A Capital Place for Adventures

Washington DC doesn’t appear on many lists of top adventure travel destinations, but if you know where to look, there are plenty of options, ranging from the sedate to the scary (besides visiting Congress and seeing our politicians in action). Here are some highlights from a recent trip.

Kings Dominion

kings dominion volcanoKings Dominion is about two hours south of DC, and the rides (quality and quantity) are the best we’ve experienced. Anaconda is loaded with coils, loops, and drops. Drop Tower sent us free-falling 27 stories straight down, Flight of Fear catapulted us into near-total darkness, and Volcano shot us—like lava—150 feet straight up and through a series of spins and corkscrews. Dominator took us through five inversions on what’s billed as the longest floorless coaster in the world, and Intimidator 305 was absolutely amazing, with its 300-foot drop, blistering speeds, and whipping, high-speed turns. For between-ride downtime, we enjoyed Dinosaurs Alive!, a multi-acre forest filled with more than 30 life-sized, roaring, animatronic dinosaurs. https://www.kingsdominion.com

Terrapin Adventures

terrapin - z traverseWhen it comes to outdoors challenges—things like rock wall climbing and zip lines—we’re pretty jaded, so our expectations were pretty low. But Terrapin Adventures turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. We did the Terrapin Challenge (about $75 per person), which includes five separate activities. It started with a 330-foot zip line, which, for experienced zippers won’t be much of a challenge. But beginners will have a blast. Next, we did the 3-level high ropes course, with 19 elements to cross, including a vine walk, hanging logs, cable bridges, rope bridges, cargo nets, floating platforms, and more. The higher up you go, the more challenging the elements.

After that, we did a 40-foot freefall/swing and then hit the climbing tower, which features about 15 different ways to get to a platform about 30 feet up—and far fewer to get back down (including one that felt like being squeezed through a hose). It was exhausting, exhilarating, and nothing short of spectacular. If you’re afraid of heights or claustrophobic, this will push you to your limits. But top-notch safety procedures and the supportive staff make it easy (easier) to push through those fears. www.terrapinadventures.com

Urban Adventure Quest

urban adventure quest smithsonianDC is home to some less-adrenaline filled adventures, and Urban Adventure Quest—a 3.3-mile long, smartphone-guided scavenger hunt—is one of the best. To move through the Quest, we had to do things like count the keyhole stones in the Enid A. Haupt Garden on the Smithsonian Castle grounds, make a wordsearch from the last names of five sculptors in the Hirshhorn Museum sculpture garden, figure out which hotel room Clara Barton (the Angel of the Battlefield) stayed in, and find Abraham Lincoln’s values through the window of the theater where he was shot. The Quest took us 3 ½ hours, including several stops for snacks and water. We saw—and learned—a lot. But best of all, it’s a great opportunity to work collaboratively with your teen or tween on an activity that he or she will enjoy. Cost is $49, per team (generally 2-5 players). http://www.urbanadventurequest.com

Bike and Roll

bike and roll monuments The last activity of our trip was an evening tour of many of DCs monuments. Most are plenty impressive during the day, but they really come to life after dark. Our guide, Tujon, was very knowledgeable and regaled us with fascinating stories. Of course, he took us to the major monuments: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam Memorial, and others. But we also discovered some we never knew existed, such as the Albert Einstein Memorial, with its specially designed private echo chamber (you’ll have to visit it to find out what we mean). www.bikeandrolldc.com

Dog Days of Sumer Got You Down?

When the weather is see-sawing back and forth between too hot and too stormy, here are some fun toys that work equally well indoors or out.

Water Park with Slides (Playmobil)

water slideThis colorful playset includes two slides that feed into an octopus wave pool. The brightly colored octopus creates ripples in the pool just like the wave pool at your favorite theme park. Male, female, and child figures are included, along with several accessories. Just fill with water, and let the fun begin. For ages 4 and up. $59.99 at your favorite retailer or www.playmobil.com.

Fun Carry Cases (Playmobil)

playmobil carry caseGot a road trip coming up, or just going to visit grandma? Don’t forget to bring one of these take-along cases, which come in a variety of themes, including a veterinarian’s set, soccer, fashion, and more. After your child is done playing and imagining, he or she can put all the pieces back into a convenient case that’s just the right size for little hands. These kits are small enough to take to restaurants, and they’ll keep your child from being a little zombie and staring at his or her phone like so many other kids do. For ages 5 and up. Only $10 each at major retailers and www.playmobil.com.

