Mr. Dad Seal of Approval: Winter Holidays Deadline Extended

Do you know of a great product or service that encourages dads and their children to spend more time together?

If so, the MrDad.com team wants to hear about it!

As one of the leading websites promoting positive parenting for dads, we’re pleased to announce that submissions are still open for the Father’s Day 2014 Mr. Dad Seal of Approval.

But hurry. As you can imagine, we’re already receiving lots of entries, which is why we’ve extended the deadline to November 21, 2014. We’ll announce the winners the week of December 1. You can find out more and submit your products at http://www.mrdad.com/seal/

Next to “I love you, Daddy,” some of the sweetest words a father can hear are, “Hey Dad, can we play that again?” But it’s not always easy to find toys, games, and activities that have the “play-it-again” factor. That’s why we created the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval: to help dads (and those who love them) identify top-quality, fun products and services that will help them and their children stay connected at every age. Each Seal recipient has been field tested by other dads to ensure that it truly accomplishes that goal.

Putting a Mr. Dad Seal of Approval on your product tells customers that they’re looking at something dads and kids will enjoy together. Past recipients include Lego, Haba USA, The Smithsonian, Nintendo, B. Toys, Ravensburger, Wild Creations, Putumayo, and many more.

The Mr. Dad Seal of Approval is managed by Armin Brott and Samantha Feuss (Have Sippy Will Travel). Seal winners will be promoted on Armin’s and Samantha’s websites as well as through their extensive social media contacts (>20,000 on Facebook, >50,000 on Twitter). Winners may also be featured in “Parents@Play,” the nationally syndicated (by McClatchy) toy-review column Armin and Sam co-write, as well as on the toy review segment on “Positive Parenting,” Armin’s radio show that airs on more than 500 stations.

For more info and to submit your products, visit http://www.mrdad.com/seal/

No Winter Blues

We just set our clocks back, so you know winter is just around the corner. And if last year was any indication, this one’s going to be a doozy. As the temperature drops, the kids will be spending more and more time indoors, and the last thing you want is a bunch of bored minions to entertain. Here are a few of the latest fun toys that are perfect for quelling cabin fever.

baymax rocket fist1Baymax Rocket Fist and Mask (Bandai)
Baymax Armored Figure (Bandai)
With Disney’s new movie, Big Hero 6 just hitting theaters, the toys can’t be far behind. We saw the movie at a press screening and it was one of the cutest we’ve seen in a long time., albeit a little sad. The young genius, Hiro, will be a big favorite but it’s the silly and huggable—and inflatable—robot, Baymax who steals the show for children.  The mask looks just like the one Hiro makes for Baymax, but it’s not a full helmet, so it’s easy for small hands to get on and off. The Rocket Fist actually works, launching the fist part when the wearer (you know you’re going to try it) pulls the trigger inside. The flying fist is soft, so it won’t hurt anyone, but keep it away from breakables. Ages 4 and up. The Rocket Fist and Mask are about $23 on Amazon.

baymax armored figureThe Baymax (Armored) Figure is a really cool toy that’s sturdy and nicely articulated (meaning you can bend the arms and legs). It also has retractable wings, which makes flying around the house a real breeze. Okay, it doesn’t really fly, but don’t tell your child. Best of all, it looks exactly like Baymax, which is a very big deal for young super-heroes-to-be. 4 and up, $10 at Toys R Us.

 

 

monster high catacombs

Monster High Freaky Fusion Catacombs Playset (Mattel)
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Some of the clothing on the Monster High dolls is a bit too risqué and not very appropriate for young kids (it’s certainly not anything you’d let your child wear to school, even on Halloween). But the dolls themselves are innovative and fun, and fit in with our current macabre fascination with zombies and monsters. So if your child is a Monsters High fan and/or saw the recent “Monster High: Freaky Fusion” movie (which featured the Catacombs under the school), this is a great gift. Just grab the dolls before your child gets to them and dress them a little more wholesomely. The dollhouse itself is very different than any other dollhouse your child has ever played with—and that’s a good thing. For ages 6 and up. Retails for about $110 (dolls are not included) at http://www.mattel.com or your favorite retailer.

fisher price battle roverImaginext Battle Rover (Fisher Price)
Part vehicle, part play set, the Battle Rover has it all: projectiles, disk launchers, lights, sound effects, voices, a crane, a pull-out saw and drill, a kid-operated control panel, and plenty more. And let’s not forget about the detachable space shuttle that’s got plenty of features of its own. Wow, that’s a whole lot of play in one toy, and it’s sure to keep your little one entertained for hours at a time. You can add a bit of education to the mix by reading your child some stories about similar, real-life rovers that have explored the moon and Mars. For ages 3 and up. $120 at http://www.fisher-price.com; a little less at retailers like Kmart.

