All Star Buddies (All Star Buddies)
Remember throwing around a Nerf ball inside the house on rainy days? Well, these sports-themed plush characters are just as fun, indoors safe (you’ll still have to watch your fine crystal, though), and a lot cuter. All Star Buddies will get you and the kids rolling around the carpet together, and will give you plenty of opportunity to dust off your “did I ever tell you about the time I …” sports stories. Ages six and up.
Pocket Snails Potty Adventure DVD (Soaring Star Productions)
One of the reasons boys are out of diapers later than girls is that not enough dads get involved in potty training. This DVD, packed with sing-alongs, animation, and stories encourage dad to participate by making the whole thing a lot more fun for everyone (each of you in your own way). Ages 2 and up.
How’d They Build That? DVD Series (MarvelousMedia)
A welcome break from Barney and Thomas, the How’d They Build That? series is a must-have for dads and their children–boys or girls. The Big Truck DVD takes you and your child on a virtual tour of Navistar’s International Truck Assembly plant in Springfield, Ohio. You get to see the robots and other machinery who move those big trucks through the assembly line. And you even get to “sit” in the cab for a driver’s-eye view. The Fire Truck DVD does pretty much the same thing, taking viewers on a fascinating tour of Seagrave Fire Apparatus, the oldest continuously operating fire truck manufacturer in the US. A wonderful way to share a cool experience with your child, and to release the truck-loving little boy in you.
Why didn’t anyone think of this before? It’s a simple concept–dominoes with animals instead of dots–but boy, is it fun. Gets dad and kids playing face to face, reinforces lessons about color, patterns, and matching. Involves some acting, so be prepared to do some serious giggling. Ages 3 and up..
Beddy-Bye Game (Briarpatch)
It’s time to hit the sack and it’s up to the players to collect a teddy bear, pajamas, and bottle and tuck baby into bed. The Beddy-Bye game helps dads teach preschoolers the ins and outs of caring for baby, and gets them playing together at the same time. No reading required, which lets the kids get much more involved than they would be if they had to wait for you to explain everything. A delightful addition to family game night. Ages 3 and up.
I Spy Memory, 15th anniversary edition matching game (Briarpatch)
I have to admit that I’m a complete sucker for anyting I SPY-related, and this gorgeous game is no exception. What’s especially nice is that kids of all ages (and adults) can play together–beginners search for matching pairs while advanced players solve the riddles. Promotes reading and memory skills, but more important than that, it’s an enjoyable way for dads to spend time with their kids. (You can play this on your own, but it’s not nearly as fun.)
Clothespins! strategy and matching game (Briarpatch)
When our reviewer first looked at the box, he thought he was going to have to spend the afternoon making clothespins people. He decided to open it anway and was hooked. Like many other Briarpatch games, this laughter-inducing one requires no reading, so even the youngest kids can get fully involved in completing clotheslines of matching laundry items. It’s good for memory and pattern recognition, and may subtly fool your children into thinking that doing laundry is fun–in a Tom Sawyer-ish kind of way. 3 and up.
Charlie and Lola (KidsPreferred)
Inspired by the popular pre-school program Charlie & Lola, these dolls will bring lots of fun and educational playtime for you and your toddler. Packaged in a reusable play scene, this set includes a completely poseable Charlie and Lola, who speak their signature opening line from their book, video, and TV episode: “I have this little sister, Lola. She is small and very funny.” Responds Lola, “I’m not small. I am BIG.” Don’t think playing with dolls is masculine? Think again. At the very least it’ll give you a fascinating glimpse into your child’s imagination.
Little Pim (Little Pim)
Little Pim is a three-disc immersion-style introduction to more than 180 vocabulary words and phrases. The set we reviewed was Spanish. French and Chinese are also available, and others, including Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, and Hindi are in the pipeline. Kids who learn a second language early in life tend to have better reading, writing, analytical, and social skills than their monolingual agemates. The Little Pim videos are an engaging way to start the process. They’re also a wonderfully interactive way for you and your child to learn something new together. A downloadable Parent Guide and Word of the Day Coloring Pages are available at LittlePim.com.
Great infant toys (HABA USA)
Discovery Cube Colorful World
Color Tower Stacking Game
With this charming Discovery Cube Colorful World, dads will stimulate all of the senses and entice curiosity in their child as they explore the six sides of the cube, each of which has a different image depicted on it. Movable magnetic side flaps and a kaleidoscopic viewing portal help your baby see the world in a different way. Gives babies a great way to learn about spatial relationships and is a ton of fun for babies (and their dads) who are always fascinated by colorful images and uncovering hidden objects. With the brain-stimulating Color Tower Stacking Game, dads can help their infants develop fine motor skills. Includes seven rainbow-colored pieces that babies can sort by colors or shape. For ages 6 months and up.
Jishaku (RSV Productions)
Back for the Holidays, Jishaku (the Japanese word for magnet), is just as much fun as it was the first time we reviewed it. It’s a neat combination of strategy game and science lesson. Played with a set of different-sized magnetic stones of varying strengths, it matters not only where you place each stone, but also how you place it. A great way to learn about magnetism. A fascinating way to spend some quality time with boys or girls 8 and up. Plus, cleanup is easy.
Readeez Volume One DVD (The Readeez Company)
This terrific DVD combines written and spoken language in a unique way that gives kids the experience of being read to while actually learning to read on their own. Catchy tunes, fun animation, and a warm, loving relationship between a father and daughter make this a real delight. Encourages dad and child to snuggle up on the couch and laugh together. Ages 2 and up.
