Avio Stroller (Inglesina)
The Avio is a sleek, lightweight, yet sturdy stroller. The single bar design allows for one-handed operation, which frees up your other hand to hold another child, drink your coffee, or talk on the phone (but shouldn’t you be paying attention to your child?). It comes with a cup holder, rain protector, a window that allows you to keep an eye on your baby, and a few other options. Rear shocks make for a somewhat smoother ride. And it fits Graco, Britax, and Peg Perego car seats. It’s a nice-looking stroller that won’t make you feel embarrassed to be seen pushing it. The one big problem is that that the handles don’t extend, which means that anyone over about 5′ 8″ will be stooping after a while. I guess you could use your extra hand to hold an ice pack… Price: around $500.

Olive Kids website (Olive Kids)
It’s pretty hard, these days, to find bedding and other decor items for kids’ rooms that aren’t commercials for some TV show or movie or toy or character. So if you’ve had it with superheroes, Disney princesses, Pixar characters (don’t get me wrong–I love Pixar movies, but sometimes I need a break), Bob the Builder, Thomas, Scooby Do, GI Joe, and all the rest, you’ll definintely want to check out the Olive Kids website. They’ve got blankets, sheets, pillows, clocks, growth charts, plates, backpacks, lunch boxes, and lots more–all of which are attractive, well made, can be personalized with your child’s name, and are mostly under $50. Our kids are becoming brand conscious at younger and younger ages. Making your child’s room an ad-free zone might help slow the tide.

Fire Truck (Green Toys, Inc.)
Put out 3-alarm blazes. Rescue kittens from treetops. Protect the environment from harm. That’s just a typical day in the life of the Green Toys Fire Truck, billed as “the world’s greenest emergency vehicle.” Made from 100% recycled plastic milk containers, this solidly built toy will stand up to even the most brutal dives out of second-story windows. The roof ladder pivots vertically and rotates 360 degrees, and the two side ladders are removeable. No BPA, PVC, or phthalates, so assuming you let your child play with this cute-as-a-button toy, it’s okay for him to put it in his mouth.

Ice Age Excavation Kit
Crystal-Growing Trees
IR Cockroach
(Wild Creations)
Wild Creations keeps coming up with new ideas to stimulate science learning among young kids. The Ice Age Excavation Kit is a fun way for kids to get some insight into what it’s like to break open a pile of rock and find dinosaur bones. Developed under supervision of a paleontologist, dads can expect this toy to open up real discussions on dinosaurs, time, and geology.

Crystal-Growing Trees continue the theme of making science accesible and engaging for kids and adults. The package says it’s for ages 10 and up. But even kids who are way too young to care about the science will have fun creating a tree and watching the crystals grow.

Once you get past the yech factor, the remote-controlled IR Cockroach is another science project masquerading as a fun toy. Kids and dads will have fun examining the real life details of this giant cockroach (it’s about the size of a cantaloupe), and likely terrorizing mom, especially with its “prepare and scare” mode, which allows the toy to sit idle for 30 seconds before it comes to life. www.wildcreations.com

CitiBlocs (CitiBlocs)
Besides being fun, playing with blocks is a great brain builder. If you give your kids a chance to get near your box of CitiBlocs–which now come in an explosion of colors: orange, pink, red, yellow, and natural–they’ll benefit too, learning reasoning, problem solving, cause and effect, engineering, and improvising. Besides being educational, CitiBlocs are safe, green, and infinitely adaptable. They come in packs of 50, 100, and 200 blocs. If you can, get the bigger pack.

Terra Kids Experimental Box Knack of Knots (HABA)
For those of us who missed the boy scouts, didn’t join the Navy, and aren’t into bondage, and this battery-free kit includes everything you’d ever want to know about knot tying. Aimed at kids 8 and up, the Knack of Knots comes with detailed instruction cards, ropes, and even things to tie together. A wondeful way to strengthen those father-child ties.

Elf Magic (Elf-Magic)
Elf Magic is really a kit to create a new holiday tradition in your house. The idea is for dad to use the elf toy to represent Christmas magic for young kids. While this isn’t the kind of thing that all dads are going to spark to, we like the kit that comes with Elf Magic that helps guide dads in creating new holiday activities to delight a child.

Balance Math & More! (The Critical Thinking Company)
The Balance Math & More! activities sharpen your child’s critical thinking skills, computational skills, and develop algebraic reasoning. The first book in the series focuses on addition and subtraction of whole numbers. The spiraling difficulty level is designed to scaffold a child’s conceptual understanding of the targeted operations from beginning to advanced. A great way to make learning math fun–for your child and for you.

Piggyback Rider(Full Sail International, LLC)
There’s a point, somewhere around the time our kids turn three, that they make the transition from “able to walk just fine” to “unwilling to walk no matter how many times and how nicely you ask.” Unfortuately, even though most dads really love to carry their kids, that’s just about the same time that our backs start to give out. This is where Piggyback Rider comes in. Designed to accommodate kids as heavy as 60 pounds (although it’s better suited for kids 50 pounds and under), this well-built product shifts the child’s weight forward, over your hips, for a less-back-destrying ride. Handles on the shoulder straps (the ones over Dad’s shoulders) enable your child to hang on tight without choking you out.

