Guide to Choosing Age Appropriate Toys for Babies to 9 Year-Olds (By Guest Blogger, Katie Santos)

In addition to getting safe toys for kids, it’s also important that kids have toys that can help with their developmental and motor skills as well. Whether they are a few months old, or a few years old, children’s brains are constantly progressing and we must recognize which toys fit which stage of growth.

Although kids develop at different stages, it’s essential to help them stimulate their mind as they continue to grow. To help you find the perfect gift for a child, Gifts.com put together a comprehensive list of toys and activities for babies and kids up to nine years old. In order to provide children with the proper gift, it’s essential to learn the developmental stages.

From birth to five months old, babies are beginning to grasp objects and show emotion. Everything is new to them, so soft toys and textures are ideal.  

By six to eleven months, babies can now use their fingers and hands at the same time. They enjoy banging things together and throwing objects, and also need to be introduced to constructive play.

A one-year-old can stand by themselves and might be able to eat on their own. They are at the point where they want to investigate everything, and imitate sounds you create. Any toys that can stimulate motor skills and memorization skills are great for this age, such as non-toxic markers or shape sorters. 

Two-year-olds grow quickly! They want to run away, play hide and seek and enjoy interacting with others. Focus on toys that require physical strength for your two-year-old, to give them both language and social skills.

When it comes to a three to six year old, they have more strength and coordination skills. Since they have control over movements, get toys that strengthen muscles and stimulate their brains.

By seven to eight years old, your child knows the concept of cause and effect, and can write full sentences. Since they are willing to learn, introduce science toys and educational board games for this age range.

For nine years and older kids, they are becoming more independent than ever, and are beginning to face academic hurdles. Encourage your child to read, as it stimulates imagination, communication skills and vocabulary.

What I’ve Learned from My Dog About My Finances Ahead of Having My First Child (By Guest Blogger, Jacob Evans of Dollar Diligence)

I do not have a child, which you probably inferred from the title of this article.

Do I want one? Yes.

Am I ready for one? I think so.

Whether I really am or not, I can tell you this, my dog has helped me prepare mentally
and financially for my first child when me and my wife are ready for one.

Mentally by helping me learn patience and what it’s like to have a 24/7 responsibility. I
had to stay patient when my dog was a puppy and wasn’t potty-trained (it was very
hard) and I always had to consider how my dog would be fed and walked every day.

Financially by teaching me to consider the future and start preparing for it. For
example, I knew my dog had a predisposition for hip problems and certain diseases. I
knew if I had to pay for these alone that I would have to pay for a big bill so I went
ahead and bought pet insurance.

I have actually already started planning for my first child by starting to save for his or her
education. I know first-hand how bad student loan debt can be, and if graduates today
have over $27,000, then I can’t even imagine how high it will be when my child
graduates. I hope to help my child avoid student loans altogether if possible.

Below, I will talk to you about how my pup has helped me plan for the finances that lie
ahead of having a child because you know, you can never be TOO prepared ahead of
time.

Devoting Attention to the Dog

One of the many things that I learned and that will help me once I do have a child is that
I must devote time to my dog. If I do not, my dog will not thrive and he will eventually
start to destroy my home in an effort to get my attention. It is important that I make sure
I take time to walk my dog and even play with him out in the backyard because if I do
not, he will be hyper and rambunctious the entire night.

While a young child may not be as rambunctious as a dog without play or a child may
not chew up your furniture, you do need to devote time to your child and work on
training them. Your child will only thrive if he or she has one on one time with his or her
parent. You will need to learn to set time aside and so will I. I cannot be consumed in
my work or in myself all day and neglect to provide my baby with the attention that he or
she needs.

Having a dog has opened my eyes to how much I do focus on myself and how much
change will need to occur when I do decide to have a child with my wife. Of course, I will
move mountains to make time for my child, but having a dog has helped me realize just
how short the days can be.

Providing for the Dog in More Ways Than One

When it comes to a dog, you cannot just purchase or adopt one and then be done with
it. They do not take care of themselves and a child will not be ready to take care of
himself or herself for a while either.

Owning a dog comes with a lot of responsibility. For example, you will need to provide
food and water for the dog. I cannot just avoid feeding and hydrating my pup because I
am pressed for time. I NEED to make sure that he has enough food and water to
sustain him while I am away from the house. In addition, when he runs out of food, I
need to be able to go out and purchase him more.

