Seal of Approval Winners, Spring 2011

Pocket Referee (Vraney, Inc.)
We love the Pocket Referee. It’s a very simple, very low-tech solution to one of the worst parts of being a parent: having to continually play King Solomon to children arguing over whose turn it is, or who gets the last cookie. The Pocket Referee is a silver dollar-sized coin (it comes in gold or antique brass finish) that passes from child to child. The holder of the coin either uses it to be the current decider and passes it on to the other child, or holds on to it when the decision just isn’t that important to him. This is a dad-invented product that deserves a shot if you have two or more kids who fight about every decision. And don’t we all?
www.thepocketreferee.com

Periodic Quest (Periodic Quest)
Periodic Quest is a game that will orient the whole family toward the Table of Elements. We recommend this product only for dads who have at least a basic familiarity with the Table of Elements. Dads expecting to learn science along with their kids may get a little frustrated, but if you’re interested in chemistry and you want to share your passion with your kids, this game is a real winner. For ages 12 and up.
www.periodicquest.com

Daddy Sneaks (by Sharlene Weingart)
In this charming story by Sharlene Weingart, Daddy–a goateed, hip-looking guy–takes the whole family, pets and all, camping. You’d think that in 2011 there would be more books with positive father role models. Sadly, no. But that just makes the engaged, loving, caring–and kinda sneaky–Dad stand out even more. Ages 3-6.
www.mommytakesaway.com

BANANAGRAMS
APPLETTERS
PAIRSinPEARS
ZIP-IT
(Bananagrams)
If you like Scrabble, Anagrams, and Boggle, you’ll love all four of these games. Actually, you’ll love them even if you’ve never heard of those other games. Besides being really fun, they all have a few things in common: boys and girls will both enjoy them, they’re fast–no sitting around waiting for everyone else to take their turn, you don’t need a board or even pencil and paper, they can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids, they come in really cute packages, and they’re a great way to help early gradeshoolers with spelling and those know-it-all teens and tweens build their vocabulary. Oh, and they’re addictive as hell.

Bananagrams is the one that started it all. Players turn over tiles and race to be the first to use them all, cross-word style.

Appletters offers a fun twist on Bananagrams by allowing words to be built from only the first or last letters. So instead of a crossword you’ll end up with more of a snake. It’s actually three separate games in one–each appropriate for a different age group.
PairsInPears stays true to it’s word-bilding roots, but adds a memory and matching component. Very fast paced.

Zip-It might be the fastest of them all–you can play a hand in under 20 seconds–but you’ll want to stick with it for longer than that. Zip-It uses lettered cubes (like dice) instead of tiles and the zippers on the carrying case are used to keep score. Again, lots of fun for everyone.
www.bananagrams.com

Baby Goes Pro DVD (Baby Goes Pro)
This DVD introduces toddlers to five popular sports: baseball, basketball, golf, tennis, and soccer. It was created by tennis pro Gigi Fernandez. The idea is to introduce very young kids to sports while giving them a chance to see real athletes in action–all coached by a pretty entertaining monkey. No guarantees that your baby will be the next Tiger Woods (on the course, not off) or Cy Young winner, but it’s a great way for dad to open the door to sports in a low-presure, fun way. Ages 3-6.
babygoespro.com/m

Create Your Own Floor Puzzle (Cobble Hill)
This is one of these “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” things. A blank, 36-piece jigsaw puzzle that provides a great opportunity for dads and kids to work on a cool project together. But with Mother’s Day just around the corner, it might also be a fun way to make a memoriable, meaningful gift for mom.
www.cobblehillpuzzles.com

Kids Photo Growth Chart (Kangaroom)
Watch your child grow by feet and inches and have the photos to prove it! If you have kids, you have photos (from school, sports teams, birthdays, holidays, etc.), and until now, you probably haven’t had a good way to display those yearly photos!! Our brand new Kid’s Photo Growth Chart-a totally unique way to keep track of your child’s growth physically, as well as in photos. This hanging organizer can be customized as your child grows and changes: one side for photos of your child and the other side for photos of favorite friends or family. Customizable labels and personality cards (to record favorite things and thoughts for each age) are made to slip in front or behind photos to create a lasting keepsake of childhood! Don’t let your child’s photo history sit in a messy drawer any longer!
www.greatusefulstuff.com

Gogo Kidz Travelmate(GoGo Babies)
If you’ve ever had to shlepp a sleeping infant or toddler through the airport to the very last gate in the furthest terminal, your back is probably still sore. Next time pich up the Travelmate. It’s kind of like a hand truck that enables you to roll that car seat with ease. Not only saves your back, but can do wonders for your mood as well. So when your child wakes up, you’ll be ready to play.
www.gogobabyz.com

Koobli(Koobli)
If you come home and your son or daughter is often covered in paint, flour, or mud, then the Kobli smock is for you. It’s just a simple, water-repellent shirt that you put on backwards like a hospital gown. It covers you from the waist up with elastic at the wrists to keep you clean if you either are diving in for a welcome home hug or to take part in the activity. The Koobli is not for the dad of any child, but you’ll know immediately if this is a lifesaver for you.
www.koobli.com/

