Here’s Looking at (and Listening to) You, Baby

Long gone are the days when mom and dad had to lie sleepless wondering whether they heard a cry or whimper from baby’s room down the hall. Today’s parents have a variety of technology to keep an eye—and an ear on baby from the next room or even from the office across town. For this column, we reviewed several Internet-enabled monitors, most of which work on private WIFI networks so there’s no fear of broadcasting your lives around the neighborhood to parents with similar devices. None of these monitors are cheap, but you’ll be able to get your money’s worth by using them as security monitors or nannycams after your baby gets older.

 

Peek Plus Internet Baby Monitor System

peek plus monitor parents@play

The Peek Plus has all the features you want. You can carry the included video monitor on your belt and watch it all over the. Or you can access video on your phone or Internet while Grandpa and Grandma (up to three viewers) see the same thing on a password-protected network. The only drawback here is the required bridge unit (included) that connects to your Ethernet network to make the WiFi work. This means another set of wires to deal with, though the bridge unit can be kept away from the camera. http://www.summerinfant.com

 

Withings Smart Baby Monitor

withings monitor parents@playA screenless monitor with a simple, clean design. The monitor itself looks like a white jewelry box that unfolds to reveal a simple 3MP lens. On the back, you’ll find just two plugs, Ethernet and mini-USB for recharging the battery. This is one of the few monitors that includes a bracket to attach the monitor on the side of a crib. It also plays lullabies and has a night light, two features that can both be controlled using the app from anywhere in the world. You can even take photos with the monitor with a 4X zoom and 90 degree pan that works with just a pinch or swipe of the finger. http://withings.com/en/babymonitor

 

Samsung SNH 1010 Smart Cam Monitor

samsung monitor parents@playThis is the monitor of choice for the social media-connected. It will send a tweet or email when there’s movement or sound from the baby’s room. It will also post motion- or sound-activated video and stills directly to YouTube and Picasa so you can quickly share with friends and the world. It runs on AC power and connects to the Internet via Ethernet or wirelessly. Up to 10 users can access the camera at the same time and an unlimited number of cameras can be added to the network. The SmartCam has night vision and even includes small speakers for two-way talk. http://www.samsung.com/us

 

IZON 2.0 WIFI Video Monitor

izon parents@playWe love the sleek look of the IZON, which has the look and feel of an Apple product and sets it apart from the rest of the crowd. This is a monitor for design lovers. It was easy to set up using a simple QR code that collects information on your local network. It was simple to use on our iPad and iPhone, and allows you to add multiple IZON cameras and view them at the same time. The IZON has motion and sound alerts, and can record up to 100 events for free to a designated cloud storage area. Sound and video are crisp, though not HD. However—and this is a big however—we can recommend the IZON only if your baby’s room always has a light on, since the monitor has neither LED nor infrared technology. http://steminnovation.com/

What’s New, Baby?

As parents who spend a lot of time reviewing and playing with toys, games, and other kid-of-all-ages-related paraphernalia, we often find ourselves wondering how (and, sometimes, why) people keep coming up with new products. This year, we discovered a number of new baby items that are innovative enough to make new parents excited, parents of older kids jealous, and grandparents wonder where all these things were when they were raising their own babies.

journey bee, parents@playjourneyBee
There 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.
twilight turtle, parents@playTwilight Turtle
Okay, 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/
bassinet, parents@playThree from Tiny Love
These creative, innovative makers of all things baby have an amazing lineup of soon-to-be must-haves for parents and baby-shower registries everywhere. First up is the new Magical Night projection mobile, which 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. Due to start hitting stores in April.
3 in one, parents@playNext, speaking of value for the money, keep an eye out for the 3-in-1 Rocker Napper. As a rocker, the seat 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.
Finally, there’s the Take Along Bouncer, an easy-to-fold, portable bouncy seat that will be out in the Spring. For info on all these Tiny Love products, http://tinylove.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

Catching Your Newborn: Not for Everyone

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m in the US Air Force, stationed in Italy. My wife is 5.5 months pregnant with our first and I’ve asked our on-base obstetricians to allow me to catch the baby when it’s born. I feel I should be the first person to hold my child, not some doctor we’ll never see again. They don’t seem too happy with this and I fear I won’t get the chance. Since we’re overseas, we don’t have the option of choosing a different OB. Am I being petty?

A: It wasn’t all that long ago that dads weren’t allowed in the delivery room at all, let alone to get involved in the actual delivery. In fact there was a case back in the 70s of an expectant dad being arrested for trying to attend the birth of his child. That idiotic attitude changed after a while, and cutting the cord became the standard. Today, things have progressed even further, and lots of dads do exactly what you want to do: catch the baby. So no, you’re not being petty. Hopefully, other expectant dads will read this and be inspired by you.
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