So I bought this singing bear toy to get my child to sleep.
The box says it has features. Like features.
This bear can read a story, sing a song, play “nature sounds” (which include white noise) and do a mixture of singing a song with nature sounds in the background. Honestly? I have it standing on the table beside me, playing songs as I write this and I’m feeling my eyelids getting heavy.
It’s impressive. Now that I’ve sorted out how to make it work.
When I first read it, I couldn’t find anything in the instruction manual telling me how to get this beautiful Starlight Sounds Polar Bear to work properly. That’s because it’s a stupid, tiny note on the very last page of a double-sided instruction manual which naturally opened onto the reverse side (and it wasn’t clear it was all a 100% English manual with double-sided instructions).
It makes me sad that parents around the world will be returning this toy to the shop with disappointed children because of a big oversight in the layout of the instructions. The “note” at the very bottom of page 7 should have been on the front page (the one with the picture of the bear).
Previously we had the Chad Valley singing jellyfish which does three songs, just the melodies, in midi tones, with no volume control. The top of the jellyfish lit up but didn’t project. It was ok until our baby hit about 5 months then it stopped captivating him. The Starlight Sounds Polar Bear projects color-changing stars onto the ceiling and there are three different lighting modes.
It’s everything I hoped it would be.
But it almost wasn’t.
See, when we got the bear it would only play for about 30 seconds then it turned itself off. I followed the troubleshooting instructions in the manual which said to remove the batteries for a few minutes then replace them to solve any issues. Two new sets of batteries later, this bedtime bear still didn’t work properly.
We missed the window to get my toddler to sleep in his bed tonight and my husband took him out in the pushchair.
It’s been 8 months since we were last able to settle our baby in his bed instead of the pushchair (ever since the day we moved to our new home in Ireland) and I was so hopeful that the Starlight Sounds Polar Bear would change that.
I knew from the Little Baby Bum Singing Storybook that sometimes, toys have a “demo mode” so they can give a quick demonstration in the shop. I wondered if the polar bear was stuck on demo mode, but the instructions and box didn’t say anything about that. And I couldn’t find a switch anywhere. I’d even had the batteries out, as mentioned.
I was getting really disheartened and worried that I was going to have to return the toy and buy a different one (I’d had my eye on the Chicco one when I found the Vtech Starlight Sounds Polar Bear in Home Bargains in Derry yesterday; I paid £24.99 for it).
Then I found it. The reason the bear wasn’t working properly. The thing that was making the Starlight Sounds Polar Bear switch off every 30 seconds.
The polar bear has white legs. Next to one back leg, there’s something that looks like a white label. Neither my husband nor I saw this while looking for a way to make the polar bear work better. Look carefully at the photos (I’ve made it easy by circling the label in red):
It’s not a label. It’s the tab that keeps the bear on demo mode. Pull the tab out and discard. Your bear should work now. You might still need to do a hard reset by following the troubleshooting instructions (switch off, remove the batteries for several mins, replace batteries, switch on).
As you can see in my second photo, there’s writing on the tab that says “please remove this strip”. Unfortunately, because of the way these bears are packaged, the tab gets folded so you don’t see that side at all until you are already looking for a tab to pull out.
If they’d inserted the tabs the other way around, or folded the tab in the other direction, it would have been a lot clearer, but with a white tab against white bear legs, it just wasn’t obvious at all that there was a pull tab to take this toy out of demo mode. I felt so silly when I got to the bottom of it, but at the same time, it seriously wasn’t obvious.
The only other issue I’ve had with this polar bear is that I tested the “sound-activated” aspect (when your baby cries for more than 4 seconds, it should light up and play soothing sounds). I varied my cry patterns, loudness and pitch, but it’s not turning itself back on for me. I would want to see this in action with a baby before saying that feature isn’t working on my model, because it might be attuned only to baby voices e.g. to filter out adult conversation or TV voices so it’s not constantly getting activated by the wrong things? I’m not sure.
The voices on the singing feature are good, and Vtech have chosen a strong selection of songs and nursery rhymes to get a baby to sleep. There is a playlist in the instruction manual. The sounds and music are good, too.
There is variation between the UK/Ireland version (where the product is called the “Little Friendlies Starlight Sounds Polar Bear”) and the US version (where the product is called the “Li’l Critters Soothing Starlight Polar Bear) and, like the Toot Toot Cory Carson car range (aka Go! Go! Cory Carson in the US), they have re-recorded the voicing to make it sound a little bit more local.
The volume control is also excellent, and you can make it louder if your baby is trying to sleep in a bigger room (or to make the toy heard over a car engine, for example) or you can make it quieter if your baby is in a smaller room or if you live in the country where the nights are quiet. Except for all those animal noises.
The toy itself doesn’t look very cuddly and I didn’t think it would get a lot of mileage as a soft toy, but my little one doesn’t like cuddly toys anyway. He likes things that light up and make noises. So this was an instant winner.
Now that I know what went wrong with using this as a bedtime sleeping aid tonight, I feel more confident about trying again with it tomorrow night and seeing if we can build a habit of little Jellyfish finally going back to sleep in his own bed.
You can buy the Little Friendlies Starlight Sounds Polar Bear on UK Amazon. This currently says dispatch time to Ireland and Northern Ireland (I tried both my addresses) is 1-2 months (seriously??) so I’d recommend getting it from Home Bargains instead.
Buy the Li’l Critters Soothing Starlight Polar Bear on US Amazon.
I bought loads of books for Jellyfish before he was born. We were living in China at the time so every time I flew to the UK or America on a business trip, I would stop into a bookshop and pick up more baby books.
