Toyota RAV4 – Wow!

RAV4

When Toyota called to offer me a week-long test drive, I wished I would have had a long road-trip planned. No such luck. But as it turns out, a week of my regular 25-miles-each-way schlep to take my 10-year-old daughter to and from school, turned out to be a much better way to evaluate a car. So, evaluate it we did. And by “we” I really do mean we: My daughter has some pretty firm opinions about cars. In fact, she’s the one who picked the RAV4 from the list vehicles Toyota offered.

Before we go on, two disclosures. First, no money changed hands around this review, however, I did have the use of a brand spankin’ new Toyota RAV4 for a whole week. The opinions here are all mine—and I did pay for my own gas. Second, my current car is a 1992 Mercedes station wagon, which I got after my then 8-year old daughter and I were in a serious car accident (hit and run, other guy’s fault) and her mother insisted that I drive something safer. There’s no question that an old Mercedes wagon will make you feel safe. But the RAV 4 felt at least as safe—and was infinitely more comfortable.

The RAV4 comes with all sorts of cool features, including a reverse camera so you can see (on the dashboard touchscreen) exactly how close you’re getting to the car behind you. It also has monitor lights on each of the side-view mirrors that flash if someone slips into your blind spot.

I’m not sure how it happened, but half an hour after I got the RAV4, I started getting calls from people who needed large objects moved—objects that would have been too big to fit in my station wagon. The rear seats folded completely flat in about three seconds, and there was plenty of room for an enormous stuffed chair and a few other bulky things.
The RAV4 is pretty tall, so I wasn’t expecting much in the handling department, but I was pleasantly surprised. The car moved through curves with ease. Not quite like a sports car, but with very little sideways lean. Since we did almost equal amounts of highway and city driving, mileage was right in the middle of the advertised 24-city-31-highway range.

The steering wheel has all sorts of buttons that control the stereo and the touchscreen display. Unlike other cars I’ve driven where the buttons are strategically placed so that you change stations or adjust the volume every time you go around a corner, the RAV’s buttons stayed out of the way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to try out some of the car’s other features, including the adjustable power liftgate, which sounds quite handy.

Bottom line, the RAV4 is comfortable, solid, safe (airbags all over the place and all the latest car-seat restraints), and a pleasure to drive. My daughter’s assessment? Two thumbs up. At the end of my week-long test drive, I briefly toyed with the idea of telling the folks at Toyota that the car had been stolen. My conscience won out, though, much to my daughter’s disappointment.

Game On!

Looking to connect with the kids in a virtual way, but still keep a foot in the “real world”? Check out these fun systems and games, perfect for rainy days, nights, or just hangin’ out. OUYA This sleek, new, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean-powered micro-console started life as a Kickstarter campaign, got funded quickly, and hasn’t [...]

A Lovely Review of My Book, “The Military Father”

The Military Father

Sarah Smiley, military wife, mom, columnist, and author of Dinner with the Smileys, just reviewed my book, The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads. Over the years, my books have been reviewed hundreds of times, but this might be the nicest one ever.

Sarah calls The Military Father possibly “the most comprehensive and contemporary book about deployments that I’ve ever read.” And she concludes by saying that the book is “an easy and interesting read sure to make you chuckle. It’s a unique blend of parenting book and military how-to, and for anyone who is about to face a deployment, it will be on my list of recommendations.”

You can read the complete review here.

You can also listen to an interview I did with Sarah about her wonderful book, Dinner with the Smileys, on my radio show, “Positive Parenting,” by clicking here.

Oh, and just FYI, I just released an iOS app based on The Military Father. You (or someone in a military family close to you) can download it–for free–from the Apple App Store. Just look for “Mr. Dad on Military Dads.”

Full text of the article:
‘Military Father’ comes just in time. Or not.
From Ft. Hood Herald — http://kdhnews.com/fort_hood_herald/opinion/military_buzz/military-father-comes-just-in-time-or-not/article_a40e778e-ee56-11e2-ad83-001a4bcf6878.html

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 4:30 am
By Sarah Smiley | 0 comments
Just in time (or not — keep reading), and on the heels of my previous columns about fatherhood and the military, comes Armin Brott’s book “The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads.”
Brott is a former Marine with a syndicated newspaper column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and radio show, “Positive Parenting.” He has built his post-military career around writing and talking about issues of fatherhood and families. But in “The Military Father,” he has written what might possibly be the most comprehensive and contemporary book about deployments that I’ve ever read.

