The Art of Summer

School’s out and it’s time to get your travel on. That often means a seemingly never-ending chorus of “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored!” from the table- and smartphone-demanding minions who’ve set up shop in the back seat. We’ve got some good news for you: there are actually creative and stimulating ways to keep your kids entertained that don’t involve a screen. Really. Expect plenty of push back, though, but if you stand your ground, they’ll eventually come around. We promise.

scribble & doodle alex toys
Scribble & Doodle On the Go (Alex Toys)

Perfect for car or plane rides, or even for keeping kids busy in restaurants while they wait for their food. The hard cover book has 50 activity pages to color and play on and two pages of stickers. The “On the Go” book is, as you might suspect, about travel and travel activities. But there are other books in the series, including “Girly Swirly,” and “My First Scribble.” One warning: These books don’t come with crayons, so you’ll have to bring along your own. $11 each on http://www.alextoys.com/

color a backpack alex toysColor a Backpack—Cutie (Alex Toys)
A fun project and a fully functional travel pack? What’s not to love! This backpack is small enough that your kids will be able to schlepp it themselves.. Plus, it’ll also give them a fun art project to work on while you’re making your way from point A to point B. Cutie comes with five permanent markers, so kids can design their pack any way they like—and it’ll stay that way. If you’re worried about the kids drawing on their clothes or the car, you can always do the art part before you leave home. Or invest in a smock and seats covers. $28 at http://www.alextoys.com

desk to go alex toysDesk to Go (Alex Toys)
This on-the-go desk for little artists keeps all their masterpieces in one place. One side of the Desk to Go is a firm desktop surface, while the other is soft for resting on a child’s lap. Pockets on the side hold crayons, markers, and more, while the top has a handle that makes for easy carting from place to place. The desk comes with elastic straps to hold paper in place while your little Michelangelo creates, and the whole thing folds up and zips shut when the masterpiece is ready to be framed. Why didn’t they have these when we were kids? $20 from http://www.alextoys

car valet alex toysCar Valet (Alex Toys)
If you want something a little larger than the Desk to Go, or if your child likes to bring a wider variety of art supplies with them, check out the Car Valet. This baby packs so much into a small, tote-able package that no parent who travels should ever leave home without it. Ever. Your child can do just about anything he or she wants with this fold out art center. The play area is huge—about the size of a record (yes, we’re old enough to remember records)–and it’s only about as thick as your thumb. There are tons of pockets that you or the kiddos can load up with art supplies, decks of cards, paper, and anything else you can think of (except your smartphone). The Car Valet can fasten to the seat in front of the child and folds down, giving your child a nice workspace. When you get where you’re going, fold it back up, zip it shut, and you’re on your way in no time. $44 at http://www.alextoys.com

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/

All A-Board

Most board games these days have boards that are pretty similar to each other—some variation of a square. But in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, a lot of game companies are coming up with boards that are often as interesting to look at as the games themselves are to play.

Don’t Panic (Goliath)
don't panic Don’t Panic’s “board” has two components. A roundish board and a timer. The only other pieces are pawns (markers) and a deck of 85 cards. The concept is simple and you’ll be up and playing within minutes. The person whose turn it is spins an arrow and the player to the left pulls one of the cards and selects the question that matches the color of the space the other player is on. The arrow determines how many responses (4-8) the spinning player has to answer. The timer indicates how many spaces that player (or team) will move forward. Questions vary in difficulty, from ingredients found in tacos to U.S. Vice Presidents. Getting the first few answers is easy. But the fun starts when time is running short and players start stuff up. A great game for learning to think on one’s feet. 2-18 players, ages 8 and up.