Preschool Building Set
Power Sweeper
Constrction World II
Rok Works Construction & Action Set
If you’ve got a budding engineer or builder on your hands, he or she (and you too, Dad), will love these blocks. With the Preschool Building Set, kids as young as two or three can start creating working, 3-dimensional working models of buildings, vehicles, planes and more.

One of the nicest features of the Rokenbok kits is that all the pieces work with each other. So as your child gets older you can add new and different blocks and build even more complicated structures. The Power Sweeper is perfect for older preschoolers.

The Construction World II and Construction & Action Set add in even more complicated structure, plus kids, when their dads will give it up, can incorporate engines and other moving parts and create vehicles that can be driven by remote control. Truly a building system that will grow with your child.

3D Sneaky Puzzle, Singin’ Sea Creatures
Stir ’em Up
Word Shout
Has anyone else noticed that just about everything is in 3D? Patch’s 3d Sneaky Puzzle is no exception–it even comes with 3D glasses. The puzzle itself is colorful, engaging, and pretty easy for toddlers and preschoolers to put together. But Patch adds a fun degree of difficulty by cleverly hiding all the letters of the alphabet and numbers 0-9 among the seashells, lobsters, and other undersea life.

Stir ’em Up is no ordinary word game. To start with, there’s no sitting around waiting forever while everyone else takes their turn–everyone plays at the same time, making words out of letter tiles. Kind of like Scrabble, but with the letters constantly changing. For ages 8 and up, it’s great for vocabulary building, speed reading, and just plain old family fun.

Another fun game for kids 8 and up, Word Shout is like a combination of Boggle, Yahtzee, Scrabble, and a crazy day on the trading floor of the stock exchange. It’s designed to be played in 20-30 minutes so there’s never a boredom factor.

7 Function Binoculars
Bug-Eye Headlight
The Bug-Eye Headlight is perfect for kids (and grownups) who enjoy the outdoors–or who just like to read under the covers. Easier to hold on to than a regular flashlight and leaves both hands free if you’re camping and out in the middle of the night looking for a tree to pee on. The light is adjustable and since it’s powered by an LED, you’ll never have to worry about replacing bulbs (batteries still need replacing).

Like the Headlight, the 7 Function Binoculars are great for getting kids up and off the couch and into the great outdoors. It really does have seven functions, all of which encourage exploration and learning: binoculars, monocular, magnifying glass, linen counter, compass, stereoscope, and signal mirror. A great way to teach about directions, compases, and orienteering.

Kim and Tim: The Color and Number Squirrels (HABA)
We had a lot of fun with the Haba Kim and Tim game. Like all Haba games, this one has a real appreciation about how kids play and what levels are right for different ages. The age range identified on the box is 3-6, which seems about perfect. My almost 7 year old son enjoyed the game, but he was clearly on the advanced side of the spectrum. My ten year old played patiently, and I was able to see the game through the eyes of a dad with the slightly younger child just learning shapes, colors and numbers. While the game uses a die and healthy amount of luck, there is some skill and memory involved in winning, especially if you’re only four years old, unlike other simple board games that would bore anyone over seven. Dads will enjoy playing this game with little kids, if only to watch their little minds turn through the challenges, albeit very simple for an older child.

Sports Resort (Nintendo Wii game)
Dads and kids who enjoy playing the Wii will have a ton of fun with Wii Sports Resort. Recently endorsed by the American Heart Association as an active video game, many of these games will get you out of your seat to play beyond a beginner level. The game includes new activities such as table tennis, frisbee, and swordplay, all requiring new skills. Many of the games can be played with three or four players, though most also require a Motion Plus accessory that attaches to the bottom of the Wii-mote. All games can be played by almost any age at some level.

Kabongo website (Kabongo)
Unlike a lot of learning games online, my kids were engaged with Kabongo. The characters are engaging, in a snarky and silly sort of way, and the language learning games are well integrated into the game without seeming like an add-on. As dads, we especially like the weekly emails that tell what your child is playing at and doing, along with ideas on how to further develop their cognitive skills. This is the first game we’ve seen that actively involves parents, and we we hope they add more features like this.

Power Strike Quick Fire 48 Blaster (Prime Time Toys)
If you don’t approve of guns, skip this product. But if you don’t mind your kids playing with firearms (toys, of course), this is a blast. It’s essentially a hand-held Gatling gun for kids. Unlike most other “harmless” toy guns (like marshmallow shooters, super soakers, and foam dart crossbows), the Power Strike is battery powered, which turns this baby into a battle-ready weapon. It has a payload of 48 darts, which can be launched as far as 48 feet. A good pre-paintball weapon. And it provides ample opportunity to teach your child about empathy, the importance of followoing rules, and consequences for not listening (in my house, the general rule is if you hit anyone above the knees, you’re disarmed for the rest of the day).

The Mr. Dad Seal of Recognition

Not every product or service we evaluated met our strict criteria of helping dads get or stay involved with their children and improve the quality of father-child relationships. But there were some entries that we felt were worth noting.

From My Mama’s Kitchen: Food for the Soul, Recipes for Living, by Johnny Tan
Johnny Tan cooks up a tasty story of motherly love. Tan, who moved to the U.S. from Malaysia when he was 18. Since that time, he had the good fortune to meet nine different women, each of whom he lovingly refers to as “mom.” Tan incorporates each mom’s wisdom and guidance–along with a few recipes–as he explores the meaning of motherly love. It’ll help you appreciate your own mom a bit more, and the mom of your children a lot more.