Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2011*


Belly Banter (SlickSugar)
Getting dad involved in the pregnancy is always a challenge. He’s usually a worried bystander without much of a role. Photography is one area where he is usually active, documenting the pregnancy for posterity. That’s why we like Belly Banter, a set of simple 4″ circular sticker to afix on mom’s belly during picture taking. The designs are simple and photos including them will become increasingly valuable long after anyone recalls how far along mommy was when the picture was taken.

Bundli Swaddler (Bundli)
Dads often find the first few months of fatherhood a little tough–in part because they don’t always know what to do with an infant who isn’t giving Dad much feedback on his stand-up routine. But it’s all about practical, hands-on training. And the bundli™ swaddler can really help by encouraging Dad to really interact with his baby and giving the duo a great excuse to spend time staring at each other and making faces. What’s particularly nice about the bundli is that, unlike moost of the other swaddlers we’ve seen, it has built-in head support, which makes the support-the-head-while-trying-to-soothe-the-baby act a lot easier.

Perfect Bum (CoCaLo)
I’ve mentioned this in reviews of other diaper-related products, but I still firmly believe that diaper changing is one of the most underrated daddy-child bonding exercises. It has all the ingredients: skin-to-skin contact, agility training, and face-to-face time. Until recently, it’s been hard for parents who want their kids to wear cloth diapers to make a decent fashion statement. So if that’s what’s kept you from cloth, it’s time to reconsider. The Perfect Bum includes eye-catching, coordinated tops and bottoms and an eco-friendly, patented cloth diaper insert. Available at Babies R Us and other specialty stores throughout the country. For diaper-weaering kids.


Little Reader Deluxe (Brill Kids)
This is one of these don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover (or by the box it comes in) kinds of things. The Brill Kids Little Reader is an extremely comprehensive program that contains more than a dozen books, flash cards, and more. Little Reader is supposedly aimed at kids as young as four months–and that was the first hurdle: Seems a little Tiger-Mom-ish to push a kid that young to read. But if this is a priority for you, you’ll love this program (and even if it’s not a priority, there’s nothing that says you can’t wait until your child is a bit older). Our reviewers found Little Reader to be “extremely structured, extremely easy to follow, and contains clear instructions on how to use the materials, and clear explanations on why the materials are structured the way they are.” A few reviewers didn’t like the fact that the program includes an on-line/on-screen component, but if you’re a techie, that won’t bother you. Bottom line, Plus, there’s very little you can do with your child that’s more valuable in the long run than reading. And as long as you keep it fun–which means following your child’s cues–this is a great program.

GiggleBellies, volume 2 (3D Magic Factory)
Whenever a sequel comes along, fans of the original always get worried that the second (or third or fourth) installment won’t live up to the first. Well, we’re glad to report that GiggleBellies, volume 2 is just as fun as the first. If you don’t already have one, this DVD is the perfect excuse to sing, dance, laugh, roll around on the floor, and completely let loose. Oh, and you can do it with your child too. Ages 2-4.

“Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” with Mother Goose Club (Sockeye Media)
I have to admit that I find a lot of children’s videos frighteningly bad. So when I popped the “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” into the DVD player, I was expecting to watch three minutes and turn it off. Fifteen minutes later, though, I was still tapping my foot along with the Mother Goose Club, six live-action characters who introduce classic nursery rhymes to children through catchy tunes, playful shows and interactive lessons. Our testers–DVD-weary families with toddlers–had very much the same reaction and gave “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” two thumbs up.

Sidekick (Kemby)
If you’ve ever traveled with an infant or toddler, you know just how annoying it is to try to juggle stroller, car seat, diaper bag, not to mention the actual child. The Sidekick offeres a unique alternative, cleverly combing a nice-looking diaper bag that dad won’t be embarrassed to carry with a child side-carrier he won’t be embarrassed to wear (and that won’t cause any long-term nerve damage). Both of those features will definintely help dads stay connected–literally and figuratively–with their young children. For kids up to 35 pounds.


Strange Dees Indeed (The Deedle Deedle Dees)
The Dees are an educational, indie-style rock band based in Brooklyn. Their new release is a largely successful attempt to get elementary school kids excited about learning. The melodies aren’t finger-snapping catchy, but the lyrics are offbeat and fun enough that dad and child will listen more than once and learn a surprising amount of history, folklore, and nature. All in all, definitely a dad-centric approach to children’s music. Ages 5-9.

Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important book/ CD set (Trout Fishing in America)
The plot to this entertaining sequel to My Name Is Chicken Joe is pretty simple: Everyone on the farm knows today is a special day–everyone but Chicken Joe. Tbere’s enough barnyard humor and silliness to keep the kids laughing but not so much that it slips into stupidity, which would drive the dads away. But what really makes this CD/book combo sing (if you’ll pardon the pun) is the spunky narration and witty original songs about friendship and forgetfulness from a four-time Grammy Award nominated band (which means the music is excellent).

These Are My Friends (Alastair Moock)
Children’s musicians have a tough job: they have to produce songs that can keep kids entertained without putting the parents to sleep or making them run screaming out of the room. Alastair Moock’s second family music release strikes the perfect balance. The lyrics are fun for the kids, the music is sophisticated to keep dad engaged, and the combination will get both generations up off the couch and dancing.

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids (Smithsonian Folkways)
In a word, this CD is fantastic. Coming from a guy who wrote songs for Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and others, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But what makes Chip Taylor & The Grandkids such a joy is the obvious warmth and affection between Chip and his three young granddaughters. The contrast between Chip’s grizzled (in the most positive way) vocals and those of the girls had my daughter and me listening over and over, singing along where we could, holding hands and humming elsewhere. It’s a true celebration of familiy and a wonderful example of what happens when generations come together.

I SPY Super Challenger Game – for Leapster (Scholastic)
I SPY Castle – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
As a big fan of the I SPY books I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t make the transition from print to digital. But boy, was I wrong. Our dad/kid review teams were unanimous in declaring both of these I SPY games “Awesome” and “We’re definitely going to play this again.” In the Super Challenger game, the find-the-hidden-objects-in-the-fascinating-photos part is pretty much the same, but add in fast-paced races against the clock that require everyone to use their thinking, matching, memory and math skills to solve the puzzles. In I SPY Castle, the action takes place in a stunning castle, and there are plenty of puzzles and riddles to keep everyone entertained for a long, long time. Ages 6-10.

Magic Schoolbus Oceans game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Dinosaurs – iPad app (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Oceans Game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Definitely for younger kids–especially if they’ve read any of the Magic School Bus books or are fans of the TV show. In typical Magic-School-Bus style, both of these games offer kids–and their wranglers–an engaging, educational, and above all, entertaining time. In the Oceans game, Dads and kids step into the driver’s seat of The Magic School Bus to unlock six levels of the ocean, learning and applying their knowledge as they go. In the Dinosaurs game (which has been ranked in the top 50 iPad apps) Dads and kids will discover everything they ever wanted to know about those big prehistoric reptiles. Ages 5-7.


Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game (TDC Games)
There’s very little that’s completely unique in this crossword anagram game, but the clever soup can design makes it just about as delicious for dads and kids as some of the Bananagrams games (which we love). There are some fun twists, though. Players can insert letters into the middle of others’ words. And, unlike at the dinner table, they’re encouraged to “slurp”–pull a letter out of someone else’s crossword and replace it with one of your own. The Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game encourages kids and dads to sit together around the kitchen table, playing a word game with the homey feel of hot soup terminology throughout. dad can be gently teaching word skills, making education (and time with dad) fun with just a smidgeon of good-natured competition. Play it with a cuppa soup and it’s Mmmm Mmm good, old fashioned fun.

Heelys (Heelys)
You’ve seen Heelys–they’re kind of a cross between shoes and a skateboard. And you’ve probably said to yourself, “Hey that looks fun,” or “Hey, that looks dangerous.” The fun part is absolutely right–tooling around the block or the neighborhood shopping mall with your child is a real blast and a great way to spend some time doing something physical (kids of all ages should be getting 60 minutes of exercise every day–and so should you). The dangerous part can be minimized by making sure everyone who slips into a pair of these snazzy roller shoes is using the proper safety equipment. The other danger–mostly for dad–is that there’a a high risk of making a fool of yourself here, so practice a little before you do this with your child. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be tempted to wear your Heelys to the office.


