Saturday, April 23, 2011

Newborn Gift Guide – Part III

Newborn Gift Guide – Part III

by Mike Shinn

In the first two parts of the Newborn Gift Guide [ and ], I covered what I consider to be my list of essential practical items to add to your baby registry. These items aren’t always essential for the baby, but key to helping the new parent get by from day to day. Obviously, parents and newborns survived for years without the assistance of injection-molded plastic. Still, we can all benefit from some modern assistance when dealing with our kids. The third and final part of the Newborn Gift Guide focuses on items that are as much fun for the purchaser as they are the user.

It has always bothered me when a friend will use a baby registry for socks and bottles – those things are boring and anyone can purchase them. Not to mention the discomfort that many dads might have buying breast pads for their friend’s wife. Similarly, I have a hard time purchasing dinnerware from a wedding registry. Useful as these items are, they aren’t all that much fun to buy. While not everyone will put Sour Patch Kids on their wedding registry (I did and they were delicious), you do have the opportunity to have a little fun on the baby registry.

Foam Letter and Number Squares: Typically these items are 1-2 feet wide and up to a half inch thick. You can find varying quality in these foam mats if you search around. I recommend at least a centimeter-thick mat, otherwise a strong child could potentially tear off a piece and swallow or choke on it when you’re not looking. These mats can be used for years and are perfect for hard floors where kids will be playing. They have a lot of educational value – spell out the child’s name or review number sequences. You can even build 3D blocks out of them to be stacked up. Washing them is simple (and necessary if you’re using as a second floor). Cost: $20-80

Excersaucer: This three-foot circle will give you hours of free time while your child entertains themselves and develops great skills. At first, you’ll need to show them the ropes of spinning around and turning the various dials or buttons that come with it. Soon, your child will have mastered spinning and will press buttons on their own. Unfortunately you won’t be able to use it right away, but it will be great after they can sit up and support their neck on their own. If you get the saucers with wheels on the bottom, consider lining the outer part of the saucer with felt or the paint on your walls will be destroyed. Cost: $20-150

High Chair: We have all had them and used them. The technological advances made in this product are astounding – they make chairs that can be used from infancy well past toddler years. Unfortunately, if you’re still using a high chair when your child goes to kindergarten, they may not be as prepared for real life as you think they are. I recommend keeping it simple. A basic high chair will have a lap belt for safety and will require your regular supervision regardless of how much you spend. If you’re resourceful, there’s no real need to pay extra for a fancy chair that will electronically adjust to the height of your table. What’s more, this is the type of product that you won’t be able to use for months after the child is born, so do not assemble then you receive one off of the registry. Leave this in the box until later when you can use it! Cost: $30-300

Baby Bouncer: This is one of my favorite toys of all time. Do not miss out on the small window of opportunity to use one of these items. They work great for babies who can support themselves sitting up but those who cannot stand on their own. They work for babies above a certain weight but below a certain weight (check your instructions as this varies). Typically this device can be used for the 3 to 6 month range. It’s not until your child becomes a teenager and wants to use the bungee bounce trampoline at the Earl Warren Fairgrounds, when the fair comes to town, that you get to do this again. Very little assembly is needed, just attach to the top of a door frame and watch your kid bounce. There is an added benefit to this toy of your child gaining leg muscle strength and learning good timing. Cost $30-100

Collapsible Play Tents: These are also a winning toy for children who are crawling or able to walk. They fold up like a car’s sun shade and expand to fill up a huge area – good inside or out. They are a great toy, though not needed immediately. They are a fun gift item, especially when multiple children (and pets) are present. Cost: $20+, depending on quantity and quality

Soft Chair: Small foam chairs are perfect for children learning to sit up. Once their necks are strong enough, these chairs are great for the bath, outside or around the house. Children with older siblings like to be like them and sit like them. They are also crushable and return to their natural form. Cost: $15-30

Play Mat: Before my daughter was born, I had never heard of “Tummy Time.” As your baby learns to turn on their side, they need to spend time getting comfortable rolling around and lying on their belly. Any blanket will do for this, but since you’re registering for fun things, a play mat is even better. They come in many forms, but they typically have a variety of sounds and textures built in to a baby-safe mat with a half-circle hoop that dangles various items. As your child develops, they can learn to bat these items and eventually grab (and pull them down). At first, your child might be afraid of the new experiences that a mat like this offers, but soon they will treasure the time and even lay there on their own while you take a moment to breathe. Cost: $20-50

I mention a lot about registering for these fun items, but typically you don’t get everything that you want after the gift-giving has ended. The items in this article are pure extras, but they are also very valuable when you have them. Unfortunately for the purchaser, baby care items are really only valuable for a relatively short period of time – then they are just taking up space in the house. One can’t just scan in these things to save real estate as you might do for your child’s art. [] As a result, many families in Santa Barbara are often giving up their baby toys and care items at low prices or even for free. If you are in need, just look to craigslist or edhat’s classified ads to get these things! Since you may be busy feeding your child, delegate to an in-law scour these sites regularly for the items you seek. You will be surprised at the high quality items that go for next-to-nothing in this town.

