Our Ultimate List of Toddler Essentials
[Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, plus references to gifted items, which are flagged with an asterisk*]
When you’re brand new parents, there’s no shortage of information on there on the so-called ‘essential’ baby products you absolutely need to buy: and, yes, I totally wrote one of those articles too, when Max was tiny – you can find it here, if you’re particularly interested.
There isn’t quite so much advice for parents of toddlers, though, so today I’ve taken it upon myself to provide you with some. Because everyone loves unsolicited parenting advice, right? Here, then, are some of the products we couldn’t live without right now, as Max rapidly approaches the 16-month mark: some of these are items we’ve had right from the very start (So apologies for the crossover with some of my earlier posts on this subject), while others are more toddler-specific. Enjoy!
Toddler essentials for the nursery:
We’ve used black-out blinds ever since we moved Max to his own room at around 6 months old, but they’ve been particularly necessary since the clocks changed this year: here in Scotland it can still be light outside at 11pm at the height of summer, which would make it really tricky to get Max to sleep at a decent hour. Like many children his age, he’s super-curious about everything around him, and if it his room isn’t dark enough, he’ll just lie there babbling to himself and looking around at everything – in fact, a few days ago I caught him examining the star-print sheet on his cot, and delightedly saying, “Star! Star!” to himself. So, yes, as much as I love the long daylight hours at this time of year, they are NOT our friend when it comes to getting Max to sleep!
When Max was a newborn, I really didn’t get the fuss people made about white noise: it honestly didn’t seem to make any difference to his sleep, and it drove me insane having to listen to it when he was still sleeping in our room, so we soon gave up on it. Once again, though, this was another one that really only became useful to us when he was a bit older, and sleeping in his own room, and now I’d go so far as to say it’s completely indispensable. We have a Whisbear* which we generally use for travel (And which we love because it has a ‘cry sensor’ which means it kicks in whenever the baby wakes up and makes a noise), but at home we normally just ask Alexa to play white noise in Max’s room.
When we went on holiday last year, meanwhile, we forgot to bring Whisbear with us, and ended up just searching You Tube for a white noise track (We managed to find one that was 12 hours long or something, so it lasted all night!), and playing it from Terry’s laptop, which we placed next to the travel cot: any port in a storm!
Baby sleeping bags are one of the best inventions ever, as far as I’m concerned, because Max moves around so much in his sleep that there’s just no way we’d be able to keep sheets or a blanket on him. Seriously, on any given night, Max will make full use of his cot, and will cover pretty much every single inch of it, normally waking up at the opposite end he started, so being able to put him in a sleep sack means we can go to bed knowing he’s going to be safe and warm all night.
We have a selection of these now, and I pick them up anywhere and everywhere, but I think the ones we’re using most often at the moment came from Tu at Sainsbury’s and good old ALDI. I like them so much that I’m honestly quite worried about how on earth we’re going to transition him out of them when the time comes: I have visions of him being, like, 14 or something, and still going to bed inside a giant sleep sack. That’s a thing, right? RIGHT?
We’ve gone through at least three different video monitors since Max moved to his own room, finally settling on the SriCam security monitor, which links to our phones. We like this because it’s motorized, so, if Max moves to an area of the cot where we can’t see him clearly (Or stands up and yanks the camera almost off its bracket, which ALSO happens from time to time…), we can adjust the angle remotely, without having to go into his room and wake him up. It has other features too, obviously: there’s a two-way microphone, for instance, which allows you to talk to the baby if you so desire, but we’re mostly just interested in being able to check on him when he’s in bed and, well, make sure he’s still breathing, basically.
(I say “we”: Terry would be totally happy to do without a video monitor at this point, so this is really just for my benefit. While I’m much, MUCH better than I used to be, though (For the first few days of Max’s life, I was so paranoid about SIDS that I literally tried to stay awake 24/7 to watch over him, and, even once we moved him to his own room, I’d still wake up multiple times per night to watch him on the monitor…), I still have a degree of anxiety about him being in a different room from me, so I like the reassurance this gives me. Oh, and even if you’re NOT anxious, it’s handy to be able to check what the baby’s doing: for instance, Max sometimes wakes up and just lies there babbling to himself for a few minutes, before drifting back to sleep. Without the monitor, I’d probably hear that he was awake and go in to check on him – which would wake him up even more. At least this way I can have a quick look at the monitor, and know it’s safe to just leave him to go back to sleep: and yes, I’ve learned this the hard way…)
Toddler essentials for travel:
In the car, we’re still using the Maxi-Cosi 2Way Pearl car seat*, which we were gifted last year. To be honest, I never really know what to say about car seats, because I’m obviously not the one sitting in them, and thankfully we’ve never been in an accident, so the safety remains untested – and long may it remain that way. We did a lot of research before picking this particular seat, though, and Max seems to be happy in it, so we’ve no complaints!
