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/

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval Winners for the 2013 Holiday Season

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval

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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 Spring and Father’s Day 2014 seasons.

 

Apps, Video Games, and Technology

Reading Rainbow App
reading rainbow appThe new Reading Rainbow is a completely re-imagined and interactive experience reminiscent of the original TV series. It’s an on-the-go library of quality books and video fieldtrips, currently on the iPad and Kindle Fire. Hosted by LeVar Burton, the app encourages children’s travel to themed islands, such as Animal Kingdom, Awesome People and Genius Academy, discovering quality fiction and non-fiction books from numerous acclaimed publishers (New themed islands are in production, including the addition of National Geographic Kids island). The curated library is personalized with recommendations based on the child’s age, interests and reading habits. Up to five children in a family can each have their own customized reading experience at no additional cost. This includes a personalized digital backpack, reading list, and individualized tracking so dad and mom can see books selected and minutes read for each of their children. Unlike other reading library apps, Reading Rainbow includes video field trips for children to visit fascinating people and places, connecting the books they read to the world around them. The App is free to try and a subscription service, offering unlimited access, is available for $9.99 a month recurring or an introductory price of $29.99. http://www.rrkidz.com

 

Skylanders
skylanders swap forceThe Skylanders are invading again, but this time they’re coming apart at the seams. Skylanders Swap Force is the newest Skylanders game and the main feature is that you can create your own characters by swapping the tops and bottoms of existing ones. For example, if one of your characters has an arm cannon and tire feet but you’d rather have the tentacle feet from another character, you can make the switch. Small magnets keep the tops and bottoms of the new figures together during play, but easily pull apart whenever you want. Combining characteristics and creating new characters opens up new areas in the game. The 16 Swap Force characters create 250 combinations, 16 new Core characters, 8 LightCore characters, and more. And not to worry, all your old ones—including Giants—will work with Swap Force. skylanders.com

 

Vtech 3S Tablet
vtech vs3 tabletVTech’s 3S tablet starts with their award winning InnoTab and adds a ton of new features, including Wi-Fi. Sounds scary, but there are a ton of safety features so you’ve got complete control over the internet. The 3S comes with 20 pre-loaded apps, including Art Studio and H2O Go! There’s also a neat built-in app called Kid Connect, which allows parents and kids to text each other (if you’ve got a Wi-Fi connection. The 5-inch touch screen is a little small, but the 2MP camera takes perfectly respectable stills and video. All in all, a nice first tablet. http://www.vtechkids.com/

 

Board and Card Games

Anger Management
anger managementIf you’ve ever muttered something to a driver in another car or to a character on TV, or wanted to choke the lady in front of you at the grocery checkout line for making her purchase in pennies, you’ll like Anger Management. The goal is pretty simple: Move up your Rage-O-Meter from “perfectly calm” to “absolutely steamed.” The player who’s most likely to throw a tantrum if he or she doesn’t go first starts by spinning the Out of Control spinner. That player then draws a card from the category the spinner landed on and reads it to the group. The players whose answers match the majority move up a notch on their Rage-O-Meter. For example, if the category is “Least Favorite chocolate covered food,” and most people say “donuts,” those players win the round. First one to Absolutely Steamed wins. The others will no doubt whine and complain about conspiracies and evil plots. 3-6 players (odd numbers are best since you need a majority), A great way for dads to connect with teens. http://www.endlessgames.com/new.html

 

Front Runner
front runnerThere are a lot of great math games out there, but we found this one to be especially challenging—in a good way. The setting is a horse race, and each player is a jockey. The horse pawns are numbered 2-7 and are actually the answers to the equations printed on Equation Cards. But instead of solving simple addition or subtraction problems, players are solving for factors, which are the numbers that divide evenly into larger numbers without a remainder (for example, the factors of 10 are 1, 2, 5,and 10). Unlike a lot of other math-based games, Front Runner involves strategy. The only way a horse can move forward is if its number is a factor. Here’s how it works. A problem printed on the card (each card has three problems, one easy, one hard, one even harder) reads X+Y-Z=?. Using three dice, the player rolls 5, 3, and 2. 5+3-2 is 6. Since the factors of 6 are 1, 2, 3, and 6, those horses move forward. But if the player arranges the dice 5+2-3, the answer is 4, whose factors are 2 and 4, so only those horses would move, leaving the others behind. Players try to create equations whose factors advance their horse—but no one else’s. It’s a little complicated in the beginning, but well worth the effort. 2-6 players. http://www.simplyfun.com

 

Furt
furtFurt, which bills itself as “a befuzzling eruption of laughter in a box,” doesn’t really have any rules and you have to figure it out as you play. But that just makes it more entertaining. All you know is that you’re racing the other players to be the first into the mouth of a fiery volcano. And the only way that happens is by completing tasks from one of six categories. Along the way, you’ll have to reveal secrets (or tell bald-faced lies), act out random words, and keep a straight face while other players scream funny words at you, and generally make a fool of yourself in front of other people. 3-8 players (the more the better), ages 13 and up, Takes about 60 rolling-on-the-floor hilarious minutes. $29.95. http://www.wiggitybang.com/furt/

 

Kwizniac Kids
kwizniac kidzKwizniac is a trivia countdown game. What does that mean? Well, each card in the deck contains an answer and five clues, which are listed in decreasing order of difficulty. For example, on one card, the first clue (number 5, which scores 5 points) is “She was first invented in 1959” Huh? So we’d move on to the next one (4, which scores 4) “Her real name is Barbara Millicent Roberts” Still huh? The clues get progressively easier until the last one (number 1) is “Her long-time boyfriend’s name is Ken” Got it? Barbie. The object is to get the answer with the fewest number of clues. Great fun for dads, kids, and the whole family. Ages 6 and up. There’s also an adult-version of this game that’s for 12 and up and has 10 questions instead of 5. www.kwizniac.com

 

NFL Rush Zone
nfl rush zoneFootball season may be winding down, but real for real fans, the season is never over. Game manufacturers have tried to capture the excitement of NFL football but few have succeeded. The NFL Rush Zone board game is one of those success stories.The board itself comes complete with goal posts, yard lines, and interchangeable end zones–one for each of the 32 NFL teams.The game is easy to play–offense and defense run their plays by throwing dice–and take only 20-30 minutes to play. A great way for dad to introduce the kids (and/or the spouse) to the gridiron glory and the basic rules of the game. Toys R Us

 

Snake Oil
snake oilThe goal of Snake Oil is the same one that snake-oil salesmen of the old West had: get some unsuspecting sucker to buy something he or she doesn’t need. It’s elegantly simple. One player randomly picks a one-word Customer Card—anything from gangsters and frat boys to witches and amputees. Each of the other players gets six Word Cards and picks two to create a “product” to sell to the Customer. The bizarre word combinations (you could end up with a “noise nose,” an “ear button,” a “spit book” or any of a few thousand others) and the ridiculous sales pitches are what make Snake Oil so entertaining. Players have 30 seconds to make their pitch. The Customer awards the Customer Card to the winner. Most Customer Cards wins. 3-10 players, ages 10+. Takes five minutes to learn and 20-30 to play. http://www.otb-games.com/games/

 

Building and Science

Air-Stream Machine
air-streamThese engaging, fun—and, yes, educational—kits tech kids (and their parents) about air pressure and air-driven mechanics. The kit comes with everything you need to complete 10 different projects, each of which highlights a real-world application that convert air flow to electrical or mechanical energy. There are propeller-driven vehicles and batting machines that toss balls in the air. But the star of the show is a hovercraft that can actually float over land or water. Really. The accompanying booklet is both instruction manual and educational text. Air-Stream machines are perfect for anyone 8 and up who’s got an interest in science or green technology. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com

 

Candy Chemistry
candy chemistryYou and your kids can learn the science of cooking while creating real, edible (and quite tasty) candies and chocolates at home. You’ll learn why sugar crystallizes, and about heat and the phases of matter by molding chocolates and using the candy thermometer. Your child can learn about measurements and conversions, volumes, and weights, and then eat the conclusions. The kit includes metal molds, thermometer, spatula, dipping fork, foil, paper cups, sticks, wrappers and a nice manual, but you’ll need to supply the ingredients. Parental supervision definitely required. $38. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/

 

littleBits
littleBitsWhen you first open a littleBits kit, you might think you were looking at a box of random electronic components that you might find at a flea market. There’s a bit of truth there—you are getting a collection of components—but there’s more to it than that. Each set includes LED lights, servos, battery or power blocks, and various sensors. The object is to build something that does something, and that’s exactly what you and the kids will be able to do. The instruction book does as great job of explaining how things work, but littleBits is all about hands-on learning. String the pieces together along with materials of your own to make everything from simple on/off circuits and back massagers to moving vehicles and musical instruments. Need a little inspiration? The website has plenty of suggestion for all skill levels. littleBits is as fantastic way to introduce the kids (and yourself) to basic and not-so-basic electronics. Yes, you’re dealing with electricity, but there’s no danger of anyone getting hurt. The pieces fit together only in ways that make electrocution pretty much impossible. Perhaps the best part is watching your child think through problems, going from “what I want to happen” to “hey, I can make that happen!” For ages 5 and up. $99 to $199. http://littlebits.cc/

 

Nancy B
nancy b microscopeOne of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are—and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and we’re especially happy when at least some of that play time is spent with us!).Nancy B’s Science Club kits were created by Nancy Balter, a former science teacher and all-around science enthusiast. The idea was to inspire girls to become interested in and learn more about science (even the colors are especially appealing to girls, but aren’t so girly that they’ll alienate boys). The Club has also partnered with female scientists from around the world who provide content and contribute their knowledge. Each product comes with a journal where budding scientists can keep notes and track their progress, as well as an “exclusive membership” in Nancy B’s online Science Club. http://www.educationalinsights.com/

