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, not 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 English Teaching major, I have a different view. I think there are certain academics that need to be taught, like reading, writing and math. I love literature and school. I take a Charlotte Mason-unit study approach to many subjects. I would like to use Montessori and Waldorf elements to promote creativity in play. Basically I am eclectic 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 a Tang dynasty poem 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!

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Cottage Door Press Board Book Review

Introducing chunky flaps! I have found some new favorite board books from Cottage Door Press, the Peek-a-Flap series and the Chunky Lift-a-Flap series. These are the perfect books for active toddlers who destroy everything. My firstborn was the perfect toddler, who never ripped or tore a book ever. He’s also mildly OCD so we have had our share of challenges.

My twins are much rougher with books. If I gave them my Usborne Peek Inside series (which I love and recommend as a must-have from Usborne), they would destroy or fold up the flaps in 30 seconds.

These flaps are durable, made of the same cardboard material as the book.

I found the Chunky Lift-a-Flap (Little Green Frog and others) at our local Barnes and Noble and I even let my twins try out the flaps and they did not destroy them! Usually I do not believe in using the bookstore like a library but in this case we were fine because the books went back on the shelf in perfect condition.

I like that the Peek-a-Flap combines a word book with flap books with informational text. This is age-appropriate for toddlers; babies might get easily bored with it, but you don’t even need to read every word; just talk about the illustrations.

I’m sure these will be dropped, worn and dented over time, but I am fairly confident the flaps will remain in tact.

For the younger babies, I liked the Chunky Lift-a-Flap series. I especially like Babies on the Farm and Little Green Frog.  I gifted Baby B with Babies on the Farm for Easter because spring and farm animals are so suitable for the season. I like that it uses vocabulary like goat kid, piglet and duckling instead of simplifying the words (like “baby duck”) as so many other baby books do.

Just based on my previews of the other board book series on their website, I was not as impressed with the other chunky flap books like First Word (called Babies ❤)  series or others, but I am judging them by their covers.  A lot of them seem cheaply done to me, however, these two series I’ve mentioned are fantastic and I highly recommend them for their illustrations and durability.

I own a lot of word and board books already and I’m trying to get the most bang out of my buck for each book I buy. I used to buy whatever was cheapest and I’m learning to stretch my dollars buy buying less but with more quality. I know there are a ton of choices out on the book market today, but these offerings are truly unique.

I would highly recommend Peek-a-Flap or the select few Chunky Lift-a-Flap for first-time parents. You will not be disappointed.

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 slickdeals.net 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 Jet.com 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)
        Enjoy!

        Qiaohu 巧虎 2016-2017 Preview

        Yoyo “Toddler” ban for ages 2-3
        Kuaile “Happy” ban for preschoolers ages 3-4

        I found these images off the Qiaohu website, for those of you who are interested in seeing what the 幼幼版 (Youyou or yoyo ban) and 快樂版 (kuaile ban) subscription receive each month from September 2016 to August 2017.

        Remember the best time to begin the subscription box is at the beginning of each school year, so you get the whole slew of topics and variety without repeating unnecessary content or subject matter.

        I mean, the songs can get so annoying,  you really do want fresh material each month. If you subscribe by calendar year, there is a risk you will receive repeat gifts or dvds with similar content or lessons.

        Now is the time to subscribe for September!

        In a conversation I had with the office, they told me that this year’s Yoyo ban has toys each month which is a new feature, they used to not have so many toys, but everyone who’s been around a 3 year old knows they need imaginative play and a lot of it.

        I really wish I could subscribe to both but we are advancing to Kuaile ban this September because my child needs more stories and early literacy rather than imaginative play, which is why there will be less toys and more storybooks in the kuaile ban.

        But honestly I can’t wait for my twins to subscribe to Yoyo ban because it’s so much fun to have stories in DVD form and thematic toys that go along with the subject or topic. My child’s language development has really blossomed with the use of these DVDs and imaginative play.

        The boxes really do well at addressing needs of the children and their development.

        If this information has been helpful, please consider adding me as a referral when you order. My ID is 2600018310. They give out Qiaohu gifts to referrers. My kids will love you forever!

        Note: there is a BaoBao ban for babies ages 6 months all the way to grade school, age 8 plus. Check out the site.

