Showing posts with label Gifts. Show all posts

What Nursing Moms Really Need, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle (Guest Post)

My friend Kate and I met in a birth class more than 3 years ago when we were pregnant with our daughters.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her as one tough cookie of a mom and an all around wonderful lady.  I’ve been lucky enough to have her calming thoughts in my life, and would love to share them with you, our dear reader.  Take it away Kate…

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It’s 3 a.m. Your baby has woken you for the umpteenth feeding of the night. You’re sore and you’re tired but you think, “Hey, at least I get to catch up on some reading.” So there you are, with your sweet babe nestled into her Boppy, while you do finger gymnastics trying to turn the pages of your book with one hand—until, inevitably, you lose your spot, the book goes splat on the floor, the baby snaps out of her milky reverie and starts screaming.

You think: Why won’t someone just invent a book that you can read one-handed in the dark already?

Dear reader, someone has. It is called the Kindle. Perhaps you already have one. Or perhaps, like me, you have a sentimental attachment to paper books. Perhaps you feel that e-readers violate the sacred intimacy between book and reader, that their tracking software intrudes on your private mind-space. Perhaps, like me, you tough it out with paperbacks and hardcovers while you nurse your first baby.

And then, pregnant with your second, you realize that you no longer require the crisp and creamy paper of a “real” book; you realize that privacy is a luxury that belongs to people with two free hands; you realize that, for about $100, the one thing you really, truly need to survive those sleepless newborn nights can be on your doorstep in one to two business days. You realize that you are ready for an e-reader.

So, what should you look for in an e-reader? If you want to read without having to turn on a lamp and wake up your partner, look for one that lights up. (Note: if you desperately want to wake your partner, I hereby empathize with and absolve you). The Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glow, and Nook GlowLight are among the readers with built-in lighting. You can also buy a clip-on light; there are plenty of choices under $15. Also recommended: a reader that features wireless downloading, because when you finish one book in the middle of the night, you want another one immediately, and good luck finding your USB cable with an infant attached to your chest. Do be aware that your book-buying judgment may be compromised by sleep-deprivation, and when you emerge from the postpartum haze a few months later, you may wonder why, exactly, you spent so many precious newborn moments reading Dune.

Actually, I take that back. You will not wonder, because it was awesome.

So, thank you, Kindle. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for 1:00 a.m. And 3:00 a.m. And 5:00 a.m. And 5:45 a.m. I do still love my real books—you know, the ones made of paper—but maybe, just maybe, I am learning to love you, too.



   



Kate Becker is a science writer who spends most of her time writing about astrophysics, cosmology, and other mysteries of the universe, like toddlers. Read more and get in touch at facebook.com/katembecker or http://www.spacecrafty.com/.

Less messy art supplies for toddlers - creativity I can live with!

I may have mentioned once or thirty times on this blog that I have trouble doing art projects with the kids. Part of this is because I am not an artistic person myself and found art projects boring as a child. But if I'm being honest, much of my hesitance stems from not wanting to spend an hour trying to get paint out of all the floor cracks.  It's not that I'm neurotic or own priceless artifacts, it's mostly that I'm lazy.

But of course kids probably need some art supplies (right?). So here are products we've found that are at least somewhat entertaining to children and don't cause you to have to declare your place "condemned" and just move out. As a bonus, art supplies that aren't too messy are usually good for travel, so that's win.
  • Melissa & Doug On The Go Water Wow Books. Of all the things in this post, these have got to be my favorite.  These are special books that come with a plastic tube that you fill with water.  The child then uses the tube as a pen to reveal the colors in the picture.  When the water dries, the picture goes back to blank/white - reusable products for the win!.  The only possible mess is the spilling of water, which is awesome.  There is very little fine motor skill involved so it's great for even the youngest toddlers.  Plus, these books are amazing for travel since they're compact and can be brought through airport security because the pen can be emptied and refilled. Melissa & Doug have about a billion versions of these, so you can keep a stack and rotate to eliminate boredom.

