What do a stop-action animation studio, light-up building blocks, a huggable hedgehog, an interactive graphic novel, a gaming console for toddlers, a rugged diaper bag, and a door for fairies have in common? Well, not much, except that they’re among the nearly 50 winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval for the 2015 Winter Holidays. 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 the 2015 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 2016 Spring and Father’s Day seasons.
Art, Crafts, and Beyond
Cling Creator (Crayola)
You and the kids can unleash your colorful creativity by making your own clings. Comes with 20 ready-to-go molds, or you can use clay (included) to create your own, even-cooler ones. Just squire out your goop, mix your colors (or go with a single color), let it set for a bit, then stick your cling to your wall, door, window, or forehead. Ages 8+. $24.99. Buy it here.
Color Wonder Mess-Free Light-Up Stamper (Crayola)
Feeling nautical? Grab a kid and use the ten ocean-themed stampers to create your own stories. If you just had a vision of permanent stamps all over your walls, furniture, clothing, and skin, no need to worry. The ink is totally invisible except on special Color Wonder paper. Okay, if the ink’s invisible, how do you know what color you’re stamping? Because the electronic stamper knows which color you’re dipping it in. Does it really matter how? Includes the stamper unit, 12 pages of Color Wonder paper, three markers, and the 10 stamps. Ages 3+. $24.99. Buy it here.
Crayon Carver (Crayola)
Dads and kids can use the motorized engraving machine (batteries required) to personalize and customize their crayons or write messages to each other. Comes with all 26 letters and 14 icons. Ages 6+. $29.99. Buy it here.
Easy Animation Studio (Craoyola)
You and the kids can create your very own stop-motion videos. Pick one of ten characters to be the star of your film, and situate him/her/it in one of five backgrounds or take a picture of anything and use that as your background instead! Color it any way you’d like, using any Crayola products. Then, import the whole scene (character plus background) into the free iOS/Android app. Now the fun begins. Grab the mannequin and start posing, snapping pictures of each position. The software smooths everything out, leaving you with a remarkably realistic, kid-created animation. You can even add sound effects and voiceovers. Ages 6+. $24.99. Buy it here.
IDO3D Art Studio (RedwoodVentures)
IDO3D is a really interesting product that you and your kids may never get tired of. It’s not exactly a 3D printer, but there are some similarities. Say you decide to make a cube. What you do is use the 3D “ink” to draw each side on the included sheet of plastic. Then use the ultraviolet spotlight to dry and harden the ink. Once that’s done, peel your drawings off of the plastic and assemble them to form your cube. If you can imagine it, you can make it, whether it’s a bracelet or other wearable or just a piece of art. All you need is a good idea and plenty of patience. Young kids may become frustrated if they start an overly ambitious project, so encourage them to start with something easy. But tweens and teens (and you too) may spend days creating stunning, elaborate works of art. Ages 8+. Under $25 at Target or your favorite retailer or visit ido3dart.com.
Thread Wrapper (Crayola)
A whole new way of customizing things. Instead of coloring them with crayons or markers, you can wrap them in thread. Tired of using plain pencils? Wrap ’em. Want to jazz up your ear bud cords? Wrap ’em. Searching for a new look for your sunglasses? You get the point. The kit includes the motorized threading unit and six spools of thread–four already colored, two in white so you can use markers to create your own colors. Ages 7+. $24.99. Buy it here.
