Baby, It’s Still Cold Outside

If your family is one of the millions that have been affected by the recent Polar Vortex-induced weather craziness and you’re spending more time inside than usual, we’ve got some great ideas for fun, imaginative, affordable indoor play.

fashion doll coupeFashion Doll Coupe (American Plastic Toys)
You won’t be driving a real convertible for at least another few months, but there’s no reason why your child’s dolls and stuffed animals should suffer. This is a basic, no-frills, open-top roadster built for two. That means no batteries, and no remote control. It’s powered by plain, old fashioned imagination (and your child’s hands, of course). The plastic “tires” don’t leave those annoying black marks on your floors like rubber tires do. Made in the USA, the Coupe costs only $5.00 (really!) and is available wherever you buy your toys.

Fashion Doll Delightful DollhouseFashion Doll Delightful Dollhouse (American Plastic Toys)
If your little one has been hankering for a dollhouse, this is a great time to get her one (assuming you can find your car under all the snow). This dollhouse is huge—three entire floors—so big, in fact, that several kids (or parents) can play at the same time. It comes with plenty of furnishings and other accessories: several beds, a couch, ottomans, a bathtub, tables and chairs, lamps, a washer/dryer set, pillows, and more. And there’s enough room left over to accommodate anything you’d want to add. If you’re buying online, one particularly nice feature (for you, not the UPS driver) is that the dollhouse comes partially assembled, so you and the kids can be playing within minutes. The Delightful Dollhouse costs around $100 and is widely available. For $50, there’s also a smaller version, the Fashion Doll Cozy Cottage, which also comes with plenty of accessories.

hexbug tony hawk skateboardTony Hawk Circuit Board (Hexbug)
If you’re into fingerboarding, it would be hard to imagine a more fun way to play than this. The large kit we reviewed comes with pretty much everything you’ll need to build your own skate park: an inner bowl, an outer bowl, two quarter pipes, a roll-up ramp, a rail, and, of course, a skateboard. We’ve always loved Hexbug’s attention to detail and well-built products, and the Circuit Board doesn’t disappoint. All of the park components snap firmly together and have a realistic look and feel. The board itself feels quite real too, complete with grip tape and sticky-ish wheels. If your fingers get tired, you also get a Power Axle, a remote control unit, a tiny screwdriver, and even-tinier screws that you’ll use to attach the axle. The controls are a little odd—push the right stick and you go left, push the left to go right. But once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be ready to start grinding rails. $49.99. Hexbug.com

hexbug shark tankAquabot 2.0 Shark Tank (Hexbug)
You and the kids can have plenty fun with your robotic Angel Fish—at least until the shark decides to turn him into a meal (that part’s fun too). The kit comes with one Angel Fish, several pieces of decorative “coral,” a sturdy hexagonal tank, and a shark who’s attached to a ramp that snaps onto the side of the tank. When you push the shark down, his mouth opens; pull back and the jaws of death close. If you’re lucky, he’ll have a mouth full. You can increase your chances by dropping in a few more fish. Hexbug’s technology keeps getting better and better: This generation of fish are water-ready and go to sleep after five minutes of inactivity. You can wake them up, though, by tapping on the glass. $29.99. Hexbug.com

2015 Toy Trends to Watch

Every year, hundreds of toy manufacturers flock to New York, in the middle of February, to showcase their latest and greatest. Thousands of buyer s and media folks are close behind, anxious to uncover hidden toy gems for their customers and readers. This year was no exception (except for the fact that it was 20 degrees colder than usual), and your parents@play team was right there on the front lines. Here are some of trends that we think will be hot in 2015.

backpacksBackpacks. Backpacks are no longer simple bags with shoulder straps designed to carry stuff. This year, they’ll be a major fashion statement, too. They’ll be colorful, fanciful, often-customizable, and some will combine form and function, allowing the wearer to dress up as a favorite character.

