Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2011*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Belly Banter (SlickSugar)
Getting dad involved in the pregnancy is always a challenge. He’s usually a worried bystander without much of a role. Photography is one area where he is usually active, documenting the pregnancy for posterity. That’s why we like Belly Banter, a set of simple 4″ circular sticker to afix on mom’s belly during picture taking. The designs are simple and photos including them will become increasingly valuable long after anyone recalls how far along mommy was when the picture was taken. www.slicksugar.com/

Bundli Swaddler (Bundli)
Dads often find the first few months of fatherhood a little tough–in part because they don’t always know what to do with an infant who isn’t giving Dad much feedback on his stand-up routine. But it’s all about practical, hands-on training. And the bundli™ swaddler can really help by encouraging Dad to really interact with his baby and giving the duo a great excuse to spend time staring at each other and making faces. What’s particularly nice about the bundli is that, unlike moost of the other swaddlers we’ve seen, it has built-in head support, which makes the support-the-head-while-trying-to-soothe-the-baby act a lot easier. www.bundli.com

Perfect Bum (CoCaLo)
I’ve mentioned this in reviews of other diaper-related products, but I still firmly believe that diaper changing is one of the most underrated daddy-child bonding exercises. It has all the ingredients: skin-to-skin contact, agility training, and face-to-face time. Until recently, it’s been hard for parents who want their kids to wear cloth diapers to make a decent fashion statement. So if that’s what’s kept you from cloth, it’s time to reconsider. The Perfect Bum includes eye-catching, coordinated tops and bottoms and an eco-friendly, patented cloth diaper insert. Available at Babies R Us and other specialty stores throughout the country. For diaper-weaering kids. www.cocalo.com

TODDLER AND PRESCHOOL

Little Reader Deluxe (Brill Kids)
This is one of these don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover (or by the box it comes in) kinds of things. The Brill Kids Little Reader is an extremely comprehensive program that contains more than a dozen books, flash cards, and more. Little Reader is supposedly aimed at kids as young as four months–and that was the first hurdle: Seems a little Tiger-Mom-ish to push a kid that young to read. But if this is a priority for you, you’ll love this program (and even if it’s not a priority, there’s nothing that says you can’t wait until your child is a bit older). Our reviewers found Little Reader to be “extremely structured, extremely easy to follow, and contains clear instructions on how to use the materials, and clear explanations on why the materials are structured the way they are.” A few reviewers didn’t like the fact that the program includes an on-line/on-screen component, but if you’re a techie, that won’t bother you. Bottom line, Plus, there’s very little you can do with your child that’s more valuable in the long run than reading. And as long as you keep it fun–which means following your child’s cues–this is a great program. www.brillkids.com/

GiggleBellies, volume 2 (3D Magic Factory)
Whenever a sequel comes along, fans of the original always get worried that the second (or third or fourth) installment won’t live up to the first. Well, we’re glad to report that GiggleBellies, volume 2 is just as fun as the first. If you don’t already have one, this DVD is the perfect excuse to sing, dance, laugh, roll around on the floor, and completely let loose. Oh, and you can do it with your child too. Ages 2-4. www.3dmagicfactory.com/

“Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” with Mother Goose Club (Sockeye Media)
I have to admit that I find a lot of children’s videos frighteningly bad. So when I popped the “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” into the DVD player, I was expecting to watch three minutes and turn it off. Fifteen minutes later, though, I was still tapping my foot along with the Mother Goose Club, six live-action characters who introduce classic nursery rhymes to children through catchy tunes, playful shows and interactive lessons. Our testers–DVD-weary families with toddlers–had very much the same reaction and gave “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” two thumbs up. www.mothergooseclub.com

Sidekick (Kemby)
If you’ve ever traveled with an infant or toddler, you know just how annoying it is to try to juggle stroller, car seat, diaper bag, not to mention the actual child. The Sidekick offeres a unique alternative, cleverly combing a nice-looking diaper bag that dad won’t be embarrassed to carry with a child side-carrier he won’t be embarrassed to wear (and that won’t cause any long-term nerve damage). Both of those features will definintely help dads stay connected–literally and figuratively–with their young children. For kids up to 35 pounds. www.gogobabyz.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Strange Dees Indeed (The Deedle Deedle Dees)
The Dees are an educational, indie-style rock band based in Brooklyn. Their new release is a largely successful attempt to get elementary school kids excited about learning. The melodies aren’t finger-snapping catchy, but the lyrics are offbeat and fun enough that dad and child will listen more than once and learn a surprising amount of history, folklore, and nature. All in all, definitely a dad-centric approach to children’s music. Ages 5-9. www.thedeedledeedledees.bandcamp.com/

Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important book/ CD set (Trout Fishing in America)
The plot to this entertaining sequel to My Name Is Chicken Joe is pretty simple: Everyone on the farm knows today is a special day–everyone but Chicken Joe. Tbere’s enough barnyard humor and silliness to keep the kids laughing but not so much that it slips into stupidity, which would drive the dads away. But what really makes this CD/book combo sing (if you’ll pardon the pun) is the spunky narration and witty original songs about friendship and forgetfulness from a four-time Grammy Award nominated band (which means the music is excellent). www.troutmusic.com

These Are My Friends (Alastair Moock)
Children’s musicians have a tough job: they have to produce songs that can keep kids entertained without putting the parents to sleep or making them run screaming out of the room. Alastair Moock’s second family music release strikes the perfect balance. The lyrics are fun for the kids, the music is sophisticated to keep dad engaged, and the combination will get both generations up off the couch and dancing. www.moockmusic.com

