New to Homeschooling

We have begun to homeschool our 4 year old.

This has been a difficult journey for many reasons. For one, I think every parent but especially every homeschool parent feels they are never doing enough for his or her kid. Why we feel this inadequacy stems from our own childhood, what we think we were deprived of, what we wish we had known, and also the tendency to parent the way we were parented, for better or worse. My preschooler’s tantrums really bring out the angry mom in me. My mom was strict with me too and part of it is my personality.

The battle to face your weaknesses is magnified when you homeschool. I realize not all of you want to homeschool, but I think this post can be related to just parenting in general.

I want to share our why of homeschool and share some early challenges:

The Why’s

There are many, many reasons why we chose to homeschool; the essence of why we are homeschooling boils down our family priorities and flexibility or schedule. We want to spend time educating our children on things that are priorities in our family and we think are neglected or dismissed in the public schools. We want our kids to be as bilingual as possible; I know that even in the best immersion setting, kids will not maintain bilingualism unless there is a need to speak the language and a lot of exposure in the real world.  So we want to take our kids to Taiwan/China or even the local Chinese-owned stores and businesses to speak in the real-world, not just on Saturday school. We also want to be able to have a religious education element in our schooling. We also want to have our kids learn about entrepreneurship and true financial literacy; all these things are not taught in regular schools; too many kids are taught to get hired but instead should be taught to create value out of ideas.

We also want the flexibility to design curriculum and a school schedule that meets our family’s needs. We do not want to get up at 7 am and be out the door by 7:30 am. We do not want to have “early out” days or have to deal with inclement weather days or PTA meetings or teacher conferences. We especially do not want our kids bored for 8 hours a day and on the opposite side, we especially don’t want them stressed out for 8 hours a day.

My husband is somewhat of a unschooler. He and I both attended public school and he reminds me all the time how much time is wasted on classroom management or “parties” or fundraisers or pep rallys. He honestly thinks that our kids will just learn by being with us, going on family outings and unstructured play.  He does not care if our kids go to college, as long as they learn a trade and are competitive in their chosen field. And I might add, he is an optometrist and has a doctorate degree. Of course, he knows college is a good route for those who need a degree like lawyers, doctors or teachers, but we’re talking about other professions that really do not need a college degree.

As the Asian mom with an English Teaching degree, I have a different view. I think there are certain academics that need to be taught, like reading, writing and math. Also art, music, and history are vital to life-long learning. I love literature and school. I take a Charlotte Mason-classical study approach to many subjects. I would like to use Montessori and Waldorf elements to promote creativity in play. Basically I am an eclectic homeschooler and trying to stay minimalist, but it’s so hard, which takes me to my next topic: the challenges.

The First Challenge

The earliest challenge is determining the identity my home and homeschool will have, especially with our differing views. There are a ton of different philosophies of early childhood education and how that looks like in the homeschool setting. Luckily, we’re only doing preschool which is 20-40 minutes a day and only 4 days of school. Sometimes “school” is just art projects or reading. It’s chill now, but I want a long-term plan for the future and it feels like completely uncharted territory because we throw in things like foreign language and scripture study that others don’t. Do you know of any Chinese-speaking homeschoolers? The community is growing but it’s still incredibly small even in a place like Plano.

I think my biggest take-away right now is to succeed as a parent, you need to stay true to yourself and don’t be swayed by every little blog post, book list, toy list, Pinterest craft or Instagram feed out there. This overload of information is overwhelming and stressful and does not add to being a good parent.

I do think every parent can improve little by little. It is good to read up on child development and education, not leaving it up to others, which the study of homeschooling as done for me.

Recently I’ve been reading up on Montessori and Waldorf, specifically what kinds of toys and activities they use. (And remember, Montessori does offer day care and elementary school, so this is not just for homeschoolers.)

I stayed awake a couple nights ago thinking about how awful of a parent I’ve been for having toys with batteries in them, or for having plastic toys instead of wooden or wondering if I need to get rid of all the Disney, cartoon or pop culture toys in my house (which if you’ve read my Qiaohu posts, we have accumulated a ton of these!)

In efforts to improve, I even spent a ton of money on some homemade wood toys off Etsy (which I haven’t received yet, but I will review if they’re good) because I thought, “I’m really going to embrace this minimalist, natural and open-ended style.” I look forward to trying out a different style of toy for my kids, but in general, I need to avoid any extreme changes to be successful at child-rearing or homeschooling. I do not need to throw out all my kids’ toys right now because I have been attempting to be minimalist in the possessions we buy and have. I just need to improve the process moving forward and learn from my mistakes.

I’ve needed to step back and really think back to my “why’s”. Why do I emphasize certain ideals in my home over others? What has been successful  to excite my kids about learning? Yes, we use a lot of screen time learning Chinese; my son loves it and his Mandarin has improved so much. He has learned to recite Tang dynasty poems and a handful of Chinese characters. Has it been done in a kind of plastic-toy cartoon-y commercialized kind of way? Yes, but who cares? He loves it. We really do not watch any other TV and he only has about three movies he gets to watch on special occasions.

We do have a lot of plastic toys. I try to buy quality over quantity, like play food and Duplo especially but I also accept the gifts and hand-me-downs of others which has watered down my vision of our house’s toy stash.

Has it made my life a little crazy? I have tried to make good effort to buy more creative, inspiring and free-thinking toys. I do try to make an effort not to buy those so-called “educational” toys or toys that overstimulate.

