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, 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

Seal of Approval Winners, Holidays 2011*

PREGNANCY AND INFANCY

Belly Banter (SlickSugar)
Getting dad involved in the pregnancy is always a challenge. He’s usually a worried bystander without much of a role. Photography is one area where he is usually active, documenting the pregnancy for posterity. That’s why we like Belly Banter, a set of simple 4″ circular sticker to afix on mom’s belly during picture taking. The designs are simple and photos including them will become increasingly valuable long after anyone recalls how far along mommy was when the picture was taken. www.slicksugar.com/

Bundli Swaddler (Bundli)
Dads often find the first few months of fatherhood a little tough–in part because they don’t always know what to do with an infant who isn’t giving Dad much feedback on his stand-up routine. But it’s all about practical, hands-on training. And the bundli™ swaddler can really help by encouraging Dad to really interact with his baby and giving the duo a great excuse to spend time staring at each other and making faces. What’s particularly nice about the bundli is that, unlike moost of the other swaddlers we’ve seen, it has built-in head support, which makes the support-the-head-while-trying-to-soothe-the-baby act a lot easier. www.bundli.com

Perfect Bum (CoCaLo)
I’ve mentioned this in reviews of other diaper-related products, but I still firmly believe that diaper changing is one of the most underrated daddy-child bonding exercises. It has all the ingredients: skin-to-skin contact, agility training, and face-to-face time. Until recently, it’s been hard for parents who want their kids to wear cloth diapers to make a decent fashion statement. So if that’s what’s kept you from cloth, it’s time to reconsider. The Perfect Bum includes eye-catching, coordinated tops and bottoms and an eco-friendly, patented cloth diaper insert. Available at Babies R Us and other specialty stores throughout the country. For diaper-weaering kids. www.cocalo.com

TODDLER AND PRESCHOOL

Little Reader Deluxe (Brill Kids)
This is one of these don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover (or by the box it comes in) kinds of things. The Brill Kids Little Reader is an extremely comprehensive program that contains more than a dozen books, flash cards, and more. Little Reader is supposedly aimed at kids as young as four months–and that was the first hurdle: Seems a little Tiger-Mom-ish to push a kid that young to read. But if this is a priority for you, you’ll love this program (and even if it’s not a priority, there’s nothing that says you can’t wait until your child is a bit older). Our reviewers found Little Reader to be “extremely structured, extremely easy to follow, and contains clear instructions on how to use the materials, and clear explanations on why the materials are structured the way they are.” A few reviewers didn’t like the fact that the program includes an on-line/on-screen component, but if you’re a techie, that won’t bother you. Bottom line, Plus, there’s very little you can do with your child that’s more valuable in the long run than reading. And as long as you keep it fun–which means following your child’s cues–this is a great program. www.brillkids.com/

GiggleBellies, volume 2 (3D Magic Factory)
Whenever a sequel comes along, fans of the original always get worried that the second (or third or fourth) installment won’t live up to the first. Well, we’re glad to report that GiggleBellies, volume 2 is just as fun as the first. If you don’t already have one, this DVD is the perfect excuse to sing, dance, laugh, roll around on the floor, and completely let loose. Oh, and you can do it with your child too. Ages 2-4. www.3dmagicfactory.com/

“Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” with Mother Goose Club (Sockeye Media)
I have to admit that I find a lot of children’s videos frighteningly bad. So when I popped the “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” into the DVD player, I was expecting to watch three minutes and turn it off. Fifteen minutes later, though, I was still tapping my foot along with the Mother Goose Club, six live-action characters who introduce classic nursery rhymes to children through catchy tunes, playful shows and interactive lessons. Our testers–DVD-weary families with toddlers–had very much the same reaction and gave “Nursery Rhyme Singing Time” two thumbs up. www.mothergooseclub.com

