And Now, Direct from a Screen Near You…

Although parents aren’t always thrilled about it, kids love toys that bring their favorite TV and movie characters to “life.” This week, we review several fun new toys that do exactly that.

paw patrolPaw Patrol (NickJR)
If you have a little one, chances are you’ve seen or heard of Paw Patrol—the hit TV show aimed at Pre-K and kindergarteners. The show revolves around six puppies: Chase, Marshall, Rocky, Zuma, Rubble, and Skye, plus their 10-year old tech-loving human companion named Ryder. They work together as a team, solve problems, and help creatures and the environment while showing kids cooperation skills. Now the pups are available as toys, from plush to action figures and even vehicles (which play a large part in the show). The Racers are a particularly good value because they each come with one vehicle and one pup (they also have working tires). If your child is a fan of the show or of animals in general, these super-pups will be a nice treat for them. Available for $7.99 and up at Amazon, Target, and more.

turtle sub underseaTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Sub Undersea Chase (LEGO)
This set is just plain awesome, even if you’re not quite sure where you stand on the movie and whether it’s okay to turn a cherished, animated TV show into a live-action Megan Fox movie (Hmm. Does that sound a little biased?). With 684 pieces, including four figures (Donatello Leonardo, and two Kraang) it lets kids (and adults who like to pretend they bought this kit for their kids) recreate scenes from the movie, flicking missiles, firing shooters, and operating mini subs along the way. Or use your imagination and create something totally different. About $60 at your favorite retailer.

tmnt large figuresTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys)
Haven’t had enough of those hard-shelled reptile badboys? Based on the movie characters, these figure are a little grittier than they have been in the past, but kids don’t seem to mind at all. Playmates has all of the main characters (the four Turtles, Shredder, the Foot Clan, and others) in a wide selection of sizes and styles, including wearable ones, which come with cuffs, a sword, and a bandana mask. There’s something here that every TNMT lover, old or new, will want to have. Right now. The large figures are about a foot tall and are more articulated then you might think, and after they’ve knocked each other around for a bit, they make great mentors for the six-inch figures (which are just as fun to play with). Small figures are about $9 at Toys R Us, and the large ones start at $14 on Amazon and other retailers.

how to train your dragon 2How to Train Your Dragon 2 Squirt and Float Dragons (Spin Master)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 Battle Sets (Spin Master)

If your kids loved How to Train Your Dragons 2 as much as our kids (and their parents) did, this is a great opportunity to bring the fun of the big screen direct to your living room—or your bathtub. The Squirt and Float Dragons comes with three figures (Toothless, Meatlug, and Stormfly), all of which can shoot water about four feet—just far enough to make your bathroom floor really slippery, so be careful. There are also three great Battle Sets, “Toothless vs. Dragon Catcher,” “Gronkle vs. Gronkle Cannon,” and “Zippleback vs. Zipplecatcher,” all of which will keep everyone (yes, you too, mom and dad) entertained for hours. $8 and up at stores like Toys R Us and Amazon.

Games for Tweens, Teens, and The Whole Family

In an era where just about everyone over the age of two has a room full of electronic devices, it can be hard for families to find ways to spend quality time together (meaning everyone is actually looking at everyone else). It’s especially tough if the kids are careening toward adolescence. This week we review four really fun games for families with kids eight and up. No batteries, chargers, or Internet connection required.

betcha can't winBetcha Can’t Win (Simply Fun)
It seems simple enough: Each player has six dice and rolls them as many times as necessary to match the number (using any math function) on cards that are face up on the table. Match as many as you can and rack up the points. But beware: if another player matches your points, you could end up with zero. Great for learning math and risk/reward. 15-30 minutes play time. For 2-4 players, ages 8+. $28.00 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

pack itPack 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 start stocking their backpacks. The goal is to put together a pack with the greatest number of miles. Then, they take turns drawing cards to add the items they’re missing and increase mileage. But watch out for the Hazard cards (Bear, Skunk, Blister). For example, if you draw the Blister and have socks in your pack, you’re okay. But if you don’t have socks, you have to discard your highest value card. Draw the Skunk and you’ll have to discard two cards. 20-30 minutes play time. For 2-5 players, ages 8+. $24.50 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