I blogged once about used toys and clothes and I still think used and preowned are great options; however, after doing this research, I recently went to my local Once Upon a Child and realized that a majority of what is there is just that, junky electronic toys; not all of it, but most of it.

But then a family member buys a toy that sings and recites nursery rhymes. Another buys a plastic toy car with screws. (Don’t they know we have a ton of cars already? And aren’t plastic?) We have a lot of Pixar Cars and Hot Wheels and my son has played endlessly with them; have they opened his imagination? I think so. Should I feel guilty we have these mainstream-brand toys? I don’t think so.

I will post on some of the sites that have resonated with me, in hopes this will help you if you are doing some “school” time at home. My intent is not to give you pressure to be a certain type of mom but just to show you how you will know if a style of education excites you, then it is probably for you.

love you guys!


Toddler Busy Books and Activities 

I’ve sunk some good money into quiet activities for my kids since we go to church every week where quiet is desirable (but really hard for this age group). I think it’s worth investing in independent play that not only teaches academic concepts and fine motor skills but also teaches appropriate behavior by redirecting them to a hands on activity that does not require screens.

 Here’s a list of some of my favorite resources:

  • Magnets — my favorite activity is magnets because unlike velcro and zippers, magnets are relatively quiet. I like this set from Janod which are made from wood with a nice gloss finish. I bought them for about $8 from Zulily. Please note Zulily doesn’t offer returns, but if you know what you’re getting and will keep the items, it’s a good way to shop for a bargain.

    • File folders — this is an old school method used by a lot of mom friends. Finch Family Games is one of my favorites, they have some LDS and Bible themed, but there’s also plenty of secular themes. They’re styled similar to old school Carson-Dellosa classroom decor, which speaks straight to my teacher heart. Keep in mind the hard copy books offered are black and white (b/w). The digital downloads are available in color or b/w. We make our file folders to last using quality materials.We use this Scotch laminator from Wal-Mart. The laminating sheets are cheapest at Amazon where they do go on sale often, so wait for a good price and do some price history checks (camelcamelcamel and are my go to for Amazon prices). We use plastic file folders from Staples, which we scored for about $4 with a coupon for $10 off $10 but we also used regular Scotch tape for the laminated sheet inside so we will be able to reuse the folder. I also splurged on 3M Dual Lock rounds to use in place of velcro, they’re available at but you need to buy in bulk, $100’s worth. It’s quieter to pull off and adheres to the paper well. You can go the more budget-friendly way, which is to use plain file folders, use b/w copies, do the coloring yourself, use thinner lamination and clear velcro or alternatively, adhesive magnets which are cheap but don’t look as nice. 

      • Magnets part two with pom poms or other homemade magnets– I’ve also used a magnet board with pom poms; my first version was a simple cookie sheet from Walmart for 88c. But this was slightly bigger than a sheet of paper and kind of loud. So I updated to thinner and smaller, a 8×10 Loran magnet board from Joanns (with a 50% off coupon about $3.25), it’s used for needlework patterns. This requires smaller play mats than 8.5 x 11 but you can always adjust when you print. This slimmer piece of metal can be made safer with masking tape around the edges and then placed into a sheet protector with an adhesive magnet closure, so that metal sheet and laminated worksheets are kept in one pocket. You could do this with your own sheet metal as a more cost effective way but I didn’t want to go through that hassle or danger. Just fyi, my local Home Depot does not cut metal and I would have had to buy a large roll of sheet metal there for about 10 bucks to do the DIY method.
      • Check the One Spot Dollar section at Target. A friend of mine found these great felt busy books for $3. It pays to have mom friends looking out for you! Felt is a great option for a quiet book but takes a lot of time designing, cutting and gluing. It is probably the quietest of all quiet book materials. I’ve also purchased a nice magnetic scene board with transportation from there; since Preschooler loves cars, we got a lot of use out of it. 

        • Check the dollar store — craft supplies, toy cars, puzzles, are all worth buying at the dollar store. We had a dollar store puzzle made of erasers with a farmyard scene that kept my kid busy for 20 minutes. It was his first puzzle experience and now he loves them (but needed a lot of parent help at first)
        • Binder pouches with random distractions — once again, quiet is best. It’s best to find a binder pouch that is relatively quiet. Walmart used to carry these sturdy plastic ones with the slider zipper instead of the traditional zipper. It is very quiet and easy for kids to open by themselves. I definitely recommend these over the others with a regular closure. My crafty friend carries kid scissors, paperclips for making chains and Popsicle sticks for shape making. This is kind of like the restaurant kit people make with a makeup bag, only with 3 ring pouches, you can extend this to as many pockets as can fit in a D ring. Even my toddler twins love just holding the plastic and “flipping” through the pages.

        Materials needed:

        You need scissors, tape and hot glue and adhesive magnets and/or clear velcro fasteners are available at Home Depot (but 3M Dual Lock fasteners are recommended as an alternative to velcro) 

        If you choose to do the lamination yourself, you’ll need a Scotch laminator and pouches.

        A craft paper trimmer is optional but nice to have for straight lines

        Craft supplies are optional and vary based on project:pom poms, Popsicle sticks, neon binder pouches  (recommend Casemate binder pouches with black slider zipper or equivalent)

        Qiao Hu 巧虎 and Fortune Cookie Mom

        Just wanted to share some of my new discoveries for teaching kids Chinese at home: the QiaoHu subscription for my 3-year old learning Chinese and a neat free printables and teaching ideas site by a mommy blogger in HK.