  • Crayola Color Wonder Markers. These look like regular markers but they are not -  they only work on special Crayola Color Wonder Paper. On the one hand, toddlers love to draw on anything but paper (hello grandma's couch!) and this way, they can't. On the other hand, this can be a downside, since you have to keep buying the paper (or coloring books) only from them. I personally think this product is sheer genius. Coloring is one of those activities that should be quiet unsupervised play time for kids, and now it can be with peace of mind. The only limitation of this product, as far as I'm concerned, is that the child has to be fairly confident holding and pressing a marker. Also the color only shows up once the marker dries so there is a several second delay between making a mark and seeing it. It's not a problem once the kid gets used to it but kids younger than 2 are probably going to get frustrated.

  • Crayola Washable Triangular Crayons. These make excellent starter crayons for kids.  The large triangular shape makes them easy to hold and they won't roll away when set down.  Their washable nature makes for easy clean up.  These are a great tool for even the youngest budding artist.

  • Magnetic Tins for Pretend Play. Ok so this is not, strictly speaking, "art supplies" in the classic sense of the word. However, it is a versatile toy that allows for expression of creativity and open ended play.  There are many different versions of this toy out there, including character based and dress up doll varietals. These too are perfect for travel, doctor's offices, and restaurants since they are quiet, non messy, and self contained.

  • Do A Dot Art in action
    Do A Dot Art! Washable Paint Markers. These markers are something between a marker and paint.  They are are definitely messier than a crayon but less messy than full on water paints. There is no potential for spilling with these guys but there is definitely ample room for adding flair to your curtains. Parental supervision is heavily advised, but they are so easy to use that they are a more fun art supply for producing bold creations.  We can confirm the paint came out of a tablecloth in the washing machine. Proceed with caution, but overall a thumbs up.
   

Things to do - Music Together

So I played the violin as a kid. I also went to a million concerts in high school, owned too many CDs, and may or may not have used a lot of Napster in college (is that what us 1st wave millennials will say wistfully about college?). Suffice it to say, music is important to me...
That said, I didn't practice the violin, mostly went to radio festivals and other concerts in 1000+-seat auditoriums, and never heard of a band before you did (though my college roommate did, so I was like 6 weeks ahead of all of you on Modest Mouse). Suffice it to say, music isn't that important.

So how to find a good mix of goofy kids fun, some active dance, lots of instruments, and a dash of music theory without devolving into silly songs you'll hate hearing, or kids doing hand motions and forgetting about the music entirely? Alternatively, I don't need to pressure them to Carnegie Hall (ever, but especially in preschool). Music is important, but it's not that important.

Music Together

Music Together fits this niche pretty well. They use a mix of classic and new children's songs, sourced across many cultures, and with a rotating batch of instruments and other activities. The class is intended for a wide age range (6 mos - 5 years) so all the kids get some exposure to kids bigger and smaller and it's easy for siblings to attend together. They give you a CD (and MP3 download access) for all the songs so you can practice at home (or in your car, they say, but whatever). The attitude overall is "anyone can sing, anyone can play, and find fun ways to incorporate music into your life," which seems great to me.

It's not perfect, but my three criticisms are minor. 1) The attempt to be multicultural occasionally feels like it borders on cultural appropriation and/or parody. 2) Someone has clearly decided it's in their interest to tweak classic tunes just enough to make them copyrightable, which can feel a bit ridiculous at times. 3) The whole thing fits pretty neatly into a formula class-to-class and session-to-session, which is great for toddler brains, but I found that I had to take a couple sessions off once in a while to regain my enthusiasm and interest in going week after week.

To their credit, they are extremely welcoming of all sorts of family and work situations. As a Dad who works part-time and thus finds himself often in Stay-at-Home-Mommy-land, a program that expects/welcomes Dads, grandparents, nannies, or whatever other person you have caring for your kid is refreshing. The couple times I've dropped in on a weekend class to makeup for a missed session, it's been a lot of Dads too, which is great.

Music Together works as a franchise, so you'll need to find who operates it where you live. If you're in Boston, it's Groovy Baby Music and if you click through on this referral, it'll even net you a $15 discount.



