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A Glimpse into the Future of Toys and Games

The American International Fair gets underway next week in New York, and the Parents@Play team will be there. As in previous years, we’ll be meeting with manufacturers (small, medium, and large) and checking out the latest, greatest, unique, innovative, weird, entertaining, puzzling, creative, and just plain fun toys and games that parents and children can play together.  Naturally, we’ll be telling you about the very best.  One never knows from year to year what the hottest trends will be, but when it comes to making predictions, we’ve got an excellent record. Here are some of the categories we’ll be watching this year.

Digital tech. Doesn’t it seem that there’s an app for just about everything these days? Over the past few months, we reviewed a number of tablets and other tech devices aimed at kids. We expect to see many, many more this year.

Tech crossover. From Furby and Build a Bear to Skylanders and talking books, there are getting to be more and more toys that include a video game/web component with physical toys.

Social responsibility. Anti-bullying campaigns are everywhere. And they’ll be showing up in stores near you soon, where you’ll be able to buy toys and games that emphasize and encourage compassion, empathy, and ethical behavior.

Licensed figures. Just about every popular TV show, movie, and performer is getting involved in licensing. So in addition to classics such as Star Wars, Toy Story, Iron Man, and other superheroes, expect to see characters from The Hunger Games, Doc McStuffins, Miley Cyrus, Mr. Peabody, and even Breaking Bad. They’ll be available as action figures, plush toys, and even Lego figures.

Building systems. Although Lego still dominates the building space, there are dozens of other systems out there that encourage creativity, teamwork, and engineering.

Fitness. 2013 saw a huge boom in family fitness apps and gadgets, including fitness trackers that go far beyond old fashioned pedometers. Expect to see games, apps, and hardware that encourage families to get their daily 60 minutes of exercise.

Remote control. Joysticks may still be the primary way of maneuvering RC devices, but they’re no longer the only way. One of our favorite RC toys from 2013 was the Puzzlebox Orbit, which uses brain waves to move a helicopter up and down. We can hardly wait to see how far the technology has advanced in the past year (and what else RC will control besides robots and helicopters).

Retro. If you’re experiencing a sense of déjà vu when you walk through your local toy retailer, you’re absolutely right. Many of the toys and games we played with as kids are making a comeback. Some are exactly as we remember them (but safer). Others are pretty close.

Back to the basics. As much emphasis as there is on technology, there’s also been a resurgence in wooden toys and other items that don’t squeak, blink, whistle, move by themselves, or talk back.

Environmentally friendly. Manufacturers will be flaunting their green chops. We’ll see a lot more BPA, PVC, and phthalate-free toys, products made from recycled or all-natural materials or painted in non-toxic dyes, and games that encourage players to use items they have around the house.

With more than 1,000 exhibitors previewing tens of thousands of new products, we’re going to be seeing more than we can possibly write about in a weekly column. However, we’ll be tweeting and blogging as often as we can, so we encourage you to visit parentsatplay.com for regular updates.

All A-Board

Most board games these days have boards that are pretty similar to each other—some variation of a square. But in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, a lot of game companies are coming up with boards that are often as interesting to look at as the games themselves are to play.

Don’t Panic (Goliath)
don't panic Don’t Panic’s “board” has two components. A roundish board and a timer. The only other pieces are pawns (markers) and a deck of 85 cards. The concept is simple and you’ll be up and playing within minutes. The person whose turn it is spins an arrow and the player to the left pulls one of the cards and selects the question that matches the color of the space the other player is on. The arrow determines how many responses (4-8) the spinning player has to answer. The timer indicates how many spaces that player (or team) will move forward. Questions vary in difficulty, from ingredients found in tacos to U.S. Vice Presidents. Getting the first few answers is easy. But the fun starts when time is running short and players start stuff up. A great game for learning to think on one’s feet. 2-18 players, ages 8 and up.