I’ve been a military dependent since the day I was born 36 years ago, so you’d think I know it all. I don’t. I devoured “The Military Father” in the course of a day. And although the advice comes nearly one year too late for me, perhaps it can help someone else.
I knew “The Military Father” was no “Service Etiquette” rerun when I opened to the third page and found a cartoon that in one ink-and-paper sketch sums up many of my deployment experiences, and in particular the year in which we did our “Dinner with the Smileys” project. A mother and two children are eating dinner with a computer at the head of the table. Above the mother it reads, “Julie honey, please refresh your father.”
But of course Brott “gets it;” He’s been there, done that. In the beginning, he introduces himself as a “former Marine,” but quickly follows that up with, “I know, I know, once a Marine, always a Marine.” He was busy writing books (six of them, actually) about fatherhood in general, when he noticed an uptick in 2001 of parenting questions from service members. (Hmmmm. 2001? Probably not a coincidence.) So he decided to write a different kind of book about fatherhood, one geared toward the military family in particular.
Soon after the introduction, Brott further proves his military experience with a text box titled “When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you could still be in.” This made me smile — perhaps you are smiling, too — and my confidence in Brott was sealed. He’s referring to the military’s ability to recall supposedly discharged members who are automatically placed in the Individual Ready Reserve and the “stop loss” fine print whereby a former service member with special training can be called back into service at any time.
Later, Brott had me squarely in his back pocket when he addressed the pink-elephant of a question that surrounds nearly all military deployments. Maybe you are thinking it right now. “Why do military families need a book about coping with deployments? Didn’t they sign up for this? Didn’t they know all this before they married someone in the military?” Brott assures readers — even seasoned military families — that shock, sadness and fear are a natural response to deployments … even when you know that deployments are bound to happen.
“The Military Father” is peppered with great moments like this to make you feel normal. It’s also full of what I’ve come to realize is Brott’s natural wit and humor.
His style is conversational and funny. “Having an argument by e-mail,” he writes, “is like skiing through a revolving door: neither fun nor effective.”
Although Brott makes a disclaimer in the beginning that he is not a doctor (nor a financial planner, accountant, lawyer or congressman), in the section titled “A Brief Overview of Your Child’s Development,” he pegs some of my children as if he lives next door to them (he doesn’t):
“There are pouts galore as your six-to-seven-year-old becomes increasingly taken with the notion that people are unfair and favor everyone else — especially younger children.”
The book is divided into three sections: pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment. Each section addresses the concerns of the service member (“What’s going on with you”), the concerns of the spouse (“What’s going on with your wife”), and the concerns of the children (“What’s going on with your children”).
There is page after page of advice and concrete ways to deal with deployments. Some of these ideas are tired (like counting down the days to homecoming with a jar full of M&Ms), but many of them aren’t, like writing a letter to your child and then cutting it up into a puzzle for them to put together first.
In any case, “The Military Father” is an easy and interesting read sure to make you chuckle. It’s a unique blend of parenting book and military how-to, and for anyone who is about to face a deployment, it will be on my list of recommendations.
Navy spouse Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.

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

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

Seal of Approval Winners, Spring 2012

Mr. Dad Seal of Approval

Seal of Approval Winners, March 2012

 

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Daddy Diaper Changing Toolbox from Fun Stuff 4 BabiesDaddy Diaper Changing Toolbox (Fun Stuff 4 Babies)
One of the few baby shower gifts (besides my books, The Expectant Father and The New Father) created for the dad-to-be. The Daddy Diaper Changing Toolbox is filled with an eclectic combination of useful, practical, and just plain funny gifts, ranging from baby wipes and a pacifier to goggles and a “Poop poncho.” I’m a big believer that changing diapers is a fantastic–and highly underrated–way dads can bond with their babies. So we’re big fans of anything that can get dads in there and getting their hands dirty (hand wipes are included). www.funstuff4babies.com

 

TODDLER AND PRESCHOOL

Animal Upon Animal Stacking Game from HabaUSAAnimal Upon Animal Stacking Game (HabaUSA)
While games for tiny kids aren’t meant specifically for dads, we’ve always found HABA games to be fun to play with too. Of course, when you’re playing with a two-year old, most of the fun is in watching them, but HABA games always have an interesting element that dads will enjoy too. In this game, dads will find that balancing the animals when it’s their turn isn’t necessarily easier just because they are bigger and supposedly have better hand-eye coordination. It’s also a fun traveling toy for young children since they can play with the animals outside the game. Ages 2+. www.habausa.com

