Tag Archives: feuss

Winter Indoors

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Some Assembly Required

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

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

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

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

 

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

Gentlemen—and Ladies—Start Your Consoles…

For many kids (and tweens, and teens, and—let’s face it—adults, too), gaming is a part of life. It can be a great way to unwind by yourself or (better yet) to log some major parent-child bonding time. As you put the finishing touches on this year’s Holiday lists, you may want to include a few of the following for your favorite gamers (or gamer wannabes).

wii deluxe bundleWii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set Bundle (Nintendo)
Do you own a Wii U yet? If not, you won’t find a better way to start than with the Wii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set Bundle, which includes the Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo Land games, an MK8 steering wheel, and, of course, the deluxe 32GB Wii U console, complete with a Mario-themed red Wii remote (or Wii-mote).
The Wii U is Nintendo’s sleek, new console, which has next-generation graphics that are comparable to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Images and textures are sharp, the sound is clear, and the characters look like they’re about ready to hop right off the screen to join you on the couch.

Speaking of screens, the Wii U GamePad controller, with its 6.2-inch touchscreen, is the star of the show. The GamePad has dual analog sticks, the usual buttons (A, B, X, Y, Home, Select, and more), as well as left- and right trigger buttons. Use it to control action on the TV screen or to access additional features such as in-game maps. Oh, and you can even use it as a TV remote control. If you’re just getting started, this bundle is a very good deal at $299.99. You’ll find it at your local retailer or http://happyholidays.nintendo.com

super smash bros.Super Smash Bros (Nintendo)
If you’re not ready for the Wii U or you just prefer to play on the 3DS, Super Smash Bros. is the way to go. This fighting game has a host of Nintendo and non-Nintendo characters who face off in multi-person, last-man-standing battles. Each character has different weapons, different speeds, different heights and weights, and different ways of attacking. That should make it pretty easy to decide who your favorite is—and who your arch-enemy is too. What’s especially nice about Smash Bros. is that there are just a few buttons, which makes it easy for players—even complete novices—to master their character fairly quickly. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is available now for $39.99 from all major retailers and the 3DS e-store.

pokemon art academyPokémon Art Academy (Nintendo)
For a somewhat less enervating gaming experience, take a look at Pokémon Art Academy, a Pokémon-themed version of Nintendo’s highly successful Art Academy. This one includes 40 lessons that will have anyone and everyone painting, sketching, and drawing the Pokémon characters you know and love. It starts with a stylus on the 3DS. But the Academy introduces kids (and their parents) to an incredible variety of media (including paint, pastel, pen, pencil, and a few others that don’t start with P), and teaches them skills and techniques that they’ll be able to use in real life and that go far beyond Pokémon. Pokémon Art Academy costs $30, and you can download it digitally or buy a hard copy at your favorite retailer or on the Art Academy website at http://artacademy.nintendo.com/pokemon/

Chip Off the Old Blocks

Here at Parents@Play, we’ve been reviewing toys and games for a long, long time, and one of our absolute favorite categories is building systems. They’re a great family activity, they appeal to kids of all ages, and they’re wonderful for developing hand-eye coordination, thinking-, and other skills. Some, like Lego and K’Nex, have been around since before we were kids, and we love them. But we also love seeing how some companies have put new spins on old systems, and how others have created new and unique pieces that go together in new and unique ways. Here are three that we know you’ll enjoy as much as we did.

instructuresInstructures (Poof-Slinky)
Instructures (a blending of “instructions” and “structures”) is one of those new-twist-on-old-blocks games. It uses regular, wooden blocks in a variety of shapes (columns, cubes, arches, triangles, and so on) and sizes. The new twist is that building becomes a competitive team sport. Here’s how it works: Players divide into two teams and each one gets a set of blocks. One person is appointed Foreman (it doesn’t matter from which team since there’s a new Foreman for each round). The Foreman takes a card from a deck that has photos of different structures build out of blocks. No one else sees the card. He or she then describes how to build what’s in the photo, and the teams race to the finish. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Each round is different. For example, the Foreman may have to give directions only by pointing and gesturing—no words. Or players are blindfolded so they have to build by touch alone. Or everyone looks at the card for a minute or two and then has to build the structure from memory. Instructures is a huge amount of fun and quite challenging. It’s also great for developing teamwork, cooperation, as well as spatial, memory, and problem-solving skills. Comes with two sets of blocks and three decks of cards (each with a different degree of difficulty). Minimum of four players, ages 8 and up. About $23 at Amazon.  www.poof-slinky.com

