These 5 Toys Will Give Your Baby a Head Start on Learning 

It’s no secret that kids love toys, and that love of playing and exploring starts even when they’re infants. But toys are not just about entertainment. In fact, toys can do so much more for your baby then just keep them occupied.

The best toys are able to engage your baby’s curiosity and senses.  They teach babies about the world around them, including new shapes, colours, textures, and sounds. Playing with toys also develops an infant’s fine and gross motor skills.

This article shows you five of our top picks for toys that will give your baby a head start on learning… 

1.  Playgo Bath Buddies

Playgo Bath Buddies are safe even for newborns. They are a toy that can grow with your child easily. Many children love bath toys even into preschool and early grade school.

This toy set comes with a mesh storage bag and two suction cups that make it easy to dry and store the toys right in the bath area. Teach your child about animals, such as seals, crabs, and frogs with these friendly animal-themed toys. The moving parts and included cups teach basic cause and effect, like what happens when you tip a cup and water pours out.

Simple toys like these encourage conversation and bonding between you and your baby.  Check out Playgo Bath Buddies here. 

2.  Lil Sensory Bloxx

Lil Sensory Bloxx are another basic learning toy. But they pack a lot of education into their simple design. The blocks come in multiple colours and have animal shapes, letters, and numbers imprinted on the sides. The 3D shapes allow your infant to explore texture, which develops their fine motor skills. 

The blocks can also be used to develop gross motor skills like stacking and throwing. They are made of safe, soft plastic and are appropriate for infants of all ages.  You can take a closer look at Lil Sensory Bloxx by clicking here. 

3.  Playgo 5 in 1 Multivity Cube

This plastic toy cube has a different activity on each of five sides. As your child turns the cube, they can explore a different activity. Interacting with the pieces on each of the five sides improves your baby’s fine motor skills, and helps with memory and location skills.

The toy also includes a wind-up mechanism to make music for the baby. It’s a great way to begin development of logical thinking skills, and can be used by infants as young as six months.  Find out more about the Playgo 5 in 1 Multivity Cube here. 

4.  Fisher Price Kick n Play Piano Gym

Play mats are an excellent toy that every infant should have the opportunity to explore. They encourage muscle development, and are especially good for encouraging tummy time to build up core and neck muscles.

This play mat has a set of piano keys that plays music and sounds to encourage your baby to lift their head up while on their tummy. The toy is also great for allowing baby to play while laying on their back. There are toys and a mirror hanging from an arch, which encourages baby to reach, grasp, and bat at toys.  You can also detach the musical piano toy for sitting-up play or when you travel with your baby. Click here to learn more about Fisher Price Kick n Play Piano Gym. 

5.  Laugh and Learn Smart Stages Laptop

This interactive laptop engages multiple senses. It will keep your baby busy with sights, sounds, and textures. Here are a few of the things that can do:

Because this toy has a handle, you can take it with you when you travel with your child. Level one has learning content appropriate for ages 6 months and older, such as first words and sounds. Level two is best for ages 12 months and over, and prompts the baby to answer questions and follow simple directions. Level three engages imaginative and make-believe play for ages 18 months and over.

One of the best things about this toy is that for under $20 you get something your infant can play with and learn from for up to 3 years of age. The toy comes in two different colours, blue or pink. Learn more about the Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Laptop in blue here. Or check out the pink laptop here.

Visit Samko and Miko Toy Warehouse to find these educational toys and more.

Will you be joining us at MomFest, on Tuesday September 10?

The mom Super Bowl has arrived with an “all-you-can” experience. For the second year in a row, MomFest offers you all you can sample (wine, beer, spirits), all you can eat, all you can learn, and of course all you can laugh. They have a daytime event to wine, dine, and learn (all with baby in tow!); and then they have a night time event for all of you working mamas and party animals!

Both the daytime and evening events take place at THE WAREHOUSE EVENT VENUE, Downsview Park, located at 35 Carl Hall Rd #2, Toronto.

It takes place on Tues Sept 10, 10am to 4pm for the daytime event (all ages – babies are welcome) and then doors re-open for the evening event from 7pm to 11pm (19+ – no babies allowed!)