Wordsearch (Goliath)
wordsearchWordsearsch’s board is kind of a cross between a lazy Susan and Chinese checkers. Choose from one of 10 round, two-sided cards, each of which has more than 25 hidden words. There are also words printed along the outer edge of the circle. Rotating the board reveals one of those words at a time, which all the players rush to find. Like most other wordsearch games, words can be forwards, backwards, or diagonal. Whoever finds the word first grabs the “totem” (essentially a squeaky dog toy) and squeezes it. Then he or she covers each letter of the found word with translucent tokens. The player with the most tokens on the board when all the words have been found wins the round. A fun way for younger players to learn word recognition and spelling. For 2-4 players, ages 7 and up

Skateboard Madness (Mindtwister Games)
skateboard madnessSkateboard Madness’s board looks like an X formed by two overlapping skateboards. Game play is a bit like rummy, where players pick up cards and put them together into “skate sessions.” As they shred their way through the board, players learn new tricks, Ollie (jump) over other players, slam (get injured), find bandages (to heal those injuries), answer trivia questions (four levels of difficulty), and even find sponsors. The rules are complex but intuitive—once you get the hang of them—and are laid out in a 15-page instruction booklet, which you absolutely must read. Entertaining for the whole family. For 2-6 players, ages 8 and up. http://mindtwisterusa.com/products/games/

Pochecko (Pockecko)
pocheckoPochecko combines the fun and excitement of poker with the strategy of chess. Its unique looking board is made of a triangular spaces. 52 are marked with the value of one of the cards in a standard deck. The rest are blank and used for moving. Each player has five pawns, which they place around the board. There are also two other markers which indicate the “community” cards. As with poker, players try to build the best hand. But what makes this game especially fun is that unlike Texas Hold ‘Em, where you don’t know for sure what cards your opponents are holding, in this game you know—or you can make an educated guess at—the hands they’re building and you can take steps to block them. For 2-4 players, ages 12 and up. http://www.pochecko.com/

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas…

It’s the week before Christmas and all through the land, there are parents who are still trying to find that perfect toy for the special child(ren) in their life. Here are a few of our last-minute favorites, toys that your children will be thrilled to find under the tree this year.
Big Hugs Elmo (Playskool)
hug elmo hasbroOnce again, that fuzzy, red monster has managed to be THE hot toy of the season. He’s large (about the size of a one-year old), loves getting—and giving—hugs, and will often ask for a bigger or tighter squeeze from your little cuddle bug. Elmo also asks to play ponies, jump like froggies, (and will comment along with appropriate noises), and dance. Elmo also moves his arms up and down, sings bedtime songs, and snores when you lay him on his back. About $50, and available at http://www.toysrus.com or in physical stores near you. But you’d better hurry.
Sesame Street Lullaby & Good Night Elmo (Hasbro)
Haven’t had enough of Elmo yet? Decked out in his Dorothy the Goldfish pajamas, this Elmo is all set to comfort your little one as he or she drifts off into dreamland. Kids can snuggle up with Elmo and press his tummy to hear a lullaby or one of a few bedtime phrases. Strangely, there’s no Off button, which means Elmo could start talking if your child accidentally rolls over him.  About $15. http://www.hasbro.com.
Furby Boom (Hasbro)
furby boom hasbroFurbies have been around for a while, but this latest incarnation has some special features. The new Furbies come in bright patterns and colors. Having an app seems to be a requirement for toys these days, and Furby’s got one for Apple or Android (including some kids’ tablets. The Furby Boom, like past Furbies, has a mind of its own, and the more you interact with and play with it, the more you shape its personality. Furby remembers his name and has more than twice as many responses as previous generations did. Furby can learn English or help you understand “Furbish.” And the app lets you mix smoothies, give your little pal a virtual shower, and even hatch and raise digital Furby Furblings. About $64. Available at http://www.hasbro.com or your favorite toy store.
Tabeo e2 (Toys R Us)
tabeo "toys r us" tabletAs we discussed last week, tablets are great way for kids to start interfacing with technology in a way that’s both safe, educational, and won’t trash mom and dad’s expensive tablet. The Tabeo e2 has all the specs needed to run the newest apps, 8GB of flash memory, Jelly Bean 4.2, Dual core 1.0 Ghz CPU, Quad-core GPU, and 1GB of RAM. All this makes for a zippy tablet that’s a breeze to use. The parental controls (which you have to set up before turning the e2 over to the kids) are pretty comprehensive and allow you to keep your kids from doing anything you don’t feel is appropriate for them. Comes with a charger, USB cable, and a protective case to keep it safe when those accidental tumbles happen. About $150. You can pre-order yours at http://www.tabeo.com.
A final note. If you’re still looking for something for the dads on your list, be sure to check out the winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval, which recognizes toys and games that dads and kids can play together. The complete list is at http://mrdad.com/seal.
Best wishes for a safe, play-filled Holiday from all of us on the Parents@Play team.