        Qiaohu 巧虎 August 2016 Preview

        Since I’ve received a lot of inquiry into the Qiao hu subscription box, please allow me to preview the latest box’s content. I’ve been really impressed with each box we’ve received. Toys are simple, cute and educational. The DVDS can get annoying on a loop but doesn’t that happen with all kids’ music, toys and interactive fun?

        Parent’s user pamphlet 
        August activity workbook cover
        Stickers from activity workbook

        Sample pages
        DVD
        CD
        Special workbook/storybook

        It’s  $308 a year, which is about  $25.66 per month. Each month they send a DVD, activity workbook, parent’s user pamphlet and either toy, cd and/or storybook.

         I think it’s totally worth it! (For me, I break down the value this way DVD $10, workbook $10, toy or CD $5-6. Some of the toys are extra special and are worth $10-15—perceived value of course!) The educational value language-wise is worth it to me. And they also cover colors, numbers, shapes, and certain preschooler know-how’s like tidying up and sorting. 

        *I would totally appreciate it if you added me as a referral on your order should you choose to subscribe. I’m a fan not an employee. My kids will receive a complimentary gift from Benesse. My Referral ID 2600018310, last name Gene

        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.

        yoyo

        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

         

        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.

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        • 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.)

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        • 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.)

        Usborne Books Review and Other Book Recommendations

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        UPDATE: Okay, I’m a little obsessed with these books now, after many evenings watching Youtube reviews of books, browsing the catalog and placing a few orders from two Facebook parties, one of them hosted by moi. I am in love with books again. Having said that, I realize Usborne is not for everyone; I wish that it was more accessible and more affordable; however, if your budget allows, Usborne is a great investment for your children. Education in fun, interactive ways is never a bad thing and Usborne does educational books very well. Check out my Usborne website to order.

        Let me put it this way: once you have an Usborne, you’ll be like me, and go browse other bookstores or the Costco book section, and realize nothing really compares. It’s really all about the “get by” mentality which as I have mentioned before, a lot of new parents have. They don’t want to get things that last but really they should, if they can, unless you’re absolutely certain you’re only going to have one kid which if that’s the case, good luck and go ahead and just get by.

        A board book from Costco might run at $7.49 but it’s basic and kind of lame, whereas an Usborne might cost $9.99 with amazing durability and illustrations. If money is tight, you’ll go for the $7.49 book because it makes sense to. But then later down the line, you might turn into me: I kind of regret not buying those baby books sooner and I find myself wishing I could throw out all my old worn out lame books and replace them with Usborne, the next time around, hopefully if there is a next time). Let’s just say that I really envy those first-time moms who have learned already about Usborne and have a growing collection from the start.

        LONG POST AHEAD. Just warning ya. But it’s chocked full of good information! I first learned about Usborne books when I become a mom; everyone I talk to has a great impression of their books. I am not a consultant but I am preparing to host my first online party. I have a growing good impression of this company and their products so I’ll join someday.

        In the meantime, let me tell you my (mom-English teacher-reader) take on Usborne books and where they fit in my home library and some possible non-Usborne alternatives (please note I do not own all these Usborne and non-Usborne books, but I’ve perused some of these at my local Costco and Barnes and Noble, and I think they have potential, but still check them out for yourself before buying!):

        BABIES

        Babies need simple visual and auditory stimulation that is high-contrast and predictable or with sound pattern. The books are going to be small and (for adults, painfully) simple, usually one image and one word per page.

        Because there are so many of these out in the book world, I do not normally suggest getting Usborne Books for this stage if your budget is limited/tight, a mom who just wants the average board book but I think the Usborne stuff is generally great stuff, like 95% are awesome, 5% are ho-hum. If you have the means and love the books, I highly recommend them because they are high quality and will likely last through multiple kids. Just know your options.