Wordsearch (Goliath)
wordsearchWordsearsch’s board is kind of a cross between a lazy Susan and Chinese checkers. Choose from one of 10 round, two-sided cards, each of which has more than 25 hidden words. There are also words printed along the outer edge of the circle. Rotating the board reveals one of those words at a time, which all the players rush to find. Like most other wordsearch games, words can be forwards, backwards, or diagonal. Whoever finds the word first grabs the “totem” (essentially a squeaky dog toy) and squeezes it. Then he or she covers each letter of the found word with translucent tokens. The player with the most tokens on the board when all the words have been found wins the round. A fun way for younger players to learn word recognition and spelling. For 2-4 players, ages 7 and up

Skateboard Madness (Mindtwister Games)
skateboard madnessSkateboard Madness’s board looks like an X formed by two overlapping skateboards. Game play is a bit like rummy, where players pick up cards and put them together into “skate sessions.” As they shred their way through the board, players learn new tricks, Ollie (jump) over other players, slam (get injured), find bandages (to heal those injuries), answer trivia questions (four levels of difficulty), and even find sponsors. The rules are complex but intuitive—once you get the hang of them—and are laid out in a 15-page instruction booklet, which you absolutely must read. Entertaining for the whole family. For 2-6 players, ages 8 and up. http://mindtwisterusa.com/products/games/

Pochecko (Pockecko)
pocheckoPochecko combines the fun and excitement of poker with the strategy of chess. Its unique looking board is made of a triangular spaces. 52 are marked with the value of one of the cards in a standard deck. The rest are blank and used for moving. Each player has five pawns, which they place around the board. There are also two other markers which indicate the “community” cards. As with poker, players try to build the best hand. But what makes this game especially fun is that unlike Texas Hold ‘Em, where you don’t know for sure what cards your opponents are holding, in this game you know—or you can make an educated guess at—the hands they’re building and you can take steps to block them. For 2-4 players, ages 12 and up. http://www.pochecko.com/
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More Post-Holiday Fun

Glitzi Globes Starter Kit
glitzi globesGot a girl who loves animals? How about all things pink and sparkly? If so, you’ll want to check out Glittzy Globes, a kit that lets your child create her own snow globe accessories. The Glitzi Globes Starter Kit comes with four globes kids can make all by themselves. They can design these glittery Globes by using the included dome maker (which looks sort of like an egg slicer, but without the blades) that holds the globe firmly, freeing up your young artist’s hands so she can add different characters and charms. Each kit includes a special water bottle that can be filled with water and inserted into the globe, four snow domes, four bases, four pop sticks, one bag tag for displaying your creations, 12 floating charms, five glitter tablets, four characters, and one instruction booklet. Whew. That’s a lot of stuff for one box! $18 at Toys R Us or your favorite retailer.

KRE-O CityVille Invasion Police Station Zombie Defense
zombie defense police stationKids can build their own city and defend it from zombie invasion. This police station comes compete with a rotating gun turret, combat vehicle, two police and two zombie figures. The cops can patrol CityVille and round up zombies with their squad car outfitted with a zombie-capturing claw. Back at HQ, they can lock up the zombies in special jail cells. For kids seven and up, but fun for parents too, especially if they’re fans of “The Walking Dead.” Go ahead and re-create the prison breakout scene, but let Hershel live… $25 pretty much everywhere.

Calico Critters Cozy Cottage
calico critters cottageThe Calico Critters Cozy Cottage is a great way to begin a Calico Critter collection. Or, if you already have a bunch of the critters, it’s a perfect place to put them. The soft, detailed, and posable critter figures are not only cute and cuddly, but also come in many animal varieties and sets. The house comes fully assembled, furnished, and ready to play with (which may come as a relief to any parent who’s feeling a little overloaded after non-stop Holiday assembly projects), so there’s absolutely no need to buy anything else. The Cottage includes Bell Hopscotch Rabbit, a bed with matching sheets, a round table with chairs, a kitchen counter with sink and oven, a moveable ladder for easy access to each floor, cookware, and plenty of food. Designed to demonstrate real life values (friends, family, sharing) and encourage imaginative play, each Calico Critter family and doll plays a different role in the Cloverleaf Corners community. $50 wherever you like to buy your toys.