Dream Buddies (Cloud b)

dream_buddies_bunnyIf you have a child who’s afraid of the dark and could use a little light and comfort, either at home or on the road, Dream Buddies are a must-have. They travel well, have sweet faces, and come in the shapes of animal friends that your child already knows and loves. Dream Buddies are small and portable and gently light up the room by projecting a soft glow of stars on your child’s wall and ceiling. They glow either blue, green, or amber, or you can choose to cycle through all the colors. No one wants a kid up all night ever, let alone on vacation, and with Dream Buddies, yours will sleep peacefully. They retail for under $20 at specialty children’s stores or http://cloudb.com.

Beach Basket (American Plastic Toys)

beach basketHeaded to the beach? This bucket comes with everything your little sand artist needs: molds, shovels, a sifter, and a lot more. When you’re done, just pack everything up, rinse, and head back home. Just $9.99. And despite the low price, the quality is excellent. For all ages. Available at retailers everywhere.

StikBot Studio Pro (StikBot)

stikbot studioWith their suction cup “hands” and “feet,” Stikbots stick to nearly anything and don’t leave a mess. Pose them any way you want, and you’re on your way to creating the next Boxtrolls movie. If you want to take things up a notch or two, the StikBot Studio Pro comes with three Bots and a green screen stage (which you can flip to blue, if you prefer). That allows you and the kids to drop your figures into any scene you can imagine. You can also use the included prop boxes (literally little boxes that are the same color as the screen) to create a 3D affect. There’s also what we’ll call a “StikBot selfie stick,” that holds your phone in place so you can get the very best shots. And don’t forget the free Zing StikBot Studio app (available on iOS and Android). Studio Pro is about $20 and individual StickBots are about $5 each. For ages 6 and up. http://stikbot.com/

Games for Tweens and Teens

One of our biggest challenges here at Parents@Play is to find games that tweens and teens will not only be willing to play with their family, but that they’ll actually want to play (and that don’t involve cell phones or anything else with a screen). Here are four that we’re confident will soon be on your family’s list of game-night hits.

Disgusting Anatomy Brain (Scientific Explorer)

disgusting brainThis kit is part chemistry experiment, part anatomy lesson, part art project, and all disgusting. It starts innocuously enough in the kitchen, where you cook up some gooey gelatin and pour it into a mold to create a slimy, life-sized model of a human brain. While you’re waiting for it to set, read the booklet and find out the basics of brain anatomy and function. And since your eyes use 65% of the brain’s pathways (a fact we learned from the booklet), there’s also a mold for a monster-sized eyeball (which, along with the brain, you can paint as revoltingly as you’d like). A fun, engaging, educational project to do with your kids. For ages 9 and up. www.alexbrands.com

Really Bad Art (Gather ‘Round)

really bad artThe premise is pretty simple. Each player takes a card that has a short phrase on it, and without showing the card to the other players, draws his or her best representation. Gather all the cards face down, add one more, mix them up so no one knows whose is whose, and then match the cards with the illustrations. Oh, sorry, forgot to mention that you have only six seconds to read the card and draw. It’s a clever, fast-paced, and really fun game that’ll keep everyone laughing and wanting to play again and again. For 3-6 players, ages 12 and up. www.wonderforge.com

Stick Stack (Gather ‘Round)

stick stackAll you have to do is pull a muti-colored stick from a bag and, using one hand, place it on top of another stick, being sure that they overlap on a matching color. Easy peasey. Except for the part where all those sticks are balanced on a small cup that’s attached to a vertical post. Oh, and that post has a spring at the bottom, which makes it wiggle and wobble all over the place. If sticks fall off on your turn, you keep them in front of you, and on your next turn, you can play one from that pile or draw from the bag. The game goes on until the bag is empty and at least one player is out of sticks. For 2 or more, ages 8 and up. www.wonderforge.com

Suspicion (Gather ‘Round)

suspicionYou’ve been invited to the A-list masquerade party at a famous art collector’s villa. Poor guy has no idea that you’re a jewel thief and that your plan is to wander around the mansion stealing gems. Unfortunately for the collector, quite a few of the other guests have the same idea. The object of the game is to figure out the identities of your fellow players before they figure out who you are. You do that with deductive reasoning, which simply means that you’re using clues (some of which come from dice rolls and cards which allow you to move your character or someone else’s), logic, strategy, and possibly some guessing to expose your opponents.  If you like Clue (or even if you’ve never heard of Clue), you’ll love Suspicion and have a great, brain-teasing time playing it. For 2-6 players, ages 10 and up. www.wonderforge.com

Fun without an Agenda

Looking for some good, old-fashioned toys to play with that don’t claim to build STEM skills, expand your brain, or anything else? If so, you’ll want to check out these new items that offer, gasp, nothing but fun. And that’s just fine.

