One year ago, like so many others, my family of five was confined to our city home (an option I fully realize we were lucky to have). A calendar full of sports practices, play dates, and family outings suddenly turned bare at the same time that I, my husband, and our three girls (ages 9, 5, 3) wrestled with how to adapt to living — and working and learning and cooking and eating and playing — there. The kitchen doubled as an office, bedrooms as playrooms, and, when they couldn’t get outside, the girls turned every other corner of our home into a play space, including the bathroom.
Before the pandemic, bath time for my three daughters was the most chaotic chore, a physically and emotionally grueling battle of wills that involved wrestling with tiny buttons and zippers, bartering, bribing, and tears (usually theirs, sometimes mine). But after they spent the summer splashing around in a dog-pool turned kiddie-pool, I bought them a few bubbles and bombs thinking they would help the girls see the tub as more of an indoor swimming pool. Soon enough, they started asking to play in the tub after school, or on weekend mornings. And I continued to buy more toys, because a bathroom, it turns out, is a most effective playroom. It confines my kids — and all their accoutrement — to a small space they can’t just wander away from when their attention spans shift. Plus, when they’re finished playing, the toys stay in the tub, and the girls leave clean. The only drawback is that I can’t really leave them alone (not that I have anywhere to go). But what I can do is pull in a stool and grab a beer and a book, which makes it almost as relaxing as getting to take a bath of my own.
Whether you’re buying them to get through the rest of the pandemic, or just to make bath time more bearable, below are the bubbles, bombs, crayons, toys, and other things I bought my girls for playtime in the tub.
While Santa brought my 5-year-old a red bike and a trampoline this past Christmas, when I asked her about her favorite thing she received from him, she named these soapy bath gels. Formulated to be used as shampoo or body wash, each gel is scented — strawberry, tangerine, and vanilla — and the kids love to mix them together in the included tiny bowl to make new fragrances. They fill the tub with bubbles and are also sulfate-, paraben-, and gluten-free. Most important, the delightful-smelling gels get the girls to wash their hair without complaints.
A mom friend gave one of these little white clouds to my oldest daughter when she turned 2, but now that she shares a tub with two sisters, I bought another. You fill the toy with tub water then use your finger to plug the little hole on top; when you release your finger, water rains down from tiny holes in the bottom of the cloud. Simple physics, lots of fun. Bonus: You can disassemble the cloud to clean it, so it won’t harbor mold.
My kids are far enough apart in age that toys the youngest likes don’t necessarily thrill the oldest. But they all still get excited about bath bombs. When we’re celebrating something special — a birthday, a Tuesday — I splurge on an essential-oils-infused one from Lush, which are basically the Cadillac of bath bombs. This intergalactic bomb turns the tub into a glittery, rainbow fever dream. The girls also love these smaller bombs from Dabble & Dollop, too, in scents like honeydew and tangerine (like the scented gels, the Dabble & Dollop bombs can be combined to create new fragrances).
These all-natural tablets come in a handful of colors: Throw one in a tub and it dyes the water to a much more exciting shade as it dissolves. Throw two in and it makes a different color. I give one to each of the younger girls before a bath; the anticipation of seeing what new colors each random combination of tablets results in thrills them every time.
This is technically not a new toy — we’ve had it in rotation for nearly a decade — but it has taken on new life since I bought the below Magical Mermaids, which the girls love to use it with. The boat is sturdy, made from recycled milk jugs, and inspires countless imaginative play scenarios.
Playmobil toys are always painstakingly detailed (see: the purple-haired mermaid’s delicate pearl necklace), making it easier to spark growing imaginations. This set of sea creatures includes a couple small mermaids, a dolphin, and a clam shell. It has fast become a favorite, even if it isn’t necessarily a bath toy. One caveat: Make sure to remove the smallest pieces so they don’t go down the drain.
My girls know there’s one thing they’re not allowed to bring in my house: slime. It’s all the rage in school, but the synthetic snot wreaks havoc on furniture, rugs, and little-girl hair. Dove’s recently released Bath Slime, though, is different. It starts out as purple goo and, with a little water, transforms into a berry-scented cloud of suds. Not surprisingly, they love it … and I kind of do, too?
Few things are more fun than parent-sanctioned drawing on the wall. The younger girls go nuts making messy masterpieces on a blank subway-tiled canvas with these chubby crayons, which are made by the same New Zealand–based company that makes the color drops above. The seven included beeswax crayons contain nontoxic pigments and are easily washed from walls (and bodies). Their little metal container has drainage holes, so it doubles as a bath toy, too.
The 3- and 5-year-old also love to plaster our tiled bathroom walls with these suction cups and (Strategist-approved) pipes, engineering fountains and structures that they watch in utter delight as water flows through them. To me, they’re a sneaky way to inject some STEM learning into play. To the girls, they’re simply a good time.
These floating plastic cubes that instantly light up when they’re submerged in water are the child equivalent of lining a tub in lit scented candles, or sprinkling rose petals atop a freshly drawn bath. They come in several different colors; we have the yellow version, and after lots of play — including one bubble-bath rave where we turned off all the other bathroom lights — they’re still glowing strong. If you want even more colors, here’s a set that includes green, purple, and yellow cubes.
[Editor’s note: The yellow Glo Pals are currently sold out, but you can still get them in blue and multi-color.]
When bath time is this much fun, it can be hard to wind down. But these (also Strategist-approved) hair-drying head towels help. Just as I was fascinated by my mom’s towel hair wrap as a girl, my three are fascinated with mine, so I bought one for each of them. The towel has a little button closure that helps it stay put on any size head, helps hair dry faster, and results in fewer tangled locks, which means much easier brushing.
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