PuzzlePlay Sealife (ImagiPLAY)
Another very clever, colorful, fun, and educational puzzle from ImigiPLAY. You and your child can stimulate your imagination while learning about the ocean and its inhabitants. Then challenge the other side of your brain by putting the pieces back together. It’s made from rubberwood, an earth friendly hardwood. 3 and up.
Moonman (ee publishing and products, LLC)
Dads will enjoy snuggling up with their young children and reading this warm story that reenforces traditional values such as kindness, generosity. After story time, the child can cuddle one of the plush characters from the Nana Star and Nana Star & the Moonman book series and fall asleep while listening to the story again on the included CD.
Nana Star doll and book (ee publishing and products, LLC)
Another two-time Seal of Approval recipient. Girls will love the Nana Star doll, and dads will love cuddling up and reading the accompanying book, a sweet story about a girl in a blue princess dress with a twinkle in her eye. Ages 4 and up.
Go Galileo! CD (mistermarkmusic.com )
There’s something about science that brings dads and kids together. (Think of the number of dads you see at the average PTA/PTO meeting. Now think of the number of dads you see at the science fair.) Our reviewer said he put this CD into his car and his 5-year old daughter was already singing along before she even got her seatbelt buckled. A very clever way for kids to learn about sound waves, Newton’s three laws of motion, and all the things George Washington Carver made out of peanuts. And hey, dads will learn a lot too.
Idbids Waveryly Eco-Friendly Starter Kit (Idbids, LLC)
Despite all the talk about conservation, global warming, sustainability, and eco-friendliness, it’s hard to get these concepts across to our kids. These lovable figures may be able to help. The kit contains one plush toy and cinch sack handcrafted from 100% organic cotton, iddy biddy steps for a greener world storybook, the Idbids Field Guide (printed on recycled paper with eco-friendly inks) and an online reward program. Even the packaging is made from recycled and eco-friendly materials. If your values include conservation, sustainability, and caring for the earth, this is a delightful way to instill them in your child.
Star Pilot (Young Scientists Club, LLC)
Okay, this is just about the coolest thing ever–a combination of technology, invention, culture, fun, and learning. Young Scientists will explore the night sky using a specialized astronomical device called the Star Pilot™ that locates the brightest stars and constellations. Budding astronomers will learn about the life cycle of a star, locate 23 constellations in the night sky, make a night-vision flashlight, and more. Comes with a detailed, illustrated manual that includes fun astronomical information, experiments, diagrams, and constellation legends from cultures around the world. Get ready to spend hours and hours with your young scientist. Doesn’t get any better than this.
Xeko Mission: China (Xeko)
The newest edition of Xeko, this trading card game is a gorgeous way to introduce kids to threatened species in China, which is one of the world’s conservation “hotspots.” This mission teaches about endangered animals such as the Giant Panda, Snow Leopard, and King Cobra, and brings in plenty of culture to boot.
Xeko Pals (Xeko)
Sumatran Flying Squirrel
Hairy-Eared Dwarf Lemur
These eco-friendly Pals are based on popular characters from the various Xeko games, several of which have received the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. These soft, cuddly little guys are a nice way to get the littlest kids thinking about wildlife conservation before they’re able to play the actual card-based games. Each Pal also comes with a “mission code” (kind of like Webkins) so older kids can go online and learn even more and wildlife.
Two run-around, fun-around games (Wild Planet Entertainment, Inc)
Wild Planet’s new active learning toys, Hyper Jump and Animal Scramble will not only get your kids up and running, they’ll get you off the couch too. Both are educational and athletic – promoting listening, memory, and coordination skills as well as physical activity. Hyper Jump includes the added educational bonus of learning math while Animal Scramble teaches preschoolers the importance of recognizing objects in different ways (by sight, sound, shape, etc). Each game contains multiple levels so you can set the degree of difficulty to challenge your kids as they learn. They don’t require a video screen or electrical outlet and can be played indoors or out.
Top Secret Adventures (Highlights)
The Riddle of the Rising Sun
The Incident in Iberia
Yes, these games are produced by the folks who publish the Highlights magazine you read while waiting for the dentist when you were a kid. But that’s where the similarities end. These wildly enjoyable kits take dad and child on a fascinating mission where they have to work together to solve clues. Besides being a great way to spend time together, these adventures are a completely painless way to learn about the culture, history, and language of the target country.
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 a number of entries that we felt were worth noting.
Safety Temporary Tattoos (SafetyTat)
t can happen anywhere—at an amusement park, zoo, school field trip, or even your local shopping mall. Your attention shifts for a moment, and suddenly your child or loved one has wandered out of sight. So put the odds in your favor for a safe return, with SafetyTat. Designed by a Mom of three kids, SafetyTat is a fun and colorful kids temporary safety tattoo that’s uniquely offered either customized or blank so you can customize. When applied to the arm of your child or loved one, SafetyTat provides an immediate, highly visible form of identification that stays in place even when wet! SafetyTat—it’s the perfect way to show how much you care, just in case.
Smart-e-Bear (Kids Preferred)
Smart-e-Bear encourages children to discover and explore through a library of thousands of award-winning songs, interactive stories, educational games and other content that can be downloaded right to the bear via a USB connection. No animatronics or moving parts to easily break like toys of the past. These figures (which include dogs and cats) interact with a personality, so they become truly a pal, entertaining the young owners with a song, story, or game. There’s always something for kids to discover as the software changes and grows with the child’s interests from the nursery to kindergarten. 2-6.