We actually have two different pushchairs in use at the moment: we use the Joolz Day3 travel system* for longer trips, when we know Max will be spending a lot of time in the pushchair, and also for the infrequent occasions when I take him out for a quick jog. (It’s not a running stroller, but it’s super-smooth, and the path I generally run on is totally flat, so it works pretty well…)
For day-to-day life, though, we generally use the Maxi-Cosi Laika, which is very lightweight, and easier to fold-up, as it folds in one piece, rather than having to be dismantled into two, like the Joolz stroller. Because it folds up small, this is also the pushchair we use when we’re travelling: it got a little bit beat-up on the flight back from Tenerife in December, but it somehow survived, so fingers crossed it also makes it through it’s first long-haul trip to the States next month!
Again, I have two of these, for the simple reason that I’m vain, and I like my bag to match my outfit. Yes. So I have the Baby Beau Sophia bag in tan* (Reviewed here), and then I also have a black nylon Kate Spade bag which doesn’t seem to be available online any more. As it turns out, switching between the two is actually really easy because the Baby Beau bag came with an inner compartment which you can pull out and use elsewhere, so I just keep all of my changing kit in that, and can swop it into different bags whenever I want. Both bags come with portable changing mats, and while, to be totally honest, neither of them is quite large enough for all of the stuff I seem to cart around with me every day, but, on the other hand, if they were any bigger, I’d have problems carting them round at all (And would probably just put even more stuff in them…), so I guess that one’s on me, really.
Toddler essentials for dinner time:
We still have the IKEA Antilop high chair, which we’ve been using ever since we started weaning. We’ve had to replace the tray at least once in that time, because it does tend to get pretty scratched up after a while, but the replacement trays are only £5, and we got the chair itself for £9 in the sale section, so I really can’t complain – even although I not-so-secretly wanted a super-expensive egg-shaped high chair, which would’ve totally matched the kitchen.
We went through tons of different styles of trainer cups, before finally settling on these ones by Munchkin, which I think we now have in every available colour. We like these because the spoutless design is better for the baby’s teeth, apparently, and it’s also almost impossible to spill them. I mean, liquid WILL leak from them if you hold them up and down and shake them, say, or hurl them across the room (Let’s just say it wasn’t me who put this to the test…), but Max can run around carrying one without spilling anything, and they’re also dishwasher friendly, so everyone’s happy.
Also by Munchkin are the three suction bowls shown in the image above: I don’t have a whole lot to say about these, really, because, well, they’re bowls that stick to the table, end of story, but if your toddler occasionally decides it would be absolutely hilarious to empty his morning porridge onto the kitchen floor, say, they definitely come in handy.
BABY BJORN BIBS
I’ve mentioned these Baby Bjorn bibs quite a few times in my posts now, so, suffice it to say that we’ve had these for almost a year now and they’re still going strong, despite being used at every single meal time, so we’ve definitely had our money’s worth. We have tried a few of the bibs-with-sleeves, too, but we keep coming back to these old faithfuls, which Max very much enjoys rooting around in at the end of each meal to find all of the food scraps he’s dropped: so they’re the bibs that just keep giving, basically!
BLUEBERRIES AND TANGERINES
When it comes to actual food, meanwhile, we’re really lucky in that Max is not remotely fussy (Or not so far, anyway: we’re well aware that this could change!), and will eat anything we give him, but he particularly likes fruit – especially blueberries, tangerines, and bananas. (In fact, “banana” – or ‘BUH’ rather – was his very first word, after ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, which shows you just HOW much he likes them…) We always have fruit in the house anyway, but we find small fruits like blueberries and tangerines particularly useful to have on hand, purely to keep him occupied while we’re cooking dinner, say, or in a restaurant waiting to served.
Toddler essentials for bath time:
Max is old enough now to be able to go into the regular bath tub, but we’re still currently still using a baby bath, purely because the “real” tub takes such a long time to fill that it makes sense to use something smaller for as long as we can get away with it. We bought the LÄTTSAM bath from IKEA: it cost all of £7, and honestly, I can’t think of anything it could have but doesn’t (I mean, it’s a plastic tub that holds water – it’s not like you’d be expecting it to be packed with design features, is it?), so we’re very happy with it. We just keep this inside the tub in our main bathroom (We don’t actually use this bath much ourselves, both preferring the shower in the en suite, so it’s not really in the way…), so it’s easy to fill and empty it every night.
BATH TOY ORGANISER
One of the things I was absolutely definite about when I was pregnant was that we would NOT end up with a bathtub filled with plastic bath toys. So, yeah, Amber-of-the-Past: how’s that working out for you?
