Summertime Toys: You’re Outa Here!

Looking for some great to get the whole family outside and work up a sweat? If so, you’ll haves a blast with these new, summertime toys.

 

sonic boom batSonic Boom bat and ball (Backyard Sports)

There’s something magical about the crack of a baseball meeting a bat. It’s a sound that every fan wants to hear and that every player, regardless of age, wants to make. The Sonic Boom bat has a large, hollow barrel (called the “sonic boom chamber”) that makes it easy for young players to connect with the ball (one is included). The chamber also produces that major-league home run sound with every hit. Baseball bats are among the lowest-tech playthings available, but Backyard Sports has managed to incorporate a bit of technology. The bat has a small display that generates QR codes that players can scan to unlock parts of a free online game and power up in-game characters. The more you hit, the more codes you get. Ages 5 and up. $27.99. https://www.backyardsports.com

 

trickster discTrickster Flying Disc (Malibu Sports)

The Trickster bills itself as a new twist on flying discs, and they’re right. With more traditional discs (AKA Frisbees), the focus was on the spectacular catches. But with Trickster, the disc itself provides the entertainment. You can still make long, accurate throws, but the “Stunt Tech” design, with its sleek holes, enables some pretty amazing in-air tricks, including a 360-degree corkscrew spin. Made of slightly soft foam-like material, it’s easy to catch, which is a big advantage when playing with young ychildren. Ages 6 and up. http://malibu-sports.com/  (but be aware: the website is under construction).

 

usta youth tennis inintiativeYouth Tennis Initiatives (United States Tennis Association)

Tennis can be a frustrating game for children. Adult racquets are tough to handle, standard tennis balls move too quickly, and all that frustration often has kids quitting before they have a chance to see how fun the sport can be. In an effort to overcome all this, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) has launched a variety of Youth Tennis Initiatives around the country, and even redesigning tennis courts to be more kid-friendly. But the best part of these initiatives is the all-new gear, scaled to children’s age, sizes, and ability. Racquets, for example, now come in four sizes, ranging from 19” (about the size of a racquetball racket) up to 25” (adult racquets typically run 27” to 29”.) Even the tennis balls come in different sizes and bounceability, color coded for easy identification. The USTA’s goal is to get more kids interested—and involved—in tennis and they’ve just served up an ace, not only engaging kids, but making it possible for adults and children to play together. Ages 6 and up. https://www.youthtennis.com/

 

bunch o balloonsBunch O Balloons (Zuru)

Water balloon fights are almost synonymous with summer. But one of the most annoying things about them is that it takes nearly forever to fill and tie them up. Bunch O Balloons makes that a thing of the past, letting you fill and tie 30 balloons at once, in seconds. If you move quickly, you might be able to fill 100 in under a minute. If that doesn’t blow your opponents out of the water, nothing will. Just connect Bunch O Balloons to your water source (a standard hose connection is ideal), then stand back and watch the balloons expand and tie themselves. Yep, tie themselves. It’s a brilliant idea. Ages 7 and up. $12.99. http://bunchoballoons.com/

 

 

 

All Yours, Baby-Toys for Toddlers

When it comes to play, toddlers are a pretty accommodating group, capable of having fun with almost anything, almost anywhere. (As a toddler, Armin’s oldest daughter’s favorite toy was a 29-cent dish scrubber). But finding toddler toys and games that will keep adults engaged too is harder. Here are four toys that you and your little one will definitely be able to enjoy together.

