Hitting the Road

Despite all the rosy news one hears these days about sinking unemployment numbers and a rising economy, plenty of people are still having financial issues. As a result, a lot of families are taking their vacations a little closer to home. This week, we review a few cool items that will make any family road/camping trip a success.

reese car top carrierReese Explore Car Top Carrier (Reese Brands)
Once you’ve decided where to go, it’s time to start packing up the car. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to bring way, way too much, which leaves barely enough room in the car for the people. One great solution is this roof-top carrier from Reese. It’s made of lightweight-but-durable nylon that will keep your belongings clean and dry regardless of the weather, and is a lot easier to attach to your car’s side rails or cross bars than many of its competitors. Best of all, it’s expandable (going from 12 to 16 cubic feet of storage), which is a big help if you’re trying to carry awkwardly shaped items. Retails for about $65 at http://www.walmart.com/

dragons adventureDragons Adventure World Explorer (DreamWorks)
Keeping the kids entertained on a long drive can be a challenge. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of tech and no-tech options. When it’s tech’s turn, Dragons Adventure is perfect. It’s inspired by the How to Train Your Dragon movies and set on the Isle of Berk. As you might expect from DreamWorks, it’s beautifully designed and quite interactive. There are quests—light signal beacons, move a sheep from one place to another, but Dragons Adventure has a few twists that make it truly unique. In it-home mode, players (who can be either Hiccup or Astrid) fly around the world, rescuing dragons from evildoers. But the real fun starts on the move. The app uses HERE maps to bring the roads you’re driving on into the game in real time, so players will see familiar landmarks as they fly their dragons. It also info from The Weather Channel to change the weather conditions in the game, and data from Foursquare to determine how many Vikings appear along the route. Another neat feature: If you plug in your starting point and destination before you start, the game will wind down as you reach your destination. Free for Microsoft Windows phones and tablets.

mountainsmith conifer 5+Conifer 5+ (Mountainsmith)
Once you get there, you’ve got to sleep somewhere, right? You can’t do better than the Conifer 5+. To say it’s roomy doesn’t do it justice. The tent itself has 83.5 sq. feet of floor space, lots of interior pockets, and a ceiling height of 6’2”, so there’s plenty of room for two adults, three kids, and a dog or two. There’s also a “porch,” which adds another 30 sq. ft for storing luggage or just hanging out. It’s quick and easy to set up, but best with two people—especially if it’s windy. Directions are printed right on the stuff sack, so they’re a lot hard to lose. Prices range from $285 to $360. http://mountainmith.com/

washdropsWashdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)
After a long road trip, you’re going to want to wash that car. But today, when everyone’s concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what’s an environmentally savvy parent with a filthy vehicle to do? All you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops . It’s non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. It’s completely non-toxic—no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia—so when you’re done you can use what’s left in the bucket to water your garden. $10.95-$22.00. http://washdrops.com/

Hey, Kiddo, Let’s Get Outa Here

With technology making its way into every aspect of our lives, kids are spending a lot less time playing outside than we did when we where their age. And even when they do play outside, it’s often in a highly structured activity (like soccer, swimming, and most other organized sports) that doesn’t give kids freedom to explore, create, or just have fun. There are alternatives, however, and this week we bring you four of them.

jumparooJumparoo Frog Pogo Stick (Geospace)
Most pogo sticks bounce up and down on a post, which makes it hard for little kids to keep balanced. But the Jumparoo frog pogo stick has a wide, rounded base, which lets your pollywog bounce around to his or her heart’s content, giggling all the way. It’s great for developing coordination and balance, plus it’s a great workout. Oh, and if that isn’t fun enough, the Jumparoo ribbits with every boing. For kids 4 and up who weigh 28-62 pounds (yes, that means you’ll have to stay off of it—but Jumparoo makes adult-sized pogo, if you want to join the fun). $77.50 at Amazon, or at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