        Touch & Feel (Tactile) Books: That’s Not My Series

        That’s Not My Series is a huge part of the Usborne line but it’s not my favorite. I think it’s okay to have a few of these, but they’re kind of limited in text and art so don’t buy the whole series. I say this because I have That’s Not My Monkey, which is very limited in illustration compared to some of the others I’ve seen like …Puppy and …Lamb and …Dinosaur (those three are great). There is one animal/object per page with a white mouse-narrator who appears on every page. If the book is 6 pages long, there are 6 animals (including the one on the cover). I think the overall construction of these books is excellent hence the three stars but there are plenty of other less expensive options of touchy feely books out there. But one or two of these can’t hurt! I saw a few of these at my local Barnes and Noble; if you want to preview them, look for them in the Board Book section. Likely to Recommend ***

        Compare With: DK Baby Touch and Feel, Bright Baby Touch & Feel (Priddy Books), Karen Katz books,

        Cut Out Books aka Books with “Windows”: Look Through Series

        Panda in the Park is an Usborne book for babies. This is the same illustrator as the That’s Not My series but it has some more interactive features; your child predicts which animal is coming next based off of the small part of the next animal visible in a cut out window, building skills of observation, prediction, and anticipation. The illustrations have more details than the That’s Not My books but both are pretty simple for a reason (good for newborns).

        Keep in mind this book has a regular board book cover, not the heavy-duty type like That’s Not My Series. Still, it’s affordable and cute and I love giving it as a gift.

        I would totally be interested in other books of this series, but as of writing this post, this is the only one of the series in print.

        It is basic in story but remember all books of this level will be. What I like about this is the drawings are beautifully done and it’s a little more complex than other baby books with peek holes. Highly Recommend ****

        Compare With: My Little World Series (Tiger Tales), Look & See Series (La Coccinella)

        Lift Flap Books: Animal Hide and Seek, Muddle and Match

        Flaps are great fun for older babies and toddlers but monitor their use because they will get torn! Likely to Recommend but check other options:

        Compare With: Cottage Door Press Peek-a-Flap or chunky First Lift a Flap (thick flaps = durable) , Karen Katz flap books (thought I feel they’re kind of girly, lots of pink), Dear Zoo (short but sweet), My First Lift and Learn Series (Tiger Tales), Little Friends Home Sweet Home (Priddy) (this book is super durable although girly in color scheme), Really Decent Peekabooks (check Costco)

        I also love Muddle and Match series from Usborne which uses three different parts of the pages interchangeably, like flaps (but not the traditional lift flap). These board books contain alliterations and exchangeable characters with actions. It’s very innovative, creative, and humorous. Highly Recommend****

        Compare With: Really Decent Flip Flap Books (check Costco)

         

        Little Library and Noisy Series Book

        These are books with one word and one picture per page which is great for babies and especially toddlers. The Usborne version has cute (like super cute!) illustrations and it has Usborne standards of durability, but again, consider other options. Essentially you’re buying it for its aesthetic qualities at this stage of reading. For some moms, the beautiful drawings aren’t enticing enough. Others who lean to the Montessori view, would prefer photos instead of illustrations, which Usborne does not have (I’ve never seen photos for babies or toddlers) . There are so many little word books out there that are much more affordable and babies will quickly grow out of these books. If you have the means and love the illustrations, then go for them but they’re not required material in my opinion.

        These would be great gifts if you are supporting a new mom’s baby shower and have more disposable income.

        Compare with: My 1st Board Books series (DK), Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Rescek, Tiger Tales)

        Textures, Flaps and Sounds: Very First Big (Musical) Playbook

        I like the Very First Big Playbook which is great for babies about 12-20 months, but again, text is limited. The current offering by Usborne is the Very First Big Musical Playbook. If it is anything like its predecessor (sans Musical), the visual is stunning and bold with lift flaps and textures and the music is really nice quality. I feel like this is a larger combination style book of the other Usborne titles, so I’ve passed on all other (simpler) books of the Very First Words series. If I were just starting out building my baby’s library, I might look into those, but since I’ve already amassed a lot of texture books, I didn’t feel the need to pay Usborne prices for books I feel are super basic. Don’t buy this for the “story” or “plot” because there isn’t one.Highly recommend****

        Compare With: My First Touch and Feel Sound Book (Tiger Tales) — more real-world, uses photos, has more text

        TODDLERS

        Around 2 is when babies and toddlers really start to develop language skills, so reading is ever important. This is the age the public library becomes an amazing resource. In my town, we have an awesome library. They have iPads with educational activities, touchscreen-tables, puzzles, storytime, and free dvds (for a week). It’s an amazing resource and luckily we live within walking distance to our local branch.

        Be VERY careful about which books you select at this age, because if they are anything like my child, your children will ask you to read over and over and over again. Better choose ones you like. A LOT!