Got a budding animator in your home? If so, this is definitely for you (as long as your child is old enough not to put small things in his or her mouth). The idea is pretty simple: kids can pose the cute plastic figures and use the free StikBot Studios app (for iOS or Android only) to create their very own stop-action. Suction cups where hands and feet would be allow the StikBots to do all sorts of neat tricks. The Bots themselves don’t always hold their posed position and the app can be confusing for very little kids, but overall, it’s a really fun way to bring out your child’s creativity. Ages 4+. $9.99 for a kit with two Bots and a tripod. stikbot.toys/
4 in 1 Helicopter and 6 in 1 Monster Truck (Laser Pegs)
Laser Pegs has a variety of products that take Lego-type building to a whole new level by adding lights that flash, blink, and generally make what you’ve build look very cool. The step-by-step instructions are easy enough to follow that even young builders will be able to take charge. Plus, the 4 in 1 Helicopter has only 47 pieces, and the Monster Truck has 67, including the battery-operated base, which makes both construction and cleanup a lot easier. As their names indicate, the kits we tested let you build multiple vehicles. But because Laser Pegs are compatible with other building systems, you and the kids will never run out of projects to do together. Unfortunately, girls are sometimes reluctant to do building projects. But we think that Laser Pegs’ colors and lights will attract plenty of girls and encourage them to see building as not for boys only. Ages 5+. Helicopter kit is $14.95, Monster Truck is $20.95. laserpegs.com/
Fort Boards Custom Fort Builder
One of the great things about building something with your child is that you enjoy it as much as he or she does. Fort Boards are no exception. They’re delightfully simple: Each pack includes 44 8″x8″ panels and 46 connectors that allow you to snap the panels together at nearly any angle from 45 to 180 degrees. You can also get packs of design cards that allow you to customize your fort (or igloo or whatever you’re building) to look like metal, stone, or wood. For ages 5 and up, but littler kids can enjoy them with your supervision and older kids will enjoy them without it. $110. FortBoards.com
Gizmos & Gadgets (LittleBits)
This kit is great fun for dads and kids who enjoy building, tinkering, and inventing. Gizmos & Gadgets comes with all the materials, electronic building blocks, tools, and detailed instruction you’ll need to design and build more than 15 projects, including a functioning racecar and a bubble machine (many more are available on the littleBits website or through their free app). And of course, there’s no limit to the number they can come up with on their own. For ages 8+. $199.95. Buy yours here or visit littleBits.com.
Light Stax 36-piece Classic Set (The Lazy Dog & Co.)
From a distance, Light Stax look like Duplo (Lego’s jumbo size bricks for preschoolers), but connect at least one Stax block to the power base, and every other block that’s connected—directly or indirectly—will light up. The base, which can run on batteries or a USB cable, has enough juice to light up at least 100 blocks. Light Stax projects provide an illuminating opportunity for dads and kids to use their imagination and creativity while working together. Best of all, they’re a something you and your child will return to over and over. Take advantage of the auto-shutoff feature, which allows you and your child to build a completely new nightlight every night. Stax come in sets from 12 blocks to more than 100, and prices run from $35 to $250. Buy a set here or visit LightStax.com
Silver Falcon (Pinblock)
Rather than manufacture yet another LEGO-compatible building system, the folks at Pinblock came up with something completely different. There is only one type of block, which looks like a European electrical plug. Pieces can stack, twist, go together to create walls, or even make wearable gadgets. That element of simplicity means you’ll spend less time scrounging around trying to find some custom piece and more time exercising your creativity. The kit we reviewed was labeled Silver Falcon, but since all of the 900 pieces are the same (only the colors are different), you and your kids could just as easily build an Empire State Building, Tower of London, unicorn, or an inedible turkey sandwich, You’ll get plenty of old-school building and bonding fun here. The pieces are very small and easily swallowable, so keep them away from little kids. For ages 7+. $47.96 (1,000-piece Freestyle kits range from $44.95 to $49.95). pinblock.com
Dolls and Huggables
Flipsies Sandy’s House and Ocean Cruiser (VTech)
Sandy is just one of the Flipsies, collectible dolls that are designed to inspire the little girls who play with them. Sandy wants to be a marine biologist, and each of the other Flipsies has her own unique dreams. Carina’s on her way to medical school, Styla runs a fashion boutique, Eva wants to be a veterinarian, and Clementine has a thing for ice cream. All of the Flipsies (each is sold separately) can switch clothes, accessories, and even hair. But what’s especially fun is the MagicPoint locations that are in each Flipsie’s habitat. Put Sandy in one of the MagicPoints on her Ocean Cruiser and she’ll tell you something nautical. Put her into a MagicPoint in Styla’s salon, and she’ll tell you something that’s appropriate for a budding biologist with a strong sense of style. Ages 4-9. Prices vary, depending on the kit. This one is $27.99. Buy it here or visit vtechkids.com.