flymax footballFly Max Football (Geospace)
Every child—boy or girl—who’s ever picked up a football has dreamed of throwing a deadly accurate 50-yard bomb. But those of us who are not named Manning, Rodgers, Brady, or Kaepernick have had to settle for much, much shorter and not-terribly-accurate passes. But with the Fly Max Football, you and the kids can actually throw on-the-money passes up to 100 yards. The Fly Max looks like a cross between a small football and a hollow rocket ship with fins. It has a dial that you can set to maximize distance for either rightys or leftys. It also makes a cool buzzy-whistly sound as it files. Made for future first-round draft pics 6 and up—and the grownups who do their laundry and drive them to practice. $19.99 at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

top tossTop Toss Pro Lawn Game (Ideal)
Top Toss combines elements from horseshoes, bowling, and other yard games to create a truly unique and fun outdoor activity for the whole family. Your first task is to build the tower, which looks like a short ladder (it’s actually almost four feet high) with a wide base. That’ll take about five minutes. Then, it’s on to the actual game. Players take turns throwing bolo balls (imagine an 8-inch piece of yarn with a soft golf ball attached to each end), trying to get them to wrap around the rungs of the tower. The rungs get smaller as the tower gets taller, so high ones score more than lower ones. Because set-up and tear-down are so easy, Top Toss is a great choice for the backyard, the beach, or even indoors. For two or more players ages 8 and up, Top Toss comes with three bolo balls, all the steel rods and plastic connectors you’ll need to build the tower, bilingual instructions, and a storage bag. $34.99 (or $54.99 for the “pro” version that comes with two towers) at http://poof-slinky.com/product/top-toss/

T-ballMy 1st Sports T-Ball (Poof)
What a great way to introduce your little one to baseball. Set-up takes all of 15 seconds and then it’s home-run derby time (with a subtle lesson in hand-eye coordination). Excellent for outdoor play, but it could work indoors too. The ball and bat are made of foam, so even if your little slugger really smacks one, damage should be minimal. Best for preschoolers (most kids over 5 are ready for the more traditional T) $22.99 at http://poof-slinky.com/

Summer Brain Drain? Not Around Here

Now that summer’s here and the kids are home, parents are looking for ways to keep their little ones’ minds sharp over break. Old standbys like activity books, worksheets, and reading are great at keeping those brains busy. But there are also a lot of fun reading are all important to keep learning locked in, there are fun toys you can add into the mix that kids will enjoy playing–and learning—with.

telly teaching clockTelly the Teaching Time Clock (The Learning Journal International)
This little guy is perfect for kids who are learning to tell time—and yes, that’s important even in an era where clocks with hands seem to be going the way of the ichthyosaurus. Actually, with Telly, you can teach the kids both analog and digital, a feature you rarely find on the same teaching clock. There’s also a “quiz mode,” where Telly asks the child to match the digital time shown on his face by moving the hands on his (literal) face. Bonus: Among his many talents, Telly is a real, working clock, making him a nice addition to a child’s bedroom. Comes with three AA batteries. Retails for $28 on http://www.tlji.com/

magnetic spell and learn boardMagnetic Spell and Learn Board (The Learning Journal International)
This is a great way to teach your kids letters, sounds, and spelling. Some of the magnets have short words and pictures of the words on them. They can then “write” out the spelled words with the magnet letters. This type of hands-on learning is a great way to build phonics, vocabulary, spelling skills, and early reading skills. The board and interlocking magnets make putting words together into sentences or poetry a breeze. And the handy storage compartment makes clean-up easy and minimizes missing pieces. Retails for $20 on http://www.tlji.com