        I’ve used Richard Scarry’s books in the past year, as it incorporates animals and cars both of which are Baby’s obsessions. But they are kind of old school, they’re kind of outdated and hence the search led me to Usborne which led me to writing this post and hosting a party (which I’d never do in normal life). We especially Cars, Trucks and Things that Go and any book with Huckle the Cat and Lowly the Worm. I’ve read these like a thousand and one times. Tread carefully, my friends!

         My Very First Words Series, My First Word Book and Big Book of English Words

        I haven’t checked out Usborne my first word (and farm) books because there are so many word books out there that are much more affordable. The Usborne version is has cute illustrations and it has Usborne standards of durability, but do consider other options. For example, since I am speaking Mandarin Chinese about 90% of the time to Baby, I’ve opted for bilingual word books from Taiwan.

        My Very First Words series has 8 books; again, they feature cute illustrations with objects and their names in a basic scene.

        The Usborne My First Word Book has 270 words, so it’s not totally basic and not completely busy either; it’s right in the middle. It’s more a word book, no scenes just one art image per word.

        If you are looking for English word books, there are tons! I feel they are best for 18-36 month olds who are developing vocabulary. I would suggest looking at a brick and mortar store or previewing on Amazon first, to see which style you like best (photos vs illustration, large size or small, board book with tabs or no tabs, foam book construction, etc)

        Big Book is a little more complicated (busy) than My First Word and is worth looking into! It has some bigger scenes and a lot more going on. Very Cute, Likely to Recommend **1/2 – ***

        *These would make a great GIFT for a new mom, as many new moms have really tight budgets and may not buy this themselves. If you like gifting Usborne, consider gifting this to a baby for her1st birthday.

        Compare With: Turn and Learn Series (simpler, cheaper and has a cool turnwheel aspect for interaction), DK My First Series (more detailed, busy pages), First and First 100 Series (Priddy Books), Baby Einstein, My First Word Book (Richard Scarry)

        1000 or 1001 “Word” Books

        I guess these would be considered “word books” because that is what they are, but they are a little more complex than babies words or my-firsts books. They’re kind of like my-second books; they might be too busy for some toddlers, it depends on the child. My 2-year old loves 1000 Things that Go, but we focus on a few pages of cars and trucks (his current obsession).

        I think these are quite unique to Usborne books and made out of sturdy cardstock pages which I love! They also have 1000 stickers series books in paperback, but I’d wait until the child is older, when stickers are actually a joy and reward.

        Highly recommend****

        Very First Slide and See Books: Animals

        I actually think these are BETTER for toddlers than lift-flap books (which can get torn easily) but I can’t recommend them personally yet as I don’t have this title; it is also the first of this series and I’m thinking they’ll probably add more. I do think they have a lot of potential. Recommendation ?

        Compare With: Slide and Find Brown Bear and other titles (Priddy Books) — we have the Brown Bear one and the other Priddy Books I’ve seen with basic concepts look awesome, check ’em out. I’m a huge fan of Priddy Books. Another good option is the Matthew Van Fleet books Tails and Heads. They have sliding animals or animal tails etc in the books but can get destroyed pretty easily by little ones. Supervision is recommended. Costco has a DK line Slide the Beads Counting, Slide the Tab, Peek Through Rainbow; they are simplistic and not as artistic, but have some interactive features;I have not seen these anywhere else so I’m thinking they’re an exclusive; $7.49 each.

        PRESCHOOLERS

        Here in the Dallas suburbs, tons of kids actually start preschool a year early, at age 3, according to my pediatrician. I’m not saying that is right for everyone, but it’s just a trend of the growing, competitive world. I do not necessarily advocate formal schooling that early, but all kids should have some early childhood education of some sort around age 4. A home library can easily fulfill this requirement.

        This (and the next level up) is where Usborne really starts to shine with informational or nonfiction texts in sturdy board book or hardback form. They have all sorts of activity books too for children about ages 3+.

        Big Book of Series

        I LOVE the “Big Book Of” series and I’m coveting pretty much all of them. They are basically large books with sturdy pages and fold outs with huge illustrations. They have good layout and the text is simple and not overwhelming. I am really excited about them, mostly because I feel they are intriguing enough for a 4 or 5 year old without having information overload. These can peak interest in a subject matter when you read them aloud to a young child and they’ll grow with your child as he/she learns to read independently and internalize even more concepts.

