Submissions Now Open for “Mr. Dad Seal of Approval”

Mr. Dad Seal of ApprovalWe’ve finally recovered from Toy Fair and are now accepting submissions for the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval‘s Spring 2014 and Father’s Day 2014 seasons. There is no fee to apply. If you have (or someone you know has) a toy, game, app, service, or anything else that gets dads and kids engaging together, we encourage you to visit mrdad.com/seal and fill out the simple application in the sidebar. Submission deadlines and announcement dates are below.

Season Submission Deadline Winners Announced
Spring 2014 March 31, 2014 Week of April 14, 2014
Father’s Day 2014 May 26, 2014 Week of June 2, 2014
Back to School 2014 August 25, 2014 Week of  September 7, 2014
Winter Holidays ’14 November 16, 2014 Week of December 1, 2014

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2013

klettemax castle

mrdad seal of approval and greatdad.com recommends

Seal of Approval Winners, Father’s Day 2013

Congratulations to these fine products, which were awarded the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and the GreatDad Recommends Award. Both Seals recognize products that facilitate father-child relationships by getting dads and kids engaged and having fun together.

Submissions are now being accepted for our Back-to-School and Winter Holiday Seasons.

Klettermax Castle Game (HABA)
Like a lot of HABA games, Klettermax Castle is suggested for players 4-99. And truly, this is a game that can be enjoyed by readers and non-readers together. The object of the game is to collect award cards by flicking colored wooden “knights” into the nine open boxes of the game. While a roll of the dice determines when a player can next try to flick his knight in, the game also requires strategy and fine motor skills. We played this with a 9 year old boy who enjoyed it and we extended the rules to make it a 45-minute long game, though playing by the real rules would make it an easy 20 minute game. We’d recommend this game for younger players and dads, though older players and grandparents can certainly join in. HabaUSA.com

 

Reading Rainbow app (Reading Rainbow)
The Reading Rainbow app is a nicely designed reading service that has a lot going for it. It promotes reading through a big selection of books selected for each child based on his stated preferences. Using a Netflix-type system, kids can check out books as they wish and take out more when they return the ones they’ve finished reading, all for one $10 monthly fee. The app also includes an alerts feature so that parents can monitor what books are being and read and for how long. We like this app because it promotes reading in a fun way, with supplementary videos that continue to promote reading itself as an adventure. At the same time, we hope that the app is gradually improved in two ways. First, it would be great if there were a plan that costs less than $10 per month. We know that books don’t come free, but this is a high priced monthly fee that will be prohibitive for many families.
Second, we wished that the app actively suggested reading a story with dad (or mom) rather than focusing only on solo reading, which can be a challenge for the targeted kids here, ages 4-9. At this age, kids need more supervision in their reading, and motivation, that goes beyond electronic stickers for reading each story, like hugs and smiles from an involved parent. Still, this is one of the best efforts we’ve seen for an app that promotes reading by young kids. Reading Rainbow app.

 

Kindness Kingdom board game (Kindness Kingdom)
Some toys and games can be enjoyed equally by girls and boys. Others are decidedly for one sex or the other. Kindness Kingdom is one of those–aimed squarely at girls. Many dads will take a look at the fairies, tea parties, charm bracelets, princesses, and flowers and run away screaming. But that would be a mistake. In fact, I’d argue that this game is an absolute must-have for dads of daughter. The insights you’ll get into what makes your little girl tick are well worth the purchase price. And the rewards you’ll get from showing her you’re really interested in her world are priceless. Players move around the board collecting charms (first one to fill up her or his charm bracelet wins) and answering questions from a variety of categories. (For example, What’s a fancy word for tea sandwiches? Should you extend your hand first to shake hands with someone in a wheelchair? How long after you receive a gift should you have to write a thank-you note?)The game sometimes seems a little heavy-handed in its attempt to teach manners and empathy, but girls love it–and for those of us who missed finishing school, it really is a great learning experience. 2-4 player, ages 5 and up. kindnesskingdom.com

 