 

Nanoblock Mustang
nanoblocks p52Nanoblocks have been around for a while and these micro-sized building block sets keep getting better. There are, as you might expect, advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, you can build incredibly detailed figures that are small enough to fit in your palm. Their tiny size is great for developing hand-eye coordination. On the other hand, they don’t fit together as tightly as some other building block systems, and their tiny size makes them easy to lose. (I guess another advantage is that when you do lose them, they don’t hurt as much when you step on them on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.) Nanoblocks come in kits for building a single item, but there’s no reason you can’t combine sets and come up with your own ideas. Whether you build this 480-piece P-51 Mustang or something else, expect plenty of dad-child fun and a great sense of accomplishment when you attach the final piece. http://www.mynanoblock.com/site/

 

Super Magnetic Tidal Wave
thinking puttyIf there aren’t any magnets or metal around, this stuff looks and feels like ordinary putty. But bring a strong magnet close and things start to change. You probably won’t notice anything at first. However, over time, the putty itself gets magnetized. Now the fun starts. Mold the putty and watch (and feel) how it can go from attracting to repelling the magnet, picks up lightweight metal objects, visually reveals the actual magnetic field, move, roll, and lift up magnets from a distance. If you mold the putty around a magnet the right way, you may even be able to suspend it in mid-air. A great way teach (and learn) about magnets and magnetic fields. It’s a ton of fun. You’ll be tempted to keep fiddling with it long after junior goes to bed. http://www.puttyworld.com/

 

Throttle Motorcycle
throttle motorcycleThe Throttle Motorcycle is part of a line of toys that’s designed to show kids the inner workings of various vehicles in an interactive way. The motorcycle is already assembled, but the outer shell is transparent so kids can see how 10 separate parts of the bike function, including brakes, exhaust, engine, transmission, and turn signals. The included storybook, which you’ll enjoy reading to your little one, explains each of those functions and then gives the child a code to activate that specific system. The code is entered by pushing a combination of simple buttons (circle, square, triangle, and X) on the bike itself. Because it’s so solidly built and there aren’t any tiny swallowable pieces, the Throttle is great for kids as young as three. Batteries are required and the bike can get a little noisy with all the revving, but there’s a parent-friendly volume control that will undoubtedly come in handy. http://worxtoys.com/

 

Dolls and Characters

Doc McStuffins “Doc is In Clinic”
doc mcstuffins clinicDoc McStuffins, star of the incredibly popular TV show of the same name, now exists in the real world with a bevy of adorable doll-related toys. Unlike a lot of character-based toys these days that make you buy extras to really enjoy them, the “Doc Is In Clinic” comes with just about everything that you and your young child could need to play with and is ready to go right out of the box. (Interesting piece of backstory trivia: In the TV show, doc’s first clinic was built by her dad.) This fantastic playhouse includes all the furnishings for Doc’s room and exam areas, two patients who talk when used with the clinic table, and even batteries. So arrange the furniture, decorate the clinic with the included stickers, and start treating sick toys, Now, all you need is someone to figure out Obamacare and help handle the billing.

 

My Little Nenuco Travel With Me Baby Doll
nenuco travel with meIf you’ve followed Mr. Dad at all, you know that we think playing with dolls is a great way for dads to connect with their daughters (or doll-playing sons). Baby Nenuco is no exception. This adorable doll lets your child care for her just like you care for your child. One interesting feature is the seatbelts, which secure the doll into her car seat. It’s a great way to teach your child why you’re such a stickler for buckling up (you are, right?). That basic lesson may reduce some of the back seat fidgeting and escape attempts. http://www.nenucofamosa.com/us/

 

Pinkie Cooper
pinkie cooperThese fun, adorable human-dog-combo dolls are a little odd looking, but they grow on you pretty quickly. Pinkie is quite the fashionista and she encourages travel and learning about different cultures, and stimulates kids’ imagination. She even has her own fashion-conscious puppy pets who have mix-and-match hairstyles and more. Her clothes are bright and trendy. But best of all, she’s actually dressed in a way that won’t make you blush: no sexy clothing or vampy undergarments, thank you very much. That’s a feature most dads will really appreciate. You and your child can also keep up with Pinkie and her friends’ international adventures at PinkieCooper.com.

 

Fun at Home

B. Submaplane Build-a-ma-jig
SubmaplaneThe Submaplane is a real work of art that dad and young kids can enjoy together. There are 29 pieces that can go together in hundreds of different ways, so you can create something that lives deep in the ocean, flies high in the sky, or occuplies some space in between. Comes with a mini power drill and three bits so kids can have a real workshop experience. Batteries are included, and the pieces are interchangeable with other build-a-ma-jig sets. Perfect for the budding architect or master builder. http://justb-byou.com/

 

 

B. TeePee
b tee peeB. TeePees are really beautiful, inside and out and are a wonderful way for dads and kids (boys and/or girls) to share in imaginary adventures. Once assembled, the lantern inside the TeePee projects stars and comets all around. There’s room inside for a couple of kids or one kid and a very small dad–or a larger dad with legs hanging out the door. B. TeePee is easy to put up and just as easy to take down, although we left ours up for so long that the dog eventually moved in. Batteries are included. http://justb-byou.com/

 

 

Bommerscheim Buddies
Bommerscheim Buddies

  • Yellow Dinosaur Flannel Buddie with Green Fleece Cover
  • Green Frog Musicians Flannel Buddie with Blue Fleece Cover

Most parents figure out a little too late how hard it is to pry a favorite stuffy that’s in desperate need of washing from a young child’s sleeping hands. And, of course, it’s 10 times harder if the child in question is awake. These cuddly bunny buddies may be able to satisfy your child’s need for comfort and security as well as your need for basic hygiene. The secret is that Bommerscheim Buddies come with an easy-to-remove, washable cover–why didn’t anyone think of that before?  http://www.BommerscheimBuddies.com

 

Combat Creatures Attacknid
Combat Creatures Attacknid RC RobotsAs you might guess from the name, these six-legged, remote-controlled creatures are part attack vehicle and part arachnid. Each one has detachable leg armor and a gattling-gun head on top that shoots Nerf-like darts. Ideally, two or more Attacknids would battle it out in your living room–the goal is to shoot off the other guy’s armor. But you can have almost as much fun with one, assembling, loading up the gun, target shooting–the darts can go up to 30 feet–and even chasing your pets (of course you’d never shoot anything at your pet, right?) around the house. The RC controller responds well, and the head rotates 360 degrees so you can fight off attackers from any angle without worrying about getting stuck in a corner. And because the Attacknids move like real spiders, they crawl equally well on hardwood, tile, or carpet. http://www.combatcreatures.com/

 

Folkmanis Puppets (Sky Dragon, Alpaca, Screech Owl, Red Octopus, Mini Firfly)
folkmanis
Puppets are great for stimulating creativity and imagination (yes, yours as well as your kids’) and can be a great any-weather way of getting some insight into what’s going on in your children’s head. Folkmanis makes some of the nicest puppets around. From large, very articulated ones with mouths, wings, arms, and legs to the most basic finger puppets, they’re all beautifully crafted and very life-like. Their new line of traditional hand puppets (called “Little Puppets”) includes frogs, dragons, and unicorns, all with working mouths. http://www.folkmanis.com

 

Monsters University Sully Monster Mask
sully maskSpinmaster’s Sulley Monster Mask allows kids to move Sulley’s face as they move their own. The eyebrows move up and down, and mouth opens and closes as the child moves his or her mouth. This plush mask is cute, not scary, and has a t-strap in the back to keep it on the child’s head. Your child will love “scaring” mom and dad and that Sully will move just like they do. Great for dads and kids to engage in imaginative play in a non-scary sort of way. http://www.spinmaster.com/

 

Tummy Stuffers

tummy stufferDoes it ever seem that your child has as tornado under his feet–that every single toy he or she owns is strewn around all over the house? And does it ever drive you crazy when that same child completely flips out because a particular toy seems to have gone missing? Tummy Stuffers may be able to help. They look like ordinary plus toys, but you can stuff their tummy (hence the name) with an amazing number of toys. Ther are 6 designs: Monkey, Ladybug, Dog, Unicorn, Gator, and Kitty, all of which make cleanup a lot less stressful for everyone–and leaves more time for the really important stuff, like actually playing. https://www.buytummystuffers.com

 

Zoomer Dog

zoomer dogZoomer is an awesome robot canine that acts just like a live puppy would. He zips around, barks, plays, does tricks, and just everything but chew your furniture and poop on the carpet (do does lift his leg to “pee” but fortunately, there’s nothing to clean up). Zoomer comes pre-programmed with a few commands–sit, lay down, play with me, pee, and guard me. And he can even learn other commands. He’s got LED eyes that correspond to his current activity (including X’s over them when he plays dead), and four legs with wheels that work on carpets and hard floors alike. Oh, and the cutest thing of all is his tail, which shakes and wags right along with the pooch. He’s got a USB-chargeable battery that lasts for about an hour of playtime. All in all, the perfect pet if your landlord won’t allow real ones or you’re allergic. Also good for giving the kids a chance to actually prove to you that they’ll actually keep their promises to take care of a dog if you’ll only relent and buy one. http://zoomerpup.com/

 

