Showing posts with label Travel with Kids. Show all posts

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.

Airplane travel without a toddler car seat - Cares Harness Review!

Once your kiddo reaches 2 years of age, you have to buy them their own airline ticket.  The truth is, jarringly expensive as it is, you may want to buy them their own seat even before then because an 18 month old is HEAVY.  Spend 3 hours with a squirmy, active, tired, 25 lbs in your lap, and you may be trying to pay someone $500 to take your child, not just put them in the seat next to you. Regardless, once they have their own seat, are over a year old, and weigh 22 lbs or more, you can do a little dance and ditch the car seat. Instead you can attach them to their seat with the only FAA approved harness on the market - the Cares Safety Restraint.  

This is a small strapy thing that comes in its own convenient little carrying case and can be wrapped around the child's seat to form a 4 point harness. Yes you read that right. It's not a 5 point harness because the bottom half of the child is still held down with the regular lap belt and so is lacking a crotch strap. If you read the Amazon reviews of the harness you may notice people worrying that their kid would slide out of the seat without this. In our experience this wasn't much of an issue with our 2.5 year old who complained that the chest strap was "too tight" the one time she began to slide down. In any case, reviewers have recommended putting a shelf liner or something similar on the seat to help prevent the kid from sliding, if necessary.

The strap is fairly easy to install (and MUCH easier than a car seat), though it does require you to get consent from the passenger sitting directly behind the child to wrap it around the seat back, between the seat and the tray table. Other than seeing the strap, it does nothing to impede their use of the tray table. Though (from the Amazon reviews) on sufficiently small aircraft, where the seats are smaller, the strap may not get tight enough.  We have only flown with this on 737 aircraft and it secured nicely.

So is it really worth it to buy a whole other thing? In my opinion - yes.  Sometimes you may fly to destinations where you don't plan on driving, such as Disney World or NYC.  Often you may be flying somewhere consistently enough, such as grandma's house, that it's worth it for them to buy an inexpensive car seat to keep at their house. If neither of those is a possibility, there's always the option of bringing your IMMI GO car seat with you and either checking it or making it your carry-on item (the IMMI GO is not suitable for use as a seat on an airplane but it does comply with carry on rules). Traveling with kids requires the bringing of so many things, that eliminating a bulky and unwieldy item from your packing list seems like a good all its own.

Finally, an additional bonus of flying with the Cares Safety Restraint, other than the obvious, is that the toddler's legs are now too short to kick the seat in front of them. One less behavior challenge in a day already brimming with chaos is a win in my book. Combine this with our advice on preparing your toddler for travel and entertaining them in the flight, and you are ready to go!

Picking an infant car seat as a city family

As we've mentioned previously, if you live in an urban area and are a carfree family (or even with just 1 family car), you will spend way more time obsessing about car seats than your friends with cars do.  Add to that the stress of picking anything safety related for a baby you haven't met yet, throw in some pregnancy hormones, and what you have there is a steaming cup of panic brew.  So while you practice your deep breathing, here are some thoughts about how to choose.

Do I need an infant car seat?

If you, or anyone else, will ever transport your baby in a car I really recommend going with an infant car seat rather than a convertible one. (Confused about the difference? Look here).  It's not often that we recommend buying more baby products when less will do and especially when it comes to car accessories.  The reason we recommend going with an infant seat is that they are much, much easier to install rear-facing than convertible ones.  In fact, I recommend strategizing such that you never have to own or install a convertible car seat at all, but very especially, rear-facing.  Yes this means you will likely have to own at least 2 different car seats over the course of your child's life, possibly even 3 in some circumstances.  But I promise it will be so very worth it in massive amounts of frustration saved.

What's important?

