Dad Are Vital—From the Very, Very Beginning

A just-released study shows that three-month old infants who have a strong connection with their father have fewer behavior problems at 12 months. Of course, the phrase “behavior problem” is a bit fuzzy when applied to 12-month olds. So to be more specific, the infants whose dads were actively engaged cried less, were less demanding, and were more social with others than infants whose dads were less engaged. The effect was strongest with sons—but girls benefitted from dad’s engagement too.

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Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2012

Seal of Approval winners, Father’s Day 2012

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

ba baby bottle holder from the original babyBa Baby Bottle Holder (The Original Baby)
Ba is a silicone baby bottle holder that makes it easy for even small infants to grasp their bottle. The Ba snuggly wraps around most sizes of baby bottle.Available in three colors, the Ba is made of FDA approved silicone (and therefore no risk of BPA or any plastics-related problems). Each easy-to-grasp Ba can fit bottles with neck sizes ranging from 2 to 2.4 inches in diameter, which encompasses a majority of those on the market. The Ba is dependent on baby’s grasp so once a baby lets go, the Ba will gently roll away. That’s good news for tykes who fall asleep while feeding. No more spills, just a gentle drop from mouth to crib or playpen. When not in use to hold the bottle, the Ba doubles as a soft ball toy. You’d think a sleep-deprived mom would have invented this well-designed product that helps baby hold onto the bottle and decreases baby frustration. But no, it took a dad to observe, design, and manufacture the brightly colored Ba. Although necessity is the mother of invention, sometimes it’s the father who sees a need. Inventor Travis Hendricks created Ba with his daughter Matilda in mind once he realized “baby bottles are designed for adult hands.” We like the way form follows function in this dad-designed product, and how it helps to decrease stress in the family from frustrated babies who keep losing grasp of their bottles. www.TheOriginalBaby.com

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

holy night floor puzzle from wee believersO Holy Night floor puzzle (Wee Believers)
All the buzz and commotion at stores around the Holidays can get a bit overwhelming. Puzzles are a great way to slow the family down and do something together. This Nativity Floor Puzzle, from Wee Believers, is huge (2′ x 3′) and has 54 big pieces, making it excellent for the small hands of kids 3 and up. We love puzzles for dads and kids who like them too (sadly, some people are too restless to enjoy them). Dad and child (or children) are able to work together towards a common goal. And while the journey is far, what happens on the way is far more important. Puzzles often give dads and kids a chance to talk about things that may be more difficult in a face to face meeting; kids will surprise you when they have their guard down. Fathers will enjoy helping their kids and watching small minds reason, while having fun and helping teach them teamwork, focus, concentration, and problem solving skills. As dad and child do the puzzle together, they can discuss the meaning of Christmas and the Nativity. www.weebelievers.com

freight train set from bigjigs railFreight Train Set (Bigjigs Rail)
With 130 pieces, theis wonderful train set could almost qualify as a puzzle–but in this case, there’s no single solution. And that makes the hours you’ll spend with your preschooler assembling, tearing down, reassembling, and experimenting even more fun than a puzzle. Emphasis on the with. Sure, you could just unpack the box and turn your child loose, but there’s nothing like building something to give dad and child an terrific opportunity to get to know each other in a low-stress way. Includes brightly colored houses, trees, vehicles that make this a winner for both boys and girls. Ages 3 and up. www.bigjigsrail.com

doodle dome glow crazy from techno sourceDoodle Dome Glow Crazy(Techno Source)
I had a chance to try out this technology at the 2012 Toy Fair in New York, and couldn’t wait to get one to play with my daughter. Unpacking the Doodle Dome took about two minutes, but the two of us spent a lot longer doodling on the light-sensitive walls and ceiling with something that’s kind of a cross between a light saber, a laser pointer, and a flashlight.. The black dome, which is kind of like a pup-tent, theoretically allows you to do your doodling night or day, but it’s not nearly big enough for a dad to get much more than head and shoulders inside–and that lets a lot of light in, which ruins the very cool effect. So you and your child will have to do your doodling at night. But it’s well worth the wait. Ages 3 and up. www.technosourceusa.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

rhino hero from HabaUSARhino Hero (HabaUSA)
This HABA game is for dexterous players five and over. Players work together to build a tower made out of cards (sides and roofs), playing their own roof cards strategically to make it harder for the next player. Complicating matters is small wooden rhino that moves up the tower based on strategically played “rhino cards.” In our family, players from 8 to 54 enjoyed this game, which in early stages we felt we were playing cooperatively, but which in later stages became competitive. This is a fun game for both little and big, but requires steady, hands and a dad who’s not afraid to watch a big mess of cards on the table. www.habausa.com