Ready, Set, Christmas!

Now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are distant nightmares, we can start focusing on great gifts for the season instead of how much we’ll save if we stand in line all night. Here are a few of our current favorites.

North Pole Communicator Microphone
north pole communicatorGet the family together, dial up the North Pole, and have “real” back-and-forth conversations with the “big man,” elves, and others. The communicator is fun for the kids and will amuse adults as well. It’s a really fun way to get the family engaged in a nightly activity. hallmark.com


Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornaments
hallmark wizard of oz ornamentGiving and collecting ornaments is an important part of Christmas for many families, and Hallmark’s Keepsake Ornaments are often part of that tradition. There’s a huge variety, so finding the perfect gift for your child or loved one is easy. Some celebrate milestones and nurture memories, others capture scenes from your favorite movies, TV shows, or cartoons. Our favorite this year is “Lions and Tigers and Bears,” a Wizard of Oz ornament where the characters move and speak lines from the movie. http://www.hallmark.com


Santa and the Christmas Eve Flight
hallmark - santa flightThis interactive storybook is adorable and a great way to spend some quality reading time with your kids. As you read key words and phrases, Santa responds with questions or choices. Your child’s responses actually shape the story, which means it could change every time you read it. There are more than 30 responses from Santa, which makes for a pretty diverse range of possible storylines. http://www.hallmark.com


Holiday Specs
holiday specsWhen you look at any light source (such as Christmas tree lights or candles) these holographic glasses, turn it into a snowflake, reindeer, snowman, Santa, or about a dozen other possibilities, depending on which one you get. Holiday Specs come in paper (think movie 3D glasses) or plastic (think brightly colored, silly opera glasses) and are cheap and a whole lot of fun. We plan to hand these out to everyone before we open gifts on Christmas Eve. Sure, the Specs are silly, but adults get a kick out of them too. They’re also greet for long winter car rides. Have the kids turn off their electronics and stare out the window. They’ll literally be able to see Santa everywhere. Please don’t wear them while you’re driving. http://www.holidayspecs.com


Build a Bear
build a bearA visit to Build a Bear is a great holiday activity for the whole family. We recently went to the new workshop at FAO Schwarz, and the kids loved every second of our visit. There were a huge number of many holiday (and non-holiday, of course) choices, including Santa, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, mice, polar bears, and some delightful “small fry” elves. But we ended up torn between torn between Frosty the Snowman and Santa. There’s also a wide variety of clothes, accessories, and costumes for the stuffed toys. Our son loved choosing his toy, stuffing it, giving it a personality and a sound (it sings when you squeeze its hand), and dressing it for Christmas. He built a new holiday friend, and we had a really nice afternoon together as well. Back home, you and the kids can have some virtual playtime as well, on the secure online experience of “Bearville” which is protected and one of the safest websites in the USA. And yes, of course there’s an app for that—do you really have to ask?) Visit http://www.buildabear.com/ to find a workshop near you.