I really wanted our bundle of joy to have the gift of reading. He had other ideas. He’s a wiggly, mobile, bouncy baby on the move who has turned into a toddler who prefers to play outside rather than being indoors, and doesn’t really sit still for a story very often.
He likes books that do something. They need to be more than just words and pictures, otherwise he just wants to do something else.
He listens to stories standing up and needs time to move around the room between pages. Often, he doesn’t let me read all the words on the page before he turns the page to see what’s next. We abandoned the idea of putting him to bed with a story when he started trying to climb out of his cot and play at bedtime. I honestly never expected babies to do anything other than sit and watch the pages turn when a story was read to them, it never occurred to me that there were other types of people in the world, but here we are, and I love my wiggly baby very much.
The books that have grabbed his attention:
That’s Not My Bus
We have had to buy this twice, now. The first book got played with until it fell apart, over the space of a few weeks. The second time, I bought it in French to expand our bilingual library. I don’t like the weak design of the “that’s not my…” series, and judging by Amazon reviews, I’m not the only person who thinks these books could have been made a bit more robust, but Jellyfish loves this type of book so we have to keep bending over and paying for more of them. We also have That’s Not My Tractor, Car and Giraffe. Each one has slightly different textures/explanations but the basic structure remains the same.
Amazon US (Bus isn’t available in US yet, link for That’s Not My Tractor)
This was a surprise winner from Grandma. When it first arrived, Jellyfish wouldn’t even let me open it, the book went straight in his mouth and he had chewed a corner out of it before I could say, “can you believe what the baby is doing?” We put it on a high shelf for a couple of months and when I brought it back out, Jellyfish was ready for the story. He likes that the lift-the-flaps coincides with onomatopoeia, such as “rat-a-tat, who’s that?” (accompanied by me knocking on the book while saying “rat-a-tat” because every good story needs sound effects), and he has learned several new animal names from this book, as well as the word “bike” and the fact bikes go “ding-ding” when you ring the bell.
This was an instant hit from Grandma. You pull the flaps and the cars change colour. There’s no real story but Jellyfish doesn’t care. He just wants to watch the cars change colour. It’s quite a robust book but he’s still managed to pull one of the pages apart and remove the part that makes the car change colour.
The Gruffalo board book
I felt a bit decadent buying this when we already had the full-sized picture book version, but it found its way into the trolley at ASDA anyway. It’s got a very shortened version of the original story, which rhymes at a shorter interval, meaning Jellyfish can focus on it easier. And he loves pulling the tabs to get the different animals to move as they flee the Gruffalo.
We borrowed this from the library and then had it all over lockdown as the library was closed. It doesn’t have pull tabs or lift-the-flaps, but each double page is actually a folded down triple-page-spread so you can unfold the third page to get the next part of the story which Jellyfish really loved. This was where he first encountered skiing and cycling. We would get to the end of this book and he’d close it then turn it over so the front page was facing me, then he would push the book into my hand to ask me to read it again. I was quite sad when we finally returned it to the library 9 months after we first borrowed it, when we moved away from Belfast.
This was another instant hit. This one has no stories, but each page has a push-button which sings one of the songs from the TV show. Jellyfish was so surprised the first time he heard Five Little Ducks and realized it was coming from this book, not from the TV (which was off at the time).
This is a very simple bath book about counting to five. It tells you to press the squeaker as you count the animals on each page, culminating in the dramatic climax of five quacking ducks (press the squeaker five times). The squeaker isn’t positioned for little hands so he’s never been able to squeak it by himself but he loves when I read it to him and he has pulled it out of the bathroom several times and brought it into his bedroom to ask me to read it when it’s not bathtime.
Amazon US (out of print but if you see it secondhand for about $5 it’s great)
This was Jellyfish’s first book and we’ve probably read it several hundred times. It’s a cloth book and two of the pages crinkle when you scrunch them up. It was also the book that elicited his first smile, on a car ride when he was three months old.
Amazon UK (out of print but if you see it for about £3-4 grab it)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
He’s only just getting into this over the past couple of months but he likes the last page with the butterfly (I wiggle the pages to make it look like it’s flying, which he really likes). I don’t think he’s old enough to care about the story at all, yet.
This one has a push button on each page where it plays bird sounds. The sound quality is really good and Jellyfish loves it, but he got a little too enthusiastic about pulling the pages apart so we have to keep this one on a high shelf and only let him have it under adult supervision.
I wrote this one specifically for Jellyfish, because he went through a phase where he thought frog pictures were the funniest thing ever. He likes simple stories and as he was a late talker, I wanted something that started with a very basic sentence structure and built on it. I couldn’t find anything like this so being a professional author, I wrote it myself. The construction is standard Amazon paperback and so he pulled the pages away from the cover over the space of a few weeks, but I didn’t mind because I bought it for him specifically.
This was a surprise hit. He didn’t like it the first three times I tried it, but one day he found it and brought it to me to read. Now he likes me to read it over and over to him. He’s ripped a couple of the flaps off, but overall it seems to have withstood his interest.
He liked this one the first time we read it to him, but the very next time, as soon as I read the title, he took the book off me, turned to the last page and pulled down the flap. Because Mr. Lion is right there. On the last page. He’s never anywhere else. And that answers the title question, so as far as Jellyfish is concerned, the case is closed. We really liked the baby-proof felt flaps though.
Little People Big Stories series
Look, it’s really cute as an idea to have stories about famous people (mostly) and I was all over these when I saw them, but toddlers just don’t get it. So the board books are a bit pointless. Tell your preschoolers about Marie Curie, by all means. There’s really not a lot of point reading about her to a seven-month-old. Or a twelve-month-old. Or a two-year-old. The pictures aren’t engaging enough for this age and the book has no flaps or textures.