During the day, they have everything you need to make the experience enjoyable for you and your babe.  Stroller parking, feeding and changing stations, on-site child care and fun activities like music and a sensory play zone.

Check out the full schedule including the roster of amazing speakers, including the infamous Cat & Nat!

Unique to this festival is the The Glam Zone and The Wine Down Zone.  Each mom gets to pick one Spoiling Activity from each zone (selections will be on a first come first serve basis) 

Pick one (1) of the following in the Wine Down Zone: 

A Mama Mobile Massage, a Strolf Deep Fascial stretching, a seat at the coveted HOAME meditation garden or a bougie nap from our friends at Fort Boutique. 

And in the Glam Up Zone: Pick one (1) of the following pamperings for moms: 

An eyebrow shaping from our friends at WAXON, A VENT hair experience, A Spa Nails Speed Shellac Mani, A Festival Face Makeup or a Well.ca mini facial!

Appointments will become available on a first-come, first-serve basis launching on August 26 – only for advance ticket holders! 

(photo courtesy of Pictonat Photography)

Last but not least, Mommy Connections will be onsite at MomFest with some fun surprises!

Once the sun sets, the MomFest Gala begins.  It’s an evening of fun, food, music, entertainment, pampering – and a celebration of motherhood.  This is a 19+ event (no babies) and is the perfect event for those of you who may be back at work and unable to attend during the day. 

And the best part?  We have an exclusive MomFest discount code for our Mommy Connections network!  You can save $10 off the ticket price with the MomFest promo code MOMC10.

Daytime Tickets $55 ($45 for our fans!)

Evening Gala Tickets $45 ($35 for our fans!)

Daytime & Gala Combo Pass $75  ($65 for our fans!)

We can’t wait to see you there!

Our local Stockyards Walmart has had an amazing makeover.  Join me as I show you around some of the highlights! 

When you first walk in, the first thing you’ll notice is the new community hub.  There’s lots of seating space, designated places to store your cart, free wi-fi, charging stations and even a sushi bar from Naoki Sushi and a Freshii area – where you can warm your wraps or get delicious healthy smoothies.  

I’ll admit – I LOVE a good theme party.  My son’s birthday parties tend to be a bit Pinterest-y (if I do say so myself!), but I was blown away by the new party shop section.  It has absolutely everything you need to pull off a themed party, all in one convenient-to-shop section.  Helium Balloons, decorations, cutlery, loot bags supplies and more.  There are tons of themes to choose from (including First Birthday Party!) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The redesigned toy section is massive.  My favourite part is the fact that they have lowered the store fixtures so that you’ll be able to see your child wandering from aisle to aisle (assuming that you have a wanderer like me!).  They have wisely located this section right next to the party shop – like I said – one stop shop! 

MINISO is a Japanese retailer that produces high quality goods, at affordable prices.  You can find accessories, health and beauty, electronics, lifestyle products, and more.  The ‘store-in-a-store’ concept is a bit different than a pop up – it will be there permanently.  Note that it has its own separate hours so you may want to check those ahead of time. 

The family nursing rooms (and yes, I love that it’s called ‘family’ nursing rooms – not just for nursing ‘moms’) are next level.  There are two designated rooms with comfortable chairs, change tables – and they even have a TV!  Located in a quieter area, right next to the baby section.  

They have a special themed area featuring special collections – when we visited they were set up for Canada Day.  I was thrilled to see that they also had a section set up for Pride.  This area is located right next to their sports section that was all set up for Raptor domination!  

The My Walmart app users now have the option to use the Fast Lane.  You can scan your items on your phone before putting them in your bag, and then just swing by the checkout zone where you are greeted by a store associate to help you scan your one barcode and pay via your credit card.  No need to unload your items and scan them individually at checkout – one less step saves moms valuable time getting their shopping done!  Plus the app automatically adds any available in-store coupons! 

Part of the appeal of the new Fast Lane, are the newly designed shopping carts that have been specially designed with young families in mind.  There’s enough space for 2 kids, a designated cell phone holder and it’s designed so that you have a least 3 reusable shopping bags held open so that you can sort your items (pantry, refrigerated, health & beauty, etc.) as you shop.  So much easier to unload when you get home!  