Hamsters in a House (ZURU)

hamsters in a houseThis might bring to mind another toy craze from a few years ago, (Zhu Zhu Pets) and we admit there are some similarities. These little hamsters are small (though not so small that your kids can swallow them), soft, and furry. They buzz and scoot around any smooth, flat surface as well as in their own little “ecosystems.” There are several playset houses, such as the luxurious “Ultimate Hamster House,” which has a bed, a slide, and even a toilet that makes flushing sounds—a sure-fire hit for kids who love potty humor (and who doesn’t?). Put the hamsters on any of the hotspots, and they’ll say one of 16 phrases. You can expand your hamster’s ecosystem by adding hamsters and accessory packs (sold separately), which include styling studios, cars, and run extensions (think train tracks for hamsters). Ages 4 and up. Prices vary. Available exclusively at http://www.toysrus.com/.  More at http://hamstersinahouse.com/

Micro Boats Shark Attack Challenge (Zuru)

micro boats These self-steering, motorized speed boats are great fun in the summer (and any other time of the year). They’re water activated, meaning that they fire up when wet and shut down when dry. With the Shark Attack Challenge, you and an opponent put your boats into a water-filled track and race to stay away from each other—and, of course, a shark. There’s also a real, working crane to retrieve half-chewed boats. Ages 3 and up. The Shark Attack is about $25. Individual boats (there are six of them) are about $10 each or two for $15. Available at Toys R Us. More at http://zurumicroboats.com/

Finding Dory Robofish Collection (Disney Pixar)

dory robofish In the new Disney Pixar movie, “Finding Dory,” that absentminded blue fish and her loveable friends (plus some new ones) are back. The Coffee Pot Playset lets your child carry Dory around, just like in the film. It comes only with Dory, but you can certainly drop in as many other characters as will fit, and create your own scenes. Other characters (including Marlin, Nemo, and Bailey the manatee are available, and all can survive in the bathtub or pool. Like the micro boats, they’re water activated, but they have a power save mode that automatically shuts them off after one minute in the water. The Coffee Pot is about $20; individual figures are $12 each. Available at Walmart and other major retailers.

Angry Birds (Spin Master)

angry birds figs 2Can’t get enough of Angry Birds? You’re in for a real treat, because Spin Master just released a variety of playsets, collectable figures, zooming toys, and more. Launch your bird at the pigs to save your eggs in the Angry Birds Pig City Strike Playset, which comes with a launcher, bird, pigs, and stackable city (just like in the app!). Victory is yours as the city comes crashing down. Small collectable figures can add to sets, or be played with solo. The large vinyl figures are great for launching or using as a ball. They’re soft and bounce off walls and other objects, so they’re pretty safe to use indoors. Angry Birds Speedsters are fun as well. Just wind them up, put them on any flat surface, point them at something to crash into, and let ‘em go. Ages 3 and up. Prices vary. Available at Amazon, Target, and other retailers. More at http://www.spinmaster.com/

It’s Alive! Or Is It?

There’s something almost primal about building robots. Maybe it’s the chance to create something that moves (and doesn’t need its diaper changed). Or maybe it’s the challenge of building something that will make our life easier. Whatever the reason, building—and playing with—robots is a wonderful way to spend time with your kids and to build a strong relationship. Here are some of our favorites.

Kamigami (Dash Robotics)

kamigamiKamigami are app-controlled robots you build and program. Start with putting together the robot’s body by folding a flat sheet of thin cardboard (hence the “-igami” in the name, as in origami). The robot’s insides snap together without tools. Kamigami look like giant Hexbugs and once they’re built, you control them with a free app. They play nicely with others and they’re practically indestructible. Race them, play laser tag, or just have them run around and smack into things. We especially loved that there’s zero intimidation factor: lots of other programmable robots can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to be a techie or a coding expert to get your Kamigami up and running. Ages 6+. $99. www.kamigamirobots.com