Language and Education

French for Kids: Dedans et Dehors (Inside and Out)
French for kids dedans at dehorsResearch shows that early childhood is the best time to learn a second language. And if you want your kids to learn French, Whistlefritz’s “Dedans et Dehors” will help you give your kids a wonderful, life-enhancing gift. This research-based program uses as language-immersion approach, but does it using upbeat songs, skits, a group of peers as diverse as the speakers of French across the globe, and animations that encourage children to participate actively with the programs. Great for dads, whether you’re a native speaker, studied French in high school, or don’t know a word. In case you’re in one of the last two categories, a handy translation guide and French subtitles help you learn along with your children. www.whistlefritz.com

 

Little Pim
little pimIf you’re interested in exposing your little one to a new language, Little Pim is a great choice. Using the “Entertainment Immersion Method,” each Little Pim DVD covers a particular theme (usually common activities like waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, mealtime, and playtime) and introduces about 60 words and phrases. Kids (and adults) learn a new language the way they learned the first one: by example and repetition. The discs are further divided into 5-minute chunks that make dad-child interaction, practice, and discussions a breeze. The programs add to the learning–and the fun–by including music CDs. The French Bop CD, for example, includes 15 popular French children songs which will help your little one retain the vocabulary while learning about French culture. To round out the experience, there are also word- and phrase cards to quiz your kids with (or that you can use to practice on your own). With patience and practice, today’s preschooler could learn enough to play tour guide on your next overseas trip. Little Pim has kits in Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian, all of which are perfect for the classroom, home, or a quick on-the-plane or in-the-airport language brush up. Most are also available digitally and can be downloaded to your tablet or smartphone. http://www.littlepim.com/

 

Newmark Learning System
newmarkKids who do the best in school are usually the ones who get the most hands-on, one-on-one support and encouragement from their parents at home. Knowing dad (and mom, of course) are there motivates kids and shows them that making an effort makes a difference. But what if you want to be supportive but don’t know how? Enter Newmark Learning’s Parent Involvement Kits. Each one is focused around a single subject (including math, social studies, and science) and contains books, a parent guide, and a reading journal. We reviewed the Social Studies kit, which covered a variety of topics such as maps, birthdays, towns, and more. Each book’s vibrant, large pictures and simple words encourage kids to read along with parents at story time. If you’re working with a pre-reader, you’ll really appreciate Newmark’s Sight Word Readers (included in the Parent Involvement Kits), small books designed to teach little ones to recognized basic words they’ll see all the time. Usually, sight word drills are boring. These are just the opposite. One of our reviewers, who’s a teacher by training, says that the Newmark Learning programs are the best she’s ever used. And she was thrilled to see her 5-year old flipping through a book, looking at words and reading them aloud. www.newmarklearning.com/

 

Music and Video

ABC Fiesta
ABC FiestaWe love music and believe that it should be a part of every child’s (and adult’s) life. Before Ben Gundersheimer started winning awards as an internationally touring music educator and performer called Mister G, he was (and still is) a talented indie rocker with passion for music, travel, and language. The songs on this bilingual album are catchy, entertaining, and eminently hummable. They’re great to listen to together with the kids and take the listener on a virtual tour of music styles, ranging from reggae to Latin to folk. Best of all, the lyrics and the quality of the music make this DC just as interesting for dad as it is for kids. http://www.mistergsongs.com

 

Children Make Terrible Pets (and three more stories about family)

children make terrible petsThe first time I saw the Scholastic Storybok Treasures DVDs, I was very skeptical. I’m a big believer in reading to kids and didn’t think a DVD could possibly be as fun to snuggle up with as a dad, or that a movie version of a favorite book could be as engaging as the original. I was wrong. First, these DVDs aren’t really movies–sometimes there’s animation, but quite often, the visuals are slow pans across the actual illustrations. Second, who’s to say you can’t snuggle up with a movie? Third, you and your child get exposure to more books than you might otherwise want to buy or check out of the library. You also have access to interviews with the authors and other special features that you can’t get with a “real” book. Don’t get me wrong, I still love actual books, but the Scholastic Storybooks are a very close–and very worthwhile–second. Children Make Terrible Pets is a super-sweet tale of a bear named Lucy who, while out for a stroll in the woods (wearing a tutu) finds a little boy and decides to take him home as a pet. Peter Brown’s story is hilarious–especially for 2-5-year olds–and his illustrations are wonderful (the one of the little boy, named Squeaker, in a litter box is definitely LOL material). Other books on this DVD include All the World, by Liz Scanlon, Crow Call by Lois Lowry, and Elizabeti’s Doll, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen. http://www.newkideo.com

 

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late
don't let the pigeon stay up lateDon’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late and two more stories by mo Willems. Others include Knuffle Bunny Free and Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. More great fun from Scholastic. This DVD includes interviews with the author and as recipe for Edwina’s chocolate chip cookies. http://www.newkideo.com

 

 

 

A Gift for Sophie

A Gift for SophieA Gift for Sophie is a colorfully illustrated picture book and musical CD. Written by Gilles Vigneult–a member of the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame–and illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch, Sophie is a story about friendship, perseverance, and problem solving. The story itself is very sweet and the music is sophisticated enough to engage adults and playful enough to engage the kids–a family win-win. http://www.thesecretmountain.com/

 

 

The GiggleBellies get ready for sleepy time with Sweet Songs & Lullabies

giggle belliesThe tunes are catchy, the animation and production values are superb, and kids absolutely love the Gigglebellies. The problem is that while most adults will find themselves singing along with the tunes, many may find the actual Gigglebellies characters, well, a little annoying. So what? The kids will be so entertained that you’ll eventually have a really good time. And that makes the Gibblebelies a great way to spend your time and your money. www.TheGiggleBellies.com

 

 

Lishy Lou and Lucky Too

lishy lou and lucky tooLucky Diaz and his Family Jam Band have been making good music,, performing, and winning awards (including a Latin Grammy) all over the world. This album–the band’s fifth release–features songs about Amelia Earhart and Jackie Robinson and is, in a way an inspiring celebration of people following their dreams. The songs are catchy–even to grownups. But some of the music’s magic gets undermined by the sketches and stories in between the songs. Little kids (say, under 8), may enjoy them, but after a while they grate on the adult ear. Nonetheless, this is high-quality, fun listening for the whole family. http://luckydiazmusic.com/

 

The Magic School Bus: Revving Up

magic schoolbus revving upRevving Up is actually a 3 DVD set: “Under Construction,” “Getting Energized” and “Cracks a Yolk”–each with 4 episodes of the incredibly well-done, award winning science-adventure TV series. Over the course of the five+ hours of programming, you and the kids (I include “you” because these DVDs are a great way to spend time with your kids) will learn about engines, construction, computers, electricity, light, sound, how animals survive in the desert, and a lot more. Highly recommended for dads, kids, and anyone else you can get to watch with you. http://www.newkideo.com

 

Marsh Mud Madness (DVD)

marsh mud dvd roger dayThis DVD is part kids’ concert video, part field trip, and part education focusing on mud. Yep, mud. We follow musician/educator/adventurer/former camp counselor/Eagle Scout Roger Day as he explores the animals, plants, and habitats of Sapelo Island, south of Savannah, GA. It’s a circle-of-life kind of thing. Crabs who live in the mud eat grass. When the crabs die, vultures eat them and vomit them right back into the mud where they make more grass grow. Science can be a bit intimidating to little kids (his audience seems to be mostly 6 and under) but Day’s songs are so creative (who couldn’t love a song about vulture vomit on your head?) that the kids and their parents can’t help but get excited by the flora and fauna of the Georgia coast. www.rogerday.com

 

Marsh Mud Madness (CD)
marsh mud CDThe CD of Marsh Mud Madness is pretty much the same as the DVD (fortunately, vulture vomit is still there and so are mosquito burritos), minus the visuals and plus in-studio versions of a couple of the songs. Roger is a captivating performer and really gets dads and kids to think about ecology and what scientists do. www.rogerday.com

 

 

 

The Ohmies: Morning Wish Garden
ohmiesFitness music? Who’d have thought? The Ohmies are a unique New-York-based group whose live shows have earned rave reviews, not only for the entertainment value, but also for their songs that encourage kids to get up and dance. The music itself is definitely aimed at very young kids and it’ll be less interesting for a lot of parents. However, seeing the joy on the kids’ faces as they stretch, bounce, and get sweaty, will get even the most jaded dads to join in. http://www.theohmies.com

 

 

Pacha’s Pajamas: A Story Written By Nature Vol. 1 & 2
pacha's pajamasThis double album is great experience for fathers and children to share, listening to the music, learning the songs, and havng conversations about the story. Pacha is a girls whose magical pajamas whisk her away to imaginary worlds where she has wild adventures with the characters on her PJs. In this story, Pacha finds herself at epic music festival in the jungle organized for (and by) plants and animals. Fox News is reporting (with real foxes). The animals’ experiences convey clues about the state of their habitat and the impact of human activities. Pacha falls in love with nature, realizes she is part of it, and that she has all that she needs within herself. The album has 28 tracks and features 70 artists spanning four generations including Mos Def, Cheech Marin, Les Nubians, Talib Kweli, Agape Youth Choir and 20 more. http://pachaspajamas.com

 

Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers
rubber baby buggy bumpersThis isn’t the first CD from Trout Fishing in America that we’ve had the pleasure of listening to. And we sure hope it’s not the last. Keith and Ezra, the 4-time Grammy-nominated duo (one has to wonder what’s wrong with the people who decide the actual winners) combine their hilarious wordplay and absurdly funny situations to create an album that’s got something for everyone. The kids will love songs like “My Sister Kissed Her Boyfriend,” and “Creepy Dead Bug.” Dad and mom will chuckle at (and then have to try to explain) adult references like someone being “As slow as Congress,” and they’ll laugh–like it or not–at some of the tongue twisters and songs about stepping in dog doo. http://www.troutmusic.com

