Build Me a Story

Play is supposed to be fun, right? But these days, there are a lot of toys and games that take away some (or most) of the fun by having so many elaborate rules that any hope of creativity is stifled. At the same time, having no rules at all can be so overwhelming that it’s impossible to start. The best games—the ones you want to play over and over—include some basic rules but also give the players plenty of space to improvise. This week we take a look at several family games that do exactly that: give you some guidelines but then get out of the way and let you do things your own way.

how to tell a storyHow to Tell a Story (book by Daniel Nayeri)
The best stories are the ones that have a basic structure and some familiar elements, such as action, conflict, and the characters’ motivation. But putting those elements together isn’t always easy. How to Tell a Story is like a creative writing workshop in a box. The 140+-page book includes some excellent insights into how to write (or just tell) a story. But the best part is the 20 story blocks, which have unique illustrations on each side. They fall into six color-coded categories: red (people or animals), blue (things), orange (places), yellow (descriptions or emotions), green (actions), and purple (relationships). The idea is to roll the blocks like dice and use what’s on each face to create your stories. You can make up your own or follow some of the prompts the author provides (“I found it,” said the [person or animal], lifting the [thing] into the air.) An absolutely wonderful way to stimulate creativity while learning how to be a better storyteller. Ages 3 and up.

magicademyDisney Magicademy (Wonderforge)
Another clever way to make learning fun. Magicademy Animals takes kids on a tour of the animal kingdom, learning about what each species eats, where they live, how they protect themselves, and what we as humans can do to protect them and their environment. Kids and parents will love the huge variety of clever-yet-educational activities and games, such as word scrambles, crossword puzzles, animal bingo, matching games, drawing challenges, and vocabulary (did you know that a group of mice is called a “mischief”?). Magicademy Science brings a similar approach to the world of science. Guided by the beloved characters from the movie Frozen, kids will learn about weather, physics, color, light, our five senses, and more. Both kits come with a 60-page activity book, colored pencils, stickers, a storage pouch, and more. Ages 4 and up.

dohdlesDohdles (Kosmos)
Like most board games, the goal of Dohdles is for players to be the first to move their pawn from a starting space to an ending space. And like many board games, players can move their own pawn forward or do something to keep their opponents from advancing. Unlike most other board games, though, players don’t have to roll dice or pick cards or answer questions to move. Instead, they use modeling dough to create a small sculpture that other players will have to identify (the word doghdle, by the way, combines the words dough and riddle). The trick is to make your dohdles hard—but not impossible—to guess. The sculptor (called Dohdle Master) can score points when opponents guess correctly. Comes with plenty of modeling dough that doesn’t dry out, stain, or smear. Takes about 40 minutes to play. For 3-6 players 10 and up.

Hey, Let’s Take a Road Trip!

When you’re hitting the road with the family, comfortable and occupied kids are quiet. And quiet kids make for a far more peaceful experience for everyone. Here are some new road trip accessories for kids of all ages to help you keep on truckin’.

Junkie orgznizerJunkie and Sneck (BubbleBum)
Junkie is a car organizer/activity station combo that keeps kids’ stuff all in one place and your car cleaner. Just stock it with your children’s favorite toys, harness it into the backseat, and you’re ready to roll. There are two retractable trays, two cup holders, an insulated area for cold items, and plenty of storage for coloring books, snacks, crayons, and anything else you can think of. There’s also a removable tote bag so you can bring your finished (or in-progress) projects into the house, hotel, restaurant, or wherever you’re headed. Sneck is a travel pillow (microbeads on the inside, plush on the outside) that makes easy for kids to nap in the car. You can use the Velcro strap to attach it to almost any headrest and your child can then adjust it to the perfect spot. Sneck also has a small mesh pocket that can hold a small toy or electronic device. Junkie and Sneck are both available at  or most major retailers.

