My mom laughs at me for certain comments I made when pregnant. No matter how much experience you have with kids, there are just some things you can't know until you have your own. For example, having started my family later than some, I had already filled my house with stuff and asserted staunchly that I would not have an explosion of technicolor baby paraphernalia crowding my space. Well... let's just say, it's inevitable. Your child needs toys to engage them, stimulate them, and occasionally just offer you a break! There is a limit though, for your wallet and room in your house. With so much stuff out there in cute coordinated patterns and sky-high prices, what do you actually need? The truth is, not as much as you think. Any toy you accumulate is soon out grown and gets relegated to some already crowded corner of your garage or basement until the next one comes along (or garage sale season).
With local spring mom swaps around the corner, we're doing a detailed breakdown of 5 big ticket baby items found in most playrooms and even living rooms at one point or another. Decide for yourself on what you should splurge, seek in seconds (see our tips here), or skip altogether!
Swing and/or Bouncer Seat
age: Birth to approx. 6 months
purpose: to calm the baby and secure them in a safe place for when mom is occupied for a short period.
cost: anywhere from $25 to several hundred dollars depending on features and brand name.
Although the swing was a fantastic addition to my home, I didn't pay for mine. I borrowed from my cousin whose son had just out grown it. Unlike my son, hers couldn't stand the thing, and it was in perfect condition. That is to say, it could end up being an extremely expensive blanket rack, or the mommy essential of the age. Bouncer seats are a little smaller and lower tech. They usually have a small mobile and a vibration function for a similar calming effect. If you have a smaller space, or a smaller budget, and you really want to buy new, a bouncer might be a fantastic option. They serve a similar function (a secure place to put baby if you need to fix lunch or run to the toilet), but a bouncer is much easier to move from room to room if your baby needs you in constant sight. If you have your heart set on that swing, and you can't borrow, you might consider buying used. These pieces are very short lived in your baby's life, and as such, remain in excellent shape for multiple children. In order to closely examine it before purchase, and maybe have a small guarantee, a place like Once Upon A Child is a fantastic middle ground between big box store and Kijiji.
Exersaucer and/or Jolly Jumper
age: Approx. 4 to 10 months (from when the baby can support its own head, until they out grow it physically, or grow bored of it).
purpose: to exercise the baby physically as well as mentally.
cost: between $25 and $250 depending on complexity.
Both of these products engage and exercise your baby, helping them to work out some of that energy safely and in one spot, so you really only need one or the other. The Jolly Jumper is pictured above. It's basically a bouncing harness traditionally clamped to a door frame, but also offered with a stand for new homes that don't have the framing. That's certainly something to consider before buying one. Because of the potential to interact more freely with pets and siblings, this option really requires more of your attention. With a stable floor base, large tray surround, and plenty of toys and songs, I feel a lot safer grabbing a coffee or checking my emails with an exersaucer. Space is a factor, however, and you might not have it. This plastic monolith does take up a big chunk of my family room. These items see a lot of use, and can be damaged from child to child, but again, a second hand item will save you approximately 80%.
age: Birth to approx. 24 months (depending on child's size and physical strength).
purpose: to provide a safe temporary play or sleep environment.
cost: $80 - $250 depending on portability and bassinet/ change table features.
This a very functional piece of baby equipment. It can double as a bassinet or place to nap at grandma's. It's a contained play space for when you need to vacuum or (heavens forbid) use the washroom. I can't think of much in the way of negatives, other than the huge amount of floor space they take up, and the ridiculous prices they try to charge for one. Prior to buying one, I was under the impression that a $50 gift card would be more than enough for the cost of a raised box covered in mesh. Not so. That said, this is a piece that will get dirty. Food, bodily fluids, dirt from transport or outdoor use... For me, this is where my ick factor kicks in. If you plan to buy used, make sure it's opened, not stored in a handy carrying case. Make sure it is not torn, stained, and that it is structurally sound. This is serious business. Check out what the government of Canada recommends for playpen safety.
Floor Seat (ie toddler rocker, bumbo, etc)
age: Approx. 4 months to 3 years.
purpose: to provide a secure seated position for eating or playing.
cost: $25 - $ 100
Much like the bouncer for very small babies, the advantages of a floor seat include the stability, safe restraint, and entertainment of your little one if you are occupied for a short time. The difference is more in the conversion possibilities of the various models. Some have food and play trays, others potty additions, while others recline or rock. A select few also function as boosters that can attach to kitchen chairs, but be very certain this is the case with your seat before you try. The majority are not meant to be elevated. Consider what function you need to fill before buying a seat on hype alone. If you already own an exercauser and a high chair, you may not need one at all, unless it is to fill these uses at Grandma's house. If the fabric is detachable to machine wash, or if the item is largely plastic, this is a prime item to look for used.
Walk & Ride Toys
age: Approx. 8 - 12 months to 24 months
purpose: to provide encouragement and stability for new walkers.
cost: $20 - 50
I don't think I understood the purpose of this toy, until I watched 18 babies compete for the elusive 2 walkers in a local community play group. It is certainly a sense of pride and confidence they have as they parade in wide circles, occasionally running in to obstacles. The ride on feature also prepares your little one for the tricycle stage by strengthening their legs and accustoming them to the propelled motion. These toys do require some open space, so if your living room is small and you don't have an alternative, this might be more of an outdoor plaything. That, and the fact that they can be used well into their "terrible twos" might mean that the toy has been used roughly. The inexpensive new price tag might merit getting new (on sale if you can), but used is also possible if you're also going to use it outside. A little scratched paint won't impact the use, so it's up to your comfort level.
Kids will be kids, and things are not exactly going to be used delicately, but budget trimming is worth keeping a few more tips in mind. If you are planning on having multiple kids, keep in mind how you will store some of these items. Basement and garage storage will mean fabric should be easily washed and plastic should be able to be scrubbed. There are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to tricks involving toothbrushes and Oxyclean to keep your items sparkling. Even if you're not, the nicer your item weathers, the higher resale you an see for your own mommy table or Kijiji ad.
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