Tag Archives: kid stuff

Toddler Gear Review Roundup

review pic Toddler Gear Review RoundupSo I’ve had a few different toddler/baby items that I’ve been trying out over the past few months and I’m here to spill all the details with you. I like having some time with products before I write about them to see if they really last. (For example, I can confirm that last year’s absolute hands-down still most-loved review item is the Chuggington Stack Track trains which are pulled out on a near-daily basis.)

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupFirst off we’ve officially moved Tessa out of the highchair and into a booster seat. She is enjoying eating at the table like a big kid. And drinking milk from her cereal bowl like a big kid. Making it possible is the Bumbo Booster Seat, which we ordered in pretty red.

Height is perfect. Seat is soft. Wiping it down is a breeze. It’s easy to strap on the chair and secures both around the back of the seat and under the bottom of the seat. We’ve been quite pleased with it and Tessa is comfortable sitting in it. My only real complaint about it is that the back of the seat is relatively low so the straps holding her in just barely go over her chubby legs instead of something more around the waist or over her lap. But she’s certainly not complaining.

Next up: the battle of the diaper pails. We had a diaper champ we used for years with Graham and I was ready to retire it by the time Tessa was a year old. The major problem I have with the Diaper Champ is that any mess from a diaper goes on the pail itself and has to be wiped up. Not my favorite and it’s not the easiest thing to clean in the first place. Initially I got it because I could use my own bags, but ultimately I decided to bite the bullet and try the pails that have their own bags.

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupThe first one I got: the Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Pail. It was cheaper than many of the other pails and I’d passed on most of those pails when I was looking the first time around so I bought it. I won’t lie, the first few months bugged me. This pail has a seal that closes on the bag when you close the pail, reducing the smell. And it has a baking soda insert to help. But I was having so many problems closing the lid that I almost got rid of it. I finally contacted them for help and was told that the problem was the baking soda getting into the gears. So I rinsed out the entire pail (a breeze, the bag system works well, any mess gets on the bag and not the pail, and it was spotless) took out the baking soda insert, and never used one again. 

Since then? It’s been fantastic. Still no smell. The baking soda is unnecessary. The lid works well most of the time, though it can be a little more difficult when the bag gets closer to full. The bags are on the small side, which gets a bit more annoying when I’m putting toddler-size diapers and kid-size pull-ups in there. But they seal closed tight when you’re done so you don’t have to deal with any smell when you change bags either.

 Toddler Gear Review Roundup Toddler Gear Review RoundupAfter my good experience with Munchkin/Arm & Hammer, I was feeling magnanimous and agreed to review the new Tommee Tippee 360 Sealer Diaper Disposal System. It is bagless and has a special plastic that seals around each diaper so you can just take the bottom of the pail out and dump it. Love the idea.

Hate the product. Basically, mine didn’t work at all. It wouldn’t create a seal around the diaper. I checked the system, I reinstalled everything. Still didn’t work. I contacted them asking for help… and no response. So now I have a rather large and useless hunk of plastic in my living room that I wouldn’t donate to anyone because it’ll do them more harm than good. Also it’s certainly brought down the reputable Tommee Tippee brand that I’d thought well of before. 

At this point I don’t think we have much more gear to get. It feels good to be moving out of the “gear” stage, even if it means toys are taking over my house. I can take it.

Any great new products you’ve tried and loved? Or anything the rest of us should steer clear of?

Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

review pic Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracksTrains are big at our house and I know we’re not alone. We also live in a small apartment, so if Graham decides he’s going to pull out his wooden tracks, odds are it’ll take up half the living room when he’s done. The wooden tracks have served us well, but I admit that when I first saw TOMY’s Chuggington StackTracks all I could say was, “My kid would love these.” affiliate links pic Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks

 Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracksI’ll be totally honest, I saw those StackTracks at a party at BlogHer in 2012. I gushed and gushed over them to the person repping TOMY. But it wasn’t until this year that I finally got a chance to review them. I did not let the long wait hold me back, I jumped at the chance. If anything, Graham was way more ready for them now than he was a year ago.