2015 Gift guide - What all city-dwelling (and probably many other) parents REALLY want this season!

What gift do you get for your favorite set of parents who have everything and/or no room for anything else?  Here are some suggestions for gifts that are sure to be appreciated almost universally by parents, but most especially those tight on space!

Practical gifts that keep on giving

Food Delivery Gift Certificates

This one makes the rounds frequently for new parents, but everyone loves takeout/delivery. After a night when one kid wants to stand on the train seat and the other refuses to go to sleep, it's good to be married to "someone who knows when it’s time to order Chinese." (Also, seriously internet, no GIFs/memes on this Orange is the New Black line?) Better yet, to do that when already been paid for. Foodler is our pick for services, but your recipient's area may be better served by Seamless, GrubHub, etc.

Parents in a Pinch / Care.com

Every parent in the history of time could use the gift of a break from their little miracles.  However, finding reliable caregivers (and then being able to afford them) makes the prospect of planning an evening out more overwhelming than training to run a marathon.  This is a website that matches parents with willing and vetted caregivers.  It is an especially great gift to give if you are a non-local grandparent and cannot offer your own babysitting in person.

Amazon.com Prime

Ok, I surely don't have to explain Amazon Prime, but it's a great resource for families. It can feel like a splurge given the price, but that's what makes it a perfect gift! Free 2-day delivery is already a great deal, but add-in the additional discounts on diapers, the free TV/Movie streaming, and the Kindle free library, it's definitely worth the money. Bonus Amazon feature: you can download TV/movies to view offline, which means the kids can watch Sesame Street (or many other things) on a plane with no wifi.

Grocery Delivery/Farmshare

Grocery delivery is a luxury for urban dwellers and for those days when getting the newborn (or toddler) out of the house seems impossible, services like Peapod or your local grocery store's options can save the day. Find a farmshare, CSA, or other produce delivery service, and it can make cooking a "real meal" at home that much easier. Plus, it gives everyone in the family an excuse to try new (and in-season!) foods. For folks in the Boston metro area, we recommend Boston Organics which combines the best of a farmshare and a grocery store that delivers.

Zipcar/Uber/Lyft

On the topic of splurges, going carfree means knowing the cost of each trip you take. Having (gifted) credit for your transport method of choice allows you to be confident when you take a trip to the children's' museum in the snow, pick up that extra jug of laundry detergent, or hit that networking event after work because you can make it home quickly.

Entertainment gifts that last beyond the moment

Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Instant Video (both for parents and kids)

Any one of these is an easy win for the whole family. Once the kids are old enough for some screen time, a carefully chosen 30 minutes of streaming for the kids can be a serious relief after a difficult day (plus it's pretty fun to watch Sesame Street with the kiddos). Once the kids are in bed, sometimes all you can muster is sitting on the couch with whatever from your fridge doesn't require adding heat, a glass of wine (see below), and an episode (or 3) of the show from 5 years ago you were too busy to watch when you went out every night.


Childrens' Museum Membership

Childrens' museums can be pretty awesome in general (thank you Magic House in St. Louis for great childhood memories), but especially if you live somewhere with tough weather (too cold, too hot, whatever), many have great spaces for kids of many ages to run around and get everyone out of the house. The Boston Children's Museum (and their under-3 specific space) was a total godsend this past hellish winter.

Music Together 

Without oodles of space, experiences are a great gift for families. Music Together (franchised under many different names city-to-city) fits in the niche between music theory, silly songs/hand motions, exposure to instruments, playgroup, and place to meet other parents. Also, very welcoming of Dads, grandparents, and other caregivers. If you're in Boston, the local franchise is Groovy Baby Music, click here for a $15 discount.

Personal Care experiential presents

If you know that your recipient parent enjoys the occasional massage or trip to their salon of choice, this can be a great way to gift them a little "me time."  Especially if paired with a gift certificate for or offer of child care, you may become their very favorite person of the month.