Wet Happened? Zippered Wet Bag (ItzyRitzy)
We don’t know how moms handle it, but we’ve found ourselves many times at the pool with wet children and now soaking wet bathing suits to carry out in the cold air and then drop, soggy, onto the floor of the car for the ride home. With all the chlorine on the floor and floor mats, I’m surprised it hasn’t faded the fabric. Itzy-Ritzy makes just the thing for this problem: The Wet Happened? bag. It’s a nice cloth bag on the outside with a zipper closure that keeps the water in. Perfect when you take kids to the pool, or need to stash wet stuff to put in the suitcase for a trip home after a day at the beach. Yes, a plastic bag, does the same thing, but sometimes dads like a gadget that does something better and cleaner–and sometimes the kids want to make a fashion statement.
www.itzyritzy.com

Easy Stroll (Goosey Loo Industries)
Okay, if you’re over 5′ 8″, most strollers just aren’t comfortable. Some come with extendable handles, which makes taking the kids out for a walk less painful. But not all do. The Easy Stroll gives you complete, one-hand stroller operation, which allows you to stand up like a real Homo Sapiens and relieves some of the stress on your shoulders. Installs on any stroller in minutes.
www.easystroll.com

Doodle Roll (Imagination Brands)
The Doodle Roll is a fun addition to a bag to take to the restaurant or on a plane ride. It’s a low-cost roll of paper, prepackaged with crayons. Creative dads will use it to doodle and draw along with their kids as they might in a restaurant that provides paper tablecloths and crayons for the whole family. The unique on-the-go dispenser, handy crayon-caddy and safe tear-away edge allows Dad to interact as much or as little as he and his children choose. It’s also a fun way to engage in free-spirited doodling without the limit placed on kids by the four sides of a sheet of paper. Dads can also use it to play simple games like battleship and tic-tac-toe, the only limit is your knowledge of games. It also makes a great way to make a banner for Mother’s Day.
www.doodleroll.com

XRanger 2000 (Xploderz)
Maybe it’s the Marine in me (you know what they say, once a Marine…), but I have nothing against guns–as long as they’re used safely. In our house the shoot-above-the-knee-and-you-lose-it-for-a-day rule is set in stone. But even if you’re not a big gun fan, it’s hard to miss the entertainment value in the XRanger 2000 (the 2000 refers to the number of rounds of ammo that are included). Aimed at kids who’ve outgrown the soft darts but are too young for paintball, the Xploderz firing system (they deliberately stay away from the word “gun”) shoots a soft, round, water/gel pellet that explodes harmlessly on contact. Easy to clean up and doesn’t stain. And, in case someone does shoot above the knee, it’s completely painless (I had my daughter shoot me in the chest from five feet away and didn’t feel a thing). .
www.xploderz.com/

Wii Party (Nintendo Wii game)
Take Mario Party 8 and remove the tedium of waiting between mini-games and use your own avatar rather than playing as Mario and you have a good idea what Wii Party is all about. It’s big, big collection of mini-games that gives a fun play option for everyone in the family. We loved it. It’s simple to play. People can move in and out, and games are short enough that no one gets bored. All games can be played by almost any age at some level.
wiiparty.nintendo.com/

SnoozeShade (SnoozeShade)
There’s always one parent who is more concerned with plastics or air quality or over-doses of sun exposures. For the dad who is the worrier in the family, the Snooze Shade is a simple solution for outdoor strolls. It’s UPF 50+, breathable black fabric, so perfect for letting junior sleep even in bright glare while protecting his young skin, blocking out 94% of sun’s rays. It can also be used to shade from insects.
www.snoozeshade.com/

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2010*

Avio Stroller (Inglesina)
The Avio is a sleek, lightweight, yet sturdy stroller. The single bar design allows for one-handed operation, which frees up your other hand to hold another child, drink your coffee, or talk on the phone (but shouldn’t you be paying attention to your child?). It comes with a cup holder, rain protector, a window that allows you to keep an eye on your baby, and a few other options. Rear shocks make for a somewhat smoother ride. And it fits Graco, Britax, and Peg Perego car seats. It’s a nice-looking stroller that won’t make you feel embarrassed to be seen pushing it. The one big problem is that that the handles don’t extend, which means that anyone over about 5′ 8″ will be stooping after a while. I guess you could use your extra hand to hold an ice pack… Price: around $500.
www.inglesina.com

Olive Kids website (Olive Kids)
It’s pretty hard, these days, to find bedding and other decor items for kids’ rooms that aren’t commercials for some TV show or movie or toy or character. So if you’ve had it with superheroes, Disney princesses, Pixar characters (don’t get me wrong–I love Pixar movies, but sometimes I need a break), Bob the Builder, Thomas, Scooby Do, GI Joe, and all the rest, you’ll definintely want to check out the Olive Kids website. They’ve got blankets, sheets, pillows, clocks, growth charts, plates, backpacks, lunch boxes, and lots more–all of which are attractive, well made, can be personalized with your child’s name, and are mostly under $50. Our kids are becoming brand conscious at younger and younger ages. Making your child’s room an ad-free zone might help slow the tide.
www.olivekids.com

Fire Truck (Green Toys, Inc.)
Put out 3-alarm blazes. Rescue kittens from treetops. Protect the environment from harm. That’s just a typical day in the life of the Green Toys Fire Truck, billed as “the world’s greenest emergency vehicle.” Made from 100% recycled plastic milk containers, this solidly built toy will stand up to even the most brutal dives out of second-story windows. The roof ladder pivots vertically and rotates 360 degrees, and the two side ladders are removeable. No BPA, PVC, or phthalates, so assuming you let your child play with this cute-as-a-button toy, it’s okay for him to put it in his mouth.
www.greentoys.com

Ice Age Excavation Kit
Crystal-Growing Trees
IR Cockroach
(Wild Creations)
Wild Creations keeps coming up with new ideas to stimulate science learning among young kids. The Ice Age Excavation Kit is a fun way for kids to get some insight into what it’s like to break open a pile of rock and find dinosaur bones. Developed under supervision of a paleontologist, dads can expect this toy to open up real discussions on dinosaurs, time, and geology.

