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/

Last-Minute Father’s Day Gifts

assassin's creed chronicles chinaFor the gamer dad (to be used only after the kids go to bed): Asassin’s Creed Chronicles: China (Ubisoft)

We’re long-time fans of the Assassin’s Creed series, with its intricate plot that weaves through time, the mysterious assassins with their awesome hoodies and incredible skills, and the incredible action adventure game play. In a nutshell, it’s assassins vs. knights. But it’s really much more complex than that, as each game in the series feed into the next. The game style of Chronicles China is markedly different from most games in the line, as this is a 2.5D platformer, where jumping and doing all things assassin is a blast, intricately detailed, and wonderfully illustrated. This is the first in the Chronicles trilogy; India and Russia will follow. China rated T for teen and is a tad violent. Prices vary. http://assassinscreed.ubi.com/

 

nintendo 3ds xlFor the dad who takes his entertainment on the go: Nintendo 3DS XL (Nintendo)

Nintendo’s new-and-improved 3D XL system (called, simply enough, 3DS XL) sports more gaming power, faster hardware, and even a few new buttons for more precise control. These include a new c-stick (a smaller, flatter joystick) and two shoulder buttons, which is awesome. There’s also a new face-tracking feature, which gives you the full 3D experience without you having to be right in front of the console. That makes the 3D more realistic and the picture much sharper. $200. http://www.nintendo.com/

 

dyson v6 absoluteFor the neat-freak dad: Dyson v6 Absolute (Dyson)

You might think your vacuum is fine, but unless you have a Dyson V6 Absolute, it probably isn’t. Most vacuums will either pick up tiny dust or the biggest stuff, but not much in between. This one, well, this one is amazing. It’s only five pounds and cordless, two features that might make you think it’s not very powerful. But you’d be wrong. The Absolute has two heads, including a soft, non-scratching roller so it can handle everything from wood to carpet. It also has a clear canister that’s easy to empty and lets you see all the junk you’re vacuuming up, which makes it easy to retrieve those LEGO pieces. And HEPA filtration cleans a lot of allergens out of the air. Runs for 20 minutes on a charge. $600. http://www.dyson.com

 

heart attackFor the dad you’d like to have around for a long, long time: Preventive Heart Attack Screening

Every year, more than half a million Americans suffer a first heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And more than half of those first heart attack victims die within an hour. Fortunately, about 80% of those deaths could be prevented with early detection and aggressive treatment. If your dad is 55-75, have a heart-to-heart talk and encourage him to learn about the dangers of plaque buildup in the arteries and get screened. Experts recommend one of two non-invasive tests that can detect problems and give dad’s healthcare provider an opportunity to get dad to take steps to reduce his risks: Calcium Scoring CT Heart Scan and Carotid Intima-Media Thickness (CIMT) Ultrasound. Prices vary and may or may not be covered by your insurance, so check with your provider. That call could save dad’s life.

 

spot traceFor the dad who always wants to know where his stuff is: SPOT Trace

SPOT Trace is a small GPS device that dad can use to track objects (like his car) and people (like dad and you when you’re in the wilderness, miles from anywhere). According the SPOT, more than 3,400 rescues have been initiated thanks to SPOT products. $99. SPOT has many other GPS/satellite trackers and phones. http://www.findmespot.com

Hitting the Road

With summer upon us, road (or plane or boat) trips, with all the associated packing and schlepping, aren’t far behind. Here are a few items that will help those family vacays and adventures go as smoothly as possible.

