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Is your little one a cuddle monster—the kind of kid who falls asleep amid a pile of stuffed animals on the bed? If so, your child will love the plush toys we review this week. But wait, there’s more. We’ve got movie-themed characters and something to keep cuddle monsters entertained when you take them outside.

Nintendo Plush

nintendo character plushThese video-game themed toys have hit the trifecta: they’re cute, fun to play with, and encourage your child (and you) to act out scenes from his or her most beloved games. You’ll find just about any Nintendo character you can imagine—old ones, new ones, and even the most obscure ones—including Kirby, Mario, the coin box (really!), Koopa Troopa, Cat Toad, and regular Toad. Some make those well-known Nintendo game sounds like the coin bling and the Koopa Troopa “hit” sound. Prices vary, but most are under $10, and they’re available at any toy store.

Pokémon Collectibles

pokemon colectiblePokémon fans and collectors will love the new collectable Pokémon toys, which are being released to mark Pokémon’s 20th anniversary. Every month through December 2016, Nintendo will release one retailer-exclusive, Mythical Pokémon. These extremely rare plush figures will be 8-inches tall and made with a very special crushed velvet material. There will also be 2-inch pearlescent-finished figures that come with their own pearlescent-finished Poké Balls. The company will also release a number of limited-edition Pikachu products throughout the year, but you’ll have to move quickly because when they’re gone, that’s it! Visit http://tomycollections.com/ to see which Pokémon is being released in which month, and at which retailer. Prices will vary.

Precious Moments

precious moments plushThese plush toys may not have the same instant recognition and cachet as Nintendo’s, but they’re just as sweet and snuggly, and they’re made by Aurora World (which has created some of our very favorite stuffies). The new 17-piece Precious Baby line is perfect for even the smallest cuddle monsters, and includes a blanket puppet, wind up musical toys, plush rattles, toys that recite prayers (in either English or Spanish), and a number of traditional plush toys. Prices typically range from $12-24. Visit Aurora’s website, www.auroragift.com, to see their full line of baby items as well as stuffed animals for older children.

Zootopia figures (Tomy)

zootopia If your kids loved Zootopia (is there anyone who didn’t?), you can’t go wrong with these figures. There are plush toys, character sets, and more. There are even vehicles, like Nick’s convertible and Judy’s Police Cruiser, which has a little jail cell in the back. Characters some in sets of two, three, and more. Prices vary. Available at your favorite retailer or http://tomy.com/

 

 

 

Marvel’s The Avengers Big Wheel

Marvel’s The Avengers 16-Inch Big WheelWith summer here, you’ll probably want to be outdoors as much as possible. For some parents, getting the kids away from screens can be a challenge, but you’ll be able to remedy that situation by making going outside an event for the whole family. Grown-ups and big kids usually have bikes, but what about your little one—you know, the one with the short legs and less coordination? Well, a Big Wheels trike might be just the ticket—and it’ll be a fun blast from the past for mom and dad as well. With the new Marvel’s The Avengers Big Wheel, your kids can ride with their favorite superheroes. These Big Wheels are easy to assemble (even for non-techies) and they’re sturdy, so when your helmet-wearing Captain America wannabe decides to take on a tree, the Big Wheels will survive to ride another day. These new Big Wheels have a “Grow With Me” seat that can be positioned up to three times. Retails for about $60 at stores such as Amazon and Walmart.

Summer Fun for the Kids

Many of us who have kids at home during the summer break spend a lot of time thinking about how to fill all those school-less days and weeks. Here are a few of our current favorite ways to while away the hours…

Nerf Action Camera

nerf cameraWith a colorful, Nerf-inspired design, this camera is the perfect way for your kids to document their favorite summer activities (while keeping their little hands off your own camera and phone). Although it’s made for kids (meaning that it’s sturdy enough to take a tumble), it’s also more stylish than most of our first “grown up” cameras were. Resolution is a perfectly respectable 5.1 megapixels (way more than our first digital camera), and kids can shoot videos in 720p HD’llThen they can preview it all in the 1.8-inch TFT preview screen. That’s pretty much guaranteed to keep them occupied (and laughing) for a really long time. Oh, and the Nerf Action Cam is waterproof too, which means it’s ideal for pool-, waterpark-, and beach fun. Around $50 at http://www.toysrus.com.