There are a bunch of Chuggington StackTrack playsets, we received the Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks with the accompanying ChugPatrol DVD. The fact that the playset has an accompaying episode is cool, though it hasn’t influenced Graham’s play, but I do think it’d be good for the re-enacting types.

So, parents of train enthusiasts, here’s the skinny: The StackTracks come with a variety of pieces, some flat, some going up, some going down. There’s a bunch of hills and turns and other stuff that makes trains go fast. There are guard rails on the side so you won’t lose your train on tight curves. And there are supports to stack to hold up the elevated parts of the track. The set came with 2 trains (Koko and Wilson, who Graham has always called Rilsen because it’s the name of a kid in his class last year) and they’re die-cast plastic. 

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Overall, it’s very easy to assemble for an adult. The track pieces fit together very simply and obviously. It may take a child under 5 a little effort to figure it out but they’ll make progress quickly. The supports are also easy to attach. There are some extras that come with this playset: a gate to break through, a boulder to chase you down the hill. These extras are a little harder to get on and off and click on over the supports. The track looks a little intimidating. But it comes with instructions for 4 layouts. One of them has a detailed set of instructions to assemble, the others are pictures. Once I’d gone through one assembly, I was good for the rest by sight. Younger children will probably need a parent to assemble for them.

The Pros:

  • As I’d hoped, it takes up less space than the wooden tracks. The stacking means they can go up instead of all over the floor.
  • The kids get way more into it than with the wooden tracks. We’ve had it for over 6 weeks and I’ve waited to see if it wears off… but it hasn’t.
  • The trains look just like the ones on the show, lots of character and the kids seem more eager for pretend play with them than some of the trains we have on the wooden set. 
  • The price of this one set is about the price of one stinking Thomas train. Seriously, the price of Thomas merch is ridiculous. I am HAPPY to expand beyond Thomas gear.
  • I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to do anything with this set beyond the planned layouts. It took Graham about a month before he started building his own tracks. They may be wobbly and he may ask for help, but he’s showing creativity, and he gets to show a lot more of it than he can with the wooden tracks. 
  • There are multiple StackTrack sets and they all can fit together. And yes I will be asking for StackTrack merch for Graham this Christmas because I think we could design some wicked awesome tracks.
  • The trains can couple up, always good. And it’s a more secure coupling than the magnetic wooden trains.
  • Price is good, a new train is $5.99 or so and a set runs from $20 to $40, with expansion packs varying in price. 
  • They’re just plain fun. Here’s a look at Graham playing with the set:


  • Younger kids will need help. As I mentioned, some of the extra elements like the gate are harder to connect.
  • Some layouts are wobbly. The supports don’t actually click into place, you just push them together like legos. So if someone bumps the track this can lead to a big collapse. This only happened to us on a couple of layouts, but it is an issue. The tracks themselves are nice and strong, it’s the supports that I wish were better.
  • The many kinds of track pieces may frustrate some kids.
  • Overall, I’m just not sure this is going to be a good product for kids who are very perfectionist, anxious, ASD, etc. If you think they’ll have a meltdown if the track falls down, this may not be the set for you. With that said, Graham can certainly fall into that category sometimes but he’s at the point now where a track that falls down can mean extra excitement for the story he’s telling in his head.

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Both kids have really enjoyed playing with these tracks and I find that for us the positives outweigh the negatives by a good amount. I’m weary of putting together wooden train tracks, there’s only so much I can do with our limited amount of straights and curves. We just have more fun putting these together, whether we follow the instructions or not.

So, would you like to bring one home? The kind folks at TOMY are giving away one Chuggington StackTrack Rescue at Rocky Ridge Action Playset Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks  and a Chug Patrol – Ready to Rescue DVD Take Your Trains to the Next Level with Chuggington StackTracks for your kiddos. Want to enter?

Mandatory entry: leave a comment on this post letting me know the train lover in your life who’d love these StackTracks.

Bonus entry: Tweet this: “Win Chuggington StackTracks from @Tomy_Toy from @jessicaesquire! http://bit.ly/1ae53QQ” and make sure you leave a comment with the link to your tweet. (You can find it by clicking on the timestamp of the tweet.)

Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. One entry per household. Limited to entrants over 18 in the US and Canada. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on 10/31/13 at 6 pm Eastern Time. The winner will receive a Chuggington StackTracks playset and a Chuggington DVD, a retail value of  approximately $40 US. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be chosen randomly using the plugin And the Winner Is…  Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If the winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by TOMY Toys. Don’t Mind the Mess is not responsible for any problems with receipt of the prize. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited

Disclosure: Thanks to TOMY for providing us with these products for review.

Indoctrinate Your Children Well

affiliate links pic Indoctrinate Your Children WellThere are lots of things you have to teach your kids: how to ride a bike, how to be kind to others and, of course, which sports teams they are supposed to cheer for. 

I admit, this is not my strongest area as a parent. I am ambivalent about a lot of sports these days. But Graham has picked up on a lot of what’s going on around him. And then there was the day he brought this home from school:

 Indoctrinate Your Children Well

And then my trip to Fenway means that Graham is now obsessed with the Red Sox. When he sees a Red Sox symbol, when he hears them mentioned on the radio, he shouts, “Red Sox, Mom!!” There are a LOT of Red Sox symbols in Boston, you guys. This happens constantly.

Here in New England where people are particularly passionate about their teams, I’ve learned it’s best not to fight it. Go with it. When in Rome and all.

But when I’ve seen kids’ sports team gear it’s never particularly cute. I’ve learned it’s much better to go online. And I’ve got the best Red Sox and Pats outfits for your kiddos. With the World Series coming up and the Sox doing pretty awesome, it’s definitely time to blend in and show some spirit whether or not you’re a local. (And come on, like you’d go with the Cardinals?)

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adidas Boston Red Sox Preschool Girls Pleated Polo Dress – Navy Blue/Red – $27.95

This dress comes in Preschool and Toddler sizes. I like the preppie style and tennis-style skirt. Though there are bunches of dress styles if you’ve got a girly girl of a sports fan on your hands. There’s also a Patriots version.

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Majestic Boston Red Sox Infant Bases Loaded 3-Piece Creeper Set – Navy Blue/Ash/White – $24.95

Babies make the best accessories, right? And babies decked out in sports gear are always all over my Facebook feed when football season heats up. (I’ll add nice Patriots pack for girls that’s not super girly. The nice ruffle sleeve is cute without having to go straight up pink.)

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’47 Brand Boston Red Sox Youth Navy Blue Basic Logo Adjustable Hat – $12.71

And, of course, the classic hat. (A bunch of hats are marked down right now, too.)


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New England Patriots Toddler Cheer Jumper – Navy Blue – $33.95

This is definitely de rigeur for the tiny Patriots fans.

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New England Patriots Youth Mascot Tassel Hat – Navy Blue – $16.95

And since football also signals the end of summer, a cozy hat for the kids is a great choice.

 Indoctrinate Your Children Well

As for me, I’m doing my best to show a little Red Sox spirit with my boring grey hat. What I really want, though? This one. So cute.


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’47 Brand Boston Red Sox Ladies Avery Military Adjustable Hat – Navy Blue – $17.21

Admit it, you’re indoctrinating your kids. Which team have you told them they’re obligated to root for?

Distract Your Preschooler With PBS Kids Apps

Disclosure: I was invited to an event put on by PBS Kids and WGBH Boston. I did receive a gift bag, though I’m going to giveaway some of the contents to a lucky reader…

Maybe there are people out there who have never given their phone to their child to keep them quiet. I applaud you all. But for the rest of us, well, it happens. And we want to have a “safe” source for games and apps to keep them from wandering through the Wild West that is Youtube.

pbs image e1366817275818 Distract Your Preschooler With PBS Kids Apps

 We need technology for our kids. Our kids want to have fun. And thank goodness PBS Kids means I have programs I can give them where I don’t worry about frying their brains.

Graham and I went to an event by PBS Kids to talk about some of their new apps and games. They want to tie in the shows and characters kids enjoy to appropriate learning content for their age group. In particular they want to boost math performance by helping parents at home. 