Circuit Scribe Maker Kit (ElectronInks)

circuit scribe maker kitCircuit boards are at the heart of just about everything in our life. But they’re incredibly tiny, which means it’s nearly impossible to see all the connections and how they’re made. Circuit Scribe changes all that by allowing you to physically draw your own circuits. The Maker Kit comes with 11 magnetic circuit board modules, a battery, and a handful of small components. But what makes this kit especially unique is the special ball-point-type pen that draws with highly conductive (non-toxic) silver ink, which allows you to draw circuits on just about anything. You can build simple switches that turn a light on and off, as well as more complex ones that involve touch sensors, timers, and more. But whatever you’re building, you’ll have a blast. Ages 8+. Under $80. http://www.electroninks.com/

Dash (Make Wonder)

dash robotDash brings the wonderful world of robotics to the kindergarten set. Dash is different than many other robots in that you aren’t actually building him—he’s ready to roll (and talk) right out of the box (after you charge him, of course). What makes this little guy so appealing to kids (and adults) is that you use an iOS or Android device to control him. The simplest app allows you to move Dash’s head, turn lights on and off, move him around the room, and a bit more. The apps get increasingly more complex, even allowing for drag-and-drop programming (using the app, you string together commands: go forward, turn left, flash your eyes, turn right, dance when I clap, etc.) to create surprisingly sophisticated routines that are beyond the capabilities of little ones, but will keep kids as old as 12 fully engaged. Ages 5-12. Under $150. https://www.makewonder.com/

Vex Robotic Arm (Hexbug)

vex hexbug robotic armThe first thing to know about this robotic arm from Hexbug (makers of those adorable, frenetic mechanical insects) is that it’s not a true robot in the “it-moves-all-by-itself” sense. Second, with more than 50 pieces, building it is going to take some time. But none of that detracts in any way from the product; if you want to automate your arm, you can buy a motor kit separately, and you and your child(ren) will have an absolutely amazing time working together to build your arm. Once it’s done, you’ll have and even more amazing time using it (mechanically or motorized) to pick stuff up and move it around. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions for the arm, a scorpion, and a helicopter. Ages 8+. Under $50. http://www.hexbugvex.com/robotic_arm.html.

A Vacation from Vacations

With all the camps, family trips, excursions, and non-stop activities, after a few weeks, summer vacation can sometimes start to feel like work. Here are some great ways to slow things down and get back to having some good, old-fashioned, low-pressure fun.

Math Dice Chase (Think Fun)

math diceThink Hot Potato, but with math facts. This game comes with two pairs of 12-sided dice and the goal is to pass your pair to your opponent before he or she does the same to you. The way you get rid of your dice is by rolling them, multiplying the two up-facing numbers, and calling out your answer. The speed factor and the element of competition make Math Dice Chase a fun, engaging way for kids (and adults) to master their multiplication tables. There are, of course, plenty of other ways to use the dice. You might, for example, roll one and have three players roll a die of their own and be the first to multiply theirs by the one in the middle. Ages 8+. Retails for about $6.99. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/math-dice-chase/

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor (Think Fun)

escape the roomThere’s something very strange going on at the old manor down the street. Your neighbor, a famous astronomer, has seemingly disappeared and you and your guests have decided to investigate. Being adventurers, you let yourselves into the astronomer’s house, but, gasp, you find yourselves locked in a room. And time is running out. The only way you’ll survive the night (why do these things always happen at night?) is to work together using logic and problem-solving skills to solve puzzles and unlock clues. It’s a delightful (but a little sinister) way to spend time with your family and/or friends. The kit includes scene cards, sealed envelopes containing secret items (no, we’re not going to tell you what they are), instructions, and more. It’s for 3-8 players, ages 10+, and retails for under $22. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/stargazer/

Back Spin (Think Fun)

back spinImagine a two-sided flying saucer with six color-coded slots on each side. Every slot can accommodate three colored marbles, for a total of 36. But there are only 35. That allows you to push a marble from one side into the empty space on the other. Mixing everything up is plenty of fun, and involves lots of twisting and spinning and poking. But the real challenge is getting all the marbles back into their original positions. Back Spin is frustrating (in a good way) and requires logic, planning, time, and patience. But it’s also incredibly addictive and you won’t want to put it down. It’s for one player aged 8 and up (so it’s perfect for when you need a little “me” time) and retails for about $14.99. http://www.thinkfun.com/products/back-spin/