There are 3 things you need to consider when picking a carseat (infant or otherwise).
  1. 1. Ease of installing it (correctly!), with and without a base.  This one is really important for obvious reasons. But in particular when you try this out at a store (many stores have a sedan seat for you to practice installation), make sure you pay attention to the baseless install.  Frankly, I can count on one hand how many times I've installed the base with either of my kids.  Get a seat you can easily plop in with just a seat belt, and that's 5 lbs of bulky weight you can say good bye to transporting.
  3. 2. Ease of transporting it.  A seat can be easy to transport because it is light, because it snaps into your stroller, or because it has its own wheels.  If none of these things is true, you're going to be very sorry about buying it. 
  5. Car seat clicked into stroller via an attachment
  6. 3. How quickly your child will outgrow it. Ok this fact is discussed very poorly on the parent internet in my opinion.  For some reason the number always thrown out for the "max" measurement of a child with infant seats is the maximum weight a child can be to use a seat.  The number that's really hard to find, unless you really go looking, is the maximum height a child can be to use a seat.  This is really weird and insane.  For example, many infant seats top out at 30 lbs and 30 inches of height.  A 30 inch boy is in the 50% percentile at 12 months, a 30 lb boy is in the 50th percentile at two and a half years.  What this tells us is that the overwhelming majority of children will outgrow the seat in height way before (a year and a half before) they outgrow it in weight.  So why do you keep advertising the weight? I don't get it.  Anyway, since you're required to keep your child rear-facing by law until 1 and by recommendation as long as possible or until 2, you want to pick an infant seat with the tallest possible height.  I really recommend trying to find a seat that's rated for at least 32 inches of height. (If you want to play around with percentiles look here).  That will almost guarantee you use of your seat until 1 year of age, but likely 18 months or more.  At that point you can go straight to the folding IMMI GO.
Why didn't I put safety on the list? All infant cars eats go through a ton of testing and are pretty equivalently safe when installed correctly.  The best thing you can do for your baby is to pick an infant carseat that you can install correctly until they are as big as possible.

Who are the winners?

Doona Infant Car Seat 

Yes the Doona is kind of ridiculously expensive (you can often find it a couple hundred dollars cheaper at Magic Beans than on Amazon). However, if you have the money (or if someone else is buying) this seat is amazing.  It's pretty easy to install without a base, even for the inexperienced.  It's rated for babies up to 32 inches tall.  The wheels roll surprisingly well and the break is easy to access (also flip flop friendly!).  This seat is approved for use in cars both in the U.S. and Europe (which is quite rare), as well as air travel.  Plus, it's just a really well made, well thought out seat. Much like the IMMI GO it falls into that non-committal space of "we're going somewhere on foot/transit but may want to take a car back".  It's perfect for occasional car users and heavy air-travelers.

Note: I would not recommend using this seat exclusively as both your car seat and stroller.  This is a car seat on wheels, not a primary use stroller.  Remember, car seats restrain kids enough to keep them safe in a car crash, which is to say they pretty much restrict all movement.  This is not good for babies if it's done for too many hours a day, every day, for a year.  This is a great solution for a family trip to avoid having to bring extra gear.  This is a poor solution for daily continuous stroller use.

Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 Infant Car Seat

I have not personally used this seat myself, but it looks like a fantastic value for the following reasons.
  • - It's inexpensive ($119).
  • - Rated for babies up to 32 inches tall.
  • - Graco is a brand which all strollers that make any adapters at all, will make an adapter.
  • - It weighs only 7 lbs, for those times you do have to carry it.
  • - Recommended by The Car Seat Lady for easy installation in a taxi.

Other thoughts

When we were shopping for baby products in preparation for my daughter's arrival 3 years ago, all infant seats topped out at 30 inches.  We selected a Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat because of all the seats we tried, it was the easiest to install (and we tried a lot of seats).  The seat served us well until my daughter was 15 months old, at which point she became too tall for it.  We ended up having to purchase a convertible car seat for her until we were ready to turn her around.  We got an Evenflo Tribute because it was cheap and light.  However, though light, the bulk of the seat made it a pain to transport and its poor construction made it really hard to install rear-facing.  It is reasonably ok to install forward facing, but the transport issue remains.  (This may help to explain to you some of my enthusiasm for when the IMMI GO came on the market).  Much as the Chicco served us, I don't think I would buy it today because of the better options available.