wicked cool vrum ride onVRÜM Ride-On Storage (Wicked Cool Toys)
Kids often have trouble deciding which toys and games to take with them. With the VRUM suitcase, they can take everything—and best of all, you won’t have to carry it. VRUM is a sturdy, hard-sided, rolling suitcase that’s easy for a child to pull. And if your child gets tired on the long walk to gate 264, he or she can sit on it and scoot along. (You can pull it with your child riding on it, but that’s a bit challenging). Straps inside can keep toys and clothes separated (or toys from falling over and hurting themselves), and it locks securely so there’ll be no emergency pickups on the jetway. VRUM comes in a number of licensed characters, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob, and Dora the Explorer. $39.99. https://shop.govrum.com

wildkin rolling packRolling backpacks (Wildkin)
One of the worst parts about trips with kids is that mom and dad often end up hauling around the kids’ stuff in addition to their own. Frankly, we think it’s high time for the kids to help out—especially if they’re old enough to have outgrown the VRUM Ride-On. If you agree, you won’t have to look any further than Wildkin, which has a wide variety of wheeled options. Their rolling backbacks have plenty of room, lots of zippered compartments, mesh dividers, and water bottle pockets. They also have adjustable shoulder straps, just in case you’re going over terrain that’s unfriendly to wheels. Wildkin also has duffels, tote bags, larger rolling luggage for bigger kids, and more. Each option is available in a variety of designs that make them easy to spot on a luggage carousel. There are cute animals, mermaids, and construction equipment for little kids and more sophisticated prints for teens. They’re all built to last. $49.99 and up. http://www.wildkin.com/B_LUGGAGE.html

eagle creek shoe sacPack-It Specter Shoe Sac (Eagle Creek)
Shoes. We need ‘em, but they present a packing dilemma. Besides taking up a lot of space in your luggage, they’re often dirty and/or smelly. A lot of people use plastic grocery bags to segregate shoes and clothes, put the shoes in a separate compartment, or both. Eagle Creek has come up with a better way. Unlike grocery bags, Shoe Sacs are sturdy and water repellant—which means you don’t have to worry about your muddy, wet shoes making everything else in your suitcase filthy. They come in several colors and are washable. As nice as they are for travel, Shoe Sacs are also great for any time you might need to change shoes (such as after a long hike or run). $18. http://shop.eaglecreek.com/

skip hop travel blanketSkip Hop Zoo Travel Blankets (Skip Hop, Inc.)
Part blanket, part pillow, and part stuffed animal, these travel blankets are perfect for snuggling with on any trip—or even at home. If you start your adventure with the animal in portable-pillow mode, your child can easily pull out the blanket for nap time and just as easily stuff it back inside after. And the straps make it easy to lug around. Comes in Ladybug, Monkey, and Owl. $20.00. http://www.skiphop.com/product/zootravelblankets.html

Indoor/Outdoor Play

As summer approaches, we’re seeing a lot more toys and games that are designed to be used outside or that replicate some aspect of the great outdoors. This week we take a look at four fit into one category or the other, all from one of our favorite manufacturers, Playmobil, http://www.playmobil.us/

playmobil ferris wheelSummer Fun Ferris Wheel with Lights
There’s nothing like waiting in a line for an amusement park ride to remind you that it’s summer. With this large set, your kids can have the joy (okay, misery) of standing in lines without having to lather up with sunscreen or put on a hat. The 117-piece set comes with seven two-seater gondolas, a functioning Ferris wheel, a ticket office (complete with a cash register and tickets), flashing lights (batteries not included) and quite a few other accessories. It also comes with two adult figures and two child figures, so your little one can make someone else (even if that someone is inanimate) feel the sting of waiting in line and then, when you finally get to the front, being told you’re too short to ride. Once all the seats are full, turn the crank and you’re off. The wheel can operate automatically but you’ll need to buy the Electric Ride Motor, sold separately. $79.99. Ages 4-10.

playmobil rescue boatCity Action Rescue Boat
The Coast Guard has a bit of an identity crisis. It started off as part of the Department of Treasury, then got transferred over to the Department of Transportation, and is now under the Department of Homeland Security. They’re also considered a branch of the military. But whoever they are, they do a great job of protecting our coasts and waterways. With the City Action Rescue Boat, your child can give the Coast Guard the respect they deserve, honoring them as they rescue drowning swimmers, battle pirates, and take on other rescue operations. They can even put out fires (or squirt the cat) with the included plunger. The set includes the boat itself, three figures, first aid kit, hoses, rescue ring, and more. $52.95. Ages 4-10.