Stay Asleep Buddies (Cloud b)
Stay Asleep Buddies play music and have a gentle glow from their bellies. Buddies are great for bedtime, naptime, and take-alongs. They stay on only a short period of time, so little ones will be lulled to sleep and you won’t have to tiptoe in and shut off the music. Batteries and an on/off switch are neatly tucked away on the side of the belly, which makes them hard for a child to see and mess with. The hedgehog is just as adorable and snuggly as can be and will be a great help in easing any lingering fears your child has of the dark. $29.95. Buy it at cloudb.com.
SuperMax the Turtle (Cloud b)
This adorable turtle, roughly the size of the palm of your hand (but big enough to fill an entire bedroom with a starry night sky), is great for road trips, vacations, or just going to grandma’s for the weekend. SuperMax has three nightlight color options to choose from and has an on/off switch. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s an essential when stowing battery-operated toys in a travel bag, where they have a nasty habit of randomly turning themselves on. And just in case you forget, the lights are on a timer and will shut off automatically. Bottom line: SuperMax is cute, fun, happy, and will help reluctant sleepers get comfortable enough to drift off. $21.95. Buy it at cloudb.com.
Education and Science
Leadership Decision Challenge I: Flash & Thunder (INVICTA Challenge)
INVICTA Challenge is absolutely fascinating—and a marvelous way for you and your child to learn about history and leadership. It all starts by putting your child (with dad as an advisor, perhaps) in the role of a real WWII soldier on D-Day—a Native American paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division named Turner Brashears Turnbull. In real life, Turnbull and his platoon held off 10 times their number of Germans during a critical period of the D-Day landings, preventing Nazi reinforcements and saving countless American lives. Your child gets a historically accurate Operations Packet with maps, details about the mission, equipment the soldiers carry, what to look out for, and information on how the Germans fight and what their goals are. Using the Ops Packet, a 108-page graphic novel, and a superbly designed interactive video game and/or app, your child is faced with the same choices Turnbull was. The success or failure of the mission depends on careful reading, observation, strategy, and good decision making. Turnbull’s story is just the first in what the folks at INVICTA (and the folks at Mr. Dad!) hope will be a long series. Future subjects include Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, and Teddy Roosevelt. For boys or girls, ages 8-14. $34.95. Buy it at Barnes & Noble and spend some time at invictachallenge.com.
Project MC² McKeyla’s Ultimate Lab Kit (MGA Entertainment)
In case you’ve never heard of it, Project MC² is a new, live-action Netflix original series aimed at tweens (mostly girls). The show features super-smart teenage spy McKeyla McAlister and three equally super-smart friends who undertake top-secret missions for an all-female spy organization, NOV8 (Innovate), where they use their love of science to save the world. The Ultimate Lab Kit is filled with cool, educational experiments that you and your very own super-smart tween- or young teen girl will have a blast doing together. The Kit contains 30+ pieces, including a working 4x power microscope, beakers, a petri dish, instructions for 15 STEAM experiments, safety goggles and more. When you’re done (assuming you ever are), it all packs up neatly into an oversized lab “bag.” Ages 10+. $54.99. Buy it here and watch the series on Netflix.
Ride Along with Dooey Car Games (Playtime EDventures)
Playtime EDventures creates products that help get kids away from tech and TV, which they are glued to more often than not. Their goal is to make learning fun and encourage interactive activities that allow kids to use their creativity—and that they can do in their room or while traveling in the car. Playtime EDventures works with early childhood education experts and professionals to incorporate standard curricula in reading, math, geography, art, music, nutrition, and much more. Kids can play and learn- having fun the entire time. Right now, the product line includes bed sheets and a car games CD. Hopefully more are on the way. Visit PlaytimeEDventures.com.
Silly Sensory Blocks Deluxe Starter Set (Sassy Baby)
If you don’t know Sassy Baby, you don’t know what you–and your baby–are missing. As you know, we’re huge fans of blocks for a variety of reasons: they’re a great way to build hand-eye and small-motor skills; they’re fantastic for developing imagination and creativity; and they’re a wonderful way for dads to spend time with their kids. You can’t do better than this 40-piece set. What truly sets these blocks apart is the Sassy Stay Trays, which take some of the frustration out of stacking for the very youngest builders so they–and you–can focus on what’s really important: building your relationship. $29.99. Buy them here or visit sassybaby.com.