turbo land rocketTurbo Land Rocket (Scientific Explorer)
This toy offers a different type of hands-on experience that’s a lot of fun for a one-on-one parent-child adventure or a whole brood of kiddies. As you might assume from the name, you’re going to be building a rocket—a really fast one. The kit comes with almost everything you need (and easy-to-follow directions). The only thing you’re missing is the rocket’s fuel, which consists of vinegar and baking soda. It’s a real blast and you’ll want to do it again and again. Unlike so many science-based kits, you’ll actually be able to. The manufacturer claims the rocket can go more than 200 feet. Ours didn’t go quite that far but it definitely attracted a lot of neighborhood kids. $26 on http://poof-slinky.com

root vueRootVue (HSP Nature Toys)
If you want to see science literally come to life, this indoor garden is for you. It’s kind of like an ant farm, where clear plastic windows gave you a chance to see how ants build tunnels. But instead of insects, you and the kids get a chance to see how root vegetables grow—the leafy tops up, and the roots down. RootVue comes with “eight super-expanding grow mix wafers, three packets of seeds, identification labels, water wicks for self-watering system” It also has a simple water basin and drainage system, so it’s pretty much mess-free, and a 16-page booklet that has easy-to-follow instructions for doing a variety of experiments. Aside from the science part, there’s also a nutritional component: when kids grow their own veggies, they’ll be a lot more likely to eat them. $35 on http://www.hspnaturetoys.com

The Art of Summer

School’s out and it’s time to get your travel on. That often means a seemingly never-ending chorus of “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored!” from the table- and smartphone-demanding minions who’ve set up shop in the back seat. We’ve got some good news for you: there are actually creative and stimulating ways to keep your kids entertained that don’t involve a screen. Really. Expect plenty of push back, though, but if you stand your ground, they’ll eventually come around. We promise.

scribble & doodle alex toys
Scribble & Doodle On the Go (Alex Toys)

Perfect for car or plane rides, or even for keeping kids busy in restaurants while they wait for their food. The hard cover book has 50 activity pages to color and play on and two pages of stickers. The “On the Go” book is, as you might suspect, about travel and travel activities. But there are other books in the series, including “Girly Swirly,” and “My First Scribble.” One warning: These books don’t come with crayons, so you’ll have to bring along your own. $11 each on http://www.alextoys.com/

color a backpack alex toysColor a Backpack—Cutie (Alex Toys)
A fun project and a fully functional travel pack? What’s not to love! This backpack is small enough that your kids will be able to schlepp it themselves.. Plus, it’ll also give them a fun art project to work on while you’re making your way from point A to point B. Cutie comes with five permanent markers, so kids can design their pack any way they like—and it’ll stay that way. If you’re worried about the kids drawing on their clothes or the car, you can always do the art part before you leave home. Or invest in a smock and seats covers. $28 at http://www.alextoys.com

desk to go alex toysDesk to Go (Alex Toys)
This on-the-go desk for little artists keeps all their masterpieces in one place. One side of the Desk to Go is a firm desktop surface, while the other is soft for resting on a child’s lap. Pockets on the side hold crayons, markers, and more, while the top has a handle that makes for easy carting from place to place. The desk comes with elastic straps to hold paper in place while your little Michelangelo creates, and the whole thing folds up and zips shut when the masterpiece is ready to be framed. Why didn’t they have these when we were kids? $20 from http://www.alextoys

car valet alex toysCar Valet (Alex Toys)
If you want something a little larger than the Desk to Go, or if your child likes to bring a wider variety of art supplies with them, check out the Car Valet. This baby packs so much into a small, tote-able package that no parent who travels should ever leave home without it. Ever. Your child can do just about anything he or she wants with this fold out art center. The play area is huge—about the size of a record (yes, we’re old enough to remember records)–and it’s only about as thick as your thumb. There are tons of pockets that you or the kiddos can load up with art supplies, decks of cards, paper, and anything else you can think of (except your smartphone). The Car Valet can fasten to the seat in front of the child and folds down, giving your child a nice workspace. When you get where you’re going, fold it back up, zip it shut, and you’re on your way in no time. $44 at http://www.alextoys.com