The Gruffalo (the full-sized version)
My husband loves this book and really enjoyed reading it at bedtime but eventually we realized he was getting a lot more out of this than the baby was, so we left it. Little jellyfish isn’t really the right age for big picture-books yet so he prefers the board book of the Gruffalo with an abridged storyline for small attention spans and moving parts for wiggly hands to play with.
I’ve been putting off writing this review for quite a while because I have mixed feelings about this range of toys. We bought our first VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson Smart Point car a year ago, for Jellyfish’s first birthday. Since then, we have bought five more.
The features they are supposed to have:
They light up and talk/sing things from the Netflix TV show Toot Toot Cory Carson.
Each little toy seems to be voiced by the original actors (if you buy in the UK/Ireland you will get the British dubbed voices, which is good to know because the American ones will get the original American voices).
These work with the wider VTech Toot Toot toy range which is a whole selection of miniature toys that are like the Cory Carson ones but not part of that fictional world.
There are also playsets which have Smart Points in them. A Smart Point is an area in a playset that incites a toy car to say additional phrases.
If you stand one toy car on another one’s head, you can also incite additional phrases. I don’t know if these are different to the ones you get on Smart Points as we have several cars and no playsets.
When I first saw the orange Cory Carson cars in Sainsbury’s supermarket, I was stunned to discover they were suitable for ages 1+, which is what it says on the boxes. My baby was massively interested in cars (still is) and it was hard to find toy cars that were suitable for his age.
The bright colours appealed to him. The toy was just about the right size for him to hold in his little hand. Jellyfish was overjoyed that he had a toy car that talked and sang to him while its windscreen lit up. Everyone was happy.
However, after four weeks, that first car broke.
Cue much heartbreak and upset from a baby who had fallen in love with his new toy car and took it everywhere with him. Unfortunately, while they look really good, they are not robust enough for newly-turned one-year-olds. We think what happened to the first one was that Jellyfish dribbled too much (he sucked his car a lot as that’s how one-year-olds explore and play, really), the toy wasn’t watertight against dribbly babies, and so the electronics shorted out. But we’re not sure because I’m not an electronic engineer. Being a one-year-old, and unconditional with his affection, Jellyfish loved the car still.
So he played with his silent car, took it everywhere with him still and often fell asleep holding it. It was his favourite toy, still, but now it didn’t talk to him or light up. When he pressed the buttons, nothing happened. For £7.99 I didn’t think that was great value for a toy that was now just a small and basic lump of plastic, to be honest.
We still have that one, don’t ask me why we kept it, but we took it out of circulation and put it in a box somewhere after we bought him his second Cory Carson toy car. I think I probably held onto it in case he lost his second one and we needed to give him something while we ordered another. Cory was that essential by this point.
I agonized for several months over whether to buy a second one, because it seemed like these had a design flaw against baby dribble, and I didn’t want to throw good money after bad at this range of toys. But I couldn’t be 100% sure we hadn’t just bought a dud. £7.99 for four weeks of functionality wasn’t great value. Ultimately, though, I knew it would make Jellyfish happy to have more of them, and he was older now, so maybe the same issue wouldn’t arise.
We got the second orange Cory Carson car when Jellyfish was around 16 or 17 months. When we bought this car as part of a set, we also found another issue…
The Chrissy cars are not all created equal
He was still in love with these little cars (and he still is). He loves the TV show. He adores the characters. His favourite is Chrissy. So I bought him the Cory and Chrissy set. Our set included Freddie and Hallie, too. There wasn’t any good information about this set and I thought (being a reasonable person) after searching for any reviews online and finding nothing, that the Chrissy cars must all be the same.
The Chrissy cars are not all the same. If you buy Chrissy in a set, there’s a good chance she won’t be an electronic one, she will be a half-sized one with a big hole in the bottom proving she is hollow inside. She will not work on Smart Points and will not inspire any of the other toys to talk.
So we had to buy another one of these cars and as you can see in the picture above, we ended up with one electrical one that talks and lights up (on the left) and one that doesn’t do anything (on the right).
How to tell between the talking and non-talking Chrissy car
Counter-intuitively, the small Chrissy toy (that doesn’t talk) has “Chrissy” written across her bumper just like all the other toys (Cory, Freddie etc) have their names on their bumpers. The big Chrissy toy that actually talks has nothing written across her bumper.
I bought the talking one for €8.99 from Littlewoods after discovering that the first one we bought in a Cory and Chrissy set was actually the small, non-electronic one. Before that, I didn’t know there was any difference between the Chrissy cars you could buy, and it wasn’t very clear from the product descriptions for the various toys, all they said was that the Chrissy in the Cory and Chrissy set was “miniature” not that she didn’t do anything.
The electronic talking Chrissy is the same size (actually, bigger) than the talking orange Cory car, so brother and sister have a bit of a perspective issue when playing with them side-by-side. As far as I am aware, you can only buy a talking electronic Chrissy separately, and not in any of the bundles with any other cars.
Pros of buying a talking Chrissy:
The phrases are a really great selection. She has a good range and the timing and delivery of the lines are really spot-on.
If your little one’s favourite character is Chrissy, you will probably want to get this to add to your collection.
When you put the talking Chrissy on Cory’s head, and vice-versa, you get to hear some spontaneous extra phrases from both of them.
Because of the confusion around the talking/non-talking versions of Chrissy, I don’t see the talking one being on sale for long because people don’t have enough information to understand that she’s different to the smaller one available in the sets of cars. This is a shame because Chrissy is the best character in the opinion of my toddler.
