Some Boy is growing so fast. Our 3-and-a-half year-old wears clothes meant for a 6-year-old, and he chatters incessantly about Allosaurus and erosion and the inner workings of locomotives. I struggle to keep up with him, simultaneously balancing a remarkably curious preschooler with preparations for a new baby. In the hustle and bustle, I sometimes worry that we're losing sight of the middle child. I address the needs of our precious 2-year-old Sidekick as best I can with devoted time together and grow-with-me-toys.
He's smart as a whip, this one, and I watch him match his big brother with finesse. He builds towers out of blocks while his brother constructs buildings and tracks. He gleans knowledge of numbers and letters even though I don't harp over the flashcards and songs like I did with the older one.
At the end of the day, though, I'm reminded of his littleness as collapses into my lap. His active brain is tired and he requires a bastion of love for renewal. Drool drips down his puffy pursed lips, molars breaking their way through. He gets frustrated at his lack of advanced words, communication broken into fragments. “Ouchie.” “I love you.” “Milk, please, mama.”
We're lucky to have a ton of support from family. These boys get seemingly endless cuddles, and our list of thanks at prayer time is lengthy. But in addition to love, little boys need lots and LOTS of age-appropriate play. I've been extremely mindful of that fact in this phase that I think of as “the middle” for our middle child. Those sometimes-overlooked years between babyhood and elementary. As parents we focus intently on rolling, crawling, walking and then drawing, exploring, riding a bike. But what about all those crucially awkward steadying steps before they sprint?
As I'm gearing up for baby number three, I'm making a point to find grow-with-me-toys that can benefit the baby while strengthening the skills of the toddler. Opportunities for minimizing clutter, bonding together and solidifying the skills that he's gleaning from life in the middle.
Our Favorite Grow-with-me Toys
I'm still working as an ambassador for Fisher-Price, and I love the concept of their Smart Stages grow-with-me toys that adjust based on baby's inputted age. Level 1 features first words and sounds for ages 6 months and up. Level 2, for a year and older, prompts baby through questions and directions. Level 3, for 18 months and older, guides children through imaginative role play.
The Smart Stages Home features colorful lights, switches, clock hands and shape-sorting. Imaginative play items such as computer buttons, windows, doorbells and a mailbox help kids get use out of this well through the “playing house” phase that my oldest is still entrenched in.
I actually got to meet the creator of Puppy’s Smart Stages Train when I visited Fisher-Price's headquarters a couple months ago. Inspired by her own growing daughter, the toy designer made a train featuring favorite faces from a number of grow-with-me toys: Puppy, Monkey and Froggy. ABC spinners, shape-sorting and motorized activity keep little ones engaged long before and after they start crawling.
You can check out some behind-the-scenes footage and get tips from all of us experienced parents with unique insights over at the FP Insiders site. You can message the team on social media by including #FPinsiders in any posts – now's your chance to ask questions about toys, childhood development, tips and more!