Kurio Xtreme 2

kurio xtreme 2If there’s a long trip—be it plane, train, or automobile—in your future, your kids will love the latest Kurio, which, according to the manufacturer, is the safest, most full-featured Android tablet built especially for kids. Of course, the kids can use it at home too, and the child-friendly styling will give them a little extra incentive to reach for it instead of yours. This Kurio Xtreme 2 comes with 60 apps, including smash hits like Fruit Ninja and Subway Surfers, some active, body-controlled Kurio Motion games, and a ton of parental controls (including the Kurio Genius Internet filtering system). It also connects to the Google Play Store, but requires parent permission. Kids can use their Kurio to read e-books, take photos, shoot video, and watch movies. This sturdy tablet is made tough, and comes with bumper and a screen protector, as well as a kickstand. Setup can be a little time consuming, so we suggest that you start the process while the kids are in bed so they don’t drive you insane. If you need help with setup or anything else, Kurio techs are available 24-7 and can even take over the tablet for you to fix what ails it. About $100 at http://www.kurioworld.com

Budsies

budsies This has been the biggest hit of the season, by far. It starts with your child drawing a picture of an animal, mythical creature, or anything else he or she can imagine. Then, you scan the drawing and upload it to the Budsies website or text it to them (info is on their website). In about four weeks (you can pay more for faster delivery), a 16-inch high, stuffed version of your child’s creation arrives at your doorstep. Along the way, you get adorable emails giving you detailed updates on how your future Budsies is progressing. Have your camera ready, because the look on your child’s face when he or she opens up the box and sees a 3D version of something that had previously existed only on paper, is priceless. Sam’s son was thrilled beyond belief when his Budsies arrived—a polar bear with a rainbow sweater. Budsies are a wonderful gift, project, or memento for any child, and will be a toy you’ll never give away or get rid of. If your child doesn’t like to draw, try Selfies, which are plush stufies based on a photo that you upload or text in. Selfies are especially great for military families. Prices vary. Find out more at http://www.budsies.com

Time to Get Wet, Baby

Just when you thought it was safe to get into the water, it may actually be—but only with plenty of adult supervision. This week we take a look at several products that keep kids safe while still letting them enjoy themselves, and one that’s just plain fun.  Water safety is not something to take lightly and tragic accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, so never, ever take your eyes off of your child.

Power Swimr (SwimWays)

power swimrFor young children who are new to swimming, this is a great way to give them the support (literally) they need to learn at their own pace. The Power Swimr vest comes with nine removable flotation pads that are hidden inside a cute shell. With the full nine, your child will be almost upright in the water where he or she will be able to start learning the basics. As you remove the pads, the child gradually becomes more horizontal. The vest is small enough that it doesn’t interfere with the child’s ability to get into proper swimming position. And it comes with adjustable side cords and leg straps to keep it securely in place. Available in small (for ages 2-3, 20-35 pounds), medium (35-60 pounds), and large (55-80 pounds). Prices range from $15-$20. http://www.swimways.com/

Sea Squirts Swim Assist (SwimWays)

swim assist vest-Like the Power Swimr, Sea Squirts vests are a three-step system (small, medium, large) that includes several flotation pads that you can remove as your child develops skills and gains confidence. Made of neoprene (the same material used in wet suits) and sporting a lovely, orca-like dorsal fin, Sea Squirts vest are a bit more stylish than Power Swimrs, but they make swimming just as fun. Available in pink, orange, blue, and black. About $28. http://www.swimways.com/

Baby Spring Float (SwimWays)

baby spring floatBefore they can learn to swim, kids need to want to be in the water. But water can be scary and intimidating (as it should be). The Baby Spring Float is a great way to introduce babies who are too young to swim to water play in a fun, engaging way. The float itself is an easily inflatable, fabric-covered ring with a comfortable mesh seat in the middle where baby can learn the basics of kicking and paddling. And when it’s time for a break, there’s also a mesh play space that’s great for just splashing around. For mom and dad, the float is extremely stable, so you’ll be able to play with your baby without worrying about whether the float will tip over. Comes in a variety of colors and with an optional, adjustable canopy for added sun protection. Appropriate for babies 9-24 months. Retails for about $25. http://www.swimways.com/

Kickboard (Maui Toys)

kickboardIt’s hard to imagine learning to swim or even just playing around in a pool without a kickboard. And with these stylish boards from Maui Toys, you don’t have to worry about missing out on either. Boards come in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles. Prices vary. http://www.mauitoys.com/