Wine delivery/subscription 

It is a well known "tee hee wink wink" joke on mom blogs that moms just love wine. Ok but it's really true, and not just for moms.  Sometimes parenting requires alcohol for everyone's sanity. Whether it's because your 5 month old had explosive diarrhea all over the crib or your 2 year old screamed for an hour at bedtime, wine is the legal way to solve the problem after the ankle-bitters are clean and angelically snoozing. So if you know your favorite parent's preferred drink (it's Navarro Vineyards for us), go ahead and get them a case (many wineries will ship to many/most states).  Alternatively get them a membership to the Tasting Room so they can try lots of different things and keep that salve coming on a schedule.

Small things that pack a big punch of value

Pocket Nanny

Ok so it's not really a nanny in your pocket, which would be super cool, if a little creepy.  It is, however a nifty little device that helps sleep deprived parents keep track of when the baby last ate/slept/had a diaper change.  Sure there's tons of apps out there for that, but you can't clip those apps to the baby as you hand him to your just arrived-home-from-work partner as you run to pass out for a much needed nap. The nightlight, we've found, is just the perfect intensity for nighttime feedings. This is definitely one of those "not a necessity but it sure is nice to have" things, which makes it the perfect present, in our opinion, to bestow on your favorite expecting couple.

Thermos Travel Mug

Between middle-of-the-night feedings, teething, colds, and toddlers' habit of waking up with the sun, coffee is a necessity for any parent. And that often means coffee on-the-go: on the way to daycare/work, on the way to the doctor, or while the kid runs around the nearest playground in the cold. Thus, a great coffee cup is a great present. With all due respect to The Sweethome (who eliminated all mugs without a handle), this is simply the best mug. Here's 4 reasons why: 1) It keeps coffee hot for a LONG time, 2) When closed, it really is spill-proof, 3) It's cheap enough that you can forget it somewhere and not feel awful about replacing it, 4) I have 100% confidence I will not spill hot coffee all over my stroller (or baby) when it sits in the stroller cupholder over even the most uneven of sidewalk.

Headphones

Headphones are great for parents of babies (or expectant parents) because they spend an awful lot of time feeding them or sitting in a dark room trying to get them to go to sleep.  This is time that could be spent listening to music, podcasts, or audio books.  Parents of toddlers, on the other hand, may occasionally want to tune out some of the less than pleasant vocalizations their charges make.... for an hour.  In particular, I'd recommend some wireless headphones that your baby won't grab and yank while you're feeding him and that your toddler won't decide is a necklace when you make the mistake of leaving it somewhere within reach.  This is a good place where you can splurge on some high quality ones for the favorite parents in your life (Plantronics BackBeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones are a great choice).

Fitness Tracker

We recommend this with the following caveat - only get this if you know that the parent in question is into fitness AND would like one.  Ask yourself (especially if the recipient is a recent mother who birthed a child) if there is even the slightest chance that this could be taken as a "hint" to lose weight and if so MOVE ALONG, DO NOT GET.  Otherwise, go ahead and get the parent in your life a Garmin vívofit Activity Tracker. We recommend this one over the more popular Fitbit, because it does not need to be charged overnight.  Parents have a slight tendency to be absent minded, so go ahead and simplify this one thing in their life for them.  

Portable Battery

On-the-go in the city sometimes means pushing the cell phone (or bluetooth headphones) so hard you run out of juice before you get home. When the phone is your source for next bus/train info, your way to order Uber, or to listen to podcasts while the baby sleeps in the stroller, this is a near-catastrophe. Avoid/solve it with a portable battery pack you can keep in the diaper bag, briefcase, purse, coat pocket, etc. Also works great for a long airplane/train/bus trip without access to seat-side power (or just avoid the crowd huddled around the lone power outlet at the airport). For some specific suggestions and background, you can check out detailed reviews at The Wirecutter.

Wrap-Up

Those are our thoughts for 2015. What gifts did we miss or are you secretly hoping for? Join the conversation below or on our Facebook page.