 

Songs from a Journey with a Parrot
Songs From A Journey With A ParrotSongs from a Journey with a Parrot is a collection of lullabies and nursery rhymes from Brazil and Portugal. Written by Magdeleine Lerasle and illustrated by Aurelia Fronty, the songs talk about love, travel, work, and play in Portuguese and English. The accompanying CD features 30 traditional songs and, besides offering listeners an aural glimpse of a really cool-sounding language, take us on a tour of a dizzying variety of musical styles and instruments. Our only complaint is that packing 30 songs into 45 minutes makes the album seem rushed. But that’s a minor point. http://www.thesecretmountain.com

 

Super Simple Songs, Video Collection, Vol. 1
super simple songsSuper Simple Songs is, as you might expect from the name, a DVD filled with simple songs most of us grew up with, including Twinkle Twinkle, B-I-N-G-O, Five Little Monkeys, and a dozen more. There’s a nice mix of live action (demonstrating the itsy bitsy spider–which they call eensey weenesy–for example) and animation (the owl who sings Twinkle Twinkle is delightful). As with most videos aimed at kids, we recommend that you watch with your child instead of parking him or her in front of the screen. A sweet video, perfect for snuggling up with your toddler and singing together. http://store.supersimplelearning.com/

 

Nursery

3-in-1 Rocker Napper
3 in 1 rocker napperAs a rocker, the 3-in-1 Rocker Napper can be used to entertain or soothe your baby, complete with baby-activated mobile with soft and happy buddies to play with, and a music box that plays nine melodies. Detach the mobile for an inclined feeding seat. And at naptime, raise the sides and you’ve got a rocking bassinet. And you can move from position to position with one hand. tinylove.com

 

 

Baby Brezza Formula Pro

baby brezzaOf course, everyone knows that breastmilk is best for babies. But sometimes that’s just not possible, for any of a number of reasons. In those cases, formula is the way to go. Baby Brezza’s Formula Pro is like one of those fancy-shmancy single-serve coffee makers with the expensive pods. But this one works with all bottle sizes and all formula brands (as long as they’re powdered). Just make sure the machine is stocked with plenty of water and powder, and with a push of a button you can get warm (near-body-temp) formula in whatever bottle you’d like–the machine does the mixing for you. Anything that can get dad more involved in feeding their baby earns our vote. http://babybrezza.com

 

JourneyBee portable crib

journey b portable cribThere are plenty of travel cribs out there, but the journeyBee cribs from ParentLab are the first we’ve seen that are actually light and flexible enough to satisfy the portable-crib needs of families that are always on the move. Weighing in at just 10 pounds and easy to carry on your back, you’ll need only one trip to move the crib from home to car or vice versa. And they’re sturdy enough for road trips, hotels, camping, outdoor play, or bringing along to friends’ and family’s homes for easy nap- or playtime. A breeze to set up, recommended for 0-18 months. If you’re looking for something a little more petite and you’re not in a hurry, the company is planning to release a bassinet version that weighs only 4.3 lbs and folds up smaller than most purses. http://ParentLab.com.

 

Magical Night
magical nightThe new Magical Night projection mobile, is a crib mobile, projector, music box, and toddler nightlight (that looks like an adorable bedside lamp) all in one. Given that traditional mobiles have to come down once the baby can stand up and start yanking on them, an item that can last from birth through the toddler years offers real value for the money. Plus, since it grows with your child, it will also be a familiar part of bedtime routines, which experts agree help children fall asleep more easily—and stay that way longer. tinylove.com

 

 

Twilight Turtle Tunes

twilight turtle tunesOkay, Twilight Turtle (along with cousin Sleep Sheep) has been around for a while, but there’s definitely something new here. Don’t worry–those amazing blue, amber, or green constellation projections aren’t going anywhere. But Cloud b has added a Twilight Turtle Tunes app (free), which uses Bluetooth to allow moms and dads to choose from a pre-set mix and match of melodies and sounds to play on the Twilight Turtle Tunes’ speaker box. There’s also a premium app ($1.99) that gives parents the option to access their personal music libraries to create totally unique mixes for as long as 24 hours. If you prefer not to use or you don’t have Bluetooth, Twilight Turtle Tunes comes with one default nighty-night melody that can be set for 45 minutes. http://cloudb.com/

 

Ubbi Diaper Pail
ubbi diaper pailWe’re all for anything that encourages dads to get more involved in the most mundane, day-to-day, get-your-hands-dirty parts of babycare. No one really wants to change diapers, but it’s actually a highly underrated bonding experience–especially for first-time dads. The Ubbi Diaper Pail probably won’t make you want to change diapers more often, but it will definitely reduce some of the more unpleasant parts. Like the stink. Regular, plastic pails–even when there’s a trash bag inside–somehow manage to absorb that diapery smell. But not the Ubbi. It’s made of powder-coated steel, which doesn’t absorb any of the smell. Plus, you can use any kind of trash bags. That may not seem like a big deal now, but most of the other diaper pail systems use proprietary–and much more expensive–bags. Bottom line, so to speak, dads (and moms too) will love the Ubbi. http://www.ubbiworld.com/

 

Outdoor Play

PowerUp 2.0
PowerUp 2.0The idea behind the PowerUp 2.0 is pretty simple. It’s a weighted shaft connected to a chargeable propeller that, when attached to a paper airplane, lets you keep the aircraft in the air for as long as 30 seconds or so–a veritable eternity for most of us. You can rig just about any paper airplane with a PowerUp, but nothing can save a poorly folded plane. Fortunately, the website has several videos with recommended designs and specific folding instructions, as well as a pretty thorough trouble-shooting guide. The PowerUp charges quickly and is a fun, educational way for dads and kids to share some of the excitement of creating a flying machine. A newer version of the PowerUp, the 3.0, lets you control your plane with your smartphone or tablet. http://www.poweruptoys.com/

 

Razor Kixi Scooter
razor kixiKixi is Razor’s cute scooter for smaller kids. It has a stand-alone, three-wheel design and an extra-wide, slip-resistant deck for extra stability. This helps novice scooters with learn how to steer and gets them ready for the two-wheelers when the time comes. Because there are two wheels in the front and one in the back, some kids may find the Kixi a bit wobbly. So plan to stand close by to help out at first. Kixi comes in two colors, and its sturdy steel, aluminum, and plastic construction will stand up to the many tumbles and drops it’s sure to endure. A great first scooter. http://kixikids.com

 

Ring Stix

ring stixThe game of catch must be one of the oldest games on earth. So it seems almost impossible that someone could come up with a variation that’s truly unique. Yet that’s exactly what RingStix is. Each RingStix kit includes four sword-like wands–enough for two players–and two rings that are about as big around as a grapefruit. Pick up an extra set or two and you can expand the game to three or four. Here how it works: The first player puts both swords through one of the rings, then, by pulling the swords apart, the ring flies across the distance between him and player two. Player two tries to catch the flying ring on both of her swords and the process is repeated, with player two shooting the rings to player one. The first time or two the ring will go flying to the sides, over heads, or flop on the ground and roll away. But in less than five minutes, dad and kids will be having a blast. The set we tried out included a regular ring and one that glows in the dark, which was especially fun. Three warnings. First, you’ll need a lot of space (ideally, 10-100 feet between players) so don’t even think about playing RingStix inside. Second, play on grass or at the beach. Once you develop a little proficiency, you’ll want to make spectacular diving catches. Third, if you plan to play in the dark, check out the playing area for dog droppings, gopher holes, and sprinkler heads–all of which we managed to discover too late… It’s easy, portable, and encourages outdoor play. www.ringstix.com

 

Wipeout Helmet

wipeout helmetIf you and the kids do any biking, skateboarding, or scootering, you know how important it is to wear helmets. And you probably get some pushback. The Wipeout Dry Erase Helmet not only protects your child from head injury, but by allowing them to customize and design their own helmets with a set of assorted neon dry erase markers makes them less likely to complain about helmet hair. Wipeout Dry Erase Helmets are available in 3 different sizes, several colors, www.iWipeout.com

 

Travel

Seat Pets
seat petFor kids, seatbelts can be the most annoying part of any trip—even worse than a younger sibling. Kids spend half their time squirming around, trying to get the seatbelt into a more comfortable position. And if they fall asleep, they often wake up with a seatbelt mark on the face. With SeatPets, those problems are a thing of the past. Little bro or sis, however, will still be as annoying as ever. SeatPets are soft, cuddly creatures that fit over any seatbelt, making it a lot more comfortable. They also have big, soft heads (lion, cow, ladybug, cat, dog, monkey, and monster), which help keep the child’s head supported and reduce those sore nap-necks. These plush pals also come with a variety of pockets so kids can store away treasures, and a handy backpack strap, which makes it easy for Junior to schlepp his own Pet when your hands are full. https://www.seatpets.com/

 

Tidy Table Tray and Flexi Diner
tidy table trayMake meal time easier when you’re on-the-go with the first of its kind new portable table tray. Offering a large eating space and rounded rims to keep spills off the table, it’s easy to use and attaches to most tables via a rubber coated clip. It’s BPA and phthalate free, and dishwasher safe. There’s also an easy on/off insert which can help turn meal time into play time at any time! Use it for meal or snack time, then just rinse or wipe off (depending on where you are) and pack it up. Great for home and hotel use as well as taking with you to restaurants and to family and friends homes. Bonus? Use it to let kids draw and create art on without having paper and crayons get all over the floor (keep it contained!) www.bambinoschild.com

 

Tray Kit

tray kitThe TrayKit is an all-in-one kid’s carry-on backpack and play-tray solution It’s only about the size of a large lunch box and easily straps to train- and plane tray tables or hangs from the back of your car’s front seats. The result? No toys on the floor, no chasing down rolling crayons or annoying fellow passengers with every dropped action hero. Built in pockets (most with tops that seal) keep items organized and kept in place and can reduce some of the stress of traveling with kids. http://www.traykit.co.uk/

 

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2013

klettemax castle

mrdad seal of approval and greatdad.com recommends

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2013

Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and the GreatDad Recommends Award. Both Seals recognize products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.

