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The Advice Smackdown Holiday Baby Gift Guide

By Amalah

Let’s be honest: your kids’ toy collections are clearly divided into two categories.

1) Stuff they love, and
2) Stuff YOU love, and wanted them to love, but alas, they do not love.

The stuff in category two is the stuff that languishes in the bottom of the toy box or (if you’re like me and simply CANNOT LET IT GO) get pathetically displayed on a more prominent shelf than it deserves. But it was so pretty! Or soft! Or unique or handmade! It was real wood, with no batteries, and it coordinated with the nursery curtains PERFECTLY! How could your children ever reject it? God, what a constant source of disappointment they are sometimes.

So…all of this is really a disclaimer for this Gift Guide. I could have filled it up with the stuff I love, the stuff I want my children to love. An expression of style and taste rather than a stupid shopping list. I could have done that. Instead, I’m going to be brutally honest here and list the stuff that my children actually love and play with. My children. Who have neither style nor taste. They like what they like. So I’m doing a list of what they like.
(Obviously, this is no guarantee that YOUR children will actually love and play with any of these toys, but hey, at the very least you should end up with some VERY GOOD IDEAS on what to buy for the children of Parents You Wish To Annoy With Loud Blinky Bloopy Things. Mwa ha.)

Today we’re doing toys for the babies — newborn to…I don’t know. 12+ months. Young toddler. These are the runaway superstars of Ezra’s first year, the stuff that I’m so glad we had for him, and almost of these toys are still in high demand around here. I’ve also included a few of our bigger baby bombs that just didn’t go over as well as I hoped. (On Monday I’ll post Noah’s picks and pans, for the 3-and-up set.)

Little Taggies Blanket
Taggies seemed to hit the big-time after Noah’s babyhood, so I wasn’t familiar with the brand until my sister gave us a small blanket for Ezra’s first Christmas. He was just over two months old and seemed to enjoy LOOKING at the brightly-colored blanket, but not much else. Some babies use them as teethers; he still ignored it. But I kept tossing it in the crib or diaper bag, and now he love it. LOVES IT. He sleeps with it every night, rubbing his thumb over a different tag while snuggling up with the fleece. It’s a great transitional/comfort object for the car or travel, and I love the tactile aspect of Taggies. This is a go-to gift for any expectant mom or younger baby.

Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube
Another smashingly successful gift from my sister. Who, now that I think about it, should probably be writing this guide instead of me. I especially like that this a toy with some decent growing room — a six-month-old will simply delight in being able to turn it on, a one-year-old will start experimenting with turning the different panels on and off, and a preschooler will finally learn associating the sounds and tones with the correct instruments.

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Learning Puppy
Listening to Ezra play with this toy sounds something like this: HEART! RED HEART! HEE HEE THAT TICKLES I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU MORNING NOON AND NIGH- HEAD SHOULDERS KNEES AN- FOOT GREEN FOOT YOU’RE WONDERF- BYE BYE! …And then howls of woe because he accidentally turned it off. God, he loves this thing.

Fisher-Price Interactive Baby Grand Piano
Noah received this as a gift when he was probably a bit too old for it — 15 months and walking, no longer content to pull up and stand too long around stationary toys — so we pulled it out as soon as Ezra was sitting up unassisted. It had to go away briefly RIGHT when he started pulling up (it tips over) and then came back once he got a little more stable. Noah was a big fan of his Leapfrog table, but Ezra has always, always preferred the piano. (Though you probably won’t go wrong with either.)

Hasbro Playskool Busy Ball Popper
I already wrote about this one, oh yes I did. It remains, BY A LONGSHOT, the single most thrilling toy either of my children have ever seen, next to those dang gurgling bubble tube things at the Baltimore Aquarium, which is to say: AAAAAAEEEEIIIIIYAAAAAYAAAAHHHHHBALLLS!!!!11!!!ONE

Nest & Stack Buckets
Okay, so there are easily about 400 variations on this toy — nesting/stacking blocks/cups/whatevers. They’re all just fine, and your baby will probably love playing with them, and they teach a variety of essential skills. I really like this set because 1) they’re plastic and transition to really fun bath/beach toys later, and 2) they stack REALLY REALLY HIGH, at least to a baby and toddler, which endlessly delighted both of my kids.