        QiaoHu 巧虎 subscription 

        Each month they send a DVD about 25 minutes long, with a variety of songs, rhymes, stories and introduction of toys (included in some of the months) that teach good habits, manner and practices for young kids. We started watching the DVDs we inherited from a church friend, mostly to distract Toddler while I fed the twins but it has been surprisingly educational for him. (Search YouTube for some examples.) He watches almost daily, but he doesn’t get much more screen time, other than a few movies mostly about cars and their truck friends. You know, those ones.

        As a example, June 2016’s box the DVD has theme of about categorizing; each activity or song connects to sorting and categorizing. But there is also some Chinese-Taiwanese cultural aspects to it like there is a Tang dynasty poem put to song, which is even difficult content even for me. In the past months they discussed Dragon Boat festival and Chinese New Year etc. Also I saw one once on YouTube for elementary kids about using the special hole-in-the-ground toilets they have in Taiwan, and Toddler will never see that in real life here in America. But it’s kind of interesting to talk about the different cultures and ways of life. The DVD also has a segment about not hitting other kids when playing and how to tell other kids to wait while they’re still playing with a coveted toy.

        Each month there’s an activity book or workbook with stickers, with content similar to the DVD with the stories in paper form instead of video form. It’s all in Chinese, so I actually can’t read 100% but I feel like it’s a good practice for me to read because the subject matter is basic.


        Then some months they have little toys, a little XiaoHua (QiaoHu’s baby sister) to take care of, a pretend cash register that makes sounds etc. Each year’s program has slightly different varieties of toys, some will repeat, others will not.

        This is this school year’s toy lineup, just so you can see that some toys will repeat (car, XiaoHua, fishing game):

        I began subscribing in June, so I will only get the last few months of the previous 15-16 calendar.

        The Qiaohu agents wanted me to advance to the next level for 3 to 4 year olds in September, and at first, I didn’t want to mostly because I only wanted to subscribe to one version per year and thought to obtain one whole year’s worth of materials from Yoyo so I could reuse materials for the twins but I do plan advance him now. If there is new content later,  then I guess I will have to subscribe to two versions, one for Toddler and the other for the Twins.

        For new subscribers, I would recommend starting in September so you will not get repeating material, basically getting on their schedule of school year vs calendar year. However, I know my kid has enjoyed having new materials this summer especially since we’re homebound with so many littles and with the Texas heat outside. He’s still learned a lot from each month.

        There are materials from infant (baby) up to 5th grade, the subject matter getting more academic as you get more advanced. I plan to use the program as long as Toddler has interest because a friend shared with me some of the materials her kindergartner is using, and I think they are all pretty well made: there’s a talking pen that reads stories and more complex puzzles and games. They introduce Zhuyin, which is good if you plan to use reading materials from Taiwan later on. I’m probably going to use Hanyu Pinyin with Toddler and will just try to use the Zhuyin for my own reading aloud to him.

        The subscription costs $308 for 12 months or $168 for 6. It is pricey but it’s a luxury I’m willing to pay for, just because I haven’t found good Chinese language materials that are age appropriate and Toddler is very close to native ability, though we use a ton of Chinglish. I found to continue his progression, he needed materials made specifically for native speakers. Yes, it’s SUPER cheesy and kind of silly but it really is one of the best programs I’ve come across that’s widely available.

        Here’s the website, but keep in mind it’s in Chinese for those of you like me who struggle with characters.

        I’m super excited to find this as teaching Chinese to my kids is super important to me. Part of the reason why we are seriously considering homeschool is because we can incorporate our faith and the Chinese language and other things important to our family that are not addressed in the public school. A discussion for another day.

        If you are interested in subscribing, please message me and I’ll forward you the contact information you need. Let me know if you have any questions.

        *I would totally appreciate it if you added me as a referral. My kids will earn a complimentary gift from Benesse. My Referral ID 2600018310

        Qiaohu is also known as Shimajiro in Japanese is you are looking for the Japanese equivalent. I found a Tomy Qiaohu car that way.

        Fortune Cookie Mom

        I came across Fortune Cookie Mom by way of Facebook because she is probably a friend of a friend of a friend. We have a lot in common, both of educator background and advocates of homeschooling.

        Since subscribing to her newsletter, I’ve found her free printables really well done. I will definitely be using them in my future homeschool if we choose to go that route or even use the materials for quiet books and rainy day activities. Please go check them out.

        Fortune Cookie Mom website:

        Fortune Cookie Mom


        Pottery Barn Kids Crib Bedding Review

        I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Oh, she’s one of those snobby moms who dresses her babies in designer clothes and has to have coordinating nursery decor.”

        Yeah, I am. Sort of. Not so much for clothing, though I have a soft spot in my heart for Gymboree and Stride Rite.

        But crib bedding. It’s one of the things I have decided to splurge on for my son and new arrivals. (Well, luckily for me, my mother-in-law, bought my bedding for child #1, bless her soul!)

        It’s kind of like the diaper bag.

        It makes such a huge difference to my mood to have a cute bag.

        It also has made a huge difference to me to have a cute nursery.