Glee Karaoke Revolution (Konami)
If you love Glee, and even if you don’t (I don’t!), you have to try Glee Karaoke out with your family. Glee Karaoke Revolution is basically like any karaoke game, except that it uses real scenes from Glee as the backdrop, so you can sing along with your favorite characters. As in Glee, the songs are a mix of oldies, real oldies (think Sinatra), and current hits. It’s fun to watch your kids try to sing old favorites they don’t know at all, but also for dads to step to the mic to belt out new songs like “Beautiful” and “Gives you Hell.” Our whole family giggled for hours playing this game and the kids quite often want to sing “just one song” before going to bed. Don’t buy this if you are super-competitive though; Glee Karaoke is built to have fun rather than score points. For about $7 more, Glee Karaoke comes with a bundled USB microphone, which plugs into the Wii and worked very well in our tests.

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.

Go Anywhere Booster Seat (Polar Gear Baby)
This on-the-go feeding booster seat goes anywhere. It features a five-point restraint harness, three sets of adjustable straps to secure to a chair and a wipe-clean seat. Folds to a compact 12″ W x 11″ D x 4 1/2″ H. BPA-free and complies to ASTM standards. Holds up to 40 pounds. Recommended for 12 months and up but suitable for a child that can sit unassisted. Dads will love this Go Anywhere Booster Seat, as it light weight and is easy to clean and kids will love it because they’ll always have a nice soft surface to sit on and not a hard wooden chair. It’ll make any little toddler feel like a big boy or girl!

Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip, by Bill Raney
This is the true story of a father’s and mother’s attempt to drive a VW bus around the world, with their one-year-old son and his dog. This family journey took them across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and down the Burma Road to China. Virtually everyone they met alonfg the way was charmed by the little blond Zerky, opening up many opportunities to talk with people who spoke the universal language of young children. Zerky was killed in 1971 and his mother died the year before. This book is the author’s memorial to both. Writing it helped the author pull through a very difficult period in his life by reminding him that life indeed goes on, even when we don’t.

Seal of Approval Winners, Fall 2011*


Rollors (Rollors)
Tired of croquet and other oldfashioned lawn games? Well, give Rollors a try. Created by an Air Force veteran while stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, this game is something of a combination of shuffleboard, lawn bowling (or bocce ball), and horseshoes (except you don’t throw the pieces), and curling (remember that one from the winter olympics?) A little skill and a little luck, and can be played one-on-one or by two teams and is a great way for dads to spend some low-stress time with the kids. Ages 5 and up.

Nanoblocks (Nanoblock)
Both dad and kids can spend time together building a variety of animals and architectural sites from around the world. Since many of the nanoblock sets represent well-know buildings, dads who enjoy architecture will enjoy the process and teaching kids about the original buildings. We also like the “nano-sized” price point that makes these easily a tenth the cost of the architecture collection of the major competitor. The one caveat is that these blocks truly are “nano” in size compared to the common Lego-style blocks. Nanoblocks require good eyesite and nimble fingers to control, but they are a good exercise of attention to detail and fine motor skills. They make a fun project for dads and kids to do together. Ages 6+.

Dollie & Me (Dollie & Me)
If you’re having trouble finding ways to connect and spend quality time with your daughhter, the Dollie & Me collection can help. First of all, there’s notihng like playing with dolls to give you a glimpse into what’s going on in her world. But beyond that, the 18-inch dolls themselves are (really) pretty cool too. One especially nice touch is that they come with with a matching outfit–including dresses, leggings, and nightgowns–for your daughter, saving you a trip or two to the store…

Have I mentioned that we love Bananagrams games around here? Well, we do–and Fruitominoes is no exception. A fantastic game for getting kids off the internet, gaming device, etc. to actually spend some quality time together! While a simple game to learn, it’s one of the original classics and will help children develop their strategic thinking chops while practicing math and visual skills. This game is completely gender neutral and would be great for dads to play with all of their children. Ages 5+.


Air Picks (Flair)
Air Picks are pick-shaped sound systems that play the first few signature bars of famous rock songs. The key is that you have to strum the imaginary guitar in the same rhythm as the original song. The songs are so famous that you’d probably guess the song anyway, but the fun is to try to make them sound just like the originals. We put on the Rolling Stones “No Satisfaction” and were amazed at how the Air Picks sound meshed with what was coming out of the speakers. Collections include “Classic Rock, “Rebel Rock,” and Rolling Stones.” While toys like this can’t take the place of real musical training, they are a fun way for dads to transfer love and excitement for rock hits and the air guitar stylings kids have enjoyed since dad was a boy. The pricepoint is super-affordable and won’t break the bank. Just remember to take it outside when mom is home. Ages 10 and up.