strike a poseStrike a Pose (R&R Games)
Think Charades but without any of the movement or acting. In each round, one player is the Collector, a guy or gal who’s buying statues for a fabulous estate. The Collector leaves the room and the rest of the players draw one card (used by the whole group) which has a category and a number of statue options. For example, in the “At the Beach” category, statues include “Sun bathing”, “Building a sand castle,” and “Playing volleyball.” Each player pics one option and freezes in a pose they think will best mimic the person, place, or thing. The Collector returns, looks at the Category card and tries to guess which player is which statue. No movement or sounds—statues are made of stone, right? The opportunities for silliness are endless. 30-45 minutes play time. For 3-14 (yes, 14) players, ages 10+. $17.95 at online retailers or http://rnrgames.com/

unnatural selectionUnNatural Selection (R&R Games)
Use your “super cool Mod Ray X5000” weapon to mash together your own crazy creatures. Start with a single animal (defined rather broadly, to include pet rocks), then play cards to add features. The goal is to create a beast that would defeat your opponents’ beasts in a battle. The combination of the features and animals can be incredibly funny. You might start with a goldfish and then add “sprinkled with tempura flakes” or “has a headache.” After all the players have done their finest mashing, it’s up to the judge (a role that rotates among the players) to decide which creature would emerge victorious in a smackdown. The player who wins the most challenges become the “Ultimate Warrior.” It’s fun, and fast-paced. 15-30 minutes play time. For 3-10 players, ages 8+. $11 at online retailers or at http://www.rnrgames.com/

 

All Work and No Play? Naaaah

Yes, the new school year is almost (or, in some places, already) under way. And yes, the kids are going to start coming home with backpacks full of homework. But that doesn’t mean no more fun. Here are two great activities that will help you make the summer last a little longer, and three that will keep a smile on your face as the weather gets colder.

poo doughPoo Dough (Skyrocket Toys)
One of our favorite fads has been gross toys—things that poop, blow snot, pass gas, and more. If your children are into this (most are), they’ll definitely enjoy Poo Dough, which is completely disgusting, but in a really fun way. You get realistic, pooh-shaped molds and the dough itself (which comes in a lovely shade of yellow and two equally lovely shades of brown). But wait, there’s more. You also get special molds for “corn” and “peanuts.” Yep, the kids (and plenty of fully grown adults) are all set for hours of giggly, eeeew-inducing entertainment. About $8 in stores like Toys R Us, Amazon, and Walmart.  http://www.skyrockettoys.com/

fart pianoFart Piano (Skyrocket Toys)
If the look and feel of poo dough isn’t enough, you can always add sound effects with the Fart Piano. Far more versatile than its name would indicate, this piano can also cough, belch, and sneeze. Just press a key and you’re on your way. It even comes with sheet music so you can entertain out-of-town guests and dignitaries. About $20 on Amazon and Toys R Us.

fuze water blasterCyclone Water Blaster (FUZE/Skyrocket)
What a great way to get the kids involved in doing something physical outside. The Cyclone Water Blaster is essentially a motorized (using 4 AA batteries), handle-bar mounted squirt gun that enables kids (or the kid in any adult) to soak someone up to 25 feet away and pedal off before the victim can return fire. The nozzle has a 180-degree radius and riders can adjust it on the fly. Get two Blasters and you can turn your bikes into horses and water joust. Grab some towels and let the games begin. About $25 at your favorite retailer, including http://www.walmart.com

bike bubblerBike Bubbler (FUZE/Skyrocket)
This one manages to bridge the gap between exercise and gross-ness. All you do is mount this motorized gizmo underneath your bicycle seat, and you can spray out a stream of bubbles as you zip around the neighborhood. In the words of one of our child-testers, “it looks like it’s pooping bubbles.” Well, at least this time it’s clean, right? The Bubbler comes with one 4-ounce bottle of bubble solution, and you can make your own when you run out. For kids who aren’t riding yet (or adults who are exhausted), the Bubbler works just fine without a bike. About $15 at www.SkyrocketToys.com or www.FuzeBikeFX.com

