and video fieldtrips, currently on the iPad and Kindle Fire. Hosted by LeVar Burton, the app encourages children’s travel to themed islands, such as Animal Kingdom, Awesome People and Genius Academy, discovering quality fiction and non-fiction books from numerous acclaimed publishers (New themed islands are in production, including the addition of National Geographic Kids island). The curated library is personalized with recommendations based on the child’s age, interests and reading habits. Up to five children in a family can each have their own customized reading experience at no additional cost. This includes a personalized digital backpack, reading list, and individualized tracking so dad and mom can see books selected and minutes read for each of their children. Unlike other reading library apps, Reading Rainbow includes video field trips for children to visit fascinating people and places, connecting the books they read to the world around them. The App is free to try and a subscription service, offering unlimited access, is available for $9.99 a month recurring or an introductory price of $29.99. http://www.rrkidz.com
The Skylanders are invading again, but this time they’re coming apart at the seams. Skylanders Swap Force is the newest Skylanders game and the main feature is that you can create your own characters by swapping the tops and bottoms of existing ones. For example, if one of your characters has an arm cannon and tire feet but you’d rather have the tentacle feet from another character, you can make the switch. Small magnets keep the tops and bottoms of the new figures together during play, but easily pull apart whenever you want. Combining characteristics and creating new characters opens up new areas in the game. The 16 Swap Force characters create 250 combinations, 16 new Core characters, 8 LightCore characters, and more. And not to worry, all your old ones—including Giants—will work with Swap Force. skylanders.com
Vtech 3S Tablet
VTech’s 3S tablet starts with their award winning InnoTab and adds a ton of new features, including Wi-Fi. Sounds scary, but there are a ton of safety features so you’ve got complete control over the internet. The 3S comes with 20 pre-loaded apps, including Art Studio and H2O Go! There’s also a neat built-in app called Kid Connect, which allows parents and kids to text each other (if you’ve got a Wi-Fi connection. The 5-inch touch screen is a little small, but the 2MP camera takes perfectly respectable stills and video. All in all, a nice first tablet. http://www.vtechkids.com/
Board and Card Games
If you’ve ever muttered something to a driver in another car or to a character on TV, or wanted to choke the lady in front of you at the grocery checkout line for making her purchase in pennies, you’ll like Anger Management. The goal is pretty simple: Move up your Rage-O-Meter from “perfectly calm” to “absolutely steamed.” The player who’s most likely to throw a tantrum if he or she doesn’t go first starts by spinning the Out of Control spinner. That player then draws a card from the category the spinner landed on and reads it to the group. The players whose answers match the majority move up a notch on their Rage-O-Meter. For example, if the category is “Least Favorite chocolate covered food,” and most people say “donuts,” those players win the round. First one to Absolutely Steamed wins. The others will no doubt whine and complain about conspiracies and evil plots. 3-6 players (odd numbers are best since you need a majority), A great way for dads to connect with teens. http://www.endlessgames.com/new.html
There are a lot of great math games out there, but we found this one to be especially challenging—in a good way. The setting is a horse race, and each player is a jockey. The horse pawns are numbered 2-7 and are actually the answers to the equations printed on Equation Cards. But instead of solving simple addition or subtraction problems, players are solving for factors, which are the numbers that divide evenly into larger numbers without a remainder (for example, the factors of 10 are 1, 2, 5,and 10). Unlike a lot of other math-based games, Front Runner involves strategy. The only way a horse can move forward is if its number is a factor. Here’s how it works. A problem printed on the card (each card has three problems, one easy, one hard, one even harder) reads X+Y-Z=?. Using three dice, the player rolls 5, 3, and 2. 5+3-2 is 6. Since the factors of 6 are 1, 2, 3, and 6, those horses move forward. But if the player arranges the dice 5+2-3, the answer is 4, whose factors are 2 and 4, so only those horses would move, leaving the others behind. Players try to create equations whose factors advance their horse—but no one else’s. It’s a little complicated in the beginning, but well worth the effort. 2-6 players. http://www.simplyfun.com
Furt, which bills itself as “a befuzzling eruption of laughter in a box,” doesn’t really have any rules and you have to figure it out as you play. But that just makes it more entertaining. All you know is that you’re racing the other players to be the first into the mouth of a fiery volcano. And the only way that happens is by completing tasks from one of six categories. Along the way, you’ll have to reveal secrets (or tell bald-faced lies), act out random words, and keep a straight face while other players scream funny words at you, and generally make a fool of yourself in front of other people. 3-8 players (the more the better), ages 13 and up, Takes about 60 rolling-on-the-floor hilarious minutes. $29.95. http://www.wiggitybang.com/furt/
Kwizniac is a trivia countdown game. What does that mean? Well, each card in the deck contains an answer and five clues, which are listed in decreasing order of difficulty. For example, on one card, the first clue (number 5, which scores 5 points) is “She was first invented in 1959” Huh? So we’d move on to the next one (4, which scores 4) “Her real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts” Still huh? The clues get progressively easier until the last one (number 1) is “Her long-time boyfriend’s name is Ken” Got it? Barbie. The object is to get the answer with the fewest number of clues. Great fun for dads, kids, and the whole family. Ages 6 and up. There’s also an adult-version of this game that’s for 12 and up and has 10 questions instead of 5. www.kwizniac.com
NFL Rush Zone
Football season may be winding down, but real for real fans, the season is never over. Game manufacturers have tried to capture the excitement of NFL football but few have succeeded. The NFL Rush Zone board game is one of those success stories.The board itself comes complete with goal posts, yard lines, and interchangeable end zones–one for each of the 32 NFL teams.The game is easy to play–offense and defense run their plays by throwing dice–and take only 20-30 minutes to play. A great way for dad to introduce the kids (and/or the spouse) to the gridiron glory and the basic rules of the game. Toys R Us
The goal of Snake Oil is the same one that snake-oil salesmen of the old West had: get some unsuspecting sucker to buy something he or she doesn’t need. It’s elegantly simple. One player randomly picks a one-word Customer Card—anything from gangsters and frat boys to witches and amputees. Each of the other players gets six Word Cards and picks two to create a “product” to sell to the Customer. The bizarre word combinations (you could end up with a “noise nose,” an “ear button,” a “spit book” or any of a few thousand others) and the ridiculous sales pitches are what make Snake Oil so entertaining. Players have 30 seconds to make their pitch. The Customer awards the Customer Card to the winner. Most Customer Cards wins. 3-10 players, ages 10+. Takes five minutes to learn and 20-30 to play. http://www.otb-games.com/games/
