Top 10 Survival Items for the Toddler Years

 

We wrote once before about our recommended Top Ten Items for surviving the pre-walking months/years. But now, we’ve got a troublesome toddler (whom we shall call Messy Wessie) and it’s time to tell you how Matt survives the day keeping that guy happy.

1. A sling or carrier

A carryover item worth the investment, our Beco Gemini is still a must have. When you’ve got more kids than you have arms, something’s gotta give. Wes loves to ride on our backs while we go on walks, the farmer’s market or while Matt is cooking.

When they’re younger I use a “sling” (like this Kangaroo Korner All-Season Adjustable Pouch) but once the babies can sit-up, I love the  Beco Gemini Carrier (similar to Ergo but not as bulky). Matt and I share one and it works great for us both. Since I still nurse, I almost always back carry so that the toddler doesn’t smell milk and want to nurse.  The Gemini is the only carrier that allows you to face forward out and face forward inward (with a hood to encourage sleeping!) as well as allows a back and hip carry position. Yet, it’s so simple I can put it on myself! It truly allows you to do anything and we LOVE ours!

2. Play table


Our 2nd item is another carryover item, which we said was “versatile and long-lasting” and we meant it. Wes is 15 months old and will still sit in the seat and play at the table, snacking from the built-in tray. The big boys love to come over and play with him on the Bright Starts Activity Station. With a rotating, removable and adjustable seat, our children use this toy from 2 months to 2 years. It was a gift for Cole from his Grandfather when he was 4 months old and it is still to this day played with by both Cole and Finn. As soon as we pulled it out of storage for Wes they both went crazy with excitement. And the fact that Wes was reaching for the piano at a mere 7 weeks should tell you something about its appeal!

3. Craft table

Stacy’s dad got the boys this craft table as a gift one year and we spend a ton of time playing with it. Now that Wes is old enough, he’s learned to sit at the table and color himself. It fills him with the greatest sense of pride to sit like a big boy at the (sturdy) craft table.

The drawing paper that rolls over the top of the table is really fun and we go through tons of rolls of it creating works of art. Plus, it’s made with chalkboard paint, so we’re able to hand the boys some chalk, paint or crayons and let them at it without worrying about the furniture! Perfect for when parents are occupied with cooking dinner and what not…

4. High chair, no – not that kind

Instead of buying a plastic monstrosity that will fill up your house and encourage your children to play during mealtime, why not get an actual chair? Here, Wes is sitting in a bumbo on a regular dining chair and our older boys use this chair. We got it for our first toddler and have since bought more.  When to start?  As soon as they can climb up and down – it’s time! Not bad for $40, either. In doing research for this post we realized how expensive some other versions are! If IKEA is out of reach for you, this seems to be the most reasonable alternative option.

For those of you concerned about the possibility of your toddler falling out, don’t be. Relax! A child won’t get badly hurt from such a fall and learning to balance is far more important than the potential bruises that might occur. That said, Wes is just now at the age where we’re comfortable putting him in this chair because he was a late walker; but, Finian walked at 7 months old and was in a high chair and toddler bed before he was 1. Because he was physically able.

5. Sofie, la petit girafe francais


For Christmas last, we got Wesley this little teething toy and it immediately became his second favorite toy behind whatever his older brothers were playing. There was a period of time where we had multiple Sofie’s in the house and each car. Before we left to go anywhere we’d all go around the house saying “Where’s Sof?!” To this day we’ll still find Wes happily gnawing on this cute squeaky natural rubber giraffe. Definitely a worthwhile investment.

6. Toddler Bed

We put our kids in toddler beds, against conventional wisdom, as soon as they are able to walk on their own (I’ve seen some people advising keeping your toddler in a crib until 30 or more months!). Nothing is better for your child than gaining a sense of independence. You want your baby to feel like a big kid? Let him or her decide when to get out of bed. Not to mention, if your toddler is still nursing, being able to walk to your bed for the wee hour feed is infinitely awesome.


The toddler bed is the same size as a crib, so you can move them and still use the same mattress and bedding.

7. Soft Soled Shoes

Kids’ feet grow quickly. That doesn’t mean we don’t want them in healthy protective gear that’s still adorable. Through multiple kids, we’ve found Jessica’s shoes to be an impeccable fit without cutting off the circulation in kids’ feet (a frequent problem of Robeez). Wes has been wearing these grey and blue shoes non-top all summer. They’re perfect! I can’t wait until the BabyThingsByJessica shop reopens so that I can upgrade his size for a fall pair! We just can’t speak highly enough of her quality of work and customer service.

8. Food Gear

Your toddler is messy. Don’t deny it. I’ve never met a tiny human that didn’t love to smear food all over everywhere, including their hair. We’ve found the best defense are items to capture their attention and provide entertainment so that the food goes into the mouth, rather than becoming a toy.

Pictured above are our favorite items. The first is a toddler dipping plate. Did you know that toddlers love to dip stuff? Uh, yea. It’s amazing how much a kid will eat when offered something to dip it in. We also recommend reusable snack bags because it’s much easier and cuter to hand your toddler a bag of jerky or dried apples than attempting to prevent a cup from spilling or clean up the mess afterwards. Not to mention, it helps build fine motor control! You’ll also want some good sippy cups (but not for too long! They can handle a cup sooner than you think…). And how about this adorable tray with matching utensils and cup made from recycled materials?