We also have Freddie the Firetruck and Hallie the Helicopter. They are available as part of a set with Cory and miniature Chrissy. If you want all the other Bumperton Hills characters, you will probably end up with more than one Cory and mini Chrissy.
Freddie is really good, his ladder is a moving part that lifts up and down. He has additional phrases when you place any other character on his head. However, his side button which makes his siren light up stopped working fairly early on.
Hallie was a bit of a reach in terms of design. The wheels are tiny so she doesn’t really roll around as well as the other characters. Her helicopter blades are supposed to spin when you press a button (that I think is spring-operated) but this stopped working within a few weeks of getting her. You can still flick the propeller around with your finger but not with the button so some of the magic has been lost.
Compatibility with other toys
Obviously, it would be completely weird to play with one toy in isolation of all the others, and that’s not how babies/toddlers play, so we have seen how these toys work with a range of other toys in our house.
The Toot Toot VTech range are the right size to fit the Ikea toy car garage. You can fit four Toot Toot Cory Carson cars on the top of the garage and they will go down the ramp (but Hallie will stop the moment she touches carpet as her wheels are small).
You can also fit them in the back of the Vertbaudet dump truck (which is marketed as a beach toy but we keep it at home), and they work well with the Mega Bloks fire engine. Jellyfish particularly enjoys putting Freddie the Fire Truck in the back of the Mega Bloks fire engine, presumably because he’s imagining he has Freddie and his mum.
If you have a pop-up toy, you can put the Toot Toot cars on top of the pop-up areas and they will hold them down or flick off at random, which Jellyfish found very hilarious to do several times as he was approaching his second birthday.
They can be put on the seat of the BabyLo rocking unicorn to take them for a little ride.
Jellyfish particularly loves lining them up and parking them on flat surfaces. The TV table, the windowsill, the top of the (switched off) radiator, the bottom step of the stairs.
If I supervise and open the stairgate, he also likes taking them for a drive up the stairs, by picking them up one at a time and putting them on the next step up. This takes a very long time and when he gets to the top of the stairs, he picks each car up one at a time and moves them back down the stairs again.
And this is why I have so many mixed feels about this set of toys. He enjoys playing with them. He adores them, in fact. And I think that’s why it bothered me so much when they stopped working properly.
More electrical issues (solved)
From the second lot of toys I bought (Cory number two, Chrissie number two, Freddie and Hallie), every last one of these toys seemed to stop working properly 6 months into having them. All of them suddenly developed the exact same electronic fault (which is different to the issue we had with Cory number one, where he just shorted out or something).
They got stuck like a broken record repeating a couple of seconds of one pre-recorded sound over and over again, and sometimes they got stuck on the first half-a-second of a sound, repeating it at high speed with a very rapidly flashing light until you turned the toy off.
When this happened to one toy, I thought we must have dropped it one too many times. But then they all stopped working in such a weird way.
Luckily, this wasn’t an electronic fault at all! Phew! They just needed new batteries. We changed the batteries and the cars started behaving themselves again, although Hallie’s propeller still doesn’t work when you press the button for it.
These toys say they’re suitable from age 1+, and it’s true from a safety point of view (there are no small parts to choke on). However, from a playing point of view, they are not robust enough for one-year-olds who dribble and suck their toys a lot. They will not stay fully functional for very long. And at their current prices, that’s a lot of money to pay for a set of plastic cars.
They are also the ideal size to get lost under the sofa. A lot. And as you can see from my photo of Cory, the details are all painted on, and this comes off under heavy use from a toddler (see especially the scuffed white area around the orange lights at the bottom).
On the plus side, however, most of the range don’t use up their batteries very quickly even if your child plays with them for hours every day.
Chrissy takes 3 L1154F (AKA AG13 or LR44) (weird silver circular batteries) which may explain why her batteries run down faster than the other toys and also makes it more annoying when you need to change them because you’re unlikely to have a pack of these sitting around in your house, because what else takes them?
All the other cars we have (Cory, Freddie and Hallie) take 2x AAA batteries but it’s anyone’s guess as to what the others in the range take.
They are very, very safe. The battery compartment is protected by a cross-head screw that you could possibly open with a coin but a small child won’t be able to get into the batteries.
The wheels don’t seem to come off no matter how much they get chewed (unlike a non-VTech toy car we bought from Hamley’s that I’ll review separately).
There are no places in the electronic talking toys for a child to get their fingers trapped (I suspect it is possible with the smaller non-electronic Chrissy if you give her to a very young child with small fingers).
The only potential issue we’ve had (which has happened a few times) is Hallie is an awkward shape and when Jellyfish drops her on his foot, she makes him cry. None of the others seem to have this issue, he’s dropped them on his foot loads of times and doesn’t seem phased by it.
Alternatives to the Toot Toot Cory Carson range of cars
If you’re on a serious budget; I recommend the £4-£5 ASDA set of four plastic cars, instead. These are roughly the same size as the Toot Toot cars (and also fit well to supplement playtime with the Cory cars if you have two-under-two, twins or other multiples and need more similar toys to the Toot Toot ones but maybe don’t need them all to have bells and whistles). The ASDA cars are not electronic, the wheels turn and that’s about it but they are also suitable for going underwater so they have that as an advantage over the Cory cars.
As you can see in the picture below, the ASDA cars are slightly smaller (and the plastic is thinner, they feel cheaper) but these two sets of cars play very well together because the wheels are identical sizes. ASDA is Wal-Mart in the US so you might find these cars in there, too, but I don’t know. It’s been about two years since I last went to America.
