By peoplestaff225
Updated July 07, 2009 07:00 AM

Within seconds of powering up the Step2 Sports Bouncer ($150) our house became the coolest on the block. You know those rented inflatable bouncers — usually for hundreds of dollars — for birthday parties and other celebrations that kids just gravitate to? Well, this one is so much better: For what it costs to rent one, you get to own it; you won’t need inflatable professionals to install it and your kids will bounce themselves exhausted daily instead of rarely.

Not only do kids get to hop around to their little feet’s content, the Sports Bouncer is a big outdoor game center with a basketball hoop (and an inflatable basketball), football goalposts (and an inflatable football) and an air tee that keeps a white, plastic wiffle ball levitating on an air stream to make it easier to hit it with the inflatable baseball bat. With all the pieces of the sports center inflatable, it is safe for kids to swing, throw and dribble away while bouncing. And the inflatable sides have strong mesh to keep bouncers from falling out and provide a cushioned landing for each hop.

My 1-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter spend hours throwing themselves around the bouncer but are especially excited about the air-t: the air stream keeps the ball in exactly the right place for an easy swing with the bat to make a connection. They hit the ball over and over again and because it’s lightweight and the bat is inflatable, no one gets hurt.

Given the size and scope of this bouncer, we were pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to put up and take down. Literally with just flip of a switch, the bouncer inflates. Handy plastic stakes keep it rooted to the ground (and are also easy to push in and pull out). And with the same switch, it deflates for quick storage into its big blue duffel bag.

Alicia, Austin mom of a blended family of six: a rough-and-tumble 1-year-old boy; a 4-year-old princess-obsessed girl; three teenaged girls and a son heading off to college in the fall, looks for quality gear that makes life easier and ups the family fun quotient