Blow-up Billiards (SwimWays)

blow-up billiardsOlder (water safe) kids and adults will get a blast out of this set of ten large (8-inch diameter) inflatable billiard balls that turns your pool into a pool table (with apologies to purists who know that pool tables have pockets in the corners and the long sides, while billiards have none). The set includes a cue ball and nine numbered balls. Use those long, foam “noodles” (not included) as cue sticks or move the balls underwater or by splashing them around from place to place. For all ages, but it helps if you’re tall enough to touch the bottom. About $14.95. http://www.swimways.com/

Family Adventures in Costa Rica

If you’re looking a wonderful, adventurous family vacation, put Costa Rica at the top of your list. The scenery is stunning, the biodiversity even more stunning, the people are friendly, the prices—including the airfare to get you there—are reasonable, and there’s no shortage of adventure activities that the whole family will enjoy. Here are a few of our favorites from a recent trip there.

Exploring Nature

quetzalThanks to a dozen distinct ecosystems, which include coral reefs, rain forests, and cloud forests, Costa Rica is home to about 500,000 species of animals, hundreds of which exist nowhere else on the planet. Because so many of the most beautiful creatures are nearly impossible for an untrained eye to spot, the best way to see them is to hire an experienced nature guide. You can find guides outside the major national parks, but you never know what you’re going to get, which is why recommendations from trusted sources—such as Parents@Play–are so important.

baby howler In Manuel Antonio, our sharp-eyed guide was Edgar Avila (newconceptedgaravila09@gmail.com), who pointed out bats, lizards, three types of monkeys, frogs, caterpillars and other insects, sloths, and dozens of amazing trees and plants. In Monteverde, we hired Maikol Cruz (maikolcruz20@gmail.com) to take us bird watching and boy, did he deliver. We saw several Quetzals (which most people never get to see), about 15 other bird species, and a variety of other animals and plants. Both Edgar and Maikol were extremely knowledgeable about the animals, their diets, and their habitats. And their powerful scopes let us see everything in amazing detail.
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2016 Travel Accessories

When you’re taking a family vacation, you need to be ready for anything. At the same time, you don’t want to pack everything you own and the kitchen sink. Here are some of our travel must-haves.

Galaxy S7 (Samsung)

samsung galaxy s7A good cell phone is absolutely essential, and at the risk of starting World War III, we prefer Samsung’s over Apple’s. To start with, the camera takes vibrant, sharp photos, and the number of available apps is dizzying. The S7 and S7 Edge are also water resistant, which makes them much more durable. And in our experience, Samsung phones age well—they last longer than other brands we’ve tested, and are less likely to get “glitchy” or slow down or freeze. Sprint, the network that Samantha uses, also pairs really well with the new Galaxy line and has some really awesome offers right now for both new and existing customers, making it the perfect time to upgrade. Options and prices vary, visit your Sprint store for details.

 

HERO4 Session (GoPro)

GoPro HERO SessionWhile your phone will likely double as your main camera for basic photography, most of us don’t want to risk losing or destroying it by taking it jet skiing, skydiving, snow tubing, into the ocean, or on a ziplining marathon. The HERO4 Session is the smallest, lightest addition to the GoPro family. It has a free app that connects it to your phone so you can see your photos and videos right away. You can hold it, mount it, and wear it, and it’s waterproof, so it’s up for any and all adventures. The HERO4 takes sharp, high-resolution, professional-looking video and retails for a reasonable $200. Smart remote sold separately. https://gopro.com/

Sara (NAOT)

sara - naotWhen you’re on the road, a good pair of shoes is critical and the Sara by NAOT is a great option. These gladiator-inspired sandals are not only super cute, but also super comfortable, and you can dress them up or down. They have an anatomic cork and latex footbed which is wrapped in oh-so-soft suede. And yes, they can get wet and still look and function just fine. The heel and back panels have additional lining and padding that’s remarkably effective in eliminating blisters and those weird “ow” spots from rubbing. That said, we still recommend that you break them in before going on a long hike. About $150. http://naot.com

Nosilife Apparel (Craghoppers)

craghoppers nat geo chimaHere’s a great way to stay warm and to keep away those dreaded bugs (especially the ones who might transmit the Zika virus) at the same time. NosiLife Apparel has both sun protection and Insect Shield insect repellent woven right into the fabric. The jackets are cute, comfortable, and perfect for summer weather excursions and cooler nights. For the kids, check out the new Nat Geo NosiLife Chima jacket, which is soft and lightweight, has front pockets, a zip front, and a hood. It’s also nearly impossible to wrinkle. For mom, we like the NosiLife Astrid Cardigan, which has neither pockets nor hood, but it’s soft, lightweight, hard to wrinkle, and easy to dress up or down, making it perfect for trips where you can’t pack too much. Prices vary. http://www.us.craghoppers.com/