view masterView Master (Fisher Price)
Remember View Masters from when you were a kid—those goggle-like viewers with their circular cardboard story reels that simulated 3D? They’ve been on toy store shelves since the 1940s (it’s their 75th anniversary this year!), and who would have thought that something so low-tech could possibly entertain today’s tech-crazy kids. Go figure. The new View Masters are pretty much the same as the old ones—put the reel in the viewer and push a lever to move through the story. The only real differences are that the images are brighter and the viewers themselves come in a variety of styles, including Hello Kitty and those Despicable Me minions. Gift sets include a View Master, three story reels, and a handy-don’t-lose-them storage case. Available in stores and online for about $15. http://www.fisher-price.com/

Gear Up!

Most of us—adults and kids—are walking around with hundreds of dollars of portable electronics. This week we review a number of items that are designed to help you get the most use out of your gadgets, and to protect them—and your ears.

Knivo wireless headphonesKinivo BTH240 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones (Kinivo)
Wires, wires, everywhere, and no one knows where they go or how to untangle them. The solution? Go wireless. With these Knivo Bluetooth headphones—which work on almost any device—there’ll be no more accidentally dragging your music player off the table or having someone trip over your wires and yank your ear buds out. And for kids watching a movie or playing a game, no more wires to fiddle with or gnaw on. But be warned. Once you go wireless, you’ll never go back. $35 on www.Pure-Gear.com




DualTek Extreme Shock CaseDualTek Extreme Shock Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 (PureGear)
If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S5, chances it you paid plenty for it (or made a long, long commitment to your cell carrier). So it’s worth investing a bit more to protect it from the daily bumping and scratching you put it through—and from the drops and dings your kids inflict on it. The new DualTek case fits like a glove, doesn’t get in the way of taking pics or making calls, and takes a real beating. The corners—the weak spot on most phone cases—are specially designed to absorb impact and vibration. Available in yellow, white, and black. $35 at http://www.pure-gear.com


PureTek Rollon screen protectorPureGear Roll on Screen Shield Kit (PureGear)
Even the best cases have trouble keeping the screen from getting scratched. If you’ve got any iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S5, the PureGear Screen Shield kit is for you. The patented roll-on applicator makes applying the screen protector a breeze, and completely eliminates those annoying bubbles. The protector itself reduces glare and besides resisting scratches, it keeps your screen safe from the dirt, grime, and fingerprints from little hands. $25 at www.Pure-Gear.com


BlynkBlynk (Lyfeshot)
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 http://www.lyfeshot.com


Paick SleekPaick Power Bank (Paick)
There’s nothing worse than being out with the family, seeing something amazing, and discovering that your battery is at 5 percent. You can solve that problem with a Paick Power Bank. Charge it up before you leave your house or hotel and you’ve got a sleek, portable power source that will help you squeeze a few more hours out of your phone, tablet, or other device. Power Banks come in a variety of capacities. The one we tested was 6000mAh, which essentially doubled the available talk time. $59 and up at www.Paick.com


Sun Power solar chargerSun Power 6000 Charger (Secur)
But what if your plans take you someplace where there’s no electricity at all? If you’ve got a little sunshine, all you’ll need is the Secur Sun Power 6000. The fold-up solar panel charges your phone, tablet, or other device no matter where you are. It’s durable, light, easy-to-use, and water resistant, which makes it a must-have for beach- or camping trips. Dual USB ports let you charge two phones or devices at once. $129 at http://securproducts.com

The Most Delicious Camp Ever

paulding & company desserts camp recipe

When it comes to summer activities, I generally try to engage my kids in the process and send them to camps that interest them. This year, for example, tech camp, lifeguard camp, and a family performing arts camp took up most of the summer. But every once in a while, I pick something for somewhat self-centered reasons, which is how my 11-year old daughter ended up at a week-long cooking camp at Paulding & Company.

paulding & company desserts camp 1That’s not to say that she wasn’t interested—she’s always liked puttering around in the kitchen. But how could any parent (except maybe one with a diabetic child) possibly pass up a camp that promised to “seek out the best desserts from around the world” and “indulge ourselves in the sugary wonders of the world”? To deprive my daughter of a week-long sugar rush—and myself of tasty treats–seemed almost cruel. (A momentary flash of guilt was relieved by the fact that the camp would also provide “a full and balanced lunch” every day.)