Building and Science
These engaging, fun—and, yes, educational—kits tech kids (and their parents) about air pressure and air-driven mechanics. The kit comes with everything you need to complete 10 different projects, each of which highlights a real-world application that convert air flow to electrical or mechanical energy. There are propeller-driven vehicles and batting machines that toss balls in the air. But the star of the show is a hovercraft that can actually float over land or water. Really. The accompanying booklet is both instruction manual and educational text. Air-Stream machines are perfect for anyone 8 and up who’s got an interest in science or green technology. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com
You and your kids can learn the science of cooking while creating real, edible (and quite tasty) candies and chocolates at home. You’ll learn why sugar crystallizes, and about heat and the phases of matter by molding chocolates and using the candy thermometer. Your child can learn about measurements and conversions, volumes, and weights, and then eat the conclusions. The kit includes metal molds, thermometer, spatula, dipping fork, foil, paper cups, sticks, wrappers and a nice manual, but you’ll need to supply the ingredients. Parental supervision definitely required. $38. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/
When you first open a littleBits kit, you might think you were looking at a box of random electronic components that you might find at a flea market. There’s a bit of truth there—you are getting a collection of components—but there’s more to it than that. Each set includes LED lights, servos, battery or power blocks, and various sensors. The object is to build something that does something, and that’s exactly what you and the kids will be able to do. The instruction book does as great job of explaining how things work, but littleBits is all about hands-on learning. String the pieces together along with materials of your own to make everything from simple on/off circuits and back massagers to moving vehicles and musical instruments. Need a little inspiration? The website has plenty of suggestion for all skill levels. littleBits is as fantastic way to introduce the kids (and yourself) to basic and not-so-basic electronics. Yes, you’re dealing with electricity, but there’s no danger of anyone getting hurt. The pieces fit together only in ways that make electrocution pretty much impossible. Perhaps the best part is watching your child think through problems, going from “what I want to happen” to “hey, I can make that happen!” For ages 5 and up. $99 to $199. http://littlebits.cc/
One of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are—and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and we’re especially happy when at least some of that play time is spent with us!).Nancy B’s Science Club kits were created by Nancy Balter, a former science teacher and all-around science enthusiast. The idea was to inspire girls to become interested in and learn more about science (even the colors are especially appealing to girls, but aren’t so girly that they’ll alienate boys). The Club has also partnered with female scientists from around the world who provide content and contribute their knowledge. Each product comes with a journal where budding scientists can keep notes and track their progress, as well as an “exclusive membership” in Nancy B’s online Science Club. http://www.educationalinsights.com/
Nanoblocks have been around for a while and these micro-sized building block sets keep getting better. There are, as you might expect, advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, you can build incredibly detailed figures that are small enough to fit in your palm. Their tiny size is great for developing hand-eye coordination. On the other hand, they don’t fit together as tightly as some other building block systems, and their tiny size makes them easy to lose. (I guess another advantage is that when you do lose them, they don’t hurt as much when you step on them on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.) Nanoblocks come in kits for building a single item, but there’s no reason you can’t combine sets and come up with your own ideas. Whether you build this 480-piece P-51 Mustang or something else, expect plenty of dad-child fun and a great sense of accomplishment when you attach the final piece. http://www.mynanoblock.com/site/
Super Magnetic Tidal Wave
If there aren’t any magnets or metal around, this stuff looks and feels like ordinary putty. But bring a strong magnet close and things start to change. You probably won’t notice anything at first. However, over time, the putty itself gets magnetized. Now the fun starts. Mold the putty and watch (and feel) how it can go from attracting to repelling the magnet, picks up lightweight metal objects, visually reveals the actual magnetic field, move, roll, and lift up magnets from a distance. If you mold the putty around a magnet the right way, you may even be able to suspend it in mid-air. A great way teach (and learn) about magnets and magnetic fields. It’s a ton of fun. You’ll be tempted to keep fiddling with it long after junior goes to bed. http://www.puttyworld.com/
The Throttle Motorcycle is part of a line of toys that’s designed to show kids the inner workings of various vehicles in an interactive way. The motorcycle is already assembled, but the outer shell is transparent so kids can see how 10 separate parts of the bike function, including brakes, exhaust, engine, transmission, and turn signals. The included storybook, which you’ll enjoy reading to your little one, explains each of those functions and then gives the child a code to activate that specific system. The code is entered by pushing a combination of simple buttons (circle, square, triangle, and X) on the bike itself. Because it’s so solidly built and there aren’t any tiny swallowable pieces, the Throttle is great for kids as young as three. Batteries are required and the bike can get a little noisy with all the revving, but there’s a parent-friendly volume control that will undoubtedly come in handy. http://worxtoys.com/
Dolls and Characters
Doc McStuffins “Doc is In Clinic”
Doc McStuffins, star of the incredibly popular TV show of the same name, now exists in the real world with a bevy of adorable doll-related toys. Unlike a lot of character-based toys these days that make you buy extras to really enjoy them, the “Doc Is In Clinic” comes with just about everything that you and your young child could need to play with and is ready to go right out of the box. (Interesting piece of backstory trivia: In the TV show, doc’s first clinic was built by her dad.) This fantastic playhouse includes all the furnishings for Doc’s room and exam areas, two patients who talk when used with the clinic table, and even batteries. So arrange the furniture, decorate the clinic with the included stickers, and start treating sick toys, Now, all you need is someone to figure out Obamacare and help handle the billing.
