Tara’s Two Cents for New Mamas: Toys

You Have Everything It Takes!

New parents and soon-to-be parents are often bombarded with advice and suggestions. First of all, I want to tell you that none of that really matters, because you already have everything it takes to be the best parent for your child. I’ll never forget the advice of a small coffee shop owner in Abilene. At 8 months pregnant, I was eager to hear from a fellow business owner and father of 3. “Just be there for them as much as possible,” he told us. It really is just that. In a world full of distractions, our babies need to come first. I decided to cut out the clothing recommendations and basic needs stuff that could easily be replaced. I chose to instead share more of the products and resources available that can help us to enrich our family’s experiences, baby’s brain development and to encourage the love of learning. As a former French/English teacher, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned about education is that we must cultivate a love for learning, as well as radical kindness, in our children. As I began writing and organizing my lists and notes, the article grew until I realized that toys would be part 1. This is my two cents (or a penny, in this case) regarding what I’ve learned in my motherhood journey!

That passion for learning is a life long gift. It’s an added bonus that while us parents get to play with them, we’re not only setting up our kids for success but also building incredible bonds and creating some beautiful memories too!

Alphabet Letters.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent $5 better than these Munchkin Foam Letters and Numbers. Originally thinking Jett would enjoy them in the bath, they have become much more than that, following us everywhere! We have made a game of saying what each letter is as we hold them up, and then feeding them to Mr. Green, his frog. While Mr. Green chomps at the letter he makes the sound of that letter, furthering his understanding of the sound. At 18 months old, he was excitedly yelling out each letter when I pulled one from his bucket (oh yes, make sure you have a bucket to contain these too!). At bath time he likes to stick letters to the side of the tub, and I can see that soon enough he will be putting words together. All this fun and learning for around $5!

Bubble Machine
Bubble Solution

Your Bubble Solution!

Everyone loves a bubble party! It’s truly worth it to invest in a bubble maker and a practical solution, especially now that the library programs are suspended. Our bubble maker was just $20 and is still working great today (and we use it a lot and sometimes leave it outside)! I play music and we dance around trying to catch a bubble, count them or just marvel at how pretty they are, floating around our backyard and into the sky. What I love about the solution we use is that it arrives in a small container, and a small portion is mixed with water and dish soap to create gallons. It lasts forever and ensures your machine won’t get goopy gross residue like mine did before we purchased this one. It was the perfect solution to our problem!


Color Eggs

Acrylic Paints

Jumbo Paint Brushes

Magic Paint (using just water)

Bath Art Creations

A World of Art!

Last Easter my family spoiled Jett with toys and sweet treats! The color eggs he was given were his introduction to crayons and a world of art! More than a year later, these eggs are still in our art box, as we use them often to create art masterpieces! They are much easier for tiny hands to hold than traditional crayons and they won’t break as easily either. But, they do still break when they are dropped on the ground, so careful supervision is required. This is why we can’t have nice things! Not for too long, anyway. On that same note, acrylic paints are still lots of fun with toddlers and there are tons of easy painting activities available online.


Mega Blocks

STEM Foam Block

STEM Magnets

Brain Teaser Animal Building Blocks

Velcro Brand Blocks Dinosaur
Wooden Tetris Puzzle


Building Blocks and Puzzles.

STEM foam blocks, Mega blocks, and puzzles make a noticeable difference in learning how things work together! Jett now pulls out all of his blocks to the floor independently, and it always warms my heart to see him playing quietly on the floor, lost in his imagination. He builds towers, animals, and anything else he makes up! Watch your baby dream out loud, let them know how proud you are of them as they grow, and then watch them light up!

Shake It, Baby!

Egg Shaker

The egg shaker was Jett’s first musical instrument if you’re not counting spit bubbles! It’s a very easy way for babies to create music and to practice their beat, anywhere! Alternatively, a sealed bottle with rice inside also does the trick! Don’t underestimate what a song and a little dancing can do for your little one, especially with some hands-on participation! Shake it, baby!

My dad thinks I’m crazy for buying my son such a loud toy, but I believe our floor Tom percussion drum has been one of our best purchases! I love encouraging musical learning, creating music together, and seeing his beat improve over time! He gets to bang out his energy and it offers a different musical experience. We were inspired when we saw Xyla playing and singing with her parents, Us The Duo. Just find a good home for the drum sticks so they don’t get lost! When one goes missing, it’s probably under the couch.

My First Tambourine

Piano Mat Piano
Woofer Hound Guitar, Jett’s favorite ever!
VTECH Strum and Jam Band Guitar

My First Tambourine
 is another great instrument that is smaller than a percussion drum, easy to use, and still can provide lots of fun and engagement! A piano is a great musical toy as well. 


Read To Your Baby Every Day!