playmobil coast guard stationCity Action Coast Guard Station with Lighthouse
Those Coast Guard heroes need to go somewhere at the end of a long, danger-filled day, right? And nothing could be better than their own station, complete with a functioning lighthouse and an observation room where the duty officers can keep a close eye on the coast and dispatch rescue crews as needed. The set comes with everything you and the kids need to create amazing adventures together: a boat, five Playmobil figures (who love to wait in line for the Ferris wheel on their day off), rescue rings, a full set of scuba gear, loads of medical and safety equipment, a cable winch to haul boats out of the water, and more. $79.95. Ages 4-10.

playmobil gliderSports & Action Speed Glider
At some point, pretending to be outdoors really needs to give way to the real thing. And this sleek glider is the perfect way to encourage kids (you too) to stretch those legs. Just assemble it (which will take about a minute) and you’re ready for a really fun game of catch or a long-distance throwing competition. As long as the pilot is in his seat (he needs to be there to balance the aircraft), the glider is very easy to throw—even for young children. And with working LED lights, there’s no reason for the fun to stop when the sun goes down. $26.99. Ages 6-14

A Little Peace and Quiet

With the start of summer right around the corner and hot days already popping up in various parts of the country, you know there are bound to be a few days where it’s just too hot to go outside. There will also be times when, despite your promise to never use technology as a babysitter, you’ll need the kids to chill out quietly. For those crazy hot days and 5-hour flights, check out these new games for the kids—and yourself.

Rediscovering the Nintendo 3DS
A lot of people own a 3DS, but very few really know it inside and out. Take the StreetPass Mii Plaza. Of course you’ve visited—who hasn’t’?—but if you haven’t been for a while, it’s worth another trip because it recently expanded. Now, when you’re out and about with your 3DS in your pocket or bag and you meet someone else who also has StreetPass on their 3DS, you can play mini games and solve puzzles that earn you accessories for your Mii (which, for the uninitiated, are avatars that users create). There are eight mini games that can be played with other Miis. Two are free: Find Mii, which is a light-hearted RPG (role playing game) with some tough villains, and Puzzle Swap, where players can share pieces with others. With characters from various Nintendo games and videos (like Pikmin, Link from Zelda, and Mario Brothers) appearing on the pieces, everyone will feel right at home. There are also a few premium games in the eShop. Prices vary.

xenoblade chroniclesXenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo)
Unless you’re a big fan of role play games (RPGs) on Nintendo’s systems, you may not know about Xenoblade. But you should. Xenoblade almost didn’t get released in the U.S., but when it finally did, it quickly became a big hit with RPG buffs. The basic story is that Shulk and his buddies are on a quest to find an elusive sword (named Mondao) and to rid their homeland of a nasty bunch of killer robots called Mechon.  Xenoblade Chronicles is the latest spinoff and can be played on the Wii U. There’s also a 3D version that’s playable only on the new 3DS XL. What’s especially cool about the new DS XL is its face-tracking technology, which minimizes all the setting and resetting that had to be done with previous 3D systems.  It also makes the game play feel more intents and it’s a lot easier to get drawn in—and stay there. There’s tons of drama, action, and excitement. The game itself retails for $39.99. The 3DS XL console, if you don’t already have one, is $199.99.

puzzle and dragons zPuzzle & Dragons Super Mario Brothers Edition (Nintendo)
Puzzle & Dragons Z (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s new Puzzle & Dragons has got something for pretty everyone—combining elements of a collectible card game, puzzles, and RPG. In fact, there’s so much here that they made it into two separate games (but packed them into one cartridge).

 

 

puzzles and dragons super marioThe Mario Brothers version is a little easier and is filled with familiar characters and settings, like the Princess, Bowser, and the Mushroom Kingdom. The puzzle part is pretty easy too: just line up same-color orbs and build on to your cluster. The bigger the cluster, the higher your score—and the more damage you do to your enemies. Puzzles & Dragons Z also features puzzle play, but it’s has some nice anime styling, a deeper story, and the option to get further into the RPG aspects of the game. The single cartridge with both games retails for $29.99 pretty much everywhere games are sold.