 

RFID-blocking vest (SCOTTeVEST)

cottevest_womens_26_pocket_vest2This vest is perfect for when you don’t want to or can’t carry a giant bag, but still need to pack lightweight things like your camera, binoculars, phone, granola bars, wallet, maps, and so on. With 18 pockets, this vest can handle it all. Plus, SCOTTeVEST has somehow designed it so you won’t look like a marshmallow when it’s fully loaded. The vest has a special RFID blocking pocket to keep your passport and credit cards hidden from identity thieves. Pockets are on the inside, so your stuff is also safer from wandering hands. Comes in several colors and in men’s and women’s styles and sizes. About $135. http://www.scottevest.com/

Superhero Movie Figures

If you’re a fan of superhero movies, life is pretty good right now. Between reboots of existing hero stories (Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men, for example), sequels (Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Fantastic Four 2, Thor, etc.), first-time-on-screen heroes (Deadpool, Antman, Jessica Jones), and heroes who had cameos in current films but will be getting their own movies soon (Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Aquaman), you’re going to be spending a lot of time in dark theaters. This week, we take a look at some fun toys to keep you connected to your favorite heroes—and villains—during those long spells between movie releases.

Big Figs (Jakks Pacific)

 jakks wonder womanThese 19-inch figures, ripped straight from the new Warner Bros film, “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” are stunning. If you’re a collector, you’ll probably put these big figs on a high shelf somewhere and never touch them, which would be too bad, because they’re really fun to play with. We had a chance to review Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and the opportunities for imaginative play are endless. Act out scenes from the movie by pitting that buff alien from Krypton against the equally buff vigilante from Gotham City. Or have that buff warrior princess from the Amazons take on both of the boys. Each of these figures is highly detailed and has seven points of articulation and a cloth cape (in the case of Superman and Batman). They’re for ages 3+ and retail for about $35 each. http://www.jakks.com/

 

Justice League figures (Schleich)

schleich batman v harley quinnThe Justice League is DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, and while they’ve been a little slower getting to the big and small screens, they’re catching up quickly. Schleich, which makes gorgeously detailed animal figurines (including dragons and other mythical beasts) has created a line of just-as-gorgeously detailed Justice League characters. They’re available individually or in pretty much any combination. One set of small figures features Batman and Harley Quinn (who, if you don’t already know, is Joker’s girlfriend and one of Batman’s adversaries. She’s been in the comic books and animated series, but will be making her first live-action appearance in the forthcoming “Suicide Squad” film). Another set comes with seven of the founding members of the League: Aquaman, Batman, Cyborg, The Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, and Wonder Woman. All of the figures are beautifully rendered, solidly crafted, and great to play with. For ages 4+. Prices vary widely.  http://www.schleich-s.com/en/US/

 

Marvel Avengers RC Rollover Rumbler (Jakks Pacific)

jakks avengers rollover rumblerIf you’ve seen “Captain America: Civil War,” you may be feeling the need to side with the Cap or Iron Man. But with this two-sided remote-controlled vehicle, there’s no need to choose. Each side is decorated with images and colors from either Team Red or Team Blue. Start off as Iron Man, and when you get tired of his sarcasm and inflated ego, flip it over and continue as Captain America. And when you’re sick of Steve Rogers’ brooding and pouting, flip back to the billionaire. The multi-function 2.4 GHz remote lets you barrel straight ahead, flip, roll, jump, or do 360-degree spins indoors or out and on almost any non-smooth surface. It’s a real blast for parents or kids and will keep you busy and entertained for hours. The only downside is that it you’ll need 10 AA batteries, which aren’t included. The Rumbler is for ages 4+ and retails for under $48. http://www.jakks.com/

Soaking up the Fun

The hotter it gets—and it seems to be getting hotter by the day in some parts of the country—the more people want to cool off. Running your air conditioning is one way to deal with the heat, but it can be rather pricey. A cheaper—and much more fun—alternative is to go outside and get wet. Here are some of our favorite ways to soak yourself and everyone around you.

