11 cheap (and free) toys from Simple Mom

In the spirit of the baby toy alternative articles we’ve written in the past, Simple Mom has a great list of cheap and free toys for your toddler. It’s easy to forget about the simple and classic toys for our children. Toys with a lot of bells and whistles seem to replace the simpler toys because they are perceived to be better somehow. This list is a nice reminder that a child’s imagination can create entertaining fun with just about any object. From the list:

1. Egg cartons. They make great caterpillars, they’re good storage containers for little treasures found on walks, and they can even become airline seats for little animal toys. 

5. Dried beans or rice. It’s fun to pour into bowls and cups of different sizes, and it’s a good sensory exercise. Sand works well, too.

7. Washed out empty food containers. My daughter loves to play kitchen, and she’s stocked with some of our empty syrup, ketchup, and dressing bottles. No need to buy a child-size version of the same plastic thing.

We do have the miniature versions of food products. The variety pack of just about every Kraft food imaginable was a gift and those tiny replicas turn up just about everywhere around the house. The regular size hand-me-downs would be easier to clean up and keep in order.

We also use egg cartons as a way to keep the finger paints in a confined space while our daughter creates her next masterpiece. The paint inevitably ends up all over the place, but the egg carton is a great way to bring a bit of organization to the painting chaos.

The Loopa Bowl

Having a two year old daughter snack in the back seat of our car is a blessing and curse at the same time. The snack gives her something to do, but there are inevitably stray Cheerios spilled all over the floor and seats when she is finished. The Loopa Bowl is the brainchild of parents Brad and Melinda Shepherd and it is a cleverly designed bowl that makes spilling treats just about impossible. From the Loopa site:

Its revolutionary spill-resistant technology utilizes a weighted inner bowl that rotates 360 degrees, keeping the dry snacks inside – no matter how little ones grab or turn it.

The bowl is very child and parent friendly. The design will save you from having to pick up snacks from the back seat of your vehicle or your living room floor, that is unless your little one is prone to tossing his snack. For more on the Loopa Bowl, watch the demo here.

Additionally, we know that this is a very specific item, so be sure to pass it on to another parent with a toddler when your kid is through with it. What keeps clutter out of your life one day, can easily become clutter the next.

(via Ohdeedoh)

Are mobiles necessary?

Every child is unique. Some love to suck on pacifiers until they are well beyond three years old, while others never use them at all. Which causes me to wonder if anyone’s child got use out of their crib mobile?

Well, I’m not entirely sure about the need for a mobile. My daughter couldn’t have cared less about the mobile we had hanging over her crib. I don’t think we ever wound it up more than a handful of times. We ended up donating it way before we moved her into a bed. Are you depriving your child by foregoing a mobile? Are they going to miss out on early child development, because you failed to supply them with a spinning musical mobile? I doubt it.

Granted, some kids love their mobiles and they help them fall asleep. But, a one-size-fits-all guide to raising a baby is not realistic. I guess what I’m saying is, there is no magic toy that all babies need. Mobiles are a traditional product that parents have come to attach to their cribs with little or no hesitation. Maybe it’s time to pause before buying baby gear simply out of habit.

Is there a “can’t live without it” baby product that your son or daughter ended up not paying attention to? I have a fairly long list of things that my daughter easily lived without.

Avoid baby gates that require screws

I’m pretty useless as a handyman. Tools are not my friend, and I try to avoid them whenever I can. When my wife and I were looking for a baby gate we were set on finding a gate that did not require installation of any kind. We would eventually settle on something very similar to the First Year Hands Free Gate. It requires no screws and is pressure mounted to the door frame. 

Some entrances may require a gate wider than 44 inches and require a larger gate like this offering from Evenflo. It expands to 60 inches. Rather than buying multiple gates for your home, these gates are convenient since you can easily move them around your house. 

Avoid the screws and hardware needed to mount permanent gates and keep your eyes open for pressure-mounted options.

Keep the stroller at home

We’re going on a cross country flight with our two year old in a couple of weeks. The anticipation of a delayed flight and more time spent in an airport isn’t appealing. Luckily, my parents are accompanying us on the trip and they will surely help with keeping our daughter entertained.

I have found a solution that can substitute the stroller and free up a lot of space. It is the Traveling Toddler: Car seat travel accessory. It is simply a strap that attaches your child’s car seat onto your carry-on luggage. So rather than bringing along your child’s clunky stroller, you can replace it with a strap. That sounds like a big space saving trade-off. Just make sure you watch where you are going and you’ve tightened the strap sufficiently.

Get more use out of a convertible crib

Our daughter used her crib for less than two years. It started to lose its usefulness when she began to climb out of it. We also decided to move her into a “big girl’s bed” when we moved into our new home. If we had gone with a convertible crib, we could have easily doubled the time she used her crib. Convertible cribs, for those who don’t know, are cribs that convert into smaller beds. This makes the transition to a regular bed a bit easier for some children, and definitely easier for parents.

The crib pictured is the Davinci Emily Convertible Crib. The large rail on the back of the crib can eventually be used for a headboard for a full-size bed, as shown. The day bed conversion rail kit, full size headboard and footboard are included with this and most convertible cribs. There are many different makes and models of convertible cribs, so make sure you shop around. Also, don’t be afraid to look for cribs on craigslist or garage sales–these are options that can save you a lot of money.