Fortunately (was there any doubt?), my daughter was completely on board. And, boy, did Paulding & Company deliver.
[Read more...]

Sometimes, You’ve Just Gotta Get Away

So you’re taking a trip with the kids. Whether you’re going by car, plane, or some other way, you’ll need to keep them safe, occupied, and relatively quiet. Here are some fun, new musts-have travel take­­-alongs.

delsey heliumHelium (Delsey)
If you’re like most parents, part of your job on family trips is to be a pack mule, dragging luggage, laptops, and lovies all over creation. Bags in Delsey’s Helium line are durable (on one trip, ours were loaded onto 16 planes, nine boats, and nearly 20 trains and still look great) and lightweight (making them easy on the back and minimizing those evil airline baggage charges). Available in three sizes and your choice of standard or bright colors. All are equipped with a TSA-approved lock and retail for $160 and up. http://shop.delsey.us

eagle creek sight-seeing tablet courierDay Traveler (Eagle Creek)
We’ve been big fans of Day Traveler bags for a long time. Our new favorite is the Site-Seeing Tablet Courier. Like the other bags in the line, this one is durable, lightweight, and accommodates a surprising amount of stuff (the split-book design makes packing a breeze). It’s also water resistant (so no worries about spilled drinks or rainstorms), has a host of pockets in various sizes (perfect for phones, glasses, wallets, laptops/tablets, and more), and comes with RFID-blocking technology (which keeps your personal information safe), Retails for $45 at http://shop.eaglecreek.com

eagle creek weekenderAdventure Weekender (Eagle Creek)
If you’re going on a quick trip, this one is perfect. It’s got plenty of room for a computer, a change of clothes, those just-in-case-we-get-stranded-overnight necessities, and is still small enough that the flight attendants won’t try to make you gate check it. You can lock the zipper pockets, and the Adventure Weekender is easy to stack on larger bags. If you’re looking for durability and versatility, this one’s for you. $150 on http://shop.eaglecreek.com

vinci tabletVINCI Tab III M 5” Learning Tablet (VINCI)
If you have a little one who’s not quite ready for a big tablet, the VINCI Tab III is made to entertain, engage, and educate. It comes with a great bumper (which incorporates a handle) to protect it from those inevitable childhood drops and “oopsies.” The company says the VINCI is aimed at kids 18 months to 9 years, but we think it tops out at about 6 years—today’s tech-savvy kids will be on to far more sophisticated tablets by then. But the little guys will have a great time learning and playing without getting overstimulated. The fun, game-based apps teach math and reading skills in an enjoyable way that they’ll want to play over and over—and that will keep them quiet wherever they happen to be. What a great way to keep those young minds humming without having to resort to “Angry Birds” or “Fruit Ninja.” $129 at http://store.vincigenius.com

swimways sea squirts life jacketsSea Squirts life jacket (SwimWays)
Going for a swim with children who are less than 100% water safe? You can literally keep their head above water with a number of swim aids from SwimWays.  They’ve got a wide variety of vests, life jackets, baby floats, and other products, so you’ll have no trouble finding something for each child’s swim abilities. The Sea Squirts life jackets are adorable and even sport a stylish fin (orca, dolphin, or clownfish). The Power Swimr swim training system comes with nine flotation pads which you gradually remove as your child moves from floating to swimming. Please remember that when it comes to children, no swim aid can substitute for mom’s or dad’s watchful eye. Be safe. Sea Squirts run $47 and the Power Swimr is around $21. https://www.swimways.com/