9. Hanna Andersson Zippers


These organic one-piece rompers from Hanna Andersson are amazing tanks. They’re super wearable, because it’s just one zipper to get them on and off. Diapers changes (we still recommend Fuzzi Bunz one-size diapers for toddlers) are a cinch! We’ve been using the same Zippers my mother-in-law and I invested in when Cole came into toddlerhood and they’re still in perfect condition. Trust me, with 3 boys – there’s not much that stays in tact for Wes.

They’re not cheap, but I’ve managed to snag some at kids’ consignment sales, for a huge awesome deal. If you can’t find any used (check Craigslist, e-bay, thrift stores and consignment sales), sign up for Hanna’s newsletter and pounce as soon as you see a sale – they’re worth it! Honestly, your kids’ wardrobe could be a handful of these and one or two “nice” outfits. How simple!

10. A waterproof mattress pad on your bed

Not too flashy or exciting, but we still have breast milk, pee, poop, vomit… and who knows what else to contend with during the night. I really don’t need to explain how much this saves your bed – and your sanity – do I?

And as a bonus, it’s NEVER too early to read to your kids. Toddlers love books! Here are some of our favorite kids’ books for toddlers…

I think we might as well have invested stock in David Shannon, Matthew Van Fleet, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague – we LOVE almost every book in all of their series. We’ll be featuring David Shannon more on our Top 10 Preschool post, whenever we get around to writing it…

What are your favorite items for your toddeling little troublemaker?

About Stacy

Stacy Toth has written 342 post in this blog.

Stacy is the matriarch of the Paleo Parents family. After beginning a paleo diet and founding PaleoParents.com in 2010, she lost 135 pounds and found health and happiness for the whole family. The following three years have been a progressive journey with a mission to educate people about nourishing their bodies by eating real foods. Stacy can be found on all forms of social media as @PaleoParents as well as the top-rated The Paleo View Podcast and her two cookbooks, Eat Like a Dinosaur and Beyond Bacon.

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  • Heather

    Another great soft soled shoe is Pedoodles. Although our two year old son pretty much only wears them to church and restaurants we were so happy to find shoes that bridged the gap between pre-walker shoes available everywhere and the smallest children’s sizes we could find in minimalist shoes. 

    I will say that the boy refuses to sleep in a toddler bed, unless he is boxed in by walls and another bed (the set up at his grandparents). Even at home he likes to sleep confined.  It is *his* preference though.

    • http://PaleoParents.com Stacy & Matt

      Hadn’t heard of them but I’ll check them out.

      That’s fair enough and we all have our own sleep issues. Unfortunately, the later you wait to make theses kinds of transitions, the harder it tends to be. But if everyone’s happy with the situation, then that’s great!.

  • Robyn

    Great list! My youngest son turns 2 this month and you made me so nostalgic with those Hannah Anderson rompers. He had the same orange/yellow one when he was about 6 months old. We got it as a gift for my oldest son, so yes, they DO hold up – but I never thought to check out bigger sizes.

    Love your blog!

    • http://PaleoParents.com Stacy & Matt

      Yeah we had Cole in them well into his twos until he became too embarrassed by “baby clothes.” We still own all the ones we bought 5 years or more ago and they’re on their third child.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Anonymous

    Even better than a toddler bed? A twin size mattress on the floor! Also known as a Montessori bed. We started putting Q down for naps on it around 5-6 months. She could crawl on and off herself and I love that she wakes up in the morning and plays in her room while mommy gets to sleep in! ;)

    Sofie is great even when babies are newborns. She’s saved us during quite a few road trips.

    Also, check out Hannah Anderson’s leather-soled moccasin slippers. They do double duty as shoes! Quinn’s ankles and feet were too chubby (even though she was a Paleo baby) to fit into regular shoes. But those sock/moccasins were great!

    • http://PaleoParents.com Stacy & Matt

      The twin mattress is a good idea. We got our toddler bed for very cheap and it was really handy as a space saver. We got Cole a loft bed when he was almost three and the toddler bed for Finn fit right under it. Honestly, I wish our first waker would play by himself, but every morning the first thing Finn does at 7 AM or earlier is climb into our bed.

      In our house, those moccasins are called “sock shoes” and we may own dozens. I wholeheartedly support your recommendation.

  • Jenny

    This was a fun post to read! It really got me thinking about my 15mo old and how we still use a regular high chair, I don’t use plates or bowls, and he still sleeps with me, instead of in his own room. Have you guys talked about how you get your toddlers to sleep in their own bed? Or maybe that was never your problem to begin with. Also, how you get them to go to sleep on their own, what bedtime routine is like, if you lay in there with your little guy until he falls asleep? We cosleep and I’m at the point that I’m ready to not cosleep anymore! Anyway, I was looking for advice on how to get him out of my bed and into his.

    • http://PaleoParents.com Stacy & Matt

      Jenny, yes we co-slept but after a terrible experience trying to switch our first at 6 months we transitioned the 2nd and 3rd to their crib at a few months old to go down to sleep and then brought them to bed when they woke the first time to nurse, then they stayed there. As they got older and nursed less, we put them back in their own bed.
      Sleep training is rough, but only lasts a few days. Laying or sitting in the room with them while they fall asleep was how we did it with our oldest, who had a VERY tough time moving out of our bed at 18mo when I got pregnant again and wanted more room!

      • Jenny

        Thanks for responding. That’s exactly what I’m doing now by starting him out in his own room. But I believe I’ll also change things for the next kid an get him into his own room faster. My son hasn’t started nursing less and it’s just getting to be too much. Thanks again!