The best educational toys for kids

It’s tempting to get your kid every shiny new toy they ask for. But some toys are better than others when it comes to actually stimulating your child’s brain while also keeping them entertained. The parents on the Engadget staff know this well, and we’ve tried out a bunch of educational toys with our kids, with various results. These are some of the ones that have had staying power with our children — and even we adults have to admit we found them pretty fun, too.

Smart Lab: Smart Circuits

Smart Lab: Smart Circuits for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

When it comes to introducing kids to electronics there are a ton of options, but I personally like the Smart Circuits kit. It can take a kid from simple blinking lights to complex motion-controlled games. The snap-together baseboard can lie flat on a table like a regular breadboard, but it can also be folded into a cube or the pieces can be attached at a 90-degree angle. This gives kids an extra element to play with when they graduate to designing their own circuits.

The kit itself only has a few pieces, but they’re quite flexible. And they’re all housed in large colorful plastic that should be easy for a kid to handle. There’s the usual electronics kid fare, like LEDs, a speaker, a potentiometer and two buttons. But there’s also a tilt switch, a light sensor and a microprocessor capable of handling some relatively robust tasks. The kit comes with instructions for 50 projects, but with the parts available a creative child could build quite a few more.

My one critique is that the jumper wires can be tough to insert and might require a bit of patience — something we know not every eight-year-old has an abundance of.  Terrence O’Brien, Managing Editor

Buy Smart Circuits at Amazon - $50

Playskool Shape Sorter

Playskool Shape Sorter for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Playskool

A shape sorter is an awesome toy for younger kids because it encourages hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem-solving and even vocabulary (by identifying the names of shapes and colors). My kids have a few of them, but the one I like most is this Playskool model and here’s why. The lid latches, which means they can’t just dump the shapes out easily; they have to learn how to work the mechanics of the lid as well. Also, the multi-colored shapes have tactile patterns on them that match the area of the box they’re supposed to fit into, and that gives me another teaching opportunity. The whole thing is durable, too — my son likes to chew on the shapes and my daughter likes to stand on the box, but despite that abuse, there’s not so much as a dent or a scratch on it. And because it’s only $9, it makes a great gift if you’re buying for someone else’s kiddo. — Amber Bouman, Associate Editor, Parenting

Buy Shape Sorter at Amazon - $10

Yoto Player

Yoto Player for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Yoto Player is the perfect toy for a young child who wants to play their own tunes and stories, but who isn’t ready for an iPad or smart speaker of their own. Yoto’s cute design and blocky, pixel-like display looks distinctly retro. It’s detailed enough for kids to make out images, but it’s insufficient for video, which should actually be good news for parents worried about too much screen time. Yoto calls the player a “carefully connected” speaker: You bring it online during the initial setup, but from there kids can access safe songs and other content through physical cards. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor

Buy Yoto Player starter pack at Amazon - $110

Amazon Fire 7 Kids Pro

Amazon Fire 7 Kids Pro for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

While Amazon’s Fire tablets may not always be the best option for adults, the company’s kid-friendly models are a safe bet. Thanks to the included case, the Fire Kids Pro lineup is built to withstand frequent tumbles. The company offers adequate parental controls so you can keep tabs on content and includes one year of Amazon Kids+ for free. The Kids+ service offers access to over 20,000 apps, games, books, videos, songs and audiobooks from National Geographic, LEGO and more. You also get access to a digital store where you can install additional apps as you see fit. — Billy Steele, Senior News Editor

Buy Fire Kids Pro at Amazon - $100

Kiwi Crates subscription

Kiwi Crate for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Kiwi Crate

I am, admittedly, a sucker for a good subscription box. But Kiwi Crate is the only one that doesn’t feel like an indulgence. Each month my three-year-old gets a collection of simple DIY toys, crafts and games built around a theme. For instance, a recent box was all about bioluminescent animals. Inside was a plush lightning bug that we had to stuff ourselves and shape using hair ties; a mushroom that had us painting a Slurpee lid and then dotting it with glow-in-the-dark stickers; and a dancing, glowing jellyfish as well as several window clings of sea creates for him to create scenes with.

