Republish: Now updated with Bright and Beyond card decks (Gear section.)
Items receiving Honorable Mention are things that:
1. I have or have used.
2. May not be perfect or absolutely necessary, but
3. Make things a lot easier and/or more fun.
Feel free to use this as a baby shower gift idea list - I do.
Mesh Feeder - Put in peeled fruit (peach, watermelon, plum, etc.) or vegetables (cooked sweet potato, zucchini, etc.) and voila - feeding fun for the beginning eater. No choking hazard, just fresh food and a big mess. Munchkin has a better design than Sassy - easier to open and close.
Food Mill - Great for quickly turning regular food into baby food - just dish up what the family's having and mill it to baby consistency.
Snack Trap - Clever little snack cup with a slitted lid that lets little hands in and somewhat keeps goldfish from spilling out. Not totally spill-proof, but better than an open container.
Robeez & other soft shoes - For 0-6 months, I recommend Zutano booties (or similar) because nothing else stays on their feet! For 6-12 months, Robeez (or similar) are best. This is the sitting / crawling / standing / walking age, so a soft soled shoe that allows the foot to grip and feel and grow but still be warm and protected (and stylish of course) is best. Isabooties and Bobux (who claim to be "the original") are some other brands, and Target runs a nice knock-off line at half the price (though their sizes run very large.) I get most of mine on ebay.
Trumpette socks & tights - Nothing special about the socks themselves - it's just that the design, with the mary jane or ballet flat shoe look, is precious. Toddler size is best - infant size just slip off little feet. Love the tights - perfect for pre-walkers in the winter. They also have high-top looking socks for boys. And yes, I broke down and got Hazel the rain boots too!
Myself Belts are great for toddlers and young kids. Some pants just require a belt to stay up, and this belt stays in place but with the velcro closure is fast and easy to do or undo, whether it's to change a diaper of a squirmy kid or for potty training, when every second counts, or for older kids who want to dress themselves.
Johnson's Buddies - When Hazel started to have enough hair to get tangly, I started to think it's time for conditioner or something. Then I found this nice product line - made for kids but pleasantly scented (no "Whoppin' Watermelon" or "Strawberry Tsunami") and really does the job. We use the 2-in-1 Shampoo and the detangler spray.
Shampoo Rinse Cup - Someone out there's thinking! I don't know the back story but this must have been invented by a mom. I hope she's now a millionaire. Hazel still doesn't trust it, but it would work if she would sit still! Works great on Ginger. You can rinse out the shampoo without getting water on their face - of all the things I wish they'd had when I was little, this is a top one.
Exersaucer - I hesitate to recommend this product for the same reason I hesitated to buy it: what an eyesore. This is the exact kind of LPO (= large plastic object) I swore to never fill our home with. But it has earned its massive keep in the useful, safe, helpful entertainment it has provided both girls. Our pediatrician recommended it for Hazel when she was 4 months old (pictured), to strengthen back and leg muscles, and she loved it for about 5 months until she could crawl. Ginger is in the middle of the loving-it stage. I don't cringe every time I look at it anymore because it really has proved itself, but I also try to lend it out as often as possible so it's not in our place when we don't have a kid in it.
Triangular Jumbo Crayons - Easy to grip, don't roll away, extra strong, smooth color, no wrappers, solid storage case. Easily the best crayons I've ever seen! Make a great gift with Young At Art (see book section.)
Bright and Beyond Activity Cards by Paltoys - I found these sets at my favorite teacher store in Colorado and bought Age 1 to see what they were like. Rave, rave, rave. Each deck has 52 cards with a picture, activity description, and explanation of skills the activity develops. But every activity is simple, minimal mess & clean up, and quick to set up and do. Some may even say they're so simple they're "obvious" and why pay $10 for them? I'll tell you why. Because while I might come up with some of these ideas sitting in a quiet place brainstorming, it's quite another story when you're fatigued, overwhelmed, and facing a baby whose face says, "What are we doing now, Mom?" but your mind is blank. Just pull out a deck, flip through to find some kind of quick idea, and you're off. For example, squirting ketchup and mustard in a ziploc bag, sealing it, and letting him play with it in his high chair. Or putting a stuffed animal on a towel or baby blanket and, holding the corners, tossing him into the air amidst toddler giggles. We now own the baby, age 1 and age 2 decks. There is also preschool, reading, writing and math. An added plus is to keep these in my bag of tricks as a speech-language pathologist - all of these age-appropriate activities can be used or adapted to incorporate and develop speech and language skills. (*Amazon sells these with a 4-for-3 promotion, so you can stock up or buy extras for gifts.)
Patemm Pads - A mom-invented circular changing pad with pockets for wipes and diapers that comes in cool patterns (we have "the emma", large with pockets.) You don't absolutely have to have this changing pad, but the circular shape is helpful with squirmers, and we also use it as a play pad for Ginger at the park, now that she is sitting but not crawling.
White noise CD - I am a believer in the positive effects of white noise, not just for blocking out annoying and distracting sounds (like our fighting neighbors in Colorado, or the helicopters here), but also for relaxation and improved sleep. We have Restful Rain and Baby's First White Noise - love them both. It seems funny, but also smart, that they have a white noise cd for most of the machine noises babies like to fall asleep to: vacuum, dishwasher, washer, dryer, hair dryer, fan, car ride, air conditioner, shower, etc. One of these cd's with a Miracle Blanket makes a nice gift - one that will definitely get used.
Portable DVD Player - I am a terrible mother because my children watch a lot of videos and TV, blah, blah, blah. But since it is so, our portable dvd player comes in rather handy on long car rides and (hopefully) on our upcoming plane trip to Utah.
Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More, Argue Less, and Communicate Better as Your Family Grows - The title pretty much says it. What a great book for making you feel like you're part of a universal experience, rather than the worst parent (and spouse) to ever live. I think no one tells expectant parents what an impact children will have on their marriage - it can be a rather personal topic - or else if they tell them, they may not believe it. It can lead to a lot of confusion and blame once the babies come, like "What the *$%@ has happened?" I love this book for its candid, humorous, gender-balanced portrayal of the reality of family life, and the ideas it offers for improving it, before and after you have children. Every time I read a blurb I laugh out loud and loosen up - that alone has made it worth buying.
Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime - When we were expecting Hazel we went to a Conference on the Family (or something) in Denver, a cooperative production between local Catholic and Mormon leaders, and Dr. Guarendi was the keynote speaker. His philosophy and methods of discipline strongly appealed to my own parenting philosophy, which could be described as loving but practical, and this is an important book in our parenting library.
Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art - Again, the title says it. I had this from the library for about 2 months and really enjoyed the philosophy and the ideas I got. We have an entire gallery of drawings and paintings hanging in our kitchen thanks to this book's inspiration. I wish we had room for an easel so Hazel could create art whenever she wanted, but every few days she asks to paint or draw, and I try to accommodate her if possible.
OK kids, there's my second list - what do you think?