kids picnic  tableKids’ Picnic Table (American Plastic Toys)
The name of the company—American Plastic Toys—says it all: Everything they manufacture is made of plastic and it’s all built in America. The only things they left out are that, while their toys aren’t fancy, they’re sturdy, safety tested, fun to play with, and surprisingly affordable. (The “Unpretentious, Sturdy, Safe, Fun, Affordable American Plastic Toys company” seems a little cumbersome). Their new picnic table is no exception. Adult assembly is required, but it takes only a few minutes and you won’t need screws or tools. Once it’s built, it becomes the perfect table for messy activities. Cover it with sand, spill a glass of grape juice, or knock over a cup of finger paint? Did the kids turn it on its side to use it as a fort? No problem. Just hose is off, let it dry, and you’re good to go. Ages 2 and up. At major retailers or http://americanplastictoys.com/

sand and water playsetKids’ Sand and Water Play Set (American Plastic Toys)
The Sand and Water Play Set has two sections; a canal for water use, and a sand pit. There’s also a working crane for moving cargo from one area to the other. We especially liked the snap-on wave maker that kids can use to create a current to move boats up the canal. The Set also comes with cargo units, trucks, barges, and speedboats. It’s aimed at kids as young as 18 months, but you’ll love playing with it too. $14.99 at Target and other retailers.

fluffy friendsTots Fluffy Friends (Alex Toys)
Let’s face it, crafts can be messy—especially when they’re being done by a toddler. Tots Fluffy Friends changes all that. It’s a great way to give your little ones a chance to show off their creativity without you having to worry about glue, scissors, cleaning up, or finding glitter in your hair two weeks later.  The kit comes with four crack-and-peel collage boards (shaped like a duck, cat, bear, and bunny), four packages of colorful, shredded paper, and 40 stickers. Once you’ve peeled the board, your toddler can make his or her own one-of-a-kind creation using bits (or handfuls) of the shredded paper and the stickers. Ages 18 months and up. $17.99 at major retailers or www.alextoys.com

flip flop blocksFlip Flop ABC Blocks (Mirari/Patch Products)
As kids, most of us had ABC blocks, but you’ve never seen any like these. On one side of these clear plastic cubes is a bold, colorful letter. Turn it around and dancing on a string inside is an adorable animal or object that starts with the same letter (unicorn for U, star for S. grapes for G, and so on). There’s also a magnetic “magic wand” that your toddler can use to control the figures. These blocks are incredibly engaging (for adults and kids) and they’re great for building fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and of course, letter recognition (who knew that learning the alphabet could induce so many giggles?) They also introduce the concept of case and effect. Our only complaint is that not all of the letters have a corresponding figure (the ones that don’t feature a dancing letter instead). For ages 12 months and up. $49.99. At your favorite retailer or http://www.patchproducts.com/

 

Hey, Buddy, You Got a Match?

Matching games, in various forms, have been around forever—and with good reason: they’re easy to play, fun, don’t usually take a lot of time, and they help build memory and pattern skills. This week we take a look at four new games that add new—and colorful—twists to the old classic.

color clashColor Clash (Blue Orange)
In Color Clash, each of the 36 playing tiles has three attributes: the color of the chameleon in the middle, the color word (red, blue, green, etc.) written in a ring around the chameleon and the color of the letters that make up the word (for example, the word “green” might be written in blue). Color Match comes with instructions for eight separate games (including two that are excellent for solo players), but there’s nothing to stop you from making up your own. One of our favorites was to start with all the tiles face down. Players take turns flipping over one tile while the others say out loud the color of the word (not the color it names). It’s not easy.  For 1-8 players, ages 7 and up. http://www.blueorangegames.com/

cup-a-cupCup-a-Cup (R&R Games)
Another deceptively easy game. Cup-a-cup comes with nine plastic cups. On the bottom of each is one of three shapes (square, circle, or triangle) in one of three colors (blue, red, yellow). There’s also a pair of dice that have the same shapes and colors. Players take turns rolling the dice, then all lunge for the cups (which are arranged bottom up so you can see the colors/shapes) in a frenzied attempt to complete the set. Some are pretty easy: For example, if you roll two blue triangles, you have to grab the cup with the blue triangle. And if you roll two shapes with the same color, you need to grab the one cup with the one that’s missing. It starts getting harder when neither the shapes nor the colors on the dice match. Say a blue circle and a yellow square. We’ll leave it to you which one you need. First player to collect three cups wins. For 3-5 players, ages 6 and up (don’t sneer—kids are better at this than adults). http://www.rnrgames.com/