Boy, Girl, or Just Baby - Gender neutral clothing options

If you've spent even 5 seconds in a baby store you may have noticed something disturbing.  All the clothing, from premature baby sizes on up is neatly divided into "boys" and "girls" sections.  What's even weirder about this abrupt line is that eyeing the sections quickly will reveal that girls get one color (pink, with the occasional purple accent thrown in) and boys get all the other colors.  This is so incredibly limiting to both genders, but especially to girls.  There is a lot of science on how adults interact differently with babies and kids if they believe the child to be a boy or a girl (regardless of the truth).  Obviously, we don't "hide" the gender of either of our children (I'm not sure how that would even work). But we do want them to feel free to pick anything off the buffet of options that life has to offer.  You may think that dressing your daughter exclusively in pink isn't a problem as long as you get her blocks to play with (hey! they even make pink ones of those too... gag).  One problem with that, among others, is what happens when she encounters non pink toys and decides that they aren't for her.  It is this subtle segregation of kids by gender role that rubs me very much the wrong way. By the way, if you think "it's always been this way, why make waves?", I'm here to tell this is not true.  Toys are way more gendered now than they were 30 years ago.

Finally, if I haven't convinced you yet of the value of dressing all children in all the colors, then consider the following. Buying more neutral clothing is practical if you want to maximize the number of hand-me downs available for any other children in your future, whether they be yours or those of friends and family.  Finally, here is a great blog post on this whole topic from another mother.

If you're thinking that this is all very noble but highly challenging, then you are correct. For starters, well meaning people in your life will buy you whatever they feel like (especially as new baby presents).  The difficulty increases as you start to leave baby clothing. (At least some baby clothing is less gendered, due to the fact that a portion of people wait until the baby is born to find that out.)  Obviously, it's nearly impossible to control what other people do, but where does one buy clothing for one's own children to balance out the onslaught of frilly pink dresses? Here are some tips and brands we've found that present great options in this dimension (scroll to the end to find out how to make this affordable).

Brands that sell non-gendered clothing 

  • - Zutano: Available directly from their site, as well as on Amazon and Gigglethis brand sells really high quality clothing, with fun designs, that will definitely survive multiple children's antics.

  • - Magnificent Baby: This is a really wonderful brand (see their Amazon store) that sells clothing with magnetic closures (these are particularly awesome when traveling and trying to change a diaper in a bathroom on a moving train or airplane).  It's true that their clothing are all labeled "boy" and "girl," but we can look past this sad state of affairs due to the fact that the actual designs are really adorable and not actually gendered.  

  • - Boden: You may have seen their adult clothing line at Nordstroms or a British high street.  Their children's clothing, however, available here, is particularly excellent.  They sell a single line for babies under 3.  While the mini line (starting at one and a half years) are also divided by gender, most of the pieces are easily appropriate for all kids.  (Note to watch: the "boys" clothing runs a bit bigger so pay attention to the size chart when choosing which size to get).

  • - Polarn O. Pyret: This is a Swedish brand that sells fantastic clothing for active play, including great outerwear.  They even have a line called "uni" that is specifically not targeted.  You can buy it at their site or on Amazon.  Word of caution: their sizes run huuuuuuge because apparently Swedish children are giants in the making so pay careful attention to the size chart.

  • - Gap:  Ok so this one is a bit of a stretch.  Their clothing is most definitely gendered.  That said, their "playroom" line is really appropriate for anyone.  Absolutely a good option, that's obviously easy to find everywhere in America.

  • - Just buying clothing and putting it on your children.  Who said that trucks and flowers are just for half the children?

Oh My God! I just spent a king's ransom dressing my child!

Some of the above brands can absolutely run very expensive.  We are in no way advocating that you spend $24 on a t-shirt that your toddler will grow out in 4 months (or cover in escalator grease... that said, if they do cover it in escalator grease, here are some cleaning tips).  Here are some ways you can buy clothing that fit with your world view without breaking the bank.

  • End of Season Sales - You, as a member of modern society, are aware of how calendars work.  When all the high end brand websites and stores are clearing out their winter clothes, it's time to go to town on sizes that will fit your kid in 6 months.  This is the perfect opportunity to buy winter coats, sweaters, and pants at half off or more.  (Conversely, the end of August is great for buying bathing suits which are also really expensive for kids if they have a built in diaper.)  Sure, storage space at your house is probably at a premium, but this is the kind of thing that can get put in a bin that goes in that impossible to reach corner of your closet.