Vortex Color Changing Toothpaste by Wright ToothpasteVortex Color Changing Toothpaste (Wright Toothpaste)
The run-up to stories and lights-out is not always the most enjoyable time of the day. A toothpaste might be a strange thing to see in this list, but when a toothpast actually makes brushing fun, we’re totally on board. And we say that anything that takes the friction out of the daily chores of making the bed, taking the dog out, and brushing the teeth means more good, fun family time. www.vortextoothpaste.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Freefall from SimplyFunFreefall(SimplyFun)
Freefall is a very basic strategy game that dads and their 2nd-4th graders will enjoy. Low pressure but still fun enough to keep the dad from wishing he was someplace else. The theme is skydiving and the object is to stay in the landing zone that has most points while taking cards and trying to blow their opponents off course. Ages 6-9. www.simplyfun.com

Let's Drive from SimplyFunLet’s Drive(SimplyFun)
Another low-stress-yet-entertaining game dad can play with the kids. Players collect points as they “travel” through the United States and Canada. A great way for the kids to learn state capitals, scenic locations, and trivia about every state. (Let’s Drive is also a good way for dads to brush up on geography–I have to admit that as a west-coaster, the east coast has always been something of a blur.) Ages 8 and up. www.simplyfun.com

Space It! from SimplyFunSpace It! (SimplyFun)
This is a simple, yet very clever numbers game. Players create sequences of numbered tiles that follow a pattern. For example if the sequence is 2-7-12, the next player would have to play 17 (adding five) or create a completely new sequence utilizing at least one of the numbers that’s already there. For example, a 5 above the 7 and a 9 below. Although the rules say to create sequences only by adding, dads and kids can add a degree of difficulty by allowing for multiplication, subtraction, or division. Ages 8 and up. www.simplyfun.com

SoundIt! from WowopolisSoundIt! card game(Wowopolis)
When I first saw Sound It! at the 2012 Toy Fair I definitely had a why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-before? moment. The basic premise is pretty simple. Each of the 96 playing cards has two parts. One is the description of a sound, say “The sound of something at an amusement park.” The other is an image, which might simple, like a cuckoo clock, or more abstract, like the sky or goo running down a wall. Players have to either guess what the image is based on sounds other players are making, or they have to make the sound in the written clue. It is absolutely uproarious–and something dads and kids of all ages will enjoy playing together. Ages 6+. www.wowopolis.com

Pirate SantaPirate Santa book (Pirate Santa)
Pirate Santa is the story of what happens when a rules-bound Santa refuses to give out gifts to pirate boys and ninja girls. Written completely in rhyming doggerel, this book is a fun bedtime read for rebellious kids and dads who don’t mind a twist on the Santa story and who will love the detailed anime-style illustrations. Ages 5-8. www.piratesanta.com

My Friendship Bracelet Maker Traveler from Crorey CreationsMy Friendship Bracelet Maker Traveler (Crorey Creations)
While we never grew up as surfers wearing ragged yarn bracelets, we proudly wore our daughters’ friendship bracelets, either peeking out from under a dress shirt at work, or worn openly out on the golf course. At a certain point of fatherhood, wearing something silly, or maybe even frilly, like a friendship bracelet is just another expression of love of your own child. Ages 6 and up. www.myfbm.com

Starry Night from Find It GamesStarry Night (Find It Games)
Here’s another winner from the Find It Games company But this one has a twist to match its theme. Starry Night uses glow-in-the-dark figures as the treasure, making this a magical game to take along on camping trips or just for before-bed searching adventures between dad and child. Look closely into a custom star-shaped container to discover 40 items nestled among the brightly colored pellets. Future astronomers will love all the richly detailed items inside; parents and teachers will love the “learn as you play” element. Shapes to find include planets, an alien, a telescope, and even night vision goggles! And of course, this game can be played in full daylight as well as in the car. But the real magic for dads and kids comes when it’s played in a dark room. www.finditgames.com

On the Farm from Find It GamesOn the Farm (Find It Games)
Like the rest of the toys in the Find It line, this one will frustrate and occupy both kids and dads as everyone struggles to hunt down all the items. We keep two of these in car and our kids compete to see how fast they can find the items on long car rides. Makes for a lot fewer “If I have to turn around one more time…” threats. www.finditgames.com

Kool RiderKool Rider (Kool Rider, Inc.)
If you’re a modern dad, you know that the two key ingredients to making a motor noise on bike are a playing card and a clothes pin. You might have some old cards around, but good luck finding that clothes pin–do they even make them any more? Now you can share a key memory of your childhood by attaching the Kool Rider, an almost indestructable plastic card onto your child’s bike. This is one way to help get him or her off the couch to go out and get some bike time. Now, if you can just find that banan seat, you’d be on your way. Ages 5-7. www.koolrider.com

