{Crappy Crafts} Doll camping accessories

If you can’t tell from some of the other “projects” I’ve posted on the site, I have a creative mind but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, it’s embarrassing.

The reason I still post my crafts is in case someone a bit more crafty than me is inspired by what I’ve thought up.  So in acknowledgement that some of my achievements belong in the Pinterest “fail” category, I’ve decided to, going forward, entitle these posts: Crappy Crafts.

I really want to add a trademark symbol after that but I know what trademarks are and this isn’t trademarked. Alas. Just mentally put the tm there. It looks cooler.

Anyway, I love dolls. I didn’t like dolls as a little kid (I specifically remember having Barbies and Transformers around 4 years old and having them fighting a war against each other), but as I grew up I became more girly.  I could spend all day playing dolls with a little kid.  L also hadn’t shown much interest in dolls until recently, but luckily brother J is showing interest too so now I have some quality doll playing hours under my belt.

L, however, has loved her little pacimal monkey, Ooie, (note: the company is pretty much out of business now so you can’t get pacimals any more) since she was about 9 months old, and she treats him like her little baby.  So to try to encourage doll play with him, over the years I’ve gotten and made as many accessories for him as I could get away with. He’s about 8 inches tall so the Circo mini series works well for him (clothes, doll crib, potty/highchair set, etc).  [By the way, isn’t this the CUTEST thing?]

Over the summer, we as a family went backyard camping and L loved it. She wanted Ooie to participate fully next time with his own sleeping bag. Challenge accepted.

The Circo mini crib has the perfect squishy bedding to form the base of a sleeping bag (I can’t find a purchase link to the crib but here is the twins bunk bed set with the same bedding).  I sewed on the pillow that came with the crib and added a soft blanket (more like a nap mat than a sleeping bag).

2014-07-02 17.49.462014-07-02 17.49.272014-07-02 17.49.59

It has already fallen apart but it was cute while it lasted.

As usual, I decided to take it about two or three steps more and made a collapsible tent, a grill, and a fold-up lounge chair.

For the tent, I used an old Sweetheart Cottage playhut that had already fallen apart.  The pop-out roof gable was perfect for the size tent I wanted, and it was put together with bendable poles so I could take it all apart and put it into a bag for portability:

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Here you can see how the poles became the handle for the ‘carrying case’

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The grill was easy enough (you can see it in the above pics). I had a metal M&M tin left over from Valentine’s day and used the instructions from this website as inspiration.

Ahem. This is most definitely not mine. See why my versions are called “Crappy Crafts”?

I then added some 3m wire hooks as legs and as a handle and threw in a battery operated tea light for the fire.

Finally, the chair.  This was actually harder than I thought it would be.



I used a wooden easel stand:

But I wanted to use the “back” of it for the chair, which means the center of gravity was off.  I ended up putting a wood sample as the seat of the chair and then wrapping a long strip of cloth for the back.  Velcroing the cloth made the chair tip the correct way and keeping it un-velcroed allowed it to collapse.

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The back of the chair/the front of the easel

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So that’s it! L loved her camping toys and played with them a bit and has recently pulled them back out to have sleepovers for Ooie.  All of the items are a bit precarious since I can’t sew worth a darn but hopefully someone with more skill can make use of these ideas!

Next crappy craft: my easy peasy soft baby carrier for a tiny stuffed animal.

Previous crappy crafts:

 A Desk For the Boy

Play Kitchen


What do you think? Any other ideas on how to make a camping play set for a doll? Let me know in the comments!


Food Battles – One View on What to Do

Why, hello world.

I had to take a break from professional writing for a few months due to conflicts of interest, and although you’d think that meant I’d be more free to write for my poor unloved blog, I guess..not. Huh.

Wait But Why, my new favorite beloved, has a great post explaining, well, why, I can’t sometimes just get off my butt and write. Especially without a deadline, or (and this is important), the promise of money.

Hatas gonna hate.  Procrastinators gonna procrastinate.


Where was I?

I do have one pro-free range parenting article from earlier this year up on that other site:

Your Helicopter Parenting is Hurting My Kids

It’s not much of a controversial issue by this point.  It’s totally in vogue now to be all like, “Hey, those crazy overprotective parents, I mean, right?”  And, like I’ve said before, this blog is not for advocacy or controversies or opinions — just information. So instead I want to highlight some of the feeding and nutrition stuff mentioned in the article.