Soothe & Glow Seahorse
I turn this toy on and he falls asleep. I mean…what else could you possibly want in life? (Update on 3/1/14: watch this news report about potential safety hazards for this toy

BlaBla Knitted Cat Doll
Okay, I have to be honest: I completely misread the price tag on this thing. I thought the first four was a two and since I was buying some gifts at the same time I didn’t realize my mistake until AFTER I’d left the store and pulled out the receipt because jeez, that was more expensive than I thought it would be and OH MY GOD, I just spent $44 on a stuffed toy that my baby briefly smiled at and will now ignore for the rest of his life. Luckily, BlaBla here turned out to be Ezra’s very best friend. His reliable Lovey, beloved probably even more than his Taggies blanket, dragged everywhere by his back legs, his face chewed on and squished at every occasion. It’s a really wonderful toy. Uber-soft yarn and understuffed just to that point of perfect squishiness, AND machine washable (gentle cycle). Hand-knitted by artisans in Peru. They’re available in so, so many adorable styles too. I will be buying one for every new baby I know, WHETHER THE BABY LIKES IT OR NOT. SO THERE.

And lastly, a few of our less successful baby-related purchases and gifts:
Graco imonitor Digital Color Video Baby Monitor: While the picture quality was comparable to other monitors, the killer problem with the Graco model is the CRAPTASTICALLY SHORT battery life of the parental unit. I essentially had to leave it plugged in all the time, as the thing would up and die without warning all the time. This is fine if you’re using it only at night and can keep it plugged in on your nightstand, but if you want to move around the house or keep it in your pocket during the day (when the “color” part actually works — it’s black & white at night), the battery barely lasts the length of your average nap. We swapped it for a Summer monitor and were much, much happier.

Playskool Air-Powered Busy Ball-Tivity Center: After the success of the Ball Popper, this one seemed like a TOTAL homerun. Balls! Air! Music! Spinny things! Unfortunately, this is a terribly inferior sequel. Both boys mobbed and clawed at the box while I struggled to get batteries in and assemble the strange parts, and then I turned it on and…blah. I don’t get it. They didn’t get it. Noah stacked a few of the pieces for awhile, Ezra wanted nothing to do with any of it, I eventually reclaimed the batteries for use in our more popular toys.

Brilliant Basics Baby’s First Blocks: I have a theory about these shape-sorting toys, which always label themselves as being for six months and up. No six-month-old can actually sort the shapes, but they CAN fling them around the house and under furniture and right in your late-night path to the bathroom, particularly the hard, pointy star shape. By the time your baby is ACTUALLY READY for a shape-sorting toy, all the shapes have been lost for a good six to eight months. So you have to buy another one. All of this is to say: This is a fine toy, but seriously, don’t buy it for a six-month-old.

Born Free Teether with Gum Massagr: Well, Ezra liked it just fine, but I hated it. The “gum massager” part gets absolutely filthy — ours picked up every stray hair and snarled them like a hairbrush, and every time I picked it up I had to bust out the scissors to cut freaking hairballs off the thing. Finally the grime and lint and STUFF got so embedded in the little silicone teethie things that I just chucked it. Basically: go for this teether only if you are an IMPECCABLE housekeeper, or your entire household is bald.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Cora

    November 20, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    Santa (AKA my mom) has already gotten the Busy Ball Popper for my 7 month old based on your description from your blog. I’ve also heard from others mom I know in Real Life that it is AWESOME. I’m looking forward to see if he goes NUTS on it like your boys did!

  • Della

    November 20, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    re: Block Sorter…
    … yes. Also, they can’t put the lid on by themselves once they’ve taken it off.
    My son, 21 mo, has JUST NOW started figuring out puzzles and essentially a shape sorter is a puzzle.
    My recommendation? Give it to your kid for his 18mo birthday.