american doll room American Doll Room (American Doll Room)
If you’re a dad with daughters and you havent’t logged some serious hours playing with dolls, you’d better get on the stick. The American Doll Room started off as a dad-child family project to build playrooms for American Girl Dolls (or any other 18″ dolls). The kits require no assembly–just unfold and set up either an interior room or an exterior yard, which can be decorated any way your daughter likes (your vote will probably not be counted). What’s especially nice–as you can see from the image–is that unlike traditional doll houses, which require you do get down on your hands and knees while you’re playing, and navigate the minefield of tiny doll furniture when you’re not, you can sit on the floor like a big boy. Folds up neatly and stows easily when not in use. Ages 6 and up. www.americandollroom.com

pieces of history puzzles from findit gamesPieces of History Puzzles (Find It Games)

  • “Pharaoh’s Egypt”
  • “On Dry Ground”
  • “Parade of Animals”

We’ve always liked the Find-It games, an assortment of cannisters containing objects hidden in a sea of plastic beans. Now they have introduced a new series of traditional puzzles, Pieces of History, including Pharaoh’s Egypt, Parade of Animals, and Dry Ground. Each has 300 pieces, and within the final image, you can find “hidden” objects that are also found in the border of the puzzle. In Pharaoh’s Egypt, for example, you’ll discover a leopard in a tree, a blue hippo in a market basket, and 38 more hidden objects and animals.This kind of puzzle, played together, can open up conversations about historical times and shared discovery. Ages 6+. www.finditgames.com

grover and elmo iphone app from callaway digitalAnother Monster at the End of This Book…Starring Grover & Elmo! iPhone app (Callaway Digital Arts)
Our initial response to this app/book for iPad was negative. We usually recommend against passive readers that read to your child. However, on this one, we’ll make an exception since it’s from the people at Sesame Street who provide instructions at the beginning of the book on how dads should “read” it and interact with their kids. The book also includes a very lenghty section on different themes dads can discuss with kids, including resolving conflicts, and how to label emotions. Using fun graphic devices only possible in an iPad, kids can interact with the book, even as the words pop up as they are read by the main characters, Elmo and Grover. We would have appreciated the book more if there had been more text for child and parent to read together, but the fun interactivity will involve some dads and motivate them to stick with it, so they too can see the “Monster at the End of This Book.” www.callaway.com

magic schoolbus slime and polymer lab from young scientists clubThe Magic School Bus: Slime and Polymer Lab (Young Scientists Club)
Hop on the Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle and her students! We’ve had the chance to evaluate a number of Magic School Bus products and this one fits the mold: fun, educational, hands-on, and extremely well-designed. In the Slime and Polymer Lab, you and your child(ren) will learn how to make polymers out of milk, grow super-absorbent flowers, dehydrate polymers, and a lot more. Each one comes with the ingredients and instructions you need for the experiments and a data notebook to record observations. And don’t worry–all the materials have an adult section so even if you have no science experience at all, you’ll be able to participate fully. I can’t think of many activities that have brought more fun, bonding, and knowledge to my home than The Young Scientists Club! Ages 5+. www.theyoungscientistsclub.com

magic schoolbus volcanoes from young scientists clubmagic schoolbus magnets from young scientists clubThe Magic School Bus: Science Club (Young Scientists Club)

  • Magnets
  • Solids, Liquids, and Gasses
  • Volcanoes

Can’t get enough of the Magic School Bus (honestly, I’m not sure that’s possible)? Well now you can have a new science adventure delivered right to your home every month if you join the Young Science Club. We had the chance to test drive three kits and absolutely loved them. As with everything else in the Magic School Bus line, these kits come with everything you need to conduct experiments, log your results, and have a blast (in some cases, literally). In Magnets, you and your young scientist will learn how to make pins jump, create magnetic faces, and more. Coolest fact? When they’re very young, cows are given a magnet that sits in their stomach for life. Cows apparently eat nails, wire, and other metal bits. On their own those things would hurt the cow, but the magnet traps them and keeps them from doing harm! In Solids, Liquids, and Gasses, you’ll create gas, a bouncy ball, and some interesting goop. In Volcanoes, you’ll learn the properties of volcanoes by studying the layers of the earth, handling real volcanic rock, building a volcano, and mixing chemicals to create an eruption you and your budding Nobel laureate will want to repeat over and over again. Ages 5-12. www.theyoungscientistsclub.com/themagicschoolbus