Ellyn Satter, a nutrition expert, has become famous for counseling parents on feeding their children and minimizing mealtime battles, beginning with newborns. We talk more and more about on-demand breastfeeding for infants, and thank goodness. Study after study has indicated that infants know when they are hungry and when they are full.

We young parents are starting to get that. But we still don’t get that the concept extends beyond infancy. We’re treating the infants with respect and then infantilizing our toddlers, instead of learning the mealtime division of responsibility:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

This means that if your kid doesn’t want to eat the healthy well-balanced meal you provided, even when considering their taste preferences, well, okay. They will live.

Even as a Satter devotee I don’t perfectly follow her rules. No food in between snacks and mealtimes? Nope. I’m theworst. My kids regularly ruin their dinner, even if they are eating healthy snacks. You know why I break that rule on a regular basis? Because after two babies who had weight issues, I’m still afraid I’m starving my kids. Yeah, those kids. The healthy ones over there currently trying to dismantle my bookshelf.

Our kids are so much more capable than we give them credit for.

I highly recommend reading Satter’s books, even if you don’t end up agreeing with everything in them. I found it very freeing to just chill out regarding toddler eating habits.

For more information regarding implementing the Satter method, check out the incomparable Amalah, who writes an advice column on AlphaMom.

..and so much more. Amy (Amalah) really really loves Satter.  And I love Amy. So it’s just a hippie circle of love over here.

Buying a Mattress for a Toddler

Well, L is moving into a full-size bed. And therefore, I have to buy the kid a mattress.

To explain what an undertaking this is – we have one crib, one toddler bed, one king bed, and one futon in our house. None of those have mattresses my parents’ generation generally approves of. The futon is..well, a futon. The king mattress is foam from Ikea – I love it, and it was cheap, but it is too firm from most people. (I also strongly suspect it’s time to replace it). It’s one of the Sultan collection. I wager it’s just foam, not even memory foam. When it came to crib mattresses, I really didn’t care, as long as the mattress was firm. So L got a foam mattress from Ikea (the crib version of our king). When the mattress shrunk in our move, I bought a high-rated but inexpensive mattress off Amazon. That one went to baby J. And L now sleeps in a hand me down crib/toddler bed that came with a hand-me-down mattress, so I don’t even know what kind it is.

And mattress pads? Huh? I don’t think any of our beds have a mattress pad.

But, I figure I’d actually do some research for L’s bed, especially because I want her to be sleeping in it for a while. So off I went to Google.

Here are a few considerations one should have in looking for a kids’ mattress.


Do you want a toddler bed, a twin, an extra-long twin, a full, or a queen for your child?

Most parents I spoke to recommended getting the largest size you could fit in your child’s room. That way your child (especially a girl, at least from anecdotal experience) could have sleepovers and share a bed. You can also lie down with your child if needed. Finally, the bed can grow up with your child.

We ended up going with a full bed from Pottery Barn.  I liked it because it had the style I wanted for L’s room, most reviews indicated it was durable, it could be put together with- or without a boxspring (so I can adjust height) and the bed frame can be raised or lowered (also for adjusting height). That way, I could make it toddler-friendly for now but it could grow with her. It could also accommodate a trundle or storage unit if I wanted.

Trust me, I’m cheap, so it’s not like me to blow money at Pottery Barn, but yes, I did it. Actually, it was about the same price as most of the other beds  I was considering.

Anyway, bottom line -bedsize for us = full.


Your child’s comfort is important to a good nights’ sleep. Most people begin with that philosophy with  babies. Me? I figure babies can learn to sleep anywhere, so I skimped. But L is two now, and I want this mattress to be comfortable for years.

For older kids, it’s generally good to take them mattress shopping with you and to have them test out the mattress. Alas, a two year old really isn’t going to give me a preference, so I just lay down on every mattres on every store.

But, since I am not a mattress connoisseur, everything felt fine to me. Especially because I like firm mattresses, and in general, I’m looking for firm for my daughter.

Memory Foam or innerspring?

So, apparently, memory foam isn’t good for kids. Do I know if that’s actually true? Nope, not at all. But some arguments against are that memory foam isn’t supportive enough for growing bodies, and that memory foam releases off-gassing chemicals. Okay. Who knows if it’s true, but I used it as a guideline. So I stuck with innerspring mattresses.

Here’s more information on memory foam.
If you don’t care about memory foam vs. innerspring, at least one blogger picked a memory foam mattress for her children. But, her children were a) older and b.) she got her Serta mattress for free!