  • Liz

    November 20, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    My parents bought the Laugh and Learn Puppy for my daughter a few months ago (she is now 17 months) and she LOVES it. I personally hate it, can’t stand the music and the noises and the super lovey dovey talking but she carries it around with her everywhere. Pressing that red heart provides endless delight. How can I deny her that?
    I’d say earplugs are the answer but that only solves one problem while creating another one. I just need to work on my tune-it-out skills.

  • ksmaybe

    November 20, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    My son is 2 and just re-found his Taggie, it skyrocketed to the top of the crap I must have to go to sleep list. Taggies rock. I have one I bought for his soon to arrive sister and I’ve seen him eyeballing it already 🙂
    Also, just a caveat on the ball popper…just like any item for kids, your mileage may vary, including the Taggie :). My son, has hated that thing. He can’t stand the noise or something. He freaks if you turn it on. We just packed it away, hoping baby sis will like it.

  • lauralaylin

    November 20, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Watch out with the Laugh and Learn Puppy as it’s one of those ghost toys. You’ll hear someone in your house, but it’s just the puppy talking in the middle of the night when no one is playing with it. Scared me more times than I care to admit. 🙂

  • HereWeGoAJen

    November 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    We have the Summer Infant Best View Monitor and it is awesome. The battery last all day and I can carry it around. Sooooo much better than our first video monitor.
    We have this shape sorter: My baby LOVES it. It is her favorite toy. She can’t sort the shapes yet (she’s eleven months and has just figured out the oval and the square) but since the whole lid comes off, she just pulls that off and puts the shapes in that way. 🙂

  • Maria

    November 21, 2009 at 3:35 am

    For little wee babies who are just into teething (or at least chewing) I CAN’T recommend enough picking up Sophie the Giraffe. She’s super cute, she SQUEAKS, and I know my guy loooooves carrying her around (his little hand fits around her neck or legs perfectly), and chewing on her head (I think it’s those wee nubbins on the top!) Natural rubber, old timey handmade styling (and has been around for I think 50 years), and NO BATTERIES!! My nephew who is due any time now will be getting one for Christmas!

  • Ruth

    November 21, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Someone gave us that puppy as a hand-me-down and I wouldn’t let it in the house. I could tell it would drive me Crazy.

  • Bekki

    November 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    One of the best toys around here is the Oball rattle. I think I bought it when my guys were about 4 or 5 months old, and they would lay on their backs and just shake it like crazy. Now at 13 months, they still love it. It’s also pretty easy to learn to catch with, so I imagine it will be a hit for a while.

  • Cobblestone

    November 23, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Laugh and Learn Puppy – argh. He likes it just enough that I can’t retire it even though she skips and jumps songs and never lets me finish Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
    Sophie – LOVE. I love it, he loves it. It isn’t in high rotation at 15 months but it is like seeing a long lost friend when he comes across it again.

  • Tiffany

    November 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I will agree with the giraffe! My son digs that thing. For the longest time when he was teething he wouldn’t use it, but now that he’s teething in the back, he chomps on those legs all day. Poor giraffe.

  • Sheryl

    November 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Oops… Looks like one of your toys landed on the ‘no-no’ list.
    I actually have a friend whose son needed stitches after falling on a sharp corner of one of those blocks…
    As with all toys, use caution. They do seem cool, though.
    Editor: Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

  • Caitlyn

    November 25, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Our most memorable Noisy Ghost Toy was something called a “Bathtime Baby” which sang a creepy little song about loving to take baths with you. Which was all well and good until water got into the electronics and started shorting it, so the song got mangled and pitchy and even creepier than it had been and would turn itself on at 2 am in the living room. Serious horror-movie stuff.
    Fortunately the people who gave it to us had kids a few years later, so we had our revenge 🙂

  • Lauren

    November 28, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    I hate that puppy! My husband steps on it in the middle of the night and it freaks me out. Thanks a lot Aunt Debbie!