Surviving Fitness

Health experts recommend that adults 18 – 64 get at least 30 minutes of “moderate intensity aerobic exercise”—meaning walking or jogging quickly enough to break a sweat—five days a week, plus strength training twice a week. Kids 6-17 should get 60 minutes—mostly aerobic—every day. Unfortunately, most people don’t come anywhere close. Fortunately, you don’t have to do all of your daily minutes in one session. Instead, you can divide them into more manageable chunks—10 minutes or so—and spread them throughout the day. This week, we begin an occasional series on family fitness with three products than can start you and your kids on the right track.
Activity Trackers: Fitbug Orb and Fitbit Zip
An easy way to tell whether you’re getting enough exercise is to track the number of steps you take. Shoot for 10,000 every day. These two trackers do that—and a whole lot more—and are great for people just starting a fitness program or getting back into one after a long break.
fitbitThe Fitbug Orb and the Fitbit Zip are very similar—in more than just the company name (not surprisingly, there’s a lawsuit pending). Both are attractive, lightweight, come in a variety of colors, and can run 4-6 months on easy-to-find, replaceable watch batteries. Both track calories burned, distance covered, and total number of steps, including high-energy steps, which Fitbit calls “very active” and Fitbug calls “aerobic.” Both wirelessly sync data to a smartphone or PC, but Android compatibility is limited. Best of all, they’re both cheap enough that you and the kids can each have your own, which can add a bit of friendly competition—and incentive—to your family’s fitness plan.
There are, however, a few important differences. The Fitbit Zip has a display so you can track your progress, but the device is available only as a clip on and can’t track your sleep. It’s compatible with more popular third-party apps such as MapMyFitness, and you can enter your food consumption through the mobile app. The Zip is also easier and more intuitive to set up. $59.95. www.fitbit.com
fitbug orbThe Fitbug Orb eases you into fitness by helping you set reasonable, gradually increasing goals, and electronically nudges you if you’re not hitting your targets. You can wear your Orb on a lanyard, a wristband, or clipped to your clothes or underwear. Online, you can manually enter workouts like cycling, martial arts, yoga, and weight training. The Orb also can track your sleep and shows you (on the website) how well—and how long—you’re sleeping. Unfortunately, the Orb doesn’t have a display, which is inconvenient if you want to check your progress but aren’t within Bluetooth shot of your iPhone or iPad. $49.95. www.fitbug.com
Gorilla Gym
gorilla gymWe’re no strangers to home workouts, so Gorilla Gym’s claim that it’s the “the world’s most versatile home gym,” raised a few eyebrows around here. But after living with it for a few weeks, we have to agree. And we’d add that it must also be the world’s most solidly built piece of home exercise equipment.
gorilla gym1The basic gym weighs just 8 pounds and takes about a minute to install into any standard-size doorway, where it’s certified to hold up to 300 pounds—without holes or sheetrock-cracking pressure mounts. What makes the Gorilla Gym so unique are all the plug-and-play attachments, like air straps, indoor swing, rings, and ladders. As the weather gets colder, having a Gorilla Gym means you’ll no longer have any excuse for not exercising—or not having fun. $59.95 for the core unit. http://gorilla-gym.com/

Game On!

Looking to connect with the kids in a virtual way, but still keep a foot in the “real world”? Check out these fun systems and games, perfect for rainy days, nights, or just hangin’ out.

ouyaThis sleek, new, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean-powered micro-console started life as a Kickstarter campaign, got funded quickly, and hasn’t looked back since. There are more than 400 games available for OUYA, ranging from racing, to role-play, to action—every one of which you can try for free, which means never having to shell out good money for a not-so-good game. Some games stay free after the trial period, others you’ll have to buy. Aside from taking a long time for the initial setup, OUYA works flawlessly, and its open-source platform makes it easy to upgrade and add on later. Comes with a one Bluetooth wireless controller. Additional controllers (sold separately) are easy to pair to the console. $99.00. OUYA.tv

