I simply cannot believe it, but the release of my book, The Baby Cheapskate Guide to Bargains is now less than a week away. Today I’m sharing another excerpt with you AND giving away another signed copy. Of course, if you’re not feeling lucky, you can preorder the book now at Amazon and elsewhere and be one of the first to read it!
The chapter this excerpt is from is all about first toys and other items designed to entertain your tot. Here, I share my best tips for choosing and buying a stationary activity center (i.e., an Exersaucer). Enjoy!
Stationary Activity Centers: Plastic Mega Hunks of Fun
Stationary activity centers are commonly referred to as ExerSaucers, though the word “ExerSaucer” is kind of like the word “Kleenex,” a brand name that came to stand in for a whole class of products. “ExerSaucer” really refers to stationary activity centers made by Evenflo. Occasionally, you’ll also hear the terms “discovery center,” “activity saucer,” “entertainer,” and “activity station.” Besides Evenflo, you’ll find activity centers by Graco (under the name Baby Einstein), Bright Starts, and others.
Many pre-crawling babies get a kick out of activity centers from about four months through a year, with the peak age of about six months. Some find them seriously overstimulating, however, so consider your child’s temperament before buying.
Stationary activity centers look like those walkers that we used to have when we were kids (those are now frowned upon), but without wheels. Most also allow your tot to rock, spin, and bounce in one place and play with a variety of toys. Most also feature music and sounds, too.
The downside of activity centers is that they are big, bulky, gaudy hunks of plastic (around thirty inches in diameter) that take up a large part of whatever room they’re placed in. They can run through batteries like nobody’s business—one model takes a whopping nine AAAs. They can be pricey, too.
New activity centers start at around $40 and top out at over $100. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to find secondhand. When buying secondhand, inspect the activity center carefully for safety and check for recalls before buying. Make sure you have access to the product instructions. If the booklet isn’t there, you may be able to download one at the manufacturer’s Web site or have one mailed to you by calling the manufacturer.
Start researching activity centers online, where you can read lots of reviews to see what other parents loved and hated about particular models. Check the manufacturers’ Web sites to see if replacement toys are available in case one should break.
Features to Consider
- Does the activity center feature music or sounds? A volume control can be a sanity saver for parents.
- An activity center with several height settings will allow for longer use.
- Those that can spin 360 degrees will allow your curious tot to keep tabs on what the rest of the family is up to.
- The body of the activity center should disassemble for easy cleaning, and the toys should be washable. The seat pad should be easily removable and machine washable.
- Look for stabilizers so that you can control the bounce if your baby’s not into it.
- If you’re short on space, find one that will fold for storage. A carry handle is, well, handy, too.
- Choose one that’s battery-free or only takes a couple of AAAs to avoid feeling like you should have bought stock in Duracell.
After you’ve narrowed down your list to a few candidates, it’s time to head to a local retailer or consignment store to give the floor models a whirl. Tug on attached toys. They shouldn’t come out too easily. Check to see if it spins smoothly and how easy it is to bounce. The whole thing should feel sturdy. If it’s a folding model, see if it folds easily and smoothly. When you find something you like, use your smart phone to see whether you can beat the price by buying online.
Now for the Giveaway
This giveaway is now closed to new entries. Congrats to Kendal, who really liked her Glow Worm doll!
To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post by Thursday afternoon at 5 pm ET telling me about the very first toy you can remember playing with as a kid. For me it was these funny Tupperware Zoo-It-Yoursef animals parts that you could put together in various combinations.
If you can’t leave a comment, you can email your entery [babycheapskate at gmail], but you must use the words “Giveaway Entry” in the subject line. One entry per family, please. Duplicate entries will be deleted. Open to U.S. residents 18 and over only. I’ll choose a winner randomly and notify her/him via email. I’ll also post the winner’s first name here. Good luck!