pluckin' pairsPluckin’ Pairs (R&R Games)
It all starts off pretty easy: lay out 11 cards, each one with a photograph, on the table. Then, working individually, start writing down matching pairs using any criteria you want. A red bell pepper might match with a red phone booth because the colors match, but that same red pepper might match a pocket watch. What, wait? They both have stems. Similarly, an ant might go with a bird (both animals) or a roll of tape (they tend to stick together). When the 90-second timer runs out, players take turns explaining their pairs. If two or more have the same pair, both score a point. If no one else has the same pair, it scores zero. We also reversed the scoring so that only pairs that no one else has score. For 3-8 players, ages 12 and up.

slidewaysSlideways (R&R Games)
Slideways is essentially a 4×4 version of tic tac toe, but with the added complexity of being able to slide the rows around. The game consists of four moveable rows, each with four triangle-shaped tiles that can show blue, red, or gold. Players alternate flipping tiles, trying to get four in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). And just when you’re getting close, someone slides a row and messes everything up. Requires strategy, logic, and a sense of humor. For 2-3 players, ages 8 and up.

Building a Childhood, Part 2

This week we continue our creativity and building theme.

Play Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style SalonPlay Doh Rainbow Dash My Little Pony Style Salon
If you’re a My Little Pony fan—or you have one under your roof—you’ll love the Rainbow Dash Style Salon. It’s a little reminiscent of the Play Doh Disguise Lab that we reviewed last week, where you put your favorite Minion into the styling chair and made wild and crazy hairstyles. With this style salon you can still grow, cut, and style your pretty Pegasus’ hair. But that’s just the beginning. The body and wings are actually built-in molds that you can fill with Play Doh to decorate your little pony using the six included colors (or, you can mix them up to create completely new colors). Sam had a toy like this when she was little and it was a favorite. It’s not the fanciest toy—and it’s certainly not the techiest. But it’s fun, creative, and a great way to create build memories that you and your child will cherish for years. For ages 3 and up. Retails for about $18 on Amazon.com and other toy sellers.

Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)Stackins Stackable Friends (Funrise)
If you like Bun Buns (reviewed last week), you’ll also like Stackins. They’re soft, cute, stackable, collectible, and reasonably priced—what could be better than that? Right now there are four characters: Poppy the Puppy, Checkers the Cheetah, Bonny the Bunny, and Kiki the Fox. But Funrise has several dozen new characters about ready to hatch. They also have plans to introduce larger size Stackins. To keep your child busy ‘til then, there are games and coloring pages on their website, http://www.funrise.com/stackins/.  For ages 3 and up. Stackins retail for $7.90 and they’re available exclusively at Justice.

Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie EditionEiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition (Ravensburger)
Have you ever built a puzzle? Not done a puzzle, or put one together, but actually built one? If not, Ravensburger’s Eiffel Tower, Mickey & Minnie Edition is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of 3D puzzles. There are two ways to build this puzzle (and any of the others in Ravensburger’s line). For more experienced puzzle hounds, use your eye (and maybe the image of the completed puzzle on the box). For novice builder/puzzlers, each if the 216 pieces is numbered, so all you have to do is follow the sequence. Either way, the pieces snap together—no glue required. With images of Micky and Minnie decorating the outside, this is the Eiffel tower like you’ve never seen it. You and your kids will feel mighty proud of yourselves when your 17-inch high tower is complete and on display for everyone to admire. For ages 5 and up. This particular kit sells for $27.99. Others include a medieval house, a lighthouse, the Taj Mahal, Empire State Building, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and a variety of other famous landmarks. All are available at https://www.ravensburger.com

spongebobInvincibubble Talking Action Figure
Pop-a-Part Spongebob
League of Heroes Figurine Set
Still haven’t had enough of Spongebob? Not to worry. The Spongebob movie, “Sponge Out of Water,” has spawned a huge array of Spongebob products, including the Pop-a-Part Spongebob ($11.50), Invincibubbles Talking Action Figure ($15.80), and the League of Heroes Figurine Set ($39), all of which provide everything you could possibly need to build an amazing adventure with the one-and-only wisecracking sponge. If you’re a Spongebob fan, we’re guessing that you’re already on the way to Toys R Us or wherever you buy your toys. If you’re not (yet), Spongebob and his buddies are really hard to resist. And you truly haven’t lived until you’ve seen a sponge with a six-pack.