Winter = dry skin at the best of times, but it can feel 10x worse during pregnancy. Which is why we’re thrilled to partner with Palmer’s Cocoa Butter formula to bring you mamas-to-be some much-needed relief.

Developed specifically for pregnant women, this lightweight non-greasy lotion helps improve skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of stretch marks – but don’t take our word for it. Palmer’s generously sent samples to one of our moms-to-be for testing. Here’s what she had to say about it:

When I was offered the chance to review Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Stretch Mark Range, I was curious about the legendary stretch mark cream. Any research I had done online on preventing stretch marks had almost always recommended Palmer’s as the go-to for pregnant moms.  Also, being a busy working mom with an -ahem- spirited toddler, I barely had time to wash my hair, much less remember to buy and religiously apply any kind of cream.  

I was generously sent the Palmer’s Tummy Butter, Massage Cream and Massage Lotion for Stretch Marks to review.

The first thing I noticed when I opened up my package of Palmer’s Tummy Butter is the heavenly smell. It’s a rich cocoa scent, that isn’t too cloying like some scented lotions. It’s also incredibly thick. I found that I had to really dig my finger in to get a good amount to rub in. But once I did, my skin felt amazingly soft and hydrated, even until the next morning.  

The massage cream and massage lotion are easier to apply, and again, left my skin feeling soft and slightly scented.

With the dry winter air, I’ve taken to applying the tummy butter on my stomach, elbows and other areas that feel extremely dry and itchy, and the massage lotion to my arms, legs and feet. It’s the perfect antidote against dry, scaly skin and time will tell if it does prevent any stretch marks.  Either way, it’s helped my skin stay moisturized this winter, when sadly it’s normally neglected.

Your family is growing and you need a home that can grow with you. So, as you start thinking about your impending move, you’re left with the lingering question “should I buy first or sell first?”

“While there is no ‘right’ answer, it’s important to know the potential pros and cons of both options,” says RECO Registrar Joseph Richer. “Regardless of whether you buy first or sell first, it’s a good idea to have a contingency plan in case your closing dates don’t align, leaving you with two homes, or no home,  for a period of time.”

Speaking with your registered real estate professional before starting the buying or selling process can help you decide which route is better suited to your family’s needs.

Buy first

Buying first can make the house hunting experience more enjoyable. Without a closing date looming on your existing home, you’ll have time to wait until the right home comes up for sale. It can also be less stressful knowing that if your offer is unsuccessful, you can wait for the next opportunity to come up.

The downside to buying first is if you are unable to sell your home fast enough, you will find yourself owning two homes at once. The result could mean paying two mortgages at the same time, not to mention all the other costs of home ownership. Additionally, you may have trouble securing a mortgage for the new home.

As a buyer with an existing home to sell, you can protect yourself by making your offer conditional on the sale of your current home. That means if you’re unable to sell within a specified period of time, you’re able to back out of the transaction. However, it’s worth pointing out that this condition will likely make your offer less attractive to the seller, especially if you’re buying in an area with a hot market.

Sell first

The biggest benefit of selling first, aside from removing the risk of owning two homes at once, is you’ll know how much money the sale brought in, which will help determine how much you can afford to pay for the next place.

As helpful as that is to know, the challenge is that you’ll find yourself in a race against the clock, with your closing date looming and potentially no home to move into when you move out of your current one. If you’re not careful, you may end up rushing the buying process and settling for a home that isn’t ideal for you, or paying more than you planned because you feel pressured.

Have a contingency plan

Regardless of which route you choose, it’s a smart idea to have a back-up plan in place in case you are left with two homes, or no home, for a period of time.

If the sale of your home closes first, you might consider a short-term rental or moving in with family or friends. This could be better than settling for a less-than-ideal home because you are rushed.

If the purchase of your new home closes first, you might need something called “bridge financing” to cover the down payment and other closing costs until the sale of your current home closes.

“No matter which option you choose, it’s important to remember that a registered real estate professional is knowledgeable about market conditions and will offer advice and solutions to guide you through the process,” says Richer. “They will be able to discuss various scenarios to make sure you have realistic expectations about what may happen and help you come up with a plan that works for you and your growing family.”