Aww, Shoot

What is it about shooting things that kids (yes, that includes girls) like so much? Does it even matter? We think not. If you and/or the kids are looking for some high-energy activities that build hand-eye coordination, cooperation, and teamwork, you’ll want to check these out.

air storm firetekair storm z-tekAir Storm Firetek Bow (Zing)
Air Storm Z Tek (Zing)
The Firetek is the latest addition to Zing’s exciting Air Storm line of archery toys. The bow and the arrows (actually whistling, screaming foam darts that can fly more than 100 feet) light up, making Firetek just fun at night as it is during the day. The Z-Tek bow-and-arrow sets look similar, but they don’t light up, but they’ll provide hours of entertainment during the day.  The entire Air Storm line is built with safety in mind: the launch mechanism works only with Zing’s foam darts. The Firetek and Z Tek are both for ages 8 and up. Firetek comes in green or red, ships with three screaming darts, and retails for about $29.97. There’s also a pink Air Huntress Firetek Bow for the Hunger Games fans in your house. Z-Tek comes in several colors, ships with three darts, one of which has a suction-cup tip, and sells for about $20.00.

zano bowZano Bow (Zing)
The Zano (Zing-speak for “nano”) is about a third the size of its cousins, Firetek and Z Tek, but it packs just as much entertainment into that smaller package. The Zano fires soft, foam zarts (Zing-speak for “darts”) up to 30 feet, and the suction-cup tips make it perfect for indoor play—as long as you’ve put all of your fine China and Ming vases out of reach. Comes with three zarts and a snazzy wall target. For ages 4 and up. Available for under $10.00 at your favorite retailer.

atomic shield popperAtomic Shield Popper (Hog Wild)
Generally speaking, shooting toys are offensive weapons, and very few people ever consider the need for defense. Well, the folks at Hog Wild have come up with an ingenious way of combining both functions: Load your foam balls into the unique, gravity-fed launch system, pull back the “hammer” and let ‘em rip—right through the shield, which is perfect for protecting you from return fire from the bad guys. Although the balls (six are included) are foam, they move pretty quickly and pack a pretty good punch, so you’ll want to use the Popper outside. For ages 4 and up, retails for under $20.00

idrive sunglassesiDrive sunglasses (iDrive)
One could reasonably argue that sunglasses don’t have all that much to do with shooting. But these iDrive glasses would be the exception. Their polarized lenses all but eliminate glare, which makes it a lot easier to focus on your target. And there’s something about those same lenses (which provide 100% protection against all types of UV rays and reduce eye fatigue) that makes anything you look at pop out. But best of all, these sunglasses just make you look incredibly cool. So even if you’re not hitting your targets as accurately as you’d like, no one will notice.  For ages 5 and up, $69.99, at http://www.izonesunglasses.com

An important, final note. Although these shooting toys are, well, toys, it’s important that your children learn to use them responsibly. In our house, that means absolutely no aiming or firing at pets or at anything above the knees on a human. No exceptions, no warnings, no second chances, and no excuses.

Workouts for the Brain

Game nights are a great way for families to spend quality time together. But every once in a while, you need to shake things up a little, right? Here are three wonderful, mind-expanding activities that mom, dad, 2.5 kids (but not the dog) will enjoy.