amaze 'n' marblesAmaze ’N’ Marbles (Poof Slinky)
Another new-twist building set. Builders create mazes that will get marbles from the top to the bottom using only gravity. The sets include regular wooden blocks and specially designed blocks with holes and channels to help keep the marbles on track. Because the mazes can be as elaborate or as basic as the builder wants, Amaze ‘N’ Marbles is great for kids of all ages. It’s also great for logical thinking (how can you get a marble to change directions or go around a corner) and physics (how fast does a marble have to be going to go up hill unassisted?). Ages 5 and up. $20-$75, depending on how many pieces are in the kit. www.poof-slinky.com

 

color clixColor Clix (Aliquantum)
This is one of the most innovative constructions systems we’ve seen in a long time. The pieces are colorful, sturdy, and come in a number of shapes that snap together in configurations that mimic the structure of atoms, crystals, and DNA molecules. But you definitely don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy Color Clix: You can also use them to build pretty much anything you want. Comes with an “Imagination Guide” with 14 project suggestions to get you going. After that, you’re on your own—and you’ll have a blast. Since the pieces snap together, clean-up is super easy (just pick up your structure and shove the whole thing under the couch). $14.50-$34, depending on the kit (beginner, intermediate, advanced).

No Winter Blues

We just set our clocks back, so you know winter is just around the corner. And if last year was any indication, this one’s going to be a doozy. As the temperature drops, the kids will be spending more and more time indoors, and the last thing you want is a bunch of bored minions to entertain. Here are a few of the latest fun toys that are perfect for quelling cabin fever.

baymax rocket fist1Baymax Rocket Fist and Mask (Bandai)
Baymax Armored Figure (Bandai)
With Disney’s new movie, Big Hero 6 just hitting theaters, the toys can’t be far behind. We saw the movie at a press screening and it was one of the cutest we’ve seen in a long time., albeit a little sad. The young genius, Hiro, will be a big favorite but it’s the silly and huggable—and inflatable—robot, Baymax who steals the show for children.  The mask looks just like the one Hiro makes for Baymax, but it’s not a full helmet, so it’s easy for small hands to get on and off. The Rocket Fist actually works, launching the fist part when the wearer (you know you’re going to try it) pulls the trigger inside. The flying fist is soft, so it won’t hurt anyone, but keep it away from breakables. Ages 4 and up. The Rocket Fist and Mask are about $23 on Amazon.

baymax armored figureThe Baymax (Armored) Figure is a really cool toy that’s sturdy and nicely articulated (meaning you can bend the arms and legs). It also has retractable wings, which makes flying around the house a real breeze. Okay, it doesn’t really fly, but don’t tell your child. Best of all, it looks exactly like Baymax, which is a very big deal for young super-heroes-to-be. 4 and up, $10 at Toys R Us.

 

 

monster high catacombs

Monster High Freaky Fusion Catacombs Playset (Mattel)
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. Some of the clothing on the Monster High dolls is a bit too risqué and not very appropriate for young kids (it’s certainly not anything you’d let your child wear to school, even on Halloween). But the dolls themselves are innovative and fun, and fit in with our current macabre fascination with zombies and monsters. So if your child is a Monsters High fan and/or saw the recent “Monster High: Freaky Fusion” movie (which featured the Catacombs under the school), this is a great gift. Just grab the dolls before your child gets to them and dress them a little more wholesomely. The dollhouse itself is very different than any other dollhouse your child has ever played with—and that’s a good thing. For ages 6 and up. Retails for about $110 (dolls are not included) at http://www.mattel.com or your favorite retailer.

