Announcing Winners of the 2012 Holiday Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and GreatDad Recommends

Well, it’s that time of year. And if you’re looking for the perfect gift for a dad who wants to spend more quality time with the kids, you’ll definitely want to check out this season’s GreatDad Recommends and Mr. Dad Seal of Approval winners.



Our top picks include:










  • Lite Brix Extreme City Lights, from Cra-Z-Art










For the complete list, click here.

And for info on how to submit your product or service for our Spring 2013 awards, click here.

There’s a Hole in the (Academic) Bucket… + Father’s Day Seal of Approval Winners

Dear Mr. Dad: As the school year draws to a close, I’m getting worried about my 9-year old daughter. She’s just an average student and really hates to do homework. I worry that she’ll forget a lot of what she learned over this past year and she’ll start fifth grade even further behind than she already is. What can we do?

A: I’m torn about this. On one hand, I think summers are a time for resting up, having fun, giving the mind a little time to recharge. Unfortunately, with so many kids booked into wall-to-wall camps and activities, summer can be even busier than the school year and recharging—at least mentally—is out of the question.

On the other hand, there’s the Summer Brain Drain, which is exactly what you’re worried about. Students lose, on average, 2 – 2.5 months of academic skills over the summer. Math and spelling are the subjects that get hit the hardest. Put a little differently, teachers have to spend the first month or two of the academic year reviewing material students learned—but didn’t retain—the year before. Here are a few ideas for how you might be able to plug the brain drain—or at least slow the leak down…

  • Visit the library. Most have great summer reading programs, complete with prizes for achieving reading goals.
  • Read at home. You and your child should take turns reading to each other every night, for 15-30 minutes each.
  • Look into summer schools. Sadly, only 10-20 percent of students attend one. But if your child is already weak in a subject or two, this is a great time to catch up—or possibly even get ahead.
  • Ask the teacher your child will have next year to let you borrow a few textbooks. He or she may be able to give you a summer reading list. At the very least, you can make doing a handful of math problems a prerequisite for playing computer games.
  • Don’t forget about writing. I’m not just talking about spelling and grammar—although both are important. I recently interviewed Jennifer Hallissy, author of The Write Start, who told me that “the speed and ease of children’s writing can have a major impact on their overall academic success.” Efficient writers take better notes—which makes studying a lot easier, regardless of the subject—and consistently get higher scores on written exams. Jennifer’s book has dozens of easy-to-implement activities for kids of any age.
  • Make learning fun. Of course, there are the usual standbys: trips to the zoo, museums, and planetariums. But you might also check out a few books that are filled with fun, entertaining (and, gasp, educational—but your child will never notice) activities. I’m really like the Geek Dad series by Ken Denmead, The Daring Book for Girls series by AndreaBuchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, and Sean Connolly’s The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science, which isn’t nearly as dangerous as it sounds.

With the big day just around the corner, we’ve been working frantically to evaluate our largest-ever field of submissions for the Seal of Approval and GreatDad Recommends awards. This season’s winners include:


<li>A very cool, reusable kit for building a kid-sized fire station, from Box-O-Mania (
<li>Spanish language learning DVDs and CDs, from Whistlefritz (
<li>A fun, Jack-in-the-Beanstalk play-and-book-in-a-box from InnovativeKids (
<li>Web Hunt and Oh, Really? Two engaging family games from Find It Games (

The complete list—as well as submission guidelines for new products and services—is at

Hair Today, Dad Tomorrow

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single dad with an 8-year-old daughter. She and I are very close, but something has come between us: her hair. She sees other girls her age on TV, movies, or even at school and they all seem to have these amazing hairstyles and fancy arrangements. My daughter keeps asking me to do something like that for her, but I’m not even completely sure I understand the difference between pigtails and ponytails. I can see that to my daughter, hair is a big deal and I’d really like to give her what she wants. Any suggestions?

A: Boy (okay, I should say “girl”), can I empathize. As the father of three daughters I can’t even count the number of times I had my nails painted, face powdered, and eyes smeared with mascara. Or the number of hours I spent conditioning hair (not mine) and combing out snarls that seemed big enough to house an entire family of hawks. Or the days I spent shaking my head in amazement as a straight-haired -daughter used some kind of medieval torture instrument to curl her hair, while her wavy-haired sister used an equally frightening tool to straighten hers. So I definitely feel your pain. The good news is that there is hope. The even better news is that the fact that your daughter wants you to help her with your hair is a huge compliment. It may seem a little silly to you, but every minute you spend elbow-deep in your daughter’s locks brings you closer together and strengthens your relationship.

The first thing you need to do is get familiar with the tools of the trade—which can be more than a little intimidating. Since your daughter is only eight, you probably won’t have to worry about hair dryers, rollers, or curling and straightening irons for another few years. If you’re lucky. But spend a few minutes walking the hair-care aisles at your local drug store and check out the 6,375 types of brushes, combs, and accessories. There’s a big difference between a scrunchie and a regular pony tail holder (do not, under any circumstances, use a rubber band); butterfly clips, snap clips, and barrettes; hard headbands and stretchy ones.

If you have any energy left, take a quick walk through the shampoo department and get ready to refinance your house. You may be able to get away with the Costco brand right now, but take a lesson from my oldest daughter who came back home after her freshman year of college. After rummaging through every closet in the house, she held up a bottle of generic shampoo and sneeringly asked, “don’t you have anything more expensive?”

Now all that’s left is to roll up your sleeves and start creating designer ‘dos. For that, I recommend Cozy Friedman’s Guide to Girls’ Hair: The Cutest Cuts and Sweetest Hairstyles to Do at Home. Friedman, a New York kids’ stylist, will walk you through creating ponytails, pigtails, braids (French, heart, ,mini, and others) along with a rather optimistic estimate of how long it might take to do.

If you’re looking for other ways to strengthen your relationship with your daughter, you’ll definitely want to check out the winners of the Spring 2011 Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. You’ll find a huge variety, including the Xploderz XRanger 2000 firing system (, SnoozeShade (, DoodleRoll art kits (, a great smock from Koobli (, Periodic Quest chemistry game (, the Pocket Referee (, fantastic games from Bananagrams ( and many more. The full list is at