Organic or not?

Gah. Do I care? No.

But you might. And I don’t blame you. If that’s the case, Naturepedic is a highly recommended organic mattress, and one that doesn’t just slap the ‘organic’ label on willy nillyLand of Nod, the Crate and Barrel kids’ store, also sells Naturepedic.

Want other recommendations of organic mattresses? Check out the Berkeley Parent’s network. They seem to love the European Sleepworks mattress. (The store is in Berkeley, natch)


Generally, the firmer, the better (better support for growing bodies), but so firm it feels like one is sleeping on concrete. A good middle ground is a firm innerspring mattress with a comfortable topper.

The topper, however, is a bit of a controversy. Most websites will tell you outright that pillowtop mattresses are a ripoff. The pillowtop wears off faster than the mattress itself, and therefore it’s better to get a firm mattress and then use a mattress pad for comfort. Some sites go further and say to not even go for a firm mattress with a memory foam topper (ex: a plush mattress vs. pillowtop) and to instead buy the firmest mattress possible and buy a separate topper (whether memory foam or latex).

Of course, when I spoke to a mattress salesman, I got a different story. I was told the structure of the mattress changes (in terms of how it feels on your body) if you add a separate topper, and that it was better to go for the all-in-one pillowtop or at least memory foam topper. Then, if the topper or pillowtop wears out, to only then add a separate topper or mattress pad.

I’d probably go with the general view of doing it all separate, though, especially when you’re dealing with kids. If your child soils the separate topper, for example, then you can replace just that without replacing the whole mattress.

The Mattress Expert has some information on latex toppers.


What is a quality mattress?

According to the Sleep Council, the S.L.E.E.P. test will help you pick the right mattress for you. But other than that, it doesn’t give you any real recommendations on type.

This article, (from an ex-mattress salesperson) helps a bit more. Basically, there are three types of mattresses – low quality, midrange, and high quality. Each mattress brand sells their models under different names in different stores. So the Simmons Lumberton is the name of a mattress in one store but it is called the Simmons Arbor Terrance at Macy’s.  So the first step is not to be fooled by the various model names. The second step is weight. In general, among brands, the heavier the weight, the better quality the mattress. For a child, who isn’t very heavy but needs good support, a mid-range mattress is probably appropriate.

To compare specific mattresses, there is always Consumer Reports. However, as in many categories, people obsessed with mattresses don’t think Consumer Reports is the best ranking system out there for mattresses.

Sleep geeks Sleep Like the Dead have a metric showing customer satisfaction with various mattresses. One important thing of note is that innerspring coil mattresses often have lower ratings over time because they wear out faster. But, often it’s the comfort layer (pillowtop or memory foam/latex topper) that wears out first. Two things. First, your small toddler is less likely to wear out the innerspring mattress, and second, you can get a firm mattress with a separate topper to lesson the chance of wear and tear.


The Baby Bargains forum has a good discussion of mattresses that are lower price but still good quality, a consideration when one is dealing with children. Ikea and Sams Club/Cotsco feature heavily in the discussion.

Another option is a mattress clearinghouse. I headed over to Mattress Firm’s outlet store yesterday. They steered me toward their house brand, Hampton Rhodes Bronze collection. However, I couldn’t find much on them online,and their price was similar to the mattress from Pottery Barn I’m thinking of getting, which is a Serta.

Kid-specific qualities:

Other qualities that one should look for in a kid’s mattress is waterproof (or make sure to get a waterproof cover), depth (a thinner mattress may help keep a bed low-profile so a child can climb in and out), something hypoallergenic (latex is considered good, and I’ve heard the Invigo Collection recommended as a good hypoallergenic mattress), and durable.

SavvyRest has some interesting ideas about different mattress types for boys and for girls. Your mileage may vary.

Land of Nod has a Simmons Beautyrest Beginnings mattress that fit a lot of these criteria.

Other Recommended Mattresses:

In terms of recommended mattresses for children, I hear a lot about the three “S’s – Simmons, Sealy, and Serta. Specifically, I hear about Simmons Beautyrest, Sealy Posturpedic, and Serta Perfect Sleeper. The Mattress Expert is obsessed about the Simmons Beautyrest Lumberton for kids.

Sleep City, which only sells Simmons and Tempurpedic, has recommends these.

What am I getting?

If I had an Ikea nearby, I’d check out their mattresses first. If I had a Land of Nod, I’d really be interested in their Simmons Beautyrest Beginnings.