 

There’s a lot of information out there about market trends and how to get the best price, but you also need to know about your rights and responsibilities as a home buyer or seller.  The Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) can help you with that.

When it comes to real estate transactions, the more you know, the better you’re protected. Visit RECO’s website to learn more.

Check out some more helpful articles including 4 must-do tips before you start the home buying process, as well as the 5 questions you should ask before selecting a real estate representative.

Guest Blog Post From Mommy Connections Alumni, Kirsti Stubbs

You know when you find a place to eat that you and your kids both love? As a mom to two young kiddos that means it is clean and convenient (bathrooms, etc) but it’s also healthy, reasonably priced and there is something for everyone’s moody/picky taste!

Well imagine that convenience PLUS you can also buy your grocery essentials! That is Farm Boy friends. When the store opened earlier this year in Alderwood, a neighbourhood in Etobicoke,  my little ones and I were immediately in love. It’s now our go to for quick meals before soccer practice, a place to run to when we are out of something, or a weekly grocery shop on weekends. The kids love Mikey the monkey swinging in the produce aisle and the interactive food stations, epic hot buffet, and their baked goods.

The store (which is an Ontario-based company!) carries gourmet brands, locally made products and an amazing selection of their own Farm Boy brand. We visited recently to try some of their newest products and they were all delicious, so we had to share with you what made it into our cart in hopes of inspiring you to create your own Canada Day BBQ or picnic!

As an appy, the new summer sizzling Grill’m Dips are delicious – they come in foil trays which you put on the grill until they warm up all melty and delicious. They come in Buffalo Cauliflower, Asiago Artichoke and Bacon Corn Jalapeno which we enjoyed. Some fresh veggies or fresh baguette and pita poppers are perfect sides.

For the main we picked up a Farm Boy Harvest Kale Salad and their in-house vegan salad dressing in Apple Cider Goji Berry to pair with Artisan Sausages in variety of pork flavours like Bratwurst, Hot Italian, The Great Canadian and Curry. Their sausages are made fresh, with mouth-watering ingredients and none of the bad stuff like MSG or fillers. They are also 100% gluten free ingredients!

We finished off the meal with a cake and ice cream. Their Loaf Cake is made in the bakery from scratch, using their Chef’s original recipes and high-quality ingredients like freshly roasted walnuts, farm fresh eggs, bananas and grated carrots. They come in a variety of flavours – Banana Chocolate Chip, Carrot, Lemon Thyme, Cranberry Orange and Maple Walnut which we tried and LOVED!

Farm Boy Gelato is rich and creamy, made in small batches using 100% Canadian homogenized milk – flavours like salted peanut and toffee cappuccino are stashed in our freezer at all times. The kids ask for “Farm Boy Sandwiches” as if it’s a healthy lunch however they are most definitely referring to their ice cream sandwiches – they come in chocolate fudge or chocolate chip and both are a perfect blend of chewy cookies and fresh soft ice cream!

Enjoy your Canada Day feast!

Who would win a footrace between an iPad-controlled robot on wheels, named Dash, and a rubber snake?

This is the question posed to me by two students in senior kindergarten at Kingsway College School, a Pre-K to Grade 8 independent school in Toronto’s west end (Royal York & Dundas). The students were setting up a race track to test this theory and I watched as they set different finish lines for each competitor. Dash had further to go than the snake. The race ended in a tie.

This story is a tribute to the imagination of children. In the Reggio-inspired Early Learning Program at KCS, students learn in an environment that inspires imaginations, and provides the time to see where imaginations can go. A Reggio-inspired kindergarten program nurtures that imagination with three ‘teachers’: the teacher-as-facilitator, the learning environment, and the children themselves. Lengthy periods in which students learn in centres, and the opportunity to pursue ideas for days or weeks at a time, allow children to exercise critical and creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills, conflict resolution, leadership and more. Along the way, imaginations are exciting vehicles for exercising knowledge and skills.