Past kits have covered farm life, dinosaurs and simple machines like ramps. The stuff inside the box is usually pretty simple (think: cardboard, felt and wood). It’s definitely not built to last, but my kid has gotten plenty of use out of each piece.

The best part is the crates will grow with him. As he gets older the projects will get more complex (and the price will go up). Later boxes include everything from screen-printing tools, to trebuchet kits and even robots. — T.O.

Buy Kiwi Crates starting at $16 a month

Lego Duplo My First Number Train

Lego Duplo My First Number Train for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sorry, folks, but this isn’t an electronic gizmo-toy that you can plug in, connect to the internet and treat it as somehow educational. As something of a traditionalist, I’ve always preferred solid toys that offer kids some license to imagine what’s going on, and this offers that in spades. Duplo’s My First Number Train is a train, with the coaches made from double-height number blocks running from 0 - 9. The aim is for your rugrats to place each block in chronological order and get familiar (almost subconsciously) with the concept of a number line.

Then, as they get a little older, you can do any number of things with the set, including (as we did) tie a ribbon around the chimney and fashion it as a pull-along train. Both my son and daughter (we bought one for each) love racing through the hallway with their pull-along trains. And, now that my daughter is in school, the train’s number blocks come in handy to help with the basics of her maths homework. Plus, it never hurts to have a surplus of double-height Duplo bricks for all of the (completely inaccurate) Frozen castles you’ll be building on Saturday mornings. — Daniel Cooper, Senior Editor

Buy My First Number Train at LEGO - $20

Kano PC

Kano PC for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Kano

The Kano PC may look at first like a cheap Surface knock-off, but based on our testing, it’s also a perfect introduction to the computer world for young children. It’s partially DIY — the base unit is a Windows 10 tablet with a pre-installed CPU, memory and storage, but kids will have to plug in a colorful battery and speaker module to get it going. Kano encourages youngsters to take a close look at all of the PC’s clearly labeled hardware with the bundled magnifying glass. And once they get going, it’s still a decently capable Windows 10 PC, with a Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 1080p webcam. Heck, it even comes with a keyboard cover, something Microsoft still hasn’t bundled with the Surface tablets. — D.H.

Buy Kano PC at Best Buy - $200

Playtime Engineering: Blipblox

Playtime Engineering: Blipblox for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Blipblox may look like a simple noise-maker for kids, but this gadget is much more than just a toy. While the device is loaded with 300 melodies and a synchronized light show, it also packs a capable digital synthesizer engine. There’s an oscillator with the usual assortment of synth parameters along with an amp envelope, two LFOs, modulation envelope and a low-pass filter. The Blipblox also has a MIDI input for use with a keyboard or other accessories in addition to a ¼-inch output. Lastly, it runs on three AA batteries or plugged in via a USB cable. Blipblox can teach kids about music through a basic approach to instruments and synthesis, but its features are advanced enough to offer noise-making magic for parents, too. — B.S.

Buy Blipbox at Amazon - $189

Montessori Busy Board

Montessori Busy Board for Engadget's 2021 Back to School guide.
Will Lipman Photography / deMoca

My kids are currently fascinated with snaps, zippers and closures, which is fun because it means it’s easy to amuse them, but awkward, too, because they often decide to undo the closures on the shirt I’m wearing. A busy board capitalizes on this curiosity by offering several different clasps, snaps, zippers, buttons and openings for little ones to work their fingers on. It intrigues children by activating their senses and helps them develop their fine-motor skills and problem solving by using real-world obstacles. It also adheres to the Montessori philosophy of simple, wooden toys that help children explore the world around them through play. The deMoca busy board is one of my favorites because it has bright, eye-catching colors, and 10 sensory activities including a zipper, a buckle, a latch and Velcro. It’s easy to bring along on trips, and deMoca also makes a “Quiet Book” — a soft-cover, fabric version that’s washable. — A.B.

