Holiday Gift Guide for the 3-year-old Girl in Your Life

Scaling back on birthday gifts might be my MO, but I (admittedly) have a tendency to want to go a bit overboard for the holidays. This year, I’m trying to keep things more under control, so I’m thinking a lot about the stage my daughter is in and what toys might have a little more shelf life than say, three days.

According to a never-ending stream of Babycenter emails, three-year-olds are getting way into creative play. They make up conversations and stories; they love to pretend; they want to have their own “big kid” items; and toys actually keep their attention for more than 30 seconds. Woo hoo! Here’s a holiday gift guide for the three-year-old girl (or boy!) in your life based on what toys have been recent hits in our house as well as what I plan to get Emme this year.

Holiday gifts for preschoolers

(1) Fisher-Price Slim Doodle Pro, Purple

At the top of the list for my daughter is the Doodle Pro, a slim, purple version of the classic Magna Doodle. Our preschooler has a mini, Frozen-themed Magna Doodle with an annoying board book attached to it, but she plays with it constantly — drawing hearts, people, and tornados (don’t ask), while she tells herself stories. An upgrade to the full-size version is well worth it. 

(2) LEGO DUPLO Ice Cream Set

I reside firmly in the no-need-for-pink-LEGOS camp, and I believe any LEGO Duplo set makes a great gift for preschoolers regardless of gender. Case in point: My daughter received the LEGO Duplo Creative Play Ice Cream set for her birthday. This gift has been a big hit in our house, and for what it’s worth, the toddler and preschool boys in her life also seem to love it.

(3) Melissa and Doug Sleeping Bag

Emme all about building forts ever since her Grandma played pretend “campout” with her over the summer. I feel like her own sleeping bag is a “big kid” item she’ll get a big kick of — whether she’s uses it to “camp,” cuddle up in bed, or build a fort. Plus, it would be perfect for those nights she decides she needs to sleep in our room (three year olds and their ability to get up and get out of there rooms!).

(4) Skip Hop Ladybug Suitcase

Similar to the sleeping bag, I’m pretty sure my daughter would get a ton of use — play and otherwise — out of her own suitcase. She loves packing up all her toys and pretending that she’s heading out (wait, what?), and a suitcase could be used for actual trips as well.

(5) KidKraft Dollhouse

Emme received this KidKraft Chelsea Doll Cottage as her BIG birthday gift, and I think it’s a great present for preschool-aged kids. There are a ton of dollhouses out there, but the KidKraft house was a reasonable size and a reasonable price compared to other options. Plus, it came with all of the furniture. Not only does Emme play with the house and furniture, we also gave her a doll family. She makes up conversations that go something like this: First doll, “Hello! I’ve got to go potty!” Second doll, “OK!” That alone is worth the cost of admission.

What’s on the list for your preschooler?

A Toddler Birthday Party Picnic

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Untitled design

On August 1, my tiny baby who was basically born yesterday turned 3.

To celebrate, we invited family and some toddler friends to a nearby park for a low-key birthday party.

Truthfully, I didn’t go too far down the road of a “theme.” In fact, I was kind of like, meh, party in the park, everyone show up, we’ll bring the food. But then, I asked my friend Jennifer of Flying Pinwheel to design the invitation, and when she showed me the colorful picnic invite, I knew I had a theme to run with.

But let’s talk about this invitation first.

toddler picnic theme birthday

Isn’t it adorable?

Jennifer sells several reasonably priced printable invitations in her Etsy shop (I was actually torn between this one, this one and the eventual winner). She has 14 design templates available — covering many themes perfect for little kid parties — but she’s also able to custom design an invite if you have something specific in mind.

The process was stress-free and smooth — Jennifer and I exchanged a few emails, and she made updates to the text and a few tweaks to the design to make sure it was special for Emme’s day. She sent me a proof to approve and then final files — one PDF version with that could be printed with the invitations two-up, and one jpeg, so I could email the invite as well. I actually did both, so having the jpeg file was a nice bonus.

Going this route cost me about a third of what I’ve spent on invitations in the past. It also meant I could skip the hassle of waiting for personalized invitations to ship and could do all the printing at home or take the file to the local whatever-Kinkos-is-called-now and have them print it. (I, of course, chose the latter… and it took about 20 minutes). Yay for less hassle!

For the actual birthday, we kept it pretty simple — mostly because I waited until the last minute to do anything other than the invitations. We covered picnic tables in the park with gingham table covers. This was cheaper than buying separate tablecloths; I could cut them to whatever size I needed, and I still have the majority of the roll leftover. I also purchased tablecloth clips, which held the table covers in place and were tremendously helpful as it ended up being a windy day.