Submissions are now being accepted for our Back-to-School and Winter Holiday Seasons.

Klettermax Castle Game (HABA)
Like a lot of HABA games, Klettermax Castle is suggested for players 4-99. And truly, this is a game that can be enjoyed by readers and non-readers together. The object of the game is to collect award cards by flicking colored wooden “knights” into the nine open boxes of the game. While a roll of the dice determines when a player can next try to flick his knight in, the game also requires strategy and fine motor skills. We played this with a 9 year old boy who enjoyed it and we extended the rules to make it a 45-minute long game, though playing by the real rules would make it an easy 20 minute game. We’d recommend this game for younger players and dads, though older players and grandparents can certainly join in. HabaUSA.com

 

Reading Rainbow app (Reading Rainbow)
The Reading Rainbow app is a nicely designed reading service that has a lot going for it. It promotes reading through a big selection of books selected for each child based on his stated preferences. Using a Netflix-type system, kids can check out books as they wish and take out more when they return the ones they’ve finished reading, all for one $10 monthly fee. The app also includes an alerts feature so that parents can monitor what books are being and read and for how long. We like this app because it promotes reading in a fun way, with supplementary videos that continue to promote reading itself as an adventure. At the same time, we hope that the app is gradually improved in two ways. First, it would be great if there were a plan that costs less than $10 per month. We know that books don’t come free, but this is a high priced monthly fee that will be prohibitive for many families.
Second, we wished that the app actively suggested reading a story with dad (or mom) rather than focusing only on solo reading, which can be a challenge for the targeted kids here, ages 4-9. At this age, kids need more supervision in their reading, and motivation, that goes beyond electronic stickers for reading each story, like hugs and smiles from an involved parent. Still, this is one of the best efforts we’ve seen for an app that promotes reading by young kids. Reading Rainbow app.

 

Kindness Kingdom board game (Kindness Kingdom)
Some toys and games can be enjoyed equally by girls and boys. Others are decidedly for one sex or the other. Kindness Kingdom is one of those–aimed squarely at girls. Many dads will take a look at the fairies, tea parties, charm bracelets, princesses, and flowers and run away screaming. But that would be a mistake. In fact, I’d argue that this game is an absolute must-have for dads of daughter. The insights you’ll get into what makes your little girl tick are well worth the purchase price. And the rewards you’ll get from showing her you’re really interested in her world are priceless. Players move around the board collecting charms (first one to fill up her or his charm bracelet wins) and answering questions from a variety of categories. (For example, What’s a fancy word for tea sandwiches? Should you extend your hand first to shake hands with someone in a wheelchair? How long after you receive a gift should you have to write a thank-you note?)The game sometimes seems a little heavy-handed in its attempt to teach manners and empathy, but girls love it–and for those of us who missed finishing school, it really is a great learning experience. 2-4 player, ages 5 and up. kindnesskingdom.com

 

SkyTrix (Sky Trix)
SkyTrix™ looks like glider but plays like a kite and a frisbee all in one. The concept is simple – a plane on a tether. You can swing it around your head and make it fly straight up in the air, or send it flying to, hopefully, be caught by your child. The SkyTrix is very responsive and thankfully, takes no batteries. It’s that simplest of toy that just requires a nice, calm day and a little bit of time. You can throw as much energy has you want at it, running and throwing or try to stand mostly stationary to play a game of SkyTrix catch. people-powered. At beach party tests, we were able to do boomerang shots that sent the glider forward and then back again, to the amazement of bystanding 9-year olds. Product videos show other tricks such as casting, snap backs, and loops. SkyTrix™ is a fun game for dads and kids looking for new ways to play catch. This is a toy that both adults and kids will find entertaining, especially once they get the feel of how to make it cooperate. Please note that SkyTrix is for kids ages 8+. facebook.com/flyskytrix

 

Young Scientists Club, Clifford the Big Red Dog Series (Young Scientists Club)
This new series of three kits is a great introduction to the sciences for the pre-school age kids (ages 3 and up). Since they are pre-packaged with almost everything you need to conduct the included experiments, it’s easy for dads to jump right in and get involved. Kids love to see things happen in the natural world, and dads love to explain the deeper principles behind the experiments (though we do recommend a little background research before hand so dad isn’t stumped). We also recommend allowing plenty of time to clean up before mom gets home. These kits are also good in families with multiple children. theyoungscientistsclub.com

 

YFlikr Y-volution (Fliker Scooters)
Once you get past the YFlikr’s unique and very cool design (from the top, it looks like a Y (hence Y-volution)—one wheel in the front, one on each of the two back “wings”—you’re in for a real treat. You can push off with one foot, like a skateboard or scooter, but with a little practice, you can get the YFlikr moving just by wiggling your behind (sorry, there’s no way around that—but it’s also a tremendous workout and makes exercise a blast). The YFlikr is also a great way to meet your neighbors: every time we take ours out for a spin around the neighborhood, we literally stop traffic and people cross the street to ask about it. $99.00 (for the F3) – $129.00 (for the F5). http://flikerscooters.net/

 

Ringstix (Ringstix)
The game of catch must be one of the oldest games on earth. So it seems almost impossible that someone could come up with a variation that’s truly unique. Yet that’s exactly what RingStix is. Each RingStix kit includes four sword-like wands–enough for two players–and two rings that are about as big around as a grapefruit. Pick up an extra set or two and you can expand the game to three or four. Here how it works: The first player puts both swords through one of the rings, then, by pulling the swords apart, the ring flies across the distance between him and player two. Player two tries to catch the flying ring on both of her swords and the process is repeated, with player two shooting the rings to player one. The first time or two the ring will go flying to the sides, over heads, or flop on the ground and roll away. But in less then five minutes, dad and kids will be having a blast. The set we tried out included a regular ring and one that glows in the dark, which was especially fun. Three warnings. First, you’ll need a lot of space (ideally, 10-100 feet between players) so don’t even think about playing RingStix inside. Second, play on grass or at the beach. Once you develop a little proficiency, you’ll want to make spectacular diving catches. Third, if you plan to play in the dark, check out the playing area for dog droppings, gopher holes, and sprinkler heads–all of which we managed to discover too late… Ages 9 and up. www.ringstix.com

 

Children’s Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II (CD by Steven D. Farmer)
Children's Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II, CD by Steven D. FarmerThere’s no substitute for reading to your child—it builds vocabulary, focus, concentration, opens up doors to the imagination, and is a wonderful opportunity to spend time cuddling with your children (no matter how old they are). Sometimes, though, it’s nice for dad and kids to listen to someone else read a story. And it’s especially nice if that story sparks interesting discussions. That’s exactly what Steven D. Farmer does in Volume II of Children’s Spirit Animal Stories. Witten and read by Farmer, the stories feature various animals (an elephant, a dolphin, a unicorn, and others) who are dealing with the same kinds of problems as we humans do. Farmer’s voice and reading style are engaging and he keeps the messages from being too heavy handed. We found that the real value is in the conversations that the stories spark. Dads can jump start things with questions like, “What would you do if you were Emma?” But most kids will already see themselves in the animals and will have plenty to say on their own. Ages 5 and up. www.satiama.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2012

mr. dad seal of approval

mr. dad seal of approval

Seal of Approval winners, Holidays 2012

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

connect internet baby camera from summer infantConnect Internet Baby Camera Set (Summer Infant)
Summer Infant has a new set of monitors, all optimized for local and remote viewing. The Connect monitor is easy to set up and use immediately to view your baby from the other room or from across town. There is no ongoing fee for the service and free apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, as well as a website, makes it all possible. We even tried the customer service help line and found knowledgable people anxious to help a dad in need. This is a great product for dads who want to move beyond old-fashioned sound or video monitors and take advantage of the Internet to view the baby from the next room or the next continent. This product is not only perfect for fathers, but for everyone in the household. peaceofmind.summerinfant.com/connect/

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

my first career gear, astronaut from aeromax toysmy first career gear, pirate princess from aeromax toysMy First Career Gear (Aeromax Toys)
What’s not to like for dads in a collection of job uniforms sized for kids called “I WANNA BE LIKE DAD.” Aeromax, long a maker of quality “costumes” for creative play for kids (and older kids), has made this My 1st Career Gear series fitting most most kids from ages 3 – 5 years, for both boys and girls. My 1st Career Gear shirts are made of high quality print in great detail with most of the tools you will need to complete most jobs. Ideally, if you’re doing it right, it’s great that kids pass through a phase when they want to be exactly like mom or dad. This collection allows kids to dress up just like dad. www.aeromaxtoys.com

kimochisKimochis (Kimochis)
As parents, we all know that young children sometimes have a really tough time articulating their feelings. Sure, they can jump up and down when they’re excited, and cry when they’re sad, but what about all those times in between? Enter Kimochis, a completely unique line of toys that help very young kids tell us what they’re thinking. Each Kimochi (which means feelings in Japanese) is a soft and cuddly roundish mini pillow that has a facial expression on one side and the name of the emotion on the other. Those little pillow guys live inside one of five larger characters. Dads can use the Kimochis to help their little one recognize, better manager, communicate, and express their emotions. Ages 2 and up. www.kimochis.com

bubble ride CD from Vanessa TrienBubble Ride (CD by Vanessa Trien)
We’re big believers in the importance of music—and its power to create memorable experiences that families can share. Bubble Ride, Vanessa Trien’s third CD, fits the bill nicely. It’s a sweet collection of imagination-activating, movement-inspiring, conversation-sparking songs that cover a wide range of topics from silly to thoughtful. Dads and their kids will have no problem listening to quietly or jumping around and dancing along. Ages 3 and up. www.vanessatrien.com