Necknapperz (Necknapperz)
Like Sneck, Necknappers are microbeads-inside-plush-outside neck pillows. But they’re also adorable, cuddly stuffies that your kids will love to play with while they’re waiting to board the plane or entertaining themselves in their car seat. When they get tired, a few zips and shakes and they’ve got a supportive U-shaped pillow that will minimize the stiff shoulders and necks caused by sleeping with your head flopping around. All 22 Necknapperz have snaps and are easy to attach to your (or your child’s) luggage so they won’t get lost. Retail for $19.99 at

EquiptBaby (EquiptBaby)
This portable bassinet is so small, you can fold it up and put it into your diaper bag. The outside is fine, see-through mesh that lets you keep an eye on your baby from any angle. Besides keeping bugs away, the mesh has an SPF 50 rating to protect your baby from the sun. The padded insert is machine washable, so post-diaper-blowout cleanup is easy. Setup takes literally three seconds (folding it back up takes maybe 10). For ages 0-6 months. $69.95 at

If you’ve ever run out of sleeping space on a camping trip, grandma’s house, or even a kids’ sleep over at your own house, you really need to check out Kid-O-Bunk portable bunkbeds. They look a little like army cots, but they’re smaller, come in far more attractive colors, and are much more portable. Setup takes just minutes, no tools, mattresses, or ladders required. You can also configure Kid-O-Bunks as a bench for daytime use, or as two single beds if you’ve got the space or the kids can’t decide who gets the top bunk. Regardless of the configuration, they come with plenty of pockets that are ideal for holding books, glasses, pens, and—if you’re allowing it—electronic devices. The material is machine washable, which is always nice. And they come in a zippered bag which makes storage and schlepping really easy. Recommended for kids up to age 12, each cot can hold up to 200 pounds, so weight (hopefully) won’t be an issue. Tall kids, however, may have a little trouble fitting. Comes with two bunks, adapters for stacking, two carry bags, two organizers, and a set of footpads (to minimize ground sinking outdoors or floor damage indoors). $289 at or

Excuse Me, Have You Got a Match?

There’s something almost primal about matching games. We can imagine a caveman teaching his kids to hunt, hiding in the bushes and pointing at animals: “You want to throw your spear at the ones that look like this (perhaps a deer), but run away from ones that look like that (perhaps a tiger).” Matching games also appeal to all ages. Small babies flip over cards looking for matches while their parents play other games, hoping to get pairs, three of a kind, and flushes. Here are a handful of matching-type games that everyone in your family will enjoy.

Face Chase (R&R Games)

face chaseImagine that you got mugged and you’re trying to describe the perpetrator to a police sketch artist. In a way, that’s what this game is. Face Chase consists of 64 double-sided cards, each with a different face. Put one card in the middle and distribute the rest evenly among the players. Then the madness begins and everyone tries to play cards from their hand on which at least one feature (eyes, hair, mouth, or nose) matches the card in the middle. When all four have been played, do another round. The game requires sharp eyes and fast hands, and takes only 8-10 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+.

Flipping Flags (R&R Games)

Flipping flagsThis is a slight twist on the traditional flip-the-cards-and-find-the-matches. Here, each card has images of three flags along with the name of its country. Spread all the cards face down on the table and players take turns flipping them. Find a match and collect the cards. The twist is that rather than turn the unmatched cards back over, they stay face up. That makes matches easier, but adds an element of speed as players have to be the first to shout out the name of the country or countries that matche. A family-friendly way to learn to identify international flags. Takes 8-10 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+.

Panda Head (R&R Games)

Panda HeadIt all starts with a deck of 63 cards. Fifty-five are emblazoned with a grinning panda head and a number from 1 to 11. There are also a two types of wild cards. Players get seven cards and one player puts a card in the center of the table. The next player has to either play a card with an equal or higher value. Absent that, he or she plays the lowest value card. The first six times, the player with the high card takes the trick. But on the seventh, high card loses. That switcheroo ads an interesting element of strategy to the game as players jockey to save their lowest cards for the last trick. Takes 10-20 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+.

Thumbs Up (Blue Orange Games)

Thumbs UpTired of card games? You’ll love this one. Like some others, Thumbs Up requires sharp eyes and fast hands; but it also takes dexterity. The game consists of 48 colored rings (12 blue, 12 red, 12 yellow, 12 green) and a deck of challenge cards, each with an image of four rings stacked. Flip over a card and players race to be the first to stack the rings on his or her thumb in the order shown on the card. Win five rounds and you win the game. 2-6 players age 6+  .

Ravensburger puzzles (Ravensburger)

Ravensburger - DinosPut these 100-piece puzzles together the regular way, to match the image on the box. Then fire up the matching app to unlock three smile-inducing games that take you into a hidden world within the puzzle and bring it to life. Ages 6+.