Ok but an infant car seat still seems like a huge waste...

Still not convinced and absolutely want to avoid an infant only seat? Sigh... ok... at least get a high quality convertible seat that's light weight (Combi Coccoro).  You can even turn it into a makeshift "travel system" with the Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller according to The Car Seat Lady. (The Nano will accept any car seat without an adapter because it attaches them via what is basically a seat belt).   That said, only choose this combination if you plan on using a carrier exclusively until the child is ready to go into the Nano directly (probably around 3 months, though the specs say 6 due to overly conservative rules on this).  Alternatively you can transport the child in any regular stroller of your choosing and put the Coccoro in a car seat backpack. (We did the backpack with our Evenflo Tribute and "lovingly" referred to it as our "man-sized safe").


This post is in the series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Attach baby, see the world! (review of Ergo vs. Lillebaby structured carriers)

Baby in carrier, stroller in hand, ready to board the train!
Carriers are super useful in the first year of life, especially if you live in an urban area and like to go places without a car.  They can also be a great way to calm down an upset baby or give the baby a place to nap while out and about (while still maintaining use of both your hands).  There are even studies which show that periodic babywearing (as it's known in the biz) allows children to reach gross motor milestones earlier. (Note: I'm almost hesitant to mention this last fact because when I was Googling for the references on this, I came across all kinds of crazy websites advocating that you never put your child down in order to become a "natural" parent.  I don't even know where to begin deconstructing this.  Let's just say that I rolled my eyes so hard they almost got stuck in my skull.  Naturally (ha!) you have my full permission to put your baby down any time you damn well please! I assure you there is nothing "unnatural" about wanting space from your kids sometimes and no one will be damaged as a result.)

In any case, in the first 2 months of life I really recommend an unstructured carrier (doubly for Mom).  In the beginning they tend to be easier to put on and adjust to the adult, especially when the adult in question is still funny shaped from the pregnancy (though keep in mind, Mom won't be able to use the carrier for the first 2 weeks, but Grandparents and partners can). Also the structured carriers are all built to carry 3 year olds and so sometimes are hard to adjust to itty bitty babies. (You can see our review of the Moby and Infantino Mai Tai.)

Once your baby is big enough though, you may want to get a structured carrier for your and their comfort.  But which carrier should you get?  There are many of them on the market and we personally have tried 2 different ones: Ergobaby Original Baby Carrier and the LILLEbaby Complete Baby Carrier.

Ergobaby Original Baby Carrier

Getting squirmy toddler through airport security.
When our first child was born there was only one company that made "ergonomic" carriers, i.e. ones that were comfortable for the parents.  They called themselves "Ergobaby" (get it? get it?).  We got one and it was great.  It was an easy way to transport the baby, say onto an Amtrak train, and still have hands free for all your stuff. It had a "sun hood", which was great not just to protect the baby from the sun but also to help her sleep when we needed her to nap on the go.  It also had a pocket in the front which was a convenient place to store your cell phone/keys etc. if you were just taking a walk around the neighborhood and didn't need that much stuff with you.  Our baby also just enjoyed hanging out in it while we did other stuff and often it was a way to get her to nap when she just plain didn't want to.  We used it with some frequency until the kid was about a year old. In fact we have so many pictures of us carrying her around in it (in the carrier at a wedding! at a train station! with dad working at a computer!), it was hard to just pick 2.

Overall, it was great but from my perspective it had 2 downsides:
  1. 1. There was no front facing option with the "original" carrier, which was the only one available at the time. Facing forward would have been much more fun for the kid once she got to be about 4 months old.  Both Ergobaby and other brands have since come out with structured carriers that have this feature.

  2. 2. When the baby is under 3 months, you have to use this really bulky and hot insert with them.  This one was the real bummer, especially since our first baby was born in June and our second in July.  Even in the most recent version of this (the Ergo Baby 4 Position 360 Carrier ) they haven't entirely fixed it (the 360 infant insert at least does appear to be thinner).  Given that other options are available, if you think you'll want to use the carrier before the kid is 3 months, I would say it's definitely worth considering a different brand.