The transforming diaper bag

I’ve been looking around for baby items that can multitask, and I may have come across the most unique and useful one yet. It is the Hoppop. The Hoppop is a diaper bag that transforms into a baby seat.

This is a fantastic idea for parents on the go. The Hoppop would have been used quite extensively if my wife and I had owned one. It serves two very important purposes and comes in a fairly compact size. The step-by-step instructions look simple and straight forward. If you want something extra when it comes to your diaper bag, you may want to look into this innovative design.

(via ohdeedoh)

Swimming in children’s clutter

I have a hard time conveying my disdain for the inevitable accumulation of more stuff for my two year old. We are about to celebrate her second birthday and the grandparents are the nemesis against my anti-accumulation project. My wife and I tried to head off the unnecessary gifts by suggesting to the grandparents that they simply invest in a pass to the Children’s Museum here in Pittsburgh. This objective was achieved, but the grandparents were not satisfied with such a modest purchase.

Apparently, my mother in-law has a box of stuff that is awaiting my daughter when they return from their winter retreat in Florida. I’m not sure what is included in the box, but I’m fairly certain we will be finding a home for all of these gifts at grandma’s house. That is our short-term solution: Clutter the grandparent’s house with the gifts that they feel compelled to purchase. I don’t feel great about it, but we decided that this is the best solution at the moment. We appreciate that they want to buy our daughter gifts, we know that a lot of children don’t have this opportunity, we just wish that every gift they give didn’t have to be a toy. The gift giving guide that we compiled for the holiday season can also be applied for birthdays, but getting the grandparents to comply has not been successful.

The accumulation of more children’s clutter is a constant struggle, and it seems that Merlin Mann is right in the middle of an all out war against baby clutter, too. Good luck, sir. It is a tough thing to get under control with so many others (grandparents) working against you.

The highchair is in the way, again

Folding HighchairIn our recent move to a smaller home, we have noticed that our daughter’s highchair is constantly in the way. It doesn’t fold up, it doesn’t fit nicely against the table, and it is getting old. We have started to introduce our two year old to the “big girl chair” (a.k.a normal chair), but she needs to grow a bit before it’s a full-time solution. Since she easily took to her “big girl bed,” we figure it will eventually be a relatively easy transition.

I think if we had it to do over again, we would probably settle on a booster type seat. It saves space and it can easily be used on an existing chair. It won’t get in the way when not in use and it can be removed from a chair and set in a closet when needed. The highchair we have cannot easily be stored away. This folding high chair (pictured) is also an option we would have likely considered, but hindsight is 20/20.

Getting rid of maternity clutter

We just got rid of the last of my wife’s maternity clothes last week. We have a friend who is expecting, so it was an easy way to get rid of them. My wife was also lucky to have a similarly sized aunt who gave her a few boxes of clothes initially, which means these clothes are being recycled for the third time.

Maternity clothes are a necessity, but seeing as they’re only worn for a few months, they’re not clothes anyone should be holding onto after they’re done being needed. Treehugger suggests using a maternity clothes lending library. The maternity clothing example in their post is based in the UK, but you may want to also try eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle. One thing that my wife learned was that maternity clothes are usually expensive, and getting them secondhand was worth it financially.

My wife also added some elastic to some of her older pants which gave her the room she needed for the in-between months that can be tricky. She simply cut about an inch down on each side of the waistline and sewed in some elastic. It is a very easy fix, but be sure to use pants that you no longer want for regular wear.

Diaper wallet

Diaper WalletThe latest trend in diaper bag sizing is: big, large, and huge. But, when I saw this Ikea hacked diaper wallet, I knew there was someone out there who thinks like me. Having to lug around diapers and other supplies can get tiresome. The diaper wallet option is great if you are making a quick stop somewhere with your infant or to keep under the car seat to have in case you forgot the diaper bag elsewhere. Also, considering that I have no need for a CD wallet anymore, a hack for a now obsolete item is very useful.

We are in the process of trying to potty train our daughter, so hopefully we’ll be able to rid ourselves of our diaper bag in the next few months. Wish us luck!

(via Ohdeedoh)

Crib clutter warning

Sleeping BabyA newborn baby adds so many items to your home. If you are a first time parent, you often don’t know what you really need. That being said, you should never clutter your infant’s crib with toys, pillows, or multiple blankets.

According to a warning to parents by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, having too much clutter in the crib of a baby, whether it be with too many pillows, blankets, etc. can put babies at risk of harm, and even death.

The agency stated that between 2002 and 2004, there were 241 child deaths, with 40% of them involving cribs. In all of the deaths, the kids were under the age of 5.

The deaths from cribs revolved around pillows, blankets, etc. taking up too much space.

We received about 10 different blankets for my daughter when she was born. Needless to say, we really didn’t use many of them. We also didn’t pack her crib full of toys and pillows either. I’m thinking this stuff is commonly known, but you never know. Keep the child’s crib free of clutter and your little one will be that much safer.

(via dbTechno)