Crystal-Growing Trees continue the theme of making science accesible and engaging for kids and adults. The package says it’s for ages 10 and up. But even kids who are way too young to care about the science will have fun creating a tree and watching the crystals grow.

Once you get past the yech factor, the remote-controlled IR Cockroach is another science project masquerading as a fun toy. Kids and dads will have fun examining the real life details of this giant cockroach (it’s about the size of a cantaloupe), and likely terrorizing mom, especially with its “prepare and scare” mode, which allows the toy to sit idle for 30 seconds before it comes to life. www.wildcreations.com

CitiBlocs (CitiBlocs)
Besides being fun, playing with blocks is a great brain builder. If you give your kids a chance to get near your box of CitiBlocs–which now come in an explosion of colors: orange, pink, red, yellow, and natural–they’ll benefit too, learning reasoning, problem solving, cause and effect, engineering, and improvising. Besides being educational, CitiBlocs are safe, green, and infinitely adaptable. They come in packs of 50, 100, and 200 blocs. If you can, get the bigger pack.
www.CitiBlocs.com

Terra Kids Experimental Box Knack of Knots (HABA)
For those of us who missed the boy scouts, didn’t join the Navy, and aren’t into bondage, and this battery-free kit includes everything you’d ever want to know about knot tying. Aimed at kids 8 and up, the Knack of Knots comes with detailed instruction cards, ropes, and even things to tie together. A wondeful way to strengthen those father-child ties.
www.habausa.com

Elf Magic (Elf-Magic)
Elf Magic is really a kit to create a new holiday tradition in your house. The idea is for dad to use the elf toy to represent Christmas magic for young kids. While this isn’t the kind of thing that all dads are going to spark to, we like the kit that comes with Elf Magic that helps guide dads in creating new holiday activities to delight a child.

http://www.elf-magic.com/

Balance Math & More! (The Critical Thinking Company)
The Balance Math & More! activities sharpen your child’s critical thinking skills, computational skills, and develop algebraic reasoning. The first book in the series focuses on addition and subtraction of whole numbers. The spiraling difficulty level is designed to scaffold a child’s conceptual understanding of the targeted operations from beginning to advanced. A great way to make learning math fun–for your child and for you.
www.criticalthinking.com

Piggyback Rider(Full Sail International, LLC)
There’s a point, somewhere around the time our kids turn three, that they make the transition from “able to walk just fine” to “unwilling to walk no matter how many times and how nicely you ask.” Unfortuately, even though most dads really love to carry their kids, that’s just about the same time that our backs start to give out. This is where Piggyback Rider comes in. Designed to accommodate kids as heavy as 60 pounds (although it’s better suited for kids 50 pounds and under), this well-built product shifts the child’s weight forward, over your hips, for a less-back-destrying ride. Handles on the shoulder straps (the ones over Dad’s shoulders) enable your child to hang on tight without choking you out.
www.thepiggybackrider.com/

Preschool Building Set
Power Sweeper
Constrction World II
Rok Works Construction & Action Set
(Rokenbok)
If you’ve got a budding engineer or builder on your hands, he or she (and you too, Dad), will love these blocks. With the Preschool Building Set, kids as young as two or three can start creating working, 3-dimensional working models of buildings, vehicles, planes and more.

One of the nicest features of the Rokenbok kits is that all the pieces work with each other. So as your child gets older you can add new and different blocks and build even more complicated structures. The Power Sweeper is perfect for older preschoolers.

The Construction World II and Construction & Action Set add in even more complicated structure, plus kids, when their dads will give it up, can incorporate engines and other moving parts and create vehicles that can be driven by remote control. Truly a building system that will grow with your child.
www.rokenbok.com/

3D Sneaky Puzzle, Singin’ Sea Creatures
Stir ‘em Up
Word Shout
(Patch)
Has anyone else noticed that just about everything is in 3D? Patch’s 3d Sneaky Puzzle is no exception–it even comes with 3D glasses. The puzzle itself is colorful, engaging, and pretty easy for toddlers and preschoolers to put together. But Patch adds a fun degree of difficulty by cleverly hiding all the letters of the alphabet and numbers 0-9 among the seashells, lobsters, and other undersea life.

Stir ‘em Up is no ordinary word game. To start with, there’s no sitting around waiting forever while everyone else takes their turn–everyone plays at the same time, making words out of letter tiles. Kind of like Scrabble, but with the letters constantly changing. For ages 8 and up, it’s great for vocabulary building, speed reading, and just plain old family fun.

Another fun game for kids 8 and up, Word Shout is like a combination of Boggle, Yahtzee, Scrabble, and a crazy day on the trading floor of the stock exchange. It’s designed to be played in 20-30 minutes so there’s never a boredom factor.
www.patchproducts.com

7 Function Binoculars
Bug-Eye Headlight
(Coghlan’s)
The Bug-Eye Headlight is perfect for kids (and grownups) who enjoy the outdoors–or who just like to read under the covers. Easier to hold on to than a regular flashlight and leaves both hands free if you’re camping and out in the middle of the night looking for a tree to pee on. The light is adjustable and since it’s powered by an LED, you’ll never have to worry about replacing bulbs (batteries still need replacing).