  • High end children's second hand stores.  Most major metropolitan areas have one (Fancy Pants is an example of one in Boston, The Second Child is great in Chicago).  All the high end brands we described above make clothing that way outlasts one child.  We bought an excellent Boden coat in one for $10.  The coat then went on to another child.  I'm sure that coat originally retailed for at least $50.  Plus, buying high end brands means you can often resell them to these very same stores, thus making back some of your investment (assuming your kid stays away from the escalator grease at least some of the time). If you don't have one of thoes places local, you can always try out threadUP, either to buy (Shop thredUP's Designer Looks Section Now!) or sell (Clean out your Closet with thredUP

  • Amazon Mom sales - Once you've signed up for Amazon Mom, keep an eye out for emails and coupons from Amazon with periodic sales as well as using their advanced search to find deeply discounted items.

This seems like a lot of work... is it worth it?

So I guess this depends on your outlook on life.  This seems worth it to me.  It's really important to me that my children know that they can climb any play ground structure, play with any toy, and try any new thing they want.  I never want either of them to think that their gender has anything to do with those decisions.  Clothing may not seem like a big deal, but it's amazing how small attitude changes affect children.  We let our toddler pick her clothing out every morning.  Some days she picks the fire truck shirt and other days the frilly dress.  Either way, for now, she knows that she can do anything!

Toys! (A Dad's Call to Action this Holiday Season)

If you haven't been paying attention to the latest freak outs about Starbucks cups or the fact that many media outlets have already published their gift guides, you may not have realized that the holiday season is fast approaching. But let's get real, you've noticed and if you're a parent, you're possibly dreading it. The "holiday season" means, among other things, an onslaught of conversations about kids' toys. Which toys are hot this year? What toys do your kids want? Would you mind if your aunt Dora got them a drum set this year?

So before all that happens, let's do some real talk.

Many kids' toys are awful.

I don't just mean the mountains of cheap crap that exist to drain $4 at a time from the drugstore (or the seasonal way to phrase that - "be used as stocking stuffers"). I mean the ones that are unnecessarily loud, inane, and randomly ill-thought-out. As a dad who is about to be on the receiving end of this year's onslaught of generosity directed at his children, I beg any of you who buy toys for kids to read this. Together we can fight the awful in the modern toy industry and maybe preserve some parental sanity at the same time.

Why Many Kids' Toys are Awful

I can identify at least 3 major causes that allow this to continue unabated:
  1. 1. Kids have no taste.
  2. 2. Parents, grandparents, and well-meaning friends are easily seduced by things that seem cute (especially if they are licensed by a favorite team, show, etc.) but were really designed in about 5 minutes.
  3. 3. Some families live in houses with "playrooms" far from earshot of the parents who then don't have to listen to the awfulness generated by the worst offenders. This is not my family, nor is it many families.

Examples of Just What's Wrong

Random and Not Really Fun

Here is a book - St. Louis Cardinals 101 (My First Team-Board-Book). What family member of a St. Louisan wouldn't want to buy that for their new-parent relative? And that is exactly the problem. You'll note Amazon doesn't have a "look inside" option for this book - probably because if anyone really did look inside they would sell zero copies. If the book is for babies, there's nothing really to read to them (captioned photos and drawings of baseball equipment aren't much of a read-aloud winner). If it's for the next generation of kid fans whose earliest sports memories will be from the late 2010s, a black and white photo of a pitching star from the 1960's is pretty irrelevant to them.

I love baseball, I love books, and I love the Cardinals. This book somehow manages to fail on all those fronts.

Not Age Relevant

Many Exersaucers/Jumparoos are adorned with lots of ABC's and 123's which I guess are designed to make them look like "educational" toys. But even if a child who is exersaucer age could/should be learning letters and numbers (they should not), why just three of each? You may suggest "it's just decoration," but the song- and noise-generating buttons on the one we had specifically focus on these letters (and JUST these). It's dressed up to look educational but provides no useful lesson to a kid of this or any age.