Buy busy board at Amazon - $60

The best high-tech gear for babies

Planning to bring home a new baby is like planning for a tiny cyclone to live in your house. You’re not sure when it will arrive or how much bedlam will come with it. All you can do is stock up on supplies and batten down the hatches. And when it comes to babies, there are so, so many supplies, from the obvious (diapers, a crib) to the unexpected (snot suckers, no-scratch mittens). Fortunately, babies need very little in the way of gadgets, but the devices you do need in your nursery have to be reliable, simple to use, and effective. Here’s a collection of items that proved themselves useful — and in some cases essential — when I brought home premature twins. Plus, a few favorite toys for good measure.

Owlet smart sock

Owlet smart sock
Owlet

Bringing home a new infant is both surreal and nerve-wracking, especially when you have almost no experience with babies (*raises hand*). Because my twins were NICU graduates, there was no question that we wanted a monitor at home that could reproduce the stats we were used to seeing in the hospital. Owlet’s smart sock is the only infant wearable that measures heart rate, pulse ox and breathing rate. That information is displayed in an app that graphs your child’s data and tracks their sleep patterns as well. If your child’s readings rise or dip outside normal levels, you’ll be alerted through an alarm on your phone and the Owlet base station.

I’ve used both the second- and third-generation sock for the twins until they hit the weight limit. Strapping the sock onto a wriggly baby is not always easy, and a poor fit can cause heart-stopping false alerts. However, checking the Owlet’s readings frequently in those early days was reassuring to me, and over time I felt more comfortable as I got a sense for their typical stats. The sock measurements also helped me understand their sleep habits by reporting back on when they were sleeping and when they were very much not sleeping. The amount of information and support was especially helpful when I found myself worrying, as I could simply pull up their data on the app for reassurance. Additionally, Owlet makes a camera that can tie into the system to provide video and audio feeds and sound/motion alerts, so you can get a quick peek at your little one.

Buy smart sock at Owlet - $299

Nanit Pro baby monitor

Nanit Pro baby monitor
Nanit

Once you finally get your newborn to sleep, you’re going to want to check on them roughly every two and a half minutes until you pass out on the couch watching Hulu. Regardless, there is no bigger transgression than waking a sleeping baby, so you’ll need a quality monitor to help keep tabs on your new addition without disturbing them. There are a lot of good monitors on the market, but the Nanit became a favorite thanks to its clear video and extensive features. The Nanit camera offers a bird’s-eye view of your child’s crib, and because it’s positioned over the crib you won’t need to worry about adjusting the angle. It needs to be either wall mounted or set up on its stand, but I found the latter setup wobbly and fragile, so I’d recommend the stand, for sure.

The 1080p video stream is clear, day and night, and it can be shared with multiple caretakers. Nanit is tied to an app so you’ll access the feed from your phone; there’s no need to charge or keep track of a separate display. It also offers noise and sound alerts, which made it easy to get a heads-up when one of the twins was stirring, though I had to minimize the sensitivity of these in the app because they occurred frequently. It collects snippets of your child’s night time activities for your reference, and tracks sleep data. Nanit also offers a Breathing Band wearable if you’d also like to track your baby’s breaths per minute.

Buy Nanit Pro at Amazon - $300

Munchkin 59s pacifier sterilizer

Munchkin pacifier cleaner
Munchkin

It wasn’t until I had babies that I realized how completely filthy everything in my home was. Although I have used the Wabi steam sanitizer for the last year or so in order to deep clean the majority of the kids’ cutlery, bottles and cups, it’s overkill to haul that thing out for pacifiers alone. Munchkin makes a cute 4.1 ounce UV-C cube that can sterilize a single pacifier in under a minute. It’s straightforward to use and easy to tote around, thanks to the silicone wrist strap.

You’ll have to first wipe down any pacifiers that are covered in hair, crumbs or other toddler detritus, but after that all you need to do is pop the binky into the cube and hit the button. The 59S lights up in a blue hue that fascinates my kids while it kills 99 percent of household germs — and that may include coronavirus, which the FDA says could be rendered inactive from the UV-C. The combination of pacifier wipes and the 59S came in handy during a recent trip where my kids were in a variety of different environments; I didn’t have to worry at all knowing that I could quickly cleanse their pacifiers without having to run to a sink every time they threw a binky on the ground, outside their sleeping area, into a pool or directly into someone’s cup of coffee.