Finger Football (Zelo Sports)
My nephews are a rowdy, hard-to-settle-down-and-even-harder-to-please bunch. So when I brought Finger Football over to their house my expectations were pretty low. But two hours later, we were still playing the game and they refused to let me take it when I left. Fortunately, I have a second one. Fantastic fun for dads and kids of both sexes. Other games in the series include Finger Soccer, Finger Baseball, and Finger Golf. Ages 9 and up.

Wii Play Motion (Nintendo)
We really like new Wii Play Motion, a new Nintendo game that is similar in style and play to Wii Sports Resort and Wii Party. Dads and kids will enjoy 12 games that get everyone off the couch and swinging both body and remotes to play games, many of which involve 4 players. Included also is a free black remote that integrates the new Wii Motion Plus technology into the Wii Remote. We particularly liked Trigger Twist, where everyone shoots a series of enemies, including dinosaurs and aliens, to avoid being eaten. Especially interesting is Spooky Search, which is the first game I’ve played that simulates activity happening behind you and off-screen that you have to interact with using only sound. Simple, yet oddly compelling, is Pose Mii Plus, which requires users to turn Wii Mii avatars in different poses to go through a series of tunnels. We think these core Nintendo games for families are a great way to get everyone involved, including pre-readers, in ways that stimulate the imagination and create a shared experience rather than a retreat from human interaction. Ages 5 and up.

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2011*


Baby Hip Hugger (Baby Nari)
The Baby Hip Hugger looks like a big fanny pack but instead of a pack, there is a little seat where you can rest the baby. There are Velcro straps with safety buckles that you can fasten around your waist. The seat is angled towards your body, and there is a non-skid seat, to help keep your child in place. You have to hold your baby to your body at all times, but the Baby Hip Hugger distributes the baby’s weight across your body. Instead of finding awkward positions to support the baby, I’m able to maintain better posture and relieve my arms and back of the baby weight. The seat also has a tiny pocket that will fit a diaper, a small wallet and a set of keys. There is a small mesh pocket along the Velcro straps as well, where you can fit a bottle of water or milk. All-in-all, I think the Baby Hip Hugger is a baby carrier that I’ll put to good use. The biggest challenge is remembering to put the Baby Hip Hugger on and leaving it on while I’m not holding my son. Having said that, once it’s strapped in place, it is very easy to pick the baby up and put him back


Las Estaciones (The Seasons)Spanish DVD
and Cha, Cha, Cha, Spanish Music CD (WhistleFritz)
Research shows that children who learn a second language exhibit more flexible thinking and creativity, have stronger listening skills, and score better on standardized tests. And what dad wouldn’t want that for his kids? The Whistlefritz programs (DVDs and CDs) use a playful combination of live-action, animation, music, skits and more to start exposing your children to Spanish. And the Whistlefritz folks know that parents are the best teachers, dads (and moms) are encouraged to participate as well. It’s a great way to have fun with the kids–and you’ll learn a little something too. Ages 3 years and up.

Building Blocks Technics (HabaUSA)
We love the wooden toys from Haba, and this set of blocks and wheels is no exception. This set is extra special, because it starts to teach young builders, 3+, how to add motion to their block creations. More and more research points to the value of using basic toys to stimulate a child’s imagination. And for dad, playing imagination games, is a great way to connect with the kids on their level. Ages 3 years and up.

Where is Leo? (HabaUSA)
We’re big fans of Haba games. They’re refreshingly low-tech, easy to learn, competitive enough to be fun for pretty much everyone in the family, but not so competitive that fights break out in the living room. Where is Leo? is no exception. The rules were a little complicated, but once we got going, the game had no problem keeping an entire family entertained. For dads who aren’t terribly hot on competition or who are lookng for an engaging game that doesn’t plug in, beep, or whistle, this is an excellent option. Ages 3 years and up.

Animal Jam (National Geographic Kids)
Animal Jam is a virtual world that you and your young child are going to want to visit over and over. The folks at National Geographic have made learning about animals and the natural world so much fun that it’s easy to forget that you’re actually learning something. Besides being incredibly kid-friendly, Animal Jam is advertising free and has a great parent dashboard which allows dad (and mom) as much control as you feel you need. Memberships range from $5.95 for one month to $59.95 for a year.