Seek and Maybe Ye Shall Find

What’s more fun than a good, old-fashioned game of Hide and Seek? This week we take a look at three fun, new twists on that timeless classic.

education outdoors snipe huntSnipe Hunt (Education Outdoors, Inc.)
If you’ve ever been to an outdoors camp, you probably spent some time hunting for snipe. Counselors and experienced campers would talk about the elusive creature, hand out sacs, and take newbie campers out into the woods to hunt. We’re not completely sure what the purpose of snipe hunts is, except to give the older campers a chance to laugh at the wide-eyed naiveté of the younger ones who, of course never catch anything. But now there’s a way to make snipe hunts a reality. The Snipe Hunt kit comes with two snipes (named Biela and Smartin) and a “nest.” If you play with teams, each team hides their snipe, and the first team to find the other’s and get it back to the nest wins. Alternatively, one person could hide one or two snipes and everyone else hunts. If they haven’t been found 2.5 minutes after being activated, the snipes start beeping. After five minutes, the eyes start to blink.  Can be played inside or outside, day or night. A fantastic family activity. Retails for under $25, batteries inlcuded. Ages 6 and up. http://www.educationoutdoors.net/

usaopoly treasure traxTreasure Trax: The All in One Scavenger Hunt Game (USAOpoly)
This is one of the most engaging games for the preschool set we’ve seen. The idea is pretty simple: scatter a series of clues that ultimately lead to some kind of reward (what that means is completely up to you). Treasure Trax comes with 60 brightly colored, illustrated, thick cards: 30 depicting locations, 18 with clues, and 12 with animals. There are several ways to play. One person (most likely an adult) can set up a step-by-step hunt. For example, you might start by giving the hunter(s) a card with a picture of a kitchen table. On the kitchen table, there’s a card with a picture of a bookcase. On the bookcase is another card leading somewhere else. For older kids, you can incorporate the color and animal cards and make a matching game. Start with an orange card and send the child off to find a card with a picture of something orange (a tiger, for example).  Treasure Trax is great for matching, focus, and memory. But we especially loved how flexible it is. You can have as many or as few steps as your child’s attention span will allow—but be warned: this game is so fun that attention spans have a tendency to get longer. It can be played with teams or as a one-on-one parent-child activity. You can play it indoors or out, and it’s a wonderful way to turn rainy days into adventures. For ages 3-5, but slightly older kids will have fun too. Retails for under $20 wherever you buy your toys or at http://usaopoly.com/

r&r games hide and seek safariHide & Seek Safari (R&R Games)
This is a moderately high-tech version of the old hotter-colder game. The box comes with two items: a monkey (or tiger, depending on which package you buy) and a wand. Someone activates the monkey (batteries included) and hides him somewhere. Everyone else activates the wand, which has LED lights that flash when you’re getting warmer and beeps when you’re really hot—like a Geiger counter. Unfortunately, the monkey has to be hidden in sight—the wand won’t work if he’s in the fridge or under the bed. But it’ll give hours of fun for kids 4-6. Retails for under $35. Additional wands are $13.99. http://www.rnrgames.com/

 

 

 

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval Winners for Father’s Day 2014

nursery time adora doll

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval
Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. The Seal recognizes products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.

Submissions are now being accepted for our 2014 Fall and Winter Holiday seasons.