Buy Munchkin 59s sterilizer at Amazon - $20

Willow wearable breast pump

Willow breast pump
Willow

Establishing a pumping and breastfeeding routine is an exhausting challenge, so any shortcuts that save you time or energy are basically essential. Wearing a breast pump instead of being tethered to my Spectra was a tremendous relief. I could pump while doing laundry, working, soothing a cranky baby or even practicing yoga. Willow makes wearable breast pumps that are spill-proof (I tested it in downward dog) and comfortable to use. However, they weigh 12.5 ounces each and I felt pretty self-conscious wearing them around because they made my silhouette look like an exaggerated comic book character.

Willow’s system contains all the parts in an egg-shaped pump that you slip into a bra. The wearer can control intensity either on the pump itself or via the smartphone app, which also tracks a session and how much you’ve pumped. I particularly like that Willow gives users two options for milk collection: a reusable container or a disposable bag, though only the bag option is spill-proof. It’s fairly quiet but I still skipped wearing it outside for longer than it took to grab the mail. Although the Bluetooth connection to the app was inconsistent, it didn’t hinder my ability to use the hardware — or my gratitude in being able to move freely while pumping.

Buy Willow breast pump at Amazon - $500

Hatch Rest+

Hatch Rest+
Hatch

My love for the Hatch Rest is well established; I’ve written multiple times how I use it daily, and how it’s been useful as a night light, white noise machine and sleep trainer. I’ve recommended it to friends and I even packed it when my family was being evacuated from a forest fire. In case you missed those previous references, here’s the scoop: The Hatch Rest and Rest+ are minimally designed, fully-functional smart home devices that can be programmed to play a variety of sounds and colors. There are 10 available colors, or you can create a custom one, and 11 sounds including rain storms and lullabies. You can control it either from your phone or from the physical buttons and touch ring on the device itself.

The Rest+ is more expensive at $90 but brings a few additional features like battery power, two-way audio, a dimmable clock, voice control with Alexa, and access for multiple users. If you can do without those, the $60 Rest should suffice. Hatch also makes an adult model, the Restore, and recently released the Rest Mini, which offers a subscription to stories, lullabies and more kid-friendly content.

Buy Hatch Rest at Amazon - $60Buy Hatch Rest+ at Amazon - $90

4moms mamaroo4 infant seat

4moms mamaroo4 infant seat
4moms

An infant swing can be helpful to entertain your babe while you do other tasks or to help them gently fall asleep while being gently rocked. The 4moms mamaroo4 is a smart swing that not only mimics the actions that parents use when soothing babies, but can also be fully controlled from your phone. It is also blessedly simple to set up; the instructions are well-explained and I was able to get the whole thing up and running in under 10 minutes while my twins were distracted with teething crackers and Flappy the Elephant. It offers five movement options (car ride, kangaroo, rock a bye, tree swing and wave), five speed options and four built-in sounds (rain, fan, ocean, heart). You can also connect an MP3 player to it to play your own lullabies and tunes.

The speakers on the mamaRoo4 aren’t exactly bangers, though, so if you connect an MP3 player or streaming device don’t expect it to sound amazing. It will do the job for kid’s lullabies or classical tracks, but it doesn’t get very loud and isn’t built to be a speaker system. The swing itself isn’t exactly silent as it moves either, though in no way is it annoying or distracting. It does muffle the built-in sounds a bit so it’s hard to distinguish between them. The swings movements seem subtle at times, but my daughter seemed to enjoy them. It is pricier than most standard swings and will work up to six months or 25 pounds, but it might be worth it to be able to start, pause, change movement all from your phone as your baby settles down.

Buy mamaroo4 at Amazon - $250

Withings Thermo smart thermometer

Withings Thermo Smart Temporal Thermometer
Withings

Do you really need a $100 smart thermometer for your new baby? Technically, no. But y’all, let me tell you it only took a single use of the Withings Thermo to win me over. Here’s why: Withing’s smart temporal thermometer uses an artery in the head to measure temperatures. Which means instead of trying to keep a standard thermometer correctly positioned in the armpit of a wriggly, crying infant for an interminable time to get a reading you hope is accurate, all you have to do is gently swipe the Thermo wand across their forehead. You don’t even have to make direct contact with the skin since Thermo can still measure when held a half-inch away. It’s easy enough that I found myself taking my kid’s temperature more regularly because it was no longer a fight.