Nintendo 2DS
nintendo 2dsFrom the name, one might think that the 2DS would have preceded the 3DS, but it’s actually Nintendo’s latest and greatest handheld console. The new 2DS has dispensed with the 3DS’s hinge, which makes it harder to break. And its slight wedge shape gives it a tablet-like look and feel. The 2DS can play most DS games, all 3DS games (minus the 3D effect), including Pokemon X and Y and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. So if you’re a first-timer and are looking to jump into handhelds, this is a high-entertainment-value, relatively inexpensive way to go. Comes with an SD card, wall adapter, stylus, AR cards, and access to the Nintendo eShop. $129.99. nintendo.com

pokemon x and yPokemon have been around since 1996, and they seem to get better—and more popular—every year. The new Pokemon X and Pokemon Y keep the familiar role-play elements, leveling up, vast territory to explore, grand story line, and the fun of collecting cute little critters. But now there are more battles, more evolution, and tons more features. Start by picking a gender and then one of three starter Pokemon: Chespin (grass type), Fennekin (fire type), or Froakie (water type). As the game progresses, you’ll battle other trainers and Pokemon. For younger kids or those who just want to skip the battles and go right to the roleplaying, this is a series of mini-games, where players interact directly with the Pokemon—petting, giving treats and playing with them. Available in the 3DS/2DS shop for about $39.99. nintendo.com

Skylanders Swap Force
skylanders swap forceThe Skylanders are invading again, but this time they’re coming apart at the seams. Skylanders Swap Force is the newest Skylanders game and the main feature is that you can create your own characters by swapping the tops and bottoms of existing ones. For example, if one of your characters has an arm cannon and tire feet but you’d rather have the tentacle feet from another character, you can make the switch. Small magnets keep the tops and bottoms of the new figures together during play, but easily pull apart whenever you want. Combining characteristics and creating new characters opens up new areas in the game. The 16 Swap Force characters create 250 combinations, 16 new Core characters, 8 LightCore characters, and more. And not to worry, all your old ones—including Giants—will work with Swap Force.  $74.99 for starter packs, $14.99 for SWAP Force figures, and $9.99 for Core figures. skylanders.com

A final note: As we move into the Holiday season, be sure to check the Entertainment Software Rating Board (esrb.org) for reliable, bias-free ratings and game reviews.

Eeeew, That’s Gross!

What is it about nose picking, dog poop, and a variety of bodily functions (human and animal) that kids love so much? Sure, they run around saying “Eeew, that’s gross,” but boogers, solid waste, and farts bring out more giggles than almost anything else in childhood. And, let’s face it, they get plenty of parents laughing—and getting back in touch with their inner child—too. This week we take a look at three games are sure to disgust and delight kids and adults alike.

Gooey Louie (Goliath)
gooey louieAs parents, we’re always trying to find those teachable moments, even in toys and games. If you’re looking for educational value, you’ve come to the wrong place with Gooey Louie. But if you’re looking for a completely silly game that’s just plain fun, this is it. The game starts by loading up Louie’s head with long, green, loogies (called “gooeys”) that dangle out of his enormous nose. Then, players take turns rolling a die to see how many of those gooeys they have to pick out. One of them—no one knows which—will make Louie’s eyes pop out, his head fly open, and his brains fly across the room. It’s revolting, but incredibly entertaining for kids and adults. The gooeys look like gummy worms, but, sadly, they aren’t edible. Hmm. Would that be too gross? Nah… Takes 10 minutes max. For two or more players, ages 4 and up. $22.50. http://www.gooeylouiegame.com/

Doggie Doo (Goliath)
doggie doo1doggie doo2Doggie Doo has been around for quite a while, but feeding, walking, and cleaning up after a dog has never been more fun. Here’s how it works: shove some of the specially formulated food (it’s kind of like Play Doh, but stretchier gooier) into your dog’s mouth, then start squeezing his leash. Each squeeze produces a disgusting, but laugh-inducing gassy sound that gets louder and louder until, well, digestion takes its course. Every player has his or her own pooper scooper which, unlike in the real world, they love to use. Theoretically, Doggie Doo is a game, but most kids are going to bypass the rules and skip right to the feeding, farting, and popping part. The folks at Goliath say that the game teaches kids to clean up after their pets. Could be, but it might also be teaching them to play with poop. Either way, everyone should wash their hands afterwards. For two to four players, ages 4 and. $23.00. http://www.doggiedoogame.com/