Water Warriors water blasters (Buzz Bee Toys)

water blastersBuzz Bee Toys makes more than a dozen different water blasters, all of which are solidly made, reasonably priced, and really fun. The Gargangua uses air pressure and what they call “aggressive soaking technology,” which lets you blast people as far as 40 feet away. And it is, indeed, gargantuan, holding up to 78 ounces of water (more than half a gallon), which means you’ll be able to keep on blasting for a long, long time.  Just fill it up, choose one of three nozzle settings, and start soaking. The Outlaw is a little smaller, but what it lacks in water capacity (it holds up to 48 ounces), it makes up for in distance, outblasting Gargantua by two feet. Both of these blasters are easy to pump, so little kids will be able to hold their own against bigger, older, and stronger opponents. Gargantua is for ages 8 and up, Outlaw for 5 and up. Both are under $20. www.BuzzBeeToys.com

 

Water sprinklers (Prime Time Toys)

sprinklersRunning through sprinklers on a hot summer day is one of the best parts of summer. Sadly, millions of kids who live in drought-stricken parts of the country missed out for the past few years. Fortunately, reservoirs are almost up to normal levels, so sprinklers are back! The Hydro Swirl Spinning Sprinkler connects directly to a standard garden hose and comes fully assembled, so you’ll be ready to get drenched within seconds after unboxing it. The center fountain of the Swirl spins around, spraying water in all directions, and the squirting “wiggle tubes” ensure that no one escapes dry.  Like the Swirl, the Hydro Twist Pipeline Sprinkler also connects to a standard hose and has wiggle tubes. But this sprinkler also has two fountains. The droughts may be over, but you should still soak responsibly. Both are for ages 4 and up and retail for under $15. www.primetimetoys.com @goprimetimetoys

 

Bunch O Balloons (ZURU)

bunch o balloonsPreparing for a water balloon fight can take hours, filling them with water and tying them up one at a time.  Bunch O Balloons gives you an incredible advantage. Just attach it to your hose and in less than a minute, you’ve got yourself 100 filled, tied balloons, so you can get down to the serious business of battle while your opponents are still fumbling around. Bunch O Balloons come in a variety of colors. The pack we reviewed also included a scoop-like launcher, which can extend your range. It’s for ages 4 and up, and retails for about $13. http://bunchoballoons.com

 

Hurricane Water Balls (Prime Time Toys)

water ballsBunch O Balloons may speed things up, but eventually, you’ll run out of ammo. Not so with Hurricane Water Balls, which can be reused up to 1,000 times. The clever design allows you to refill the ball by simply dunking it in a bucket of water for a few seconds. Just like regular balloons, Hurricane Water Balls explode painlessly on contact, leaving your opponent wet but bruise-free. For ages 5 and up and anyone who’s looking for a more environmentally sustainable way to soak each other. They’re about $12 for a package of three. http://hurricanewaterballs.com

Gardening with Kids: One to Grow On

Like cooking, gardening is a great family activity. Growing and caring for plants helps kids learn teamwork, builds problem-solving skills, and encourages responsibility and independence. If you’re growing edible plants, gardening also gives kids (and adults) an important glimpse into where their food comes from. It’s also a great way to get kids to spend time outdoors. However, you don’t need acres of land to plant a garden. This week, we explore several ways to have a fulfilling family gardening experience without leaving your home at all.

TickleMe Plant (TickleMe Plant Company)

tickle me plantOne of the best ways to get kids interested in something is to encourage them to touch it. And plants are no exception. The mimosa has a variety of nicknames, including touch-me-not, shame plant, shy plant, and sleeping grass. But the name that we think little kids will like best is Tickle Me.  When you touch it, the mimosa folds its leaves together to protect itself. Touch it gently and one or two leaves will close. A little stronger and a whole branch might fold up. It’s a great visual lesson on the importance of treating living things gently. Ages 4+. $21.95 for a kit that includes seeds and three small, reusable pots. http://ticklemeplant.com/

Space Plant (DuneCraft)

dunecraft space plantMimosas also react when they’re exposed to heat or cold or are moved suddenly. DuneCraft calls its sensitive mimosas “Space Plants” or “The Amazing Moving Plant” and sells them in “micro terrariums” for $5-$10. http://www.dunecraft.com/