Wet Head (Zing)

wet headIf you’re looking for a fun way to cool down after a long day out in the sun, Wet Head is perfect. Imagine a small tank mounted on what looks like a hardhat. The tank has eight pins sticking out of it. Then, fill the tank with water and put the hat on. One of those pins will dump the contents of the tank onto your head. Now, spin the spinner, which will tell you to pull one or two pins, skip a turn, or do something else. (There’s also a Wet Head Challenge app that brings in trivia questions and just ads to the fun factor.) If you follow the instructions and stay dry, pass the hat to the next player. Eventually, someone’s going to get soaked. You can play indoors or out, fully dressed, or clothing optional. Ages 4 and up. Retails for under $20. http://wethead.toys/


Puzzles, with a Twist

There’s something incredibly engaging and fascinating about Rubik’s Cube and other similar puzzles, which explains why they’re so popular. This week, we had a lot of fun trying to solve five really unique cube-type puzzles (none of which is a Rubik’s). But because kids are often better at these things than adults, we got some assistance—and insights—from Jonathan Amir, a true puzzle-solving master.

V-Cube 7 (V-Cube)

v-cube 7If solving a traditional 3×3 Rubik’s is a challenge, just looking at this 8×8 cube may make you run screaming from the room. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced cuber, you’ll love this puzzle (although even Jonathan was overwhelmed at first). As with smaller cubes (3×3, 4×4, etc.), it helps to know the algorithms, which tell you how to move the horizontal and vertical layers. This 7×7 cube has algorithms as well, but, as you might imagine, they’re a lot more complicated and require much more memorization. Jonathan felt that the cube’s pillow shape (rounded sides) made it a little harder to hold, and if you have small hands, you might find it tough to twist some of the inner layer. Nevertheless, it’s a solid challenge. For ages 8+. About $38. www.v-cubes.com/

Gear Ball (Mefferts)

gear ballEven though it’s a sphere, this puzzle has six faces and the goal is to make each one a solid color. You do that in the usual way, by grabbing the ball with both hands and twisting in opposite directions. The interlocking gear-shaped pieces make this unique puzzle look nearly impossible. But according to Jonathan, it’s easier to solve—and a lot more fun—than a Rubik’s. So once you’ve got this one mastered, you’ll be able to show off to your friends. In the meantime, you’ll have a blast.  Ages 6+. $34.95. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/gear-ball/

Molecube (Mefferts)

molecubeThis fascinating brain teaser looks a little like a Rubik’s, but aside from the way you manipulate it, the Moleube actually has more in common with Sudoku. The spheres come in nine colors, and the goal is to twist and turn until there are no duplicate colors on any of the six faces of the cube. Jonathan didn’t have a chance to try this one, but for mere mortals, solving it is a lot harder than it sounds. Ages 9+. About $20. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/molecube/

Pyraminx (Mefferts)

pyraminxThis pyramid-shaped puzzle has been around as long as Rubik’s Cube (more than 40 years) and operates on the same basic twisting and turning principles. It has four triangular faces, each with 9 pieces, which makes it easier—and quicker—to solve. It a good option for littler kids and beginning cubers, but it’s still plenty of fun for advanced players. The world’s record for solving it is 1.36 seconds, which is exactly 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 19 seconds less than it took us.  Ages 6+. About $19. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/pyraminx/

Cube (Boulding Blocks)

boulding blocksAside from its geometric shape and the high entertainment value, Cube has very little in common with the other puzzles here. First, designed by artist Mark Boulding, it’s visually stunning. Second, it consists of eight pieces—four black and four white—and is made to be taken apart. Third, as Jonathan discovered, unlike the twisting puzzles, there’s really only one way to solve (reassemble) Cube, which makes it less of a challenge for determined cubers. But who says you have to limit yourself to cubes? What we found especially fun is that you can assemble the pieces into all sorts of other shapes and structures. If you have more than one Cube, you can combine the pieces and build even bigger things. Ages 6+. Under $20. www.bouldingblocks.com/

Figure This

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

Nintendo Plush

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

Pokémon Collectibles

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

Precious Moments

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

Zootopia figures (Tomy)

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




Marvel’s The Avengers Big Wheel

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

Summer Fun for the Kids

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

Nerf Action Camera

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

Kurio Xtreme 2

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


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

Time to Get Wet, Baby

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

Power Swimr (SwimWays)

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

Sea Squirts Swim Assist (SwimWays)

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

Baby Spring Float (SwimWays)

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

Kickboard (Maui Toys)

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

Blow-up Billiards (SwimWays)

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