 

owlselephantsOwls and Elephants Are the New Teddy Bears. Of course, we won’t be saying goodbye to teddy bears forever, but there’ll be a lot more hooting and trumpeting in the toy aisles this year. Owls and teddy bears plush toys will also showing up as book illustrations, mini figurines, and, of course, in apps (more on that below).

 

talking backTalk amongst Yourselves. Toys that “talk” are nothing new, but as technology evolves, manufacturers are using it in very clever ways. Minions, for example, are pretty chatty and musical. But sometimes, if you put a few of them together, they’ll sing in harmony. Some doctor toys will change what they say depending on which patient is in the exam room. Others will speak differently when their wardrobe or location changes. Dogs and cats may chase each after other, otherwise-peaceful dinosaurs may fight each other in groups, hot dogs will sizzle when you put them on the grill, and so on.

 

 

blind packBlind Packs. Many collectible toys, from My Little Pony to The Walking Dead, will be available in small bags that don’t say who or what is inside them (some may give you a hint, though).

 

 

appThere’s an App for That. Technology is a wonderful thing, except when it isn’t. A huge number of physical toys now come with a virtual component. Many times, these apps augment your child’s playtime experience by adding new app/tablet-based dimensions and features. But sometimes, the apps add absolutely nothing—and may even detract.

grossThat’s Disgusting. Last year, we saw molds for making your own “poop” (complete with pieces of “corn” to heighten the effect), fart keyboards, and rainbow-pooping unicorns. Those will still be popular. Plus, we’ll see toys that eat, poop, vomit, and then combine all of those actions in a variety of disgusting ways. And we’ll add a new sense to the mix with fart sprays—some make a noise and produce pleasant odors, while others have a more “natural scent.”

frozenFrozen. We thought the movie was wonderful. But Disney has done such a good job licensing its characters that they’ll be popping up on toys, games, dolls, karaoke, cell-phone cases, apps, and everything else, that we’re predicting that within a few months, you’ll have completely OD’d on building snowmen, and the cold will bother you. A lot.

dino/movieMovie and TV Tie-ins. Speaking of movies, you’ll be seeing a huge number of entertainment-related toys, games, figures, and apps. Of course there are the superheroes from DC and Marvel—including some relatively rare ones like Ant Man—but there are also Minions, dinosaurs, and a variety of new characters who’ll be making the jump from the screen to your playroom.

role playRole Play. Now kids (mostly girls) can do more than just play with their dolls—they can dress up as them with brand-licensed skirts, tops, and footwear.

Let the Kisses Fly

Valentine’s Day is no longer just for lovers and romantically significant others—today, people give Valentine’s gifts to their parents, close friends, and (of course) their children. And the children give us gifts too (we all wear our glitter-pasta necklaces with pride, don’t we?). If you’re still looking for the perfect gift for your little prince or princess, here are some nice ways to say “I love you” (in addition to the actual words).

skylanders love potionLove Potion Pop Fizz
If you’ve got a game enthusiast in the family, check out Skylander’s new Love Potion Pop Fizz.  Despite his name, this little guy is anything but mushy and sweet; instead of shooting Cupid’s arrows, he throws vials of strange substances. Still, he’ll be a cherished addition to your gamer’s Skylanders collection. Because he’s a seasonal limited edition, he’ll eventually be hard to find—but right now you can still get him at Amazon, Game Stop, or your favorite retailer for about $10.

cloud b cuddlesGlow Cuddles Bear
Dreamz to Go Groovy Globes
Cosmic UFO (Cloud b)
A well-rested child is a well-behaved child, and Cloud b encourages and facilitates sleep with a sweet line of creative nightlights and bedtime toys. One of our favorites is the adorable,  soft Glow Cuddles Bear.  Cuddles has a light hidden inside his chest and when he gets a hug, the light glows soothingly. There’s also a gentle, calming heartbeat sound that helps lull little ones to sleep.  Cuddles has two sleep timer options: 10 or 23 minutes. Because his facial features are sewn on, he’s perfectly safe for infants and toddlers. The only exception are the three AA batteries (not included), but those are encased in a parent-only-accessible hatch. Retails for $35.95 on http://cloudb.com.

If you’re considering a teddy bear for your child, you’ll want to stay far away from the 50 Shades of Grey Bear from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, which comes with a variety of accessories, including blindfolds and handcuffs.  Definitely rated R.

For older children who still like to fall asleep with a nightlight, Cloud b has a couple of great options.  Dreamz To Go Groovy Globes have graphics of hearts, flowers, and peace signs etched into the globe. When you turn on the bulb, the light shines from inside and projects those groovy images onto your walls and ceiling. It’s a great way to move your little Valentine towards sleep. The Globes are available in pink or aqua, and require 3 AAA batteries (included). Retail is $25.95 on http://cloudb.com.

The Cosmic UFO is a fun addition to any child’s room.  Shaped (as you would imagine) like a UFO, it projects images of the Northern Lights and makes “intergalactic” sounds that make your child’s space look and feel like the great outdoors. The UFO’s brightness setting are adjustable and there’s a 23-mnute auto shutoff timer. Batteries are included. Retails for $44.95 on http://cloudb.com.

love popperLove Poppers (Hog Wild)
Adding a whole new dimension to the phrase “blowing kisses,” Love Poppers are fun, silly animals that shoot soft “kisses” (foam balls with lips on them) at their target (great for reaching your sweetheart from across the room). Pop the balls into the animal’s mouth, squeeze the belly, and watch the kisses fly and the laughter ensue.  The kisses are soft, but we recommend that you do your shooting outdoors, just to be safe. Poppers come in four flavors:  monkey, pig, squirrel, and cow, and each comes with six balls and retails for $10.95. Refills are sold separately in stores or at http://www.hogwildtoys.com

Winter Indoors

According to Punxsutawney Phil, that famous, four-legged weather prognosticator, we’re in for at least another month of winter. And if the overtime is anything like the first part, we ‘re going to be spending a lot of time indoors. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered with some great indoors activities.

nintendo e-shopNintendo eShop (Nintendo)
Craving a new video game but don’t want to actually go out to get it? At the Nintendo eShop, you can order the latest games and have them shipped, or download them directly to your Wii U or 3DS/2DS. There’s also plenty of exclusive, digital-only content. One especially nice feature is the ability to demo selected games before you buy. The eShop gives you access to all of Nintendo’s well-known franchises as well as some new, indie gems. Whether you’re buying for a seasoned gaming pro or a novice, old or young, adventurous or timid, there’s something fun for everyone. Prices vary widely. http://www.nintendo.com/eshop

kidz gear headset and splitterHeadset for Kids (Kidz Gear)
Kids have an amazing capacity to do the same thing over and over and over, whether that’s playing a game, watching a movie, or listening to music. Adults, however, sometimes need a break from the repetition—especially when we’re trapped in the house. When that happens, break out these headphones. The over-the-ear pads are a lot more comfortable than in-ear buds, and they’re really easy to adjust. They have a 3.5mm (1/8”) plug, meaning they’ll work in pretty much any phone, tablet, computer or MP3 player. Unlike most headphones, Kidz Gear headphones have “KidzControl Volume Limit Technology” which, as you might guess from the name, keeps the volume well below danger levels. This particular Kidz Gear model comes with a boom mic, making it perfect for interactive games or just talking on the phone. Kidz Gear also makes a nice headphone splitter cable which lets you plug two headphones into one jack so you and your child can snuggle up and watch or listen to something together. Headphones and splitters are available at retailers everywhere for $29.99 and $5.99, respectively. https://www.gearforkidz.com/

kidfit trackerKidFit Tracker (X-Doria)
Getting exercise when you’re snowed in can be tough. But KidFit can help. It’s a simple, attractive wristband that measures your children’s activity throughout the day. It also lets you use Bluetooth and a free iOS or Android app to establish fitness goals and set rewards for meeting them. The app can support multiple trackers for multiple kids (or adults if you get one too). Besides activity, the KidFit also tracks your child’s sleep, which is extremely important (and just as extremely underrated). KidFit is splash proof—a feature that sets it apart from some competitors. Our only complaint is that there’s no display—if you want to see how close you’re getting to your goal, you need to connect to the app. Available at Amazon and other retailers for $39-49.

zoku ice creamZoku Ice Cream Maker (Zoku)
Ice cream cravings can hit anytime—even when it’s 20 below zero outside. When that happens, all you need is Zoku’s new Ice Cream Maker, which lets you create individual portions of ice cream, custard, frozen yogurt, gelato, sorbet, or sherbet in as little as 10 minutes. Comes with great-tasting recipes, but you can make your own too. $25.99. http://www.zokuhome.com
 

 

 

alex sno-markersMini Sno-Markers (Alex Brands)
Snow or not, sometimes you just have to get outside. And with Sno-Markers, you can brighten those dreary days with a splash of color. Just add water to the colored powder, shake, and you’re ready to create. The set comes with five markers but 10 color packs so you’ll be able to illustrate all winter long.. $14.99 at www.alexbrands.com and www.poof-slinky.com.

 

Some Assembly Required

Building systems come in a huge variety of styles, shapes, materials, and levels of difficulty. This week we take a look at several of them—one traditional, one non-traditional, and two that offer a new twist on the classics.

Playmobil zoo & aquariumTake Along Zoo & Aquarium (Playmobil)
Happy 40th birthday to Playmobil! Playmobil sets are always well made, colorful, and fun to play with—what could be better than that?—and this one is no exception. What makes the Zoo & Aquarium especially unique is that it’s great for both indoor and outdoor play. It comes with trees, pools, fences, and quite a few animals (such as zebras, giraffes, lions, fish, walrus), as well as “human” caretakers. That’s a lot of pieces for one set. And there’s room for a few more, just in case your child wants to invite some other animal friends over for a visit.  When you open up the kit, one side is the zoo, the other is the aquarium, which your child can actually fill up with water and let the sea creatures (and the rest of the animals—hey, giraffes swim too) take a dip. When playtime’s over, all the pieces fit easily into the case, which (after you’ve drained and dried it) folds up for storage or easy transport. Retails for $49. http://www.playmobil.us/

nintendo captain toadCaptain Toad: Treasure Hunter (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s Mario games are kind of like Oprah, who made Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz so famous that they got their own show. Similarly, Nintendo has given quite a few Mario stars their own games. These include Yoshi, Luigi, Princess Peach, and now Captain Toad. What’s especially interesting about the Captain is that he has no particular super powers—not even jumping. He just walks, runs, and has a real knack for finding gold coins, turnips that can be used to defeat enemies, and even a blockade-busting pickaxe. He’s also something of a genius when it comes to putting things together to solve puzzles.  Captain Toad is a game for the whole family. Kids will like the simple controls and easy mechanics of the game, and adults will appreciate the puzzles and the challenges required to collect all the treasures. Captain Toad retails for around $40 and is available everywhere video games are sold, from the Wii U eShop, or at http://captaintoad.nintendo.com/

light staxLight Stax (Light Stax)
From a distance, Light Stax look like Duplo (Lego’s jumbo size bricks for preschoolers), but connect at least one Stax block to the power base, and every other block that’s connected—directly or indirectly—will light up. The base, which can run on batteries or a USB cable, has enough juice to light up at least 100 blocks. Stax are compatible with Duplo (but only the Stax blocks illuminate), but our favorite feature is the auto-shutoff, which means your child can build a completely new nightlight every night. Stax come in sets from 12 blocks to more than 100, and prices run from $35 to $250. http://lightstax.com/

 

klutz lego chain reactionLEGO Chain Reactions (Klutz)
If you liked the classic game Mousetrap, you’ll love Klutz’s very clever LEGO Chain Reaction book. The motto is “Teach Your Bricks New Tricks,” and by incorporating ordinary LEGO elements and a few other ingredients, that’s exactly what happens. What’s the point of doing ridiculously simple things like tossing a gum wrapper or bouncing a ball in one step when you can do it in 20 or 30 steps using levers, pulleys, ramps, hammers, string, tires, and funnels? An engaging, entertaining, and educational activity for the whole family. Comes with 30+ Lego elements and instructions for building 10 Rube Goldberg machines. Retails for around $20. http://klutz.com

A Playful Intro to Gaming

Are you looking to add a new layer of fun to your at-home gaming world, or maybe a gentle way to give your little one a taste? If so, you’ll definitely want to check out these toys, which will keep your youngster (okay, and you too) entertained through the rest of the winter and beyond.

nintendo plushPlush Toys from Nintendo
Got a kid who’s not quite ready for actual gaming? These cute, 7.5-inch plush toys from Nintendo are a great way to introduce him or her to popular cultural icons such as Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Link, Red Pikmin, and Yellow Pikmin. Plus, they’re sturdy, soft, and great for cuddling up with at bedtime (or any other time). They’re about $8 each at your favorite retailer.

 

 

tmnt hero portalJAKKS Hero Portal
Another one for the novice gamers among us (and for their more experienced, young-at-heart adult caretakers). These are the latest additions to the “Plug It In and Play TV Games” line. Right now, the Portals come in two flavors: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. The Portals are extremely easy to use, since the games are built right into the controller. Just plug it into pretty much any TV and you’re ready to roll. No need for any additional consoles, attachments, wires, or software. Then, pick your Hero, place him or her on the portal, and start battling your way through each game’s six stages and 18 missions. Available for $40 online and everywhere else. The portals come with two Heroes. Additional Heroes, as well as booster packs, which unlock secret missions and more, are sold separately everywhere.

angry birds telepodAngry Birds Telepods
These guys are a real blast for any Angry Birds fan, which at this point, must be nearly everyone with an Internet connection. Telepods come in a dizzying array of options, characters, and price points, so there’s something for every child and every budget. The newest Telepods are Transformers and Stella (the pink lady bird). Let’s start with Transformers. Yes, the birds are still angry, and yes, they’re still doing battle with the pigs. But now they’re cleverly (although a little obviously) disguised as robots. You play the game in both real life as well as on your tablet, with the figurines and the Telepods base, which transports all the characters right into the Transformers app (included). Place the pigs on perches, launch the birds, and try to make bacon. Being able to touch and manipulate the figurines and accessories bridges the real and virtual worlds and adds a new element to an already-engaging experience. It’s great fun for Angry Birds lovers and Transformers aficionados, and almost too much fun to endure for fans of both! How is it that no one thought of this before?

angry birds stellaWith its playhouses, swings, food playsets, and pinkish hue, Angry Birds Stella is definitely aimed at the girls. But oddly, most boys are perfectly willing to overlook the color scheme, as long as they can still catapult birds and terrorize those little porkers. Joking aside, we think it’s great that this one is pitched at girls; so many companies mistakenly assume that girls aren’t interested in gaming. But our young testers proved otherwise. It’s clear that with Angry Birds as popular as it is, the girls are glad to represent with the lovely Stella.

Games for Two

Here at Parents@Play, we focus on toys and games that parents and kids can do together. But a number of readers have asked for some recommendations for those times when it’s just mom or dad and only one child. Here are a few of our “you-can-play-with-more-but-plenty-of-fun-for-two” games.

doodle diceDoodle Dice (Jax Ltd.)
This game is part Yahtzee and part art project. Each side of each of the six dice has a dot, a line, a squiggle, or a face. And each card in the deck has a drawing (called a “doodle”) made up of anywhere from 1-6 of those elements. Cards are color coded—all the ones with one-die doodles are orange, all the ones with two-dice doddles are red, etc. Players take turns drawing a card and rolling the dice, trying to match the doodle. If you don’t get it on the first try, keep the ones you like and roll the rest again. The object is to make one doodle from each colored card. But you can change the rules any way you want. For example, if you’re playing with a young child, use only the red and orange cards. The older the child, the more complex the doodles. You get the point. Ages 6 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $10.17. http://jaxgames.com/

hit the habitat trailHit the Habitat Trail! (Jax Ltd.)
A game that truly makes education fun. The goal is to collect two cards from each of the earth’s habitats: arctic, desert, forest, grasslands, jungle, mountains, ocean, and wetlands. You get those cards by answering multiple-choice questions—about either a habitat or an animal that lives there—from cards that you pull as you follow a spiral trail around the world. For example, are an animal’s stripes like rings on a tree—telling how old the animal is? (Nope).  Great for playing at home or, if you’re an educator, in the classroom. Ages 8 and up. 2-6 players. As low as $22. http://jaxgames.com/

 

linkeeLinkee (Linkee)
If you like trivia and quiz games, you’ll love LInkee. What makes Linkee different from some others you may have played is that each card contains four trivia questions whose answers all have something in common. For example: “Peter Rabbit” author (Potter), nickname for Australia (Oz), bird whose name rhymes with Berlin (Merlin), and Ian Mackellen’s character in “Lord of the Rings” (Gandalff). And the Linkee is…. Wizards. Linkee will make you think, wince, and laugh—sometimes all at the same time. Ages 14 and up. 2-30 players. $43. http://playlinkee.com/

sequence statesSequence: States & Capitals (Jax, Ltd.)
Got a kid who’s trying to memorize state capitals? This game—a variation on the wildly successful Sequence game—can help. The idea is pretty simple. Players are dealt cards, each with a colored representation of a state, the name of its capital, and a star indicating roughly where that city is within the state. Then each player tries to match the cards in their hand to identical images on the game board, putting a chip on each one. When you get five in a row, you’ve got yourself a Sequence. Two Sequences and you win the game. Use Remove cards to mess up your opponent’s Sequences. Other versions include Cats, Dogs, Bible, and Jewish. Ages 7 and up. 2-12 players. $16. http://jaxgames.com/

word aroundWord A Round (Think Fun)
A fast-paced, really fun game. Just flip over a round card and read the words written in circles. Sounds easy, right?—the words are right there in front of you. But without knowing where the word begins or ends, it’s surprisingly hard. Ages 10 and up. 2-6 players. $10 retail. http://thinkfun.com/

Starting Off the Year with a Bang

Like it or not, kids are fascinated by things that shoot. And while we understand that some parents are completely against anything that looks remotely like a weapon, shooting toys aren’t going away anytime soon. In our view, there’s nothing inherently wrong with firearms (admittedly, my being a Marine Corps vet may influence that philosophy). So the solution is to learn to use them safely. This week we take a look at two amazing blasters and one other toy that stretches the definition of “shoot” a little

rapid madnessBOOMco Rapid Madness (Mattel)
Rapid Madness gives blaster fans two ways to shoot: one dart at a time or 20 in about 5 seconds. Either way, the foam darts can fly up to 50 feet. One of the drawbacks with other dart-shooting blasters is that you never know for sure whether you’ve hit your target. Not so with Rapid Madness. The darts have “Smart Stick” tips that cling to the included target, as well as to some glossy surfaces, which makes competitive shooting and scoring easy. Darts also stick to the pop-up shield that’s part of the blaster so you can seize your opponent’s ammo. Comes with 30 darts, a 20-dart clip, and the target. We generally don’t talk about packaging in our reviews, but the “certified frustration-proof packaging” means you can be up and shooting within minutes instead of running around trying to find a scissors or wire cutter. Ages 6 and up. $25-$40. http://shop.mattel.com/