Soothing the Savage Infant and Toddler

We often think of the first few years of childhood as a time of total dependence on dad, mom, and anyone else who’s willing to change diapers and clean up vomit. But while that’s true, those early years are also a time when kids start hurtling towards independence, trying to do everything on their own, whether that’s crawling, walking, eating, reading, using the big-kid toilet, or anything else. This week we take a look at a number of toys that little ones will want to do on their own. You may need to be around to help or explain a few things, but even the smallest humans need some “me time.”

zing stikbotStikBots (Zing)
Got a budding animator in your home? If so, this is definitely for you (as long as your child is old enough not to put small things in his or her mouth). The idea is pretty simple: kids can pose the cute plastic figures and use the free StikBot Studios app (for iOS or Android only) to create their very own stop-action. Suction cups where hands and feet would be allow the StikBots to do all sorts of neat tricks. The Bots themselves don’t always hold their posed position and the app can be confusing for very little kids, but overall, it’s a really fun way to bring out your child’s creativity. Ages 4+. $9.99 for a kit with two Bots and a tripod.

sleeperheroSleeperHero (SleeperHero)
When kids are little, bedtime can be tough on everyone: they may be afraid of the dark or of being alone, and you may be afraid (then angry) that you’ll be up all night dealing with them. SleeperHero is a doll-book combo that’s aimed at eliminating some of that nighttime tension. The book is about a child who has trouble falling asleep in his own bed but is befriended by SleeperHero, who’s there to comfort and banish the bad guys and monsters hiding under the bed. For the parents, the doll has a light on his chest that glows red when it’s time for the child to stay in bed, then changes to green when it’s okay to run around and wake everyone up. Naturally, you can set both times. Ages 3+. $49.99.

troboTROBO (Trobo)
If you’re completely opposed to exposing young children to technology, you’re out of luck here. But if you agree that technology can be wonderful in moderation and with an adult around, you’ll love TROBO. This friendly plush toy pairs with an iPad or iPhone and tells stories to your child. The stories subtly expose toddlers to science and technology concepts, and by incorporating your child’s name and a cartoon avatar, he or she becomes part of the story—and stays interested, which hopefully builds a love of learning. TROBO isn’t quite out yet, but he’ll be available just in time for the Holidays. Pre-order at

tiny love mobile + crib toyDouble-Sided Crib Toy and Hide and Seek Mobile (Tiny Love)
The crib toy attaches to the inside of your baby’s crib and lets your baby pound, bang, poke, and twist five colorful elements that produce a variety of sounds and effects. Flip it over and it switches to nighttime mode, with softly twinkling lights and soothing music.  The mobile is not your father’s (or even your) mobile. Sure it has adorable animals that gently go round and round, accompanied by music. But these figures also play hide and seek with your baby, sometimes hiding behind something that looks like a leaf, sometimes not. The mobile also gives your baby some control over the music. 0-24 months. Prices vary.

Now Boarding…. You and Your Family

With airports gouging you for every little thing, you want to keep your bags as small and light as possible, packing no more than you absolutely have to for any trip. Whenever you can, limit each person to a carry-on and avoid those nasty baggage fees. Between that and the one small bag (like a briefcase or purse) most airlines allow, you’ll be able to make every inch count!


comfy commuter travel pillowComfy Commuter travel pillow (Comfy Commuter)

The first thing you want to pack—and this one won’t count towards your carry-on-and-one-personal-item limit—is a head-and-neck pillow for the flight. Unless you’re in first class, those seats tend to be awful, and there’s no comfortable way (especially if you’re over about 5’ 8”) to sit that doesn’t cramp up your neck. And trying to sleep? Dream on… Comfy Commuter’s new travel pillow will make you comfortable as possible, the plush material enveloping your neck so your head stays upright. (We travel a lot and this is one of the most comfortable pillows we’ve come across.) It has a chin strap to keep it from falling on the floor. It’s available in several colors for $40 at .


waldlauferWaldläufer shoes (Waldläufer)