My Little Nenuco Travel With Me Baby Doll
If you’ve followed Mr. Dad at all, you know that we think playing with dolls is a great way for dads to connect with their daughters (or doll-playing sons). Baby Nenuco is no exception. This adorable doll lets your child care for her just like you care for your child. One interesting feature is the seatbelts, which secure the doll into her car seat. It’s a great way to teach your child why you’re such a stickler for buckling up (you are, right?). That basic lesson may reduce some of the back seat fidgeting and escape attempts. http://www.nenucofamosa.com/us/
These fun, adorable human-dog-combo dolls are a little odd looking, but they grow on you pretty quickly. Pinkie is quite the fashionista and she encourages travel and learning about different cultures, and stimulates kids’ imagination. She even has her own fashion-conscious puppy pets who have mix-and-match hairstyles and more. Her clothes are bright and trendy. But best of all, she’s actually dressed in a way that won’t make you blush: no sexy clothing or vampy undergarments, thank you very much. That’s a feature most dads will really appreciate. You and your child can also keep up with Pinkie and her friends’ international adventures at PinkieCooper.com.
Fun at Home
B. Submaplane Build-a-ma-jig
The Submaplane is a real work of art that dad and young kids can enjoy together. There are 29 pieces that can go together in hundreds of different ways, so you can create something that lives deep in the ocean, flies high in the sky, or occuplies some space in between. Comes with a mini power drill and three bits so kids can have a real workshop experience. Batteries are included, and the pieces are interchangeable with other build-a-ma-jig sets. Perfect for the budding architect or master builder. http://justb-byou.com/
B. TeePees are really beautiful, inside and out and are a wonderful way for dads and kids (boys and/or girls) to share in imaginary adventures. Once assembled, the lantern inside the TeePee projects stars and comets all around. There’s room inside for a couple of kids or one kid and a very small dad–or a larger dad with legs hanging out the door. B. TeePee is easy to put up and just as easy to take down, although we left ours up for so long that the dog eventually moved in. Batteries are included. http://justb-byou.com/
- Yellow Dinosaur Flannel Buddie with Green Fleece Cover
- Green Frog Musicians Flannel Buddie with Blue Fleece Cover
Most parents figure out a little too late how hard it is to pry a favorite stuffy that’s in desperate need of washing from a young child’s sleeping hands. And, of course, it’s 10 times harder if the child in question is awake. These cuddly bunny buddies may be able to satisfy your child’s need for comfort and security as well as your need for basic hygiene. The secret is that Bommerscheim Buddies come with an easy-to-remove, washable cover–why didn’t anyone think of that before? http://www.BommerscheimBuddies.com
Combat Creatures Attacknid
As you might guess from the name, these six-legged, remote-controlled creatures are part attack vehicle and part arachnid. Each one has detachable leg armor and a gattling-gun head on top that shoots Nerf-like darts. Ideally, two or more Attacknids would battle it out in your living room–the goal is to shoot off the other guy’s armor. But you can have almost as much fun with one, assembling, loading up the gun, target shooting–the darts can go up to 30 feet–and even chasing your pets (of course you’d never shoot anything at your pet, right?) around the house. The RC controller responds well, and the head rotates 360 degrees so you can fight off attackers from any angle without worrying about getting stuck in a corner. And because the Attacknids move like real spiders, they crawl equally well on hardwood, tile, or carpet. http://www.combatcreatures.com/
Folkmanis Puppets (Sky Dragon, Alpaca, Screech Owl, Red Octopus, Mini Firfly)
Puppets are great for stimulating creativity and imagination (yes, yours as well as your kids’) and can be a great any-weather way of getting some insight into what’s going on in your children’s head. Folkmanis makes some of the nicest puppets around. From large, very articulated ones with mouths, wings, arms, and legs to the most basic finger puppets, they’re all beautifully crafted and very life-like. Their new line of traditional hand puppets (called “Little Puppets”) includes frogs, dragons, and unicorns, all with working mouths. http://www.folkmanis.com
Monsters University Sully Monster Mask
Spinmaster’s Sulley Monster Mask allows kids to move Sulley’s face as they move their own. The eyebrows move up and down, and mouth opens and closes as the child moves his or her mouth. This plush mask is cute, not scary, and has a t-strap in the back to keep it on the child’s head. Your child will love “scaring” mom and dad and that Sully will move just like they do. Great for dads and kids to engage in imaginative play in a non-scary sort of way. http://www.spinmaster.com/
Does it ever seem that your child has as tornado under his feet–that every single toy he or she owns is strewn around all over the house? And does it ever drive you crazy when that same child completely flips out because a particular toy seems to have gone missing? Tummy Stuffers may be able to help. They look like ordinary plus toys, but you can stuff their tummy (hence the name) with an amazing number of toys. Ther are 6 designs: Monkey, Ladybug, Dog, Unicorn, Gator, and Kitty, all of which make cleanup a lot less stressful for everyone–and leaves more time for the really important stuff, like actually playing. https://www.buytummystuffers.com
Zoomer is an awesome robot canine that acts just like a live puppy would. He zips around, barks, plays, does tricks, and just everything but chew your furniture and poop on the carpet (do does lift his leg to “pee” but fortunately, there’s nothing to clean up). Zoomer comes pre-programmed with a few commands–sit, lay down, play with me, pee, and guard me. And he can even learn other commands. He’s got LED eyes that correspond to his current activity (including X’s over them when he plays dead), and four legs with wheels that work on carpets and hard floors alike. Oh, and the cutest thing of all is his tail, which shakes and wags right along with the pooch. He’s got a USB-chargeable battery that lasts for about an hour of playtime. All in all, the perfect pet if your landlord won’t allow real ones or you’re allergic. Also good for giving the kids a chance to actually prove to you that they’ll actually keep their promises to take care of a dog if you’ll only relent and buy one. http://zoomerpup.com/