Buy the VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson cars if your child adores the TV series and if you have the money to spend. They’ll get some enjoyment out of them even if the electrical components fail. Otherwise, they are perfect for older toddlers/preschoolers rather than 12-month-olds. Personally, I would have waited until Jellyfish was over 15 months before buying these if I’d known they weren’t dribble-proof. Waiting a little longer could save you money on buying replacement cars.
You know your child best, and if your child doesn’t dribble a lot and suck everything in sight, perhaps your toys will fare better than our first one did.
I would not recommend buying these for autistic children because the design is not robust enough and you will have a LOT of meltdowns when the toy doesn’t do what it did yesterday, and you will be running out and buying a LOT of replacements.
The bottom line is, I would recommend these for 15 months and over, if you keep on top of the battery changes. We will almost certainly end up buying more of them one day because Jellyfish is so in love with the Cory series and with all the characters. If you need more cars to play with that will fit the same size of playsets as the Cory Carson cars, get the cheap ASDA ones as well. If you’re on a budget, just get the orange Cory and supplement playtime with the cheap ASDA cars.
This is my honest review of products I paid full price for, from four different retailers, and all opinions are my own thoughts and feelings, all photos in this article are taken by me of the toys we own. Your mileage may vary. All babies are different.
You can find the Toot Toot Cory Carson range on Amazon (US) and UK Amazon or in your local shops such as Littlewoods, Sainsbury’s, Argos etc.
Note: These are called Go! Go! Cory Carson in the US.
It’s Jellyfish’s second birthday tomorrow, and we are all very excited! The weather might be overcast and a little rainy this week, but since we love the outdoors, we planned some trips anyway. Over the Bank Holiday, while nursery was closed, we took him to two beautiful Donegal beaches at Buncrana and Rossnowlagh.
Jellyfish’s favourite trip was to the playpark at Festival Play Park Buncrana. He especially liked the amount of slides they have. We wrapped up warm and took a little walk down to the sea, which is easy to get to from the play park.
After splashing in the water, we headed back up to the grass beside the main road and got some snacks from the food truck. Jellyfish was overjoyed to get an entire slice of banana cake all to himself (top tip: break bits off for them so they have a hand-sized amount to eat), while my husband and I both enjoyed delicious fresh-cooked bagels.
For the big day, we got him some toys he’s sure to love! There were so many great options available and it was hard to choose, but we didn’t want to overwhelm him with too many things, either. He’s so lucky to be a summer baby and get his choice of outdoor and indoor toys. Here are my top five picks for toddler birthday gifts this summer:
1. The Little Baby Bum Wiggling Wheels on the Bus
Our toddler’s favourite cartoon is Little Baby Bum, followed by Cocomelon as a close second (they’re identical nonstop nursery rhyme shows), and he already has the singing storybook, so the Wiggling Wheels on the Bus toy is ideal, especially as he’s going through that phase where he only wants to play with toys that have wheels. It’s €21.99 from Littlewoods.ie or £16 from UK Amazon (but don’t forget to add on the new import tax if you’re buying in Ireland).
2. Chicco Next2Stars Light Projector
About to turn two, our toddler isn’t quite settling by himself, yet. This night light projector was recommended to us by his crêche, who have a similar one. It’s better than many of the others because it has a selection of lighting effects (night time projection, soft projection and night light) as well as a range of sounds (melodies, nature sounds and white noise). Even more awesome, this one has a sound sensor which will activate the soothing music if your baby cries! I’m definitely looking forward to this arriving. Available here at littlewoods.ie for €28.99.
3. Toot-Toot Remote Control Cory Carson
This is the newest toy in the Vtech Toot Toot Cory Carson range and I just know our toddler is going to love it! He already has a few of the little talking SmartPoint Vtech Toot Toot Cory Carson cars (which I’ll review separately) and he’s watched the show on Netflix about four times (dear Netflix: More please), along with all the mini-movies they’ve made to accompany the main series. The idea that he can press buttons and make the car move will be a precious moment of discovery and I cannot wait for him to see this.
The iconic Little Tikes Cosy Coupe is the worldwide fourth best-selling car of all time (behind three cars for grown-ups), according to Smithsonian Magazine. I remember half my neighbours having these when I was little, and my sister, almost six years younger than me, had one as a toddler, too (I had a BMX). While we’re all obsessed with the latest trends and advances in toys, the Cosy Coupe, first released in 1979, is an evergreen favourite, selling tens of thousands every month!
My toddler’s crêche have a little row of about five of these parked in the play area for the tots to use. I am not actually getting one of these this year, as we live on a hill (disaster) but he adores the ones at his crêche and I would recommend this to anyone who has the space for their little ones to ride around in it, Flintstone-style.
For smaller children, the latest Cosy Coupes have a removable floor so you can push them around instead of them needing to co-ordinate their feet to move it themselves. They are now available in a range of colours and styles, including classic red-and-yellow, dinosaur-style, police car, or pink-and-purple.
You can literally buy these anywhere that sells big toys, such as Littlewoods.ie (€64.99), IE Argos (€65), UK Argos (£55.00), or it’s £49.99 at Amazon.co.uk (but I would recommend buying it from somewhere you can collect from such as Argos, or somewhere with a flat delivery fee, as shipping will be costly on such a big toy). From where I live in Ireland, it’s very easy to click and collect from the UK Argos site.
5. Smoby Be Move Trike
Another top pick for outdoors is the Smoby Be Move Trike which is suitable from 15 months to 3 years. This is a convertible toy that can go from being parent-controlled (with a handle at the back) to being toddler-controlled with the pedals on the front wheel. Grandma and granddad have bought this for our toddler to play with at their house and I just know he’s going to adore it!
I’m a huge Hello Kitty fan. I have so much Hello Kitty stuff.