Albert's Insomnia from RJB3 GamesAlbert’s Insomnia (RJB3 Games)
This is one of the most fun–and most educational–games we’ve seen in years. And not a battery or an LED to be seen. There’s a whole backstory about sheep herding, but the basic idea is to use cards to add one to the previous player’s total. Start with cards numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 face up on the table (as in the picture). You can add, subtract, multiply, or divide but can use each card once. So the first player might start with 4-3=1. The next says 4-2=2; the next says 2+1=3. It’s very easy at first but the higher you go, the harder it gets (4×3 is 12, minus 1 is 11, times 2 is 22, for example). Once you max out what you can do with 1, 2, 3, 4 (somewhere around 36–4×3 is 12, 2+1 is 3, 3x 12 = 36) add more cards and it keeps getting more challenging. Great for teaching math skills because all the calculations have to be done in your head. I played this game with a car full of kids and it kept them (and me) busy and entertained for more than an hour. Ages 6 and up. www.rjb3games.com

MyachiMyachi(Myachi)
Did you ever play hackeysack–that game that involves kicking a beanbag kind of thing around? Myachi is similar, except that instead of your feet, you use the backs of your hands. The Myachi itself is a 4″x 1″ sand-filled sack that comes in a variety of colors. You can add to the fun by buying the Battle Paddles (pictured) which also attach to the back of your hand. A fun, physical way of playing with your kids. Their website is filled with videos of the amazing things people are doing with Myachi. So is YouTube. Ages 6 and up. www.myachi.com

Suspend from Melissa and DougSuspend (Melissa and Doug)
Think a combination of the old Pick up Sticks game, the somewhat newer Jenga, and then imagine asking Alexander Calder (the American artist famous for his moblie sculptures) to make something out of it. Suspend consists of 24 notched, rubber-tipped wire rods of different lengths. Players take turns adding pieces–hanging them from a table-top stand–trying hard not to knock the whole thing down. Suspend comes with a set of rules for a variety of games, from beginner to tournament level. Or you can do what my family did, which is just try to build the highest, craziest thing possible. Ages 8 and up (younger kids can play but they may get frustrated). www.melissaanddoug.com

 

TWEENS AND TEENS

Rollick! from The Game ChefRollick!(The Game Chef)
With the volume of games we see here at Mr. Dad and GreatDad, we’d have thought that the world had run out of twists on Charades. But along comes Rollick! and restores our faith in innovation. To start with, this is a game that’s made for a minimum of six (and max of 20) players. It’s got a little bit of everything: competition, collaboration, creativity, and acting, and endless opportunities to make a fool of yourself in public. Be warned: There is no way to play this game quietly. So unless you’ve got wonderful relationsihps with your neighbors, this may not be a Tuesday night activity. Some other great features: You can learn the rules in about two minutes–really. And you can play a whole game in under half an hour. Best of all, it’s something that even your teens won’t be embarrassed to play with you. Ages 13 and up. www.thegamechef.com

KwizniacKwizniac (Kwizniac)
Kwizniac is a trivia countdown game. What does that mean? Well, each card in the deck contains an answer and ten clues, which are listed in decreasing order of difficulty. For example, on one card, the first clue (number 10) is “Philip Astley was the first person to put together the elements for it in 1768.” Huh? So we’d move on to the next one (9) “It has been around since the Ancient Romans.” Still huh? The clues get progressively easier until the last one (number 1) is “Clowns are common in this form of entertainment.” Got it? The circus. The object is to get the answer with the fewest number of clues. Great fun for dads, kids, and the whole family. Ages 12 and up. www.kwizniac.com

 

FAMILY CONSOLE GAME
Kinect Sports Season Two from KinectKinect Sports Season Two
(Kinect)
The Saturday before I was planning to test this game my bike got stolen from a movie theater where I’d ridden with my daughter. With the the promised long ride we’d planned for Sunday off, we decided to toss Kinect Sports Season Two into the Xbox and spent a few hours throwing footballs, tossing darts, smacking tennis balls, and sweating up a storm. Monday morning I was so stiff from head to toe that I could barely move (and, modesty aside, I’m in pretty good shape). When I went to roll my daughter out of bed for school–we’re talking about an 8-year old here–she’s practically immobile. This was, really and truly, one of the most fun games we’ve ever played together. www.xbox.com/kinect