Teachers nurture learning by intentionally selecting resources and by building skills in literacy, numeracy, inquiry, the arts, and yes, even coding, so students have tools with which to write stories, measure race tracks, create artwork, and explore the world around them. ‘Provocations’ from nature in our Outdoor Classroom, field trips, visits from their older Learning Buddies, special guests and events, collaborations with their peers, and insights from their teachers bring complexity to their play, further enriching their student-driven learning.

Children, their imaginations, loving teachers, intentional skill development, and the right environment make for a powerful start to a lifelong learning journey. This is how we prepare students for lives with unimaginable possibilities.

To learn more about Kingsway College School and our kindergarten programs, please visit kcs.on.ca or call 416 234 5073 to book a personal tour.

Picture this. It’s -20 degrees, the streets are covered in snow, you have a teething baby who has been up all night…and your fridge is empty. Would you rather a) bundle everyone up and head out to the grocery store or b) stay in your PJs and have everything delivered to you within an hour?  No brainer, right? The GREAT news is that option b is a reality here as Instacart launches in Toronto on Wed Dec 6, 2017!  Instacart is a technology-driven, on-demand grocery delivery service and here’s the low-down on how it works – and a special launch bonus for those who want to give it a whirl:

About Instacart

Instacart’s goal is to helps people cross grocery shopping off their to-do lists with just a few clicks. You’ll be able to use the Instacart website or app to fill a virtual shopping cart with items from local stores (Loblaws and The Real Canadian Superstore, to start), which will be fulfilled and delivered straight to your door.

Instacart Launches In Toronto

How Does It Work?

Using instacart.ca or the free Instacart app, you can pick from a local Loblaws or Real Canadian Super Store’s online inventory of as many as 30,000 products, and choose a delivery window that works best for your needs – sometimes within as little as an hour, and up to a week in advance. Instacart’s shoppers do the rest, personally shopping and delivering the order.

Pricing is frequently the same as what you’d find in-store at Loblaws, and the delivery fee is a very reasonable $3.99 ($5.99 for delivery within an hour)

Instacart Toronto

Canadian Roots

What makes the launch of Instacart even cooler, is that the company is founded by a fellow Canadian, Apoorva Mehta, who graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2008 before heading to San Francisco to expand his IT career.

He first launched Instacart in San Francisco in 2013 and it has quickly scaled to over 150 markets across North America. By combining a personal touch with cutting-edge technology, Instacart offers customers a simple solution to save time and eat fresh food from the most trusted grocery brands.

The Exciting Part!

In celebration of their launch into the Canadian marketplace, Instacart is offering our readers a special $25 credit (off orders $35 or more) with the promo code YYZMOMS, plus FREE delivery on your first order! So put on your jammies, pop on Netflix, and start your Instacart grocery shopping!

PLUS you can enter to win a $50 Instacart gift card! Throw your hat into the ring here.

Instacart in Toronto

 

Many families (including mine) wish that their kiddos would spend more time outdoors being physically active. That’s why we love Springfree Trampoline. So much so, that we hosted 10 local families at a special VIP event at the Springfree headquarters.  We wanted them to experience firsthand what makes Springfree so special.

A unique design that focuses on safety

Springfree trampolines were invented by Dr. Keith Alexander, a father and mechanical engineer who was determined to design a trampoline that would help reduce common injuries associated with trampolines and provide safe backyard play for his kids.

Instead of springs, their safety design uses flexible composite rods that lie beneath the jumping surface completely out of harms way.

The metal frame is located beneath the jumping surface where you can’t land on it.

By removing the hard edges at the jumping surface, they have created the SoftEdgeTM mat – a shock absorbent edge that allows jumpers the freedom of jumping across the entire surface of the mat.

The flexible safety enclosure prevents jumpers from falling to the ground, giving parents peace of mind that their kids are having a safe, fun jumping experience.

The only Smart TrampolineTM with the addition of a gaming system called tgoma

Four sensors on the trampoline mat connect wirelessly via Bluetooth® to a tablet. Using the body as the controller, the sensors track the movement creating an outdoor interactive Smart Play experience.

Tgoma offers a collection of activities – including educational games that teach math, language, problem solving and trivia, promoting learning at home through fun activities that strengthen coordination and creative thinking.