Sidekick (Kemby)
If you’ve ever traveled with an infant or toddler, you know just how annoying it is to try to juggle stroller, car seat, diaper bag, not to mention the actual child. The Sidekick offeres a unique alternative, cleverly combing a nice-looking diaper bag that dad won’t be embarrassed to carry with a child side-carrier he won’t be embarrassed to wear (and that won’t cause any long-term nerve damage). Both of those features will definintely help dads stay connected–literally and figuratively–with their young children. For kids up to 35 pounds. www.gogobabyz.com

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Strange Dees Indeed (The Deedle Deedle Dees)
The Dees are an educational, indie-style rock band based in Brooklyn. Their new release is a largely successful attempt to get elementary school kids excited about learning. The melodies aren’t finger-snapping catchy, but the lyrics are offbeat and fun enough that dad and child will listen more than once and learn a surprising amount of history, folklore, and nature. All in all, definitely a dad-centric approach to children’s music. Ages 5-9. www.thedeedledeedledees.bandcamp.com/

Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important book/ CD set (Trout Fishing in America)
The plot to this entertaining sequel to My Name Is Chicken Joe is pretty simple: Everyone on the farm knows today is a special day–everyone but Chicken Joe. Tbere’s enough barnyard humor and silliness to keep the kids laughing but not so much that it slips into stupidity, which would drive the dads away. But what really makes this CD/book combo sing (if you’ll pardon the pun) is the spunky narration and witty original songs about friendship and forgetfulness from a four-time Grammy Award nominated band (which means the music is excellent). www.troutmusic.com

These Are My Friends (Alastair Moock)
Children’s musicians have a tough job: they have to produce songs that can keep kids entertained without putting the parents to sleep or making them run screaming out of the room. Alastair Moock’s second family music release strikes the perfect balance. The lyrics are fun for the kids, the music is sophisticated to keep dad engaged, and the combination will get both generations up off the couch and dancing. www.moockmusic.com

Chip Taylor & The Grandkids (Smithsonian Folkways)
In a word, this CD is fantastic. Coming from a guy who wrote songs for Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and others, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But what makes Chip Taylor & The Grandkids such a joy is the obvious warmth and affection between Chip and his three young granddaughters. The contrast between Chip’s grizzled (in the most positive way) vocals and those of the girls had my daughter and me listening over and over, singing along where we could, holding hands and humming elsewhere. It’s a true celebration of familiy and a wonderful example of what happens when generations come together. www.folkways.si.edu

I SPY Super Challenger Game – for Leapster (Scholastic)
I SPY Castle – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
As a big fan of the I SPY books I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t make the transition from print to digital. But boy, was I wrong. Our dad/kid review teams were unanimous in declaring both of these I SPY games “Awesome” and “We’re definitely going to play this again.” In the Super Challenger game, the find-the-hidden-objects-in-the-fascinating-photos part is pretty much the same, but add in fast-paced races against the clock that require everyone to use their thinking, matching, memory and math skills to solve the puzzles. In I SPY Castle, the action takes place in a stunning castle, and there are plenty of puzzles and riddles to keep everyone entertained for a long, long time. Ages 6-10. www.scholastic.com

Magic Schoolbus Oceans game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Dinosaurs – iPad app (Scholastic)
Magic Schoolbus Oceans Game – for Nintendo DS (Scholastic)
Definitely for younger kids–especially if they’ve read any of the Magic School Bus books or are fans of the TV show. In typical Magic-School-Bus style, both of these games offer kids–and their wranglers–an engaging, educational, and above all, entertaining time. In the Oceans game, Dads and kids step into the driver’s seat of The Magic School Bus to unlock six levels of the ocean, learning and applying their knowledge as they go. In the Dinosaurs game (which has been ranked in the top 50 iPad apps) Dads and kids will discover everything they ever wanted to know about those big prehistoric reptiles. Ages 5-7. www.scholastic.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game (TDC Games)
There’s very little that’s completely unique in this crossword anagram game, but the clever soup can design makes it just about as delicious for dads and kids as some of the Bananagrams games (which we love). There are some fun twists, though. Players can insert letters into the middle of others’ words. And, unlike at the dinner table, they’re encouraged to “slurp”–pull a letter out of someone else’s crossword and replace it with one of your own. The Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game encourages kids and dads to sit together around the kitchen table, playing a word game with the homey feel of hot soup terminology throughout. dad can be gently teaching word skills, making education (and time with dad) fun with just a smidgeon of good-natured competition. Play it with a cuppa soup and it’s Mmmm Mmm good, old fashioned fun. www.tdcgames.com