Because we were in a section of the park that was far from the playground, we brought toys for the kids to play with, including a few hula hoops and beach balls. We sprang for a bubble machine, which was a big hit (if you ever purchase one of these, make sure you get the refill; the bubbles go fast). For favors, we gave out novelty sunglasses, which proved popular among the toddler set as well.

Joey grilled burgers and hotdogs, and we had a princess cake, off-theme per the birthday girl’s request, from Costco — which got rave reviews, FYI. 


Despite a quick costume change because the birthday girl fell in the one muddy spot in the entire park, the party was a success. And I’m glad it’s over.

toddler picnic theme birthday

This was my punishment for buying her a new dress for her birthday.

A Stranger Reprimanded My 3-Year-Old in Front of Me


A few days ago, a stranger reprimanded my daughter. In public. In front of me.

Ellie wasn’t causing physical harm to anyone, she was simply having a 3-year-old meltdown after a long, hot morning.

Moms: What do you do when a stranger reprimands your young child in front of you in public?

Here’s what happened:We were in the check-out line at Nordstrom’s Rack when the cashier realized the hairbands Ellie picked out didn’t have a UPC code, so she gave the bands to another cashier who walked back to the display to check the price.

Now, in the mind of a 3-year-old, someone just took away her “special treat,” and a meltdown ensued.

I tried to explain to Ellie that the cashier would be right back, and we couldn’t buy the hairbands unless we knew the price. But it’s largely pointless to reason with a semi-hysterical 3-year-old. I know this, so admittedly I didn’t try too hard, knowing she’d be OK in a couple minutes.

The woman behind us felt differently. As she passed us to get to an open cashier, she leaned into our cart where Ellie was sitting, got within six inches of her face, and shushed her.

I couldn’t believe it and was momentarily struck dumb.

When I snapped back to it, I reassured Ellie, and after 30 more seconds of processing what had just happened, encouraged her to cry louder.

Perhaps this was not the most mature reaction, but I’m a hormonal 8-plus month pregnant woman. I’m already slightly insane.

By this time, other women in line behind me were expressing shock and outrage at the shusher’s actions. The cashier also was apologizing profusely. I smiled and thanked people for their support, paid, and tried to leave as quickly as possible. But before I left, I stopped by the shusher, who still was paying, and said, “I’m sorry my child was being loud, but what you did was not OK.”

She didn’t even look at me.

Ellie had calmed down once we reached the parking lot, and as we loaded up the car, I told her how cool I thought her new hairbands were and how we should totally ignore the woman who shushed her — she was just having a bad day.

I’m pretty sure none of that sunk in with Ellie — she was just happy to have her hairbands back.

But here’s what I’m wondering, and why I’ve decided to write about the incident: What’s the best way to handle this type of situation? Has this ever happened to anyone else? And how much do we need to explain what happened to our children?

What I’ve told myself, and what I honestly believe, is the shusher was having an off day. Maybe she hasn’t been shown a lot of compassion or patience in her life and therefore doesn’t know how to show it to others. And, she’s obviously not a “kid” person.

I’m also trying to focus on the kindness the other strangers showed — especially the woman who stopped me in the parking lot and offered Ellie her own hair ribbon to make Ellie feel better — an incredibly sweet gesture.

But man, the more I think about it, the more I really want to slap the shusher — if not physically, then verbally. My child had a meltdown at Nordstrom’s Rack — not at a church, school, library, or during an event where such actions are especially disturbing.

What would you have done?

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Sunscreen Favorites for Baby and Mama


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For many, Memorial Day weekend is the official kick-off to summer, which means more time spent outdoors, soaking up rays.

Not to brag, but here in Tucson, this has been our norm for months. It also means mamas here have been obsessing about sunburns and drenching our little ones with sunscreen since March.

A quick roundup yielded close to half a dozen sunscreen sticks, sprays and lotions in my house. We stash them everywhere — in the stroller, beach bag, hiking backpack, my purse — because you never know when you’re going to need to apply an extra layer of sunscreen.

As you get ready to restock your sunscreen supply, here’s a rundown of some of my favs for baby and mom.

Sunscreen favorites for mom and baby. Advice from a mom who lives in Tucson and has to be prepared with sunscreen year-round!

