Time flies extra-fast when you’ve got kids. One minute, they’re a helpless baby, the next minute they’re walking, and the next thing you know, they’re in kindergarten (and then, college). Whew! The same thing happens with a thriving business in a constantly-expanding industry – you have to remind yourself, sometimes, to stop and take stock.
The turn of the calendar page from one year to the next is always an excellent opportunity to reflect on our experiences and think about what’s important. So while you’re digesting holiday treats and putting together lists of resolutions, here’s our year in review: 13 products that defined the year 2013 for us, both toys and baby gear.
Rainbow Loom, by Rainbow Loom
Really, the list could stop here: this blockbuster toy is the #1 tween trend, sweeping through schools, summer camps, and backyards everywhere in America. Both boys and girls are making heaps and heaps of friendship bracelets, and showing off their aptitude for design by wearing and sharing them. Starting with the basic Single Pattern Link and moving on to the deadly Hexafish and beyond, kids are learning, looping, weaving, recording Youtube tutorials, and crossing every social boundary. The creations on the Rainbow Loom Facebook page go far beyond bracelets, into animals and action figures and iPhone cases. Given that this is a trend driven by the creativity of children, so there’s no telling what else they’ll invent.
And one aspect of the Rainbow Loom craze that we love the most: this enormous phenomenon started in the basement of automotive engineer Cheong-Choon Ng, and exploded outward through specialty stores. And there are knockoffs everywhere, but if you want a real Rainbow Loom, you’re still going to have to get it at a small toy store, like Magic Beans!
Living Sands, by Play Visions
The concept of moldable sand is nothing new, but we love how much Living Sands looks and “acts” like regular beach sand, without the qualities that make regular beach sand untenable for indoor play. Like beach sand, Living Sand runs through your fingers in the most pleasant and soothing way, and sinking your hands into it feels absolutely wonderful. Unlike beach sand, however, it leaves your hands feeling remarkably clean – you don’t feel like you need to wash your hands immediately afterwards. And unlike beach sand, you don’t have to add water to mold Living Sands into shapes that actually hold solidly. The Living Sands play set from Play Visions comes with a few sculpting tools and a roller, and it’s fun to see what you can do with other dishes and utensils from your kitchen – try out a butter knife, an ice cream scoop, a water glass!
Living Sands is non-toxic, anti-bacterial, and doesn’t make a mess; just pour it into a shallow tray and let the fun begin.
Green Toys Ferry Boat with Cars, by Green Toys
We’re not opposed to toys that run on batteries; there are plenty of developmental benefits and magical moments to be had with, say, a fire truck with a siren, or a remote-control robot. But toys that are powered entirely by your child’s imagination are extra-special, and their benefits are vast.
The Green Toys Ferry Boat with Cars is only one terrific example of an entirely kid-powered toy, but its versatility adds extra playtime punch: it’s just as much fun in the bathtub or the pool as it is on dry land! It comes with toy cars! It has benches and windows for additional toy figures to hang out in! And playtime is absolutely open-ended with this toy, leaving your child to fill in the blanks: where are the cars being ferried to? Who’s on board? Is it going on a quick jaunt across a river, or an ocean voyage with high waves and pirate marauders?
Finally, like all Green Toys, the Ferry Boat and Cars are made with 100% recycled plastic milk jugs with no BPA, phthalates, PVC, or external coatings. So this toy is durable, eco-friendly, and kid-safe. We can’t think of a single feature we’d add.
Playmobil Cargo and Passenger Aircraft, by Playmobil
Like the Ferry Boat, the Playmobil Cargo and Passenger Aircraft is powered entirely by your child’s imagination, and it gives clever little brains a lot to work with: first of all, the plane itself is just HUGE! Measuring 23” x 25” x 9”, this realistic toy plane makes a big visual impact. The plane opens up to load on passengers and cargo, and the realistic details will satisfy your little stickler (who will also get a giggle out of the toilet-equipped plane bathroom).