Fairy Triad (DuneCraft)

dunecraft fairy triadDo you have a little one who believes in fairies? If so, this adorable garden is for you. It comes with three magical plants that are used by real fairies (who knew?): Lobelia, to attract the fairies; Thyme, which allows you to see them; and Evening Star, to make special fairy brews. Also included are fairy bells, fairy dust, rainbow gravel, and an “actual” fairy, all of which fits into a clear-domed terrarium. Just be careful what you wish for. Ages 4+. Under $25. http://www.dunecraft.com/

Organic Veggies (DuneCraft)

organic veggiesOrganic vegetables are getting more common, but they still cost a lot more than their non-organic twins. The solution? Grow your own. Everything about these kits is certified organic: the seeds, the soil-less material you plant them in, even the pots. Choose from watermelon, eggplant, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, kale, and others. Start them off inside—they’re all very easy to sprout. Then, put the entire pot into a larger, outdoor space and, in a month or two, you’ll be dining on delicious, organic veggies. For kids four and up (who will be far more interested in eating vegetables they helped grow than anything you brought home from the market). Under $5 each. http://www.dunecraft.com/

Sprout ‘N Grow Greenhouses (DuneCraft)

sprout n grow strawberriesThese compact greenhouses are designed to fit on a windowsill and come with easy-to-grow seeds, planting mixture, and instructions. Choose from bananas, catnip, coffee, strawberries, sugar baby watermelons, sunflowers, and more. Under $10. http://www.dunecraft.com/

RootVue (HSP Nature Toys)

root vueAll the plants we’ve mentioned so far grow above ground. But there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on under the surface too, and RootVue gives you a worm’s eye view of all of it. It’s kind of like an ant farm, where clear plastic windows lets you watch how ants build tunnels. But with RootVue, you and the kids get a chance to see how root vegetables (carrots, radishes, and onions) grow—leafy tops up, roots down. The 16-page booklet has easy-to-follow instructions for doing a variety of experiments. When you’re done admiring your underground cornucopia, yank ‘em out and cook ‘em up. Ages 4+. About $30. http://www.hspnaturetoys.com/

Now You’re Cooking!

Cooking is a wonderful family activity on so many levels. It help build kids’ confidence and creativity, encourages math skills, teaches about cause and effect, builds hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, increases the chance that they’ll eat healthier foods (unless all you ever make is dessert), and more, But most of all, it’s just plain fun. Here are some terrific products that will make cooking with your kids, well, a piece of cake.

 

Kitchen Tools and Utensils (Curious Chef)

curious chef-The brilliant minds at Curious Chef have a huge line of attractive, easy- (and safe-) to use, kid friendly kitchen tools that includes just about everything they (and you) could possibly need to measure, roll, cut, slice, dice, fold, knead, whisk, beat, strain, and otherwise prepare delicious meals. They even have recipes! Everything is designed to fit in little hands and to streamline the cooking process (our favorites are the color coded measuring cups, which all but eliminate measuring mix-ups). Prices vary. http://curiouschef.com/

 

Kitchen Accessories and More (Totally Bamboo)

cuting board - tree of lifeBamboo has become the go-to material for people looking for beautiful, high-quality, eco-friendly kitchen accessories. And no one does it better than Totally Bamboo. Their flatware is a stylish, reusable alternative to disposable cutlery. And at only $4 per set (fork, spoon, and knife), it’s a bargain. They also make mixing bowls and plates, but we especially loved their Tree of Life laser-etched cutting boards ($60), that feature images of exotic and endangered animals. See their whole collection at http://www.totallybamboo.com/

 

Fiesta Dinnerware (Fiesta)

fiesta luncheon plateEventually, all that meal prep will be over and it’ll be time to eat. And you’ll have tough time beating Fiesta for serving your edible creations. Fiesta has been around a long time—you may even have inherited a set from your parents or grandparents. And while the range of sizes and colors (which include plum, lapis, scarlet, and lemongrass), the quality remains the same. Everything Fiesta makes is dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and freezer safe, and has a 5-year warranty against chipping (which won’t happen with normal use). Luncheon plates are $10.99 each. Prices for other items vary. https://www.fiestafactorydirect.com/

 

Canning and Storage Jars (Ball)

ball - blue-mason-jarBall has been making high-quality canning jars for more than 100 years. Their new Collection Elite honors the originals while introducing a line of never-before-released blue jars in three sizes. Of course, not everyone uses Ball jars for canning. They’re also great for storing dry or liquid ingredients, but getting stuff out of those jars can be a challenge. The new Wide Mouth jars with plastic pouring spouts have solved that problem. And for serious storage, check out their decorative half-gallon and gallon Super-Wide Mouth jars. Prices vary. http://www.freshpreserving.com/