Building a Childhood

Kids and building go hand in hand: Make it bigger, higher, better, greener—whatever strikes their fancy that particular day. Not only are building toys a good time, but they‘re also great for parent-child bonding, and have been shown to improve motor skills, hand-eye coordination, social skills, cooperation, creativity, spatial skills, and more. No wonder we love ‘em so much!

play doh minionsPlay-Doh Disguise Lab Featuring Despicable Me Minions (Hasbro)
Sometimes we all feel like minions. But what do minions do when they want to feel like someone else? Enter Play-Doh Disguise Lab. Just put your minion into the hair styling chair (one purple minion, one yellow minion, and chair are included) and give him as many silly and crazy hairstyles as you’d like. Your child will have so much fun with this, and you will too. You can trim their hair, choose different colors, and even make things that Minions love like ba-na-nas. The kit also comes with scissors (not sharp), a comb for styling, and four cans of Play-Doh. With the Minion movie coming out this summer, this Play Doh kit will be even more popular. About $18 at Toys R Us and other retailers.

 

lego batman penguin3 LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face off
LEGO, of course, are great building toys. With a dizzying number of sets and sizes to choose from, there’s something for every kid (and every parent) to play with. “LEGO DC Comics Batman: The Penguin Face” off lets kids recreate and act out their favorite superhero moments. In this kit, the goal is to help Scuba Batman bring justice to that diamond-stealing, umbrella-wielding waddler, Penguin and his minions (no, not the yellow ones—this villain’s minions are robot penguins). The kit comes with Batman and Penguin (and two minions) mini-figs, the “diamond,” a ton of weapons—including Penguin’s umbrella, and all the ingredients to build Batman’s scuba vehicle and Penguin’s duck boat. Penguin and the duck boat appeared in the recent movie “LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.” The title is quite a mouthful, but it was pretty funny, and a good flick for the whole family (especially all those LEGO and/or Superheroes fans). If your child isn’t into superheroes and prefers something a little more “real,” take a look at the Swamp Police Starter Set, which comes with four mini-figs, an alligator, boat, raft, “hideout” spot, and quite a few accessories, including a spider, snake, handcuffs, walkie talkies, a shovel, and more. Ages 5-12. Batman is about $13, Swamp is about $10. http://shop.lego.com.

bun bunBun Bun! (The Bridge Direct)
If you think that all building toys have to be blocks or bricks and have hard edges, you need to meet Bun Bun. These cute, cuddly (and collectible, of course) animals were created to be stacked and piled up. Stacking plush toys have already created a splash in Japan and other countries, and they’re just now hitting the US markets. Bun Bun combines two things kids love: building and animals which is great. Better yet, both boys and girls we tested Bun Bun with loved them and couldn’t get enough. The first wave of characters includes Kit Kit (Cat), Moo Moo (Cow), Pup Pup (Dog), Shu Shu (Monkey), Bit Bit (Mouse), Pip Pip (Pig), Bai Bai (Polar Bear), and Bon Bon (Rabbit), and they come in four sizes: mini (4”) small (7”) medium (10”) jumbo (16”). But regardless of the color, size, or animal, Bun Bun encourages kids to be creative and get their engineering on. For all ages. Prices range from $5 to $20. http://www.bunbuntoys.com/

You’re Outa Here

Spring is in the air, so let’s get outside and start having fun!