fisher price battle roverImaginext Battle Rover (Fisher Price)
Part vehicle, part play set, the Battle Rover has it all: projectiles, disk launchers, lights, sound effects, voices, a crane, a pull-out saw and drill, a kid-operated control panel, and plenty more. And let’s not forget about the detachable space shuttle that’s got plenty of features of its own. Wow, that’s a whole lot of play in one toy, and it’s sure to keep your little one entertained for hours at a time. You can add a bit of education to the mix by reading your child some stories about similar, real-life rovers that have explored the moon and Mars. For ages 3 and up. $120 at http://www.fisher-price.com; a little less at retailers like Kmart.

Workouts for the Brain

Game nights are a great way for families to spend quality time together. But every once in a while, you need to shake things up a little, right? Here are three wonderful, mind-expanding activities that mom, dad, 2.5 kids (but not the dog) will enjoy.

Brain Benders puzzlesBrain Bender cubeBrain Benders (Alex Brands)
Brain Benders offer puzzle lovers a very different experience—visually, physical, and intellectually. Brain Benders pieces are made of wood (instead of flat cardboard), and you’ll use them to assemble a sphere, two different cubes, and double-pyramid shape. Besides patience and ingenuity, you’ll need some pretty well-developed spatial- and logical-thinking skills. Don’t have them? No problem. You’ll develop them pretty quickly. Having four puzzles makes it easy for families to spend time together—and compete against each other or the clock. One warning: Even though there are illustrated instructions for how to solve each puzzle, the pieces from three of the puzzles are very similar—and aren’t interchangeable. We put dots on the bottoms to help us keep the pieces organized by puzzle (one dot on all the pieces of one puzzle, two dots on another). For ages 8 and up. Available your favorite retailer for $9-$15 or at www.alexbrands.com

elements 4d blocksElements 4D (DAQRI)
Elements 4D consists of six beautifully designed, white blocks. Each face (a total of 36) is dedicated to a single element from the Periodic Table of Elements (remember that from High School?). Beside the name, there’s the symbol (O for oxygen, H for hydrogen, and so on) and the atomic number (how many protons in one atom of the element). But when you view them through a smartphone or device running the free, augmented-reality app, those blocks go from nice-to-look-at to amazing (or, as my middle schooler put it, “coooooool”). You get a more information and a virtual representation of the element. But wait, there’s more! Put two blocks next to each other, and you’ll see the chemical reaction and the resulting compound. For example, oxygen and hydrogen are both gasses, but together they become water. Similarly, combine sodium (actually a metal) with chlorine (a gas) and you get salt. These visuals upgraded “cool” to “awwwwwwesooooome.” Overall, Elements 4D is a fantastic way to introduce or develop an interest in chemistry and it’s an engaging resource for home or school. There are several small issues. First, the actual blocks are hard to find in stores. But if you go to the manufacturer’s website, you can print out paper versions, which still work with the app. Second, the app is available only on Google Play and iTunes, which leaves out those of us who primarily use Windows phones. Third, only 36 of 118 elements are included. But that could actually be a good thing, driving an interested child to want to learn more. http://daqri.com/elements4D-mobile/

tanglecard instructionstangle cards finishedTangle Cards (Zentangle)
After a long day putting together complex wooden puzzles and experimenting with virtual chemical reactions, your brain could use a break. And Tangle Cards (also called Yoga for Your Brain) are just the ticket. Based on the Zentangle books by Sandy Steen Bartholomew, Tangle Cards guide you through the calming, creativity-stimulating process of drawing beautiful designs. Start with simple lines and curves and gradually add more and more detail. The books have more detailed instructions than the cards and include photos of Bartholomew’s inspiration. But the cards are more portable—and just as meditative. A great parent-child(ren) activity and a smartphone-free way to keep kids occupied. For ages 5 and up. Books cost around $12, cards around $10. http://www.zentangle.com/