Moisturizers with Sunscreens

Olay Complete All Day Moisturizer
SPF 15
Cost: $11.39
I feel this is totally old-school (or old lady) of me, but I’ve used this moisturizer with sunscreen for years and am perfectly happy with the results. The sunscreen protection is solid for everyday use, but I double-up with something stronger or wear a hat while at the beach, zoo or other prolonged sunny outing.

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Lotion Sunscreen
SPF 30
Cost: $8.99
This is my new favorite. I discovered it last spring and wear it almost daily on my arms and chest. I’m quick to get “turnpike arm” (where your left arm is more tan than your right) by just driving around doing errands, which is an indication to me I should be applying some baseline sunblock. This lotion has little-to-no smell and is a nice moisturizer to boot.

Sunscreen Sticks

Neutrogena Ultrasheer Face and Body Stick
SPF 70
Cost: $7.51
I love this one for kiddos and adults. It goes on clear and is great for kids’ faces (the bigger stick makes application quick and painless even for the squirmiest child). And while a little greasy, its coverage is solid. I use it on my face, neck and ears when I want serious protection. I’ve also applied it directly to my scalp along my part — because scalp burns SUCK.

Aveeno Baby Sun Natural Protection and Neutrogena Baby Sunblock Stick
SPF 60
Cost: $10.58 and $21.57 (for three)
While different brands, these two work essentially the same to me. Nice and small, I keep one in my purse and another in my beach bag. Both go on white as opposed to clear, which is nice because you know exactly what spots you missed, but kind of a pain in that they don’t rub in well. Another plus is you can use these on infants, starting at 6 months.

Sunscreen Sprays

Coppertone Clearly Sheer Sunscreen Spray
SPF 30
Cost: $6.97
This is a new find this season. The spray lives up to its name and doesn’t leave you with the greasy, must-shower feeling after wearing. I save this spray for me and use the Coppertone Sport, SPF 50, as the primary sunscreen for Ellie.

Coppertone Sport Clear Continuous Spray
SPF 50
Cost: $18.55 (for two)
This one’s greasy and smells like a day at the beach, but I find the sweat-proof element effective and the spray essential for quickly applying (and reapplying) before the mad-dash to the pool/sprinkler/splash pad.

These are some of my favorites, but I’d love to hear what sunscreen or other UV protectors you and your family use and love. Here in Tucson, with its 350+ days of sunshine, you can never have enough.

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Tough Questions: Talking to a Young Child about Baby No. 2

by Gena Kittner

Ellie: How is new baby getting out of your tummy?

Me: I’m going to wiggle him out.

I was just about to pat myself on the back for what I thought was a snappy, non-graphic, on-the-spot answer regarding delivery of our second child, due in July, when my 3-year-old came at me with a follow up:

Ellie: How did it get in there?

Oh boy.

How to talk to your Young Child about baby #2

Ellie is super excited to be a big sister, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s her favorite topic of conversation. She alternates between what toys she thinks “new baby” (as we’ve coined him) will like, and which ones she plans to hide.

She’s also had lots of questions. In the beginning, when I’d started to show and we told her mommy had a baby growing in my tummy, Ellie decided she had a baby growing in her tummy, too.

She’s since abandoned this idea as I’ve continued to expand and she hasn’t. Now she’s more concerned with the details of her brother’s arrival.

In the true preschooler mindset, everything must happen immediately. Almost daily she asks if new baby’s here. I tell her he has more growing to do and will be born when “it’s really, really hot.”

Ellie Is your baby giving kicks?

Me: No, I think he’s sleeping now.

Ellie: Why is he sleeping? It’s morning time!

But back to the tough question at hand — how he got there to begin with. In the end, I took the easy way out.

Me: You know when we plant tiny tomato seeds and they grow into big, tall plants? Well, mommy has a small seed in her tummy and it’s growing into a baby boy.

Ellie: Oh, OK … (But) he’s going to be too big to get out of your tummy.

Yeah, no kidding.

A couple days later, I went online to see how other moms approached this topic, figuring I could always improve my answer when I’m inevitably asked again.

But I didn’t find anything I really liked. I’m the first to admit I’ve taken the easy, not-anatomically-correct route. But I’m just not ready to get that real with my 3-year-old. Some Internet commenters suggested watching a video of puppy or human births. But as truly awesome as I think the miracle of birth is, even I don’t want to watch it on video. Plus, Ellie tends to get scared during tense moments of Sofia the First. I don’t want to scar her with, literally, blood and guts.

So I’m still on the hunt for better answers.

Mommies of multiple children — how did you answer inquiries involving the arrival of your “new baby”?

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.