Silly Sensory Vehicle Blocks Playmat (Sassy Baby)
Building with blocks is great, but sometimes kids want to go out instead of up. This delightful play mat allows kids (and dads, of course, to incorporate blocks, cars, people, and more. It also encourages storytelling and provides an interactive, fun way to play, learn, and engage with your baby. $29.99. Buy it here or browse sassybaby.com.
Spanish for Kids: The Ultimate Collection (Whistlefritz)
This is a cute video, featuring a little animated mouse as well as a Spanish speaking senorita. It’s really sweet, and has fun and upbeat music that the kids can enjoy while learning a new language. The one drawback is that it’s entirely in Spanish, which can make it a little hard for kids to follow along unless they already speak some Spanish. We worry that the kids might give up too quickly. That said, this Collection would be great to use in conjunction with other Spanish language learning sets. As the kids become more fluent (which shouldn’t take too long), you can use this DVD more regularly. Ages 2-6. $115.00. Buy it at whistlefritz.com.
Fitness and Outdoors
Lil’ Ocean Explorers 3-in-1 Adventure Course (MGA Entertainment)
It’s baby’s first obstacle course–the perfect prep for Marine Corps Boot Camp. The 3 in 1 Adventure Course engages and stimulates your baby as he bounces from one developmental milestone to the next, from crawling to sitting to standing. And it’s a great way for dad to be there, camera in hand, every step (or crawl) of the way. A perfect toy to encourage active play–and a great bonding activity for Dad and baby. $79.99. Buy it here or browse LittleTikes.com.
Perfect Fit 4-in-1 Trike (MGA Entertainment)
You don’t usually think of a trike as something that grows with your child, but it actually does. In the early days, when your little tyke hasn’t figured out how to steer or pedal, Dad can use the push bar to do both. As the child develops the fine- and gross-motor skills to be able to turn and pedal, you can disconnect the push bar and give her room to make her own decisions. The 4-in-1 Trike is a great way for dads to transition from “I’ll do it for you” to “let me show you” to “I’ll be here if you need me.” Good practice for those teen years. $99.99. Buy it here or browse LittleTikes.com.
Air Warriors Ultra-Tek Snipe (Buzz Bee Toys)
You and the kids will be impressed with this cool blaster from Buzz Bee. Between the bolt action, the detachable scope and barrel, and everything else, the Ultra-Tek Snipe is more than three feet long and blasts darts up to 72 feet! The dart clip is part of the Ultra-Tek Clip System, so it’s completely interchangeable with the clips from other Ultra-Tek blasters you may have around the house (if you don’t, you really need to get some more). The Snipe comes with the scope, barrel, 10 long-distance soft foam suction darts, and thee and eight-dart clip. Ages 6+. $19.99. Buy it here or visit buzzbeetoys.com.
Air Air Warriors Ultra-Tek Gem 2 Pack (Buzz Bee Toys)
With the Ultra-Tek Gem 2 Pack, there’s no waiting around for your turn on one of the larger blasters. Instead, you’re ready for a one-on-one duel–just you and your kid. The slides pull back easily and the darts load with no problem and advance automatically. So you’ll end up with hours of fast, dart-blasting action that you can enjoy from more than 70 feet apart. You get two blasters and six long distance suction darts. $6.99. Buy here or or visit buzzbeetoys.com.
Air Warriors Air Max Tyrant (Buzz Bee Toys)
Okay, when it comes to dart blasters, this is a beast. First of all, you can hit your target up to 80 feet away. Second, it comes with 20 Air Max suction darts and a 12 dart clip that reloads quickly and easily. Just pull back the slide, which automatically advances the darts, and you’re invincible. The clip is part of the Air Max Clip System, so it’s interchangeable with other Air Max clips from other Air Warriors products. $14.99. Buy here or visit buzzbeetoys.com.
Air Warriors Predator (Buzz Bee Toys)
A nice intro to blasters. The bolt action makes it easy to operate and the 30-foot range makes it a little more manageable than some of the others (and no, you still shouldn’t shoot things indoors). Comes with a detachable scope, four soft, foam darts, and a secret storage compartment to hold your ammo. $12.99. Buy it here or visit buzzbeetoys.com.