 

 

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Bypassbypass from simply fun (SimplyFun)
Like many games, the basic challenge is pretty simple: Get from one side of the board to the other—in this case by building a road, piece by piece. The problem is that the other players are trying to build their own roads, and they’re trying to shut yours down in the process. Bypass! Doesn’t involve as much strategy as, say, Chess, but it does require a bit of spatial analysis, critical thinking, and flexibility to adapt to a constantly changing board. And besides being lot so fun and a great way to hang with the kids, particularly on those cold, rainy winter days, it’s also a great way for dads to admire their children’s ever developing brains in action. Ages 8 and up. www.simplyfun.com

don't rock the boat from patch productsDon’t Rock the Boat (Patch Products)
With all the high-tech toys that are out there, it’s surprising that anyone makes non-electronic toys anymore. Fortunately, Patch Products does. Don’t Rock the Boat is a really fun, easy-to-set-up and easy-to-clean-up. Think Suspend (a March, 2012 Seal of Approval winner), but with penguins. The boat in question is balanced precariously on a wave and each penguin sends the boat reeling in a different direction. See who can get the most penguins on the ship without knocking the whole thing over. And if you feel you absolutely must turn everything into a learning experience, there are some valuable lessons here in balance and load-distribution. Ages 6 and up. www.patchproducts.com

Lite Brix Building System - Extreme City Lights from Cra-Z-ArtLite Brix Building System – Extreme City Lights (Cra-Z-Art)
When you first start taking the Lite Brix out of the box, they look kind of boring. Almost all the bricks (which, in shape, look a lot like Lego) are the same color—kind of a translucent white. But once you and your child have built the first skyscraper and turned on the battery-powered LEDs, wow! And when you finally get all three up and running, wowie wow! The buildings seem almost alive. The detailed directions make it pretty easy for dad and child to assemble cooperatively—better yet, let your child read the instructions and show how well you can follow orders, Dad. The three buildings that are part of this kit can be rebuilt into a single structure and they can be combined with other Lite Brix kits. But don’t feel limited by the instructions. Lite Brix also combine with Lego, so you can build even bigger and even more amazing structures. Ages 6 and up. www.cra-z-art.com

Lay-N-GoLay-N-Go (Lay-N-Go)
If your kids have LEGOs, you also have LEGOs everywhere. Little pieces on the floor and sprinkled over random pieces of furniture. Lay-n-Go helps tame this problem by fencing in an area to keep the pieces while building. Drawstrings bring the play area together to make cleanup and carry a lot easier. This helps keep each project together with its pieces. Dads will want to get an extra one for other projects that involve small pieces. www.layngo.com

 

Bully Goats Gruff/Little Red Hen CD by Yvette LewisBully Goats Gruff/Little Red Hen(CD by Yvette Lewis)
No, that’s not a typo—Bully Goats Gruff is correct, and, as you might guess, it includes an anti-bullying message. The other piece on this CD, the Little Red Hen, also has a message, this one about sharing and cooperation. But in our view, the real value here is in the music. Professional opera singer Yvette Lewis (who wrote and sung the music) and Grammy award nominee Jimmy Hammer (who did the arranging) bring some serious musical firepower to the table and do a great job of introducing kids to the concept of opera as a singing story. The music is catchy enough that dads and kids will be able to sing along. Plus, each piece is followed by an instrumental version which gives everyone a chance to make up their own story and lyrics. www.operakids.com

Children's Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II, CD by Steven D. FarmerChildren’s Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II (CD by Steven D. Farmer)
There’s no substitute for reading to your child—it builds vocabulary, focus, concentration, opens up doors to the imagination, and is a wonderful opportunity to spend time cuddling with your children (no matter how old they are). Sometimes, though, it’s nice for dad and kids to listen to someone else read a story. And it’s especially nice if that story sparks interesting discussions. That’s exactly what Steven D. Farmer does in Volume II of Children’s Spirit Animal Stories. Witten and read by Farmer, the stories feature various animals (an elephant, a dolphin, a unicorn, and others) who are dealing with the same kinds of problems as we humans do. Farmer’s voice and reading style are engaging and he keeps the messages from being too heavy handed. We found that the real value is in the conversations that the stories spark. Dads can jump start things with questions like, “What would you do if you were Emma?” But most kids will already see themselves in the animals and will have plenty to say on their own. Ages 5 and up. www.satiama.com

mungi bands from techno sourceMungi Bands (Techno Soursce)
Taking the Silly Bandz concept (that is soooo last year) up a couple of notches, these clever, magnetic silicon bands let kids mix and match to create necklaces, bracelets, rings, anklets, hair ties, and more. And, although Mungi Bands were created by the father of three girls, boys will like them too–especially the sports-themed ones. And dads who are willing to wear Mungi Bands will earn the respect and admiration of their kids (well, maybe not), and will have a great opportunity to keep up to date on their kids’ interest in popular culture. Ages 6 and up. www.mungibands.com

TWEENS AND TEENS
Skylander Giants from Toys for Bob/ActivisionSkylanders Giants
(Toys for Bob/Activision)
The sequel the monster 2011 hit, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. If you haven’t met the Skylanders, there learning curve to get you up to speed is a little steep—but well worth it (though be warned: it will take you ten times longer than it takes your kids to master the game play). As with Sypro, the Skylanders characters exist both in the real world (beautifully crafted figurines) as well as in the video game world—place your figurines on the Portal of Power and they appear in the game. Having the figurines increases the opportunities for imaginative play. Whether you play with your child, against your child, or you wait until he’s gone to bed and you play by yourself, this game is a real blast. And with more than a dozen increasingly challenging levels, you’ll be busy for quite a while. We reviewed the Wii version, but the same figures (a total of around 50 ight now) can be used on Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. 10 and up. www.skylanders.com/giants

JT Splatmaster Z200 ShotgunJT Splatmaster Z200 Shotgunn (JT Splatmaster)
JT SplatMaster is designed to be an outdoor shooting experience. But I must confess that my 9-year old daughter and I have used it inside too (our living room is really long and my daughter is a crack shot). The Z200 shoots small paint-filled pellets that do exactly what the name of the product promises: Splat! But don’t mistake Splat! for a lack of accuracy. Not at all. In fact the SplatMaster is so accurate that you can actually have shooting competitions. Another nice thing—especially if you’re shooting inside—is that cleanup is really easy. If you get to it quickly, the paint wipes right up. And the manufacturer says it won’t hurt the environment. A warning: Although the shotgun is a great fund, we strongly suggest that dads spend some time going over safety rules with their kids. Because there’s a lot of force behind those pellets, it’s extremely easy to get hurt. Goggles are essential and, if you’re planning to shoot at another person, everyone needs to be wearing appropriate protective gear. You can get all of that through the splatmaster website. Ages 9 and up. www.jtsplatmaster.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2012

Seal of Approval winners, Father’s Day 2012

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

ba baby bottle holder from the original babyBa Baby Bottle Holder (The Original Baby)
Ba is a silicone baby bottle holder that makes it easy for even small infants to grasp their bottle. The Ba snuggly wraps around most sizes of baby bottle.Available in three colors, the Ba is made of FDA approved silicone (and therefore no risk of BPA or any plastics-related problems). Each easy-to-grasp Ba can fit bottles with neck sizes ranging from 2 to 2.4 inches in diameter, which encompasses a majority of those on the market. The Ba is dependent on baby’s grasp so once a baby lets go, the Ba will gently roll away. That’s good news for tykes who fall asleep while feeding. No more spills, just a gentle drop from mouth to crib or playpen. When not in use to hold the bottle, the Ba doubles as a soft ball toy. You’d think a sleep-deprived mom would have invented this well-designed product that helps baby hold onto the bottle and decreases baby frustration. But no, it took a dad to observe, design, and manufacture the brightly colored Ba. Although necessity is the mother of invention, sometimes it’s the father who sees a need. Inventor Travis Hendricks created Ba with his daughter Matilda in mind once he realized “baby bottles are designed for adult hands.” We like the way form follows function in this dad-designed product, and how it helps to decrease stress in the family from frustrated babies who keep losing grasp of their bottles. www.TheOriginalBaby.com