backyard adventures base camp shelterBase Camp Shelter (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Journeys—whether they’re a thousand miles or just out to the backyard—start with a single step. But before you start stepping, you need to plan out where you’re going to rest along the way. The Base Camp Shelter is a 3-sided tent, which means you won’t want to use it in the rain. However, it’s perfect for fair-weather overnights, rest stops, shade at the beach, or as a place to observe birds, bugs, and other natural wonders. It has a zippered rear window, moisture-proof floor lining, mesh storage pouches that you can fill with healthy snacks for your weary adventurers, and D rings for hanging lanterns and other gear. It’s also light, extremely compact, easy to carry, and sets up in minutes., thereby removing many of the obstacles that keep kids from enjoying being outside and encouraging them to get out and start having adventures. Ages 5+. About $49. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

Star Wars Science Jedi telescopeStar Wars Jedi telescope (Uncle Milton)
Star gazing is a classic parent-child activity, one that can spark an interest in ancient mythology and/or science. There’s plenty to see with the naked eye, but a telescope can make the whole experience a lot more fun—and educational—for everyone.  The Jedi telescope works like a real telescope, allowing a closer look at the moon, stars, planets, and other celestial objects. When you and your child get tired of seeing things the way they are, you can always explore that famous galaxy far, far away. The Jedi telescope has 10 Star Wars-related images built in, including planets such as Tatooine, Dagobah, and Kamino, and even the Death Star. Ages 5+. $22.00 http://unclemilton.com/star_wars_science/

backyard adventures walkie talkieWalkie Talkies (Backyard Safari Outfitters)
Communicating with basecamp is an important part of any outdoor adventure. And with its two-mile range, you can give the kids some freedom to explore without losing contact. These walkies come two in a pack and include basic instructions and an adventure guide, but not the 8 AAA batteries you’ll need. They’re easy to use and the sounds quality is good—as long as you’re in an open area where there’s not too much to interfere with the signal. Perhaps the nicest thing about these walkies is that they allow you to communicate with your child the old fashioned way: using words. No texts, no apps, no data plan required. $30. Ages 6+. http://www.backyardsafari.com/

little scholar school zone tabletLittle Scholar tablet (School Zone)
When the adventure is over, it’s time to get back to the real world. And the Little Scholar tablet can help with that transition. Made by School Zone, which has been manufacturing educational materials and products for more than 35 years, the Little Scholar comes preloaded with 150 apps, e-books, songs, and videos, all of which are ready to use right out of the box. The apps are the full versions, which means there’s nothing to download and none of those annoying in-app upsells that we’ve seen in some other tablets. The apps cover a wide range of subjects, including math, spelling, and reading in a playful, creative way. Popular titles include the “Start to Read!” E-book series and the “Charlie and Company” video series. The password-protected A+ app is designed for parents, and lets us pick the apps our kids have access to and monitor their progress. Little Scholar runs on Google Android 4.2.2 and has an 8-inch screen with 1024×768 resolution. For kids 3-7 (anyone older than that will want a more adult tablet). $169.99 at online retailers and www.buylittlescholar.com .

No More Bedtime Battles

Getting the kids to go to bed—and actually stay there—can be of the most challenging parts of any parent’s day. The best solution is to have (and keep) a good bedtime routine. But what’s a harried mom or dad to do when the routine doesn’t work? Sometimes, having the right helper is just what the Sandman ordered. Check out some of these fun and innovative new products for bedtime and beyond.

melody mates blanketMelody Mates (Melody Mates)
Most kids (and most grownups too) want a soft, snuggly blanket to cuddle up with. And what could be better than one with a gently glowing, soothing animal face on it? Melody Mates actually goes one step further, pairing the blanket with a matching (and washable, yeah!) pillow. Push a button and calming lullabies play and the LED lights glow—just enough to be friendly and put an end to those bedtime battles, but not nearly bright enough to interrupt sleep (that would be evil, wouldn’t it?). Soft, plush Melody Mates come in six flavors, including cow, duck, frog, and monkey. For ages 12 months and up. About $30. Unfortunately, batteries aren’t included. www.MyMelodyMates.com