Like the Headlight, the 7 Function Binoculars are great for getting kids up and off the couch and into the great outdoors. It really does have seven functions, all of which encourage exploration and learning: binoculars, monocular, magnifying glass, linen counter, compass, stereoscope, and signal mirror. A great way to teach about directions, compases, and orienteering.
www.coghlans

Kim and Tim: The Color and Number Squirrels (HABA)
We had a lot of fun with the Haba Kim and Tim game. Like all Haba games, this one has a real appreciation about how kids play and what levels are right for different ages. The age range identified on the box is 3-6, which seems about perfect. My almost 7 year old son enjoyed the game, but he was clearly on the advanced side of the spectrum. My ten year old played patiently, and I was able to see the game through the eyes of a dad with the slightly younger child just learning shapes, colors and numbers. While the game uses a die and healthy amount of luck, there is some skill and memory involved in winning, especially if you’re only four years old, unlike other simple board games that would bore anyone over seven. Dads will enjoy playing this game with little kids, if only to watch their little minds turn through the challenges, albeit very simple for an older child.
www.habausa.com

Sports Resort (Nintendo Wii game)
Dads and kids who enjoy playing the Wii will have a ton of fun with Wii Sports Resort. Recently endorsed by the American Heart Association as an active video game, many of these games will get you out of your seat to play beyond a beginner level. The game includes new activities such as table tennis, frisbee, and swordplay, all requiring new skills. Many of the games can be played with three or four players, though most also require a Motion Plus accessory that attaches to the bottom of the Wii-mote. All games can be played by almost any age at some level.
WiiSportsResort.com

Kabongo website (Kabongo)
Unlike a lot of learning games online, my kids were engaged with Kabongo. The characters are engaging, in a snarky and silly sort of way, and the language learning games are well integrated into the game without seeming like an add-on. As dads, we especially like the weekly emails that tell what your child is playing at and doing, along with ideas on how to further develop their cognitive skills. This is the first game we’ve seen that actively involves parents, and we we hope they add more features like this.
www.kabongo.com

Power Strike Quick Fire 48 Blaster (Prime Time Toys)
If you don’t approve of guns, skip this product. But if you don’t mind your kids playing with firearms (toys, of course), this is a blast. It’s essentially a hand-held Gatling gun for kids. Unlike most other “harmless” toy guns (like marshmallow shooters, super soakers, and foam dart crossbows), the Power Strike is battery powered, which turns this baby into a battle-ready weapon. It has a payload of 48 darts, which can be launched as far as 48 feet. A good pre-paintball weapon. And it provides ample opportunity to teach your child about empathy, the importance of followoing rules, and consequences for not listening (in my house, the general rule is if you hit anyone above the knees, you’re disarmed for the rest of the day).
www.primetimetoys.com

The Mr. Dad Seal of Recognition

Not every product or service we evaluated met our strict criteria of helping dads get or stay involved with their children and improve the quality of father-child relationships. But there were some entries that we felt were worth noting.

From My Mama’s Kitchen: Food for the Soul, Recipes for Living, by Johnny Tan
Johnny Tan cooks up a tasty story of motherly love. Tan, who moved to the U.S. from Malaysia when he was 18. Since that time, he had the good fortune to meet nine different women, each of whom he lovingly refers to as “mom.” Tan incorporates each mom’s wisdom and guidance–along with a few recipes–as he explores the meaning of motherly love. It’ll help you appreciate your own mom a bit more, and the mom of your children a lot more.
www.frommymamaskitchen.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Fall 2010*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Rumparooz Cloth Diapers (KangaCare)
If you’ve been avoiding using cloth diapers, you’re about to run out of excuses. To start with, they’re adjustable, so you don’t have to wait for your baby to reach a certain size. Thanks to super absorbent, natural material and a patented “gusset” system on the diaper itself, even the gooiest messes stay where they’re supposed to. They’re also hypo-allergenic and very low in toxins. And finally, they come in a wide variety of snazzy colors and patterns. But best of all, they encourage dads to get more involved in what we think is a highly underrated way to bond with your baby. At around $25 each, they’re a little pricey, but your baby will never look better. www.kanga-care.com

BestView Handheld Color Video Monitor (Summer Infant)
Not all that long ago, parents who wanted to be sure their baby was safe had to make do with listening for cries, or tiptoeing into the room to peek. Then, along came audio baby monitors, which made parents wonder what they ever did before. Now, with a full-color, digital display, the BestView is destined to be the latest “how-did-we-ever-get-along-without-this” gadget. With the pan and zoom features, even the most squirmy baby won’t be able to hide. Battery life could be longer, but at least it’s rechargeable. www.summerinfant.com/

Sound Beginnings (Creative Baby, Inc)
Sound Beginnings is a comfortable, fabric band that allows mom and dad to share music and voice with baby-to-be safely and easily. An easy-to-use, record-anywhere feature makes it possible for dads (and others) to even record their voice by phone if they can’t be there during the pregnancy. A great feature for dads who are deployed or who are on the road a lot. www.creative-baby.com

First Toddle (First Toddle)
One of the frustrating things about baby gyms and play blankets is that they tend to be good only for a few months. But First Toddle is designed to stay with your baby from 3 months to three years. With a soft football, field hockey stick and ball, and soccer goal and basketball hoop, this is a budding sports dad’s dream. There are also plenty of other things for the baby to bat and smack around. Our reviewers noted that one of the nicest features is the absence of electronics. No batteries, no flashing lights, no sounds (except for your baby’s giggles). Easy set-up and breakdown, and an all-around great way to hang with your baby. www.firsttoddle.com/