Thermo then displays the result on the LED display (which, for what it’s worth, really intrigued my twins) and you can press a button to save the reading. Because it’s tied to an app, Thermo not only saves previous readings so you can track temps, but it also lets you add multiple family members and assign a temperature to the correct individual. As a mom of twins, that’s the feature I was most interested in and it was simple and easy to scroll through profiles using a swipe next to the display. The app also helps you get Thermo set up. I will admit it took two attempts before I could complete this process but it wasn’t complicated; it just initially seemed to get stuck on the setup screen. Also, it’s worth noting that the Thermo started to take temperatures immediately, so I had a few results come in just as I was holding it in my hand and pointing it at a wall but these ambient readings are easy to dismiss.

Buy Withings Thermo at Amazon - $99

Baby Brezza Safe + Smart bottle warmer

Baby Brezza smart bottle warmer
Baby Brezza

A good bottle warmer should be efficient, minimal and easy to clean. Baby Brezza’s version is a good option because it has a slim profile, which makes it convenient to stash on a countertop, along with intuitive buttons and controls. It can heat either formula or breast milk using two warming settings (a steady warm water bath or a quick steam warm), as well as defrost frozen milk. The bottle tray fits most types, too — I can confirm it worked fine with the three different types that I had in my house. I was able to figure out how to work it without consulting the instructions too much, and I was pleased at how the bottles came out at an ideal temperature.

However, the noteworthy feature of the Safe + Smart is the Bluetooth connection that allows the warmer to be controlled through an app on your phone. You can select things like warming speed and the bottle’s starting temperature before starting a warming session all from within the app. It will also alert you when the bottle is ready to go.

While it sounds like a niche device, it proved particularly useful in certain situations. I was able to prepare a bottle, start my kid’s baths and use the app to start warming a bottle so it would be ready right as they were. I could also start a bottle, then text my partner to bring it upstairs as I read bedtime stories. And the alarm meant I could avoid walking up and down stairs several times to check on the warmer as I usually do. It’s a neat feature, but because you’ll still need to add water to the warmer each time, it works best if you plan ahead to use it.

Buy Baby Brezza bottle warmer at Amazon - $70

Toys

Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Elephant
Skip Hop Bandana Buddies

Infants experience the world around them through their senses, so they’ll be drawn to toys with a lot of colors, sounds and textures. Look for toys they can grab, twist, crinkle, chew, shake and spin. For example, this activity ball is ideal because it has several interactive elements: a mirror, a spinning ball, beads in a tube and a squeaky button, among others. My kids really enjoyed exploring each element here as their skills progressed. Sensory soft toys like this elephant reproduce a similar experience with rattles, gum massagers, pockets and rings, and are easy to hang in a car seat as well. For toys that teach physical skills, try wrist rattles and foot finder socks, which have bells and crinkles to help babies identify their hands and feet; or this crinkly cloth book with a mirror to encourage tummy time.

Buy activity ball at Amazon - $11Buy elephant sensory toy at Amazon - $15Buy wrist rattles/foot finder socks at Amazon - $9Buy cloth book at Amazon - $17

The best high-tech gear for babies

Planning to bring home a new baby is like planning for a tiny cyclone to live in your house. You’re not sure when it will arrive or how much bedlam will come with it. All you can do is stock up on supplies and batten down the hatches. And when it comes to babies, there are so, so many supplies, from the obvious (diapers, a crib) to the unexpected (snot suckers, no-scratch mittens). Fortunately, babies need very little in the way of gadgets, but the devices you do need in your nursery have to be reliable, simple to use, and effective. Here’s a collection of items that proved themselves useful — and in some cases essential — when I brought home premature twins. Plus, a few favorite toys for good measure.