Alas, all I have in terms of the fancy stores is Pottery Barn,which sells a Serta for a darn good price (better than the department stores and less sketchy that some of the mattress outlets). It has a memory foam topper, but other than that, the mattress seems perfect. It goes against some of the advice I read online, but for the price plus quality, plus the convenience of getting it at the same time I order the Pottery Barn bed, I will be a sheep-like consumer and will be spoonfed my mattress choice!

The Guide to Carseats: Part One

Well, baby J is probably soon going to outgrow his Graco Snugride 22.

It has served me well – two years and two babies. It was the perfect choice for us- relatively light (so picking it up wasn’t such a ridiculous chore), very cheap (although the Amazon link has it for $111, I picked up that exact seat for $65 at WalMart), and rated high for safety on Consumer Reports.

That’s not to say it didn’t have cons. The model I had, for example, made adjusting the straps a total bear. (They have fixed this with the new version of the seat, which is called the Graco Snugride Classic Connect). The LATCH connectors are not nearly as good as the much loved Chicco Keyfit. But for the cheap mama that I am – perfect.

Alas, it is time to buy him a convertible. I’m choosing between three models: a Britax, a Graco, and a Chicco.

LATCH? Convertible?? Chicco? Head spinning? Let’s start at the beginning.

Part One of our carseat guide is going to start with carseats for infants. Part Two will likely be a controversies post on the actual results of research on rear-facing.

There are two types of infant carseats – a bucket seat and a convertible seat

What is a bucket? What is a convertible? Which one should you choose?

A bucket seat (otherwise known as an infant seat) is like the classic baby carriers of the olden days. (Note: now, when people talk about baby carriers, they mean devices you use to strap the baby to you/wear your baby.)

Old school infant carrier (not for use as a carseat!)

Bucket Carseat

Features of a Bucket

– will fit a baby from newborn to late infancy/early toddlerhood (depending on brand and your child’s size)

– rearfacing only

– has a ‘base’ that stays in the car. You can then detach the carseat from the base with one hand and transport the carseat. You can connect this into another car that also has a base, or click it into a compatible stroller.

– you can also strap the carseat in the car using your seatbelt, in case you don’t happen to have a base.

car seat base




Your baby will outgrow it and then you will need to buy a convertible carseat anyway*

*Technically, you may be able to get away with not buying a convertible carseat after your baby outgrows the infant seat. But I don’t recommend that step. To understand this statement, let’s go over convertible seats.

Features of a convertible seat:

Fits children from newborn – early childhood (depending on features of particular seat and size of your child)

Is not portable

Some new kinds also have a base system, where the carseat locks into a base that stays in the car (but you still can’t really transport a sleeping child around in the carseat, which is a benefit of the bucket. And it won’t lock into a stroller).

Is rearfacing AND forward facing. (hence: convertible.)


Save money – skip the bucket seat.  (with some kinds, you can technically use the same seat throughout childhood).


Not portable

So, what do I recommend?

Depends? I guess with most people, I’d recommend getting the bucket. I know people who went straight to the convertible seat. They baby-wore their child when out of the car or placed him or her straight into a stroller made for newborns. For the parents who didn’t regret that decision one bit, I still noticed the child would be awakened when taken out of the carseat and wouldn’t fall back asleep, even if placed in a sling or wrap. No biggie to those parents. Would have frustrated the heck out of me. For my friends that did regret it, their main issue was restaurants. If you wear your baby, where the heck do you put him or her in a restaurant? (assuming you are dealing with a squishy newborn). Some parents have no trouble eating while wearing their baby (and their baby stays happy and content, even if awakened, because he or she is being worn) Other parents choose to use a stroller in those cases. But for those reasons, if you are ambivalent, I recommend going ahead and getting the bucket.

A couple of cons to the bucket. The bucket gets HEAVY after a while. Now, I don’t get why that’s such a big deal, because I’ve always always used a stroller frame  (we’ll discuss this later) that the bucket sits in to move the baby. I don’t just lug the bucket around myself. But oh well.

Second con: Too much time spent in the bucket, a common criticism made by babywearers. Valid. If your child is awake, go ahead and take him or her out of the carseat and carry him around for a bit.

Recommended bucket seats:

I’m not going to do personal recommendations, and instead draw from the giants of baby registry-ness: Lucie’s List, Consumer Reports, Baby Bargains, and specialized car seat sites.