Sleep Tight and Enjoy the Ride (books by Suzy Martyn)
I had the chance to interview author Suzy Martyn on my radio show, “Positive Parenting” (you can hear the interview here), and she’s a smart, entertaining, wise, and very practical woman. These two slim-but-information-packed books are filled with terrific tips and advice on how to handle some of the most common–and most vexing problems new parents face. The more confident you feel in your own abilities as a dad (or mom), the more comfortable you and your baby will be with each other. And that’s an essential part of building a strong relationhip. www.mothersfriendsos.com

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

E-Z Bat baseball toy (Monkey Business Sports)
The E-Z Bat makes it easier for kids to hit the ball. Good for developing confidence, but also more fun for dad. If you’ve ever spent a half hour tossing unhit pitches and chasing balls that are behind your child, E-Z Bat is a good option for a more fun-filled practice session, until they get old enough to hit the ball. www.monkeybusinesssports.com

Matryoshka Madness! Nesting Doll (Matryoshka Madness!)
If you’re the father of a daughter, you’ve probaby figured out that one of the best ways to spend quality time with your girl is to break out the dolls. And these Russian nesting dolls (Matryoshkas) are no exception. But unlike the original wooden ones from Russia and Eastern Europe (which were so easily breakable that they just weren’t fun to play with), these are made of durable ABS plastic. They also come in a variety of themes, inluding traditional folk costumes, puppies, and fairies. But in an attempt to woo little boys, there are also pirates, monsters, ninjas (pictured), and wrestlers. (www.matryoshkamadness.com/

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Book Pig (Book Pig)
BookPig is a Netflix-style book site for kids that helps kids choose a specific number of books to rent each month. The recommendation engine is especially powerful and helps dads know their kids are safe at a site that only has books that are appropriate for their age. Children’s Book award-winner lists also help dads pick out the best books for kids to to try. www.bookpig.com

Eco Acquarium (Wild Creations)
The Ecoquarium is an easy-to-set-up tank that comes complete with two adorable miniature frogs and a year’s worth of food. It’s extremely easy to take care of–and more fun for dads and kids–than fish. The “eco” part means it doesn’t require much cleaning or maintenance. www.wildcreations.com

Land of Me Interactive (Made in Me)
An interactive “book” that provides a great opportunity for dads and kids to play together. Kids learn basic concepts like shapes, colors, and numbers. They can choose characters, make plot decisions, and visualize the choices they make. Meanwhile, Dad can read background information to discuss with the kids. Other tools give off-line cutouts of puppets, masks, and maps. www.madeinme.com/

FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Zuvo Water Purator (Zuvo)
An eco-friendly solution for making tap water safe for the whole family to drink.
We liked now easy it was to install on a standard faucet, and the kids enjoy watching it working as the water bubbles through the cool blue UV light. Plus it satisfies a little bit of that provide-protector thing so many dads have.
www.zuvowater.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2010*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Checklists for the New Dad, by Joe Deyo
This book is book designed to equip and energize new fathers and help reduce the stress on new mothers. Each chapter concludes with a user-friendly to-do list to keep new dads involved and on the right track with the mother and with the child. A better partner and a better parent is the result.www.dadchecklists.com

Deluxe, stain-resistant, washable Bibagogo Bib (ISISnders)
Bibagogo is such a simple idea that it must have been invented by a dad! Dads love to have items like this in the diaper bag and at the ready. The Bibagogo is a nicely stylish bib that comes rolled with everything baby needs for mealtime (well, except the food). While a lot of moms don’t like this kind of extra item, dads will appreciate having it in the bag ready for when they need to feed baby, and realize someone forgot to pack the bib and cutlery. May not be for moms or others who don’t like keeping track of pieces, but for those of us dads who like knowing we’re well prepared and everything has a place, this rocks. www.isisunders.com

Pregnancy Art Kit (ArtBellies)
Inspired by Japanese ink prints, Art Bellies Kits allow you to create your own paintings based on the silhouette of your pregnant partner. The kits provide everything you need to make at least three very different and unique prints of this memorable time. No prior art experience is needed. www.artbellies.com/

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

Bucket with valve (HABA)
For beachbound dads this summer, we love the Haba line of beach toys. They make engineering a castle a snap. We tried their collapsible pail, which includes a valve perfect for filling the moat or just making mud. And if you’re missing a chance to play with your kids or hiding behind a newspaper, your child may open the valve on your head. The pail is collapsible, so it even will fit in your suitcase, along with the inflatable beach toys. Ages 3 years and up. www.habausa.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Faces iMake(Faces iMake)
Faces iMake reminds us of the art of Guiseppe Archimboldo, the 16th century Italian painter, famous for his portraits made up entirely of a collage of fruits and vegetables. In Faces iMake too, the user moves objects around to represent key faces of the face, though has a far wider palette of things to choose from. We like this application as an innovative way to look at the world, and to teach kids, probably 8+ the use of symbols and metaphors. A button can be an eye or a nose, for example. Faces iMake encourages creativity, imagination, and playtime together. Dad can challenge kids to make faces of the whole family, and then share them by email or Facebook. www.facesimake.com

