Monday, December 6, 2010

Cool Christmas Gifts for Babies and Toddlers

My baby's first Christmas is coming up and it's super exciting even though he, at 11 months, won't remember much of it.  He is, however, very much enjoying the lights, musicial decorations, and shiny objects that abound during the season.  Since his birthday follows right on the heels of the holidays, I've been doing a lot of research on gifts.  The focus of my search is toys that will be long-lasting (both as hand-me-downs and his length of interest in them), stimulating, safe, and as environmentally conscious as possible.  I've discovered a lot of great gifts that will be perfect for now and to keep in mind for the future.

And for those online shopping parents and grandparents out there, I highly recommend signing up for the free Amazon Mom program.  They don't tell you this when you sign up (so I was pleasantly surprised), but you get up to 1 year free of Amazon Prime benefits.  Even if you don't sign up for Amazon Mom, you can still get a free 1-month trial of Amazon Prime.  Amazon Prime is normally $75 a year, and it gives you free 2-day shipping on anything that qualifies toward free standard shipping without the program.  Get all your Christmas gifts delivered to your door with expedited shipping for free with no minimum purchase requirement!  Be warned, however - I have to say that free 2-day shipping is rather addictive...

Without further ado, here's a list of my favorite toys, many of which will be showing up under the tree and for his birthday this year and as he gets older.

For the wee ones (0-24 months)

Sophie the Giraffe by Vulli $18-$20

For the past 10 months since my son's birth, I have ignored this very adorable giraffe because I, like many others, felt this was more akin to an overpriced dog toy than a teether.  Curiosity finally got the best of me, and I clicked the link on an window shopping foray.  After all, with a 4.5 out of 5 star rating from almost 1000 reviewers, there had to be something to the hype.

For someone who teethes as ferociously as my son (I have many bruises, cuts, and bite marks from his attacks), it looks like Sophie just might be worth the $20.  The first thing I noticed was that Sophie is large for a teether at about 4"x7".  Personally, I think that's great because it means she's easy to hold, has plenty of surface area for biting, and won't get lost in the cracks of the couch or under the furniture if my son drops her.  When the teething phase is over, we might still get some use out of her as a conventional toy or bath time buddy because of her size.

She's made out of 100% natural rubber and food paint, so none of that made-in-China lead contamination to worry about and the rubber is phthalate and chemical free since it's plant-derived.   The rubber is very durable and long lasting.  Sophie squeaks when she's squeezed, so she provides aural stimulation for those babies (like mine) who love sounds.  The high contrast spots are great for younger babies to focus on, and the appendages, which are made of thicker rubber than the main body, are great for gnawing.  The legs are perfect for getting on the back gums when the 1 and 2 year molars come in, so she's a functional teether for infants and toddlers at any stage.  The bottom line is that Sophie is made to LAST and she's one of the safest teethers out there.

If you're still not convinced she's worth the investment, Sophie's friend Chan Pie Gnon, a smaller mushroom-shaped creature that comes in blue, pink, or yellow, is made to the same standards with equally great reviews for a fraction of the cost ($13.50).  For an even more economical choice, Vulli also makes a 2-pack of Vanilla Flavored Teething Rings ($9-$12).

Winkel by Manhattan Toys $10-$13

There's a plastic toy similar to this at the nursery where I attend church.  I haven't been able to figure out exactly what it is or who makes it, but my son is mesmerized by it every time he sees it.

The Winkel by Manhattan Toys looks like an even better option than the one at the nursery for many reasons.  Essentially a ball made of tangled, colorful loops, the Winkel is comprised of soft, bendable plastic that is great for teething and play that helps develop fine motor skills and spatial learning.  The bright colors are beautiful and will hold baby's attention with the many moveable parts.   For extra teething relief, the Winkel can be chilled in the refridgerator.  When baby gets older, roll the Winkel across the floor to encourage creeping, crawling, and cruising as he chases after it.

My First Blocks by Green Toys $18-$22

These beautifully colored blocks are soft and rounded for safe play with the youngest of children, but will probably get a few years of interest with stimulating, open-ended play.  The lightweight blocks are free of BPA, pthalates, PVC, and external coatings, and they are large enough and bright enough to be visible so they don't get stepped on by adults and will help make clean up easier.  Made in the USA from recycled plastic milk jugs, the Green Toys company helps reduce energy usage and greenhouse emissions with this earth friendly toy.  The packaging is also made of recycled material and printed with soy inks.

Pull-Along Snail by Plan Toys $15

This wonderful toy is colorful and made of organic, recycled rubber wood in Thailand.  The bright hues are attractive, and the snail body moves up and down when pulled.  There is no tipping factor with this cute snail because it will still move and roll if it accidentally gets placed upside down.  The curve of the wheels help the snail get back on it's "feet" when he's on his side.

Plan Toys also makes a SnakeCaterpillarPuppyAlligator, and many other earthly friendly toys for all ages (including tea sets, dolls, dollhouses, play food sets, toy vehicles, and more) created to "inspire children's imagination as well as promote physical and intellectual development" with "thoughtful design and age-appropriate challenges to stimulate children's creativity".  FYI Plan Toys has all of their products manufactured in Germany or Thailand and NOT China.

Baby Faith Videos $4-$15

This short series is hosted and narrated by Jodi Benson, the voice of Disney's Little Mermaid.  They are available in DVD and VHS for as low as $4 for a high quality used copy.  And I've seen used ones even lower than that when it's not so close to Christmas.

The puppets and visuals are very interesting and stimulating to my son, and the music is based on traditional hymnody and faith-based tunes.  In between musical interludes, Jodi Benson narrates the essential points of Bible stories and verses in ways that young children can understand and appreciate.  God Made Animals tells the story of Noah, God Made Music feature King David and expounds on a passage from Psalms, baby Moses is featured in God Made Babies, the story of Joseph is the focus God Made FamiliesGod Made Me tells the story of the creation in Genesis, and the birth of Jesus is the emphasis of God Made Christmas.

My son has two of these (God Made Animals and God Made Music) and actually likes them better than Baby Einstein because there is a greater variety of stimuli (speaking, sounds, music, and visual scenes that are related to the theme and narration).  He gets excited when he sees us getting ready to play his videos, and responds to the reciting of lines from Baby Faith even when it's not playing.  He will definitely be getting more of these for Christmas and his birthday, and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants another option to Baby Einstein, especially those who prefer a faith-based alternative.

For the not so wee ones (1-4 years)

PlayMobil Sets $10-$300

These fun sets by PlayMobil spark the imagination with high quality figurines and scenes that will get years of use.  The 1.2.3. play sets, like the one pictured to the right, are designed specifically for the youngest toddlers (recommended for 18 months and up) with larger pieces and easy to use/assemble accessories.  The regular play sets are recommended for children 3 and up.  

You'll find everything from fairies, veterinarians, farmers, pirates, Roman centurions, helicopter pilots, and everything in between.  They even make a Nativity play set.  PlayMobil sets remind me of highly detailed lego people and scenes minus the tiny building pieces.  I really like that the characters are generic and not based on TV or overly sexualized stereotypes.  Since many of the sets are historical or academic in nature (medieval knights, Civil War soldiers, Roman Empire Era soldiers, ancient Egyptian families, archeologists, frontier era townspeople, skilled professionals, Cossack warriors, etc.), there is a lot of room for learning and open ended, creative play.

Although they sell most items in sets from basic to extravagantly complete, many of the figurines and accessories are available individually so that you can truly customize your child's play set and add pieces and related sets if your child shows a special interest.  Sets are anywhere between $10 and $300 depending on how elaborate they are.  Many of the smaller sets can be used as add ons to create a complete make believe world--imagine an Egyptian play set complete with pyramids, the Sphinx, mummies, treasure tombs, soldiers, chariots, and camel-riding tomb raiders, Egyptian townspeople, and you'll get what I mean.  Individual figurines, character sets, and accessories start around $3.  All the sets are compatible so you can even mix and match for the ultimate diversity.

Radio Flyer Trike $45-$65

Radio Flyer makes a few different models of ride-on tricycles for toddlers not quite old enough to manage pedals or a house-friendly indoor ride for bigger kids.

Pictured is the Classic Tiny Trike.  The solid wood body makes it very light (8 pounds) so even your 1 year old should be able to manage it, but the classic Radio Flyer style will maintain its cool factor even when your child is older (up to 6 years old according to Radio Flyer).  It's equipped with chrome handles, ergonomic grips, streamers, and ringing bell for extra fun.  It comes with a padded seat like a big kid bike, and the wide wheel base makes it stable and less prone to tipping.

For a more "grown up" look, Radio Flyer also makes the Scoot-About ($45), recommended for 1-3 year olds.  Still very lightweight at just under 10 pounds, the Scoot-About features Radio Flyer's signature steel-constructed body, functional steering, adjustable seat height, streamers, ringing bell, furniture-friendly front bumper, rubber tires for rough terrain, and a wide wheel base.  I think this one is going to have to make it to the birthday list for sure!

If you're looking for a more girly trike, the Trike n Trailer ($57) by The Little Little Toy Company offers soft colors in a sturdy wood-constructed, ride-on tricycle that comes complete with it's own trailer.

I'm also a little bit in love with the Radio Flyer wagons.  Their 3-in-1 Walker Wagon ($35), which has a 42-pound weight limit and can be used indoors and outdoors, converts into push cart, a ride-on, and a pull wagon.  The Classic Walker Wagon ($80) has the signature look of an all-terrain wagon with an all wood body and stiffer wheels so it doesn't roll out from newly initiated walkers.  The 32S All-Terrain Wagon and the Radio Flyer All-Terrain Cargo Wagon (both $100), which is slightly bigger, sport pnuematic tires for outdoor use and detachable, fully finished wood sides so babies and toddlers can ride in them without splinters.  These all-terrain wagons can be use a "coaches" or stuffed animal carriers but are rugged enough and large enough to use in the garden or for outdoor wagon rides.  Radio Flyer even makes a tiny wagon ($12) that's perfect for toddler play with the stuffed animals and makes a great gift basket for little boys.

Stork Craft Rocking Horse ($35-$45)

What child doesn't love a rocking horse?  This inexpensive, all wood model will gets years of play and make a nice heirloom for future generations.  The long runners prevent tipping, and the detailing of the eyes, harness, mane, and tail are adorable.  Multiple color options are available.

For a plush rocking horse option, Tek Nek's "Rock N' Ride"Pony ($35-$40) comes in many colors including pink.  The soft, plush body is cuddly and the runners feature a no slip foot grip.  The Rock N' Ride Pony also moves its mouth to talk, sing, and whinny.

Magna-Tiles $20-$120

Recommended for age 3 and up, this fun take on blocks and Legos features unbreakable tiles with magnetic sides for amazing 3-D building possibilities.  Available in traditional and clear tiles, most of the pieces are large enough that some have said even their infants like to join in the fun although the pieces have corners that are not the most baby-friendly.  The magnetic pieces stick together for fast, easy clean up, storage, and organization.

Choose sets from 32 pieces up to 100+.  Other sets like the Working Trucks allow your child to build their own functioning transportation creations.  Edushape makes a Foam Version that may work better for younger builders.


  1. Children are enjoying Christmas very much.on line shoping is well idea.