DinoHunterz CrossBow (Zing)
Dinosaurs are hot again this year–and so are bows and arrows (between “The Hunger Games” movies and the “Arrow” TV show, could it be any other way?) The Dino Hunterz Crossbow encourages active play for both fathers and children. For safety-conscious parents, these crossbows can shoot only suction-cup arrows. Place the arrow hooks through the Crossbow loops and latch onto the pin. Release the safety, pull the trigger and watch the Dino Dartz fly! Sounds a little complicated, but you’ll master it within a minute (your child will do it in 20 seconds). With arrows shooting over 45 feet and a special Dino-scope for supreme accuracy, T-Rex (or Dad) doesn’t stand a chance! Each Dino Hunterz Crossbow comes with three Dino Dartz suction-cup arrows and one Dino Hunterz Crossbow. Ages 8+. $19.99. Buy it here or visit zingtoys.com.
Firetek Zeon Bow (Zing)
The Firetek Zeon Bow is a mini version of one of our favorite bows: the Airstorm Firetek. Just two-thirds the size of big bro’, the Zeon launches light-up zarts up to 35 feet (about one third of the Firetek’s 100-foot range). The soft-foam, suction-cup tips make it perfect for indoor play—as long as you’ve put all of your fine China and Ming vases out of reach. Comes with three zarts. Ages 5+. About $14.95. But at Amazon.
Mini Drift trike (Madd Gear)
With its solid steel construction, this Drift trike can give dads a measure of confidence that when their kids pull a 360, the bike will hold together (that’s something you can’t say about all drifters). The Mini Drifter’s front wheel has a solid hub (ensuring that nothing will get caught in the spokes) and an inflatable tire (ensuring that it grips the road). But the most important part of any drift vehicle is the rear tires–you want them as smooth as possible so when you yank the handlebars to one side, the rear end will spin out. The Mini Drifter definitely delivers, making it a sure-fire hit for any kid (and his or her proud, camera-toting dads). Please make sure riders always wear a helmet and proper safety gear. Ages 7+. $99.99. Buy it here.
Dinosaur Poppers (Hog Wild)
We’re delighted to welcome the latest additions to Hog Wild’s giggle-inducing Poppers line, which we first discovered in February. Back then, it was the Love Popper, who shot “kisses” to the object of your desire on the other side of the room. Now, it’s dinosaurs. The basic idea remains the same. Load your figure with one of the soft, foam balls, squeeze the figure’s belly, and watch the eggs (or spitballs or whatever you want to call them) fly. There’s a Triceratops, a T-Rex, and even a Pterodactyl that they call a “bird of play.” Depending on how hard you squeeze, you could launch one of those projectiles up to 20 feet, so you may want to do your popping outside. Ages 5+. About $10 at your favorite retailer or hogwildtoys.com.
If you’re a gamer, trying to get a toddler or preschooler interested in your passion can be a challenge. Here’s where the InnoTV comes in. It features a wireless controller that sports an easy-to-use joy stick, a wheel, and a few colorful buttons. It ships with a few educational games that little kids will love, and there are some excellent two-player games as well (but you’ll have to buy a second controller). All in all, a great way for your little one to acquire some gaming skills in those all-important years before he or she is ready for Call of Duty. Under $60 at Amazon, or visit vtechkids.com.
Irish Fairy Door (The Irish Fairy Door Company)
This is just about the cutest thing ever. So many kids get caught up in the world of fairies, trolls, and gnomes—thanks in part to current literature, TV shows, and movies. The Irish Fairy Door is such a fun and sweet way to “welcome” the fairies into your home and your imaginations. It’s not only a fun idea; it’s also an ongoing imaginative play experience for the family. Choose your fairy door (and yes, there are colors that are not just traditionally “girly,” so everyone can play), then pick the perfect place for your fairy to live. You can then register your fairy online. There are holiday wall art accessories, clothes lines, and more to spruce up the fairy’s abode should you choose. Don’t overlook the Christmas items, which are perfect for the elves. But this is such endless fun that you and your family will be able to enjoy it all year ‘round. $19.99. theirishfairydoorcompany.com.