Travel generally involves a lot of walking and Waldläufer has shoes for every journey, no matter where life takes you. A new take on the “comfort shoe,” Waldläufers are comfortable and stylish—none of those giant, clunky soles or orthotic-looking designs here. They come in a number of categories (dress, casual, walking, outdoors, sandals, and more) and you’ll usually have a choice of colors and materials. Women have more than 40 models to select from. Men, sadly, have only six. Just put ‘em on and get ready to hit the road—and you’ll be looking sharp while you’re on it. To see their entire line and find the nearest store that sells them, visit


eagle creek bagMarket Handbag (Eagle Creek)

Besides what it does to your neck and your feet, travel can also be hard on your gear, so everything you bring needs to be able to take a punch (or a kick or survive a fall). Eagle Creek’s Market Handbag is aimed mostly at women and it’s comfortable, durable; lightweight; has plenty of pockets for all your big items; smaller, easily accessible spaces for things like pens, keys, pens, phones, and business cards; and even outside pockets for water bottles or sippy cups. Speaking of water, the outside is water resistant, just in case… The strap is adjustable so you can wear it over the shoulder or across your body, and one end is detachable so can secure it to your chair or table to keep purse-snatcher wannabes at bay. The Market Handbag also has a lifetime warranty, which gives you some indication of how much confidence the company has in this product. Costs $80 at


eagle creek specter pill organizerSpecter 7-Day Pill Organizer (Eagle Creek)

It’s hard to find a family in which there isn’t at least one person taking medication, vitamins, or supplements every day. Pill bottles can take up a lot of valuable space in your luggage and many hard-plastic pill holders randomly pop open. The Specter has seven clear, numbered, zippered pockets that show what’s in each compartment. The Organizer itself zips shut and you can even lock it. The Specter also has convenient pockets for a pen and emergency numbers. Comes in three colors and costs $25 at



We’re Baaaaack—in School

Back to school is a crazy time of year, and not many parents relish all the last-minute shopping for supplies. But no matter what your kids need for school this year, they’ll definitely need a backpack to haul it around in. Here are some fun and functional choices for your students.


bixby backpackBixbee

Got a little one entering Pre-K or Kindergarten this year? He or she will love Bixbee, and so will you. These packs are adorable and come in a variety of great patterns and styles. Some have wings, some have animal faces and ears, heck, there are even shark fins. Bixbee also has a line of more typical backpacks and tamer color palettes for bigger kids. These backpacks are well-made, PVC-, BPA-, phthalate-, and lead free, and come in several sizes, which is more important than you think: The American Occupational Association says that to help your child avoid chronic pain, backpacks should rest “in the curve of the lower back” and never more than four inches below the child’s waistline. Not content to simply combine style and safety, Bixbee also donates a schoolbag with supplies to a needy child for every backpack purchased. For more info, visit


wildkins backpackWildkin

Wildkin’s matching backpacks and lunch bags are great for kids who like all their things to match (or for parents who find it easier to grab everything when it all looks the same). Besides backpacks and lunchboxes, there are also matching nap mats, sports bags, duffels, pencil cases, big-kid bedding sets, and more. The patterns are delightful. The only drawback is that they aren’t quite as sturdy as some others, so if your child is tough on his or her gear, you may not be able to use this year’s pack next year. Prices vary.


chooze backpackChooze

Chooze bags and coordinated lunch boxes are really durable (meaning that they can stand up to being used by adults) and come in great patterns. They also have padded straps (those packs will get heavier and heavier as the year progresses), plenty of pockets and pouches, and zippers that stay zipped and don’t catch, As an added bonus, they’re completely reversible—just turn it inside out and you’ve got a whole new look without you having to buy a new pack. $25-$44 at


noosa yoghurtNoosa Yoghurt

Looking for something delicious to stick into lunchboxes this year? Noosa’s great taste and flavor combinations, along with the fact that it’s produced in small batches on a family farm, make this unlike any other yogurt on the market today. Made with all natural whole milk, fresh fruit purees, and honey, it’s also all natural, gluten-free, and probiotic, so it’s good for the whole family. Comes in lunchbox- and grown-up sizes in unique flavors like Cranberry Apple, Pumpkin, Honey, and Strawberry Rhubarb, and more traditional ones like Vanilla and Blueberry.  Find a store that sells Noosa near you at


simply7 sea saltSimply 7

Another easy lunchbox ingredient is chips. No, not all are very health, but Simply 7’s are. Chips come in Quinoi, Lentil, and Hummus (unusual sounding but incredibly tasty) and are vegetarian, non-GMO, kosher, gluten free, and have up to 50% less fat than regular potato chips. Flavors include sea salt, spicy chili pepper, roasted red peppers, creamy dill, and jalapeno, BBQ, cheddar, and bruschetta. Best of all, the ingredients are simple and pronounceable (except possibly bruschetta). Available at many large and small retailers. To find one near you, visit