Making Holiday Cookies

Originally posted on Edhat 1/19/09

By Mike Shinn

Making holiday cookies was a family tradition long before my wife and I had our daughter. Still, with a few adjustments we are still able to enjoy making cookies together. This year posed new challenges and opportunities, as my daughter becomes more aware and gains new skills.

We chose cookies that we could work on as a family. They may not be as fancy as some fromLeah's holiday cookies this year, but we have not yet heard any complaints.


We started by being as prepared as possible - it's exciting for kids to see you pick up the 50 lb bag of flour from Costco, but not to see you go back to the grocery store for a fourth time because you forgot that you needed more margarine. We used familiar recipes for the most part - ones that we have made regularly in the past enough to know that they weren't too challenging for a toddler. We also used two new items this year that helped tremendously. First, we bought our daughter a child's apron. This let her know when we were baking, versus when we were playing. While the apron was on, she knew to be more careful and patient and to watch for what was going to happen next. Rolling Pin Rings were also key to the success of child involvement this year. Had I seen these before, I would have used them for myself in the past! These colorful rings can be purchased at any specialty kitchen store like Bed Bath and Beyond, or Sur La Table. They come in a variety of thicknesses, and wrap around the ends of your rolling pin like a thick rubber band. These rings control the thickness of dough for rolling to give you a consistent cookie - perfect for toddlers (or myself) who might not be able to determine the thickness of dough as well as some adults.

Kids can help in a lot of ways when it comes to making holiday cookies: pouring, mixing, testing dough, decorating, rolling, balling and using cookie cutters. Most of all, this is a great way to help them learn patience and kitchen safety. For example, when getting cookie trays in and out of the oven, our daughter knew that the oven was very hot and that she had to step back and wait for an adult to take care of it. Having the apron on definitely helped her to know that this was a special time, and a time to be careful.


We made sure to have a lot of paper towels on hand, in the event of a spill or mess. Making cookies are messy by their nature, but having a toddler make cookies brings this to a new level. The apron helped for this as well, but the apron doesn't cover all of your body. For this, we made most of our holiday cookies together at night, followed by a trip to the bath just before bed. Doing so, we avoided a lot of mess on our daughter, furniture pets and toys - things she touches often. In between batches we also encouraged hand washing, to help with this as well.

Granted, though my wife and I did the measuring and detail work, we were able to involve our daughter nearly every step of the way. For the final part, she was able to help all on her own. We typically make enough cookies to deliver to neighbors and other friends around town. We loaded her up in her play car and she was able to knock on doors to hand over the treats. The entire experience this year was a great one, and we hope that the experience will have taught her some valuable lessons for years to come.

# # # #

# # # #

# # # #

Rainy Day Fun

Article originally posted on EdHat 1/23/10

By Mike Shinn

Rain has come to Santa Barbara! The short time that Santa Barbara experiences a downpour per year offers us the opportunity for rainy day fun. I have fond memories of playing War, using partial card decks with my brother. It was anything my mom could do to keep us busy. Now that I have a child of my own, I'm doing my best to take advantage of the weather. Below are a handful of activities that my daughter has enjoyed:

Hide and Seek: this is a big game in our house. Sometimes my daughter hides alone, but typically she will enlist me, my wife, or even one of the pets!

Combine Toys: There's no better time to bring new life to your toys than when you are stuck inside. My daughter wanted to build a castle for her monkey finger puppets.

Forts: A blanket and cushion fort is fun any time, but especially fun on dark and cloudy days

Bake: Not just for Christmas, baking is fun any time! Recently I discovered a new recipe for edible clay: 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of honey. This clay is fun to make and fun to play with - eat along the way or after you're done! This recipe beats the salty homemade play dough that we were given as kids.

Rain Play: Take advantage of the rain and enjoy it while it's still coming down! My daughter had a blast running around, stomping in puddles and getting full use of her rain clothes. We followed it up with a nice bath and warm food - the perfect activity on a rainy day.

Being a parent isn't often easy, but being prepared with potential entertainment ideas can make it a little easier. Santa Barbara provides its residents with such a wide assortment of outdoor activities, it becomes easy to lose sight of the fun that we can have at home!