Dino Meal (Goliath)
dino mealDino Meal isn’t as gross as Doggie Do or Gooey Louie, but it taps into another childhood favorite to entertain kids and keep ‘em laughing: fear. An evil T-Rex has stolen a bunch of eggs from another dino and has hidden them in a pit, cleverly covered by a leaf. It’s up to us to get those eggs back their parents. Players roll a die to tell them which color egg to rescue. Then, they gently lift up the leaf and use a long tweezers to reach in and grab the egg. All’s well until the T-Rex, who’s been guarding her ill-gotten eggs, lunges forward, jaws snapping. Of course, no one gets hurt, but you’ll jump out of your seat every time. The wide-eyed moments of fear are followed by squeals of delight. Dino Meal can be played by 2-4 players, ages 4 and up, in less than 20 minutes. $18.00. http://www.goliathgames.us/

Getting Kids Thinking and Exploring

We all know that keeping our children entertained can be a tough task, especially when you’re running out of new ideas. They’re always full of energy and raring to go. Unless you have one of the Rainbow Play Systems of Colorado in your backyard, which keeps the kids entertained for hours, you may need a few tips on how to keep the children occupied. One of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are-and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and we’re especially happy when at least some of that play time is spent with us!). We’ve reviewed some of EI’s products in previous columns, but this week we want to focus on their Nancy B’s Science Club line, which we first saw at this year’s Toy Fair, where they became fast favorites.

nancy b science journalsNancy B’s Science Club kits were created by Nancy Balter, a former science teacher and all-around science enthusiast. The idea was to inspire girls to become interested in and learn more about science (even the colors are especially appealing to girls, but aren’t so girly that they’ll alienate boys). The Club has also partnered with female scientists from around the world who provide content and contribute their knowledge. Each product comes with a journal where budding scientists can keep notes and track their progress, as well as an “exclusive membership” in Nancy B’s online Science Club.

binocularsThe Binoculars kit is a great way to spend some time with your kids getting to know the birds, plants, and critters in your own backyard. Before you start this it’s important to make sure you backyard is safe first, especially if you haven’t spent much time there before; there are always a surprising number of potential dangers. ChammyIRL has a handy guide on how to go about doing this. Once that’s done, the Wildlife Activity Journal includes all sorts of activities, including bird watching, animal observation, and ecosystem challenges that will encourage your child to get up and do some learning outside. This is a great first step into science. The binoculars let you bring the world four times closer and there’s a built in compass so you can learn a little about navigation without running the risk of getting too lost. If you’re not sure which binoculars to buy, check out this guide from Andrew Jackson to learn more.

nancy b aquascopeThe AquaScope kit introduces children to a world that’s a little tougher to have access to: underwater life. Whether you’re at a beach, lake, river, or even a puddle after a rainy weekend, the AquaScope lets you explore what’s going on beneath the surface. It magnifies 5x and the built-in LED light can illuminate the murkiest of waters. There’s also a built-in thermometer and ruler. The Underwater Wonders Activity Journal includes tons of activities that involve observing, measuring, and recording discoveries. Theoretically, you and your budding Marie Curie could do all this without getting wet, but where’s the fun in that?

Okay, so now that you and your child have explored the earth and the oceans, how ‘bout the stars? Stargazing may be one of the oldest parent-child activities. Nancy B’s Science Club’s MoonScope is a basic telescope that, at 90x magnification, is powerful enough to see mountains on the moon and Saturn’s rings. Besides learning about astronomy (including lunar phases, planetary movement, meteors, and comets), you can also introduce your kids (and perhaps yourself) to mythology and science fiction. You and your child can have a ton of fun exploring the night sky on your own, or you can take some suggestions from the info-packed StarGazer’s Activity Journal.

nancy b science club kitsOther kits in the Nancy B line include the Microscope and Activity Journal and the Crime Solver and Forensic Activity Journal. All are solidly built and, at prices ranging from about $14 to $40, they won’t break the bank. You can find out more about all of them at http://www.educationalinsights.com

If you’d like to introduce your children to proper scientific hardware early on, you could look at the microscopes available from Edmund Optics.