LILLEbaby Complete

Tiny baby, napping in the airport
When we found out we were expecting a second child, we knew we wouldn't have to get too many new things for him.  He was born a mere 2 years after the first and most things survived our daughters' use of them.  There were a couple of products, however, we wanted an updated version of and the structured carrier was one of them.  For this reason we set out to find a carrier that improved on the 2 things mentioned above that we didn't entirely love about the Ergobaby.  The LILLEbaby Complete Baby Carrier met all our needs in spec and has certainly lived up to expectations since then in use.

Baby, ready to see the world while Mom takes a walk
It's appropriate for use in the newborn stage without any inserts.  Like the Ergobaby, it has a pocket for transporting small things like a cell phone or a burp cloth.  It also boasts not only a sun hood, but a back that can be pinned down to give the baby a better view of the world even when the baby is worn parent-facing.  Not only that, but it can be converted to be forward facing relatively easily.  Most importantly, it is phenomenally comfortable for the parent (even more so than the Ergobaby).   It's a bit tricky to learn to put on but, the other amazing features of this are well worth it in my opinion.

Finally, what I love about this carrier is that it comes both in a "all season" and "airflow" version.  We got the "airflow" version because wearing a baby usually feels warm and one can always add a cover to it.  This carrier has been everything it promised to be and I am super excited to be using it until the kiddo outgrows it.


Have bag will travel - toddler edition!

That time of year is happening again when suddenly airports are filled with traveling families rather than business people and adventurers.  Traveling with children can be extremely stressful since disrupted schedules alone would be enough to turn many a toddler into a puddle of tantrum.  Add to that an unfamiliar environment, unclear expectations, crowds of unknown people and you have a recipe for mayhem.

So here is some basic advice based on our experience going to visit grandparents - a trip we've made with one or more children frequently over the last two and a half years.  This is admittedly the easiest destination to travel to, since it is a house full of people super excited for our arrival and who love nothing more than preparing for our visit (this certainly reduces our need for an extensive packing list).  That said, I think getting through the airport with little kids is a pretty universal experience of hell so hopefully this will be useful to you anyway.  But also here is some other good advice from around the internet.

Preparing yourself for traveling with kids

If you are used to traveling by yourself or just with your partner and considered yourself a jetsetter prior to having kids, traveling with the munchkins is going to require some adjustments.  The first thing to adjust is your expectations.  You will be a lot slower, louder, and messier.  That said, if you are anything like me, you may also suddenly acquire a much deeper well of empathy to dip into when stuck behind a family on your next business trip.  If you aren't used to traveling all that much, adding kids into the mix certainly doesn't help the pre-travel anxiety.  I don't have much advice for you here because we frankly fall into the first category.  However, I imagine the best thing you can do is read up on the current rules, think through the day, and talk to more experienced traveler friends.

Regardless of your travel experience, I highly recommend making a couple of packing lists.  We set them as calendar appointments for packing in the days before the trip, the night before, the morning of, etc.  We can then copy/paste them for the way home so as to make sure we don't forget anything while we're away. (The one time we didn't write a packing list, we forgot our daughter's comfort object at the grandparent's house...ouch).  We also make sure to pack a change of clothes for everyone in the family (adults included) in the carry-on, as children's accidents often land on adults.

Preparing your kids for traveling with you

If your toddler is anything like mine, then giving him or her a job, especially if it's like mom and dad's job, is key to getting cooperation. For this reason we got our daughter a Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Suitcase (other colors and animals are available). It has a number of great features, other than the fact that it is adorable enough to keep our daughters interest.  It fits comfortably under the seat, which is what makes it the perfect carry-on item for kids' things.  It's easy to roll, so much so that our 2 year old can do it (see photo above).  She's also able to retract the handle by herself.  Additionally, it has a strap in the back so that if an adult needs to carry it for a period it's easy to throw over the adult's shoulder.  Not only that, but the people at Skip Hop even thought to make the strap capable of being put away so it doesn't drag when not in use!  All around, this is a great way to take things on your trip while also teaching your kid some responsibility for their own stuff.

