Parenting technology has a checkered history. For every genius invention (the baby monitor, the electric breast pump), there’s a clunker that’s too complicated or unnecessary (prenatal education systems, infant cry translators?!). The going trend is “quantified baby” stuff: so-called smart bottles, smart onesies, smart socks, smart diapers, smart changing pads that promise peace of mind through data—or, depending on your viewpoint, just give you more things to fret over and waste your money on.
But some new parenting gadgets don’t just track—they’re on track to actually making our lives simpler and better. If your idea of dreamy technology falls more along the lines of simplicity than smartypants—we’re thinking of that middle-of-the-night robot nanny, yet to be invented—then these recent inventions might hold some appeal:
The self-installing car seat4moms
We all know it’s not easy to get the darn things in and out of the car just right. And no, it’s not just you or me: A 2015 study in the Journal of Pediatrics found that 95 percent of new parents were using infant car seats incorrectly when they left the hospital—that’s almost everyone!
All of which suggests a big market for the self-installing baby seat, coming in June 2016. Visual and voice commands in a companion app guide parents through the installation, and then the seat is continuously monitored to make sure it’s leveled and correctly installed. It can even remind you, as your baby grows, to adjust the harness and head rest position.
Created by 4moms—yup, the people who brought you the Origami self-folding stroller—the seat fits babies from birth to 30 pounds (usually up to ages 2 or 3). It’s pricey—$500—unless you calculate cost-per-use over a couple of years and put a premium on ease. Or unless you get the $100 pre-order discount, available during January 2016.
The instant thermometer
It’s no fun trying to stick anything in your sick kid’s ear, down her throat, or you-know-where. So wouldn’t it be nice just to hold the thermometer against the forehead? The Thermo thermometer takes two seconds to deliver a highly accurate temperature reading. You can read the numbers or, even faster, see if it flashes green (showing it’s in the healthy zone) or red (for fever). Coming in March, this gadget also records a history of readings for several family members. Cost: $100, plus two AAA batteries, which should last about two years.
Toys that teach coding and science
Forget ABC drills. These toys do something relatively new: help kids understand pretty sophisticated concepts at very early ages—but in age-appropriate ways. Two getting a lot of buzz:
- The Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar. Being released in June for ages 3 to 8, the cute, big-eyed bug is made from eight snap-together modules. Each segment does something different: One turns left, one turns right, another makes a funny sound … and depending how you put them together, the toy behaves differently. Separate add-on packs will make the code-a-pillar do even more cool things. Not cheap: Base price is $50 and extra modules come in $15 packs of three.
- LEGO Education WeDo 2.0. This new brick set has a cumbersome name but a smooth mission: to teach kids about real-world science issues (pollination, plants, storm damage) using coding and bricks. A wireless update to an older, 2009 version, it features an electronic building brick, a motion sensor and motor, and a wireless hub. It was designed for use in early-elementary-school classes, building on science principles kids learn in grades two to four. So you might need a STEM-orientation yourself (or a lot of patience, or a curious and advanced kid) to bring a kit to life. Cost: $160.