Cooking with Kids

Unlike other chores, helping out in the kitchen is something most kids really enjoy. Helping them get a good, basic knowledge of cooking, kitchen skills, and know-how, is a something that will definitely help them later in life. It can be messy, but the cleanup by wiping the counters and using a steam mop (these are essential to maintain the cleanliness of your floors – you can read steam mop reviews here!) teaches your children the responsibility of cleaning up their mess. In the short-term, it’s a great way to create some lifelong memories-and some pretty tasty meals. And the look of pride on your child’s face when their dish is served will be priceless. If you’re looking for some inspiration on what to cook, you could always check out blogs like St. Ambrose for some kid-friendly recipe inspiration and decide together what you’re going to make. Cooking with kids can be incredibly fun and rewarding, however, it only takes a moment for something to go wrong and for an appliance to be broken, luckily this is where your home warranty comes into play. You can check over here to see about various policies if you haven’t got one already.

It really doesn’t matter if you’re not the best cook in the world, as the emphasis on cooking with kids is FUN! But it’s understandable that you still want to be making something edible at the end of it all. If you are one of the many people in the U.S. who want to improve their cooking skills, you could take a look at the CocuSocial website to find a cooking class near to you. This is a great way of becoming a better cook and making amazing food. And you’ll then be able to pass that knowledge onto your kids!

Let’s start with the basics: pots and pans. Two of our favorites are the Green Pan and Twiztt collections. Both are eco-friendly, non-toxic, and are still easy on the wallet while not sacrificing quality.

green pan thermolon coatingVoted “Best in Europe,” the Green Pan can help you and your family maintain a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. However, this is not a traditional non-stick pan, Its non-stick Thermolon ceramic coating helps the food slide off easily, and is heat resistant, which means that if you overheat the pan (even up to 450C or 850F), it won’t blister or peel or release any toxic fumes or add any unwanted chemicals to your food. But be sure to follow the directions carefully. The Green Pan does require some special handling. Available at http://www.green-pan.us or at your local Target or kitchen store.

twiztt parents at playTwiztt, designed by Joan Lunden, is simple, safe, and affordable. Like the Green Pan, Twiztt uses Thermolon ceramic non-stick coating, which makes cooking-and cleanup-a breeze. Each Twiztt kit comes with everything you need to make a meal (except the actual food). For example, The “Cook, Cut, and Serve” set includes a melamine bowl with a stainless steel lid and an adjustable steam release knob, which lets you mix, heat, and serve in the same container. It also comes with an easy-to-clean, sustainable chopping board that fits on the bowl, eliminating the need to transfer chopped food from cutting board to another container before mixing. Everything but the cutting board is dishwasher safe. Available at http://www.twiztt.com or your local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

crock-potCrock-Pots are a great way to cook, and no home should be without one. On those crazy busy days when you know you won’t have time (or energy) at the end of the day to spend making dinner, toss all the ingredients you’ll walk in the door to a home-cooked meal. The new Crock-Pot Hook Up Connectable Entertaining System allows you to connect as many as six cooking units together, which is great if you have a large family or you entertain a lot. For more intimate gatherings, just use one. The units come in several sizes and are sold individually or as a kit. They’re attractive, easy to stack and store, and the removable stoneware and lids are dishwasher safe. Available at http://www.crock-pot.com or your favorite retailer.

yonanasNo food experience would be complete without dessert. And Yonanas makes creating health after-dinner treats fun. This blender-sized kitchen emulsifies frozen fruit into a creamy dessert that looks, tastes, and feels like soft-serve ice cream. You keep the vitamins and fiber and skip all the fat (okay, if you really want to, you can add chocolate and nuts). Plus, the flavors you make are completely up to you. Yonanas is easy to take apart and clean, and none of the dangerous parts get anywhere near those little helping hands. Dishwasher save, Yonanas is available at http://www.yonanas.com/.