Mega Bubble, giant bubble creator (Wild Creations and UK Science Museum)
Oh, come on. You’ve always wanted to make a bubble big enough to contain a person, haven’t you? Well, now’s your chance. The Mega Bubble bubble creator will let you do exactly that. The kids will have a ton of fun trying to encapsulate you, and you’ll marvel at just how far an incredibly thin wall of soap film can stretch. Good, clean, entertainment for the whole family (but keep the bubbles out of everyone’s mouth). Ages 3+. www.wildcreations.com

Hologram Chamber (Wild Creations)
We’re not quite sure what makes the Hologram Chamber quite so intriguing, but it’ll definitely get everyone’s attention. Drop in just about any object and ask some unsuspecting person to grab it. You and the kids will have a lot of fun trying to fool each other. And once they’re in bed, you’ll have even more fun on your own–trying to figure out how it works. We’re still a ways away from R2D2′s holographic projection of Princess Leah (from Star Wars), but it’s still an amazing illusion. Ages 3+. www.wildcreations.com

Radio-controlled Rattle Snake (Wild Creations and the UK Natural History Museum)
Let’s start with a warning. Be very careful who’s around when you and the kids fire up this creepily accurate replica of the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. Even when you know what it is, you’ll still be momentarily freaked out when you see it zig-zagging around your house, tongue flickin in and out, rattling its tail. So expect to peel mom (or anyone with a heart condition) off the ceiling if you don’t warn her before letting the kids loose with this baby. Ages 5+. www.wildcreations.com

Buzzwire Bomb (Wild Creations)
There may be some scientific lessons to learn here, but all our reviewers could talk about was the fun aspect. The Buzzwire Bomb can be used by just about anyone in the family–especially those who like to be scared. The principle is similar to the old Operation game–but the baloon explosions happen compeltely randomly. So while a steady hand might help you in the short run, it won’t keep your heart from skipping a beat when you finally get that POP!!! Ages 5 and up. www.wildcreations.com

Splash Bat (Prime Time Toys)
Splash Bomb® Splash Bat is a colorful foamball with a durable nylon/cloth covering that you soak in water to make a game of bat and ball that much more excitng. Fun for dads and kids, and an inexpensive way for dad to buy some water fun for the kids. And if you’re not in the mood to get wet, you can still have plenty of dry bat-and-ball fun. www.primetimetoys.com

PeeWee Kit (PeeWeePC)
The PeeWee Kit is a superb computer bundle featuring PeeWee Privacy and PeeWee Patrol, PeeWee’s exclusive security suite for online and offline safety, and a USB perloaded with five different educational and fun games. The PeeWee Kit not only helps parents promote education but also gives parents piece of mind knowing that their child is using a safe and secure PC. www.peeweepc.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

Arimaa (Arimaa)
Arimaa is a modern strategy game similar to chess but uses simple and intuitive rules that are easy for children to learn. The animal theme pieces makes the game more interesting for children as it helps them develop logic, concentration and planning skills. http://arimaa.com/

Wallace & Gromit Water Rocket (Wild Creations)
Judgment call. The Water Rocket is clearly labeled as “not a toy.” But it’s so much fun that you’ll want to share it with the whole family. You’ll need a big, empty area and a water supply. Depending on the ratio of water, pressure, launch angle, and the proximity of obstacles such as houses and windows, you can send the rocket soaring up to 200 feet! What’s especially nice about the Water Rocket is that it’s something dads and teens can (and will actually want to) do together–and that’s a very rare thing. Definitely keep away from small children. www.wildcreations.com

FAMILY Wii GAME

New Super Mario Brothers for Wii (Nintendo)
Family Wii games aren’t a slam-dunk. While the Wii is perfect for family play, too many titles are ported from Playstation or XBox and are really made for single players. Nintendo’s Mario Brothers, however, is a game that has always been available for multiple players (two), and the new Super Mario Brothers for Wii now allows four players on that the same time. That means dad and two kids can jump, run, swim, and fly in the unique Mario world with familiar characters like Bowser and Luigi. Dads who, almost a generation ago, were experts at the original Mario Brothers, can connect with kids with their own insider knowledge of cheats and tricks. www.nintendo.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Spring 2010*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Just Ask Baby (JustAskBaby.com)
New dads often ask themselves, Why is my baby so upset, and why can’t I get him to stop crying? Why is it so hard to understand what she wants? Well, now you can get the answer to those and a lot of other questions by logging on to justaskbaby.com, a video resource that will give you a science-based tour of your baby’s world—from his perspective—guided by Joey, a wisecracking 9-month old who may remind you of the E-trade baby. www.Justaskbaby.com

The Organic Classic Sorter and Stacker (Dandelion, by RethinkIt)
have soft plush fabrics with multiple textures and sounds to engage baby and develop fine motor and sensory skills. The Sorter and Stacker encourage dad and baby play as baby learns to sort and stack with dad’s help. Organic fabrics mean that the Stacker and Sorter are better for our environment too, something that every dad would be proud to give to their baby. www.dandelionforbaby.com/

TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

Zoodles (Zoodles)
Most dads believe that computers can help their kids learn, but who has the time to scour the web for fun, educational, safe content? Enter the Zoodles Kids’ Browser , which does all the work for you so you can concentrate on having fun with your child instead of worrying whether something inappropriate (or downright frightening) will pop up on the screen. And if you happen to step away for a minute or two (hey, we all do), you won’t have to worry about your child reformatting your hard drive. www.Zoodles.com

Thinker Doodle Clues and Choose (The Critical Thinking Company)
Thinker Doodles may look like coloring books, but they’re way, way more. Cleverly integrated with the colorful, engaging, fun activities are terrific lessons in critical and organizational thinking, mathematical reasoning, reading, writing, and more. A wonderful way for dad to connect with his 4-6-year old. www.Criticalthinking.com