broboBrobo (Brobo)
If you haven’t met Brobo and his friends, we’re glad to introduce you. These fun, adorable, cuddly buddies first hit the market in 2012 but were pretty hard to find until now. There’s Brobo himself, Pep, Mumu, Trex, and Dog. All of them have a futuristic, robot feel and a glowing center that looks like Iron Man’s Arc Reactor. They’re great company for your little one, and they’ll definitely help scare away the darkness when it’s time for lights-out. The glowing center has a very bright “flashlight” mode and a much-less-bright nightlight mode. Just swipe a hand (or tail) over the lights to activate. Both shut off automatically after five minutes. $35 at www.brobo.com

 

ok to wake clockOK to Wake! Clock (Patch Products)
If you’ve got a child who gets up at 5am when you were looking forward to sleeping in, the OK To Wake! clock will be your new BFF. The clock will let you child know—even if he or she can’t tell time—when it’s okay to get out of bed and demand breakfast or cartoon time. Just set the desired time and the faceplate will light up. And for those weekday mornings when the kids would like to sleep ‘til noon instead of going to school, the OK to Wake! just switch to alarm clock mode. You can also use it as a night light. Batteries required. $33 at http://www.patchproducts.com

dino petDino Pet (BioPop)
Although Dino Pets are shaped like dinosaurs, they don’t really have very much to do with those prehistoric reptiles. The Pet’s name comes from dinoflagellates, which are the bioluminescent phytopankton that live inside its clear, plastic body. (Yes, we know that dinoflagellates sounds like a dinosaur that has gas or is being whipped.) Like most other pets, Dino Pets are alive and are fun to play with. Unlike other pets, you don’t have to take them for walks or clean up after them. You will have to feed them with the provided Dino Food, though, but only once every few months. During the day, the algae soaks up energy from the sun or low-wattage lightbulb. But at night, they put on an amazing light show—all you have to do is touch the dino’s body or gently shake it. Part night light and part science project, Dino Pets are absolutely fascinating. $59.95. Additional dino food is $14.95, and if your colony suddenly goes extinct, you can order refills for $49.95. http://biopop.com/products/dino-pet

Making Spring Clean and Colorful

When Daylight Savings begins, you know that Spring can’t be far behind—and neither are Easter, Passover, and Spring cleaning. This week, we review some Easter bunnies, outdoor art adventures, and a decluttering marvel.

3d sidewalk chalk3D Sidewalk Chalk (Thames & Kosmos).
The folks at Thames & Kosmos can’t help themselves: they include a really fun, educational component in everything they make. Their new 3D Sidewalk Chalk is no exception.  The kit comes with plaster power, dye, mixing cups, molds, and 3D glasses. The fun starts by making your own chalk by mixing the plaster powder, dye, and water (not included). Then, pour the slurry into the molds. When it hardens, you’re ready to start creating art. Here’s where the science comes in: when you put on the 3D glasses, your drawings seem to jump off the sidewalk. The instruction manual explains how and why that happens and includes directions for making rainbow chalk, and more chalk science experiments. Ages 8 and up. About $15. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/

crayola sidewalk chalkSidewalk Chalk Mega Pack (Crayola)
Crayola’s sidewalk chalk doesn’t have much science behind it, which means it can focus on what Crayola does best: giving kids tools to make colorful art. The Mega Pack includes 12 large chalk pieces: 3 neon, 3 glitter, 3 tie dye, and 3 basic bold colors. No instructions required. The chalk itself is especially easy to clean up—just hose it off—a big plus if your neighbors are persnickety about their sidewalks. Unlike most other sidewalk chalks, these pieces aren’t cylindrical, which means they won’t go rolling down your driveway into the street—with your child running after it. Ages 6 and up. http://www.crayola.com/

 


alex washable bunnyColor & Cuddle Washable Bunny (Alex Toys)