Bridging the Gap Between Preschool Fun and Learning

The new school year is well underway and, hopefully, the kids are learning a ton of things that will enable them to support us in our old age. In the meantime, though, we want them to have as much fun as they can both in and out of school. For little kids, the key is combining learning and fun, and since we’re the ones with the wallets it’s up to us to give them the tools to do just that. ALEX Toys, one of our favorites, has a number of wonderful products that you can do with your kids and have fun at the same time.

ready set write alexReady, Set, Write, and Wipe (Alex Toys)
A perfect way for little kids to learn and practice their numbers and letters—and for bigger kids to get their handwriting into shape—without wasting an entire tree’s worth of paper. Ready, Set, Write, and Wipe is a 19-page, spiral-bound book. Each page has brightly colored illustrations (G for Goat, for example, or 10 stacked blocks) and a place for kids to trace the number or the first letter of the word. There’s also plenty of space for freehand (non-tracing) practice. Best of all, when the kids are done, just wipe the page and they can do it all again. The one downside is that the marker can stain clothing. For kids 3 and up (but if your kids are that young, you need to keep an eye on them). $19.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

ready set tell time alexReady, Set, Tell Time (ALEX Toys)
We may be living in a digital world, but kids still need to learn how to tell time on a clock with hands (if for no other reason than so they’ll know what the words “clockwise” and “counterclockwise” or the phrase “I’ve got your 6” mean).  Ready, Set, Tell Time gives kids a number of different ways to learn how to tell time. The clock itself, is cheerful and has hands that are easily manipulated by little fingers. The kit also comes with a puzzle (with numbers that punch out and can be placed on the clock) and a lot of cards. The flash cards are what you’d expect, but they add some tactile learning by having the child move the clock’s hands to match what’s on the card. The activity cards do a nice job of making time a little less abstract by getting the child to associate specific times with activities that generally happen at those times (breakfast lunch, and so on). More than just a pretty (clock) face, it sells for $18.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

my first mosaic alexMy First Mosaic (ALEX Toys)
Research shows that children who are exposed to art are more confident and creative than kids who don’t have access to it. They’re also more empathetic, score higher on IQ tests, and do better in school. Unfortunately, more and more schools are cutting out art classes, so it’s up to you to make sure your child gets plenty of art time. My First Mosaic comes with five pictures and a few hundred square- or triangle-shaped stickers in a variety of bright colors. Just like with the old paint-by-numbers kits, kids match the colors and shapes called for in the picture with the corresponding stickers. The sticker-between-the-lines aspect is great for little kids since it lets them create something recognizable that they’ll be proud of. But be sure to give your kids plenty of outside-the-lines time too. For kids 3 and up who won’t put the stickers in their mouth. $11.95 at www.alextoys.com

Gear Up!

Most of us—adults and kids—are walking around with hundreds of dollars of portable electronics. This week we review a number of items that are designed to help you get the most use out of your gadgets, and to protect them—and your ears.

Knivo wireless headphonesKinivo BTH240 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones (Kinivo)
Wires, wires, everywhere, and no one knows where they go or how to untangle them. The solution? Go wireless. With these Knivo Bluetooth headphones—which work on almost any device—there’ll be no more accidentally dragging your music player off the table or having someone trip over your wires and yank your ear buds out. And for kids watching a movie or playing a game, no more wires to fiddle with or gnaw on. But be warned. Once you go wireless, you’ll never go back. $35 on www.Pure-Gear.com




DualTek Extreme Shock CaseDualTek Extreme Shock Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 (PureGear)
If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S5, chances it you paid plenty for it (or made a long, long commitment to your cell carrier). So it’s worth investing a bit more to protect it from the daily bumping and scratching you put it through—and from the drops and dings your kids inflict on it. The new DualTek case fits like a glove, doesn’t get in the way of taking pics or making calls, and takes a real beating. The corners—the weak spot on most phone cases—are specially designed to absorb impact and vibration. Available in yellow, white, and black. $35 at http://www.pure-gear.com