Heelys (Heelys)
You’ve seen Heelys–they’re kind of a cross between shoes and a skateboard. And you’ve probably said to yourself, “Hey that looks fun,” or “Hey, that looks dangerous.” The fun part is absolutely right–tooling around the block or the neighborhood shopping mall with your child is a real blast and a great way to spend some time doing something physical (kids of all ages should be getting 60 minutes of exercise every day–and so should you). The dangerous part can be minimized by making sure everyone who slips into a pair of these snazzy roller shoes is using the proper safety equipment. The other danger–mostly for dad–is that there’a a high risk of making a fool of yourself here, so practice a little before you do this with your child. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be tempted to wear your Heelys to the office. www.heelys.com

FAMIY Wii GAME

Glee Karaoke Revolution (Konami)
If you love Glee, and even if you don’t (I don’t!), you have to try Glee Karaoke out with your family. Glee Karaoke Revolution is basically like any karaoke game, except that it uses real scenes from Glee as the backdrop, so you can sing along with your favorite characters. As in Glee, the songs are a mix of oldies, real oldies (think Sinatra), and current hits. It’s fun to watch your kids try to sing old favorites they don’t know at all, but also for dads to step to the mic to belt out new songs like “Beautiful” and “Gives you Hell.” Our whole family giggled for hours playing this game and the kids quite often want to sing “just one song” before going to bed. Don’t buy this if you are super-competitive though; Glee Karaoke is built to have fun rather than score points. For about $7 more, Glee Karaoke comes with a bundled USB microphone, which plugs into the Wii and worked very well in our tests. www.konami.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.

Go Anywhere Booster Seat (Polar Gear Baby)
This on-the-go feeding booster seat goes anywhere. It features a five-point restraint harness, three sets of adjustable straps to secure to a chair and a wipe-clean seat. Folds to a compact 12″ W x 11″ D x 4 1/2″ H. BPA-free and complies to ASTM standards. Holds up to 40 pounds. Recommended for 12 months and up but suitable for a child that can sit unassisted. Dads will love this Go Anywhere Booster Seat, as it light weight and is easy to clean and kids will love it because they’ll always have a nice soft surface to sit on and not a hard wooden chair. It’ll make any little toddler feel like a big boy or girl! aparentcompany.com

Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son and a Road Trip, by Bill Raney
This is the true story of a father’s and mother’s attempt to drive a VW bus around the world, with their one-year-old son and his dog. This family journey took them across Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and down the Burma Road to China. Virtually everyone they met alonfg the way was charmed by the little blond Zerky, opening up many opportunities to talk with people who spoke the universal language of young children. Zerky was killed in 1971 and his mother died the year before. This book is the author’s memorial to both. Writing it helped the author pull through a very difficult period in his life by reminding him that life indeed goes on, even when we don’t.
waltzingaroundtheworld.com/

Seal of Approval Winners, Fall 2011*

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Rollors (Rollors)
Tired of croquet and other oldfashioned lawn games? Well, give Rollors a try. Created by an Air Force veteran while stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, this game is something of a combination of shuffleboard, lawn bowling (or bocce ball), and horseshoes (except you don’t throw the pieces), and curling (remember that one from the winter olympics?) A little skill and a little luck, and can be played one-on-one or by two teams and is a great way for dads to spend some low-stress time with the kids. Ages 5 and up. www.rollors.net