Ah, not AT ALL, I see! Excellent!
So, yeah, obviously we ended up with a ton of bath toys, and, equally obviously, Max’s very favourite thing is the empty plastic bottle at the far left of the photo, which we can’t throw out without destroying his life forever, apparently. Yes. I might have bowed to the pressure of the bath toys, however, but I absolutely refuse to allow them to huddle around the sides of the bath, so I bought this plastic bath caddy from Amazon, to try to keep them all in one place. This is basically a plastic version of the nice wooden ones people are always posting photos of on Instagram, complete with a glass of wine, a book, and caption about how they’re living their best lives or something. This is… NOT like that, obviously, but it IS significantly better than the crappy string bag thing I bought first of all, and which kept falling into the bath and spilling all the toys, and Max is pretty keen on it, too, because it allows him to reach everything really easily.
One day I’ll get my grown-up bathroom back. One day. When he leaves home, maybe.
Toddler essentials for playtime
Finally, I feel I should include a section on play, because it’s such a huge part of any toddler’s life, but, honestly, I’m drawing a bit of a blank here: not because Max doesn’t play, obviously, but because, like many children his age, he much prefers to play with the things that aren’t toys than the things that are. So, he has tons of toys, but while he does play with them all frequently, I’d be struggling to name an all-time favourite, or a toy he really couldn’t live without. Because nothing compares to a Really Good Stick, or a decent hoover, does it?
As proof of this, when we went to Loch Lomond recently, I packed a selection of books for his night-time routine (You’ll find a post on our current favourite toddler books here), but didn’t bring many toys, guessing correctly that he’d be so engrossed in exploring his new surroundings that he wouldn’t miss them. Sure enough, with a beach full of sticks and a cupboard full of cleaning utensils at his disposal, the single toy I brought with us was completely ignored – lesson learned!
I’m not going to bother listing specific toys, then, because I think it really does depend on your child, but right now, Max is most interested in:
- Things that can be opened and closed – so, doors, windows, boxes, drawers, bags, you name it. He can spend a LOT of time opening and closing the aforementioned items, and, in the case of things like boxes and drawers, filling and re-filling them. Endlessly. He loves his toy kitchen (Which my parents bought from ALDI online: it’s no longer available, unfortunately, but there are tons like it, and we find Gumtree or Facebook marketplace a good source of larger/more expensive items like this – there’s always someone selling one!)
- Things that move. He’s finally mastered the art of riding the tricycle gran & grandad got him for Christmas, and he also enjoys playing with toy cars – particularly the little remote control one we got him for Christmas, and which I’m still not totally convinced Terry didn’t just buy for himself, tbh.
- Things that can be stacked. His wooden stacking tower from IKEA is one toy that’s stood the test of time, and he also likes building blocks and anything that can be placed on top of something else, basically.
- Things that make a noise. Max absolutely loves his Uncle John’s piano, which he’s been allowed to “play” a few times, so when my friend turned up one day with a little toy keyboard which her own little boy had grown out of, he was beyond delighted. He also still occasionally plays with the activity tables we bought him months ago: I actually thought he’d outgrown these, and had put them into the hall cupboard, ready for Gumtree, but we rediscovered them a couple of weeks ago, and were surprised to see him playing with them again, so it looks like they’re sticking around for now. He doesn’t spend a huge amount of time on these, but he does go to them from time to time, so I think they’re worth keeping – for now.
- Things he can climb inside. Max will try to get into any box that comes into the house, and I’ve even caught him trying to get into the drawers in his toy kitchen a few times. He was overjoyed when his grandparents bought him a sandpit recently (And I was overjoyed to hear it would be staying at their house rather than ours…), and my parents also bought a couple of huge sacks of ball-pool balls, which they filled a cardboard box with – much cheaper than buying a ball pool, but just as much fun.
- BUBBLES. OMG THE BUBBLES. Actually, this is probably the one thing I’d class as a “favourite” right now – he LOVES bubbles, which means we now regularly have to add bubble solution to our online shop (Yes, I know you can make it yourself, but the bubbles never seem to be a good when we do!) to fill the bubble machine in the bathroom, and the ‘Bubbliser‘ which he frequently brings over to us, yelling, “BUBBLE! BUBBLE!”
So! For someone who wasn’t going to talk about toys, I certainly seem to have talked quite a lot about toys here, so I’m going to wind this up here, so I can get this post published, and then immediately remember all of the things I forgot to add to it. If there’s anything you’d add to a list of toddler essentials, meanwhile, please feel free to drop me a comment: I’d love to hear from you!
What are your top toddler essentials?