Three for Two and One for One

Game nights are a great way for family and friends to send time together. But for single- parent, single-child families (or even a one-on one date night), finding fun games for two players can be a challenge. Single-player games are even harder. This week we take a look at a number of games that fit into both of those categories.

code master think funCode Master (Think Fun)

This single-player game is actually a series of increasingly complex puzzles that encourage the player to use coding and programming concepts to advance. The idea is simple: Write a program using game tokens that will get your avatar from point A to B (go forward from space 1 to space 2, follow the blue path to space 3, go back to 1, now take the red path to 4, and so on), picking up valuable crystals along the way. There’s only one solution for each level. You’ll whip through the early ones pretty easily, but by the time you get into the teens and 20s (there are a total of 60), you’ll be sweating buckets as you flex your critical thinking, logical, and planning muscles. $24.99. One player, age 8 and up. Available exclusidely at Target.

puzzlets digital dream labsPuzzlets (Digital Dream Labs)

Like Code Master, Puzzlets has players think like a programmer, using problem-solving, logic, sequencing, and other skills to advance through a series of increasingly difficult game levels. Research has found that when kids (and, presumably, adults) use their hands and mind together, they retain new information longer. It all starts with the free app (for Android and iOS only). Fire it up and on screen you’ll see an avatar and an object that avatar needs to collect. Then, players arrange physical game tiles (forward, backward, jump, and so on) in the Play Tray in a way that will accomplish that goal. The Tray relays those commands to the app. If your program works, you’re on to the next stage. If not, go back to the Tray and reprogram. Feeling collaborative? Puzzlets is a great one-on-one parent-child activity. Or, you could play it by yourself. Comes with everything you need to play—except a laptop or tablet. Will be available in September, 2015 for $99.99. But you can preorder now for $69.99.

nefarious from usaopolyNefarious (USAOpoly)

Designed by Donald X. Vacarino, creator of the popular Dominion and Kingdom Builder games, Nefarious pits you and other evil geniuses against each other to see who can bring the world to its knees first. All you have to do is build the most dastardly device, amass the biggest fortune, hire the most minions, and do the most sabotage and espionage. Special Twist cards turn the rules on their head so you’ll never play the same game twice. For 2-6 players, age 13 and up. Will be hitting store shelves soon.

peanuts surprise slides from wonder forgePeanuts Surprise Slides Game (Wonder Forge)

This game is similar to Candy Land in a number of ways. It’s colorful, easy for preschoolers to learn, and fun enough for adults to want to play with their children more than once. But one of the biggest differences (besides more recognizable, child-friendly characters on the board) is that players move through the game using a spinner instead of cards—and we all remember how card get bent, torn, filthy, and lost. Players are on a race through the seasons. Like Candy Land, there are tons of shortcuts; some move you ahead, others backwards. Unlike Candy Land, pieces of the game board can be rearranged and flipped over, creating new shortcuts and getting rid of old ones. Ages 3 and up. Under $10 at retailers everywhere.

Imagination and Coordination

This week we take a look at a number of toys that combine imagination and fine motor skills.

playmobil horse farmTake Along Horse Farm (Playmobil)
As readers of this column know, we’re big fans of building systems. But not every child shares that particular passion. This colorful, realistic set is perfect for the child who doesn’t mind putting a few pieces together, but would much rather spend his or her time getting the horses fed, groomed, exercised, and ready for to ride. The 81 pieces include two horses, three humans, a couple of dogs, a wheelbarrow for delivering food (or removing horse manure), scrub brushes, and more. The barn itself turns into an easy-to-carry case so your little equestrian will be able to pack up the whole thing and take the show on the road (or just back to his or her room). Ages 4-10. $35.53 at Amazon.