How many times has your child “decorated” a favorite stuffed animal with a Sharpie? If that sounds familiar, you’ll love Alex Toys’ Color and Cuddle line. The idea is pretty simple: make a toy that’s snuggly, let kids draw on it, and allow them to change their mind whenever they want. And that’s exactly what happens: color, wash, repeat—as many times as you’d like. The only rule is that your young artist needs to use the included markers. The Washable Bunny is perfect for Easter. Other options include a bear, a doll, and a pony. Ages 3 and up. All are about $21. http://www.alextoys.com/

 

funshine easter bearFunshine Easter Bear (JustPlay)
This 16-inch, soft, cuddly, plush gets your child’s best Care Bear ready for Easter too. Cleverly disguised as a bunny—complete with Easter Bunny ears—Funshine is a great addition to any Holiday basket. $24.95 at Amazon and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

fujitsu ix500 scannerScanSnap iX500 Scanner (Fujitsu)
When we think of “spring cleaning” the images that come to mind usually have to do with sweeping and mopping and maybe reorganizing the garage. But what about all that stuff in your file cabinets? Worse yet, what about all the stuff—including those boxes of old photos—that should be in file cabinets but is sitting around in piles? The ScanSnap iX500 can help. It’s incredibly easy to install and even easier to operate. Drop in a stack of documents, press the button (there really is only one), and in seconds all that paper is transformed into pdfs or Jpegs. Then you can save it to your computer or upload directly to Dropbox and other cloud services. The ScanSnap handles everything you can throw at it, from business cards to long (up to 34 inches)  documents. Put it in crooked? No problem. ScanSnap straightens is out. Upside down? It’s rotated automatically. A great way to keep those important family documents and memories organized. $499.  http://www.fujitsu.com/us/products/computing/peripheral/scanners/scansnap/

Family Fitness: Strike a Pose and Get Ready to Sweat

We all know how great exercise is for us—it’s been shown to have positive effects in almost every area of our life, whether that’s reducing disease risks, combatting depression, or just improving overall wellbeing. But exercising together as a family has some additional benefits. Of course, there’s the bonding part. But besides that, family exercise provides some built-in motivation, encouragement, and can add an element of (hopefully) friendly competition. If you and/or your family are relatively new to exercise, here are a few ways to help you take those first steps towards lifelong fitness. But please, before you start any kind of exercise routine—especially if you haven’t worked out in a while—check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s appropriate for you and your unique circumstances.

lazy lizards yoga mat and dvdLazy Lizards Yoga mat and DVD (Lazy Lizards)
If one or more of your kids is wiggly and impatient, yoga is a great way to redirect some of that surplus energy. A tremendous amount of research has been done on kids and yoga and there are many documented benefits, including increased strength and flexibility, better ability to manage stress, lower obesity risk, improved balance and agility, fewer sports injuries, and better on-field performance. Some studies even suggest that yoga may encourage creativity, improve memory, and boost academic performance. Yoga, of course, can be done alone, but it’s also a wonderful family activity. The Lazy Lizards yoga mat is the perfect size for children, and has 12 kid-friendly poses printed right on it. There’s even an empty space where kids can draw their own pose. These mats are eco-friendly (meaning they’re made from phthalate-free materials and are recyclable) and come in four colors. Kids can do their own yoga practice by following the illustrations on the mat, or you can pick up the Lazy Lizards yoga DVD, which includes a more structured workout, which includes the little-known pizza pose. The mat is $32, the DVD is $17.95, or you can get a combo for $44.95, all at http://www.lazylizardsyoga.com/ and other retailers.

doyogawithmeDoYogaWithMe
If you’ve got older kids, DoYogaWithMe is a great resource. The website has dozens of free yoga videos that range from 15 minutes to more than an hour. There are three levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and 17 styles to choose from. The instructors are uniformly excellent and the workouts are just as good as you’d find at your local yoga studio. http://www.doyogawithme.com/