codee scorpion from techno sourceCodee Scorpion (Techno Soursce)
Okay, take a look at the scorpion to the left. Pretty hard to believe that it’s made from a single strand of 64 small blocks. But it is. Every Codee kit (there’s a penguin, a pig, and a few more) comes with detailed instructions on how to twist, cajole, rotate, and prod the blocks into submission. Assembling it takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and even more patience, since each block has to be turned in exactly the right way. But it’s a ton of fun. The one drawback is that Codee isn’t really something you can do with a child–except to help with the explanations (although when I was giving it a try on my own, my 9-year old stood over my shoulder correcting my every move). The solution is to get two of them and race or build something unique. You can also connect two or more Codees to create something bigger and more complicated. Ages 8 and up. www.technosourceusa.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

rger” width=”150″ height=”150″ /> Electronic Labyrinth (Ravensburger)
When we first unpacked the Electronic Labyrinth, I was pretty skeptical about the electronic part of it, thinking it would be an excuse to add technology to a board game that had gotten along perfectly well without it for 25 years. But it turns out that the electronics actually adds a lot to the game, injecting elements of randomness and whimsy that wouldn’t have been possible without. The game itself is a lot of fun and involves strategy and planning. The goal is to collect a number of treasures while being sent around the board on quests by the residents–some good, some evil, some a bit of both–of the labyrinth. The twist is that each player can change the path through the labyrinth, which can trash perfectly good plans. A must-have for family game night, and even dad-and-kids night. Ages 9 and up. www.ravensburger.com

city of new york time puzzle from 4dcityscapeThe City of New York time puzzle (4D Cityscape)
This is an absolutely masterful puzzle. You start off by putting together the 500+ piece 2D puzzle of the island of Manhattan. Once that’s done–it’s going to take a while–you add the 3D element by inserting over 100 plastic models of actual New York buildings into the 2D puzzle (which, by the way, features glow-in-the-dark streets). Now the 4D part comes in. The buildings range from ones that would have dominated the skyline as far back as 1812 and move forward through time all the way to 2013, when the Freedom Tower (which will replace the World Trade Centers) will be completed. The box itself includes a poster with a brief history of the city. And an online education feature adds even more to the mix. A blast for patient dads and kids 9 and up. www.4dcityscape.com

array from funnybone toysARRAY card game (Funnybone Toys)
Array is a card game that prompts players to match colors like dominoes. But there’s a twist: players can split the color connections and start new color arrays to use more of their cards and win the game. Additional cards can give you a winning advantage. Array can be played while carrying on a conversation which, like a puzzle, is good when trying to talk with silent kids or awkward teens about their daily lives. Dads will enjoy the graphic design and innovative touches in this dominoes-like card game. www.funnybonetoys.com

One minute we’re unhappy, the next we’re happy. Which is it?

A month or so back I did a post about the latest study showing that parents are less happy, more depressed, and have less satisfying relationships than childless couples. Turns out, though, that the results of that study–and many others that reached similar conclusions over the past few decades–may have been wrong. So it looks like we’re actually happier than people without kids. Hmm.

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Your Husband and Breastfeeding

I’m breastfeeding our baby and I know my husband is 100 percent supportive. But sometimes I can tell that he’s feeling a little left out. Is there anything I can do to help him? How can he be involved in raising our child when so much of it depends on me and breastfeeding?

You know all about how great breastfeeding is, right? That it’s free, that it never runs out, and that breastfed babies’ diapers don’t stink are major advantages. But there’s a lot more. It gives you and your child a great opportunity to bond. It’s also the perfect blend of nutrients for the baby. Breastfed kids have a much lower chance than formula-fed kids of developing food allergies, respiratory- and gastrointestinal illnesses, or of becoming obese as adults. It may also transmit your immunity to certain diseases on to the baby. Pretty much everyone agrees that you should breastfeed for at least a year if you can.
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Sign Language for Babies

I’ve been hearing a lot about teaching children sign language. What’s the deal? Supposedly baby signing teaches the child to communicate. But can’t my child communicate in other ways? Is teaching my baby to communicate while she is so young pushing her too hard? Is it worth doing or is it some kind of scam?

A few decades ago, researchers began to notice that children whose parents were hearing impaired and who taught their children to sign, were able to communicate before they were nine months old. Children with two hearing parents don’t usually have much to say until after their first birthday. If you think about it, using the hands to communicate makes a lot of sense. After all, babies have a lot more control over their fingers and hands than they do over their tongue and mouth.
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Childproofing

Our baby isn’t crawling yet, but he will be pretty soon. Basically he goes for anything within his reach. I’m assuming he’ll be the same way when he starts crawling. What should we do to childproof our house?

Once your baby realizes that he’s able to move around by himself, his mission in life will be to locate–and race you to–the most dangerous, life-threatening things in your home. So if you haven’t already begun the never-ending process of child-proofing your house, better start now.

The first thing to do is get down on your hands and knees and check things out from your baby’s perspective. Taking care of those pesky wires and covering up your outlets is only the beginning, so start with the basics:
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