Nanoblocks (Nanoblock)
Both dad and kids can spend time together building a variety of animals and architectural sites from around the world. Since many of the nanoblock sets represent well-know buildings, dads who enjoy architecture will enjoy the process and teaching kids about the original buildings. We also like the “nano-sized” price point that makes these easily a tenth the cost of the architecture collection of the major competitor. The one caveat is that these blocks truly are “nano” in size compared to the common Lego-style blocks. Nanoblocks require good eyesite and nimble fingers to control, but they are a good exercise of attention to detail and fine motor skills. They make a fun project for dads and kids to do together. Ages 6+. www.mynannoblock.com

Dollie & Me (Dollie & Me)
If you’re having trouble finding ways to connect and spend quality time with your daughhter, the Dollie & Me collection can help. First of all, there’s notihng like playing with dolls to give you a glimpse into what’s going on in her world. But beyond that, the 18-inch dolls themselves are (really) pretty cool too. One especially nice touch is that they come with with a matching outfit–including dresses, leggings, and nightgowns–for your daughter, saving you a trip or two to the store… www.dollieme.com

Fruitominoes(Bananagrams)
Have I mentioned that we love Bananagrams games around here? Well, we do–and Fruitominoes is no exception. A fantastic game for getting kids off the internet, gaming device, etc. to actually spend some quality time together! While a simple game to learn, it’s one of the original classics and will help children develop their strategic thinking chops while practicing math and visual skills. This game is completely gender neutral and would be great for dads to play with all of their children. Ages 5+. www.bananagrams.com

TWEENS AND TEENS

Air Picks (Flair)
Air Picks are pick-shaped sound systems that play the first few signature bars of famous rock songs. The key is that you have to strum the imaginary guitar in the same rhythm as the original song. The songs are so famous that you’d probably guess the song anyway, but the fun is to try to make them sound just like the originals. We put on the Rolling Stones “No Satisfaction” and were amazed at how the Air Picks sound meshed with what was coming out of the speakers. Collections include “Classic Rock, “Rebel Rock,” and Rolling Stones.” While toys like this can’t take the place of real musical training, they are a fun way for dads to transfer love and excitement for rock hits and the air guitar stylings kids have enjoyed since dad was a boy. The pricepoint is super-affordable and won’t break the bank. Just remember to take it outside when mom is home. Ages 10 and up. www.flairplc.co.uk

Finger Football (Zelo Sports)
My nephews are a rowdy, hard-to-settle-down-and-even-harder-to-please bunch. So when I brought Finger Football over to their house my expectations were pretty low. But two hours later, we were still playing the game and they refused to let me take it when I left. Fortunately, I have a second one. Fantastic fun for dads and kids of both sexes. Other games in the series include Finger Soccer, Finger Baseball, and Finger Golf. Ages 9 and up. www.zelosport.com/

Wii Play Motion (Nintendo)
We really like new Wii Play Motion, a new Nintendo game that is similar in style and play to Wii Sports Resort and Wii Party. Dads and kids will enjoy 12 games that get everyone off the couch and swinging both body and remotes to play games, many of which involve 4 players. Included also is a free black remote that integrates the new Wii Motion Plus technology into the Wii Remote. We particularly liked Trigger Twist, where everyone shoots a series of enemies, including dinosaurs and aliens, to avoid being eaten. Especially interesting is Spooky Search, which is the first game I’ve played that simulates activity happening behind you and off-screen that you have to interact with using only sound. Simple, yet oddly compelling, is Pose Mii Plus, which requires users to turn Wii Mii avatars in different poses to go through a series of tunnels. We think these core Nintendo games for families are a great way to get everyone involved, including pre-readers, in ways that stimulate the imagination and create a shared experience rather than a retreat from human interaction. Ages 5 and up. www.nintendo.com/

%d bloggers like this: