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 http://www.bixbee.com

 

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. http://www.wildkin.com

 

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 http://www.choozeshoes.com

 

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 http://www.noosayoghurt.com/

 

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 http://www.simply7snacks.com/

 

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. http://www.thinkfun.com/codemaster

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. http://www.digitaldreamlabs.com/

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. http://wonderforge.com/

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.  http://www.marblesthebrainstore.com/

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. https://www.kulikulifoods.com/

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 http://www.crispygreen.com/

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 http://www.mammachia.com/

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. http://shineorganics.com/

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 http://www.elementsnacks.com/

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 http://juicyjuice.com/

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. http://www.littletikes.com

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 http://www.littletikes.com

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 http://www.dyson.com  for $449.99

Don’t Know Much About…

Whether you call it the “summer brain drain” or the less-catchy “summer slide,” the sad fact is that most children forget a lot over the summer. According to the National Summer Learning Association (http://www.summerlearning.org/), “students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.” Low-income students do worse than their middle-class peers. The result is that, on average, teachers have to spend the first 3-6 weeks of the new semester reviewing the previous year’s material instead of teaching new material. This week, we review several products that will put a plug in that brain drain.

 

super genius - multiplication super genius - 5 gamesSuper Genius (Blue Orange Games)
Super Genius is a collection of five very clever games that are designed to be used at home or in school to help early elementary age children learn, review, and master basic math facts and sight words. The basic platform is the same throughout: match something on one card with something on another. With the math games (Addition and Multiplication) about half of the card have five equations (2+3, 2×4) and the other half have five numbers. With the word-based games (First Words, Reading 1, and Reading 2) half the cards have pictures and the others have words. We’re not sure how they did it, but there’s always one match between any cards in the two decks. Each Super Genius game comes with instructions for how to play five different matching games. Some require memory, some speed, some both. What’s especially nice is that the names of those games and the basic rules are the same in each set. So kids will be able to move from reading to math and back again without having to learn new rules. All games can be played with 1-6 players. The reading games are targeted to kids 5 or 6 and up, and the math ones for 7 or 8 and up. And all take a maximum of 15 minutes to play. Prices ranges from about $8 to $14 at your favorite retailer. Or visit http://www.blueorangegames.com/

 

talking USA puzzleTalking USA puzzle (Discovery Kids)
Every year we hear the results of surveys that show that American school children can’t find China, Iraq, India, or most other countries on a world map. That’s bad enough, but the real shocker is that a lot of Americans (some estimates go as high as 20%) can’t even find the U.S. on a map. And if they can’t locate the country, they’ll have a really tough time identifying individual states. The Talking USA puzzle will definitely help with that. There are two components: The largest is a colorful puzzle with pieces that are shaped like each of the states (although a few of them combine some of the smaller east-coast states). Push on the state and you’ll learn its slogan, capital, and a fun fact. The other component is the USA Fun Fact Map that has a visual hint for each state and a series of statements. The object, of course, is to match “This ‘Pine Tree’ state produces 99% of all the blueberries in the country” with Maine. Although this puzzle is theoretically for kids, geographically challenged grownups will learn plenty. (At the very least, people on the coasts will be able to stop saying, “somewhere over there” when asked to identify a state on the opposite coast. Although, in defense of the West, some of those East Coast states are really, really small.) Batteries included. Comes with a pull-out storage drawer to keep the pieces from getting lost. About $30.

Minions and Dinos: Separated at Birth?

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Minions and dinosaurs have very much in common (aside from being the subject of summer blockbuster movies). But they’ve both been around since the dawn of time. In fact, according to the story, Minions evolved long before the dinos did. If the success of those movies is any indication, both will be around for another hundred million years or so. Here are a few of our favorites.

minion kevin storage chestMinions Movie Kevin Storage Chest (Jakks Pacific)
When playtime’s over, it can be a real chore to get the kids to help put their toys away. One approach that tends to make things easier is to turn clean-up into a game. And Jakks Pacific’s new Minions Storage Chest is just the ticket. The chest itself is a giant (well, 20 inches high) Kevin, decked out in his denim overalls and gloves. But despite his size, he manages to retain his cuteness (and what would a Minion be without cuteness?). Pop open his head and your kids can stuff Kevin with all of their other Despicable Me and Minion Movie toys and gear. Or they can use the inside shelves to display things in a more organized way. But either way, those slightly crossed eyes and wry smile make him hard to resist. Ages 3+. $54.99 at Amazon and other retailers.

minion beach partyDespicable Me Minion Beach Party set (MEGA BLOKS)
We’ve already established that Minions are cute .But how’d you like to take a crack at designing your own? Well, now you can. MEGA BLOKS has a whole series of delightful mini-scenes that feature Minions in a variety of environments. The Beach Party set includes one Minion, a beach blanket, parasol, plant, table, glass, and an ice cream cone. But by far the coolest feature is that all the pieces of the Minons are interchangeable, meaning you can swap their shorts, goggle, arms, feet, and accessories. Want two eyes, a hula skirt, a Mohawk, and a crown? Easy. One eye, a winter coat, a pirate bandana, and a sword? Okay too. Ages 5+.  https://kids.megabloks.com/en-us/toys/despicable-me-minions

dino silicone molds habaDinosaur Silicone Cake Mold (HABA USA)
Getting kids into the kitchen—and giving them something productive to do—has always been a challenge. But these silicone molds from HABA will get even the most reluctant food preparer interested. This cute silicon T-Rex mold lets little kids get in on the Jurassic craze, even if they’re afraid of big dinos. And who could be afraid of a smiling T-Rex—especially when she’s made of cake? Comes with booklet with three easy-to-make recipes. Ages 4+. $19.99 at http://www.habausa.com/

Dinosaur Parade Silicone Chocolate Lollipops Mold (HABA USA)
If you’re into baking, your favorite cupcake recipe (or one of the ones in the included booklet) will let you make adorable, fun cake pops. But if you’re looking for a way to cool off, you can just as easily use these molds to make adorable, fun popsicles. And what’s especially great about these silicone molds is that whatever you make pops out incredibly easily and leaves almost no mess behind. Ages 4+. $11.99. http://www.habausa.com/

interactive t-rex animal planetInteractive T-Rex (Animal Planet)
Tyrannosaurus Rex was a 40-foot-long, eight-ton package of vicious, carnivorous ferociousness. But this Interactive T-Rex is anything but ferocious. Yes, he roars, swings his tail and his head, stomps his feet, gnashes his teeth, and his eyes light up. But if you scratch him in the right place, he purrs. Touch somewhere else, and he snores, burps, or farts. And if you touch two places at the same time, well, we’re not going to give that one away. Ages 3+. Available at Toys R Us.

Coming to a Screen—and Living Room—Near You

This summer, there are so many kid-friendly movies and TV shows out there that you’ll undoubtedly be spending lots of time in theaters. And there are even more movie-themed toys so you can keep the fun going when you’re away from a screen. Here’s some of what’s hot right now.

avengers hulk gloveAvengers
With several superhero movies still in theaters and more to come (Ant Man, for example), there’s no shortage of Marvel characters for you and the kids to “become.” The new Marvel Avengers Age of Ultron line lets you dress up as Hulk, Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. Gear includes masks (which typically have large eye holes and are big enough for most kids), gloves, and other accessories (one of the Iron Man Arc FX Armor gloves lights up just like the “real” Iron man’s). Unfortunately, there are no Black Widow costumes, which makes it harder to get girls interested in superheroes. Not to worry, ladies, your day is coming soon… In the meantime, the male characters are still a blast. You’ll find everything you could ever want in the aisles of Toys R Us and Target.

paddington plusPaddington Bear
Whether your family are long-time fans or just discovered Paddington thanks to the new movie, your little ones will want a Paddington of their own to snuggle up with.  YoTToy makes an absolutely adorable plush  who comes in several styles and sizes; one even has his own suitcase and marmalade sandwich.  You grab the book, the kids grab their stuffies, and everyone settles in for a nice, long story.  Available at http://www.yottoy.com/home.html or stores like Barnes & Noble.

 

 

sonic hedgehogSonic the Hedgehog
The first generation of Sonic came out when you were a kid, but he’s back with a new TV show (“Sonic Boom”) and a video game of the same name, so your kids can fall in love with him as well.  To get your off-screen hedgehog fix, check out the new Sonic the Hedgehog Tails Plane ($29.99), which comes with a moving propeller, flashing headlights, engine sounds, and an ejector seat to send Tails to safety. It also comes with a Tails figure and the required batteries (which last a really long time). And don’t forget abot the cute Sonic the Hedgehog Interactive Chili Dog Plush ($29.99).  Sonic’s favorite food is chili dogs (you knew that, right?), and he needs to have one with him at all times. This 15″ Sonic the Hedgehog Plush says 10 different phrases and operates in three different modes: talk, run with me, and chili dog. When you (the parent) need a break, you can turn the sound off. Whew.

jurassic legoDinosaurs and All Things Jurassic
If your child is a builder and likes dinosaurs, he or she will love the new Jurassic World LEGOs. Kids can recreate scenes from the new movie or, if they aren’t old enough to be obsessed (yet—but it’ll happen soon), they can always just use their (gasp) imagination. Raptor Rampage is one of our favorite sets, and comes with three mini-figs, two raptors, vehicles, tons of accessories, and more ($50).  Pteranodon Capture is the least expensive set, and comes with helicopter, dinosaur, two mini-figs, and more ($20). http://shop.lego.com

lionel dinosaur dieselWhile it’s not specific to Jurassic World, Lionel’s Dinosaur Diesel Set is a wonderful way to support your child’s dino habit and spark—or deepen—an interest in trains. These ready-to run set comes with a locomotive, LionChief remote, freight cars, a caboose, several colorful dino eggs, dino figures, enough track for a 40”x40” circle, and a power supply. Available everywhere; prices vary widely.

Is It Summer or Not?

Running Hot and Cold

In some parts of the country, summer can’t seem to decide whether it’s actually here or not. Hot, cold, hot, cold. Here are some great ways to spend time whether you’re outside or in.

please and carrotsPlease and Carrots
Please and Carrots is a subscription service that quarterly or monthly delivers a box of cool toys and books specially selected for your baby (ages 0-36 months) by child psychologist Dr. Susan Bartell based on their development stage. There’s also an online portal where you can find more info on child development, milestones, and age-appropriate activities to do with your baby. Everything on the portal is approved by an advisory board packed with pediatricians, psychologist, nutritionists, and other experts. If your kids are already out of the baby stage, this makes a great baby-shower gift. Prices vary. https://pleaseandcarrots.com/

cloud b frankie the foxFrankie the Fox (Cloud b)
So, what does the fox say? This one doesn’t say a thing, thankfully. But he’ll help your little one drift off to sleep. Frankie is one of the latest from Cloud B, maker of delightful bedtime buddies. He’s super soft and snuggly, part stuffed animal, part soothing sound machine, but 100% calming, routine keeping, and rest inducing. Frankie loves traveling and with the strap on his back, you can easily secure him to the crib, bed, or carseat/stroller easily. He plays four sleepy-time melodies and has a timer that shuts him off at either 23 (odd choice) or 45 minutes. Requires 2 AA batteries, but they’re included. $31.95. http://cloudb.com/sound/frankie-the-fox

razor delta wingDelta Wing Scooter (Razor)
Let’s face it: some kids who want to ride on scooters don’t always have a great sense of balance. That, in turn, can leave them less-then-completely confident in their ability to ride. Here’s where the Razor Delta Wing comes in. It’s sort of a V-shape and the rider puts one foot on each of the wings and holds on to the handlebars that are on a post that comes out of the apex of the V (it’s easier to see this in the picture to the left). You don’t need to be able to balance, and you move it by wiggling your booty side to side. Yes, you’ll look a bit odd, but it’s a hell of a workout for the legs, thighs, and butt. One of our young testers loved, loved, loved the Delta Wing—more than his bike, his scooter, or his roller skates. The Delta Wing handles well, brakes quickly and easily, and is a smooth ride. Does it get any better than that? Always wear a helmet and other safety gear. $90. Age 6+. http://www.razor.com

razor ground force drifterGround Force Drifter Fury (Razor)
Your kids don’t have a license but they still want the coolest wheels in town? No prob. The Razor Ground Force Drifter Fury is the most awesome go-kart-on-steroids that you’ve ever seen, with speeds up to 12 miles per hour (so don’t forget your helmet). The Fury comes with rechargeable batteries that last up to 40 minutes of continuous use. It also has a flag, spark bar (how cool is that?), and hand operated rear brakes. Once you get the hang of it (which isn’t hard), you’ll be able to do some very cool tricks with the Fury. And by “you,” we actually do mean “you”—but only after you’ve given the kids a turn. There’s supposedly a 140-pound weight limit, but we’ve seen full-grown adults doing just fine. You and your kids will have an incredible amount of fun with this thing. Just make sure your camera or phone is fully charged because the Fury is made to be shared on social media. $350. Ages 8+. http://www.razor.com

The Secret Life of Summer

After a long day of having fun outside, it’s important to have some relaxing down time. Here are four games you and your family will love.

cash out simply funCash Out! (SimplyFun, LLC)
Each player is a fund manager tasked with building a diversified, balanced, high-yield portfolio. The goal, of course, is to cash out with the most points. Along the way, you’re buying, selling, and strategizing. Cash Out! Is a fun way to introduce your child (or yourself) to some basic investment concepts before he or she starts playing around with that college fund. Takes 20-30 minutes to play. For 2-4 players, ages 10+. $24. http://www.simplyfun.com/

compose yourself thinkfunCompose Yourself (ThinkFun)
Every once in a while game comes along that is completely unique. Compose Yourself is one of those games. Open the box and you’ll find 60 transparent, coded music cards, each imprinted with a musical staff and four beats worth of notes. Since they’re transparent, you can arrange each card in four different ways (there’s nothing on the cards to indicate a “right” side). Now comes the fun part. String together any four cards to create a unique composition (there are apparently over a billion possibilities). Then, go to the Compose Yourself website, enter the codes, and you’ll hear your composition played by a full symphony orchestra! If you’re happy, download an mp3 or print out sheet music. If not, re-compose and try again. Besides being tremendously fun, this is a great way to expose children to music and/or to teach music reading. Ages 6+. $19.99. http://thinkfun.com/

hey froggy r&r gamesHey, Froggy! (R&R Games)
Too many frogs and not enough lily pads. Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? The good news is that, unlike the rest of life, the frogs can pile on top of each other. Roll the dice to bounce colored (red, blue, yellow, green) frogs around the pond, scoring points when the frogs on the top match the colors of cards in your hand. You’ll need a little luck and a little strategy—extra points if you’re able to eat some flies along the way.  It’s fun and quick (15-20 minutes). For 2-4 players ages 10+. $15.95. http://www.rnrgames.com/

mix up fix up woinder forgeMix Up! Fix Up! (Wonder Forge)
A fun logic and memory game for preschoolers. Players take turns being the patient. Without showing any of the other players (doctors), the patient takes an “x-ray card” that has eight pictures of different medical tools (stethoscope, syringe, thermometer, etc,) on different backgrounds (dots, checkerboard, hearts, flowers, or stripes), with different  colors, and slips it into an x-ray sleeve, which has a window that shows only one tool. The doctors then flick a spinner which tells them to either guess a pattern, color, or tool. For every wrong answer, the patient gets a bandage. Most bandages wins. It’s kind of like Clue. But instead of Colonel Mustard in the parlor with a knife, it’s the stethoscope on the yellow background with stripes. 2-6 players ages 3+. $15.99. http://wonderforge.com/

wink blue orange gamesWink (Blue Orange Games)
The goal of the game is for players to signal your secret partner (with a wink or some other gesture) without any of the other players knowing that you’ve connected. The rules imply that all the players have to agree on one gesture, but who says you have to follow the rules? The game play involves cards, tokens, matches, and accusations. However, the real fun is in trying to forge those secret partnerships. It takes only 20-30 minutes to play and is absolutely impossible to get through without laughing—which makes identifying those secret signals even harder. 4-8 players, 8+. $15.99. http://www.blueorangegames.com/