Let’s start with the behemoth: The BabyCenter Carseat board. Like the Teach Your Baby To Sleep Board, these ladies have basically put together everything you need to know and I’m just reaping the benefits from all their research. I just want to make that clear. I am no car seat expert, but they are.

Here is the BBC Google Document (constantly updated) with their recommended bucket carseats. (Please click on the document for exhaustive details on each seat)

Top Seats:

Britax B-Safe or Bob B-Safe (4-30lbs)
Britax Chaperone (4-30lbs)

Chicco Keyfit/KeyFit 30 (4-22/30lb)

Combi Shuttle/Shuttle 33 (birth-33/35lbs)

Cybex Aton (4-32lbs)
Evenflo Embrace 35 (4-35lbs)
Graco SnugRide 30 (4-30lbs)

Graco SnugRide 35 (4 or 5-35lbs) (newest versions of the start at 4lbs)

Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (4-40lbs)

Learning Curve/First Years/Lamaze/JJ Cole Via I470 (5-35lbs)

Maxi-Cosi Prezi (4-30lbs)

Safety 1st OnBoard35/OnBoard35 Air/Eddie Bauer Sure Fit (4-35lbs) (some older versions started at 5lbs

or maxed out at 22lbs)

Summer Infant Prodigy (4-32lbs)

Check out the rest of the document for recommended bucket seats for those on a budget, for preemies, for small spaces, etc.

Also note they were not able to review the Graco ClassicConnect 30 because of how new it was at the time of the document, but other sites consider it a good carseat.

A few things of note that you’ll see mentioned in this document:

Height and Weight limits:

You’ll note that different brands have different height and weight limits. Of course, the more generous the height/weight limits, the longer you can keep your child in the bucket seat. However, with a few exceptions you will likely be putting your child in a convertible seat anyway, so the overall length of time your child is in the bucket doesn’t completely matter because at some point, he or she will be too heavy to pull the bucket out of the car easily.

There are exceptions to what I said above. Some bucket carseats go up to 40 pounds. The max rearfacing limit I’ve seen on convertible carseats is about 40 pounds, so you could then conceivably  just go straight from the bucket to a forward-facing carseat, instead of finding a convertible that does both rear-and forward facing.

In addition, your carseat philosophy matters. If you just follow the letter of the law (your child, in most states, must be 1 year old AND 20 pounds to be turned forward facing), then you can go straight from the bucket seat to a convertible seat.  If, like most children, your kid hits 20-22 pounds before he or she turns 1 year, you’ll want a bucket seat that accommodates a larger child. So, your 30 pound 1 year old can stay in the bucket seat and then get moved into a forward facing seat at a year old, thus saving the need for a convertible.

In my case, my kid didn’t hit 20 pounds until she was about 20 months old, so she definitely was still in a 22-pound weight limited bucket seat on her first birthday.

Three things to note, though, if you plan on going straight from a bucket seat to a forward facing seat:

1. Height: Even if you get a high-weight-limited seat, your child may STILL outgrow by height! (We’ll talk about height limits in a bit)

2. Annoyed child: Many children begin haaaating their bucket seats at a certain point, especially if the seat reclines too much. You may end up switching to a convertible when your child is 6 months old

3. Safety: If you plan on turning your child forward-facing as soon as possible (1 year old), keep in mind that current AAP recommendations suggest your child is rearfacing until at least 2 years old. The NHSC recommends your child is rearfacing until at least 3 years old. You’re the parent – honestly, I really don’t care – but don’t make a decision on this and then realize you’d rather have your kid be rearfacing as long as possible. (As for me, L and J will be rearfacing as long as there’s no reason to change the status quo. I may change my mind if a tantrum ever happens over it, but if they know no different, then most likely they won’t care. And L is so tiny I really would prefer to keep her rearfacing until she’s at least 3 years old).

cafepress_carseat safety

Yes I need to crop this.

And, of course, as I mentioned above, there will be a controversies post on rearfacing sometime soon.

Lucie’s List says it more clearly:

“You don’t need a 35 or 40lb infant seat. I swear.

Case in point… Lucie is 3 years old and weighs 32.5 lbs. Most people upgrade to a convertible car seat around 12 months of age anyway, so 90% of you will be just fine with a 22lb seat… and 100% of you will be just fine with a 30lb seat. 35 and 40lb infant seats are ludicrous. There’s NO WAY a 2 or 3 year old is going to sit in an infant bucket. Also remember car seats (of all types) are outgrown height-wise BEFORE your kiddo reaches the max weight. Promise.”