Owlet smart sock

Owlet smart sock
Owlet

Bringing home a new infant is both surreal and nerve-wracking, especially when you have almost no experience with babies (*raises hand*). Because my twins were NICU graduates, there was no question that we wanted a monitor at home that could reproduce the stats we were used to seeing in the hospital. Owlet’s smart sock is the only infant wearable that measures heart rate, pulse ox and breathing rate. That information is displayed in an app that graphs your child’s data and tracks their sleep patterns as well. If your child’s readings rise or dip outside normal levels, you’ll be alerted through an alarm on your phone and the Owlet base station.

I’ve used both the second- and third-generation sock for the twins until they hit the weight limit. Strapping the sock onto a wriggly baby is not always easy, and a poor fit can cause heart-stopping false alerts. However, checking the Owlet’s readings frequently in those early days was reassuring to me, and over time I felt more comfortable as I got a sense for their typical stats. The sock measurements also helped me understand their sleep habits by reporting back on when they were sleeping and when they were very much not sleeping. The amount of information and support was especially helpful when I found myself worrying, as I could simply pull up their data on the app for reassurance. Additionally, Owlet makes a camera that can tie into the system to provide video and audio feeds and sound/motion alerts, so you can get a quick peek at your little one.

Buy smart sock at Owlet - $299

Nanit Pro baby monitor

Nanit Pro baby monitor
Nanit

Once you finally get your newborn to sleep, you’re going to want to check on them roughly every two and a half minutes until you pass out on the couch watching Hulu. Regardless, there is no bigger transgression than waking a sleeping baby, so you’ll need a quality monitor to help keep tabs on your new addition without disturbing them. There are a lot of good monitors on the market, but the Nanit became a favorite thanks to its clear video and extensive features. The Nanit camera offers a bird’s-eye view of your child’s crib, and because it’s positioned over the crib you won’t need to worry about adjusting the angle. It needs to be either wall mounted or set up on its stand, but I found the latter setup wobbly and fragile, so I’d recommend the stand, for sure.

The 1080p video stream is clear, day and night, and it can be shared with multiple caretakers. Nanit is tied to an app so you’ll access the feed from your phone; there’s no need to charge or keep track of a separate display. It also offers noise and sound alerts, which made it easy to get a heads-up when one of the twins was stirring, though I had to minimize the sensitivity of these in the app because they occurred frequently. It collects snippets of your child’s night time activities for your reference, and tracks sleep data. Nanit also offers a Breathing Band wearable if you’d also like to track your baby’s breaths per minute.

Buy Nanit Pro at Amazon - $300

Munchkin 59s pacifier sterilizer

Munchkin pacifier cleaner
Munchkin

It wasn’t until I had babies that I realized how completely filthy everything in my home was. Although I have used the Wabi steam sanitizer for the last year or so in order to deep clean the majority of the kids’ cutlery, bottles and cups, it’s overkill to haul that thing out for pacifiers alone. Munchkin makes a cute 4.1 ounce UV-C cube that can sterilize a single pacifier in under a minute. It’s straightforward to use and easy to tote around, thanks to the silicone wrist strap.

You’ll have to first wipe down any pacifiers that are covered in hair, crumbs or other toddler detritus, but after that all you need to do is pop the binky into the cube and hit the button. The 59S lights up in a blue hue that fascinates my kids while it kills 99 percent of household germs — and that may include coronavirus, which the FDA says could be rendered inactive from the UV-C. The combination of pacifier wipes and the 59S came in handy during a recent trip where my kids were in a variety of different environments; I didn’t have to worry at all knowing that I could quickly cleanse their pacifiers without having to run to a sink every time they threw a binky on the ground, outside their sleeping area, into a pool or directly into someone’s cup of coffee.

Buy Munchkin 59s sterilizer at Amazon - $20

Willow wearable breast pump

Willow breast pump
Willow

Establishing a pumping and breastfeeding routine is an exhausting challenge, so any shortcuts that save you time or energy are basically essential. Wearing a breast pump instead of being tethered to my Spectra was a tremendous relief. I could pump while doing laundry, working, soothing a cranky baby or even practicing yoga. Willow makes wearable breast pumps that are spill-proof (I tested it in downward dog) and comfortable to use. However, they weigh 12.5 ounces each and I felt pretty self-conscious wearing them around because they made my silhouette look like an exaggerated comic book character.

