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Toddler Tuesdays: Convertible Carseats

When to make the switch, how to make it safely and 8 great options for city living.

Toddler Tuesdays: Convertible Carseats

For some of us, the dream of a convertible car seat starts just days after baby is born, as we awkwardly struggle to buckle our tiny newborn safely into her infant car seat (usually in front of a dozen skeptical nurses). For others, that bucket seat is baby’s happy place, and we don’t think about the toddler version until he’s literally bursting out. Whether we’re in a rush or playing the waiting game, though, some time around the 1-year mark, it’s time to make the switch.

To help us figure out the when, why and how (among other things), we turned to our favorite certified Child Passenger Safety technician George Fleites, who installs car seats safely out of the Dix Hills Fire Department. Below, Fleites tells us why the best convertible car seat is “the one you’re going to use right every time,” and how to avoid being one of the 75% of parents that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says gets it wrong. Then check out 8 great convertible car seat picks perfect for city living.

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How do you know it's time to transition your baby from an infant car seat to a convertible car seat?

Infant car seats will last from the newborn stage up to around 35 or 40 lbs. They’re always rear-facing and pretty easy to install. When baby is 1 year old, or when they’ve reached the maximum weight allowable for your seat, it’s time to get ’em out. Plus, do you want to carry that 30 lb. baby all the way to the car in your infant seat, or just plop them in the seat all ready to go? You can also buy a convertible carseat that will take a newborn, but it’s not necessarily convenient if you live in the city and are moving the infant car seat from the house to the car to the stroller.

When can they turn around facing front?

Two years, if the child has proper development and is not out of their weight range. It’s all about neck development--if they’re facing forward, they can get spinal injuries, but if they’re rear facing, the impact is absorbed by seat. A lot of moms say their child is uncomfortable facing backwards because their legs are scrunched up against the back of the seat. But a knee injury is always better than a neck injury.

Can you register for a convertible car seat and save it for a year, or should you get it when you are closer to making that switch?

Most carseats expire 6 years after the manufactured date. But car seat technology changes constantly, so a seat you like today might change design or have different instructions for use. If you plan on buying a year early, it’s ok, but I would recommend waiting to get the newest technology.

What should you look for in a convertible car seat?

Every seat sold has to meet government standards for safety. They wouldn’t be sold in the U.S. if they weren’t safe. But some are easier to use, more comfortable, or a better fit for certain vehicles. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Simplicity: The biggest thing I tell people to look for is a seat you always use the right way. There’s some great high-tech car seats, but they can be difficult to figure out how to install. No matter how high end and expensive your seat is, if you’re not using it correctly, it doesn’t do the seat justice.
  • Fit with your vehicle: A seat that’s great for one car is horrible for another, based on variations like the incline of seat.
  • Side Impact Technology: The higher end the carseat, the more cushion and side impact it typically has.
  • Harness: Since the straps should always be right at the child’s shoulder level, when your child grows, you have to move the strap. In some seats, the harness comes out of the back of the seat, so you can adjust it without even taking the seat out of the car. Others, you have to take it out every time the child grows.
  • Cushioning: If you take your kids for long 3-4 hour trips, you may want something with more cushioning. Some seats they’re basically sitting on plastic, while others have memory foam in them. You’re never allowed to put down towels or cushions between the seat and the child, so keep that in mind when thinking about comfort.

Are there any features that you wouldn't want your car seat to have?

It’s not as much about the seat as it is about the accessories, like mirrors. In heavy impact, they slide off and hit baby in the face. They’re also a distraction to the driver. If your baby is sleeping, you know they’re sleeping, if they’re crying, you know they’re crying. We don’t like hard plastic shades either--they can also fly off and hit the baby. Also, there should never be any padding that goes between baby and carseat, like those cold-weather car seat liners. Same thing with heavy clothing, like a poofy snowsuit.

How are the needs of a city parent different than a suburban parent when it comes to convertible car seats?

First of all, according to the law, if you’re bringing a baby into a taxi cab, they do not have to be in a car seat. If you want to be safe, though, you should always use a car seat. So as a city dweller, try to pick the lightest one. And since it’s not a two-second thing to put a convertible into a taxi cab, you want to do it correctly. So the best car seat is going to be the one you’re going to use right every time...the one that’s the least complicated.

Walk us through an installation. For a parent that is switching carseat from rental car to rental car, how can you make sure it's in right every time?

  1. The first thing we do as certified Child Passenger Safety technicians is inspect what the parent did, and most of the time, it’s wrong. Then we take the seat out, look at its serial number, date and model number, and check recalls. For a convertible seat, we have the child sit in the seat outside the car to adjust the shoulder harness correctly.
  2. You should never use both the latchpoints (every automobile manufactured after 2001 has to have them) and the seatbelt. If using the latches, just latch the seat into the latchpoints. If your seat is forward-facing and the child is 42 lbs., you’re going to use the seatbelt, but it has to be converted out of emergency mode (when it senses a jolt forward, it will lock up). To convert it, run the seatbelt through the back of the seat, pull all of the webbing out to the end, and listen for the click. Then you can go ahead and lock it in with the seatbelt.
  3. After the seat is good and tight, there’s a tether on back of seat. For a forward-facing seat, it’s attached to the top of the carseat and goes under the headrest, tightened up.
  4. Finally, grab the seat and push it side to side. We’re allowed 1 inch of movement, but we usually get no movement at all. You don’t want that carseat wiggling around.

Here’s some of the latest and greatest in convertible car seats.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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