xploderz mayhem Xploderz Mayhem Firestorm series (Maya Group)
We first saw Xploderz at Toy Fair a few years ago and were impressed with the unique ammo, which starts off as tiny pellets (that can’t be fired) and turns into gel-like marbles (that can be fired) when soaked in water. We also loved that they’re completely non-toxic, don’t stain, require virtually no clean-up, and really and truly don’t hurt. We mention that last bit just in case someone gets hit—we highly recommend that you have your children fire at non-human (or animal) targets, or, if they do fire at other people, they aim no higher than their target’s waist). Mayhem comes with 2,000 rounds and 250-round clip. So while your opponents are busy trying to find their darts under the couch and fumbling around trying to re-load them, you can keep blasting away (at two rounds per second, you’ve got more than two minutes of non-stop firepower). Plus, with an accuracy range of 50 to 80 feet, you’ll be invincible. Ages 8 and up. About $18. http://xploderz.com/

vtech smart shotSmart Shots Sports Center (Vtech)
Okay, this one isn’t a weapon, but it still involves shooting. The target, however, is either a basketball hoop or a soccer net. When your toddler drives in for a layup or shoots a half-court jumper, Sports Center’s LED screen keeps score. And when he or she finds the back of the net, Sports Center applauds, cheers, and shows encouraging animations. It’s a fun, energetic way to expose young kids to both sports. If your little one gets tired of shooting and kicking and wants to relax by brushing up on fine motor skills, there are plenty of buttons and other things to play with that introduce shapes and numbers and make all sorts of fun sounds. Comes with a small basketball, soccer ball, net, and hoop. All you need is batteries, which aren’t included. Ages 12-36 months. About $28.  http://www.vtechkids.com/

Robots and More—Lots More

Robots and game figures were really hot in 2014 and we’re predicting that they’ll be even hotter in 2015. Here are some of our favorites as we move into the New Year.

tipster wowweeTipster (WowWee)
Remember MiP, the terrific robot we reviewed a few months ago? Well, Tipster is MiP’s little brother. Tipster can balance on two wheels like big bro, but because he’s young, he prefers four. Tipster has five different play modes. With Tippy Tunes, Tipster starts playing a tune and your child tries to pile as much stuff on him as possible before the music stops. Then Tipster starts spinning and everything flies around. With Dizzy Builder, Tipster starts spinning first, and the child tries to attach as many objects to him as possible. The other three modes also feature variations on stacking and knocking over—exactly what little kids (and plenty of parents) love. The buttons on Tipster and the remote are big, colorful, and make this robot easy to operate right out of the box. Ages 4 and up. About $50 at your favorite retailer or http://www.wowwee.com/

ozobotOzobot (Ozobot)
These little robots are aimed at a much more sophisticated audience. They’ look pretty simple—like mini R2D2s—and their talent lies in following lines. You can draw your own or download dozens of patterns from the website. Ozobots change their color to match those of the line they’re following. But the real fun starts when you use the ozocodes, combinations of colored dots that tell your ozobot how to move. For example, red+green+blue slows the bot to a snail’s pace, blue+green+blue gives him a turbo boost; you can also change the ozobots’ direction and even make them dance. Our favorite was the brain teasers, which are mazes with missing sections; to get your bot through maze, you need to color in the right codes. Ozobots come two in a pack so they’re perfect for parent-child competition (or cooperation). For ages 8 and up. About $60 at Amazon or http://www.ozobot.com/

nintendo amiiboAmiibo (Nintendo)
What a great way to interact with your favorite Nintendo characters—just touch them to your Wii U GamePad controller and they jump right into your favorite games. No system upgrades and no portals. Whew! That cuts the cost and makes them more accessible to everyone. Buy only the ones you want, customize them in the games, and interact the way you want to. About 39 Amiibo figures are available now, with more on the horizon. Each retails for about $15. Ages 5 and up. http://www.nintendo.com/

hasbro optimus primeEpic Optimus Prime (Hasbro)
Epic Optimus is a really big (22 inches tall) transformer that doesn’t actually transform. But take it from us: your child won’t care. Sounds a little counterintuitive, but his size and the chest compartment that opens to reveal a command center that fits mini-figures (sold separately) will more than make up for the lack of transformer capabilities. Ages 5 and up. About $25.