 

Silicone Baking Molds (Freshware)

baking mold - madeleineFreshware makes a flexible, non-stick mold for just about anything you could possibly want to bake. But we especially love their dessert molds, which help you create cupcakes, cookies, Madeleines, tarts, candies, caramels, and many more deliciously sweet items that pop right out of the silicone and right into your mouth (after they’ve cooled down, of course). Some recipes are included. Freshware products are 100% food grade and oven-, freezer-, and dishwasher safe. Prices vary. http://www.freshware.com/

 

Savior (Ankomn)

Savior - AnkomnWhat’s a meal without leftovers? But did you know that the average American family throws out hundreds of dollars’ worth of food every year because it spoils? The Savior’s patented vacuum seal technology system (which doesn’t use electricity or batteries) will keep those leftovers fresh up to eight times longer, thereby keeping keep more of your money in your wallet, where it belongs. While it’s great at home, the Savior is also excellent for camping trips or other outdoor activities where you need to keep food from spoiling. It’s easy to clean, freezer- and refrigerator safe, and stackable. $69.99 for 1.5 quart size; $74.99/2.5 quart size. http://www.ankomn.com/

Come on, Kiddo, Time for Bed

Getting kids to go to bed—and stay there—is no easy feat. Many parents dread the nightly routine, starting kids who whine, cry, make increasingly bizarre demands, throw tantrums, and do anything else they can think of to stay up. If you’re looking to make bedtime a little sweeter for everyone, check out our new favorites. You can thank us in the morning.

 

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Snuggle and Glow Plush Toy

daniel tigerThis little guy, who comes with his very own Tigey toy, is great for young fans of the hit TV show, and any child who’s afraid of the dark. Daniel Tiger is dressed for bed in his trolley PJ’s, and has been practicing saying helpful and comforting phrases as well as singing the “Goodnight” song from Mommy Tiger. When you push Daniel’s hand, he’ll talk, sing, or just glow, depending on which “mode” you have him in. Tigey lights up too, and slowly fades as the “Goodnight song” winds down. It’s nice to have a familiar friend with you when you get scared, especially one who glows in the dark. Requires 3 (AAA) batteries (Included). Retails for around $25 at Amazon.

FlipaZoo (FlipaZoo)

flipazooFlipaZoo is a clever, comforting toy that’s great for both home and away. It’s actually two plushes in one and kids will love transforming it from one animal to another. For example, the dragon becomes a unicorn, the husky becomes a polar bear, and the cat becomes a mouse. The transformation is super easy for kids to do (no complicated zippers or buttons)—they just flip the top over and boom, new animal. FlipaZoos are soft, cuddly, and make great pillows for car rides, airplanes, road trips, or just snuggling with while watching a movie with dad and mom. They come in three sizes. $20 for the medium/regular size. http://www.flipazoo.com

 

The Little Prince and Fox plush toy (YOTTOY)

yottoy little princeBased on the popular book (and soon to be movie), “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, YOTTOY has created a delightful line of soft, cuddly toys that feature the traveling Prince himself and the always philosophical fox. You can choose between a 12” Prince (with fox, of course), or a 4” Prince who comes bundled with a copy of the book. Seeing how quickly your child falls in love with the Prince may inspire you to read (or rediscover) the book. It may also inspire your child to use his new plush friends to act out all mischief the book’s characters get into. The 12” Prince + fox is $29; the smaller set plus the book are $53 at http://www.yottoy.com/

 

Teddy Bears (Aurora)

aurora teddy bearsIf you’re in a more traditional mood, you can’t go wrong with Aurora’s line of Teddy Bears. They vary from “baby’s first” to the fuzziest furs and most interesting colors that kids will enjoy. Some of the latest are Smiley Buxley (with, of course, a fantastic teddy smile), and the fantastically detailed Horace and Smokey. The faces on these bears are just too sweet (you won’t want to put them down, so you might need to get an extra one for yourself), and your children will be delighted. Secretly slip one of these huggable cuties onto your child’s bed, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those bedtime protests get derailed by the allure of a new fluffy friend who’s inviting him to come snuggle into sleep. Go ahead, enjoy your evening-you deserve it! Prices vary. You’ll find these bears and lots more at http://www.auroragift.com/aurorababy/