Language and Education
French for Kids: Dedans et Dehors (Inside and Out)
Research shows that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language. And if you want your kids to learn French, Whistlefritz’s “Dedans et Dehors” will help you give your kids a wonderful, life-enhancing gift. This research-based program uses as language-immersion approach, but does it using upbeat songs, skits, a group of peers as diverse as the speakers of French across the globe, and animations that encourage children to participate actively with the programs. Great for dads, whether you’re a native speaker, studied French in high school, or don’t know a word. In case you’re in one of the last two categories, a handy translation guide and French subtitles help you learn along with your children. www.whistlefritz.com
If you’re interested in exposing your little one to a new language, Little Pim is a great choice. Using the “Entertainment Immersion Method,” each Little Pim DVD covers a particular theme (usually common activities like waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, mealtime, and playtime) and introduces about 60 words and phrases. Kids (and adults) learn a new language the way they learned the first one: by example and repetition. The discs are further divided into 5-minute chunks that make dad-child interaction, practice, and discussions a breeze. The programs add to the learning–and the fun–by including music CDs. The French Bop CD, for example, includes 15 popular French children songs which will help your little one retain the vocabulary while learning about French culture. To round out the experience, there are also word- and phrase cards to quiz your kids with (or that you can use to practice on your own). With patience and practice, today’s preschooler could learn enough to play tour guide on your next overseas trip. Little Pim has kits in Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian, all of which are perfect for the classroom, home, or a quick on-the-plane or in-the-airport language brush up. Most are also available digitally and can be downloaded to your tablet or smartphone. http://www.littlepim.com/
Newmark Learning System
Kids who do the best in school are usually the ones who get the most hands-on, one-on-one support and encouragement from their parents at home. Knowing dad (and mom, of course) are there motivates kids and shows them that making an effort makes a difference. But what if you want to be supportive but don’t know how? Enter Newmark Learning’s Parent Involvement Kits. Each one is focused around a single subject (including math, social studies, and science) and contains books, a parent guide, and a reading journal. We reviewed the Social Studies kit, which covered a variety of topics such as maps, birthdays, towns, and more. Each book’s vibrant, large pictures and simple words encourage kids to read along with parents at story time. If you’re working with a pre-reader, you’ll really appreciate Newmark’s Sight Word Readers (included in the Parent Involvement Kits), small books designed to teach little ones to recognized basic words they’ll see all the time. Usually, sight word drills are boring. These are just the opposite. One of our reviewers, who’s a teacher by training, says that the Newmark Learning programs are the best she’s ever used. And she was thrilled to see her 5-year old flipping through a book, looking at words and reading them aloud. www.newmarklearning.com/
Music and Video
We love music and believe that it should be a part of every child’s (and adult’s) life. Before Ben Gundersheimer started winning awards as an internationally touring music educator and performer called Mister G, he was (and still is) a talented indie rocker with passion for music, travel, and language. The songs on this bilingual album are catchy, entertaining, and eminently hummable. They’re great to listen to together with the kids and take the listener on a virtual tour of music styles, ranging from reggae to Latin to folk. Best of all, the lyrics and the quality of the music make this DC just as interesting for dad as it is for kids. http://www.mistergsongs.com
Children Make Terrible Pets (and three more stories about family)
The first time I saw the Scholastic Storybok Treasures DVDs, I was very skeptical. I’m a big believer in reading to kids and didn’t think a DVD could possibly be as fun to snuggle up with as a dad, or that a movie version of a favorite book could be as engaging as the original. I was wrong. First, these DVDs aren’t really movies–sometimes there’s animation, but quite often, the visuals are slow pans across the actual illustrations. Second, who’s to say you can’t snuggle up with a movie? Third, you and your child get exposure to more books than you might otherwise want to buy or check out of the library. You also have access to interviews with the authors and other special features that you can’t get with a “real” book. Don’t get me wrong, I still love actual books, but the Scholastic Storybooks are a very close–and very worthwhile–second. Children Make Terrible Pets is a super-sweet tale of a bear named Lucy who, while out for a stroll in the woods (wearing a tutu) finds a little boy and decides to take him home as a pet. Peter Brown’s story is hilarious–especially for 2-5-year olds–and his illustrations are wonderful (the one of the little boy, named Squeaker, in a litter box is definitely LOL material). Other books on this DVD include All the World, by Liz Scanlon, Crow Call by Lois Lowry, and Elizabeti’s Doll, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen. http://www.newkideo.com
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late
Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late and two more stories by mo Willems. Others include Knuffle Bunny Free and Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. More great fun from Scholastic. This DVD includes interviews with the author and as recipe for Edwina’s chocolate chip cookies. http://www.newkideo.com