Her real name is Kitty, not Hello Kitty. She is also from London, like me. And we met in China. I didn’t really get the whole Hello Kitty thing until we moved to China. Now my life is full of Kitty. I miss the amount of Hello Kitty stuff we could get in China. Then I found out there was loads on US Amazon — which ships to the UK and Ireland. Happy Kitty. So here are my top 10 Hello Kitty finds on Amazon:
10. The Hello Kitty cutlery set, featuring a pair of chopsticks, a fork and a spoon. Everyone in China and Japan has one of these sets for when they are out and about, and I love this Hello Kitty one. Note there’s no knife, and the fork and spoon are small, so it’s perfect for kids or to pop in your purse.
9. These cute Hello Kitty socks. I love these, there are several different options but I like the ones that come up past my ankles, so I don’t get cold on those winter walks that have become the only time I go out this year.
8. The Hello Kitty table lamp. When you want everyone who comes into your home to know how much you love Hello Kitty, this should be sat casually on a side table near the TV, where all your friends will see it.
4. For a decadent breakfast, the Hello Kitty toaster. It puts Kitty on your toast, for mornings when you can’t get up without saying Hello, Kitty! For lunch, there is also the Hello Kitty toasted sandwich maker. This puts a Hello Kitty face into your grilled cheese sandwich! How exciting is that? They will also make your kitchen look SWISH. I can’t say I’ve reviewed these ones, though, because we have different electricity in Ireland to the stuff in America and I’d need a step-up transformer, which I don’t have room for in our tiny house. 😦 A girl can dream, though, can’t she?
Honorable mention has to go to the Hello Kitty Tamagotchi and this cute white apron (although the pink apron seems to have a problem on the graphic as Kitty’s ear has been colored in) which could make you feel super-cute in the kitchen.
What should you get for a baby for Christmas in 2020? What are the best baby toys in the UK and Ireland this year for a budget? Whether you’re the new parents, grandma or an aunt, that first Christmas is hard to shop for. I remember last Christmas, my baby was only a few months old and I had no idea what to get! Then, amazingly, we were inundated with presents from relatives and somehow no one bought us the same thing twice. I’ve broken down the best toys and gifts for baby’s first Christmas by age and budget and reviewed them below:
At this age, babies are in the third trimester. They sleep a lot, wake up to feed and cry, and sleep some more. They have very little interaction with their environment and in the words of one of my friends (whose baby was born exactly one year earlier than my baby), “they don’t give a crap about toys”. So what to get for a newborn baby for Christmas? You have two options. You can either get them something they might enjoy in a few months’ time or get them something really, really simple. They are growing rapidly, and mama will probably appreciate some baby clothes in the 3-6 or 6-9 months size.
Best budget buys for newborns (under £20):
Lullaby toys tend to be enjoyed by even very young babies.
Baby Einstein in the UK do this super-cute star lullaby toy for £12.99. It attaches to the cot and features bright colors which babies love! It has motion activation so if your baby is over 6 months and alone in their cot, if they stir, they can be lulled back to sleep without you risking waking them up more by going into their room and turning the lullaby toy back on. At this price point, this is about the best lullaby toy you can get and the ideal Christmas gift for newborns this year.
This Manhattan Toy Lullaby Squirrel is £20. It attaches to the cot for safety and the squirrel slowly moves into his acorn as the music plays. There are also crinkles and textures for baby to explore, making this a good toy for when baby is ready to touch things.
Crinkle books with high-contrast images start to come into their own when baby is about 10-12 weeks old. My baby adores Bumble Bee. It’s £12 which is a bit on the expensive side for a cloth book but if our copy got lost, I’d buy it again because my jellyfish still loves this book at 14 months. As well as having high-contrast images, a brief, rhyming story that’s easy to read, crinkles in almost every page and even some textured ribbon pages and a shiny mirror, it’s a lift-the-flaps cloth book so it will stay interesting for babies for a lot longer than other cloth books. Just remember to remove the plastic from the mirror at the back of the book (I used a knife very carefully around the very edges of the mirror). Oh and did I mention Bumble Bee has a clip to attach it to the pram, which you can detach and give to your baby as a teething ring because it has two different chewy textures?
For a cheaper crinkle book with fewer features, Giraffe and Friends is a super-simple book. It has a rattle page and a crinkle page, but largely is pictures of animals with the only words being the names of the animals. I’d give this one 6/10 for engagement, interest and features but it’s £6.99 and you get what you pay for with rag books for babies.
For an indestructible twist on a British classic baby book, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell comes in a cloth book version, perfect for little babies who like to chew the pages and rip the flaps off board books. And you can currently get matching outfits in Sainsbury’s, for your little zoo fan!
Another fantastic option for cloth books for newborn babies is the timeless Guess How Much I Love You by Northern Ireland author Sam McBratney, also available in cloth book (they call it the Guess How Much I Love You Snuggle Book). We have Guess How Much I Love You in French (Devine Combien Je T’aime) and my 14-month-old baby often brings it to me to read him.
And I have to give a special shout-out to Noises by Jo Moon because, although it’s now out of print and hard to get, this book gave us our baby’s first smile at a toy, on an 8-hour car journey to the south of England from Northern Ireland last November. We have now read it about 1000 times and sometimes he falls asleep with it. I wish, wish, wish the cloth books Noises and Patterns by Jo Moon were still in print because they are perfect for little ones. Ah, cloth books… I could buy every cloth book on Amazon and make a little library of them if I had the space in this tiny house!