SkyTrix (Sky Trix)
SkyTrix™ looks like glider but plays like a kite and a frisbee all in one. The concept is simple – a plane on a tether. You can swing it around your head and make it fly straight up in the air, or send it flying to, hopefully, be caught by your child. The SkyTrix is very responsive and thankfully, takes no batteries. It’s that simplest of toy that just requires a nice, calm day and a little bit of time. You can throw as much energy has you want at it, running and throwing or try to stand mostly stationary to play a game of SkyTrix catch. people-powered. At beach party tests, we were able to do boomerang shots that sent the glider forward and then back again, to the amazement of bystanding 9-year olds. Product videos show other tricks such as casting, snap backs, and loops. SkyTrix™ is a fun game for dads and kids looking for new ways to play catch. This is a toy that both adults and kids will find entertaining, especially once they get the feel of how to make it cooperate. Please note that SkyTrix is for kids ages 8+. facebook.com/flyskytrix

 

Young Scientists Club, Clifford the Big Red Dog Series (Young Scientists Club)
This new series of three kits is a great introduction to the sciences for the pre-school age kids (ages 3 and up). Since they are pre-packaged with almost everything you need to conduct the included experiments, it’s easy for dads to jump right in and get involved. Kids love to see things happen in the natural world, and dads love to explain the deeper principles behind the experiments (though we do recommend a little background research before hand so dad isn’t stumped). We also recommend allowing plenty of time to clean up before mom gets home. These kits are also good in families with multiple children. theyoungscientistsclub.com

 

YFlikr Y-volution (Fliker Scooters)
Once you get past the YFlikr’s unique and very cool design (from the top, it looks like a Y (hence Y-volution)—one wheel in the front, one on each of the two back “wings”—you’re in for a real treat. You can push off with one foot, like a skateboard or scooter, but with a little practice, you can get the YFlikr moving just by wiggling your behind (sorry, there’s no way around that—but it’s also a tremendous workout and makes exercise a blast). The YFlikr is also a great way to meet your neighbors: every time we take ours out for a spin around the neighborhood, we literally stop traffic and people cross the street to ask about it. $99.00 (for the F3) – $129.00 (for the F5). http://flikerscooters.net/

 

Ringstix (Ringstix)
The game of catch must be one of the oldest games on earth. So it seems almost impossible that someone could come up with a variation that’s truly unique. Yet that’s exactly what RingStix is. Each RingStix kit includes four sword-like wands–enough for two players–and two rings that are about as big around as a grapefruit. Pick up an extra set or two and you can expand the game to three or four. Here how it works: The first player puts both swords through one of the rings, then, by pulling the swords apart, the ring flies across the distance between him and player two. Player two tries to catch the flying ring on both of her swords and the process is repeated, with player two shooting the rings to player one. The first time or two the ring will go flying to the sides, over heads, or flop on the ground and roll away. But in less then five minutes, dad and kids will be having a blast. The set we tried out included a regular ring and one that glows in the dark, which was especially fun. Three warnings. First, you’ll need a lot of space (ideally, 10-100 feet between players) so don’t even think about playing RingStix inside. Second, play on grass or at the beach. Once you develop a little proficiency, you’ll want to make spectacular diving catches. Third, if you plan to play in the dark, check out the playing area for dog droppings, gopher holes, and sprinkler heads–all of which we managed to discover too late… Ages 9 and up. www.ringstix.com

 

Children’s Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II (CD by Steven D. Farmer)
Children's Spirit Animal Stories, Volume II, CD by Steven D. FarmerThere’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

Announcing Winners of the 2012 Holiday Mr. Dad Seal of Approval and GreatDad Recommends

Well, it’s that time of year. And if you’re looking for the perfect gift for a dad who wants to spend more quality time with the kids, you’ll definitely want to check out this season’s GreatDad Recommends and Mr. Dad Seal of Approval winners.

 

 

Our top picks include:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Lite Brix Extreme City Lights, from Cra-Z-Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
For the complete list, click here.

And for info on how to submit your product or service for our Spring 2013 awards, click here.

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

Lookin’ for Great Dad-Friendly Products for the Holidays

GreatDad.com and MrDad.com, Announce That Award Submissions Are Now Open for the Best Dad- and Kid-Friendly Products

Leading fatherhood websites/blogs now accepting submissions of great products that foster stronger relationships between dads and kids.

San Francisco, California, November 7, 2012 – Products and services that foster a closer relationship between dads and their kids deserve to be recognized. And that’s exactly what the GreatDad Recommends and Mr. Dad Seal of Approval programs are designed to do. Deadline for receiving submissions is November 30, 2012 and winners will be announced the week of December 9.

[Read more...]

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

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