Another thing to think about is insurance. Though it’s hard to tell if it’s worth it or not, I
have purchased insurance for my pet because I do not even want to think about what
could happen if my pup was hit by a car and we could not afford the care needed. I
have made sure to purchase a policy that protects my dog in events like that, so that he
can visit the vet when needed and I do not have to worry about emptying everyone’s
piggy bank to make it happen.

Lastly, entertainment is another expense on the list. While I will need to provide much
more entertainment to a child over the course of their life, a dog is not much different. In
fact, whenever I want to take my dog out to the dog park to play fetch, we have to drive
10 minutes one way, which also means I need to use gas to do so. These entertainment
trips may seem small and inexpensive, but over time they start to add up.

A Pet Prepares You for a Child

If you have not realized it by now, a pet can truly prepare you for a child. Just like a dog
needs food, water, insurance, shelter, and entertainment, so does a child. As you take
care of your pet, try to think of ways these actions would apply similarly in a situation
with a child. I know my dog has allowed me to open my mind and see how much work,
time, and devotion it takes to raise a child.

Jacob runs a personal finance blog called Dollar Diligence where he tracks his journey
to financial freedom. For more advice and articles, you can find him on Twitter.

7 Unusual Gift Ideas for Children (By Guest Blogger, Luke Douglas of Ripped.me)

Are both you and your kids bored of the same old gifts, such as teddy bears, plastic robots or car models? If the answer is yes, then this year get them something a little bit more unique and creative. There are so many different things in toy stores and it can be quite hard to make a choice, so we made a little guide to make your decision easier. Take a look.  

Cool night lights

No matter how old your kid is, a cool night light will always come in handy, whether it’s used to scare away the monsters or simply to provide them with some soft light to show them the way to the bathroom. Your kid will sleep safely knowing that the force from a lightsaber night light is there to protect them or illuminate their way through the house.

Memberships

If your kid loves going to the zoo, aquarium, museum, theatre or music concerts in your city, why not give them a membership card as a present so they can visit it as much as they like. This gift will not only give you something you can regularly do together, but it will also allow them to get interested in something more serious. Do you have a big family? Not a problem!  These places usually offer a “family rate” with a discount.

A piggy bank

If you want to teach your kid a valuable lesson in life, but want to do it discretely, you can use a gift such as a piggy bank to help them learn how to manage their finances. Help your kids learn budgeting and saving skills and teach them about responsibility and ownership. There are piggy banks in all shapes and sizes, but the ones that stand out are those with separate compartments. One can be reserved for spending, one for saving and one for pocket money. You can even put some money in the bank just for starters.

Musical instruments

Music has such an important role in every human’s life. Even though listening to music is essential, creating and reproducing sounds, melodies and rhythms is even more important. You can go as little or big as you like, from some small maracas and recorders to a larger guitar or keyboards. Playing an instrument is not only super fun, but it also inspires creativity and shapes both mind and spirit.  

Something to track time

Not only does wearing a watch make your kid look super stylish, it also helps them develop their sense of time and gives them more independence. Knowing when something will happen or knowing what it means to have an hour to complete a task can be quite an empowering and encouraging feeling. Another great time-tracking gift is a calendar. No matter the design or print, it will help them keep track of birthdays and important events. It’s a great gift for kids in the 6-9-year-old range who are still developing a sense of longer time periods and who want to know exactly how many days there are until the end of school, when someone’s birthday is or how long it is until that family trip.

A skateboard

Kids love skateboards. They do not only provide them with some physical activity while spending time in the sun and fresh air, but also have other health benefits. They will keep your kids fit and strong; help them build confidence and new friendships. Get your kid a board like this fun Bart Simpson skateboard that’s light and perfect for their little feet. They’ll love to show it off to their friends and cruise through the neighbourhood and around the skate parks. Get them some protective gear to match and let them sk8 on.

A digital camera

This amazing gift will give you a chance to see the world through your child’s eyes and give them one of the greatest gifts in the world: the gift of discovery. If you’re worried about the price, you’ll be happy to hear that there are brand new digital cameras for as little as $60, but you can also look for some used ones for an even lower price. There are also cameras specially designed for kids, but if you get them a “regular” model, you’ll actually get a better and longer-lasting product. You can maybe even throw in some photography classes as well.