Let’s talk about height next. As the proprietor of Lucie’s List mentions above, often your child may outgrow the infant seat by height first as opposed to weight. Height is something we often forget to check when looking at car seat specs.

That being said, despite the ranges listed on bucket car seats’ height limits, unlike weight, these are just suggestions. The true way to see if your child has outgrown his or her car seat is by putting your child in the seat and then making sure his head is at least 1″ from the top of the shell. In the case of my daughter, who has longer legs with a shorter torso, she technically outgrew the seat by the manufacturer ranges but she was still about 3″ from the top of the shell so she could still be in it.

Handle Position:

Another thing you may notice in the Google Document is discussion on handle position. Different carseats have different safety rules regarding the handle on the bucket seat. For example, my Graco Snugride is safe in the car with the handle completely down or completely up. But, the manual indicates it is not safe to ride with the handle in the two in-between upright positions.

LATCH: Stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. This is a system installed in all newer cars allowing for an easy way to clip in a carseat.

For more acronym busters, check out the CPST Encyclopedia

Other review sites:
Here are other seats as recommended by review sites:

Consumer Reports:

22 lb capacity seats:

Keep in mind that any review site may have bias and errors.

Baby Bargains

From the 2011 edition:

Good: None. “Let’s be honest, if you’re on a super tight budget consider not buying an infant seat at all. A good 5 point convertible car seat will work for both infants and children.”

Better: Chicco Keyfit 30

Best: Graco Snugride 35 (but they mention the snugride 30 or 32 would work as well.)

Dark Horses: Britax Chaperone, First Years Via


This site has full reviews, as well as a separate list for preemies and multiples.

Britax B-Safe

Chicco KeyFit 30

Dorel onBoard 35 Air

Graco SnugRide 35


The reviewer on Car-Seat.org makes a great point regarding carseats and which one is best for you.

Experts know that the “best” seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, fits your budget, and will be used properly every single trip. This means there’s no single best seat for every situation, and it also means that *your* best seat might not be on this list. That’s OK! The list below contains seats which are generally found to be easy to use and to fit a fair variety of children and vehicles well. There are inexpensive and pricey seats on the list. While all seats have to meet the same basic safety standards, some seats may have features which make them more comfortable or easier to use. Speaking of safety, it’s not unusual to hear a parent say they purchased this seat or that one because “it was the safest.” While some seats may have features which could improve their performance in a crash, there aren’t any reliable, comprehensive crash test comparisons for US and Canadian seats. This means that there’s no way to tell if one seat is actually safer than another in the real world. Fortunately, a properly used seat provides excellent protection in most crashes. I hope the below list aids you in your search, and if you have any questions, please ask them on our forums! Infant Seats (rear facing with a carrying handle)

  • Cybex Aton ($$$$): 4 lb – 32 lb. Super easy to install with LATCh, small to fit in even snug back seats.
  • Chicco Keyfit 30 ($$$): 4 lb – 30 lb. Easy to install with LATCh or seatbelt, compatible with a number of Chicco strollers.
  • Graco Snugride 30 ($$): 4 lb – 30 lb. There are a variety of SnugRide models with different weight limits.

Other safe bets: Britax B-Safe ($$$), Britax Chaperone ($$$$), Combi Shuttle 35 ($$$), Evenflo Embrace 35 ($), Graco SnugRide 35 ($$$), Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 ($$$$), Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus ($), Safety 1st Onboard 35 ($$), Safety 1st OnBoard Air ($$$)

Stroller/carseat combos

So, one of the benefits of a bucket carseat is the ability to click it into a stroller and go! (So no , you do not have to just cart around a heavy baby and heavy carseat).

Lucie’s List combines her carseat recommendations with stroller compatibility.

Best in Class

…..there are 3 (and one prospective) infant seats that are consistently awarded high marks from moms and experts alike. Depending on your budget, here are the four that I recommend:

$ — Graco SnugRide
$$ — Chicco KeyFit OR Britax B-Safe
$$$ — Britax Chaperone
$$$$ — UPPABaby Mesa [not until June of 2013]

**It will help you IMMENSELY to select an infant seat that’s compatible with your stroller of choice. It will save you $50+ on a special “car seat adapter” alone. See notes on each car seat…

1. Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect 30, $99, 7.5 lbs

** Stroller compatibility: the Snug Ride car seat goes nicely with their basic stroller frame, the Snug Rider Elite. At 15.5lbs and $75, the Graco Literider is also a option — it can be used with or without the carseat. I don’t recommend any other Graco “travel system” strollers because they are too heavy and bulky. 