A Gift for Sophie
A Gift for Sophie is a colorfully illustrated picture book and musical CD. Written by Gilles Vigneult–a member of the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame–and illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch, Sophie is a story about friendship, perseverance, and problem solving. The story itself is very sweet and the music is sophisticated enough to engage adults and playful enough to engage the kids–a family win-win. http://www.thesecretmountain.com/
The GiggleBellies get ready for sleepy time with Sweet Songs & Lullabies
The tunes are catchy, the animation and production values are superb, and kids absolutely love the Gigglebellies. The problem is that while most adults will find themselves singing along with the tunes, many may find the actual Gigglebellies characters, well, a little annoying. So what? The kids will be so entertained that you’ll eventually have a really good time. And that makes the Gibblebelies a great way to spend your time and your money. www.TheGiggleBellies.com
Lishy Lou and Lucky Too
Lucky Diaz and his Family Jam Band have been making good music,, performing, and winning awards (including a Latin Grammy) all over the world. This album–the band’s fifth release–features songs about Amelia Earhart and Jackie Robinson and is, in a way an inspiring celebration of people following their dreams. The songs are catchy–even to grownups. But some of the music’s magic gets undermined by the sketches and stories in between the songs. Little kids (say, under 8), may enjoy them, but after a while they grate on the adult ear. Nonetheless, this is high-quality, fun listening for the whole family. http://luckydiazmusic.com/
The Magic School Bus: Revving Up
Revving Up is actually a 3 DVD set: “Under Construction,” “Getting Energized” and “Cracks a Yolk”–each with 4 episodes of the incredibly well-done, award winning science-adventure TV series. Over the course of the five+ hours of programming, you and the kids (I include “you” because these DVDs are a great way to spend time with your kids) will learn about engines, construction, computers, electricity, light, sound, how animals survive in the desert, and a lot more. Highly recommended for dads, kids, and anyone else you can get to watch with you. http://www.newkideo.com
Marsh Mud Madness (DVD)
This DVD is part kids’ concert video, part field trip, and part education focusing on mud. Yep, mud. We follow musician/educator/adventurer/former camp counselor/Eagle Scout Roger Day as he explores the animals, plants, and habitats of Sapelo Island, south of Savannah, GA. It’s a circle-of-life kind of thing. Crabs who live in the mud eat grass. When the crabs die, vultures eat them and vomit them right back into the mud where they make more grass grow. Science can be a bit intimidating to little kids (his audience seems to be mostly 6 and under) but Day’s songs are so creative (who couldn’t love a song about vulture vomit on your head?) that the kids and their parents can’t help but get excited by the flora and fauna of the Georgia coast. www.rogerday.com
Marsh Mud Madness (CD)
The CD of Marsh Mud Madness is pretty much the same as the DVD (fortunately, vulture vomit is still there and so are mosquito burritos), minus the visuals and plus in-studio versions of a couple of the songs. Roger is a captivating performer and really gets dads and kids to think about ecology and what scientists do. www.rogerday.com
The Ohmies: Morning Wish Garden
Fitness music? Who’d have thought? The Ohmies are a unique New-York-based group whose live shows have earned rave reviews, not only for the entertainment value, but also for their songs that encourage kids to get up and dance. The music itself is definitely aimed at very young kids and it’ll be less interesting for a lot of parents. However, seeing the joy on the kids’ faces as they stretch, bounce, and get sweaty, will get even the most jaded dads to join in. http://www.theohmies.com
Pacha’s Pajamas: A Story Written By Nature Vol. 1 & 2
This double album is great experience for fathers and children to share, listening to the music, learning the songs, and havng conversations about the story. Pacha is a girls whose magical pajamas whisk her away to imaginary worlds where she has wild adventures with the characters on her PJs. In this story, Pacha finds herself at epic music festival in the jungle organized for (and by) plants and animals. Fox News is reporting (with real foxes). The animals’ experiences convey clues about the state of their habitat and the impact of human activities. Pacha falls in love with nature, realizes she is part of it, and that she has all that she needs within herself. The album has 28 tracks and features 70 artists spanning four generations including Mos Def, Cheech Marin, Les Nubians, Talib Kweli, Agape Youth Choir and 20 more. http://pachaspajamas.com
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers
This isn’t the first CD from Trout Fishing in America that we’ve had the pleasure of listening to. And we sure hope it’s not the last. Keith and Ezra, the 4-time Grammy-nominated duo (one has to wonder what’s wrong with the people who decide the actual winners) combine their hilarious wordplay and absurdly funny situations to create an album that’s got something for everyone. The kids will love songs like “My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend,” and “Creepy Dead Bug.” Dad and mom will chuckle at (and then have to try to explain) adult references like someone being “As slow as Congress,” and they’ll laugh–like it or not–at some of the tongue twisters and songs about stepping in dog doo. http://www.troutmusic.com
Songs from a Journey with a Parrot
Songs from a Journey with a Parrot is a collection of lullabies and nursery rhymes from Brazil and Portugal. Written by Magdeleine Lerasle and illustrated by Aurelia Fronty, the songs talk about love, travel, work, and play in Portuguese and English. The accompanying CD features 30 traditional songs and, besides offering listeners an aural glimpse of a really cool-sounding language, take us on a tour of a dizzying variety of musical styles and instruments. Our only complaint is that packing 30 songs into 45 minutes makes the album seem rushed. But that’s a minor point. http://www.thesecretmountain.com