Roll Up Roads (Wild Creations)
If you’re a dad who likes to get down on the floor and build with your young contractor, Roll Up Roads is a great addition to the blocks box. Roll Up Roads look like rolls of adhesive tape printed with patterns of highways, railroad, dirt roads and more. But the adhesive backing isn’t super sticky, but sticky enough to lie down flat on carpet and floors, or even upholstery without doing any damage. We like this simple idea that doesn’t steal away from the imagination of the child (and dad!), but can help dad and child plan the city they are building or map their new adventures together.


Find It: On a Hunt (Find It Games)
Imagine sending the kids on an hour-long treasure hunt, with instructions to find a few dozen items. And imagine how much time you’d have to spend cleaning up afterwards. Well, with Find It games there’s absolutely zero mess to deal with–everything you need is sealed in a large, sand- or pellet-filled plastic tube. You can hunt for objects together, take turns trying to beat each other’s score, or get two and go head to head. Either way, it’s addicting. There are a number of games to choose from, including the beach, zoo, sports, and the Wizard of Oz.The one we evaluated has camo-colored pellets and includes an arrow, dog, and a pesky penny that no one around here has been able to find.

Anamalz (Anamalz)
Looks like we’re not the only folks who appreciate wooden toys. Anamalz poseable toys are wonderful on many levels. They’re made from sustainable maple wood and non-toxic dyed textiles (meaning you won’t have to worry if they end up in someone’s mouth. They’re cute, feel good in the hands, and are gender-neutral enough that even boys will want to play with them. Accessories are available too–trees, rivers, and open space.There’s also an owners-only website where kids (and their parents) can learn about the environment. Oh, and did we mention that you and your children are going to have a wonderful time playing and learning together? What a great way for dad to subtly teach young children about animals and the environment. Doesn’t get much better than that. Ages 3+.

Does Your Daughter Have Dad Hair? by Craig Lawrey
What is it about dads and daughters? As the father of three girls, 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. In my book, every minute you spend elbow-deep in your daughter’s locks brings you closer together and strengthens your relationship. And whether you’re trying to do your first pigtails or you can do five-strand French braids in the dark, this book is a must-have.

GeoPalz Kid’s Pedometer(GeoPalz)
GeoPalz is a fun way to get kids out and get active. Walking/hiking dads will love how a simple pedometer, connected to a simple website can motivate kids to take steps every day. GeoPalz themselves are very simple pedometers, calibrated for little legs. They count daily steps, which kids enter into a fun website. Dads don’t have to worry that the website has chat or mail; all it does is add up the steps and send a weekly report to dad or mom. When kids accumulate enough steps, they can win a $5 iTunes card or a small toy. For some kids. that’s enough to keep them walking. And walking. We also liked the lessons it teaches kids, from adding up steps and “feet” to miles and also saving steps to earn a prize later. Ages 5+.

Fire Station (Box-O-Mania)
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, children played with cardboard boxes, turning them into rockets, race cars, pirate ships, and clubhouses. Imagination reigned supreme. Too many kids these days have no idea what they’re missing. So along comes Box-O-Mania, which tweaked the plan old cardboard box in a very cool way. Instead of using cardboard, they use a sturdy corrugated plastic. And that means that the kits can be used over and over and over. Markers and stickers are included, and they too can be recycled. And just in case you want to regain control of your living room, the kids pack up neatly into a box that fits under just about any couch. It’s also a great place for kids to have a sleepover–or for dad to set up his home office.

Makedo Freeplay Kit (Makedo)
What a cool concept. The Makedo (pronounced Make Do–as in, “we’ll have to make do with what we have around the house”), is a container filled with reusable connectors that can help dads and kids turn even the most useless pile of recycling into a great project. Got a few scraps of fabric, an old oatmeal can, an empty tissue box, and a few toilet paper tubes? You can build a robot. Or a plane. Or anything else you can think of. As overused as the expression is, this is one of those cases where the only limit is your (and your children’s–assuming you’ll let them play too) imagination.