 

Books

The SMART Playbook (Suzanne M. Wind)
smart playbookSometimes (okay, often) it seems that manners have all but disappeared from our lives. But in an era when people barely make eye contact, mumble answers, text at the dinner table, don’t send thank-you notes, and are often just plain rude to each other, we need manners more than ever. Suzanne Wind has come up with a clever way to bring civility back into our lives. Using her SMART Playbook, Dad can coach his kids on what to do—and not do—in five broad areas where manners are needed most: Social interactions, Mealtimes, Art of conversation, Restaurant behavior, and Technology. But it’s not a one-way street—dads (and moms) can benefit from a manners makeover too.  $19.95 for the complete set, or $8.95 for each topic separately. http://www.thesmartplaybook.com/


What Not to Do at the Zoo (Morgan and Linda Gresky)
what not to do at the zooWe’re strong supporters of reading with kids and consider it one of the best dad-child bonding activities ever. What Not to Do at the Zoo this is a great one, especially for little ones,, and especially as a pre-zoo adventure warm-up. The book will get you laughing with its absurd warnings (things like “Do not give your homework to a warthog,” “Do not lend your library book to a gazelle”), and dads can extend the experience and promote creative thinking by encouraging the kids come up with their own things not to do at the zoo. The illustrations, by Doina Cociuba Terrano are wonderful. For any age, up to about 7. Available at your favorite bookseller. http://www.gobesilly.com

Building and Science

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine (GoldieBlox)
goldieblox and the spinning machineThe folks behind GoldieBlox are very open about their mission: To inspire the next generation of female engineers, and along the way, they hope to help girls develop the spatial and building skills they’ll need to succeed. What a terrific concept. GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine is anchored in the story of how Goldie builds a spinning machine to help her dog chase his tail. Along the way, she learns about wheels and axles, force, friction, and tension. This is a great way for dads to introduce basic engineering concepts to their daughters (or sons who don’t mind pink tool belts and ribbons). For ages 3-9, although we recommend Goldie for the lower end of the range. $29.95 http://www.goldieblox.com/
Laser Pegs 12-in-1 MLB02 (Laser Pegs)
laser pegs 12-in-1 MLBThe Laser Pegs® Major League Baseball kit is a Limited Edition set that comes with three new light-up Laser Pegs® (bat, ball, and glove) and enough classic Laser Pegs shapes and construction parts to build 12 different baseball-themed creations. Choose from 30 team decals to add to personalize your set. This is a great building set for any baseball player or game enthusiast. And, as with so many other building sets, it’s a great way for dads to bond with their kids. It might also spark an interest in baseball that could translate into other areas, such as playing catch, joining a team that dad can coach, or picking up some third-base-line seats at a real major- or minor-league game. $40 on http://laserpegs.com/
MiP (WowWee)
MiP robot wowweeIt didn’t take any more than a few minutes of playing with MiP for us to realize that the company is aptly named: WowWee! MiP is amazing. If you try to stand MiP upright, he’ll fall over, but as soon as you turn him on, he automatically balances himself by moving slightly back and forth—kind of like the way you might if you were trying to keep your bike upright without putting your feet down at a red light. Attach a tray (included), start loading MiP up, and he still autobalances himself. Download the free app and you can make MiP dance, roam, do tricks, respond to hand gestures, and even chase your dog around the house (our favorite activity these days). Although MiP is billed as more of a dad-son kinda guy, this dad and his daughter had an absolute blast together and in head-to-head competition. A great way to introduce kids (and dads) to high-tech robotics. Can be appreciated by kids of almost all ages—the older and more coordinated, the more they’ll be able to do. Until you become an adult, when all of a sudden the kids are better at everything. $99.99. www.wowwee.com/mip
ZOOB 175 Piece Challenge Kit (Poof-Slinky)
zoob challenge poof-slinkyWhat makes ZOOB such a unique building set is the fact that once you put the pieces together, your creation can move, so you can actually play with them instead of just admiring them. The 175-Piece Challenge Kit is definitely for the advanced builder. It comes with instructions and suggestions for building about 40 different projects, but encourages imagination, exploration, and innovation. What we like best, though, are the 26 open-ended challenges, each of which has multiple possible solutions. Things like make a target and hit it, build a ramp, make a ball that bounces, and build a zip line. A wonderful, fun way to encourage those all-important STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) skills that 21st century kids will need to succeed at work and in life. For ages 8 and up. $42.99. http://poof-slinky.com/