And oh, the accessories! The Cargo Plane comes with five beautifully detailed little Playmobil figures (a pilot, a nattily-dressed businessman passenger, a flight attendant, an air traffic controller, and an aircraft marshal with red and green signs and protective ear covers). We see flights of fancy in your child’s future!
Kubix Marble Run, by Janod
Marble runs are a classic “smart toy” since they encourage kids to use logic and problem-solving skills, and teach some basic physics concepts intuitively. They’re also great for building fine motor skills, and they have tons and tons of play value: kids who are too young to do the building on their own go saucer-eyed at the opportunity to drop marbles down the run and see where they go, while their older siblings love mastering the building process and then creating their own runs.
So naturally, we sell plenty of wooden marble run systems, and they’re all wonderful in their own way. We’re highlighting the French-made Janod Kubix Marble Run set simply because Janod toys are just that gorgeous – the bold, saturated colors make this set absolutely irresistible.
Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 Mega Stunt Set, by Mindware
Q-Ba-Maze sets take marble maze-ing in a different direction: made with translucent plastic that resembles stained glass, Q-Ba-Maze blocks direct the marbles more randomly than a wooden maze, and the pieces all notch together for a more stable build that’s less likely to get knocked over accidentally.
This Q-Ba-Maze set provides deluxe marble maze fun for the whole family with a bunch of additional “stunt” pieces that rattle, zoom, and boing marbles in new and entertaining ways. Coaster Tubes and a Marble Vortex add speed; Cascade Stilts up the noise quotient; and a Pivot Trampoline sends marbles to random parts of the maze. You know from the outset what each piece will do – but what will they do together, and what happens when you change their position?
Little aspiring engineers will experiment endlessly to see what their very clever toy can do. And as with any marble maze, smaller children will never get tired of dropping marbles down it and watching ‘em go, so this is a toy that will engage multiple kids happily for hours to come.
Bugaboo Buffalo Stroller, by Bugaboo
Every new Bugaboo stroller is a gala event: as the originators of the entire luxury stroller category, Bugaboo is constantly leading the way for the rest of the industry. So the Buffalo has high standards to live up to, and of course, it does: it adds rugged all-terrain capability to the Bugaboo collection.
The Buffalo is the biggest, toughest single-occupancy Bugaboo stroller, designed for outdoorsy families who want to take their child far afield. Chunky foam-filled never-flat tires and the clever two-wheel mode ensure that no surface is too bumpy or slushy to handle. It’s also made to carry a whole lot of kid (up to 50 pounds) and a whole lot of cargo (up to 35 pounds). It’s the first stroller ever safety-certified to carry up to 13 pounds of cargo right on the handle, so you can hang that huge diaper bag and give your tired shoulders a rest. (No, your diaper bag probably doesn’t weigh 13 pounds, but it might be close.)
The Buffalo stroller maneuvers like a dream, which means that you’ll sail happily through grocery store aisles, over sidewalk cracks and trolley tracks… but this is a stroller that dreams of wide-open skies and outdoors adventures. And, since it’s a Bugaboo stroller, it looks gorgeous no matter where you take it.
BabyBjörn Baby Carrier One, by BabyBjörn
Finally, there’s a Björn that gives you mjöre! (Sorry, we had to.) The BabyBjörn Carrier One is the first carrier from the iconic company to allow extended wear: you can carry kids from birth all the way up to 33 pounds, including an easy back carry! Zippers around the legs let you position your child’s legs for ergonomic comfort, and as with all BabyBjörn carriers, you can adjust this baby carrier precisely to fit parents and caregivers of all sizes.
Oh, and positioning your child in the back-carry is incredibly easy: watch this video to see how you scoot your child around your body in one safe and easy motion that sort of reminds us of a cool basketball move. Even if this weren’t a feature that will make your life tremendously easier, it would still look really neat!
Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat, by Chicco
Let’s face it: new car seat features are, on the whole, less impressive to the general public than they are to gear geeks like us (it’s our job to know these things, after all). But the SuperCinch LATCH installation system on this convertible car seat has a rare “wow” factor: integrated pulleys quadruple the force of your pull, giving you a rock-solid installation every time. Think of it as a car seat feature that makes you four times stronger. That’s pretty cool, right?
Plus, the ReclineSure 9-position Leveling System ensures that this seat fits a broad range of cars without any fiddling with pool noodles, and awesome protective features enclose your child in a happy little bubble of safety. This is a fantastic convertible seat all around – and it’ll make you feel like Superman!
Easy Swaddle Wrap, by Aden + Anais
Nearly every new baby loves being swaddled. Nearly no new baby will allow you to get enough sleep. Combine these two aspects of babyhood, and you can wind up with both of you crying at 3am: the baby wants to be swaddled, and you’re so tired that you’re dozing off mid-swaddle.
So the Aden + Anais Easy Swaddle Wrap can be a lifesaver when you’re new to this swaddling business: tuck your baby’s legs into the pocket and follow four simple steps that end with some nice secure snaps. The Easy Swaddle Wrap is made with the same deliciously soft, breathable cotton muslin that has made Aden + Anais a household name, so you don’t have to worry about your baby burrito getting overcooked, and you can get back to bed fast.
Leaf Floating Baby Lounger, by Nuna
Have you ever seen a baby bouncer or rocker that was useful beyond baby’s first year? Neither have we – and we’ve never seen anything that looks quite like the Nuna Leaf Floating Baby Lounger, either. The nature-inspired asymmetrical seat has a completely unique look, and the swaying side-by-side motion (like a leaf floating down from a tree) is unusual as well. It uses no electricity and makes no noise. It’s simple, it’s stylish, it’s lovely, and your toddler can sit and sway in it, too. It can hold up to 130 pounds, so you can probably even plop yourself into it as well.
The Leaf Baby Lounger was just the first Nuna product we met this year, but the rest of their Dutch-designed baby gear is stylish, unique, and practical as well. Every product from Nuna seems to have a little extra pizzazz, whether it’s the Pepp stroller’s teeny footprint and compact fold, the stability leg on the Pipa infant car seat (a simple safety feature that’s more common in Europe but adds so much!), or the massive weight limit on the Zaaz High Chair (like the well-loved Tripp Trapp, it adapts right up to adulthood). We can’t wait to see what Nuna comes up with next!
Grazia Swivel Glider Nursing Chair, by Monte Design
Monte Design doesn’t mess around when it comes to comfort, and the graceful Grazia Swivel Glider may be their most luxurious nursing chair yet: while the footprint is about the same as their other gliders, it’s their roomiest glider, giving you plenty of space to lounge with your baby as she nurses or snoozes. And the gorgeous brushed stainless steel base offers unlimited options for motion: you can glide AND swivel. It’s so restful, it’s so cozy, it’s so serene and snuggly and… zzzzzzzz.
Ubabub Pod Crib, by Ubabub
Yes, clear cribs have been in for a while, but are any of them quite as beautiful as the Aussie-designed Pod? This crib looks like modern art that also happens to be a cozy and safe nest for your babe: we love how the delicate lines of the wood grain follow the rounded sides of the crib, and the sweet little star-shaped cutouts in the clear acrylic sides.
And the stunning design doesn’t interfere with the practical function of the Ubabub Pod Crib, either: it’s easy to assemble, clean, and maintain, the low profile makes it easy to reach in and retrieve your child, the materials are eco-friendly and high-quality, and the crib comes with everything you’ll need to convert it into a toddler bed.
Of course, these are hardly the only discoveries we made in 2013, but we only have so much space, and you only have so much time – and besides, a new year is about to begin, with hundreds of terrific products for babies and kids! Watch this space for a preview of some of our most hotly-awaited discoveries for 2014, coming soon.