Mamas and Papas Rainbow Hobby Horse
rainbow hobby horseWhat kid doesn’t love a hobby horse? It’s perfect for playing cowboys, riding through the Wild West, catching bad guys, being a castle-storming knight, a princess on her valiant steed, or anything else you can think of. The possibilities are truly limitless. This colorful printed hobby horse (which is also available in a slightly more boyish “cowboy” horse print) will inspire hours of imagination as your child gallops through the house and yard, jingling as she goes. Press the horse’s ear and he’ll neigh. These hobby horses have solid wood hand grips and poles, a colored harness, and yarn mane. Although recommend for ages three and up, we think kids even younger will like it too. But stay close, just in case your toddler decides to wield it as a weapon. $35 at http://us.mamasandpapas.com

What to Do When You’ve Waited Past the Last Minute

Black Friday and Christmas—and the shopping insanity that surround them—are just memories, but now may be the perfect time to fill in the gaps in last year’s gift lists. And because of all the sales and clearances, you’ll be able to take advantage of perhaps the lowest prices you’ll see all year. Here are some of our after-the-last-minute picks.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ninja Control Shellraiser (Playmates)
teenage mutant ninja turtlesThis new remote-controlled vehicle has all the bells and whistles and has been pronounced “so cool” by many a six-year-old. The Turtles action figures (sold separately) can really ride on it, and the fully child-controlled rapid-fire sewer-cover cannon is a blast for the kids (and their daddies). $49.99. http://www.playmatestoys.com

Peter Rabbit DVD and Gift Set
peter rabbitIn case you missed it, those classic Beatrix Potter tales that you grew up with are now a hit TV series. The Peter Rabbit set includes full episodes from the show as well as activities to keep your own little bunny hopping. A great take-along for travel, snow days, sick days, and even a trip to grandma’s. The included puzzle and crayon pack are perfect for keeping little hands busy instead of getting into trouble in Mr. McGregor’s garden. $20.00.  Exclusively at Walmart.

Brush Pets and Glow Pets (Pillow Pets)
brush petsThere’s always something new going on at Pillow Pets. One of their latest is a line of six singing toothbrushes, made to look like the kids’ favorites Pillow Pets. Brush Pets play for two minutes (exactly what your dentist recommends) and use fun sounds and silly instructions to keep the kids brushing. Brush Pets also come with a suction-cup “house” that attaches the brush to a wall and helps keep your vanity top clean. $7.99

Also new is the Glow Pets line. During the day, Glow Pets are regular stuffed animals. But at night, they can turn into the perfect, cuddly, after-dark companion—especially for a child who’s afraid of the dark. Glow Pets do indeed glow (they use 30 LEDs that never get hot) and they shut off by themselves after 20 minutes. Requires three AA batteries. $20. http://www.PillowPets.com

DiscoRobo (TOSY Robotics)
disco roboThese cute robots use “beat detection technology” (bet you’ve never hear of that!) to feel—and dance along with—whatever music you’re playing. DiscoRobo’s got 56 separate moves (about 53 more than most humans) and eight different facial expressions, and looks like he’s having such a good time that the kids (and you) won’t be able to keep from joining in. Since it’s probably illegal to sell a toy these days without a smartphone app, DiscoRobo’s got one. It allows you to “chat” with your Robo and even customize his dance moves. Sounds silly, but so did Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, and look how much fun those are. Got a kid who loves to dance?  Or a shy one you want to encourage to come out of his or her shell? This will be a hit for them and the rest of the family. $45 at http://www.tosy.com/discorobo/

Still looking for something for the special lady in your life? Check out the retro jewelry at Jade and Jasper (http://www.jadeandjasper.com/). It’s fun, funky, affordable, and easy to mix and match. If you’d prefer something a little more personal, Joseph Nogucci has lovely-yet-inexpensive jewelry that she’s sure to love. http://www.josephnogucci.com/

Finally, be sure to check out the latest winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval. New winners are announced four times per year and we’re now accepting submissions for our Spring 2014 awards. Visit http://mrdad.com/seal.

Take a Tablet and Call Me in the Morning

Given that full-featured tablets like the iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, Samsung Galaxy, Microsoft Surface, Google Nexus, LG G Pad, Sony Xperia, and others aren’t cheap, it’s no big surprise that a lot of parents are somewhat reluctant to turn one over to a child.  We worry—understandably so—that the cute little kid in the backseat [...]