Willow’s system contains all the parts in an egg-shaped pump that you slip into a bra. The wearer can control intensity either on the pump itself or via the smartphone app, which also tracks a session and how much you’ve pumped. I particularly like that Willow gives users two options for milk collection: a reusable container or a disposable bag, though only the bag option is spill-proof. It’s fairly quiet but I still skipped wearing it outside for longer than it took to grab the mail. Although the Bluetooth connection to the app was inconsistent, it didn’t hinder my ability to use the hardware — or my gratitude in being able to move freely while pumping.

Buy Willow breast pump at Amazon - $500

Hatch Rest+

Hatch Rest+
Hatch

My love for the Hatch Rest is well established; I’ve written multiple times how I use it daily, and how it’s been useful as a night light, white noise machine and sleep trainer. I’ve recommended it to friends and I even packed it when my family was being evacuated from a forest fire. In case you missed those previous references, here’s the scoop: The Hatch Rest and Rest+ are minimally designed, fully-functional smart home devices that can be programmed to play a variety of sounds and colors. There are 10 available colors, or you can create a custom one, and 11 sounds including rain storms and lullabies. You can control it either from your phone or from the physical buttons and touch ring on the device itself.

The Rest+ is more expensive at $90 but brings a few additional features like battery power, two-way audio, a dimmable clock, voice control with Alexa, and access for multiple users. If you can do without those, the $60 Rest should suffice. Hatch also makes an adult model, the Restore, and recently released the Rest Mini, which offers a subscription to stories, lullabies and more kid-friendly content.

Buy Hatch Rest at Amazon - $60Buy Hatch Rest+ at Amazon - $90

4moms mamaroo4 infant seat

4moms mamaroo4 infant seat
4moms

An infant swing can be helpful to entertain your babe while you do other tasks or to help them gently fall asleep while being gently rocked. The 4moms mamaroo4 is a smart swing that not only mimics the actions that parents use when soothing babies, but can also be fully controlled from your phone. It is also blessedly simple to set up; the instructions are well-explained and I was able to get the whole thing up and running in under 10 minutes while my twins were distracted with teething crackers and Flappy the Elephant. It offers five movement options (car ride, kangaroo, rock a bye, tree swing and wave), five speed options and four built-in sounds (rain, fan, ocean, heart). You can also connect an MP3 player to it to play your own lullabies and tunes.

The speakers on the mamaRoo4 aren’t exactly bangers, though, so if you connect an MP3 player or streaming device don’t expect it to sound amazing. It will do the job for kid’s lullabies or classical tracks, but it doesn’t get very loud and isn’t built to be a speaker system. The swing itself isn’t exactly silent as it moves either, though in no way is it annoying or distracting. It does muffle the built-in sounds a bit so it’s hard to distinguish between them. The swings movements seem subtle at times, but my daughter seemed to enjoy them. It is pricier than most standard swings and will work up to six months or 25 pounds, but it might be worth it to be able to start, pause, change movement all from your phone as your baby settles down.

Buy mamaroo4 at Amazon - $250

Withings Thermo smart thermometer

Withings Thermo Smart Temporal Thermometer
Withings

Do you really need a $100 smart thermometer for your new baby? Technically, no. But y’all, let me tell you it only took a single use of the Withings Thermo to win me over. Here’s why: Withing’s smart temporal thermometer uses an artery in the head to measure temperatures. Which means instead of trying to keep a standard thermometer correctly positioned in the armpit of a wriggly, crying infant for an interminable time to get a reading you hope is accurate, all you have to do is gently swipe the Thermo wand across their forehead. You don’t even have to make direct contact with the skin since Thermo can still measure when held a half-inch away. It’s easy enough that I found myself taking my kid’s temperature more regularly because it was no longer a fight.