Now I’m Reading! Plays: Jack and the Beanstalk (Innovative Kids)
We love the Now I’m Reading series. It’s a completely new type of book for learning readers that can get them motivated, but can also involve the whole family. Jack and the Beanstalk, like others in the series, like “The 3 Pigs,” is a playlet, which can be read as a book, or can be acted out by dad and child(ren) at bedtime with the five included scripts. It can even be fully produced as life performance with mom and dad as the audience. Included also are five ready-to-wear masks for kids to wear while reading the story or putting on the play. “Jack” is a slightly more advanced “Level 2” version, but still good for kids five and over. It also makes a fun idea for sleepovers and family game night.

PiggyBack Bandz (Fungrins, LLC)
Another great dad-daughter bonding experience. After you’ve done her hair, played dress-up, had your nails done, and build a few castles, it’s time to relax and put on a few Piggy Back Bandz. With standard sillybandz, once they’re on your wrist you have no idea what shape the band actually is. With Piggy Back Bandz, problem solved. They add a mini version of the whatever it is you’re wearing (whether it’s a lava lamp, your name spelled out, a baseball bat, champagne glass, etc) stands on top of the actual bracelet. So now you can be cool–and everyone will know it.


Oh, Really! (Find It Games)
Think you’ve got your family and friends pretty well figured out? Well, after a few rounds of Oh, Really? we’re betting you don’t know them half as well as you thought. It’s a pretty simple concept. You take five cards with completely random words and then rank them 1-5 based on your personal priorities. Meanwhile, the other players try to guess what matters most to you. The juxtaposition of the words makes for an uproarious evening. And what you learn about your friends and family will make for some pretty odd discussions later. Definitely for ages 10 and up. Ages 10 and up.

Reverse Charades (Reverse Charades)
This is one of those I-can’t-believe-no-one-thought-of-this-before kinds of products. Instead of having one person act out the clue for the team, with Reverse Charades, the team puts on the show for an individual. When testing this game we had people ranging from 5 to 78–and we played for more than an hour. Everyone agreed to stop only when I promised that we could play again. Soon. And for a longer time.

Seal of Approval Winners, Spring 2011

Pocket Referee (Vraney, Inc.)
We love the Pocket Referee. It’s a very simple, very low-tech solution to one of the worst parts of being a parent: having to continually play King Solomon to children arguing over whose turn it is, or who gets the last cookie. The Pocket Referee is a silver dollar-sized coin (it comes in gold or antique brass finish) that passes from child to child. The holder of the coin either uses it to be the current decider and passes it on to the other child, or holds on to it when the decision just isn’t that important to him. This is a dad-invented product that deserves a shot if you have two or more kids who fight about every decision. And don’t we all?

Periodic Quest (Periodic Quest)
Periodic Quest is a game that will orient the whole family toward the Table of Elements. We recommend this product only for dads who have at least a basic familiarity with the Table of Elements. Dads expecting to learn science along with their kids may get a little frustrated, but if you’re interested in chemistry and you want to share your passion with your kids, this game is a real winner. For ages 12 and up.

Daddy Sneaks (by Sharlene Weingart)
In this charming story by Sharlene Weingart, Daddy–a goateed, hip-looking guy–takes the whole family, pets and all, camping. You’d think that in 2011 there would be more books with positive father role models. Sadly, no. But that just makes the engaged, loving, caring–and kinda sneaky–Dad stand out even more. Ages 3-6.

If you like Scrabble, Anagrams, and Boggle, you’ll love all four of these games. Actually, you’ll love them even if you’ve never heard of those other games. Besides being really fun, they all have a few things in common: boys and girls will both enjoy them, they’re fast–no sitting around waiting for everyone else to take their turn, you don’t need a board or even pencil and paper, they can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids, they come in really cute packages, and they’re a great way to help early gradeshoolers with spelling and those know-it-all teens and tweens build their vocabulary. Oh, and they’re addictive as hell.

Bananagrams is the one that started it all. Players turn over tiles and race to be the first to use them all, cross-word style.

Appletters offers a fun twist on Bananagrams by allowing words to be built from only the first or last letters. So instead of a crossword you’ll end up with more of a snake. It’s actually three separate games in one–each appropriate for a different age group.
PairsInPears stays true to it’s word-bilding roots, but adds a memory and matching component. Very fast paced.

Zip-It might be the fastest of them all–you can play a hand in under 20 seconds–but you’ll want to stick with it for longer than that. Zip-It uses lettered cubes (like dice) instead of tiles and the zippers on the carrying case are used to keep score. Again, lots of fun for everyone.