Side rant - I think Fisher Price employs only one woman to record all the talking and singing for their toys. I assume this is so she can haunt the nightmares of parents forever.

Needless Noisemakers

My baby is carrying my cheese
up the stairs in the bag.
Toys like the Fun Years My Workbench are insane. The hammer plays recordings of "realistic sounds." I'm pretty sure my kid can generate her own realistic banging sound by... you know... banging it like it's a hammer.

But remember, kids have no taste. They like things that make noise for its own sake. Why encourage them?

The Fisher-Price Sing n' Learn Shopping Tote is another prime example of a random noise making toy. My daughter loves playing with the various toy foods it came with and has even brought the bag to the store with us so she can participate in grocery shopping- great! But, you see, there is a giant button. It plays songs about grocery shopping and saying "please and thank you." They're nice lessons, but why does the shopping bag need to do this at all? She was already using it perfectly as a bag! "So turn it off," you say. But she's a toddler who understands off switches to be her mortal enemy.

So far, insane and insipid, but not ill-willed...

The World's Most Annoying Toy

If there is a special circle of hell for annoying toy designers, then the person at Fisher Price who designed the Lil People Little Movers Airplane should be admitted first. It's not enough that it talks and sings every time you interact with it in any way (god forbid children enjoy 3 seconds making their OWN noises)... no, no, this plane sings the same 30 second song any time the plane's wheels move... at all. Seriously check out this Youtube video! That song in the background, that's the song. The whole thing. Every time the wheels move. Every... time... the... wheels... move...

Sadism is truly the only excuse for this behavior.

Are you Just a Luddite and/or Grump?

No...maybe? I'm not opposed to electronic toys on principle. I spent my childhood playing video games and own a smartwatch, which is obviously the least essential technology of our day (and I love my smartwatch).

That said, things that make noise just for the sake of making noise are idiotic. Things that make illogical noises are infuriating.

Electronics are great. Pretend play is great. But electronics sprinkled into toys at random often crowd out pretend play.

How to Pick Toys that Don't Suck

Here are a few things I recommend you ask yourself this holiday season when picking out a toy for the special munchkin in your life:

  1. 1. Is it fun? Can you imagine it staying fun for a week? A month?

Cute is a good start, but it isn't enough. A good toy gets used a LOT, and when you're space constrained, a toy that's fun in multiple ways at multiple ages (even just 6 months apart) is a good sanity-keeper. If it does only one thing, it gets forgotten and becomes junk when the one thing gets boring. If it lets a kid do many different things (or best yet, encourages kids to come up with many different things), it can stay in our living room toy-box for months.

  1. 2. If it's electronic, does it have a reason to be?

  • - Toy smartphone? Yes. (Electronic in real life, electronic as a toy - sweet!)
  • - Toy drill? Yes. (See above.)
  • - Toy hammer? No!!!

  1. 3. Do the functions/sounds/whatever have anything to do with the actual thing?

We have a Fisher-Price Learning Kitchen that makes kitchen noises (running water, etc.) when the kid interacts with it. This is good.
The toy airplane (yes, I'm back at the airplane),  makes announcements that make me think the designer read a book about airplanes without ever having been in one. Why does placing the flight attendant in his/her seat cause the plane to tell you to fasten your seat-belt and make engine noises? Why? WHY?

  1. 4. Does it have an off switch and/or volume control?

Sometimes the baby is sleeping so we need to use it quietly. Sometimes we want to encourage kids to play their own way. Sometimes the kid may want to use the toy for something not planned by the designer.

  1. 5. If it claims to be for pretend play, does it give the kid room to actually use their imagination?

    Doing my best Judge John Hodgman impression: this really is the crux of the issue.

    If the toy has a "correct" way to play dictated by the manufacturers, it's not very good for pretend play. (I'm looking at you Melissa & Doug Stacking Train - the cars have differently spaced posts so the blocks can only be assembled ONE way. This discourages kids from building what they want.)
If the airplane doesn't stop making noise long enough to let a kid make her own noises or plan out her own flight, then what's the point? (Yes, I know, the airplane again, but really... it's just the WORST.)

ZOOM!