Giggle Bellies DVD (Cookie Dough Productions)
Tired of the same old kids’ songs sung in the same old ways? Yaaaawn. The gigglebellies DVD will get dad, kids, and anyone else within ear- and eyeshot, up and dancing. A fun, fresh, entertaining approach that breathes new life into the old standards. www.TheGiggleBellies.com

Deluxe Travel Chair (Snazzy Baby)
This is the type of gear dads love. This fold-out “chair” straps to any restaurant (or home) chair to make a temporary high chair restraint system. Other systems exist to do this, but what we like best is the way this simple piece of fabric folds up into itself in a nice pouch, which makes it easy to throw into a diaper bag for travel. The Chair is good for babies who can sit unsupported, up to 37 lbs (17Kg), or from around five months to three years. It also works in shopping carts. www.SnazzyBaby.au

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Clek Oobr child booster seats (Magnaclek)
While other boosters are functional and some even sleek, the Clek Oobr is ahead of its time. It’s hot. It’s fashionable. It inspires awe. And, it’s a pretty good booster as well.—one that’s sure to be your child’s favorite. It’s pitched as being for kids 4 to 12, but that will depend on the size of the child and, realistically, their willingness to stay in booster seat. Designed by auto seat designers, to be super sturdy and protective, there is no plastic-y feel about it. Unfortunately, that makes it very heavy compared to simpler seats. We’re grateful it almost never leaves the back seat. www.magnaclek.com

StoryBoy e-book reader (StoryBoy)
An innovative e-book reader and library portal application for iPhones and iPod touch devices that provides animated and interactive storybooks for children up to age seven. Supported by an online library of original and public domain content, StoryBoy combines animation technology with the power of wireless networks to directly deliver educational, entertaining, kid-safe, and parent-approved e-books to parents and children everywhere. www.storyboy.net

Elia Miniature Cardboard Chair Kit (Vat19)
A great first-building-project for dads and young children. With no tools required, even the least-handy dads can get involved. Kids will love the wonderful feeling of building an actual, useable item (instead of those macaroni art projects they brought home from preschool). When assembled, the Chair supports up to 200 pounds, and it comes with cool stickers so the kids can personalize it. www.vat19.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

Bailout! The Game (Liberty Street Games)
Any game that can keep teens and dads in the same room and having fun together has got to be good. And this one is. You’re the Chief Financial Officer of a floundering bank. And you need to get bailed out in a hurry. You’ll have to undermine the competition, endure the uncertainty of the markets, avoid hostile takeovers, and more. Very topical, with some good educational content (for you and your teens) too. Ages 14 and up. www.bailoutthegame.com

Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids by Eugene Buchanan
is a manifesto for parents (and especially dads) who refuse to let their children become an obesity statistic and who understand that the fate of the environment resets with connecting our kids with the outodoors. Author Eugene Buchanan’s enthusiasm and passion for sports and the great outdoors is infectious (in the best way possible). And even if you’re not an athlete, or you cringe the thought of pitching a tent and having to wipe your butt with dry leaves, you can’t help but get inspired. www.outdoorkidsbook.com

FAMILY Wii GAME

Alvin, The Squeakquel (Nintendo)
Family Wii games aren’t a slam-dunk. While the Wii is perfect for family play, too many titles are ported from Playstation or XBox and are really made for single players. While Alvin, The Squeakquel can be played solo, it’s far more fun as a party game or played by dad and two kids. This is a classic rhythm game, minus the expensive Rock Band paraphernalia. Players just use their WiiMotes to match the required rhythm for Alvin and Chipmunks covers of hit songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Funky Town”—which dad probably knows—and some more recent ones that he might now. If you want to try out a music and rhythm Wii title that will work for little kids, it isn’t too complicated, and doesn’t require a $300 investment in a Rock Band set, this is an amusing title to start with. www.nintendo.com

TECH GADGET

Kodak L200 webcam (Kodak)
A father never stops being a father, even after the kids have grown up and moved out of the house. The KODAK L200 2 megapixel auto focus Webcam helps keep families in touch but letting dads connect with the kids while they’re on the road (or on military deployment), and grandfathers keep up to date with grandchildren who no longer living close by. Compatible with Macs and PCs, the KODAK L200 webcam provides an easy and user-friendly video calling experience and is compatible with a variety of programs, such as YAHOO!, AOL, MSN Instant Messenger, or SKYPE. The Webcam also has an easy drag-and-drop feature, allowing the user to easily upload and share images and videos to social media sites, such as Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and PHOTOBUCKET. www.kodak.com

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2009*

Funky Groovy Tie-Dye Kit (Jacquard Products)
Tap into your inner hippie (we all have one!) while dabbling in a colorful, fun project with your children. With the high quality and brightness of these dyes, you and your kids are sure to feel proud of your results. And there’s a good chance that they won’t be embarrassed to walk down the street with you…
www.Jacquardproducts.com

Castle Knights (HabaUSA)
I have nothing against high-tech toys, but it’s an absolute pleasure to play with something made of wood, string, and cardboard. This is one of the few cooperative games on the market, meaning that you can play with as opposed to against your child. In fact, you can’t really play the game at all, unless you work together. Ages 5 and up.
www.habausa.com