2a. Chicco KeyFit 30, $175


** Stroller compatibility: For your lightweight stroller base (for car seat only), go with the KeyFit Caddy. BUT WAIT! The Chicco Liteway Plus is a better option, it offers a lightweight base for your car seat, then later becomes a regular umbrella stroller. Killing 2 birds with 1 stone, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

2b. Britax B-Safe, $175

………** Stroller compatibility: The true beauty of the B-Safe is his compatibility with Britax and BOB strollers (Britax bought BOB last year). For a lightweight umbrella stroller that can be used with or without the car seat, check out the B-Nimble (similar to the Chicco Liteway Plus). The B-Safe + B-Agile stroller is an awesome combination. You can also use him with the ever-popular B-Ready stroller, which upgrades to a double (read more below in Strollers) when you have another kiddo. He also goes with any of the BOB jogging strollers (with an adapter). Essentially, you have better stroller options with the B-Safe than the KeyFit. Yes, it’s true.

3. Britax Chaperone, Retails for $235 (on Amazon for $184), 10lbs

…….** Stroller compatibility: Again, this Britax seat plays nicely with Britax and BOB strollers. For a lightweight umbrella stroller that can be used with or without the car seat, check out the B-Nimble (similar to the Chicco Liteway Plus). This guy + the B-Agile stroller is an awesome combination (see below). You can also use him with the ever-popular B-Ready stroller, which upgrades to a double stroller (read more below in Strollers). He also goes with any of the BOB jogging strollers with an adapter.

4. UPPABaby Mesa, $279, 10.5 lbs

UPPABaby is a luxury brand that’s actually worth the money, in my opinion; …….

** Stroller compatibility: Let’s face it, if you’re in the market for an upscale car seat [ahem], you’re probably also looking for an upscale stroller as well. Your stroller options for the Mesa do not disappoint: he fits directly into the UPPABaby Cruz or Vista (see below), both of which I recommend. Your problem is going to be finding a simple, lightweight stroller base for this guy. I know of none (so far)…

There are basically two options in terms of stroller compatibility. You can click your carseat into a stroller that is designed to accommodate a stroller on top (with or without an adaptor), or you can use a lightweight stroller frame whose only job is to give your stroller wheels.

There are three basic lightweight stroller frames – the Graco Snugrider Elite, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Babytrend Snap n Go.  As their names imply, these frames will work with their brand carseat – however, many of these brands will also accommodate other carseats. You will need to check the reviews.

We have a Graco Snugrider (not the Elite, which is a newer, better model) and it is by far my favorite baby purchase. (Especially because I got it for $10 at a yard sale).

Graco Snugrider and the Graco Snugride22 combo. Oh,and a Bebe Au Lait nursing cover :-)

Graco Snugrider and the Graco Snugride22 combo. Oh,and a Bebe Au Lait nursing cover 🙂

In addition, as Lucie’s List recommend above, if you get the Chicco Keyfit carseat, you should probably get the Chicco Liteway Plus to go with it.  I have the original Chicco LIteway umbrella stroller (not the kind that accommodates a carseat – that didn’t exist yet) and I love it because it is both sturdy and light and can accommodate a newborn by lying flat. The addition of compatibility with a carseat is amazing!  If all this existed when I had my first baby, I probably would have splurged for the Chicco Keyfit carseat, gotten the Liteway plus, then upgraded to the Chicco NextFit convertible carseat (which will be available on April 30 2013). Alas, not only did all this not exist, but I went extremely cheap with my first baby (preferring the cheaper, less luxury Graco brand) not realizing I’d have back to back babies.

Shopping carts

Two things here. First, most carseats are not designed to fit into the shopping cart, despite what you see at the grocery store. Check your manual – this can hurt the LATCH system on your carseat. That being said, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that at least one carseat brand has shopping cart instructions in its manual. If that’s the case, then sure, go for it. But check your manual. Most major brands explicitly say not to.

Second, if you decide to go against the manual and put your carseat in the shopping cart anyway, then check Amazon reviews to see if your carseat clicks in easily. I know Amazon reviewers suggested  my old-style Graco Snugride 22 does not work very well in shopping carts.

Recommended Convertible Carseats

Before I get into recommended convertible seats, remember that all these seats have way different features. Some of them can be used from birth to grade school, (and will go from rear-facing, to foward-facing, to high-backed booster), ostensibly meaning that “this will be the only seat you will ever need”.