Mid-range £20-50 toys for Newborns:
Toys for this age group tend to be either very cheap or very expensive, I think the only thing we had for a newborn that cost between £20 and £50 was bouncy chairs. We ended up buying two in the end because I tripped over the first one and broke it (also, OWWW), but also that one was only up to 9kg and we had a heavier baby who was born on the 98th percentile so we needed to upgrade by 6 months anyway.
Originally we got a chair like this one from Red Kite with the thin wire legs. Pros are it’s easy to bounce (you can even bounce it with your foot) and he liked batting the toys. Cons are it’s not going to last as long as a sturdier bouncer. If your baby is on the smaller side, however, you will probably find this fits your baby quite well in the early months.
If we were doing everything again, I’d opt straight for a chair that would last up to 18kg. We now have this Bright Starts one, which has a toy arch and the same vibrations as the bouncers for younger babies, although this one doesn’t so much bounce as rock, our 14-month-old still enjoys rocking it himself by kicking his feet. And it *says* 18kg but I’ve sat in it (I weigh 45kg) and it can take my weight, so if you have older kids, you don’t have to worry about them wrecking the baby’s chair. We also use our bouncer for weaning, as we have no space for a high chair or a dining table in our tiny home. 10/10 recommend this chair unless you have a tiny baby or a preemie in which case something like the Red Kite one above would be better.
High end toys over £50 for 0-3 months:
A baby rocker like the Ingenuity ConvertMe Swing2Seat is another fantastic option but never, ever, ever let your baby sleep in it unsupervised. The best ones vibrate and play soothing lullabies to get your baby to drift off.
Ahh, this is where toys start becoming interesting and babies start interacting with things more!
Budget buys under £20 Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby
All of the toys for 0-3 months will still be interesting to a 3-6 month old baby, but babies will also be interested in rattles and crinkle mittens.
Our baby adored the Guess How Much I Love You rattle. He still plays with it at 14 months of age so we’ve had a lot of use out of it. When he was really little, we used to put his whole hand through the hole in the middle and he loved waving his hand and rattle it!
He also loves his Panda teething mittens! These come in a pair and they’re black and white. Young babies love high-contrast toys so this was really eye-catching for him. His hands never fitted inside (98th percentile baby problems haha), but he still chews on it and loves exploring the crinkle sounds. He has been teething since he was 4 months and a lot of teething remedies are for older babies so this was a great buy. Now his molars are coming in, he loves chewing it with his back teeth.
We also have a night light projector. These don’t need to be expensive (the baby won’t know or care) and this £15 one is fantastic! It doesn’t sing (that costs more money) but there are so many toys that make noises and not so many that can do a good light show!
Mid-range Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (£20 to £50)
A basic baby gym requiring no batteries is a great investment. They fold up mostly flat for taking on car rides if you’re going to see family at Christmas and can keep babies occupied while they discover all the toys on the toy arches! This one is perfect. They’re also great for tummy time and as baby learns to sit.
All babies develop at different ages, but if yours is an early roller, an activity play mat might be a great choice at this age!
High end Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (over £50)
If you want to spend a lot of money, the Fisher Price rainforest baby gym is a fancy-schmancy hi-tech baby gym with sounds and lights, which will captivate your little one from birth and last through the 3-6 month age range, although don’t expect them to do more than fall asleep in it for the first couple of months (at which point you’ll probably want to move them due to safer sleeping).
The perfect Christmas toys for 6-12 month old babies
By this stage, they’re probably sitting, maybe crawling, and definitely waking up every day ready to play, play, play!
There are so many more options at this stage.
Budget Christmas gifts under £20 for babies 6-12 months of age
Baby keyboards are where it’s at for 6-12 month old babies. During tummy time or sitting time, they will love pressing the buttons and hearing the sounds. We have this one from Baby Einstein, who really lead the way in innovative musical instruments for babies.
Cars are another big favourite at this age. Babies discover wheels sometime around 6-12 months and that’s it, cars have their attention forever. It happened to all my cousins’ babies, my friends’ babies, and then it happened with mine, too. Finding toy cars suitable for 6-12 month old babies can be hard. These ones are age-appropriate.
Grandma and granddad also have this Fisher Price baby piano at their house which our baby loves because it also does funny sounds like ducks quacking and cows mooing.
A ball pool! If you have the space in your house, a pop-up ball pool will provide so much fun and wonder for a 6-12 month old baby (and beyond… who doesn’t love a good ball pit). We have a modular one from Tesco that cost about £20 for the pool and the matching crawling tunnel, but they aren’t doing them right now (they class them as a summer toy), and the downside is, the balls fall out through the hole for the tunnel, which is annoying as we don’t have enough space to set both up indoors, so it hardly gets played with now. This £7.99 ball pool would be a great budget alternative. Or, if you have a travel cot, just buy about 3 or 4 packs of play balls from anywhere for about £10 for a pack of 100 (or get one mega pack of 300 from this place for £20) and put them and the baby in the travel cot in your living room, which is what I do when I need to contain the baby e.g. to make tea (which is why we don’t use our ball pool)! I know that adds up to over £20 for the pool and the balls, but you can get started with one pack of balls and a pool for around £16 together, and buy more later, or get relatives to each buy a pack of balls, and the baby will still love this!
Mid-range Christmas gifts for 6-12 months of age (£20 to £50)
The baby Einstein touch piano is a great upgrade if you have £24.99 to spend on it. We’ve played with one but not bought it because we wanted one with buttons to press, for cause and effect. It’s a 2 in 1 keyboard and xylophone and I’m going to get it once my baby outgrows his current keyboard.
