Smart Children’s Buys for Every Age and Stage

Every parent likes to talk about that one perfect toy or piece of kid gear that “absolutely saved” them. The magical purchase that scored them more rest, more downtime, a cleaner home, or a more well-rounded child. What if you had the perfect find for every age and every stage of your child’s development? And what if you don’t have time to research and hunt down the very newest, very coolest gear for every age? That’s what I’m here for. Learn from my mistakes, discoveries, and hours of Googling, and snap up the best finds for your children. Then you can be the parent who smugly gestures toward the item in your living room and says, “Oh, this? This was a lifesaver.”

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The perfect crib for the infant who just won’t sleep.

When my son was an infant, I plowed through Dr. Harvey Karp’s classic parenting book, The Happiest Baby on the Block (also available in streaming video). I learned his no-fail technique to putting an end to crying and dutifully followed his advice on swaddling, and as a result, I enjoyed many tear-free hours and sleep-filled nights. Unfortunately for this devotee, Dr. Karp had not yet devised his brilliant SNOO Smart Sleeper, a bassinet that incorporates a swaddle, white noise, and soothing white noise in order to lull babies to sleep and keep them that way. According to Dr. Karp, babies sleep one to two more hours when sleeping in a SNOO. If I had an infant today, or if they made a SNOO large enough for a preschooler, I’d snap this up without hesitation. You can even rent one of these cribs from Harvey Karp’s company, Happiest Baby.

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When you need truly washable art supplies for your messy toddler.

Every time I walk into a boutique toy store, I see them. Rainbows of glittering pens and expensive marker-and-stamp sets. Brands I’ve never heard of selling gorgeous jewel tones, pastels, and brights for my son to sketch with. I will tell you something about those fancy art supplies, dear reader. They are not, no matter what they say on the label, as washable as Crayola markers, crayons, chalk, and paint. If your toddler, like most, is drawing on every coloring book, wall, floor, and article of clothing in front of her, stay loyal to Crayola, and never again spend hours in futility, trying to scrub a lovingly drawn picture of a shark out of the carpet. The Inspiration Art Kit is perfect for kids who love to pick and choose between supplies.

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For your mini-performer who loves to belt out tunes.

This “microphone” isn’t battery-operated and doesn’t amplify sound. The magic is that it reflects the sound back at your little singer, and into the room. Your child will hear herself amplified and will think she’s singing out into the room loudly, but you won’t hear what she’s hearing, allowing you to concentrate on what you’re doing, and not on your 3 year-old’s tenth rendition of “Shallow”.

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A cooperative game for the preschooler who can’t stand to lose.

When my son was three years-old, he played a game of Candyland against his imaginary friend and lost. And he was, as many children that age would be, absolutely furious. Preschoolers aren’t great at losing games, or at allowing others to bask in the glory of victory. Enter cooperative games, which allow kids to play together against the game, teaching them how to work together, strategize, and earn victory together or console one another on their loss. Race to the Treasure, by Peaceable Kingdom is the gold standard which all other cooperative games are measured against, featuring goofy ogres, winding paths, and simple game play. The game is pretty quick to complete, so I don’t mind playing an impromptu game with my son. I have to admit I actually have a bit of fun trying to beat the ogre with him. Keep the peace with a cooperative board game.

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Give your Kindergartner a jump on learning.

Starting Kindergarten is a huge step for most kids. No longer allowed to play the day away in preschool or daycare, they are suddenly plunged into a world where learning is the thing and more focus is required. Their letters, numbers, shapes, and colors all need to be rehearsed, learned, and utilized. If you are feeling anxious about readying your child for Kindergarten, there are plenty of software programs on the market that promise to get your kid reading, writing, and adding columns of numbers, but I have found that ABCmouse offers an engaging world that interests my kids. It also can be used from pretty much any device, and, unlike many services, requires no long-term commitment or contract. ABCmouse, Adventure Academy, and ReadingIQ were all created with the purpose of helping children everywhere build a strong foundation for academic success and to foster a lifelong love of learning.

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For your LEGO fanatic who needs a creative outlet.

A friend of mine was highly skeptical that she needed to buy a book to get her son to play with LEGO and his iPad at the same time. Who needs convincing to do your two favorite things at once? But the Klutz LEGO Make Your Own Movie Activity Kit is helpful for explaining techniques of making stop-motion movies and ended up keeping her 9 year-old son entertained for hours, bringing to life movie plots with surprisingly clever stop-motion tricks. She loves that he is using his LEGO in new ways and that his screen time is dedicated to something creative.  

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A baking set for independent school-age bakers.

Do you know a kid interested in cooking? Around elementary school age, kids can turn their love of baking with mom or dad into an actual, independent skill, if they have the right guidance and tools. As a kid, I remember desiring a bit more independence in the kitchen, but lacking the dexterity to manage large mixing bowls and crack eggs without making a mess. This baking set provides your child with kid-sized bowls that attach to the counter with suction, making for fewer spills, and even offers an egg cracking device that guarantees fewer eggy messes. With this set, your child can spend hours in the kitchen, making treats the whole family can eat, with minimal intervention from you. Anything that gets your kid playing independently and provides you with cupcakes? Sounds like a win to me. Hook your kid up with the Real Cooking Ultimate Baking Starter Set, and let him try out recipes on his own. Get your little baker ready to build their skills!

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Tweens interested in electronics, with a bit of coding.

If your kid has an interest in electronics, but doesn’t have much coding experience, you can jumpstart their love of coding and enhance their electronics skills with this kit from Let’s Start Coding. While Snap Circuits is a great way to begin to learn about electronics, with this kit they can move into combining coding and electronics, by controlling circuits, lights, and sensors with pre-written code. If your child has a career ahead of her in STEM, this kit will show her the practical applications of her skills. Many kids have the potential to grow their STEM skills, but their schools may lack the resources to get them engaged, and their parents may, frankly, not have the knowledge of coding and electronics to nurture their interests. This kit takes your kid’s potential and rus with it without having to break the bank on summer classes or after school activities.

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WBUR Guide Picks

Best for infants and exhausted parents: The SNOO
Best for toddlers with a gift for messiness: Crayola Inspiration Art Case
Best for toddlers and preschoolers who love to perform: Magic Mic
Best for preschoolers who don’t handle losing games well: Race to the Treasure
Best for kindergartners who need, or crave, an academic nudge: ABCmouse
Best for school-age chefs: Ultimate Baking Set
Best for school-age kids ready to take LEGO to the next level: Klutz LEGO Make Your Own Movie Kit
Best for tweens and teens with STEM in their future: Ultimate Coding Kit