        There are some great non-fiction series out on the mass market (National Geographic Kids is one of these) but they are really more for the older elementary school level. It reads like an introductory book but is best discovered by an independent reader. The Big Book Series feels more approachable. I will likely order this and update soon. Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Highly recommend****)

        Peek Inside Series

        This is the more simplistic form of the Look Inside series, so it’s meant for toddlers and preschoolers, teaching basic concepts. I’m interested in this but haven’t purchased yet. Will update if I end up purchasing it at my party.

        Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Likely to Recommend***)

        Wipe Clean Series

        This is a pretty neat series of wipeable soft booklets and I think worth the money at $7.99 because they are reusable. They are very colorful and try to make the learning activity fun and entertaining.

        Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Highly recommend****)

        Compare With: Wipe Clean (Priddy Books) — these have more of a workbook feel, not as “fun”, looks like real homework,

        Flashlight Books: Shine-a-Light Series

        The Shine a Light series are picture books with an informational element to them. They are so fun and interactive. You use a flashlight or other small light to illuminate from behind the page to “reveal” the animals or part of nature. We currently have Secrets of the Seashore and I’m planning to get the other two Apple Tree and Rainforest. They will be so fun for that preschool/kindergarten age. Highly recommend****

        Compare With: Lightbeam books by Golding & Lodge

        Roll Back Wind Up: Busy Car, Busy Helicopter, etc. Wind-up Train Book, etc.

        These series are more of games than books really. Each book has four tracks-on-pages. But they are super innovative and I think provide some “educational fun within a book”. The Wind Up Pirate Ship has a storyline; I”m not sure about the others. They are a bit pricey at $24.99 to $29.99. I think they are sweet but they’re more optional, rather than required material. Likely to Recommend***

        Kane Miller Picture Books (Fiction)

        I recommend focusing on the non-fiction side of Usborne because I haven’t been too impressed with the fictional titles for preschool-early elementary age.

        Here are some examples of what I mean, maybe I’m just not a fan of Kane Miller titles:

        Boy on the Page – it’s the story of a child who wonders why he is on Earth and shows him growing up, always wondering into adulthood what his purpose is. It’s kind of philosophical and illustrated beautifully but it’s kind of too odd for me. I feel like my religious beliefs answer all my questions about the purpose of life and I want to teach this purpose in life to my children while they’re young, rather than have them wonder all their lives into adulthood what their purpose is. Sorry to get preachy. But it is a feel good book for those perhaps less religious and just want the message of “We are here for the people around us in our lives.” Still a great message, just not for me personally. Not Likely to Recommend ** and 1/2 (MAYBE *** DEPENDING ON THE CROWD)

        The Zoo – After checking this out at the library, I asked SG to read it to Baby and SG was not impressed with this book at all. Yes, the illustrations are beautiful but the storyline is so-so about a girl and her parents and what they see at the zoo. The book has a nice fold out at the end. It’s artistic, but not my favorite. Not Likely to Recommend **

        Compare With: Caldecott winners books

        My Summary of a Very Wordy Post You Just Read:

        • Usborne Books are generally very beautifully illustrated and use thick, quality printing materials for a durable collection of books which can get pricey. If it’s out of your price range, consider books published by Priddy Books, Really Decent and titles like Dear Zoo at mass market book retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc).
        • Books like DK, Priddy Bright Baby and Baby Einstein will use stock photo images; on one the hand, it looks realistic but on the other hand, the books easily get outdated; Usborne books in general are illustrated and so they will look really basic and simple in drawing style but have a more classic, imaginative quality to them, making them feel less dated. Maybe it’s just me. But some people like Montessorians prefer photos.
        • Use the library, Costco and Barnes & Noble to see which books you like and hope your kid likes them too.
        • Use YouTube to preview Usborne books before buying them! Do your research!

        Note: I was not paid to write this but I am an independent consultant for Usborne. Check out my Usborne website if you’re interested.

        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:

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        • 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!

        pampersswaddlers

        • 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.

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        • 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.

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        • 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.

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        • Infantino, Skip Hop, Lamaze, and B. Toys (all available at Amazon.com and Target.com)
          • 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 Diapers.com, but may cost more.

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        • 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.

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        • 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).

        amazonwarehouse

        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.