        I chose Eric Carle as the theme of my son’s nursery so that it was a gender-neutral option for future babies but I tried to do as minimally as possible, because we lived in a small apartment when he was first born. I didn’t go all out Pinterest-style, with matching rugs, chairs, and wall art. I basically slapped some removable wall stickers on the wall and let the bedding do the rest of the talking. We’re now in a house but the non-master bedrooms are really limited in size, so all-out decorating is kind of out of the picture.

        Bedding in my home decor book is huge. Wall art and knick knacks on display are trendy and usually those fads come and go (that’s why DIY wall art is such a great concept.) But you place an embroidered quilt from Pottery Barn in an otherwise empty bedroom, and suddenly the room has a look and personality. Add some blackout curtains (because you have a napping child) and suddenly you’re a designer 🙂

        So I emphasize bedding.

        I’ve woken up with my baby for 2 1/2 years now (SG does more now that Baby prefers him. Muah haha). Not all of those days have been pretty. Most of those days I’ve been sleep-deprived myself, frustrated from the day before, or just plain grumpy because I’m really not a morning person. At all.

        Having Baby’s crib decked out in bright beautiful colors really improves my mood a lot. Not to mention, he (around age 2) realized that the caterpillar was also the same caterpillar in his book and could talk about it. We were both very excited. It’s just always a fun room and feels so inviting. He loves his crib…at least, he’s pretty content to chill there for reasonable amounts of time in the morning.

        It’s a happy place to be.


        I feel like anything that improves the mood of a mom, first-time or not, is a great thing and is worth having. When Mom feels good, Baby feels good, because truly, babies and young children really do pick up on your mood so well.

        Having said that, I realize most people are on budgets. Pottery Barn Kids is not really budget-friendly, but I will provide some tips for getting some great deals:

        • I only shop the sale rack. In fact that’s also where I got my precious diaper bag. I only shop sale items. I like the other stuff too, I like perusing the catalog they keep sending me but I resist buying anything full priced if I can help it. I had grand schemes for my twin nursery coming up, but then I found the Peter Rabbit nursery bedding on sale here in Dallas and online, so I’m going with the more affordable option that is also gender-neutral. It’s not going to be as hip/modern as I was trying to achieve, but it’s still cute and classic. And if I wasn’t such a coordinated-look snob, I could have got other unmatching crib bedding available online for even cheaper, I just like a matchy look too much.


        • I use discounted gift cards when I know I have a purchase coming. My favorite is site is GiftCardBin for Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma cards which can be used interchangeably and I do love W-S.
        • I use codes online to score free shipping or 15% off, whichever I think is better. Free shipping codes are only valid on certain days and random weekends. Check often. Remember only one code is valid per order, so that is why a code and a discounted gift card combined together provide the best savings.
        • Also I’ve found if you go in store and they don’t have what you are looking for, you can ask for them to order it for you. In my last shopping experience at our local store, they even provided me a discount on my order. They are super friendly. Maybe it’s a Texas thing?
        • Search eBay if you have something in mind. A lot of people have some really great items on deep discount there, just be sure you know what you are getting.
        • Focus on the essentials if money is tight. I just love the quality of the bedding that we’ve used. Some of the crib sheets are organic cotton and I think they’re the best around; they look great wash after wash. I totally think they are worth having. I like the PBK crib bumpers (don’t hate me) but some are really too thick and I don’t recommend those ones. Toddler quilts are super cute, but they’re more of a decorative piece. We just don’t use a lot of bedding in our crib and have used a space heater in the winter. Crib skirts are also optional, and can easily be made using regular fabric. If you’re not the seamstress-type, you can also try just look at places like Target for more affordable options.

        Graco Pack ‘n’ Play Review

        Moneysaver Tip: Get the Graco brand; it’s the easiest to use and built to last. If you plan to use a full-sized crib or eventually transition to one, get the Pack n Play that is the biggest and has the least amount of frills and extras.

        Try buying a gently used one instead of new. There are a ton of these out there. Craigslist, yard sales, secondhand kid-stuff stores and consignment sales are good places to start.

        We got ours from my aunt as a baby shower gift. It came with a changing table and a net to allow the mattress to function as a “bassinet” or in other words, be on different height levels, so you don’t have to strain your back to place your young infant into the very bottom.


        When Baby was first born, I actually used it as a storage area for all his diapers, wipes and burp cloths (Silly me) and we did use the changing table; however, it was only used for a short amount of time, maybe a month because the changing table wasn’t totally flat or sturdy for heavier babies. I never used the “mobile” which was basically a bunch of plush stars that roll on a wheel (lame) though it did have a wind-up music box in it.

        I recommend getting the basic model for most babies.


        The extra features (specifically the bassinet function, for picking up/putting down the baby to sleep with ease.) are nice and they might even be helpful if you plan to use the Pack ‘n’ Play from the start (with a newborn) and for long-term (military families, temporary home, small apartment, limited space, or older baby is still in his crib etc).

        But the most use of the Pack ‘n’ Play will be used at its lowest setting, just like the standard model, for older babies for naps and traveling. The basic model at Wal-Mart or Amazon can be found on sale for about $40-45. The fancy model I have is $110. So do the math.

        It is great for travel, mostly road trips, if you do that sort of thing. But honestly I haven’t traveled a lot with mine; hotels will have portable cribs for your use and both of Baby’s grandmothers have one at their house. If you plan to fly, I would recommend borrowing a portable crib instead of packing your own because you have to pay $25 to check the Pack ‘n’ Play in and haul it around with your car seat, stroller and luggage. It does weigh approx. 17 lbs. (Who knew one little person would need so much crap! Traveling with a baby is somehow battling with a huge caravan of baby gear!). You might as well buy a $50 one from the Wal-Mart at your destination and donate it before you leave.