think fun robot turtlesRobot Turtles (ThinkFun)
Coding for preschoolers? Absolutely. The object is to move your turtle from one of the corner spaces of an 8×8 matrix to a matching colored jewel in the middle of the board. Cards give directions on how to move the turtle: one space forward, turn left, one space forward, turn right, etc. The kids are the programmers—bossing you around like real programmers boss around computers—and you’re the computer, simply following directions. The first round is pretty easy, but once the kids have mastered it, you (the adult) can add obstacles that the players have to navigate around. Best for 2-4 preschoolers plus one adult. Each round gets more complex—and more fun. $24.99 at Amazon. http://thinkfun.com/

Better Late Than Never…

It happens to all of us—despite the non-stop “only-x-days-‘til-Christmas” warnings, somehow, the big day came and we still didn’t get presents for everyone. If this sounds familiar, here are some fun, easy-to-find, easy-on-the-wallet games for the whole family.

charmazingCharmazing (Wooky Entertainment)
Charmazing comes with six charms, thread, beads, gems, chains, and enough other art supplies to make three complete, stylish bracelets. Your future fashion icon can then download the free Charmazing app, scan the charms, and start earning points and exchanging ideas with other girls. Ages 7 and up. $14.95 at Toys R Us or charmazing.com








crunch a colorCrunch a Color: The Healthy Eating Game (Tiny Green Bee)
This is a really fun way to get kids to eat healthier foods without you having to bug them. The game consists of 90 cards and a chart. Each card awards points for eating a different type of food, some are listed by color (red, green, blue, white), some by category (protein, etc.). The dealer distributes cards based on what each member of the family puts on his or her plate. Eat your peas? 10 points. Had a sweet potato? 15 points. Try a new food and you just doubled your points. Bonuses for setting the table, good manners, and more. Each meal can be a game, or you can track points over a week. Also check out Lee’s book, The 52 New Foods Challenge. $12.95 at crunchacolor.com

 

dino hunter uv night vision gogglesDino Hunter UV Night Vision Goggles (Uncle Milton)
These goggles are a blast. In night-vision mode, you can actually do some exploring in the dark. Use the invisible ink pen (the ink is invisible, not the pen) and dino stencil to leave tracks, which someone else can follow using UV-vision mode. The tracks are great for for scavenger hunts or just to lure a reluctant child to bed. Ages 6 and up. $17.99 at retailers or unclemilton.com








science captain americaMarvel Science Captain America Shield Trainer (Uncle Milton)
Place your bad guy on the playing board, then try to knock him off by ricocheting your shield off of walls or other obstacles, just like Captain America himself. A really interesting, engaging way to introduce kids to the science of calculating angles and rebounds (this could also come in handy when your child wants to play pool in a few years). Ages 6 and up. $19.95. unclemilton.com

 

 

 


spiral designerSpiral Designer (Ravensburger)

If you were around in the 60s, you may remember Spirograph (if not, ask your parents or grandparents). Spiral designer is very similar, consisting of a round plastic frame and a set of discs that you run around the inside edge of the frame to create beautiful spiral patterns and designs. Your creations can be as simple or complex as you like, and what’s especially nice is that everyone in the family who can handle a pencil pretty well can have plenty of artistic fun. $20 everywhere or ravensburger.com

 

 

spy tagSpy Tag (Ravensburger)
Distribute the 12 spy cards among the players and turn them face up. Then, set the timer and the oldest player draws an “agent card,” which he matches with one of the spy cards. Whoever has the match (could be you, or you could make the match with someone else’s spy card) is It and draws the next agent card. When the timer goes off, whoever’s It has to pick a briefcase card. It it’s empty, you’re okay, but if it contains the stolen gizmo, (that’s what it’s called), you’re out. Play continues ‘till there’s only one player left. The game requires quick thinking, fast reflexes, and two button batteries (included), and always leads to plenty of giggles. For 2-4 players. $10.00. ravensburger.com