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

holy night floor puzzle from wee believersO Holy Night floor puzzle (Wee Believers)
All the buzz and commotion at stores around the Holidays can get a bit overwhelming. Puzzles are a great way to slow the family down and do something together. This Nativity Floor Puzzle, from Wee Believers, is huge (2′ x 3′) and has 54 big pieces, making it excellent for the small hands of kids 3 and up. We love puzzles for dads and kids who like them too (sadly, some people are too restless to enjoy them). Dad and child (or children) are able to work together towards a common goal. And while the journey is far, what happens on the way is far more important. Puzzles often give dads and kids a chance to talk about things that may be more difficult in a face to face meeting; kids will surprise you when they have their guard down. Fathers will enjoy helping their kids and watching small minds reason, while having fun and helping teach them teamwork, focus, concentration, and problem solving skills. As dad and child do the puzzle together, they can discuss the meaning of Christmas and the Nativity. www.weebelievers.com

freight train set from bigjigs railFreight Train Set (Bigjigs Rail)
With 130 pieces, theis wonderful train set could almost qualify as a puzzle–but in this case, there’s no single solution. And that makes the hours you’ll spend with your preschooler assembling, tearing down, reassembling, and experimenting even more fun than a puzzle. Emphasis on the with. Sure, you could just unpack the box and turn your child loose, but there’s nothing like building something to give dad and child an terrific opportunity to get to know each other in a low-stress way. Includes brightly colored houses, trees, vehicles that make this a winner for both boys and girls. Ages 3 and up. www.bigjigsrail.com

doodle dome glow crazy from techno sourceDoodle Dome Glow Crazy(Techno Source)
I had a chance to try out this technology at the 2012 Toy Fair in New York, and couldn’t wait to get one to play with my daughter. Unpacking the Doodle Dome took about two minutes, but the two of us spent a lot longer doodling on the light-sensitive walls and ceiling with something that’s kind of a cross between a light saber, a laser pointer, and a flashlight.. The black dome, which is kind of like a pup-tent, theoretically allows you to do your doodling night or day, but it’s not nearly big enough for a dad to get much more than head and shoulders inside–and that lets a lot of light in, which ruins the very cool effect. So you and your child will have to do your doodling at night. But it’s well worth the wait. Ages 3 and up. www.technosourceusa.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

rhino hero from HabaUSARhino Hero (HabaUSA)
This HABA game is for dexterous players five and over. Players work together to build a tower made out of cards (sides and roofs), playing their own roof cards strategically to make it harder for the next player. Complicating matters is small wooden rhino that moves up the tower based on strategically played “rhino cards.” In our family, players from 8 to 54 enjoyed this game, which in early stages we felt we were playing cooperatively, but which in later stages became competitive. This is a fun game for both little and big, but requires steady, hands and a dad who’s not afraid to watch a big mess of cards on the table. www.habausa.com

american doll room American Doll Room (American Doll Room)
If you’re a dad with daughters and you havent’t logged some serious hours playing with dolls, you’d better get on the stick. The American Doll Room started off as a dad-child family project to build playrooms for American Girl Dolls (or any other 18″ dolls). The kits require no assembly–just unfold and set up either an interior room or an exterior yard, which can be decorated any way your daughter likes (your vote will probably not be counted). What’s especially nice–as you can see from the image–is that unlike traditional doll houses, which require you do get down on your hands and knees while you’re playing, and navigate the minefield of tiny doll furniture when you’re not, you can sit on the floor like a big boy. Folds up neatly and stows easily when not in use. Ages 6 and up. www.americandollroom.com

pieces of history puzzles from findit gamesPieces of History Puzzles (Find It Games)

  • “Pharaoh’s Egypt”
  • “On Dry Ground”
  • “Parade of Animals”

We’ve always liked the Find-It games, an assortment of cannisters containing objects hidden in a sea of plastic beans. Now they have introduced a new series of traditional puzzles, Pieces of History, including Pharaoh’s Egypt, Parade of Animals, and Dry Ground. Each has 300 pieces, and within the final image, you can find “hidden” objects that are also found in the border of the puzzle. In Pharaoh’s Egypt, for example, you’ll discover a leopard in a tree, a blue hippo in a market basket, and 38 more hidden objects and animals.This kind of puzzle, played together, can open up conversations about historical times and shared discovery. Ages 6+. www.finditgames.com

grover and elmo iphone app from callaway digitalAnother Monster at the End of This Book…Starring Grover & Elmo! iPhone app (Callaway Digital Arts)
Our initial response to this app/book for iPad was negative. We usually recommend against passive readers that read to your child. However, on this one, we’ll make an exception since it’s from the people at Sesame Street who provide instructions at the beginning of the book on how dads should “read” it and interact with their kids. The book also includes a very lenghty section on different themes dads can discuss with kids, including resolving conflicts, and how to label emotions. Using fun graphic devices only possible in an iPad, kids can interact with the book, even as the words pop up as they are read by the main characters, Elmo and Grover. We would have appreciated the book more if there had been more text for child and parent to read together, but the fun interactivity will involve some dads and motivate them to stick with it, so they too can see the “Monster at the End of This Book.” www.callaway.com

magic schoolbus slime and polymer lab from young scientists clubThe Magic School Bus: Slime and Polymer Lab (Young Scientists Club)
Hop on the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle and her students! We’ve had the chance to evaluate a number of Magic School Bus products and this one fits the mold: fun, educational, hands-on, and extremely well-designed. In the Slime and Polymer Lab, you and your child(ren) will learn how to make polymers out of milk, grow super-absorbent flowers, dehydrate polymers, and a lot more. Each one comes with the ingredients and instructions you need for the experiments and a data notebook to record observations. And don’t worry–all the materials have an adult section so even if you have no science experience at all, you’ll be able to participate fully. I can’t think of many activities that have brought more fun, bonding, and knowledge to my home than The Young Scientists Club! Ages 5+. www.theyoungscientistsclub.com

magic schoolbus volcanoes from young scientists clubmagic schoolbus magnets from young scientists clubThe Magic School Bus: Science Club (Young Scientists Club)

  • Magnets
  • Solids, Liquids, and Gasses
  • Volcanoes

Can’t get enough of the Magic School Bus (honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible)? Well now you can have a new science adventure delivered right to your home every month if you join the Young Science Club. We had the chance to test drive three kits and absolutely loved them. As with everything else in the Magic School Bus line, these kits come with everything you need to conduct experiments, log your results, and have a blast (in some cases, literally). In Magnets, you and your young scientist will learn how to make pins jump, create magnetic faces, and more. Coolest fact? When they’re very young, cows are given a magnet that sits in their stomach for life. Cows apparently eat nails, wire, and other metal bits. On their own those things would hurt the cow, but the magnet traps them and keeps them from doing harm! In Solids, Liquids, and Gasses, you’ll create gas, a bouncy ball, and some interesting goop. In Volcanoes, you’ll learn the properties of volcanoes by studying the layers of the earth, handling real volcanic rock, building a volcano, and mixing chemicals to create an eruption you and your budding Nobel laureate will want to repeat over and over again. Ages 5-12. www.theyoungscientistsclub.com/themagicschoolbus

codee scorpion from techno sourceCodee Scorpion (Techno Soursce)
Okay, take a look at the scorpion to the left. Pretty hard to believe that it’s made from a single strand of 64 small blocks. But it is. Every Codee kit (there’s a penguin, a pig, and a few more) comes with detailed instructions on how to twist, cajole, rotate, and prod the blocks into submission. Assembling it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and even more patience, since each block has to be turned in exactly the right way. But it’s a ton of fun. The one drawback is that Codee isn’t really something you can do with a child–except to help with the explanations (although when I was giving it a try on my own, my 9-year old stood over my shoulder correcting my every move). The solution is to get two of them and race or build something unique. You can also connect two or more Codees to create something bigger and more complicated. Ages 8 and up. www.technosourceusa.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

rger” width=”150″ height=”150″ /> Electronic Labyrinth (Ravensburger)
When we first unpacked the Electronic Labyrinth, I was pretty skeptical about the electronic part of it, thinking it would be an excuse to add technology to a board game that had gotten along perfectly well without it for 25 years. But it turns out that the electronics actually adds a lot to the game, injecting elements of randomness and whimsy that wouldn’t have been possible without. The game itself is a lot of fun and involves strategy and planning. The goal is to collect a number of treasures while being sent around the board on quests by the residents–some good, some evil, some a bit of both–of the labyrinth. The twist is that each player can change the path through the labyrinth, which can trash perfectly good plans. A must-have for family game night, and even dad-and-kids night. Ages 9 and up. www.ravensburger.com

city of new york time puzzle from 4dcityscapeThe City of New York time puzzle (4D Cityscape)
This is an absolutely masterful puzzle. You start off by putting together the 500+ piece 2D puzzle of the island of Manhattan. Once that’s done–it’s going to take a while–you add the 3D element by inserting over 100 plastic models of actual New York buildings into the 2D puzzle (which, by the way, features glow-in-the-dark streets). Now the 4D part comes in. The buildings range from ones that would have dominated the skyline as far back as 1812 and move forward through time all the way to 2013, when the Freedom Tower (which will replace the World Trade Centers) will be completed. The box itself includes a poster with a brief history of the city. And an online education feature adds even more to the mix. A blast for patient dads and kids 9 and up. www.4dcityscape.com

array from funnybone toysARRAY card game (Funnybone Toys)
Array is a card game that prompts players to match colors like dominoes. But there’s a twist: players can split the color connections and start new color arrays to use more of their cards and win the game. Additional cards can give you a winning advantage. Array can be played while carrying on a conversation which, like a puzzle, is good when trying to talk with silent kids or awkward teens about their daily lives. Dads will enjoy the graphic design and innovative touches in this dominoes-like card game. www.funnybonetoys.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Spring 2012

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval

Seal of Approval Winners, March 2012

 

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Daddy Diaper Changing Toolbox from Fun Stuff 4 BabiesDaddy Diaper Changing Toolbox (Fun Stuff 4 Babies)
One of the few baby shower gifts (besides my books, The Expectant Father and The New Father) created for the dad-to-be. The Daddy Diaper Changing Toolbox is filled with an eclectic combination of useful, practical, and just plain funny gifts, ranging from baby wipes and a pacifier to goggles and a “Poop poncho.” I’m a big believer that changing diapers is a fantastic–and highly underrated–way dads can bond with their babies. So we’re big fans of anything that can get dads in there and getting their hands dirty (hand wipes are included). www.funstuff4babies.com