        In preparation for our twins due in January, I am really excited to finally get use out of the bassinet function of our old pack n play as we’ll need a second napping area for our two-story house with two babies.

        I’ve debated on getting a second one, but since we will eventually need two cribs anyway, I’m holding off on getting a second one. If I did get one, I would get it second-hand if possible, since this is a product that is limited in size and weight limit.

        Baby Essentials List

        The Essentials:

        1. Crib or Pack ‘n’ Play.

        • Extra credit: get both, especially if you have friends/family with littles who will visit. We used our Graco pack ‘n’ play downstairs for dinnertime/playtime for a while, as a safe place to put baby. Once he could stand up on his own, he kind of hated it. It’s nice to have the pack n play, but for the long haul, get a good full-size crib for sleeping.

        2. Diapers and wipes. Stockup now.

        3. Carseat and later, a compatible stroller.

        • Infant seats are nice to have as you can strap the seat to a stroller easily without waking up your baby. If you do decide to get an infant car seat, buy a seat with the max weight limit of 30 lbs. Try to use it as long as you can. Accept the fact that you will only use it as a baby carrier for a few months anyway. The 22 lb limit seats are going to be lighter seats, yes, but how many of us can lug our babies around in them all day long anyway? Babies grow more alert and after a while, they won’t want to be in stuck in a seat all day.
        • The same rule applies to the convertible car seat. Some of the cheap ones I looked at for travel only work up to 40 lbs. Because the seat is lighter, its weight limit will also be less then bulkier/heavier seats. I still haven’t found a great seat that is both lightweight and goes up to 60-70 lbs.
        • Here’s my review of the Britax travel system.

        4. Baby bathtub; first an infant tub (we got ours as a gift from the hospital), a transitional tub like the inflatable Kel-Gar Snug Tub (recommended for babies who can sit up), then use the regular bathtub (you may want a grippy mat). Extra credit: Buy some bath toys later or find some cheap plastic measuring cups or cups with a spout or small bucket. They can be super cheap, just make sure they are sturdy.

        5. Feeding and equipment. Here’s my list of equipment for breastfeeding.

        • For formula-feeding or weaning off nursing, get bottles like like Medela or Avent Natural. We have also used the Avent bottle brush with our twins.
        • I personally like a Boppy; many moms say a supportive pillow would work as well, but I do not own a regular pillow as supportive as the Boppy. They are used for a limited time, 4-6 months depending on your baby’s size.

        6. A simple, basic layette. Start with the layette of a newborn.

            • Here’s my list of what you should get for the first two years. Extra credit: A cute going home outfit
            • I recommend Carter’s onesies because our baby wears them the longest. They wash well; they only shrink slightly. Buy the cotton ribbed knit not cotton jersey for a stretchy fit that can be worn a bit longer. I promise I don’t work for Carter’s, I just really love what we’ve used from them. I’ve used other brands (Gerber, Gymboree, etc) and washed them and while they remain in good condition, they shrink terribly (I love Gymboree designs for dress-up days but I always line dry them, which can get annoying when you have to sort through all your baby’s wet laundry). Always shop the Carter’s 50% off sales and use a coupon which means you will be buying in large quantities of $40+ (so buy the next size up) to meet the dollar amount for the coupon and free shipping.
            • For other articles of clothing (dress shirts, pants, jackets, etc) a good option is a second-hand children’s store, that only sells items of certain nicer brands. Ours is Once Upon a Child. (We live within walking distance!) You will still need to sort through the stuff they sell and wash thoroughly, but we’ve scored some great Janie & Jack, Carter’s and Gymboree dress shirts, hoodies, and some great toys. Another option is Just Between Friends consignment sales.

        7. Muslin swaddles – don’t buy too many baby blankets, We have WAY TOO MANY.

        • Get a swaddle or thin blanket of good size: Aden + Anais is a great swaddle and Baby now uses it as his precious blankie. He gets excited when he sees one of us holding his blankie and has to sleep with one or two while holding the corners. Luckily for us, we have four of them, in case one gets peed on, gets dirty or gets lost. It is lightweight, breathable and washes well. They have been used for 24 months now; one that is especially loved is getting stained and has snags, but the others look great. $40 seemed crazy for 4 blankets but it’s been completely worth it to me. The lowest sale price I’ve seen is on Amazon for $31 so keep your eyes open for this gem. Remember to buy the larger size not the Aden + Anais for Target which is a swaddle of smaller dimension.

        8. A cute diaper bag, make sure it’s cute for your own enjoyment (dull the pain of hauling baby gear)

        9. Baby highchair or booster (you can wait on this one, but only for 6 months)

          • Here’s my review of the booster highchair we have from Fisher Price.