Super Simple Songs, Video Collection, Vol. 1
Super Simple Songs is, as you might expect from the name, a DVD filled with simple songs most of us grew up with, including Twinkle Twinkle, B-I-N-G-O, Five Little Monkeys, and a dozen more. There’s a nice mix of live action (demonstrating the itsy bitsy spider–which they call eensey weenesy–for example) and animation (the owl who sings Twinkle Twinkle is delightful). As with most videos aimed at kids, we recommend that you watch with your child instead of parking him or her in front of the screen. A sweet video, perfect for snuggling up with your toddler and singing together. http://store.supersimplelearning.com/
3-in-1 Rocker Napper
As a rocker, the 3-in-1 Rocker Napper can be used to entertain or soothe your baby, complete with baby-activated mobile with soft and happy buddies to play with, and a music box that plays nine melodies. Detach the mobile for an inclined feeding seat. And at naptime, raise the sides and you’ve got a rocking bassinet. And you can move from position to position with one hand. tinylove.com
Baby Brezza Formula Pro
Of course, everyone knows that breastmilk is best for babies. But sometimes that’s just not possible, for any of a number of reasons. In those cases, formula is the way to go. Baby Brezza’s Formula Pro is like one of those fancy-shmancy single-serve coffee makers with the expensive pods. But this one works with all bottle sizes and all formula brands (as long as they’re powdered). Just make sure the machine is stocked with plenty of water and powder, and with a push of a button you can get warm (near-body-temp) formula in whatever bottle you’d like–the machine does the mixing for you. Anything that can get dad more involved in feeding their baby earns our vote. http://babybrezza.com
JourneyBee portable crib
There are plenty of travel cribs out there, but the journeyBee cribs from ParentLab are the first we’ve seen that are actually light and flexible enough to satisfy the portable-crib needs of families that are always on the move. Weighing in at just 10 pounds and easy to carry on your back, you’ll need only one trip to move the crib from home to car or vice versa. And they’re sturdy enough for road trips, hotels, camping, outdoor play, or bringing along to friends’ and family’s homes for easy nap- or playtime. A breeze to set up, recommended for 0-18 months. If you’re looking for something a little more petite and you’re not in a hurry, the company is planning to release a bassinet version that weighs only 4.3 lbs and folds up smaller than most purses. http://ParentLab.com.
The new Magical Night projection mobile, is a crib mobile, projector, music box, and toddler nightlight (that looks like an adorable bedside lamp) all in one. Given that traditional mobiles have to come down once the baby can stand up and start yanking on them, an item that can last from birth through the toddler years offers real value for the money. Plus, since it grows with your child, it will also be a familiar part of bedtime routines, which experts agree help children fall asleep more easily—and stay that way longer. tinylove.com
Twilight Turtle Tunes
Okay, Twilight Turtle (along with cousin Sleep Sheep) has been around for a while, but there’s definitely something new here. Don’t worry–those amazing blue, amber, or green constellation projections aren’t going anywhere. But Cloud b has added a Twilight Turtle Tunes app (free), which uses Bluetooth to allow moms and dads to choose from a pre-set mix and match of melodies and sounds to play on the Twilight Turtle Tunes’ speaker box. There’s also a premium app ($1.99) that gives parents the option to access their personal music libraries to create totally unique mixes for as long as 24 hours. If you prefer not to use or you don’t have Bluetooth, Twilight Turtle Tunes comes with one default nighty-night melody that can be set for 45 minutes. http://cloudb.com/
Ubbi Diaper Pail
We’re all for anything that encourages dads to get more involved in the most mundane, day-to-day, get-your-hands-dirty parts of babycare. No one really wants to change diapers, but it’s actually a highly underrated bonding experience–especially for first-time dads. The Ubbi Diaper Pail probably won’t make you want to change diapers more often, but it will definitely reduce some of the more unpleasant parts. Like the stink. Regular, plastic pails–even when there’s a trash bag inside–somehow manage to absorb that diapery smell. But not the Ubbi. It’s made of powder-coated steel, which doesn’t absorb any of the smell. Plus, you can use any kind of trash bags. That may not seem like a big deal now, but most of the other diaper pail systems use proprietary–and much more expensive–bags. Bottom line, so to speak, dads (and moms too) will love the Ubbi. http://www.ubbiworld.com/
The idea behind the PowerUp 2.0 is pretty simple. It’s a weighted shaft connected to a chargeable propeller that, when attached to a paper airplane, lets you keep the aircraft in the air for as long as 30 seconds or so–a veritable eternity for most of us. You can rig just about any paper airplane with a PowerUp, but nothing can save a poorly folded plane. Fortunately, the website has several videos with recommended designs and specific folding instructions, as well as a pretty thorough trouble-shooting guide. The PowerUp charges quickly and is a fun, educational way for dads and kids to share some of the excitement of creating a flying machine. A newer version of the PowerUp, the 3.0, lets you control your plane with your smartphone or tablet. http://www.poweruptoys.com/
Razor Kixi Scooter
Kixi is Razor’s cute scooter for smaller kids. It has a stand-alone, three-wheel design and an extra-wide, slip-resistant deck for extra stability. This helps novice scooters with learn how to steer and gets them ready for the two-wheelers when the time comes. Because there are two wheels in the front and one in the back, some kids may find the Kixi a bit wobbly. So plan to stand close by to help out at first. Kixi comes in two colors, and its sturdy steel, aluminum, and plastic construction will stand up to the many tumbles and drops it’s sure to endure. A great first scooter. http://kixikids.com