Nefarious: The Mad Scientist Game (USAopoly)
Designed by Donald X. Vacarino, creator of the popular Dominion and Kingdom Builder games, Nefarious pits you and other evil geniuses against each other to see who can bring the world to its knees first. All you have to do is build the most dastardly and terrifyingly cool device, amass the biggest fortune, hire the most minions, and do the most sabotage and espionage. Special Twist cards turn the rules on their head so you’ll never play the same game twice. A unique board game that fosters friendly competition and, if absolutely necessary, cooperation. For 2-6 players, age 13 and up. Buy it here or visit USAopoly.com.
The Circle of Calm (Circle of Calm)
As dads, we want to help our kids be their best possible selves. But one of the biggest challenges for dads (and moms too) is to help a child with mental health issues. The Circle of Calm program was created by Steven Maybruch, a proud dad and psychotherapist. It’s based on the concept of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is designed to help kids recognize negative, worrisome thoughts and provide a way to interrupt those thoughts before they become entrenched patterns. The program consists of two parts: an ebook that’s designed to so dad can read through it with his child and learn about worrisome thoughts and why they crop up. The second part is a simple silicone wristband that acts as a tangible reminder of how to switch from negative thinking to calming, positive thinking. A great tool to have in your fatherhood arsenal. Ages 7+. $11.99. thecircleofcalm.com.
Cloud Pets (Jay@Play)
When bedtime looms, these cuddly, plush companions from Jay@Play are good for a lot more than snuggles. Just download the free app from the Apple Store or Google Play and you (or mom, grandma, grandpa, or anyone else) can record a message for your child. You can send the message from anywhere, but not directly to the Cloud Pet—it has to go through a Bluetooth-enabled device that’s in the same room. A blinking red light lets your child know that a new message is waiting; they just squeeze the Pet’s paw to hear it. Kids can reply to the message in the same way—from their pet to the nearby device, and on to Dad (or Mom) in Timbuktu. Comes in Puppy, Kitty, Teddy, Bunny, Elephant, or Unicorn. $29.99 at cloudpets.com.
Cozy Comforts Kitchen (American Plastic Toys)
Who says dads can’t be in the kitchen? This ultra-modern kitchen features the latest in realistic kitchen design including: single-cup coffee machine, raised “gas” burner that makes a boiling water sound when pots and pans are placed on it, microwave, refrigerator, oven, toaster, recycling and play bins. Efficiently engineered, the Cozy Comforts Kitchen has eliminated all screws and replaced them with snaps and press fits for easy (and injury-free) assembly. In addition, all of the accessories (plates, cups, forks, knives and spoons, two pieces of toast, muffin tin, pan with lid, touch screen phone, spatula, large spoon, strainer spoon, and strainer) are ready for play; no clipping or trimming required. Best news of all? It’s gender neutral, so everyone can play. Ages 5+. An incredible value at just $35. Buy it here or browse APT’s website.
Happy Wrap (Happy Baby Wrap)
Babywearing is an easy and effective way for dads to get tons of cuddle and bonding time with baby while boosting those all-important feelings of competence and confidence. These lightweight, breathable wraps have no buckles or rings are one-size-fits-most, so you and the baby-mama can share one wrap. They come in a variety of prints and can safely and ergonomically (translation: less back pain than many baby carriers) support a baby up to 25 pounds. $48-$55. happybabywrap.com.
Health Stories for Kids books by Brian Wu (Health Stories for Kids)
The Health Stories for Kids (HSFK) books address family, friendship, and health conditions in a way that makes sometimes-complicated and sometimes-scary topics engaging and accessible to kids and parents alike. In each book, author Brian Wu explores a specific topic through an easy-to-read story with characters kids will identify with. Fort Applegate & the Battle of Wounded Knee talks about the immune system, The Zoo Flu Frenzy talks about the flu, and Emily’s Best Gift Ever deals with new babies. For parents, each book includes tips for caregivers, a glossary, and a resources section. There are a number of other titles, including celiac disease and asthma, all are available on the HSKF website. For ages 8-12. Kids on the upper range can definitely read the books themselves; younger ones might want to read with dad. $2.99 each at Amazon.com.