        10. Some other baby care essentials (if you are having a baby shower, register for these or WAIT before buying these yourself, they may come as gifts); you do not need to buy the pre-assembled kits; just like first aid kits, you can create your own of better quality items and essentials:

        • Baby nail clipper scissors, a light comb, gentle baby 2-in-1 wash and shampoo (I like Aveeno), one tube of diaper rash cream/ointment, and one tube of Aquaphor healing ointment (we like to use this on chapped skin from sick noses or cold weather)

        Buy but don’t spend a lot of money on:

        • Baby toys, teethers, or activity gyms – I’ve found a lot of life in gently used toys (toy cars, blocks, and musical toys) after a good cleaning. I’d recommend buying toys new if they are plush or fabric (for sanitary reasons) and also, buy new teethers; we liked the Banana teether but the bristles will be bit off if your baby has several teeth.
          • We have this Skip Hop activity gym given to us by my cousin, and I love it because it’s soft and plushy (not hard plastic), but it is expensive at $75 MSRP! I suggest registering for this or saving up your gifted baby shower gift cards/funds for this or one similar. I bought a second for our twins to each have one, used off Craigslist for $10! That’s a great find. Skip Hop is a great brand.
          • Buy toys that have multiple levels of use and interest. I know this is really difficult to do, as babies tend to get bored of toys fast but try to find toys that have a lot of different play modes and are relatively inexpensive. An O-ball is a great example:oball
          • This flexible ball (comes highly rated and is 100% dishwasher safe, PVC, latex and phthalates-free) was the first toy Baby could grab and shake. Later he could kick it when we attached it to his playmat with a ring. Later he would throw it or hit it against another toy. Recently he has learned to “kick” it while walking. He’s now 15 months old and just starting to get bored of it, but we will put it away for a while and bring it back out to learn to play with later. It has a “toy life” of 10-12 months, pretty darn good for a baby toy that costs $5 at Walmart or Target.
          • If you have a bigger budget, look for developmental toys from Lamaze or Skip Hop. These are items you will want to register for: a fun activity toy with bells, crinkles and rattles, etc (a distraction in the car), some soft blocks and/or nesting toy. Just keep a handful of good variety. A lot of these toys have a wide age range and are very colorful but at the same time gender-neutral.


        • Try Fisher Price toys with the age range of 6-36 months. Baby has the Laugh & Learn Learning Home and it has been played with daily since he was about 11 months. It has a variety of play modes and teaches a lot of songs, words, opposites etc. It was a gift from my mom that I didn’t think we “needed” but we’ve really got a lot of use out of it. (UPDATE at 20 months, Baby still plays with this toy in so many unconventional ways: putting toys through the windows, rolling his cars through the doorway, etc. It’s super fun! UPDATE at 24 months, we’ve finally given this toy a well-deserved break! UPDATE 30 months at 2 1/2 Baby still plays with this from time to time. It’s “learning time” function is really catchy for a toddler learning words.)


        • Board Books – okay, this is completely a personal preference; if you love Usborne Books like I do, go ahead and splurge; if not, get some cheap board books or gently used books from Once Upon a Child or Amazon Marketplace.
        • Stuffed Animals: babies don’t even know what these are, and to be honest, they should not be in the crib with your young baby until they are at least 1 or even 2. That’s when my son realized what they are and started imaginary play; he only has one plush Nemo he got this year that he has actually sort of bonded with; he also has a Kohls Cares Mouse (from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie) which he thinks is neat and will occasionally play with.

        The Optional

          • changing table – I really like having one, but some moms think it’s an extra piece of furniture. If you choose to get one, get a nice pad like this one and a cover (Amazon) and you may need some grippy texture liner underneath for stability. I recommend getting a changing table that can be used as a dresser when your child grows up.
          • baby swing – we have one; it was used for such a short period of time, but nice to have in those early months
          • baby bouncy seat – we could have benefited from having one, but we didn’t buy one, and my child is still super active, so he wasn’t stunted in growth by not having one. For our twins coming, I bought two as I’m expecting to need to put the babies down where it’s safe where my toddler cannot step on their toes.
          • Buggy Bagg grocery cart cover – I really like having mine, it’s extra large and fits all carts, even those huge ones at Costco; the germaphobe in me feel a little better about having one, plus the pockets are a nice shopping tool to store coupons and snacks for on-the-go instead of having an entire diaper bag with you
          • seats like Bumbo etc – some moms love them, I didn’t even try one; I think it will quickly be outgrown, so I think it’s unnecessary
          • baby carrier like ErgoBaby –  I think you can skip the carrier, or at least try to borrow one or get one gently used; some babies don’t like them; others love them. I did buy one for my twins, a Lillebaby carrier,  out of necessity to transport three littles. It’s a great product but used mostly for walks and airport travel.

        The Unnecessary (Most Moms Say to Skip)

        • Wipes warmer
        • Bottle warmer
        • Diaper Genie (just use a step trash can and empty your trash often)
        • baby powder
        • baby monitor (though I’ve often wondered what he’s doing up in his crib when I hear him kicking instead of napping!)
        • wipes dispenser (I bought the OXO PerfectPull, and while it’s nice quality, we easily could have gone without and used Amazon Elements or Pampers Sensitive disposable dispensers.)

        Baby Shower Gift Ideas

        Here’s some ideas for gifts for that new mom in your life. If you’ve been following the blog, this list will come as no surprise to you (and don’t mind me using some old photos, call it lazy, resourceful, whatevs) so let’s just say it’s a list of my favorite things that I’d gladly give to any new mom or receive myself:


        • Aden + Anais muslin swaddles from Amazon
          •  This is a pricey gift but will be loved by your new mom and her little one, especially if they live in a temperate climate like California, Texas, Florida, Nevada or Hawaii. It’s the perfect blankie for a baby in the summertime. It’s breathable and swaddles like no other! It’s worth it. 
          • If you’re shopping for a summer baby or warm climate family, try the bamboo rayon style, they are super lightweight and so soft. My twins love theirs. 
          • There are other brands of muslin swaddles out there so check out Carters, TJ Maxx and other stores too but I cannot vouch for the quality of any other brands. There are plenty of brands and designs out there. My suggestion is to go for the largest ones out there: 47″ Aden + Anais ones!