Thermo then displays the result on the LED display (which, for what it’s worth, really intrigued my twins) and you can press a button to save the reading. Because it’s tied to an app, Thermo not only saves previous readings so you can track temps, but it also lets you add multiple family members and assign a temperature to the correct individual. As a mom of twins, that’s the feature I was most interested in and it was simple and easy to scroll through profiles using a swipe next to the display. The app also helps you get Thermo set up. I will admit it took two attempts before I could complete this process but it wasn’t complicated; it just initially seemed to get stuck on the setup screen. Also, it’s worth noting that the Thermo started to take temperatures immediately, so I had a few results come in just as I was holding it in my hand and pointing it at a wall but these ambient readings are easy to dismiss.

Buy Withings Thermo at Amazon - $99

Baby Brezza Safe + Smart bottle warmer

Baby Brezza smart bottle warmer
Baby Brezza

A good bottle warmer should be efficient, minimal and easy to clean. Baby Brezza’s version is a good option because it has a slim profile, which makes it convenient to stash on a countertop, along with intuitive buttons and controls. It can heat either formula or breast milk using two warming settings (a steady warm water bath or a quick steam warm), as well as defrost frozen milk. The bottle tray fits most types, too — I can confirm it worked fine with the three different types that I had in my house. I was able to figure out how to work it without consulting the instructions too much, and I was pleased at how the bottles came out at an ideal temperature.

However, the noteworthy feature of the Safe + Smart is the Bluetooth connection that allows the warmer to be controlled through an app on your phone. You can select things like warming speed and the bottle’s starting temperature before starting a warming session all from within the app. It will also alert you when the bottle is ready to go.

While it sounds like a niche device, it proved particularly useful in certain situations. I was able to prepare a bottle, start my kid’s baths and use the app to start warming a bottle so it would be ready right as they were. I could also start a bottle, then text my partner to bring it upstairs as I read bedtime stories. And the alarm meant I could avoid walking up and down stairs several times to check on the warmer as I usually do. It’s a neat feature, but because you’ll still need to add water to the warmer each time, it works best if you plan ahead to use it.

Buy Baby Brezza bottle warmer at Amazon - $70

Toys

Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Elephant
Skip Hop Bandana Buddies

Infants experience the world around them through their senses, so they’ll be drawn to toys with a lot of colors, sounds and textures. Look for toys they can grab, twist, crinkle, chew, shake and spin. For example, this activity ball is ideal because it has several interactive elements: a mirror, a spinning ball, beads in a tube and a squeaky button, among others. My kids really enjoyed exploring each element here as their skills progressed. Sensory soft toys like this elephant reproduce a similar experience with rattles, gum massagers, pockets and rings, and are easy to hang in a car seat as well. For toys that teach physical skills, try wrist rattles and foot finder socks, which have bells and crinkles to help babies identify their hands and feet; or this crinkly cloth book with a mirror to encourage tummy time.

Buy activity ball at Amazon - $11Buy elephant sensory toy at Amazon - $15Buy wrist rattles/foot finder socks at Amazon - $9Buy cloth book at Amazon - $17

Alexa can help your kids read stories

As good as it is to read with your kids, you might not always be there when they want to open a book. Amazon thinks it can fill in that gap, though. It just rolled out a long-teased Reading Sidekick feature that uses an Echo Kids device to help your kids read aloud on their own time. Children just have to tell Alexa "let's read" to take turns reading supported books, whether they're digital or physical. Your young ones won't always have to wait for you, in other words.

You'll need a Kids+ subscription to use the Sidekick, although you'll at least have your choice of books. Over 700 titles will be available for kids aged 6 to 9, and Amazon is promising "hundreds more" every month.

Appropriately, Amazon is simultaneously rolling out Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids. Set them up for your children (as many as four) and they'll get parental controls, kid-appropriate responses as well personalized Alexa skills, games and media. Not everyone will have Voice Profiles for Kids right away, but they should be available to everyone by July 2nd.

Before you ask: yes, Amazon is aware that parents and teachers should be involved in reading whenever possible. It's not suggesting that you use a smart speaker as a substitute for reading at bedtime. Reading Sidekick is meant to fill in the gaps and encourage kids to read aloud more often — you don't have to worry quite so much if a business trip keeps you away from home.

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