Top 10 Survival Items for the Toddler Years


We wrote once before about our recommended Top Ten Items for surviving the pre-walking months/years. But now, we’ve got a troublesome toddler (whom we shall call Messy Wessie) and it’s time to tell you how Matt survives the day keeping that guy happy.

1. A sling or carrier

A carryover item worth the investment, our Beco Gemini is still a must have. When you’ve got more kids than you have arms, something’s gotta give. Wes loves to ride on our backs while we go on walks, the farmer’s market or while Matt is cooking.

When they’re younger I use a “sling” (like this Kangaroo Korner All-Season Adjustable Pouch) but once the babies can sit-up, I love the  Beco Gemini Carrier (similar to Ergo but not as bulky). Matt and I share one and it works great for us both. Since I still nurse, I almost always back carry so that the toddler doesn’t smell milk and want to nurse.  The Gemini is the only carrier that allows you to face forward out and face forward inward (with a hood to encourage sleeping!) as well as allows a back and hip carry position. Yet, it’s so simple I can put it on myself! It truly allows you to do anything and we LOVE ours!

2. Play table

Our 2nd item is another carryover item, which we said was “versatile and long-lasting” and we meant it. Wes is 15 months old and will still sit in the seat and play at the table, snacking from the built-in tray. The big boys love to come over and play with him on the Bright Starts Activity Station. With a rotating, removable and adjustable seat, our children use this toy from 2 months to 2 years. It was a gift for Cole from his Grandfather when he was 4 months old and it is still to this day played with by both Cole and Finn. As soon as we pulled it out of storage for Wes they both went crazy with excitement. And the fact that Wes was reaching for the piano at a mere 7 weeks should tell you something about its appeal!

3. Craft table

Stacy’s dad got the boys this craft table as a gift one year and we spend a ton of time playing with it. Now that Wes is old enough, he’s learned to sit at the table and color himself. It fills him with the greatest sense of pride to sit like a big boy at the (sturdy) craft table.

The drawing paper that rolls over the top of the table is really fun and we go through tons of rolls of it creating works of art. Plus, it’s made with chalkboard paint, so we’re able to hand the boys some chalk, paint or crayons and let them at it without worrying about the furniture! Perfect for when parents are occupied with cooking dinner and what not…

4. High chair, no – not that kind

Instead of buying a plastic monstrosity that will fill up your house and encourage your children to play during mealtime, why not get an actual chair? Here, Wes is sitting in a bumbo on a regular dining chair and our older boys use this chair. We got it for our first toddler and have since bought more.  When to start?  As soon as they can climb up and down – it’s time! Not bad for $40, either. In doing research for this post we realized how expensive some other versions are! If IKEA is out of reach for you, this seems to be the most reasonable alternative option.

For those of you concerned about the possibility of your toddler falling out, don’t be. Relax! A child won’t get badly hurt from such a fall and learning to balance is far more important than the potential bruises that might occur. That said, Wes is just now at the age where we’re comfortable putting him in this chair because he was a late walker; but, Finian walked at 7 months old and was in a high chair and toddler bed before he was 1. Because he was physically able.

5. Sofie, la petit girafe francais

For Christmas last, we got Wesley this little teething toy and it immediately became his second favorite toy behind whatever his older brothers were playing. There was a period of time where we had multiple Sofie’s in the house and each car. Before we left to go anywhere we’d all go around the house saying “Where’s Sof?!” To this day we’ll still find Wes happily gnawing on this cute squeaky natural rubber giraffe. Definitely a worthwhile investment.

6. Toddler Bed

We put our kids in toddler beds, against conventional wisdom, as soon as they are able to walk on their own (I’ve seen some people advising keeping your toddler in a crib until 30 or more months!). Nothing is better for your child than gaining a sense of independence. You want your baby to feel like a big kid? Let him or her decide when to get out of bed. Not to mention, if your toddler is still nursing, being able to walk to your bed for the wee hour feed is infinitely awesome.

The toddler bed is the same size as a crib, so you can move them and still use the same mattress and bedding.

7. Soft Soled Shoes

Kids’ feet grow quickly. That doesn’t mean we don’t want them in healthy protective gear that’s still adorable. Through multiple kids, we’ve found Jessica’s shoes to be an impeccable fit without cutting off the circulation in kids’ feet (a frequent problem of Robeez). Wes has been wearing these grey and blue shoes non-top all summer. They’re perfect! I can’t wait until the BabyThingsByJessica shop reopens so that I can upgrade his size for a fall pair! We just can’t speak highly enough of her quality of work and customer service.

8. Food Gear

Your toddler is messy. Don’t deny it. I’ve never met a tiny human that didn’t love to smear food all over everywhere, including their hair. We’ve found the best defense are items to capture their attention and provide entertainment so that the food goes into the mouth, rather than becoming a toy.

Pictured above are our favorite items. The first is a toddler dipping plate. Did you know that toddlers love to dip stuff? Uh, yea. It’s amazing how much a kid will eat when offered something to dip it in. We also recommend reusable snack bags because it’s much easier and cuter to hand your toddler a bag of jerky or dried apples than attempting to prevent a cup from spilling or clean up the mess afterwards. Not to mention, it helps build fine motor control! You’ll also want some good sippy cups (but not for too long! They can handle a cup sooner than you think…). And how about this adorable tray with matching utensils and cup made from recycled materials?

9. Hanna Andersson Zippers

These organic one-piece rompers from Hanna Andersson are amazing tanks. They’re super wearable, because it’s just one zipper to get them on and off. Diapers changes (we still recommend Fuzzi Bunz one-size diapers for toddlers) are a cinch! We’ve been using the same Zippers my mother-in-law and I invested in when Cole came into toddlerhood and they’re still in perfect condition. Trust me, with 3 boys – there’s not much that stays in tact for Wes.

They’re not cheap, but I’ve managed to snag some at kids’ consignment sales, for a huge awesome deal. If you can’t find any used (check Craigslist, e-bay, thrift stores and consignment sales), sign up for Hanna’s newsletter and pounce as soon as you see a sale – they’re worth it! Honestly, your kids’ wardrobe could be a handful of these and one or two “nice” outfits. How simple!

10. A waterproof mattress pad on your bed

Not too flashy or exciting, but we still have breast milk, pee, poop, vomit… and who knows what else to contend with during the night. I really don’t need to explain how much this saves your bed – and your sanity – do I?

And as a bonus, it’s NEVER too early to read to your kids. Toddlers love books! Here are some of our favorite kids’ books for toddlers…

I think we might as well have invested stock in David Shannon, Matthew Van Fleet, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague – we LOVE almost every book in all of their series. We’ll be featuring David Shannon more on our Top 10 Preschool post, whenever we get around to writing it…

What are your favorite items for your toddeling little troublemaker?

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