I’m not trained in child development. I have no idea what my kid is supposed to be learning about at particular ages and how best to teach it to them. An app designed by people who have studied the way kids learn best is exactly what I need.

So obviously you have your tv guides and your app stores to find stuff for your kids. What you may not know about is the PBS Kids Lab, funded by an educational grant to help teach kids. The lab has resources you can use on a computer or mobile device. (I recommend hitting the “All Games” link and searching by age.)

These really are age-appropriate games. Graham tried out one of the offerings for younger kids: Bubble Pop with Curious George. This is a counting game that uses your microphone so a child can clap or speak to pop a bubble. 

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Photo provided by event photographer

Another one Graham enjoyed is Meerkat Jubilee from The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! It’s a path-building game that wasn’t too advanced for little kiddos. It gives them choices for which piece to use along the way in a trail from start to finish. Good for kids who aren’t quite ready for mazes yet.

DSC 0855 e1366818511954 Distract Your Preschooler With PBS Kids Apps


A Mobile app Graham enjoyed was Classic in the Jurassic from Dinosaur Train. It had bridges. Graham loves bridges. I had a hard time getting him away from it.

My personal favorite for the little ones is the Play and Learn app, which is free. And it’s really for PARENTS as much as for kids. (Some apps are paid, others are free. Everything in the lab is free.) What I love about this is that it’s an app that you can use for no-screen activities for those of you who may try to avoid passing off the tech to entertain the littles. It’s also based around places you normally go. So say you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. You pull up the app on your phone, hit grocery store, and there you have a short game your child can play plus a list of activities divided by your child’s age. From everything to how to talk to your baby about what they see around them to having your toddler learn words at the checkout to rhyming and measuring games for preschoolers. 

If you’re one of those parents who tries to avoid the screen for your kid if at all possible, this app is a great way for you to keep your kid engaged when you are feeling a little low on creativity. (Or patience.)

Definitely take a look at what’s available in the lab and search PBS Kids in the app store to find more for your tablet or phone. I am definitely going to be recommending some of these apps to my son’s teacher. I think these are the kinds of apps they’d love for the pre-K kids that can also tie in to at-home learning.

And don’t worry, there are also plenty of games and apps for kids age 6-8 with shows like Wild Kratts and Martha Speaks

PBS Kids was generous enough to give us redemption codes for some of their paid apps and I couldn’t keep them all to myself. (Though Graham insisted on the Dinosaur Train All Aboard app. Sorry.)

I’m giving away redemption codes for the following apps:

Receive one entry by leaving 1 comment about your child’s favorite PBS Kids show or character.

 Official Rules: No purchase necessary. By leaving a comment you agree to the rules of this giveaway. Up to one entry per household according to the directions set out in this post. Limited to entrants over 18 in the United States. Contest begins as of the time of this post and ends on Wednesday, May 1st at 6 pm Eastern Time. One winner will be chosen. The winner will receive the aforementioned app codes. Prize has value of approximately $10. The number of eligible entries received will determine the odds of winning. The winner will be selected using the “And the Winner Is” plugin. Winner will be notified by email and must respond within 48 hours to receive their prize. If a winner does not respond within that time, a new winner will be chosen. The prize will be provided by Don’t Mind the Mess, codes will be distributed via email. This contest is governed by the rules of Massachusetts, void where prohibited.

Good luck!

Rocking and Playing at Kidville

We went to two complimentary classes at Kidville to facilitate this review. 

It’s little kids that can be the hardest to entertain. It seems like the playgrounds are monopolized by bigger kids who run too fast and push too hard. And the tiny babies and toddlers don’t have many spaces to make their own outside of their own babyproofed homes. Even indoor playspaces designed for younger children are chaotic.

But we had a great time at our two trips to the new Kidville location in Wellesley. Designed just for kids 6 and under, they have a variety of classes and playtimes available for kids. I love that they’re divided by age so I can bring my 14-month-old in for playtime without worried that she’ll be trampled by a running child. There are also classes that work for a range of ages so you can bring all your kids at once to enjoy it.