 

TODDLER AND PRESCHOOL

Animal Upon Animal Stacking Game from HabaUSAAnimal Upon Animal Stacking Game (HabaUSA)
While games for tiny kids aren’t meant specifically for dads, we’ve always found HABA games to be fun to play with too. Of course, when you’re playing with a two-year old, most of the fun is in watching them, but HABA games always have an interesting element that dads will enjoy too. In this game, dads will find that balancing the animals when it’s their turn isn’t necessarily easier just because they are bigger and supposedly have better hand-eye coordination. It’s also a fun traveling toy for young children since they can play with the animals outside the game. Ages 2+. www.habausa.com

Vortex Color Changing Toothpaste by Wright ToothpasteVortex Color Changing Toothpaste (Wright Toothpaste)
The run-up to stories and lights-out is not always the most enjoyable time of the day. A toothpaste might be a strange thing to see in this list, but when a toothpast actually makes brushing fun, we’re totally on board. And we say that anything that takes the friction out of the daily chores of making the bed, taking the dog out, and brushing the teeth means more good, fun family time. www.vortextoothpaste.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Freefall from SimplyFunFreefall(SimplyFun)
Freefall is a very basic strategy game that dads and their 2nd-4th graders will enjoy. Low pressure but still fun enough to keep the dad from wishing he was someplace else. The theme is skydiving and the object is to stay in the landing zone that has most points while taking cards and trying to blow their opponents off course. Ages 6-9. www.simplyfun.com

Let's Drive from SimplyFunLet’s Drive(SimplyFun)
Another low-stress-yet-entertaining game dad can play with the kids. Players collect points as they “travel” through the United States and Canada. A great way for the kids to learn state capitals, scenic locations, and trivia about every state. (Let’s Drive is also a good way for dads to brush up on geography–I have to admit that as a west-coaster, the east coast has always been something of a blur.) Ages 8 and up. www.simplyfun.com

Space It! from SimplyFunSpace It! (SimplyFun)
This is a simple, yet very clever numbers game. Players create sequences of numbered tiles that follow a pattern. For example if the sequence is 2-7-12, the next player would have to play 17 (adding five) or create a completely new sequence utilizing at least one of the numbers that’s already there. For example, a 5 above the 7 and a 9 below. Although the rules say to create sequences only by adding, dads and kids can add a degree of difficulty by allowing for multiplication, subtraction, or division. Ages 8 and up. www.simplyfun.com

SoundIt! from WowopolisSoundIt! card game(Wowopolis)
When I first saw Sound It! at the 2012 Toy Fair I definitely had a why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-before? moment. The basic premise is pretty simple. Each of the 96 playing cards has two parts. One is the description of a sound, say “The sound of something at an amusement park.” The other is an image, which might simple, like a cuckoo clock, or more abstract, like the sky or goo running down a wall. Players have to either guess what the image is based on sounds other players are making, or they have to make the sound in the written clue. It is absolutely uproarious–and something dads and kids of all ages will enjoy playing together. Ages 6+. www.wowopolis.com

Pirate SantaPirate Santa book (Pirate Santa)
Pirate Santa is the story of what happens when a rules-bound Santa refuses to give out gifts to pirate boys and ninja girls. Written completely in rhyming doggerel, this book is a fun bedtime read for rebellious kids and dads who don’t mind a twist on the Santa story and who will love the detailed anime-style illustrations. Ages 5-8. www.piratesanta.com

My Friendship Bracelet Maker Traveler from Crorey CreationsMy Friendship Bracelet Maker Traveler (Crorey Creations)
While we never grew up as surfers wearing ragged yarn bracelets, we proudly wore our daughters’ friendship bracelets, either peeking out from under a dress shirt at work, or worn openly out on the golf course. At a certain point of fatherhood, wearing something silly, or maybe even frilly, like a friendship bracelet is just another expression of love of your own child. Ages 6 and up. www.myfbm.com

Starry Night from Find It GamesStarry Night (Find It Games)
Here’s another winner from the Find It Games company But this one has a twist to match its theme. Starry Night uses glow-in-the-dark figures as the treasure, making this a magical game to take along on camping trips or just for before-bed searching adventures between dad and child. Look closely into a custom star-shaped container to discover 40 items nestled among the brightly colored pellets. Future astronomers will love all the richly detailed items inside; parents and teachers will love the “learn as you play” element. Shapes to find include planets, an alien, a telescope, and even night vision goggles! And of course, this game can be played in full daylight as well as in the car. But the real magic for dads and kids comes when it’s played in a dark room. www.finditgames.com

On the Farm from Find It GamesOn the Farm (Find It Games)
Like the rest of the toys in the Find It line, this one will frustrate and occupy both kids and dads as everyone struggles to hunt down all the items. We keep two of these in car and our kids compete to see how fast they can find the items on long car rides. Makes for a lot fewer “If I have to turn around one more time…” threats. www.finditgames.com

Kool RiderKool Rider (Kool Rider, Inc.)
If you’re a modern dad, you know that the two key ingredients to making a motor noise on bike are a playing card and a clothes pin. You might have some old cards around, but good luck finding that clothes pin–do they even make them any more? Now you can share a key memory of your childhood by attaching the Kool Rider, an almost indestructable plastic card onto your child’s bike. This is one way to help get him or her off the couch to go out and get some bike time. Now, if you can just find that banan seat, you’d be on your way. Ages 5-7. www.koolrider.com

Albert's Insomnia from RJB3 GamesAlbert’s Insomnia (RJB3 Games)
This is one of the most fun–and most educational–games we’ve seen in years. And not a battery or an LED to be seen. There’s a whole backstory about sheep herding, but the basic idea is to use cards to add one to the previous player’s total. Start with cards numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 face up on the table (as in the picture). You can add, subtract, multiply, or divide but can use each card once. So the first player might start with 4-3=1. The next says 4-2=2; the next says 2+1=3. It’s very easy at first but the higher you go, the harder it gets (4×3 is 12, minus 1 is 11, times 2 is 22, for example). Once you max out what you can do with 1, 2, 3, 4 (somewhere around 36–4×3 is 12, 2+1 is 3, 3x 12 = 36) add more cards and it keeps getting more challenging. Great for teaching math skills because all the calculations have to be done in your head. I played this game with a car full of kids and it kept them (and me) busy and entertained for more than an hour. Ages 6 and up. www.rjb3games.com

MyachiMyachi(Myachi)
Did you ever play hackeysack–that game that involves kicking a beanbag kind of thing around? Myachi is similar, except that instead of your feet, you use the backs of your hands. The Myachi itself is a 4″x 1″ sand-filled sack that comes in a variety of colors. You can add to the fun by buying the Battle Paddles (pictured) which also attach to the back of your hand. A fun, physical way of playing with your kids. Their website is filled with videos of the amazing things people are doing with Myachi. So is YouTube. Ages 6 and up. www.myachi.com

Suspend from Melissa and DougSuspend (Melissa and Doug)
Think a combination of the old Pick up Sticks game, the somewhat newer Jenga, and then imagine asking Alexander Calder (the American artist famous for his moblie sculptures) to make something out of it. Suspend consists of 24 notched, rubber-tipped wire rods of different lengths. Players take turns adding pieces–hanging them from a table-top stand–trying hard not to knock the whole thing down. Suspend comes with a set of rules for a variety of games, from beginner to tournament level. Or you can do what my family did, which is just try to build the highest, craziest thing possible. Ages 8 and up (younger kids can play but they may get frustrated). www.melissaanddoug.com

 

TWEENS AND TEENS

Rollick! from The Game ChefRollick!(The Game Chef)
With the volume of games we see here at Mr. Dad and GreatDad, we’d have thought that the world had run out of twists on Charades. But along comes Rollick! and restores our faith in innovation. To start with, this is a game that’s made for a minimum of six (and max of 20) players. It’s got a little bit of everything: competition, collaboration, creativity, and acting, and endless opportunities to make a fool of yourself in public. Be warned: There is no way to play this game quietly. So unless you’ve got wonderful relationsihps with your neighbors, this may not be a Tuesday night activity. Some other great features: You can learn the rules in about two minutes–really. And you can play a whole game in under half an hour. Best of all, it’s something that even your teens won’t be embarrassed to play with you. Ages 13 and up. www.thegamechef.com

KwizniacKwizniac (Kwizniac)
Kwizniac is a trivia countdown game. What does that mean? Well, each card in the deck contains an answer and ten clues, which are listed in decreasing order of difficulty. For example, on one card, the first clue (number 10) is “Philip Astley was the first person to put together the elements for it in 1768.” Huh? So we’d move on to the next one (9) “It has been around since the Ancient Romans.” Still huh? The clues get progressively easier until the last one (number 1) is “Clowns are common in this form of entertainment.” Got it? The circus. The object is to get the answer with the fewest number of clues. Great fun for dads, kids, and the whole family. Ages 12 and up. www.kwizniac.com

 

FAMILY CONSOLE GAME
Kinect Sports Season Two from KinectKinect Sports Season Two
(Kinect)
The Saturday before I was planning to test this game my bike got stolen from a movie theater where I’d ridden with my daughter. With the the promised long ride we’d planned for Sunday off, we decided to toss Kinect Sports Season Two into the Xbox and spent a few hours throwing footballs, tossing darts, smacking tennis balls, and sweating up a storm. Monday morning I was so stiff from head to toe that I could barely move (and, modesty aside, I’m in pretty good shape). When I went to roll my daughter out of bed for school–we’re talking about an 8-year old here–she’s practically immobile. This was, really and truly, one of the most fun games we’ve ever played together. www.xbox.com/kinect