As you can see, there is more to gifts than simple toys and money. Get your kids one of these unique presents and watch their faces light up while they unwrap their surprise.

Author: Luke Douglas of Ripped.me.

Images are taken from pexels.com and pixabay.com.

Dear Holly: The Pink Unicorn Your Brother Won for You at the Fair

1 year, 3 months.

Dear Holly,

Last weekend we made our annual visit to the Williamson County Fair. Your brother Jack had entered an amazing picture of a sheep so we enjoyed seeing it on display. But really, his main agenda was to get over to the carnival games. Thanks to Nonna and Papa being in town, his “game allowance” was a little padded.

While Jack definitely enjoyed throwing darts at balloons and picking up “lucky ducks” in the water, he tried out a new game that was just right for a 1st grader boy. He used a cork gun to shoot green Solo cups off of a shelf. Inside some of the cups were special markings, which determined the value of the prize he would win.

After much consideration of the prizes, he ended up choosing a small white tiger stuffed animal. However, he had earned enough points to win a larger prize instead. But he liked the face of the small one better, so he didn’t mind choosing a less valuable prize; because to him, the smaller tiger was more valuable.

Once the man in charge of the game realized Jack’s decision was final, the man looked up to you in Mommy’s arms and said, “Well, since your brother didn’t take the bigger prize he won, I’m going to let that pretty little girl have a prize too!”

Mommy and I checked out on the prizes available. There was an undeniable, obvious choice…

A pink unicorn!

You were so happy to get your prize. And truly, it’s all because of your brother Jack.

So the way I see it, he won you a prize at the fair. I know that made him happy.

What also made him happy was the samurai sword he won from the “lucky ducks” game.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: You’re Back from Summer Vacation 2017 at Nonna and Papa’s

6 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack,

This has been the longest amount of time that Mommy and I have spent without you; 10 whole days!

Obviously, we called you on video phone at least once a day, thanks to Facebook messenger. That way, CIA members in Hawaii were also able to catch up on all you’ve done while spending your summer vacation in Alabama.

I say that jokingly (?) because Mommy and I went through the trouble of renting some movies from Redbox while you were gone; Snowden being one of them.

Yes, it was much quieter without you in our house for 10 days, but I have to say, it wasn’t as good. Mommy and I are too accustomed to having a 6 year-old expert inform us of little known facts about dinosaurs and Pokemon.

And obviously, your baby sister kept looking for you the whole time. She kept pointing to your pictures on the wall, doing her best to pronounce your name.

But finally, you got back a week ago and now we can get back to the norm. We missed our little boy!

Speaking of Facebook, Nonna was faithful to keep us posted every couple of hours on whatever fun thing that she and Papa were taking you to do. It became obvious quick that you were not simply just hanging out at their house. No, you were on the move!

You went hiking, to a splash pad, to scrap yard, and to see The Emoji Movie; just to name a few!

Of course, you loved being able to spend time playing with your cousins the whole time as well.

And now the summer has officially come to a close. A week ago you started 1st grade!

Yes, you are now our brilliant 1st grader son. First grade is going to be great.

Love,

Daddy

MyHeritage DNA Test Results are Back… But Do You Agree with the Results?

Either my DNA results from MyHeritage are inaccurate, or what my family has believed this whole time about our ethnicity has been inaccurate.

Currently, I am sort of baffled. I am still sorting out the confusion. My Italian grandfather, Alberto Victorio Metallo, whose own father arrived in America a hundred years ago from Italy and could only barely speak English when he died in 1983, was Italian.

However, my results from MyHeritage do not remotely reflect my Italian heritage. Instead, the test shows I am literally 0% Italian. I went through the trouble of looking up exactly what countries of origin my DNA traces back to, according to the regions that MyHeritage provided, and removed the countries in which the test showed I have no DNA connection.