Dolls, Puppets, and Snugglies

Fuzzy Wuggs Hand Puppets (Manhattan Toy Company)
fuzzy wuggs manhattan toyThe sweet, adorable hand puppets are the perfect addition to your puppet box (you DO have a puppet box, don’t you?). These monsters—there’s the Orange Bolie and the Pink Girlie—are anything but scary, and would be perfect for a brother and sister (or any opposite-sex pairing: mom/son, dad/daughter) to play with together. Fuzzy Wuggs are the simplest puppets to operate: there’s just a sleeve for the arm and the thumb and fingers make the mouth open and close. They’re easy to manipulate for even for the smallest of hands, which makes them a great choice for young kids who are just building their dexterity and motor skills, as well as puppet enthusiasts of any age. Besides being great for creative and imaginative play, playing with puppets gives dad a special window in to how his children’s minds work. $24 from http://www.manhattantoy.com
Nursery Time (Adora Dolls)
nursery time adora dollWhat better topic than dolls. Wait, dads and dolls? Absolutely. Any man who’s got a daughter—and wants to connect with her—really needs to know his way around the world of dolls, since that’s where girls spend a lot of their time. It’s an amazing way to say, “I love you.” Adora babies are incredibly lifelike. They’re a little lighter than most babies but heavier than most other dolls. Their skin (which comes in a variety of tones) is super soft, their little noses and toes and fingers are irresistible, and they even smell like real babies. Great for dad to show his daughter how tiny and adorable she was as a baby, but also very effective if that little girl is preparing to be a big sister. Nursery Time babies are dressed in a onesie and come with a nice doll carrier so your junior mommy can take her baby everywhere. Ages 3 and up. $79.99 at specialty stores and http://www.adoradolls.com
Twinkling Firefly Frog (Cloud B)
twinkling firefly frog cloud bAs parents, we all know that bedtime isn’t always fun. For anyone. But a snuggly companion—especially if it lights up—can help sooth even the most savage toddler. This cuddly friend is perfect for enchanted playtime and helps children transition into nighttime. Fireflies twinkle in Frog’s belly to create a magical glow that helps ease fears of the dark. Twinkling Firefly Frog also plays a choice of two soothing sounds: rain with crickets, or a relaxing lullaby, and shuts himself off after 45 mintes. Kids who are old enough can control Frog’s light and volume. Needs 3 AAA batteries (included) which last a really long time. $35. http://cloudb.com

Games

Long Story Short (The Game Chef)
long story short, the game chefAnother clever family game from the folks at The Game Chef, this one mashing sitting-around-the-campfire storytelling with social media. Each player gets a turn to be the Storyteller. He or she picks one of the story starters for a little inspiration, and then starts talking. When the narrator is done, all the other players have to make that long story short, turning it into a text, a tweet, or a drawing (depending on how the dice roll). Dads often tell us that it’s hard to find games that tweens and teens will want to play with the rest of the family, but this is sure to be a hit. It’s easy to learn (takes about five minutes), can be hilarious at times, and is a great way to learn all sorts of new things about your family members. For 4-8 players ages 10+. $24.99 . http://thegamechef.com/
Tapple (USAopoloy)
tapple, usaopolyIf you’re in the mood for a fast, fun word game but only have 10 or 15 minutes, this one’s for you. The first player pulls a card containing a word or phrase from the deck (for example, “song titles”), taps the timer, and has 10 seconds to come up with something that fits the category (“Pop Goes the Weasel”) then pushes the tab with that letter, taps the timer, and the next player has 10 seconds to shout out an answer that starts with any of the remaining letters. As the letters disappear, it gets harder to find accurate answers, but it also gets a lot funnier. Play continues until all the letters have been used (the manufacturer has thoughtfully eliminated Q,U,V,X,Y,Z, which are the least common first letters in English) or someone doesn’t get an answer within those 10 seconds. For ages 8 and up. Two to 8 players, but the more you have the more fun it’ll be. $19.95. http://usaopoly.com/
UnNatural Selection (R&R Games)
unnatural selection, r&r gamesFun for any family that likes card games, UnNatural Selection™ lets kids and dads (or moms, of course) mash together a creature with features from all sorts of other animals, using the “Mod Ray X5000.” Then use the cards in your hand to undermine your opponents’ creatures’ skills and abilities. Finally, everyone presents their creature and pleads their case to the referee who decides which one would emerge victorious in a battle. The one who wins the most challenges become the “Ultimate Warrior.” It’s fun and fast-paced and costs only $11 at http://www.rnrgames.com/