The game of catch must be one of the oldest games on earth. So it seems almost impossible that someone could come up with a variation that’s truly unique. Yet that’s exactly what RingStix is. Each RingStix kit includes four sword-like wands–enough for two players–and two rings that are about as big around as a grapefruit. Pick up an extra set or two and you can expand the game to three or four. Here how it works: The first player puts both swords through one of the rings, then, by pulling the swords apart, the ring flies across the distance between him and player two. Player two tries to catch the flying ring on both of her swords and the process is repeated, with player two shooting the rings to player one. The first time or two the ring will go flying to the sides, over heads, or flop on the ground and roll away. But in less than five minutes, dad and kids will be having a blast. The set we tried out included a regular ring and one that glows in the dark, which was especially fun. Three warnings. First, you’ll need a lot of space (ideally, 10-100 feet between players) so don’t even think about playing RingStix inside. Second, play on grass or at the beach. Once you develop a little proficiency, you’ll want to make spectacular diving catches. Third, if you plan to play in the dark, check out the playing area for dog droppings, gopher holes, and sprinkler heads–all of which we managed to discover too late… It’s easy, portable, and encourages outdoor play. www.ringstix.com
If you and the kids do any biking, skateboarding, or scootering, you know how important it is to wear helmets. And you probably get some pushback. The Wipeout Dry Erase Helmet not only protects your child from head injury, but by allowing them to customize and design their own helmets with a set of assorted neon dry erase markers makes them less likely to complain about helmet hair. Wipeout Dry Erase Helmets are available in 3 different sizes, several colors, www.iWipeout.com
For kids, seatbelts can be the most annoying part of any trip—even worse than a younger sibling. Kids spend half their time squirming around, trying to get the seatbelt into a more comfortable position. And if they fall asleep, they often wake up with a seatbelt mark on the face. With SeatPets, those problems are a thing of the past. Little bro or sis, however, will still be as annoying as ever. SeatPets are soft, cuddly creatures that fit over any seatbelt, making it a lot more comfortable. They also have big, soft heads (lion, cow, ladybug, cat, dog, monkey, and monster), which help keep the child’s head supported and reduce those sore nap-necks. These plush pals also come with a variety of pockets so kids can store away treasures, and a handy backpack strap, which makes it easy for Junior to schlepp his own Pet when your hands are full. https://www.seatpets.com/
Tidy Table Tray and Flexi Diner
Make meal time easier when you’re on-the-go with the first of its kind new portable table tray. Offering a large eating space and rounded rims to keep spills off the table, it’s easy to use and attaches to most tables via a rubber coated clip. It’s BPA and phthalate free, and dishwasher safe. There’s also an easy on/off insert which can help turn meal time into play time at any time! Use it for meal or snack time, then just rinse or wipe off (depending on where you are) and pack it up. Great for home and hotel use as well as taking with you to restaurants and to family and friends homes. Bonus? Use it to let kids draw and create art on without having paper and crayons get all over the floor (keep it contained!) www.bambinoschild.com
The TrayKit is an all-in-one kid’s carry-on backpack and play-tray solution It’s only about the size of a large lunch box and easily straps to train- and plane tray tables or hangs from the back of your car’s front seats. The result? No toys on the floor, no chasing down rolling crayons or annoying fellow passengers with every dropped action hero. Built in pockets (most with tops that seal) keep items organized and kept in place and can reduce some of the stress of traveling with kids. http://www.traykit.co.uk/
Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2013
Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and the GreatDad Recommends Award. Both Seals recognize products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.
Submissions are now being accepted for our Back-to-School and Winter Holiday Seasons.
Klettermax Castle Game (HABA)
Like a lot of HABA games, Klettermax Castle is suggested for players 4-99. And truly, this is a game that can be enjoyed by readers and non-readers together. The object of the game is to collect award cards by flicking colored wooden “knights” into the nine open boxes of the game. While a roll of the dice determines when a player can next try to flick his knight in, the game also requires strategy and fine motor skills. We played this with a 9 year old boy who enjoyed it and we extended the rules to make it a 45-minute long game, though playing by the real rules would make it an easy 20 minute game. We’d recommend this game for younger players and dads, though older players and grandparents can certainly join in. HabaUSA.com
Reading Rainbow app (Reading Rainbow)
The Reading Rainbow app is a nicely designed reading service that has a lot going for it. It promotes reading through a big selection of books selected for each child based on his stated preferences. Using a Netflix-type system, kids can check out books as they wish and take out more when they return the ones they’ve finished reading, all for one $10 monthly fee. The app also includes an alerts feature so that parents can monitor what books are being and read and for how long. We like this app because it promotes reading in a fun way, with supplementary videos that continue to promote reading itself as an adventure. At the same time, we hope that the app is gradually improved in two ways. First, it would be great if there were a plan that costs less than $10 per month. We know that books don’t come free, but this is a high priced monthly fee that will be prohibitive for many families.