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids (Smithsonian Folkways)
In a word, this CD is fantastic. Coming from a guy who wrote songs for Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and others, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But what makes Chip Taylor & The Grandkids such a joy is the obvious warmth and affection between Chip and his three young granddaughters. The contrast between Chip’s grizzled (in the most positive way) vocals and those of the girls had my daughter and me listening over and over, singing along where we could, holding hands and humming elsewhere. It’s a true celebration of familiy and a wonderful example of what happens when generations come together. www.folkways.si.edu

I SPY Super Challenger Game – for Leapster (Scholastic)
I SPY Castle – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
As a big fan of the I SPY books I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t make the transition from print to digital. But boy, was I wrong. Our dad/kid review teams were unanimous in declaring both of these I SPY games “Awesome” and “We’re definitely going to play this again.” In the Super Challenger game, the find-the-hidden-objects-in-the-fascinating-photos part is pretty much the same, but add in fast-paced races against the clock that require everyone to use their thinking, matching, memory and math skills to solve the puzzles. In I SPY Castle, the action takes place in a stunning castle, and there are plenty of puzzles and riddles to keep everyone entertained for a long, long time. Ages 6-10. www.scholastic.com

Magic Schoolbus Oceans game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Dinosaurs – iPad app (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Oceans Game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Definitely for younger kids–especially if they’ve read any of the Magic School Bus books or are fans of the TV show. In typical Magic-School-Bus style, both of these games offer kids–and their wranglers–an engaging, educational, and above all, entertaining time. In the Oceans game, Dads and kids step into the driver’s seat of The Magic School Bus to unlock six levels of the ocean, learning and applying their knowledge as they go. In the Dinosaurs game (which has been ranked in the top 50 iPad apps) Dads and kids will discover everything they ever wanted to know about those big prehistoric reptiles. Ages 5-7. www.scholastic.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game (TDC Games)
There’s very little that’s completely unique in this crossword anagram game, but the clever soup can design makes it just about as delicious for dads and kids as some of the Bananagrams games (which we love). There are some fun twists, though. Players can insert letters into the middle of others’ words. And, unlike at the dinner table, they’re encouraged to “slurp”–pull a letter out of someone else’s crossword and replace it with one of your own. The Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game encourages kids and dads to sit together around the kitchen table, playing a word game with the homey feel of hot soup terminology throughout. dad can be gently teaching word skills, making education (and time with dad) fun with just a smidgeon of good-natured competition. Play it with a cuppa soup and it’s Mmmm Mmm good, old fashioned fun. www.tdcgames.com

Heelys (Heelys)
You’ve seen Heelys–they’re kind of a cross between shoes and a skateboard. And you’ve probably said to yourself, “Hey that looks fun,” or “Hey, that looks dangerous.” The fun part is absolutely right–tooling around the block or the neighborhood shopping mall with your child is a real blast and a great way to spend some time doing something physical (kids of all ages should be getting 60 minutes of exercise every day–and so should you). The dangerous part can be minimized by making sure everyone who slips into a pair of these snazzy roller shoes is using the proper safety equipment. The other danger–mostly for dad–is that there’a a high risk of making a fool of yourself here, so practice a little before you do this with your child. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be tempted to wear your Heelys to the office. www.heelys.com

FAMIY Wii GAME

Glee Karaoke Revolution (Konami)
If you love Glee, and even if you don’t (I don’t!), you have to try Glee Karaoke out with your family. Glee Karaoke Revolution is basically like any karaoke game, except that it uses real scenes from Glee as the backdrop, so you can sing along with your favorite characters. As in Glee, the songs are a mix of oldies, real oldies (think Sinatra), and current hits. It’s fun to watch your kids try to sing old favorites they don’t know at all, but also for dads to step to the mic to belt out new songs like “Beautiful” and “Gives you Hell.” Our whole family giggled for hours playing this game and the kids quite often want to sing “just one song” before going to bed. Don’t buy this if you are super-competitive though; Glee Karaoke is built to have fun rather than score points. For about $7 more, Glee Karaoke comes with a bundled USB microphone, which plugs into the Wii and worked very well in our tests. www.konami.com/

The Mr. Dad Seal of Recognition

Not every product or service we evaluated met our strict criteria of helping dads get or stay involved with their children and improve the quality of father-child relationships. But there were some entries that we felt were worth noting.

Go Anywhere Booster Seat (Polar Gear Baby)
This on-the-go feeding booster seat goes anywhere. It features a five-point restraint harness, three sets of adjustable straps to secure to a chair and a wipe-clean seat. Folds to a compact 12″ W x 11″ D x 4 1/2″ H. BPA-free and complies to ASTM standards. Holds up to 40 pounds. Recommended for 12 months and up but suitable for a child that can sit unassisted. Dads will love this Go Anywhere Booster Seat, as it light weight and is easy to clean and kids will love it because they’ll always have a nice soft surface to sit on and not a hard wooden chair. It’ll make any little toddler feel like a big boy or girl! aparentcompany.com

Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip, by Bill Raney
This is the true story of a father’s and mother’s attempt to drive a VW bus around the world, with their one-year-old son and his dog. This family journey took them across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and down the Burma Road to China. Virtually everyone they met alonfg the way was charmed by the little blond Zerky, opening up many opportunities to talk with people who spoke the universal language of young children. Zerky was killed in 1971 and his mother died the year before. This book is the author’s memorial to both. Writing it helped the author pull through a very difficult period in his life by reminding him that life indeed goes on, even when we don’t.
waltzingaroundtheworld.com/

Whatcha think?