PureTek Rollon screen protectorPureGear Roll on Screen Shield Kit (PureGear)
Even the best cases have trouble keeping the screen from getting scratched. If you’ve got any iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S5, the PureGear Screen Shield kit is for you. The patented roll-on applicator makes applying the screen protector a breeze, and completely eliminates those annoying bubbles. The protector itself reduces glare and besides resisting scratches, it keeps your screen safe from the dirt, grime, and fingerprints from little hands. $25 at www.Pure-Gear.com


BlynkBlynk (Lyfeshot)
This tiny, hands-free camera is specially designed to take time-lapse photos. Just set the interval—one shot every second, minute, hour, day, or longer—and you’re ready to go. Blynk then puts all those photos into a single movie (or saves them as individual JPEGs). Now you can condense a week-long adventure into a few minutes, create your very own 30-second video of flowers blooming, or marvel at how quickly your baby (or your puppy) is growing up. Available in pink, blue, and black. $129 on http://www.lyfeshot.com


Paick SleekPaick Power Bank (Paick)
There’s nothing worse than being out with the family, seeing something amazing, and discovering that your battery is at 5 percent. You can solve that problem with a Paick Power Bank. Charge it up before you leave your house or hotel and you’ve got a sleek, portable power source that will help you squeeze a few more hours out of your phone, tablet, or other device. Power Banks come in a variety of capacities. The one we tested was 6000mAh, which essentially doubled the available talk time. $59 and up at www.Paick.com


Sun Power solar chargerSun Power 6000 Charger (Secur)
But what if your plans take you someplace where there’s no electricity at all? If you’ve got a little sunshine, all you’ll need is the Secur Sun Power 6000. The fold-up solar panel charges your phone, tablet, or other device no matter where you are. It’s durable, light, easy-to-use, and water resistant, which makes it a must-have for beach- or camping trips. Dual USB ports let you charge two phones or devices at once. $129 at http://securproducts.com

Hitting the Road

Despite all the rosy news one hears these days about sinking unemployment numbers and a rising economy, plenty of people are still having financial issues. As a result, a lot of families are taking their vacations a little closer to home. This week, we review a few cool items that will make any family road/camping trip a success.

reese car top carrierReese Explore Car Top Carrier (Reese Brands)
Once you’ve decided where to go, it’s time to start packing up the car. Unfortunately, a lot of us tend to bring way, way too much, which leaves barely enough room in the car for the people. One great solution is this roof-top carrier from Reese. It’s made of lightweight-but-durable nylon that will keep your belongings clean and dry regardless of the weather, and is a lot easier to attach to your car’s side rails or cross bars than many of its competitors. Best of all, it’s expandable (going from 12 to 16 cubic feet of storage), which is a big help if you’re trying to carry awkwardly shaped items. Retails for about $65 at http://www.walmart.com/

dragons adventureDragons Adventure World Explorer (DreamWorks)
Keeping the kids entertained on a long drive can be a challenge. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of tech and no-tech options. When it’s tech’s turn, Dragons Adventure is perfect. It’s inspired by the How to Train Your Dragon movies and set on the Isle of Berk. As you might expect from DreamWorks, it’s beautifully designed and quite interactive. There are quests—light signal beacons, move a sheep from one place to another, but Dragons Adventure has a few twists that make it truly unique. In it-home mode, players (who can be either Hiccup or Astrid) fly around the world, rescuing dragons from evildoers. But the real fun starts on the move. The app uses HERE maps to bring the roads you’re driving on into the game in real time, so players will see familiar landmarks as they fly their dragons. It also info from The Weather Channel to change the weather conditions in the game, and data from Foursquare to determine how many Vikings appear along the route. Another neat feature: If you plug in your starting point and destination before you start, the game will wind down as you reach your destination. Free for Microsoft Windows phones and tablets.