        • Pampers Swaddlers
          • Pampers is a great go-to brand if your new mom is using disposable diapers. At my shower, I received no other brand; only PAMPERS. It’s a great brand for most babies. Babies will go through tons of diapers, so this is a great gift for either new mom or experienced mom! My suggestion is to gift SIZE 1 diapers because they will be used soonest and have the most per pack but include a gift receipt so Mom can exchange for a bigger size if she gets too many.


        • Baby Wipes (any brand, but go for unscented)
          • Though your expecting mom may develop preferences for wipes, they all generally work the same, so the brand does not matter here, so if you use coupons and see a great deal on Huggies, go for it! Baby wipes will be used up somehow, somewhere, some way. Guaranteed. This is another great gift for any new or experienced mom. Check out the general characteristics of brands I’ve tried here.


        • Target Gift Cards
          • Every woman loves Target. (I think. I haven’t met one yet who does not!) This is a great place for maternity/nursing clothing, baby clothing, diapers, dollar spot…even chocolate. This gift will be appreciated by your new mom when she has a last minute grocery trip or a need for retail therapy. Even though I think cash is king (I love my Chinese relatives who send red envelopes!) but this is a great alternative to those of you crazies who think gifting cash is tacky.


        • Infantino, Skip Hop, Lamaze, and B. Toys (all available at and
          • These are super cute baby toys and are mostly gender neutral. I like how durable they are. I have purchased most of mine from Target but they are available on Amazon and, but may cost more.



        • Baby Clothing 6M+ , 12M+ is better
          • Generally I suggest avoid buying baby clothing, but if you can’t resist, the larger sizes are better. Unless your new mom has absolutely no layette prepared, do not buy 0-3 and 3-6M sized clothing. They will only be used for a couple of months so the value isn’t as high. If you do choose to buy smaller sized clothing and your new mom is open to gently used clothing, shop thrift stores and the clearance rack. The best time to buy is January and February.
          • I like buying 6-12M and 12M+ clothing for a new mom. No matter the size you choose, remember to get seasonally appropriate clothing: don’t buy coats, jackets or swimwear for the baby if you are buying much bigger sizes as you cannot predict baby’s growth.
          • Stick to basic items like dresses, tees or bodysuits, and sleepers. Clothing sizes are just guidelines, but they work for most healthy babies; use the size ranges to help you determine what the baby might need. For example, if you want to buy 12M clothing, consider what the baby will be wearing on her first birthday. If born in the winter, consider buying some sweaters or light jackets or pants or leggings. If born in the summer, consider some shorts, sundresses, and cute tees or rompers.
          • My suggestion is to buy Carters brand clothing because they last and are worn the longest of all clothing brands I’ve tried. Other recommendations are Gymboree, OshKosh, and Baby Gap but they are more expensive. Don’t forget to give a gift receipt so mom can do exchanges later if needed.



        • Board books
          • Any board book will be a fun addition to your new mom’s library. Consider buying those that are durable and have some touch and feel aspect to it. Board books by Eric Carle and Richard Scarry are my favorite for younger babies (I’m old school!) and they are cheap ($3-5 a book), Matthew Van Fleet is a great choice but might be best saved for baby’s 1st birthday and are a bit pricier ($10 a book). Usborne books make great gifts; My First Word Book is a cute book ($9.99).


        Moneysaver Tip: If the new mom is a close relative or friend who doesn’t mind gently used items or new but repackaged items, try Amazon Warehouse deals (buying Aden + Anais swaddles, wipes and even diapers if you’re strapped for time) they will be delivered to your home, they are the discounted items listed as Like New or Very Good under condition (instead of New) and usually will still come in original packaging, just maybe slightly dented or worn (read the description of the condition). Wipes and diapers will (should) come in their plastic wrapping but might be reboxed. If the packaging has cosmetic damage, consider placing the gift in a cute basket, laundry basket or sturdy toy box which Mom could use later for toys or books.

        Updated Posts

        Just a quick note to say that I’ve recently updated some of the old posts with new info:

        Pampers Sensitive wipes have been replaced in our household with Amazon Elements, Kirkland Signature and Huggies Naturals. (Whatever is on sale.) Pampers brand is just too expensive to buy, in my experience. If I’m traveling, I might still buy Pampers wipes, but the other brands do just as well.

        Huggies Little Movers Plus or Kirkland Signature are the best diaper for toddlers.

        What booster style high chair seat might replace the Fisher Price SpaceSaver Deluxe that is being discontinued?

        Old Navy joins my list of best baby clothing brands.

        I added some toddler titles to the list of board books. This list is a work in progress.

        Last but not least, the most-awesome-post-on-the-site, about baby clothes (0-24M) is updated so that all the info is on one post rather than three. (For clothing especially for newborns, check out this post.)

        Hope this makes for smoother sailing on the blog.


        If you’re just joining us, read the intro post and 1st year anniversary post to get some quick links.