Baby Goes Pro DVD (Baby Goes Pro)
This DVD introduces toddlers to five popular sports: baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, and soccer. It was created by tennis pro Gigi Fernandez. The idea is to introduce very young kids to sports while giving them a chance to see real athletes in action–all coached by a pretty entertaining monkey. No guarantees that your baby will be the next Tiger Woods (on the course, not off) or Cy Young winner, but it’s a great way for dad to open the door to sports in a low-presure, fun way. Ages 3-6.

Create Your Own Floor Puzzle (Cobble Hill)
This is one of these “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” things. A blank, 36-piece jigsaw puzzle that provides a great opportunity for dads and kids to work on a cool project together. But with Mother’s Day just around the corner, it might also be a fun way to make a memoriable, meaningful gift for mom.

Kids Photo Growth Chart (Kangaroom)
Watch your child grow by feet and inches and have the photos to prove it! If you have kids, you have photos (from school, sports teams, birthdays, holidays, etc.), and until now, you probably haven’t had a good way to display those yearly photos!! Our brand new Kid’s Photo Growth Chart-a totally unique way to keep track of your child’s growth physically, as well as in photos. This hanging organizer can be customized as your child grows and changes: one side for photos of your child and the other side for photos of favorite friends or family. Customizable labels and personality cards (to record favorite things and thoughts for each age) are made to slip in front or behind photos to create a lasting keepsake of childhood! Don’t let your child’s photo history sit in a messy drawer any longer!

Gogo Kidz Travelmate(GoGo Babies)
If you’ve ever had to shlepp a sleeping infant or toddler through the airport to the very last gate in the furthest terminal, your back is probably still sore. Next time pich up the Travelmate. It’s kind of like a hand truck that enables you to roll that car seat with ease. Not only saves your back, but can do wonders for your mood as well. So when your child wakes up, you’ll be ready to play.

If you come home and your son or daughter is often covered in paint, flour, or mud, then the Kobli smock is for you. It’s just a simple, water-repellent shirt that you put on backwards like a hospital gown. It covers you from the waist up with elastic at the wrists to keep you clean if you either are diving in for a welcome home hug or to take part in the activity. The Koobli is not for the dad of any child, but you’ll know immediately if this is a lifesaver for you.

Wet Happened? Zippered Wet Bag (ItzyRitzy)
We don’t know how moms handle it, but we’ve found ourselves many times at the pool with wet children and now soaking wet bathing suits to carry out in the cold air and then drop, soggy, onto the floor of the car for the ride home. With all the chlorine on the floor and floor mats, I’m surprised it hasn’t faded the fabric. Itzy-Ritzy makes just the thing for this problem: The Wet Happened? bag. It’s a nice cloth bag on the outside with a zipper closure that keeps the water in. Perfect when you take kids to the pool, or need to stash wet stuff to put in the suitcase for a trip home after a day at the beach. Yes, a plastic bag, does the same thing, but sometimes dads like a gadget that does something better and cleaner–and sometimes the kids want to make a fashion statement.

Easy Stroll (Goosey Loo Industries)
Okay, if you’re over 5′ 8″, most strollers just aren’t comfortable. Some come with extendable handles, which makes taking the kids out for a walk less painful. But not all do. The Easy Stroll gives you complete, one-hand stroller operation, which allows you to stand up like a real Homo Sapiens and relieves some of the stress on your shoulders. Installs on any stroller in minutes.

Doodle Roll (Imagination Brands)
The Doodle Roll is a fun addition to a bag to take to the restaurant or on a plane ride. It’s a low-cost roll of paper, prepackaged with crayons. Creative dads will use it to doodle and draw along with their kids as they might in a restaurant that provides paper tablecloths and crayons for the whole family. The unique on-the-go dispenser, handy crayon-caddy and safe tear-away edge allows Dad to interact as much or as little as he and his children choose. It’s also a fun way to engage in free-spirited doodling without the limit placed on kids by the four sides of a sheet of paper. Dads can also use it to play simple games like battleship and tic-tac-toe, the only limit is your knowledge of games. It also makes a great way to make a banner for Mother’s Day.