Here’s my DNA:

Nick Shell

100.0%

37.4% Central Western European (Germany, The Netherlands/Holland, France, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland)

31.8% Iberian (Spain/Portugal)

21.6% Central American (Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama)

6.1% Eastern European (Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia)

2.3% Balkan (Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania)

0.8% Middle Eastern (Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan)

0% (England, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Scandinavia, Greece, Italy, Sardinia, EstoniaLatviaLithuania, Ashkenazi Jewish, Yemenite Jewish, Mizrahi Jewish, Native American, South American, Indigenous Amazonian, African, Asian, Oceanic)

My whole life I have had reason to believe I am one quarter Italian, but I was open-minded to the idea my test would reveal instead of being 25% Italian, maybe I would only be 12.5%, as my great-grandfather Joseph Metallo (the one who came here from Italy) married a woman named Maria Vite; who could have possibly been of French descent, based on vite being a French word.

(That’s my Italian grandfather pictured above on the left; opposite me, with my son.)

However, my great-grandmother also emigrated here from Italy and spoke Italian. Maria “Mary” Vite died at age 38 in the year 1938, so there is definitely some mystery as to her family tree. But even if she was 100% French yet born in Italy, my great-grandfather would have had to been mainly of Spanish or Portuguese descent and his family would have had to at some point adopted Italian names, including their last name, Metallo.

Even if the test was a little inaccurate, I would still think I would show up at least a little bit Italian. After all, Middle Eastern DNA showed up in me, along with Eastern European, but not Italian?

If you’re wondering why I show up as nearly a quarter Central American and nearly a third Spanish (or Portuguese), it’s because my grandmother (who my Italian grandfather was married to) was Mexican.

(This is her, pictured below, being able to meet my daughter.)

That actually brings up another surprise. By quadrupling my Central American DNA, which is 21.6%, that indicates my Mexican grandmother was actually 86.4% Central American, only leaving 13.6% (that’s close to one eighth) to be Spanish. Then, once I subtracted that 13.6% from the Spanish part of me (31.8%), it left 18.2%. I then multiplied that percentage times 4 again, to assume how Spanish my Italian grandfather must have been: 72.8%.

According to my theory, my Mexican grandmother was mainly Central American (barely Spanish) and my Italian grandfather was mainly Spanish (not Italian at all); leaving the rest of him to have been 9.2% Balkan (Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania). That brings my Italian grandfathers DNA up to exactly 82%.

Next I added the 3.2% Middle Eastern he must have been; now totaling 85.2%. That implies the rest of him had to have been Central Western European, which includes French.

This also means, by default, my dad has to be of Spanish descent as well, because there’s still Spanish DNA to be accounted for.

Most of my test makes sense. My last name is Shell, which in German, means “loud and noisy.” So that accounts for some of the 37.4% Central Western European.

But is this test accurate? Is it possible that I am truly not Italian at all? What do you think?

In the meantime, my mom is taking the test too. Being half-Mexican, half-Italian her whole life, I’m curious to know what the test says about her. We should know by October…

Dear Jack: Today was Your 1st Day of 1st Grade and You Were More Than Prepared!

6 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack,

It was exactly 30 years ago in 1987 that I started 1st grade, with my spikey mullet haircut and my neon shorts and shoes. Meanwhile, you had much better style this morning as Mommy and I sent you off for your first day of 1st grade.

You literally just got back last night after spending 10 days with Nonna and Papa in Alabama. And the very next morning, it was time to start 1st grade. You didn’t even meet your teacher yet, though Mommy and I did earlier this week.

As you and I were in the car this morning, I attempted to help explain where your classroom is in the 1st grade hallway, but you stopped me, “Daddy, I already know where it is.”

And I thought, “But how? How could you know where to go and what to do and what to expect?”

It simply serves as another reminder that you are one confident little boy. I feel like most of my boyhood consisted of me not knowing what to do, no matter where I was or what was going on.

No. Not you.

Even when I dropped you off today, I hugged you and said a little prayer with you, then you smiled and waved. You then immediately joined the other kids in the class.

I sort of walked away backwards to make sure you weren’t looking back for another wave from me.

Nope.

This doesn’t make me sad. This makes me proud.

I love the confidence you have. I have a feeling that years from now when you begin Junior High, it won’t be that awkward for you, the way it definitely was for me.

Here you’ve spent the past 10 days in a different state, then came back only to immediately begin a new school year.

You are one cool kid.

Love,

Daddy