        Feeling Used

        I must have gotten bit by the garage sale bug this last summer (by summer, I mean May to October, because it’s still warm here in Texas!). We’ve had a blast buying used toys, books and clothing from Craigslist, eBay and Amazon. Here are some tips from yours truly, a  serious online-shopper junkie:


        I am a huge fan of buying used toys (provided they are in clean and nice condition). I am slightly obsessed with Tonka Chuck and Friends Wheel Pals cars. I saw them at Wal-Mart for $5/ car and thought they were the cutest toy cars ever. I’m talking about the soft version (not die cast), also perfect size (4″) for a toddler’s hands. But I was reluctant to buy them at full price so I did some research on eBay. The next thing you know, I bought a nice collection of them at a decent price and was able to resell some of the ones we didn’t want. Many older cars are discontinued too so buying them used gives them a second life and plenty of them were in like new condition. I think I like playing with them more than my kid does. But whatever.

        UPDATE: Because of our Hot Wheels collection, Baby took an interest in these Tonkas for about a year and decided HW are way cooler, which they are especially because Dad says so, even though he is a year under the HW age guidelines. (Uhh…why SG…why?) So just be careful about giving your kids toys in the “right time, right place.” My Tonka collection which would have been perfectly fine until age 3 is waiting for Baby #2 now.

        51G0QAHNcqL I’ve also had some serious regrets buying from eBay when I have not been informed enough. eBay shopping requires serious research into prices, item condition, and if you’re talking about clothes, body measurements are essential to have.

        • Ask questions. If you are unclear about an item’s condition, always, always ask. Read descriptions carefully and do your homework: Is it in a home full of pets? a smoke-free home? The seller may not accept returns, and even when he/she does, you’ll most likely pay for return shipping. Ask the seller for photos if those they posted are unclear or dim.
        • For clothing, take your measurements and know your brands well. When wearing Ann Taylor Loft, somehow I’m a size 2, while on the other hand with H&M I’m a size 6. Each brand has a size chart on their site for reference; while it may not reflect that particular item, it’s at least a good place to start. Take measurements of yourself (or whoever you are shopping for) and ask for the measurements of the article of clothing from the seller if you are unsure about sizing.
        • From personal experience, I suggest buying used clothing from individual sellers in “excellent used condition” rather than huge sellers on ebay like thrift stores or mass clothing resellers like Twice. I think people generally take better care of their clothing when in their own homes (and worn by themselves or family members) and you are less likely to have the smelly thrift store smell when the item has been washed well and stored properly.



        SG has had some seriously fun times buying Hot Wheel tracks off Craigslist, mostly for fun: mostly for himself but a little bit for Baby too. We have scored some major deals from toys other people’s children have grown out of. Yeah, can you tell we’re a bit too obsessed with cars in this household?

        • Act fast and devote some time. Stuff that is on Craigslist that is priced to sell goes quickly. Make sure you have enough time that day to track down the seller, schedule travel time, and take time to go look at what you are buying.
        • With Craigslist and other negotiable shopping, always go in with your price in mind. What will you be willing to spend? Will you give the seller his/her asking price? When do you walk away?


        My love for Amazon runs deep. I love Amazon. So it’s natural that when I discovered Amazon Warehouse that I would love it just as much. They have some awesome stuff for babies and toddlers for a good discount. You can view Warehouse items here. Or you can search on a regular Amazon product page; if they have Warehouse products available, it will be found under Used (next to New) and labeled “Open Box.”


        • On Amazon Warehouse, “like new” or “very good” items are usually worthwhile. I’ve only ever sent back one open-box item (a Fisher Price booster high chair seat) that was really in badly used condition (when described as like new or very good); it had noticeable signs of wear. “Very good” usually means the original box has been replaced by a generic or Amazon-brand brown box. Amazon is also very good about returns in case this sort of thing happens
        • I’ve purchased Pampers Wipes (came without the box or a dented box, packages are all still sealed), Kleenex tissues, and other household items. The items are usually damaged in packaging but fine otherwise, just make sure to read the description before buying.
        • For used books, the Amazon Marketplace is a good option. What I dislike, however, is that a seller cannot offer combined shipping, so you will end up paying $3.99 (or more) for shipping per item even if you buy 5 items from the same seller. Keep shipping costs in mind when searching
        • .A lot of “new” books posted in the Marketplace are not actually in new condition, they have a remainder mark on them (usually a line of permanent marker long the edge of a book) especially if you are looking for an older-published book. If aesthetics is a concern (for a book to be gifted, for example), buy new directly from Amazon or with a seller who has described their item as unmarked, not a remainder copy, pristine, etc. As a book snob (think of the girl who looks at every single copy at Costco or BN for dents and marks before buying one–that’s probably me) this has been a big issue for me. (New to me means unspoiled in every way; sometimes a slight bent corner but really nothing major.)

        Board Books for Baby

        I love books.

        So I’m making sure Baby loves them too by reading to him every day.

        Going to the library for books is a great economical way to expose your baby to a lot of different reads. But it’s nice to have some books at home.

        Choose carefully because you will end up reading them over. and over. and over again.

        Here are some of our favorite most-affordable board books:

        For Toddlers:

        Quality textures and flaps! (Pricier)


        We don’t own these, but Bright Baby books are worth looking into!

        For Babies:


        This series has 4 books: Shapes, Colors, Animals, Words

        For full reviews and other titles, check out my Amazon profile.