The suitcase also allows us to help our daughter prepare for our upcoming travel.  She knows that when the suitcase comes out we're going to go on a trip. We let her pick out the clothes we're going to take with us and pack them in the bag (obviously reserving editorial rights for weather and the like.) After bedtime, we move the clothes to the checked baggage and then repack her Skip Hop suitcase with things both of them will need on the plane such as toys, books, blankets, snacks  etc.

Why Amazon Prime is your friend

Frankly I think Amazon Prime is the friend of urban parents (and residents) everywhere.  However, when it comes to traveling, it can come in especially handy.  For example, rather than packing bulky items such as diapers and wipes or relying on the grandparents to find the brand my kids are used to, we simply have them shipped to their house in advance of our arrival.  (You may very well be able to ship to a hotel as well, which may be worth it if you're staying for a week).

Additionally, Prime comes with access to Amazon Instant Video, which is a fine enough streaming service with one major additional benefit. Amazon (unlike Hulu and Netflix) let you download content to watch offline which means you can let your kid watch things like Sesame Street on your device without having to rely on wifi connections. Note: getting this set up the first time is kind of counter-intuitive (you have to sideload a separate app), so devote 30 minutes to getting it set up sometime the week before the flight.

Day of travel/In flight entertainment 

The last time we flew somewhere we had to get the kids out of bed at 4:30 am and I was terrified that our extremely habitual little creatures would melt down for 6 hours straight.  I did not give them enough credit.  The baby happily slept in the carrier and the toddler was so excited about her own suitcase that she dragged it through the entire airport like a total champ (see picture).  We were also sure to pack lots of toddler snacks and and suspend many of the rules we normally enforce about screen time, eating schedules, etc.

When on the plane we make full use of the pacifier clips to keep toys in easy access of both children.  Additionally we re-purposed the old cell phone we normally use as the white noise sleep aid to treat the toddler to some coveted screen time.  We come prepared with downloaded Sesame Street episodes (see above) and games.  If the device your child uses is an Apple device in these situations, there may be more options for games (here's one recommendation that sounds great) as kids development studios seem to favor iDevices.  Our device is an (old) Android phone and our toddler really likes puzzles so she has lots of fun with this game.

Stay calm

Finally, the best advice for traveling with kids we can offer is to stay calm.  Travel, much like labor, has an end point.  The flight will not last forever and neither will the whining/crying/frustration, should that be something you experience. Eventually you will all get to your destination, and possibly even with a story that you will find funny with time.

Sanity thy name is pacifier clips

Pacifier clip is the orange thing on the baby's left.
Babies aren't very polite.  They often spit out and throw away the thing they very much want most in this world.  For that reason, some very smart person invented the pacifier clip.  This is a really simple product.  It has a clip on one end, a thick short strap, and a loop at the end of the strap.  The clip can be attached to your baby's clothes, the carrier, the stroller strap, or anything else your baby routinely spends lots of time around.  The loop at the end can be used to secure a pacifier (as the name suggests) or a favorite toy.  That way, you're not constantly chasing the object of their desire around the house/store/car/train, etc.  In particular this is a great way to keep an older baby entertained on an airplane without worrying that the thing they're playing with will fall between the seats never to be seen again.

Many different styles exist, including ones that proclaim your wee one's team allegiances, so choose wisely.

Note 1: There is also a version of these things that is produced by Chewbeads and they were recalled in the fall of 2015 because the beads were breaking off the string and causing a choking hazard.

Note 2: Not all babies will take a pacifier.  However, if your baby will accept one, they are recommended in the first 6 months of life for SIDS prevention reasons.  That said, we do not recommend having your child sleep at night or in unsupervised naps (such as in a crib as opposed to a stroller) with a pacifier clip for fear of them getting entangled in the strap.