XRanger 2000 (Xploderz)
Maybe it’s the Marine in me (you know what they say, once a Marine…), but I have nothing against guns–as long as they’re used safely. In our house the shoot-above-the-knee-and-you-lose-it-for-a-day rule is set in stone. But even if you’re not a big gun fan, it’s hard to miss the entertainment value in the XRanger 2000 (the 2000 refers to the number of rounds of ammo that are included). Aimed at kids who’ve outgrown the soft darts but are too young for paintball, the Xploderz firing system (they deliberately stay away from the word “gun”) shoots a soft, round, water/gel pellet that explodes harmlessly on contact. Easy to clean up and doesn’t stain. And, in case someone does shoot above the knee, it’s completely painless (I had my daughter shoot me in the chest from five feet away and didn’t feel a thing). .

Wii Party (Nintendo Wii game)
Take Mario Party 8 and remove the tedium of waiting between mini-games and use your own avatar rather than playing as Mario and you have a good idea what Wii Party is all about. It’s big, big collection of mini-games that gives a fun play option for everyone in the family. We loved it. It’s simple to play. People can move in and out, and games are short enough that no one gets bored. All games can be played by almost any age at some level.

SnoozeShade (SnoozeShade)
There’s always one parent who is more concerned with plastics or air quality or over-doses of sun exposures. For the dad who is the worrier in the family, the Snooze Shade is a simple solution for outdoor strolls. It’s UPF 50+, breathable black fabric, so perfect for letting junior sleep even in bright glare while protecting his young skin, blocking out 94% of sun’s rays. It can also be used to shade from insects.

Ruining Childhood—Before It Even Begins

Dear Mr. Dad. My 9-month old daughter is happy and healthy in every respect (her pediatrician concurs). But all our friends are talking about the things they do to help their children grow, develop, learn, and so on. Is any of that really necessary? Will our daughter be okay if we just let her develop on her own?

A: I have no idea how it started, but somewhere along the line, a lot of parents got the idea that happy, healthy babies weren’t enough and that normal intellectual and physical development were happening too slowly. Babies, it seems, had to be constantly entertained and educated. Low-tech toys were replaced by electronic ones that light up, make funny noises, count, say the names of letters, colors and shapes, or conjugate irregular Latin verbs. And instead of learning to crawl, walk, and run on their own, babies needed personal trainers. What ever happened to letting kids be kids?

The short answer to your question is that, assuming your daughter’s pediatrician is right and your baby is, indeed, healthy, she’ll achieve her developmental milestones, gasp, without outside intervention.

That said, physically playing with your baby is wonderful for her—and for you. At the very least, you’ll feel more confident and competent as a parent, and your daughter will learn that she can count on you to always be there for her. A strong relationship with mom and dad is, hands down, the best gift you can give your child.

So here are a few ideas for fun ways of interacting with your baby. They’ll also stimulate her brain and body—but that’s not the primary goal.

For major muscle groups:

  • Put some toys near her feet and encourage her to kick them.
  • Roll a ball far enough out of her reach so she has to crawl to get it.
  • Supervised stair climbing is great. But stay nearby and be extremely careful. This is a good time to start teaching your baby to come down stairs backward. But be prepared to demonstrate yourself and to physically turn your baby around a few dozen times a day.
  • Chasing games: you chase her; she chases you. Reward her with a big hug and—if she doesn’t protest—a little wrestling. Besides being fun, these kinds of games teach your baby a valuable lesson: when you go away, you always come back. Plus, kids who wrestle with dad grow up with more highly developed social skills than kids who don’t get as much physical play.

Hand-eye coordination:

  • Puzzles. The best for this age wooden, have a separate hole for each piece, and a peg for easy lifting.
  • Nesting, stacking, measuring, and pouring toys. Also things to crush, tear, or crinkle—the noisier the better.
  • Weave some string between baby’s fingers or tape two of her fingers together. Can she “free” herself?
  • Hand-clapping games.

Consequences. The idea that different actions produce different effects can’t be reinforced often enough.

  • Jack-in-the-boxes—especially the kind with four or five doors, each opened by a push, twist, poke, or some other action. Be cautious the first few times, though; some babies may be frightened.
  • Pots, pans, xylophones, or anything else the baby can bang on. She’ll learn that different things make different noises when smacked and that hitting something hard sounds different from hitting something soft.
  • Doors (and anything else with a hinge, including books)—provided you’re there to make sure no one gets pinched.

But remember: Your only agenda is to have fun.

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2010*

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.

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.