The Legend of Ranger, The Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly (Opus One Studios)
Ranger is a reindeer who lives in the shadow of his big brother, Rudolph who, as we all know, is the star of the show. Unfortunately, Ranger can’t fly. But that’s not going to stop him from dreaming about being a part of the sleigh team instead of the ground crew. Written by Alan Salisbury and illustrated by Roberta Baird, The Legend of Ranger is a bit too long to be a picture book, but it’s a great length for a winter snuggle in dad’s lap. And the message about the importance of believing in your dreams is a nice one for kids. Ages 3-7. $12.95. Buy it at Amazon or opusonestudios.com
Shampoo & Body Wash (Nature’s Baby Organics)
Today’s dads are involved in every aspect of parenting, and bathing the kiddies is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the best jobs ever. Really. But some of the “baby” shampoos and bath products out there have a—there’s no nice way to say this—stench. That’s not a great thing under normal circumstances. And it’s especially unpleasant if anyone in your family is sensitive to scents. Nature’s Baby has figured out a way to clean and moisturize our littlest monsters, leaving them smelling delicious–like coconut and pineapple. Also comes in lavender chamomile and vanilla tangerine. $17.95 for a 16-oz. bottle. naturesbaby.com.
Sleeper Hero (Purple Pancakes LLC)
When kids are little, bedtime can be tough on everyone: they may be afraid of the dark or of being alone, and you may be afraid (then angry) that you’ll be up all night dealing with them. SleeperHero is a doll-book combo that’s aimed at eliminating some of that nighttime tension. The book is about a child who has trouble falling asleep in his own bed but is befriended by SleeperHero, who’s there to comfort and banish the bad guys and monsters hiding under the bed. For the parents, the doll has a light on his chest that glows red when it’s time for the child to stay in bed, then changes to green when it’s okay to run around and wake everyone up. Naturally, you can set both times. Ages 3+. $49.99. sleeperhero.com/
Tubby Table (Tubby Table Toys)
Why is it that so many of parenthood’s rites of passage involve water? The first one, of course, is learning to bathe a slippery newborn without having him squirt through your fingers. Then, when that baby becomes a toddler and transitions to the full-size tub, there’s figuring out how to keep water (and toys) in the tub and off of the bathroom floor. Tubby Table has got a solution and it’s one of those why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-sooner products. The basic Tubby includes a water wheel, a construction area, cups, and more. You can customize your table with activity mats (sold separately) that feature race cars, tea parties, and zoo animals. Whether you go for the standard version of one of the upgrades, two things are for sure: (1) since you won’t be worrying as much about clean up, the whole bath experience will be a lot more fun for everyone, and (2) never, ever leave your child alone in the tub. Ever. Ages 18+ months. $39.99. tubbytabletoys.com.
On the Road
Down Range Baby “Got Your Six” Diaper Bag (Down Range Baby)
One of the first things you notice about the Down Range Baby (DRB) diaper bag is that it doesn’t look like a diaper bag at all. No floral prints, no fluffy bunnies. That might be enough all by itself to recommend it. But there’s more: DRB is solidly built, has tons of Velcro-closure pockets, and is plenty big enough to carry anything and everything your baby could possibly need. Best of all, once your baby is out of diapers, the DRB bag can easily become a laptop bag, briefcase, or overnight bag. It was created by police officer Jeff Shepard, a guy who loves being a dad and knows–like everyone who’s reading this—that fathering is masculine. Highly recommended. $290. downrangebaby.com.
ZoomKIT (Kids Go Co)
We all know that texting while driving is incredibly dangerous. But so is turning around to talk to the little ones in the back seat or trying to keep your eye on the road while digging around hoping to find that crayon that one of them dropped on the floor. Designed and developed by a team with more than 40 years of experience in the kids market, ZoomKIT increases car safety by reducing distraction and keeps the kids’ paper, art supplies, and even food in one easy-to-clean area. It also allows kids to be enriched and entertained whether they’re on the go, in a restaurant, or just trying to stay busy in an airport. What could be better than keeping the kids (and, by extension, Dad and Mom) safe, calm, and happy? 18+ months. $49.95. Buy it here or see more at kidsgoco.com.
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/