mountainsmith conifer 5+Conifer 5+ (Mountainsmith)
Once you get there, you’ve got to sleep somewhere, right? You can’t do better than the Conifer 5+. To say it’s roomy doesn’t do it justice. The tent itself has 83.5 sq. feet of floor space, lots of interior pockets, and a ceiling height of 6’2”, so there’s plenty of room for two adults, three kids, and a dog or two. There’s also a “porch,” which adds another 30 sq. ft for storing luggage or just hanging out. It’s quick and easy to set up, but best with two people—especially if it’s windy. Directions are printed right on the stuff sack, so they’re a lot hard to lose. Prices range from $285 to $360. http://mountainmith.com/

washdropsWashdrops (Cequent Consumer Products)
After a long road trip, you’re going to want to wash that car. But today, when everyone’s concerned about conserving resources, wasting all that water is a big no-no. So what’s an environmentally savvy parent with a filthy vehicle to do? All you need is one bucket of water and Washdrops . It’s non-abrasive and leaves you with a shiny surface without repeated rinses. It’s completely non-toxic—no solvents, butyl, phosphate, or ammonia—so when you’re done you can use what’s left in the bucket to water your garden. $10.95-$22.00. http://washdrops.com/

Hey, Kiddo, Let’s Get Outa Here

With technology making its way into every aspect of our lives, kids are spending a lot less time playing outside than we did when we where their age. And even when they do play outside, it’s often in a highly structured activity (like soccer, swimming, and most other organized sports) that doesn’t give kids freedom to explore, create, or just have fun. There are alternatives, however, and this week we bring you four of them.

jumparooJumparoo Frog Pogo Stick (Geospace)
Most pogo sticks bounce up and down on a post, which makes it hard for little kids to keep balanced. But the Jumparoo frog pogo stick has a wide, rounded base, which lets your pollywog bounce around to his or her heart’s content, giggling all the way. It’s great for developing coordination and balance, plus it’s a great workout. Oh, and if that isn’t fun enough, the Jumparoo ribbits with every boing. For kids 4 and up who weigh 28-62 pounds (yes, that means you’ll have to stay off of it—but Jumparoo makes adult-sized pogo, if you want to join the fun). $77.50 at Amazon, or at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

flymax footballFly Max Football (Geospace)
Every child—boy or girl—who’s ever picked up a football has dreamed of throwing a deadly accurate 50-yard bomb. But those of us who are not named Manning, Rodgers, Brady, or Kaepernick have had to settle for much, much shorter and not-terribly-accurate passes. But with the Fly Max Football, you and the kids can actually throw on-the-money passes up to 100 yards. The Fly Max looks like a cross between a small football and a hollow rocket ship with fins. It has a dial that you can set to maximize distance for either rightys or leftys. It also makes a cool buzzy-whistly sound as it files. Made for future first-round draft pics 6 and up—and the grownups who do their laundry and drive them to practice. $19.99 at http://www.geospaceplay.com/

top tossTop Toss Pro Lawn Game (Ideal)
Top Toss combines elements from horseshoes, bowling, and other yard games to create a truly unique and fun outdoor activity for the whole family. Your first task is to build the tower, which looks like a short ladder (it’s actually almost four feet high) with a wide base. That’ll take about five minutes. Then, it’s on to the actual game. Players take turns throwing bolo balls (imagine an 8-inch piece of yarn with a soft golf ball attached to each end), trying to get them to wrap around the rungs of the tower. The rungs get smaller as the tower gets taller, so high ones score more than lower ones. Because set-up and tear-down are so easy, Top Toss is a great choice for the backyard, the beach, or even indoors. For two or more players ages 8 and up, Top Toss comes with three bolo balls, all the steel rods and plastic connectors you’ll need to build the tower, bilingual instructions, and a storage bag. $34.99 (or $54.99 for the “pro” version that comes with two towers) at http://poof-slinky.com/product/top-toss/

T-ballMy 1st Sports T-Ball (Poof)
What a great way to introduce your little one to baseball. Set-up takes all of 15 seconds and then it’s home-run derby time (with a subtle lesson in hand-eye coordination). Excellent for outdoor play, but it could work indoors too. The ball and bat are made of foam, so even if your little slugger really smacks one, damage should be minimal. Best for preschoolers (most kids over 5 are ready for the more traditional T) $22.99 at http://poof-slinky.com/