CB-3 Stryker Cross Bow (Prime Time Toys, Ltd.)
We have mixed feelings about toys that shoot, but this crossbow (which fires foam arrows up to 35 feet) is fun enough to get even the most computer-tethered tween outdoors. Compete with the kids for accuracy and distance or tie on a notes send secret messages to each other across the yard (or street). Whatever you do, be safe. No aiming at people or animals. Ages 8 and up.
www.PrimeTimeToys

Mom’s Deluxe 3 in 1 Plus Combo Carrier (Snazzy Baby)
Pay no attention to the word “mom” on the box–this lightweight carrier works great for dads too. It’s adjustable, comfortable, easy on the back and shoulders (which is something you can’t say about all the carriers out there), and it converts into a portable high chair restraint. Good from the time baby has head control up to 37 pounds or 3 years.
snazzybaby.us/

Safe4Kidz (AmeriChannels)
Despite parental controlls and Internet security programs, a lot of parents worry that their kids are being exposed to all sorts of unsavory messages. This program Gives 4-12 year olds the ability to safely surf and explore the ‘net, blocking pages that use bad language or inappropriate terms. Although no program can replace your watchful eyes and setting clear, enforceable rules, this one is simple, easy, fast, and will give you at least some peace of mind.
Safe4Kidz.com

Bailout! The Game (Liberty Street Games)
Any game that can keep teens and dads in the same room and having fun together has got to be good. And this one is. You’re the Chief Financial Officer of a floundering bank. And you need to get bailed out in a hurry. You’ll have to undermine the competition, endure the uncertainty of the markets, avoid hostile takeovers, and more. Very topical, with some good educational content (for you and your teens) too. Ages 14 and up.
www.bailoutthegame.com

Triviathon (Jeezle Pete’s! LLC)
Did you know that an octopus has three hearts? Just one of the entertaining tidbits you can learn while playing this fast-paced trivia game. You’ll be singing, dancing, arm wrestling, cheering, cheating (okay, hopefuly not too much of that), and more as you put your cognitive, physical, and social skills to the test. And whether you get the answer right or wrong, you’ll still learn plenty. Plus you finally get to find out whether you actually are Smarter Than a Fifth Grader….
www.triviathon.com/

123 Stomp
Hyper Blast
Mickey’s Mouse-ke-TAG
Crayon Town
(Wild Planet)
1-2-3 Stomp, Hyper Blast and Mickey’s Mouse-ke-TAG are all active-learning toys for the family. You will work up a sweat. Guaranteed. And the whole family will be having so much fun that the kids will never realize that they’re learning at the same time. For the younger set (or for school-age kids who need something a touch calmer, Crayon Town activity sets combine coloring, construction, and creative play for kids ages 3 and up.
www.WildPlanet.com

Diving into Slime, Gel, and Goop
Science on a Gardening Adventure
Going Green
(Scholastic/Magic Schoolbus)
Release the mad scientist who’s lurking deep inside you! These Magic School Bus kits are full of everything you need to conduct exciting (and perfectly safe) experiments with your children. Each one explores a different theme (slime, gardening, and protecting the environment) and takes your future Nobel Prize winner through the scientific method of stating a hypothesis, observing, and writing up conclusions. Sounds suspiciously like school, but none of our reviewers ever heard a word of complaint from a child. If your memories of high-school science haven’t faded too much, you can show off a little. Otherwise, these kits offer a great way to learn something new alongside your child.
www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbus/

Twilight Turtle
Twilight Sea Turtle
Gentle Giraffe
Polar Cuddle Cub
(Cloud B)
Cloud B is the trusted name with parents worldwide for products that focus on a singular message: Helping children sleep (and in turn helping parents get a better night’s rest). But there’s a lot of fun to be had while you and the kids are awake too–especially with Twilight Turtle, who projects a realistic version of the night sky on your child’s ceiling. When it’s too overcast to see the stars outside, or during the summer when it’s still light at bedtime, this is wonderful activity.
www.cloudb.com

Adorable Kinders (Granza, Inc.)
Okay, I admit it. Playing with dolls can be a lot of fun–and it’s a neat way for dads to get a glimpse into what’s going on inside our daughters’ head (and with three daughters of my own, there’s always something I’m clueless about…). Each doll (there are 26, one for each letter of the alphabet) comes with an Internet code that kids can use to register their Kinder for “school,” and play age-appropriate games. 100 percent rag so they’re great to cuddle up with. But let your daughter do the cuddling–go get your own doll.
www.adorablekinders.com/

Your Legacy of Love, by Gemini Adams
(Live Conscioysly Publishing)
Award-winning British grief expert, Gemini Adams, gently explains how moms, dads, and grandparents can realize the gift in goodbye, by taking six simple steps to share their wisdom and affection in a legacy of love, so that surviving loved ones will suffer less, when the “worst” eventually happens. This is a meaningful book for dads as we think about how to communicate values to our kids. Unforetold disasters can happen and we liked this approach to creating a message for your kids even in the horrible event that they don’t have their dad to teach life lessons as they get older.
Legacy of Love

Giant Evolution Timeline (Charlie’s Playhouse)
With this giant, colorfully illustrated play mat, kids can skip, jump and play along 600 million years of evolution, accompanied by 67 bizarre ancient creatures from the fossil record, six mass extinctions, a cartoon “Charlie” Darwin, and much more! With its unique accordion-fold design, the mat can be read on your lap like a storybook for quiet times, or stood up on its side like a fort, or laid out flat on the floor for fully 18 feet of fun! Includes Activity Guide with plenty of raucous, kid-tested games and activities for ages 4-10.
www.charliesplayhouse.com/