You may not think of books as toys, but try thinking of them as places and characters that you visit and learn about with your baby. This time is incredibly precious, as it promotes deeper bonds and helps our babies to learn some of their first basic concepts. The local library has been the best resource for us; It’s free, convenient to request books online, and involves our children in the community. Nowadays the local librarians provide convenient curbside pick up/drop off service. However, due to the small selection of French-language titles, I’ve come to discover some other online bookshops to grow Jett’s library. Books-A-Million has a broad selection of books from around the world, and it was this site that helped me secure my favorite French book, Tu ne manqueras jamais d’amour; I will continue reading this sweet message of love over and over to Jett. Usborne Busy Books offers busy books (comes with a toy that maneuvers around the pages!), paint-by-water books, sticker books, and all kinds of other fun, interactive products that inspire a passion for reading and learning.

Some of our favorite, most used books include…


My Big Word Book
Bobo and The Fuss
What Wonderful Things You’ll Be
All About Feelings
Petit Ours Brun, a French children’s book and cartoon series
Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

…and anything **Pete The Cat**… because being kind is always cool.


The Great Outdoors!

All the studies I’ve read agree that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. Spending time with nature builds confidence, promotes creativity and imagination, provides different stimulation and reduces stress. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure. This is completely free; You just have to build it into your routine. When I first get to the kitchen to make breakfast I always check the weather and then plan accordingly. Here are a few outdoor ideas:

This swing has served to be one of our most useful baby shower gifts! We installed it on the porch, where we enjoyed many first laughs. When we moved, it became a tree swing where we now look out into the backyard for squirrels. Not only does my son love this swing, but this mama loves how often he swings right into Dreamland! Also, I’m not sure there’s a better method for baby pedicures.

Picnic Blanket


We are getting very good at picnics, whether we’re on a family hike or under the huge tree in our backyard. There’s always something to explore outside. With a little planning, you can eat wherever you so desire. Your baby will love this time with you! Before Jett could crawl away I used to pile up some books, snacks, and a picnic blanket onto his stroller and go sit with him by the lake at the park. If you want to take all the work out of it, just use Uber Eats/PostMates and lay out a picnic blanket in your desired space.

The Splash Pad has provided us with hours of entertainment and is requested by our toddler every weekend. Don’t worry, the adults can use it too! The small pool and water sound therapy create a zen experience! These only cost around $20.

3-in-1 Tee Ball Splash
My 1-year-old can hit a home run, sending the ball way up and over our fence! This is all thanks to the tee ball and lots of baseball practice with Grandpa! Activities like these improve coordination and balance, but the best part is how happy the little All-Star gets when he reaches home plate!

It’s no secret that children love balls, but these beach balls come in a pack of 12, for when another one is lost or left behind. They can be used in the water outside, and promote hand-eye coordination and color learning.

There’s nothing like chalk to turn the outdoor ground into a canvas.

Bounce Castle
When Nana and Papa sent this for Jett’s 2nd birthday, it was a smash hit! It’s very easy to set up and use, and even I bounce in from time to time!

Rad Bikes in the desert

We recently purchased RAD electric bikes and our favorite thing to do lately is to explore local food, bike trails, and parks around town. But that’s another post! Learn more, and get a $50 discount code for your RAD Bike, at https://crewtravelers.com/rad!


Exploring Tools!

Anything that inspires your child to stay curious about the world is a toy worth having, so I’ve created this special list of exploring tools that we personally love.

Moon flashlight
Melissa and Doug Magnify Glass
Melissa and Doug World Travel Rug
Puzzle Globe
Astronaut Costume

For The Love of Learning!

Let’s get one thing straight. The toys will not be lacking! There will be an abundance of fun objects that will at times appear to be taking over your house. And when you feel it’s too much, the grandparents will send more! What we do have control over though is what kind of toys we request for our children, and there are so many educational toys that can have a purpose in your home and inspire the love of learning. That passion for learning is a life long gift that will set them up for success. As parents, it’s an added bonus that while we get to play with them, we’re also building loving bonds and creating precious memories too!

I shared these products with you based on my experience as a mother and educator. Stay tuned for part 2, which will include how I use screen time, audio, and other elements to enrich my baby’s development.

About Author

Tara Menendez
Tara has always had a passion for discovering new cultures, from convincing her mother to host a French exchange student in High School, to studying abroad twice, coordinating exchange programs at her university Study Abroad Center, to spending a month backpacking through Europe. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in Communications. A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lived in Cameroon, West Africa for two years, she looks forward to guiding you on some exciting adventures that will make the world a bit brighter! She’s also a travel writer/blogger at Eat.Love.Volunteer, business owner, property manager, wifey, mother, and humanitarian. Tara lives in Dallas Texas, where she’s happily married to the tech genius who built and maintains this beautiful website!


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