Brain Benders puzzlesBrain Bender cubeBrain Benders (Alex Brands)
Brain Benders offer puzzle lovers a very different experience—visually, physical, and intellectually. Brain Benders pieces are made of wood (instead of flat cardboard), and you’ll use them to assemble a sphere, two different cubes, and double-pyramid shape. Besides patience and ingenuity, you’ll need some pretty well-developed spatial- and logical-thinking skills. Don’t have them? No problem. You’ll develop them pretty quickly. Having four puzzles makes it easy for families to spend time together—and compete against each other or the clock. One warning: Even though there are illustrated instructions for how to solve each puzzle, the pieces from three of the puzzles are very similar—and aren’t interchangeable. We put dots on the bottoms to help us keep the pieces organized by puzzle (one dot on all the pieces of one puzzle, two dots on another). For ages 8 and up. Available your favorite retailer for $9-$15 or at www.alexbrands.com

elements 4d blocksElements 4D (DAQRI)
Elements 4D consists of six beautifully designed, white blocks. Each face (a total of 36) is dedicated to a single element from the Periodic Table of Elements (remember that from High School?). Beside the name, there’s the symbol (O for oxygen, H for hydrogen, and so on) and the atomic number (how many protons in one atom of the element). But when you view them through a smartphone or device running the free, augmented-reality app, those blocks go from nice-to-look-at to amazing (or, as my middle schooler put it, “coooooool”). You get a more information and a virtual representation of the element. But wait, there’s more! Put two blocks next to each other, and you’ll see the chemical reaction and the resulting compound. For example, oxygen and hydrogen are both gasses, but together they become water. Similarly, combine sodium (actually a metal) with chlorine (a gas) and you get salt. These visuals upgraded “cool” to “awwwwwwesooooome.” Overall, Elements 4D is a fantastic way to introduce or develop an interest in chemistry and it’s an engaging resource for home or school. There are several small issues. First, the actual blocks are hard to find in stores. But if you go to the manufacturer’s website, you can print out paper versions, which still work with the app. Second, the app is available only on Google Play and iTunes, which leaves out those of us who primarily use Windows phones. Third, only 36 of 118 elements are included. But that could actually be a good thing, driving an interested child to want to learn more. http://daqri.com/elements4D-mobile/

tanglecard instructionstangle cards finishedTangle Cards (Zentangle)
After a long day putting together complex wooden puzzles and experimenting with virtual chemical reactions, your brain could use a break. And Tangle Cards (also called Yoga for Your Brain) are just the ticket. Based on the Zentangle books by Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Tangle Cards guide you through the calming, creativity-stimulating process of drawing beautiful designs. Start with simple lines and curves and gradually add more and more detail. The books have more detailed instructions than the cards and include photos of Bartholomew’s inspiration. But the cards are more portable—and just as meditative. A great parent-child(ren) activity and a smartphone-free way to keep kids occupied. For ages 5 and up. Books cost around $12, cards around $10. http://www.zentangle.com/

Fly Me to the Moon—Well, Almost…

People have been fascinated with flight ever since the first human set eyes on the first bird. And even if we can’t do the actual flying ourselves, there’s something about launching things into the sky that’s almost as good. This week we had a chance to review three different toys that go up—way, way up—and come back down. One stays airborne for just a few seconds, the other two for at least a few minutes. All three have made it on to our current faves list, and we’re sure they’ll be on yours as well.

strat-o-slam poof slinkyStrato-Slam Rocket Battle Blast (Poof-Slinky)
When it comes to flight, this is about as low-tech as it gets (short of simply throwing something into the air). But the lack of flashing lights and whirring motors does nothing to detract from the high-fun levels. The design is simple: slide a foam rocket onto one end of a flexible hose that’s attached to an adjustable launching dock. The other end of the hose goes into a round chamber that’s a little bigger (and a lot quieter) than a whoopee cushion. Stomp on the chamber, and your rocket takes off. The harder you stomp, the higher it goes—up to 200 feet, according to the manufacturer. Hard to verify, but we can say that our rockets were so high up that we could barely see them. The Strato-Slam comes with six foam rockets and two launching docs, air hoses, and chambers, and is literally a blast. That second chamber more than doubles the fun by adding an element of head-to-head competition. For ages 5 and up. Retails for about $37. http://poof-slinky.com/