sears fitstudioSears FitStudio (Sears)
Sears’s newly re-launched FitStudio is a free, one-stop site that offers a variety of workouts (complete with short video demos of each exercise), a large library of articles on fitness and nutrition, and reviews of dozens of fitness-related products. Once you register (it’s quick and free) FitStudio helps keep you motivated by giving you rewards for incorporating movement into your daily life. If you have a fitness tracker or other similar device, you can connect it to your FitStudio account. You can earn points for walking two miles, burning 1,500 calories, or achieving some other fitness goal you’ve established. You can redeem those points for discounts on merchandise from Sears, sears.com, or kmart.com. Find out more at https://www.fitstudio.com/

sportline sync watchSportline Sync Heart Rate Watch
We’ll be reviewing advanced fitness trackers and fitness-enabled smart watches in future columns, but if you’re looking for a good quality, inexpensive tracker with a lot of features, you can’t go wrong with this one. Besides telling time (you’d be amazed at how many fitness trackers don’t), the Sportline Sync Heart Rate Watch measures steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and heart rate. About $50 at Sears and other retailers.

You’re Imagining the Whole Thing

Imagination is a wonderful thing. But in an era of “teaching to the test” and laser focus on grades and performance, it’s in short supply. A large body of research shows that children who engage in imaginative play have larger vocabularies, think more flexibly and creatively, and do better in school than less imaginative kids. And as they get older, those children turn into adults who have more empathy for others, work better on teams, are more adaptable, and generally have more fulfilling careers. And it all starts with stories. Here are some of our favorite imagination- and creativity-stimulating toys.

safari figurinesFigurines (Safari LTD)
Safari LTD makes a dizzying variety of figurines that are perfect for imaginative play. Whether your children’s fantasy world takes them to a farm, a faraway land, under the sea, or has them playing with mythological creatures (or maybe a mash up of the above), Safari’s figurines will be at their side for years to come. They’re fun to collect and meticulously detailed and painted, so your first reaction may be to put them on a shelf and admire them. But they’re quite sturdy, meaning they can survive a dog attack, being tossed out a window (not that your child would ever do that), or a washing machine adventure. You’ll find creatures in all shapes and sizes at https://www.safariltd.com/

haba puppetsPuppets (HABA USA)
HABA puppets are great for children of any age (HABA recommends age 1 and up, but as they’re soft and don’t have any loose parts or buttons, they’re okay for younger kids too.) HABA’s puppets easy to manipulate—one finger for the head, thumb for one arm, and middle finger for the other—and their cheery, smiling faces make them irresistible. You can get individual puppets or assemble groups of themed characters such as Red Riding Hood and a royal family for more involved stories. There’s also a whole line of delightful finger puppets. Oh, and they’re machine washable (hang to dry) too. Most are around $15. Visit http://www.habausa.com for choices.

folkmanis puppetsPuppets (Folkmanis)
With their attention to detail and creative designs, Folkmanis puppets are visually stunning. They’re also as plush as high-end stuffed animals. That combination makes mom and dad want to play with them as much as the kids do. The puppets vary in size and articulation, but they’re always wonderfully unique, with wings that flap, heads that spin, tails that uncurl, tongues that stick out, and more. Some of them are easy for small hands, but some require five fingers, and others need two adult-sized hands to operate. These puppets will get everyone’s imagination working. If your dragon breathes fire on imaginary an imaginary villages and kidnaps the LEGO residents, you can send brave knights up to vanquish it. Or maybe the hero is a princess from a neighboring kingdom. There are literally hundreds of puppets. See all the newest ones at http://www.folkmanis.com

yottoy girl scout dollGirl Scouts Friendship Dolls (YOTTOY)
YOTTOY brings fantasy and real life together with its new line of soft Girl Scouts Friendship Dolls. These dolls promote what the Girl Scouts are all about: friendship, diversity, and taking care of the community. They also bring in an element of fun and personal style. One especially nice feature is that they come in several ethnicities, which means that your child can play with characters who look just like her (or close to it) and create her own Girl Scout meetings, go on camping trips, or sell cookies. Friendship Dolls retail for around $17 at YOTTOY, Walmart, and GirlScouts.com. Or visit http://girlscoutsfriendship.yottoy.com/where