Sit-me-up baby sitting support:
About 5 or 6 months, your baby might start sitting. At this point, you will want some way of supporting them. With a very long baby (98th percentile for height and weight) we found that by the time he was ready to try sitting, he was too big/heavy for a lot of the sitting toys to work properly, and they just tipped over with him in. We tried LOADS (this was January and February, before the playgroups all shut down).
Our favorite, and the one we ended up buying, was a horseshoe-shaped cushion support type of baby sitter. This one is very similar to the one we got (ours was from Mothercare who are now bankrupt).
The other type he got on well with was this donut-shaped sitting support, which he used several times at playgroup. The thickness of this one was quite good for my baby’s size. We avoided the seat-type ones because when he fell sideways, the seats fell with him which meant disentangling him from them. Anyway, I have an especially wiggly baby who hates being fastened into toys and not moving around, so the cushion sitting supports for babies were much better for him as he could use them independently and roll around on the floor for a bit when he got bored.
I’m not a big fan of the type of walkers where the baby is stuck inside it. I’ve heard of them tipping after getting stuck in doorframes, going down staircases, and generally not being very safe. My health visitor also said to avoid them and while I know health visitors aren’t always a fountain of knowledge, mine really is so I believe her about the number of injuries she’s seen from the Dalek-type baby walkers. From a child development point of view, they don’t teach proper walking or posture, either, which can lead to later back trouble.
Instead, I recommend the sort of walker where the baby pushes it around independently. My baby was very very late to start cruising so we’ve just bought him this Nuby push-along walker which is suitable from 6 months and Nuby are a reputable brand (I’ve seen some really worrying reviews of imported walker toys, so while I am usually happy to buy things from abroad, I would only go with a known brand for this type of toy).
High end Christmas gifts for babies aged 6-12 months (over £50)
Jumperoo: About 6 months, you’ll be ditching the baby gym. Jumping is where it is at for 6-12 month olds. We love this Fisher Price rainforest jumper! For us, this was absolutely worth spending £75 on, even though it takes up most of the floor space in our living room. Just remember babies can’t use them for more than 30 minutes at a time because their hips are still developing as they learn to walk. Benefits of jumping include leg strength, co-ordination and gross motor control. But really, babies shouldn’t be doing any activity for more than about 30 minutes to keep their developing brains stimulated and to avoid over-tiredness.
So that’s it for my top gifts for baby’s first Christmas. What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments! P.S. Sorry to my American readers, this article is all about British baby toys available in the UK, but if you head on over to US Amazon I’m sure you could find some of the toys I’ve linked to above!
Note: This article may contain affiliate links. It does not affect the price you pay or my opinions of products.
About 7 months ago, in the run-up to Christmas, I saw an ad on Youtube for this website called Wonderbly, which makes personalized books for children.
Yeah, you’ve seen those sort of companies before; they’re usually crap mass-produced generic slosh that fails to engage the average five-year-old.
This one isn’t.
These books are publisher-quality, and wouldn’t look out of place in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.
I browsed through their site for a while. My baby would be four months old at Christmas and I wanted to get him a nice gift that we could use right away but also use later on, when he was old enough to appreciate it differently.
I’m a big believer in reading to children, and was reading to him and taking him places to hear foreign languages ever since he was in my tummy. Studies have shown that children who read (or have read to them) five books a day have a much higher vocabulary and better command of their language when they are older.
So I looked through this site and two things struck me immediately:
The illustrations were really, really high quality and modern.
The book plots had been properly thought out and there was a huge range of stories. These were real stories with interesting plots, but personalized for each order.
So I put “A Letter for the Littlest Bear” in my basket and up popped a configurator sort of thing, where I could choose which characters appeared in the book (within a pre-set list), whether to add or remove any (if you don’t want an Uncle Bear because Aunty Bear is painfully single, you can remove Uncle Bear from the story) and also, of course, add my baby’s name, which featured on a page near the end. The story also gave you the option to write a letter to your littlest bear, so if you had some hopes, dreams, and pearls of wisdom to share and immortalize at the end of the book, you could do that. They also had a pre-drafted one in case you weren’t feeling inspired, to save you time and mental effort. I liked what they’d written but wanted to add some stuff, so I kinda blended the two.
Once I had my A Letter for the Littlest Bear book configured, I found another book in their store which looked interesting. It was called The Little Boy Who Lost His Name (the girl version is The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name and they have plenty of gender neutral stories such as A Letter for the Littlest Bear, discussed above, if that’s your thing) and I think it’s their biggest-selling book. I typed in my baby’s 8-letter name and each letter of his name got a couple of pages of subplot story. I switched a couple of the characters around (I changed a robot for a rabbit because we like rabbits around here, I changed something else too but I forget what or why). I was able to preview the whole book before buying and the payment process was painless.
My two books arrived in good time and were ready for Christmas. Except we flew back home to our families for Christmas and stupidly left the books in the country where we live. D’OH.
Still, it made a fabulous New Year’s gift for a four-month-old baby’s first Christmas season, when he had no real concept of what day it was. I was delighted with the quality and the amount of effort that the creators of these books had obviously gone to, to make a truly cherishable gift. And there’s such a range of books, I can tell grandma bear, grandpa bear, auntie bear and cousin bear about this place and practically guarantee that we don’t end up with eight copies of “Bob’s Day On A Plane” unlike the ones that are available elsewhere.
For comparison, we got a cheap (cheap quality; it probably cost the same money) off-the-shelf personalized book for Christmas off a relative and they hadn’t even bothered finding the correct name of our child. His name is NOT Archie! FFS.
Verdict: Five out of five. Definitely worth the money. I will be buying from here again next time I want a unique and special gift for someone.
Oh, and did I mention they have local sites for many countries and worldwide shipping? So if you’re stationed in some random country with your family you can still order this!