hot wheels street hawkStreet Hawk Remote Control Flying Car (Hot Wheels)
Any self-respecting Pixar fan knows that cars can talk, make plans, and fall in love. But can they fly? If you ask Hot Wheels, the answer is a solid Yes, much to the joy of all those little (and grown up) boys and girls who can’t get enough of those miniature race cars. Made of light-yet-very-durable foam, the Street Hawk handles well on the road—as long as there isn’t much wind. When you and the kids get tired of gravity, switch to flight mode and you can fly your car as high as 200 feet. The lightweight construction makes doing airborne tricks easy. But it’s a little hard to control in the wind, and soft landings take a lot of practice. Fortunately, it’s such a great way to spend time with the kids that you won’t mind those minor inconveniences. Ages 8+. Retails for as low as $55. http://shop.mattel.com/

sky viperSky Viper Camera Drone (Skyrocket Toys)
The bad news about Sky Viper is that if you want to master its four blades and six-axis gyroscope, you’ll have to put in some serious practice time. The good news is that it’s so engaging and entertaining that you (and the kids, if you let them near it) will be tempted to call in sick to play with it. The control unit has everything you need to do flips, barrel rolls, and other stunts (some are pre-programmed, others you’ll figure out on your own) and take video (up to 30 minutes) or stills (more than 1,000). Either way, it’s amazing what you can see from up there. The included data cable makes transferring images to your computer or YouTube a snap. The control unit requires 4 AAA batteries (not included) and the drone itself charges very quickly. It also comes with a very handy set of replacement blades. Ages 12 and up. Retails for around $80. http://www.skyrockettoys.com/

Little Hands-on Play

That old expression about idle hands is absolutely true: when those little paws aren’t kept busy, they get into trouble. Here are some great ways to keep hands—and the associated minds and bodies—occupied, stimulated, and active.

Mini Golf Set (Alex Toys)
This new mini golf set from Alex Toys is great for even the smallest kids and is easy to set up and play. It comes with four balls, two clubs, six different circus-themed “holes,” and a handy carry bag so you’ll at least have a chance of keeping the pieces from ending up all over your house. And speaking of the house, this golf set can be used inside or out. Armin’s a big fan of swinging things around indoors, but Sam sees indoor sports as an accident waiting to happen—even if the balls are foam. The choice is yours. Either way, the clubs are easy to swing and perfectly sized, which is excellent for hand-eye coordination. For ages 3 and up. Available for $37 at http://www.alextoys.com/product/mini-golf-set/

Barbie Fashion Design Maker Doll (Mattel)
Does your little miss think she’s the next Donna Karan? If so, let her get her fashionista on and knock herself out by designing and creating cool clothes that her doll can actually wear (and yes, Barbie herself is included). This kit comes with Barbie, shoes, a necklace, eight sheets of printable fabric (we’ll get to that in a second), glitter trims and accessories, fabric ruffles, and a portfolio to store her creations like real designers do. What’s especially fun is that your little designer can design just about anything she can imagine using the proprietary app- or web-based software, print out her visions on the printable fabric, peel off the back like a sticker, and dress Barbie to the nines. The whole idea is very clever. For ages 6 and up. Retails for about $50 on mattel.com or at your favorite retailer. Refill packs are available.

First Builders Fast Tracks Raceway (Mega Bloks)
While your little miss is busy designing her Barbie, your little mister can build a racetrack. This fun kit from Mega Bloks comes with two racecars, a total of 50 pieces and a whole bunch of stickers so you and the kids (of either sex, of course), can customize to your hearts’ content. And since it’s completely compatible with all other Mega Bloks sets, why limit yourselves to a race track? Build an entire racing village—or a scene from the movie Cars. For ages 1-5. Sells for about $20 at http://www.megabloks.com or stores near you.

Z-Line Ninjas Playset (Playmates Toys)
This kit is not for the faint of heart—you’ll need a lot of space, a lot of patience, and plenty of adult supervision. But it’s well worth the trouble. The basic playset comes with a gargoyle launcher (where the zip adventure begins. Launchers attach easily to your wall—and can be removed just as easily with no damage), zip lines, c-turns for going around corners, a New York City backdrop (which also sticks to your walls) and more. Just set up the lines and send most of your Turtle action figures (sold separately, unless you already own some) flying all over your house, hot on the trail of Kraang and Shredder. The bigger sets (Water Tower Washout and Billboard Breakout) include more line and more options, but require more space. Prices range from $20-$30  at Toys R Us and other stores near you.