I still remember a phone call I had with a friend, then a mother of five, when I was pregnant with my first son. I had imagined I would be a minimalist parent — indeed, my religious tradition discouraged me from purchasing lots of products before my baby’s arrival — but, still, I felt a nagging anxiety that I was unprepared. “I don’t have any toys,” I told her sheepishly. She practically spat into the phone: “Babies don’t need toys.”
In the two years after my son’s birth, something small arrived that changed my attitude toward stuff. While small, it was also huge: a second kid, his little brother, born when my eldest child was just 19 months. Despite our insistence that we didn’t need anything other than food — we had barely found the time to put our eldest’s infant clothing into storage — my husband and I were showered with another round of baby gifts. It was only after amassing more onesies than No. 2 could wear (or we could store) did I realize that, instead of not asking for anything, we should have asked for some very specific things that would have actually been useful to have on hand with two under 2.
As my kids aged, I compiled a mental list of the stuff that genuinely helped our family as it expanded, knowing that friends or loved ones about to welcome their second (or beyond) would surely appreciate receiving them — even if they didn’t yet know that themselves. That list continues to grow to this day; now that my sons are 2 and 3 years old and have (slightly) more mature needs, I’m always looking out for products that will encourage them to play together — or, at the very least, in the general proximity of each another. Bonus points for whatever keeps them independently entertained the longest. Below, the 15 most useful, engaging (or both) things I recommend to anyone welcoming a second child, or anyone shopping for folks who are. Some will be useful sooner than others, but all are effective come toddlerhood. And this should go without saying, but a lot of the stuff would be just as useful for anyone expecting twins.
The most pressing question that comes up after the birth of a second child is “How am I going to lug two squirming creatures around?” When my second was born, we lived on the top floor of a building with no elevator, so we opted for a clip-on “boogie board” instead of a double stroller, most of which are prohibitively heavy and expensive. There are lots of boogie-board options out there tailored for different strollers, but this one from Lascal claims to adapt to more than 90 percent of brands, including Bugaboo, Chicco, and Uppababy. Pro tip: If you call it a “skateboard,” your kid is much more inclined to enjoy it.
If you do want to shell out for a double stroller (and get a free arm workout to boot), the Joovy Caboose, at just 23.5 pounds, is one of the lightest on the market. It’s also easy to fold, and you can clip most major brands’ car seats onto the bars to create a makeshift seat.
Is there anyone for whom the sight of a bright red wagon doesn’t trigger nostalgia? This cheerful giant version of the classic Radio Flyer fits two kids comfortably and has pockets for snacks and drinks. For a bit more money, you can get one with a roof for a bit of protection from the elements.
The one-seat Cozy Coupe is great, until a second kid comes along and every ride devolves into a near-death battle for the wheel. This tricycle built for two from Montessori-inspired brand Italtrike goes a long way toward helping avoid fights about who gets to ride what right now.
If you want to watch a single baby snooze, you’ve got plenty of baby-monitor options. But if you have enough space for an older child to be playing in one room and the other napping elsewhere, you’ll need a monitor with two cameras. Regular Strategist readers may recognize the Infant Optics DXR-8 (or its newer sister, the DXR-8 Pro); among its many features, the highly praised monitor gives you the option to pan between two rooms with one of its add-on cameras. It’s also closed-loop — or doesn’t connect to Wi-Fi — in case privacy is a concern.
I’m a devotee of the popular, super-easy-to-clean, inexpensive Ikea Antilop high chair. But when you have two kids who need help sitting up straight at the table, it’s good to have an extra seat lying around. This “table chair” from Inglesina (that comes in colors beyond black) latches on to the edge of a dining table. It’s also highly portable; it comes with a carrier bag, so you can take it out to restaurants (when that’s a thing we can all do again). A tip before you buy: Make sure your table isn’t too thick, otherwise the table chair’s twisting-attachment mechanisms won’t fit.
For long road trips, the two screens in this set clip to the back of headrests and can play physical DVDs (remember those?) or sync to a mobile phone with an MHL cable, which you’ll need to buy separately. You can play the same movie on both screens or different ones on each, in case one of your kids is into Fellini and the other prefers Pixar. The set comes with wired headphones, too, that you can keep in the car to ensure any household ones don’t get lost.
This adorable pair of walkie-talkies boasts an impressively long range. Of course, my kids usually just sit directly next to each other on the couch and yell HELLO repeatedly into each of theirs. But I’m confident that, in time, their conversational skills will become more sophisticated.
One side of this easel that was gifted to us by a generous toy fairy (a.k.a. my sons’ aunt) is a magnetic chalkboard and the other a dry-erase board, so both kids can use it simultaneously. The easel — a magnetized version of a less-expensive, expert-recommended one for kids — can also accommodate a paper roll for painting or drawing.
This will surely out me as a millennial-parent cliché, but yes, we’re Nugget fans in our house. The modular kids’ furniture is not specifically designed for two, but with two wedge pillows and two longer play-mat-size cushions that can be configured in various ways, it’s sort of a natural fit for toddler duos (and, apparently, randy parents). Be forewarned: The Nugget is in such high demand that you will probably have to wait a few months for it to ship.
Designed for one, this more affordable mini-sofa (that we do not own) seems roomy enough for two tiny bodies and will probably ship a lot faster, for those who don’t want to wait. Like the Nugget, it’s also somewhat adaptable, because the seat cushion folds out, making it more like a mini-futon-sofa.
I played endless games of two-shoot basketball with my younger siblings when I was a kid. My boys are still a bit young for this — I’m not wholly confident they wouldn’t throw the balls at each other rather than the hoops — but I’m eagerly awaiting the moment I can buy it. I have a feeling the two-hooped toy will entertain them as much as it did my siblings and me.
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