Camping with Kids

With summer winding down and fall nipping at our heels, now’s the perfect time to look at great camping gear. There are loads of different types of camping gear that you can get, some people like to get something like a family sized SUV from sites such as https://www.hyundaiofanderson.com/used-inventory/index.htm or some may even opt for a
fancy camper van that they use around twice a year.

Additionally, RV battery are a necessity to some, but others just like to make sure that have the right tent. Usually, in the summer, we send the kids to somewhere like Camp North Star which they absolutely love as they get to play with people their age and go on adventures, but we also like to go camping with them ourselves every year. Our favourite times to camp are fall and spring: great weather, smaller crowds, and still plenty of fun to be had. So what to pack? Here are some fun and easy ideas for a perfect family camping trip.

Carbon River 3 Person Tent (Eddie Bauer)

eddie bauer carbon river tentFor a small family, Eddie Bauer’s Carbon River 3 Person Tent is the perfect choice. While some 3-person tents barely fit two, this one actually does accommodate three (Including a couple of large adults) quite comfortably, in part thanks to the generous 55-inch ceiling height. The rain fly gives plenty of weather protection and the interior storage pockets and vestibules mean lots of room to store your gear-and less to trip over inside the tent. Color-coded poles make this oversized tent easy to pitch, even when it’s getting dark and you’re already half asleep. A glow-in-the-dark zipper makes it easy to find your way back at night. And bright yellow stakes keep the tent planted in the ground and easy to see (no one needs to be tripping over stakes or stubbing your toes on them when you venture outside to use the bathroom). $249. http://www.eddiebauer.com

Snowline Sleeping Bag (Eddie Bauer)

eddie bauer snowline sleeping bagWhile it’s possible to get by without a tent, you’ll definitely need a sleeping bag. The Snowline is an honest-to-goodness three-season performer (which will save you some money in the long run), this bag comes in regular (for those under 6 ft. 3) or a long option (for taller campers or anyone who just wants some extra room). Goose Down insulation inside a ripstop nylon shell, this mummy style bag is tough and will keep you warm on cool nights and won’t bake you on warmer ones. The Snowline is machine washable (but you’ll probably want to hang it out to dry). And weighing in at only three pounds, it’s a great bag for long hiking trips or shorter, glamping trips where you still want to be comfortable. $250 for down, $129 for synthetic insulation. http://www.eddiebauer.com

Lucky Bums Sleeping Bag (Lucky Bums)

lucky bums sleeping bagFor little campers, the Lucky Bums Sleeping Bag is a great fun, functional option. Whimsical and eye catching for the kids, this mummy bag still offers the warmth (it’s rated to 10 degrees) and durability that you’ll need for camping in different seasons. There’s a full-length right-side zipper and a Velcro enclosure at the top, an ergonomic hood with drawstring, an internal drawstring to keep campers extra toasty, and it comes with a stuff bag. At less than three pounds, even the youngest campers can schlepp this one all by themselves. $50. http://www.afterschool.com

Coleman NXT Grills (Coleman)

coleman nxt grillLooking to do a little cooking while you’re out on the trail but don’t want to mess around with collecting kindling and starting a fire? Coleman’s NXT Grills are easy to use if you’re not going to too far into the wilderness (even though they’re small enough to fit in your trunk, they’re still too big to carry for very long). The NXT (which is also perfect for tailgating, beach BBQs, or even your own back yard), has 321 square inches of cooking surface and 20,000 BTUs, which give it the power to sear in flavor. The NXT comes with a porcelain-coated, cast iron grill. Griddle and stove top are sold separately. $219. http://www.coleman.com