Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2011*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

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

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

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

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

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

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

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

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

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

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

Does Your Daughter Have Dad Hair? by Craig Lawrey
What is it about dads and daughters? As the father of three girls, I can’t even count the number of times I had my nails painted, face powdered, and eyes smeared with mascara. Or the number of hours I spent conditioning hair (not mine) and combing out snarls that seemed big enough to house an entire family of hawks. Or the days I spent shaking my head in amazement as a straight-haired -daughter used some kind of medieval torture instrument to curl her hair, while her wavy-haired sister used an equally frightening tool to straighten hers. In my book, every minute you spend elbow-deep in your daughter’s locks brings you closer together and strengthens your relationship. And whether you’re trying to do your first pigtails or you can do five-strand French braids in the dark, this book is a must-have. www.dadhair.com

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

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

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

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

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

TWEENS AND TEENS

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

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

Whatcha think?

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