They are built to last

Springfree trampolines can withstand the four seasons, they are tested to withstand 5,000 hours of harsh sun exposure. The mat and net rods are made from a special formulation that is three times stronger than steel and tested to withstand millions of bounce cycles. All trampolines come with an extensive warranty, and have the option of delivery and installation.

Not only did the families bounce to their hearts content, Claudia Agudelo Photography also set up a photo booth with two of our favourite heros from The Superhero Company.

 

 

 

 

 

We refueled on a delicious raw cookie dough bar from Sweet Flour Bake Shop, crafted up some Superhero magnets with Mod Podge, and then bounced some more (even the parents)!

 

 

 

 

 

With 7 designs available in Canada, there’s a trampoline for every backyard and every family. To find a location near you, please visit www.springfree.ca or check them out on Facebook or Instagram.

Check out our video of the event, be sure to turn the sound up for a blast from the past!

 

I used to find breakfast to be a challenge. I needed a cup of strong coffee before even saying good morning to my family, and usually forced myself to eat something a couple of hours after that (if at all).

A few years ago I got tired of feeling sluggish and uninspired in the mornings and decided to make a change. So I started making this granola recipe – and it’s been a staple of my family’s diet every since.

The energy boost from the oatmeal combined with the protein punch of the nuts and Greek yogurt keep our energy sustained, but man am I ever B-O-R-E-D of it.

So the new-to-me phenomenon of overnight oats could not have come at a better time. Quaker invited me to attend an event hosted by Kortney Wilson of HGTV’s Master Flipp that was all about achieving overnight oat success for busy moms.

 

 

 

 

 

It was fun, interactive, and SO inspiring – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Overnight oats had me at hello. At the event I learned that, with just a few short and simple steps the night before, I could have a wholesome and delicious breakfast ready for my family each and every morning – that we can mix-up and shake-up in dozens of ways.

I love that each of us can customize our portions to suit our tastes and preferences and, of course, how delicious they are. But perhaps the BEST part of this discovery is how much my son likes making them!

He sees overnight oats a fun science experiment and loves creating different versions. I love that it’s a totally kid-safe and kid-friendly recipe to let him run with (no knives or hot stoves involved!) – whether I’m around or not.

Would you believe me if I told you that my 7-year-old son got his own breakfast this morning while I relaxed in bed? Because he did. (Pinch me.)

 

The parent in me also feels obliged to point out that, in addition to being fun, overnight oats are a great option for picky eaters, and an excellent way to introduce alternative milks to your children in a fun and delicious way.

Below are some recipes to get you started – followed by some tips for success based on my experience.

Recipes:

You can also get a sheet full of recipes courtesy of Quaker.

My personal favourite recipe? This one.

I wasn’t sure about the dates, but it turns out I love them and can’t get enough. Who knew? (I loved them so much that I snuck a few extras home with me in this cute bag – don’t tell Quaker!)

A few tips for success (and maximum deliciousness):

1. I prefer mixing my ingredients in a bowl first and them putting them into the jars, as opposed to layering them individually in the jar. While not quite as pretty, I find that it makes for optimal flavour-disbursement.

2. I’ve made Sunday my meal and lunch prep date. I clean all of our fruit so that it’s ready for lunches, snacks – and our oats. I then pre-measure the oats and dry ingredients into the mason jars and leave them on the counter for the week so all that’s left to do each evening is assemble.

3. Overnight Oats don’t need to be eaten straight out of the fridge. I prefer to leave mine out for an hour to remove some of the chill. You can also thin them out a bit with almond milk (cold or you can get fancy and steam it). They could absolutely be taken on-the-go (just add a lid and toss it in your bag!).

4. These Ikea extra-long spoons for regular mason jars, and mini jars for kids are the perfect overnight oats accessories!

If breakfast inspiration – or time – is lacking in your house in the mornings, pick up some Quaker oats and try out some of the recipes above – or visit overnightoats.ca for even more inspiration. You’ll be glad you did!

This is a sponsored post for which Mommy Connections may have received compensation. Rest assured though, we will never endorse a product or service we don’t absolutely love (and think you will too).

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