Just Plain Fun

Invite Bandz (Marked Private)
invite bands, marked privateDads know that our kids want to be social on the Internet—and we try to support that (knowing all the while that they’d figure out a way to get online even if we didn’t support it). But we’re also worried about safety. Invite Bandz can turn Dad into a party-planning hero by satisfying both of those seemingly incompatible wishes in a wonderfully creative way. Here’s how it goes: The party host whips up an invite web-page that becomes a private mini-community where people can chat, post pics, and more. But no one gets into that exclusive digital enclave unless they’ve received a silicone wristband that comes with a unique access code. And after the party, the page—and the private community—can live on. It’s a cool, fun twist on traditional party invites. $14.99 for a 9-pack, $7.99 for a 4-pack booster. http://markedprivate.com/
KidNimble (KidNimble
kidnimbleAs much as we love our kids, we don’t always know what to do with them. Even if they’re booked with wall-to-wall camps, there are all those weekends. Personally, the phrase “I’m bored,” coming out of a child’s mouth drives me crazy. Fortunatley, with KidNimble, you may be able to banish that phrase from your kids’ vocabulary. Simply put, KidNimble is an amazing database of kid-friendly activiites. You can search by zip code–which means it works just as well on the road as it does at home–and specific a mileage radius. Then filter your results by distance, gender and/or age of the kids, program type (camps, classes, etc), and category (sports, religious, performing arts, academic, special needs, and more). Free at http://kidnimble.com
Wubble Bubble Ball (NSI Toys) 
wubble bubble ballHave you ever made giant soap bubbles, the kind that get to be a few feet across? Fun, isn’t it? But there’s always something a little disappointing when the bubbles pop—and they always do. Enter the Wubble Bubble Ball, which looks like a bubble but plays like a ball. It starts off about the size of a sock, but when you inflate it (a battery-operated inflator is included), it expands up to three feet across. It spins, floats, soars, just like a bubble. But go right ahead and toss it, kick it, smack it, sit on it—the thing is so indestructible that the company offers a lifetime replacement warranty. Take it to the park and kids will drop everything they’re doing and ask to play. Use it in your house (which is really fun) at your own peril. You may get some cool-dad points from the kids, but we’re betting that your spouse won’t be nearly as thrilled. $19.95. http://wubbleball.com/

Language Learning

ChineseCUBES
chinese cubesChina is a growing economic force and there’s a good chance that learning to speak Chinese will benefit your child when the time comes to get a job so he or she can support you in your old age. ChineseCUBES is designed for beginners of all ages, and lets dads learn Chinese with their kids through play, stories, videos, and augmented reality blocks that spring to life when you put them in front of your computer. We first saw ChineseCUBES at Toy Fair earlier this year and were absolutely amazed. I’ve studied Russian, French, and Hebrew and have never seen a more engaging, entertaining way to learn a new language. http://www.chinesecubes.com/
ChineseCUBES app (ChineseCUBES)
chinese cubes appChinese is a tough language. But the way this app breaks things down, it almost seems manageable. We began working on vegetables. Pick one—we went with tomato—and start learning. Tomato in Chinese consists of two characters. If you break them apart, you get “foreign” and “eggplant.” Tap either one, and you get audio of a native Chinese speaker saying the words. Put the two characters back together and hear the whole word. Tap on a pencil icon and you see how to write the actual characters. Once you feel confident, you can test your knowledge in a variety of ways, including a matching game where you match a picture of a particular veggie with the Chinese characters. tap for how to write the actual symbols. It’s very cool, very interactive, very addictive. The lite version is free in the Apple App Store. In app purchases start at $1.99.