playmobil sunshine preschoolSunshine Preschool Set (Playmobil)
Like the Horse Farm, this set doesn’t require much building, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. In fact, with 394 pieces, there’s almost no limit to the number of entertaining, home-related scenes a creative boy or girl can concoct. The setting is, as you might guess from the name, the Sunshine Preschool, and the kit includes one adult figure, four children, and a dizzying array of accessories: a music area complete with instruments, a climbing wall, a clock with moveable hands, backpacks, pencils, paintbrushes, a coffee pot, mugs, a chalkboard, two toilets, and a lot more. The only risk is that after spending time at the Sunshine school, your child may refuse to go to his or her own preschool—Sunshine is definitely a hard act to follow. Ages 4-10. 394 pieces. $99.99 at Amazon.

flipsies SandyFlipsies Sandy’s House and Ocean Cruiser (VTech)
Sandy is just one of the Flipsies, collectible dolls that are designed to inspire the little girls who play with them. Sandy wants to be a marine biologist, and each of the other Flipsies has her own unique dreams. Carina’s on her way to medical school, Styla runs a fashion boutique, Eva wants to be a veterinarian, and Clementine has a thing for ice cream. All of the Flipsies (each is sold separately) can switch clothes, accessories, and even hair. But what’s especially fun is the MagicPoint locations that are in each Flipsie’s habitat. Put Sandy in one of the MagicPoints on her Ocean Cruiser and she’ll tell you something nautical. Put her into a MagicPoint in Styla’s salon, and she’ll tell you something that’s appropriate for a budding biologist with a strong sense of style. Ages 4-9. Prices vary, depending on the kit. This one is $56.62 at Amazon.

tugie, marbles the brain storeTugie (Marbles, the Brain Store)
Tugie (pronounced “tuggie”) is a fun, engaging game that’s super easy to learn and definitely has that “let’s play another round” quality. There are 12 colorful disc-like pieces that stack on a spindle, plus a gray one that sits on the very top. Each disc has a string attached. Players take turns rolling a die to see which color they need to remove by tugging on the string. If you get your disc out, gently place it on top, and it’s the next player’s turn. But you’ve got to be careful—if you knock any pieces off the spindle, you keep them. The player with the fewest wins the round. Each round takes no more than a few minutes to play. Tugie requires a fair amount of hand-eye coordination (not quite as much as Jenga) and a bit of luck. Ages 5 and up. $29.99.

Back-to-School Healthy Snacks and Superfoods

Where did the summer go? In the frenzy to get the kids ready for the new school year, we’re going to spend an absurd amount of money on clothes and supplies. But we often forget about healthy snacks and lunches. Here are some of our favorites.

kuli kuli morengaKuli Kuli
Move over, kale, there’s another superfood in town, and it’s called moringa. What, you’ve never heard of it? Well, you will soon, because moringa (leaves of the moringa oleifera tree, which grows in South Asia and West Africa) may very well be the world’s most nutritious green. Moringa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries and it may cure or prevent as many as 300 diseases. But it also packs a serious nutritional wallop. According to the good folks at Kuli Kuli (the Oakland, Caliornia-based importer), gram for gram, moringa has twice the protein of yogurt, 4x the vitamin A of carrots, 3x the potassium of bananas, 4x the calcium of milk, and 7x the vitamin C of oranges. Kuli Kuli has moringa as a powder, as a tea, or mixed with other ingredients into delicious, gluten-free, high-fiber, filling-and-satisfying vegan bars.

crispy fruit freeze dried Crispy Fruit freeze-dried fruit (Crispy Green)
Snack foods don’t get a lot simpler than this. Each bag of Crispy Fruit contains exactly one ingredient: tangerine, apple, Asian pear, banana, cantaloupe, mango, or pineapple. That’s it. The fruit itself tastes exactly like what it’s supposed to, is pleasantly crunchy, and kind of melts in your mouth. Your kids will love it—and so will you. Plus, it’s easy to pack and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Buy it at Amazon and other retailers or at

mamma chiaMamma Chia
Mamma Chia has a wide range of, you guessed it, chia-based products that are gluten free, nutritionally dense, mostly vegan (some products contain a little bit of honey or milk), and non-GMO. Best of all, every one of the products we tried was really, really good. The granola clusters are great by themselves or sprinkled onto something else (yogurt, for example). If you’re new to chia, it’ll take you a few seconds to get used to the texture of the squeeze pouches and energy drinks. Available at many grocery stores or at

chine chia organicsShine Organics
Shine has four nutrition-packed superfood pouches, each with a self-explanatory purpose: calm, elevate, purify, and revive. The ingredients are certified organic, gluten free, vegan, and kosher, and the chia seeds are milled so you’re less likely to get them stuck between your teeth. The pouches themselves are BPA-free. Shine pouches are technically for adults, but kids can certainly eat them, although they taste so good that you won’t want to share. Available at Target.