Rockin’ Railroad

Graham is enjoying music more and more. When he was little I wouldn’t dream of taking him to a music class but now it’s something he loves, even if he has to warm up a bit.

 Rocking and Playing at Kidville

At first Graham was quiet, not unusual when he’s in a new situation. He was really into the picture of a train on the base drum. I don’t know that he’s ever seen a live band before, so he had to get used to it. 

The railroad theme definitely helped. This kid is a train lover down to his toes. He still had his ticket clutched in his little hand when we got home.

The songs at Rockin’ Railroad are generally ones your kids won’t be familiar with, but they still find ways to involve them through play. That really helped Graham break through his shyness. Once the scarves and bubbles and drums came on the scene he was on his feet and ready to jump in.

 kidville collage Rocking and Playing at Kidville

The show changes every week, which really impressed me. And I think the pictures speak for themselves. He had a great time.

This isn’t a perfect class for every kid. If your kid would rather sit on your lap while in a group, they’re not a great candidate. And if they have trouble with transitions (especially with toys) you may have trouble since the scarves not only come out but are put away a few minutes later. But if your child enjoys music and play this should be a great choice, especially if you have more than one child in the age group.

Kidville Open Gym & Big Muscle Playtime

Kidville has a great gym space for the kiddos. They have sessions for open gym but they also hold sessions based on age in the gym. I took Miss Tesser to the Big Muscle Playtime for babies 12 to 18 months. 

I really liked the setup of the program. I’ve sat through my share of “toddler” classes that are so regimented that it’s hard to keep the kiddos still and engaged. They’re still little. They’re distracted by everything. They need freedom to move, they need to try different activities. They can’t really sit through 10 minutes of singing. The Big Muscle Playtime class went back and forth between a short circle activity that lasted a couple of minutes to open play to specific activities like swinging and bubbles.

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It was pretty much the best class I’ve ever taken a toddler to, really built around what they can handle and their interests. The gym equipment also works well for older kids. Though I’d probably keep a non-walking kiddo out of open gym and go to their gym sessions. They also have a class for 6-12 month-olds.


Classes go in “semesters” that last a few weeks. I’d consider a membership rather than a class-by-class fee so you have more access to the playspace and other facilities. This is the kind of resource that’s a big deal for a heated area in the winter and a cooled area in the summer. 

You can see more info about the Wellesley location here and find other Kidvilles here. (There are locations in Canada, too.)

Kid-Friendly Recipe: Rainbow Rice

So technically this is Jambalaya, but since we wanted Graham to eat it we called it “Rainbow Rice.”

Remember all those peppers we used for his rainbow lunches this week? It was a pretty big success so we tried to see if we could expand his dinnertime repertoire by tying in the rainbow peppers. (And if you haven’t entered my Rainbow Giveaway, you need to head on over there right now!)

rainbow rice Kid Friendly Recipe: Rainbow Rice

We normally use a spicy Jalapeno sausage but this time we tapped down the spice and kept the recipe really simple so I could throw it together quickly. (I MADE DINNER. SHOCKING.)

I was hoping that I could call the sausage “hot dogs” and get Graham on board, but his skepticism of meat continues. But he did eat his entire bowl of sausage-free Rainbow Rice.


rainbow rice Kid Friendly Recipe: Rainbow Rice
Rainbow Rice
Save Recipe
4 sweet peppers in a rainbow of colors, chopped into bite size pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 can low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 c. rice
1 lb smoked sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
Combine all ingredients except sausage in a nonstick saucepan. Heat on medium-high until boiling. Add sausage, reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more water if needed during cooking.
You can add celery and onion, too for extra veggie power.
We like using pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage. The hotter the spices on the sausage, the hotter the rice.
For adults, feel free to add cajun seasoning for flavor.
Adapted from Turkey Jambalaya
Adapted from Turkey Jambalaya
Don't Mind the Mess http://theseversons.net/
This was a pretty successful dinner in our house. Graham was reluctant but eventually ate all of his and there was some leftovers for the next day. You have a lot of room to wiggle in this recipe when it comes to spice so adjust accordingly.