Second, we wished that the app actively suggested reading a story with dad (or mom) rather than focusing only on solo reading, which can be a challenge for the targeted kids here, ages 4-9. At this age, kids need more supervision in their reading, and motivation, that goes beyond electronic stickers for reading each story, like hugs and smiles from an involved parent. Still, this is one of the best efforts we’ve seen for an app that promotes reading by young kids. Reading Rainbow app.
Kindness Kingdom board game (Kindness Kingdom)
Some toys and games can be enjoyed equally by girls and boys. Others are decidedly for one sex or the other. Kindness Kingdom is one of those–aimed squarely at girls. Many dads will take a look at the fairies, tea parties, charm bracelets, princesses, and flowers and run away screaming. But that would be a mistake. In fact, I’d argue that this game is an absolute must-have for dads of daughter. The insights you’ll get into what makes your little girl tick are well worth the purchase price. And the rewards you’ll get from showing her you’re really interested in her world are priceless. Players move around the board collecting charms (first one to fill up her or his charm bracelet wins) and answering questions from a variety of categories. (For example, What’s a fancy word for tea sandwiches? Should you extend your hand first to shake hands with someone in a wheelchair? How long after you receive a gift should you have to write a thank-you note?)The game sometimes seems a little heavy-handed in its attempt to teach manners and empathy, but girls love it–and for those of us who missed finishing school, it really is a great learning experience. 2-4 player, ages 5 and up. kindnesskingdom.com
SkyTrix (Sky Trix)
SkyTrix™ looks like glider but plays like a kite and a frisbee all in one. The concept is simple – a plane on a tether. You can swing it around your head and make it fly straight up in the air, or send it flying to, hopefully, be caught by your child. The SkyTrix is very responsive and thankfully, takes no batteries. It’s that simplest of toy that just requires a nice, calm day and a little bit of time. You can throw as much energy has you want at it, running and throwing or try to stand mostly stationary to play a game of SkyTrix catch. people-powered. At beach party tests, we were able to do boomerang shots that sent the glider forward and then back again, to the amazement of bystanding 9-year olds. Product videos show other tricks such as casting, snap backs, and loops. SkyTrix™ is a fun game for dads and kids looking for new ways to play catch. This is a toy that both adults and kids will find entertaining, especially once they get the feel of how to make it cooperate. Please note that SkyTrix is for kids ages 8+. facebook.com/flyskytrix
Young Scientists Club, Clifford the Big Red Dog Series (Young Scientists Club)
This new series of three kits is a great introduction to the sciences for the pre-school age kids (ages 3 and up). Since they are pre-packaged with almost everything you need to conduct the included experiments, it’s easy for dads to jump right in and get involved. Kids love to see things happen in the natural world, and dads love to explain the deeper principles behind the experiments (though we do recommend a little background research before hand so dad isn’t stumped). We also recommend allowing plenty of time to clean up before mom gets home. These kits are also good in families with multiple children. theyoungscientistsclub.com
YFlikr Y-volution (Fliker Scooters)
Once you get past the YFlikr’s unique and very cool design (from the top, it looks like a Y (hence Y-volution)—one wheel in the front, one on each of the two back “wings”—you’re in for a real treat. You can push off with one foot, like a skateboard or scooter, but with a little practice, you can get the YFlikr moving just by wiggling your behind (sorry, there’s no way around that—but it’s also a tremendous workout and makes exercise a blast). The YFlikr is also a great way to meet your neighbors: every time we take ours out for a spin around the neighborhood, we literally stop traffic and people cross the street to ask about it. $99.00 (for the F3) – $129.00 (for the F5). http://flikerscooters.net/
The game of catch must be one of the oldest games on earth. So it seems almost impossible that someone could come up with a variation that’s truly unique. Yet that’s exactly what RingStix is. Each RingStix kit includes four sword-like wands–enough for two players–and two rings that are about as big around as a grapefruit. Pick up an extra set or two and you can expand the game to three or four. Here how it works: The first player puts both swords through one of the rings, then, by pulling the swords apart, the ring flies across the distance between him and player two. Player two tries to catch the flying ring on both of her swords and the process is repeated, with player two shooting the rings to player one. The first time or two the ring will go flying to the sides, over heads, or flop on the ground and roll away. But in less then five minutes, dad and kids will be having a blast. The set we tried out included a regular ring and one that glows in the dark, which was especially fun. Three warnings. First, you’ll need a lot of space (ideally, 10-100 feet between players) so don’t even think about playing RingStix inside. Second, play on grass or at the beach. Once you develop a little proficiency, you’ll want to make spectacular diving catches. Third, if you plan to play in the dark, check out the playing area for dog droppings, gopher holes, and sprinkler heads–all of which we managed to discover too late… Ages 9 and up. www.ringstix.com
Children’s Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II (CD by Steven D. Farmer)
There’s no substitute for reading to your child—it builds vocabulary, focus, concentration, opens up doors to the imagination, and is a wonderful opportunity to spend time cuddling with your children (no matter how old they are). Sometimes, though, it’s nice for dad and kids to listen to someone else read a story. And it’s especially nice if that story sparks interesting discussions. That’s exactly what Steven D. Farmer does in Volume II of Children’s Spirit Animal Stories. Witten and read by Farmer, the stories feature various animals (an elephant, a dolphin, a unicorn, and others) who are dealing with the same kinds of problems as we humans do. Farmer’s voice and reading style are engaging and he keeps the messages from being too heavy handed. We found that the real value is in the conversations that the stories spark. Dads can jump start things with questions like, “What would you do if you were Emma?” But most kids will already see themselves in the animals and will have plenty to say on their own. Ages 5 and up. www.satiama.com