Outdoors

Washdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)
washdrops cequentA lot of kids have fond memories of helping dad wash the car on those hot summer days. My dad wasn’t all that car-focused, so for me, washing the car was often an excuse to spend an hour or two hosing each other (and sometimes the car) off. But today, when everyone’s concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what’s an environmentally savvy dad with a filthy car supposed to do? Well, all you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops. It’s non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. The stuff is completely non-toxic—no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia—so when you’re done you can use what’s left in the bucket to water your garden. With Washdrops, dads and kids can still enjoy quality time together. You’ll be a little drier, and a lot smarter about the environment, and the car will actually get clean. One additional note: We live in a complex where washing the car in the driveway is prohibited. But Washdrops is okay. washdrops.com
PaddlePak (Trunki)
paddlepak trunkiAfter spending the first few years of their children’s life as human pack animals, most dads are ready to celebrate the day the kids child can start schlepping their own stuff. And with PaddlePaks, that day may come a little sooner. PaddlePaks are adorable, water-resistant backpacks that come in a whole menagerie of aquatic animal forms, including shark, killer whale, frog, blow fish, clown fish, lobster, and octopus. They’re great for a day-trip to the beach, a sleepover at grandma’s, or even a jaunt down to the pool for swim lessons. They’re fun, practical (wet swim suits don’t soak your car seats and dry clothes don’t get soaked when you child drops the pack in a puddle). $25-$30. http://www.trunki.com/

Retro

Motorworks (Manhattan Toys)
motoworks manhattan toyThese are not your father’s model cars—but they may be your grandfather’s. These charming wooden—yes, wooden!—cars are definitely a blast from the past. Each one (there are about 15) snap-fits together easily and is fully customizable using stickers and a variety of accessories. Parts from any Motorworks car are interchangeable with all the rest. Plus, you can buy extra parts (including wheels, rims, cabs, chassis, and more) or swap with your friends. Great, low-tech fun for dads and kids. And starting at just $10, they’re easy on the wallet. Beautifully crafted and durable, they’re the kind of toy your children may be playing with their own kids one of these days (and yes, that would make you a grandfather). http://www.manhattantoy.com
Start Wars Yo Men Yo Yos (Yomega)
star wars yomega yo youThese cool Yo Yos combine the fun of Yo-Yos with the inter-generational awesome that is Star Wars. (If you don’t love Star Wars, you really need to get your priorities straight). The Star Wars Yomega Yo-Men Yo-Yo line is a collection of 12 of the most popular characters from the Star Wars movies, including Yoda and Darth Vader. A few practice rounds while the kids are asleep and dad will be able to demonstrate walking the dog or going around the world. These high performance yo-yos let you do some amazing tricks (or learn them) with or without using the Force.  When you’re done playing or teaching your kiddo, place the yo-yo in the action stand to complete the Yo-Men character. Prices range from under $15 to over $90, depending on collectability and availability. http://www.yomega.com

Safety

My BuckleMate (My BuckleMate)
my bucklemateMost dads wouldn’t think of letting the kids ride in their booster seats without buckling up first (yes, we’re talking to you). But how many times have you mumbled profanities under your breath as you’ve tried to unite the female and male ends of the buckles, or strained your back leaning over fishing around to find the end that’s slipped behind or between the seats? My BuckleMate solves both of those problems by propping up backseat buckles so they’re easy to find and reach—so easy that kids will be able to buckle themselves in. http://www.mybucklemate.com/