element rice cakesElement rice cakes (Element Snacks)
Being a gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free household, we eat a lot of rice cakes. Unfortunately, aside from not having much taste, rice cakes also tend to fall apart, which means that the dog gets more of it than he deserves. Element rice (and corn) cakes have solved both of those problems by coating thin hard-to-crumble wafers in a layer of deliciousness: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, strawberries and cream, and sweet vanilla and orange. They’re free of gluten, GMO, preservatives, and corn syrup, and contain only 5 grams of sugar and 80 calories. Available at select retailers or

juicy juice Juicy Juice
100% fruit juice, in moderation, is great. But kids sometimes drink too much of it. Juicy Juice comes in 12 mouth-watering, no-sugar-added flavors and are available in 4.25-ounce boxes (the equivalent of ½ cup of fruit), which makes them great for lunches. At retailers everywhere or

A Midsummer Days’ Dream

Summer is fully upon us, in all its glory. And by “glory” we mean that it’s hot, sticky, and sweaty. (Almost enough to make you forget what a brutal winter it was. Almost.) For those of you looking for ways to cool down, try these.

fisher price sand and water tableLittle Tikes Treasure Hunt Sand and Water Table (Fisher Price)
Kids love water play and they love sandboxes. Combine them? Oh, yeah. There are several things about this toy a great summertime option: there’s zero tech, it gets kids to play outside, it encourages creative play, it can be used in a variety of ways, multiple kids can play together (or separately), you can bring it indoors in case of summer rain showers, and, best of all, it keeps kids busy for hours. The Sand and Water Table is a great way for you and the kids to spend time together getting your hands dirty and wet. It’s also a great option if you need a few minutes to mark some of those boring grown-up things off your to-do list (but you’ll never, ever leave small children alone around water, right?) Oh, and did we mention that it’s a bargain at $59.99.

little tikes slam n curve slideSlam ‘n Curve Slide (LItle Tikes)
While we’re on the topic of things that will get the kids up, outside, and occupied for hours, check out the Slam ‘n’ Curve Slide. It’s easy to set up—less than a minute if you use the included pump—and anchors solidly to the ground to keep it steady. Then you attach your water hose, turn it on, and voila! water slide/bouncy house fun, right in your very own backyard. The slide comes with a basketball net and mini inflatable ball, and there’s a small pool at the bottom that gradually fills up, but it doesn’t get very deep. The Slam ‘n Curve is one of the best warm-weather toys we’ve seen and it’s perfect whether you’ve got the kids at home all summer long or you’re just planning a short staycation. The only downside is that it’s a little cumbersome to put away—you have to empty it out, let it dry, roll it up like a giant sleeping bag), and stuff it into the included storage sack. It’s also a bit heavy, but given how much you’re going to be using it, you want something solid. The Slam ‘n Curve Slide provides days (not just hours) of entertainment for the whole family and is well worth the $399.99 price. Find it at your favorite retailer or

dyson am09 bladeless fanAM09 Fan + Cool Heater (Dyson)
This fan is perfect for those long evenings when, even though the sun has gone down, everything still feels sticky and gross.  Some of the coolest features about this fan are that it oscillates, tilts, is easy to clean, and is blade-less. You know kids and fans: They always want to stick their fingers (or toys, or straws, or silverware) into the slots to “see what will happen.” As adults, we all know what happens, and it’s never good. Eliminating the blades eliminates most of those potential disasters. It also makes the fan easy to clean (you’ve seen how dust accumulates on fan blades: no blades = much less dust to blow around). The AM09 is quieter than most other fans and comes with a remote that controls oscillation, temperature, and airflow. It also has a sleep timer. When summer turns to fall and then winter and the nights get cooler, the AM09 functions as a heater. Get yours at  for $449.99