But but but, remember that there may be height restrictions, and your child may again outgrow the seat via height first. So don’t immediately assume an all-in-one seat is best!

As usual, Lucie’s List explains this very well, as well as explains why 1.) rearfacing is considered the best for as long as possible (a future controversies post for me!) and 2.) why harnessed seats for older children is considered better than just a booster seat.

These are her recommended seats:

——- Summary ———–

$ ~ Safety 1st OnSide Air Protect ($80)read more

$$ ~ Britax Roundabout ($140)read more

$$ ~ Evenflo Symphony 65 e3 ($175)read more

$$$ ~ True Fit Premier by First Years ($200)read more

$$$$ ~ Britax Boulevard ($225) read more

*** Chicco NextFit to be added to this list — reviewing pending…($280)
—- Seats for Special Situations —-

Small car ~ Combi Cocorro ($160-$240) [more]

3-across ~ Diono Radian ($240ish)  [more]

For Newborns ~ Maxi Cosi Pria 70, True Fit Premier, Evenflo Triumph Advance, Cosco Scenera [more]

For Flying ~ Cosco Scenera, Evenflo Tribute, Safety 1st OnSide Air (all < $100)  [more]

You’re Loaded!~ Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70 ($330)  [more]

Carseatblog’s list:  (again, click on the link for full reviews and specs)

Britax Boulevard 70-G3 & Advocate 70-G3 

Britax Roundabout 55

Combi Coccoro

Cosco Scenera & Scenera 40 RF

Diono Radian RXT

Evenflo Symphony 65 E3 (aka Evenflo Symphony DLX)

Evenflo Triumph Advance 65

 True Fit Premier c670 & True Fit SI (Side Impact) c680 by Learning Curve

Graco Size4Me 70 & My Size 70 (BRU exclusive – same product; different name)

Orbit Toddler G2

Safety 1st Complete Air 65 LX

Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with TinyFit

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70

Car-Seat.org’s list:

  • Britax Boulevard 70-G3 ($$$$): 5 – 40 lb rear facing; up to 70 lb forward facing harnessed. Easy to install.

  • Diono Radian RXT ($$$$$) or Diono Radian R120 ($$$$): 5 lb – 45 lb rear facing; up to 80 lb forward facing harnessed; Booster to 120 lb. 3-in-1 seat can be used rear or forward facing or as a booster, quite narrow, folds for storage or travel through an airport.

  • Dorel (Safety 1st) Guide 65 ($): 5 lb – 40 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Simple seat for a tight budget.

  • Graco My Ride 65 ($$): 4 lb – 40 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Fairly wide, but comfortable.

  • The First Years True Fit ($$$): 5 – 35 lb rear facing; up to 65 lb forward facing harnessed. Removable headrest allows it to fit in smaller backseats, even when reclined for a newborn.

Other safe bets: Britax Advocate 70-G3 ($$$$$), Britax Marathon Classic ($$$), Britax Roundabout 50 Classic ($$), Britax Roundabout 55 ($$$), Dorel (Cosco) Apt 40 ($), Dorel (Cosco) Scenera ($), Dorel (Maxi-Cosi) Pria ($$$$), Dorel (Safety 1st) Complete Air 65 ($$$), Dorel (Safety 1st) OnSide Air ($), Evenflo Tribute ($), Evenflo Triumph ($$), Graco My Ride 70 ($$), Graco Size4Me ($$$), Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70 Convertible ($$$$$)

Consumer Reports:

BabyCenter:  (note: the BBC ladies haven’t been able to review the Chicco NextFit yet, but they are oh so excited about it)

Britax Roundabout 50 Classic, Marathon Classic
Britax Roundabout 55, Highway 65, Marathon 70, Boulevard 70, Pavilion 70, Advocate 70
Clek Foonf
Diono Radian R100, R120, and RXT (formerly Sunshine Kids Radian 65SL/80SL/XTSL)
Eddie Bauer Comfort
Evenflo Momentum
Evenflo SureRide/Titan
Evenflo Triumph
First Years (Learning Curve) TrueFit/TrueFit Premier
Graco MyRide 65/MyRide 70
Graco MySize 70/Size4Me 70
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP Convertible
Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65
Safety 1st Complete Air65
Safety 1st Guide 65/EasyFit/Eddie Bauer XRS 65


Good: The Cosco Scenera or the Evenflo Titan Elite.

Better: The Sunshine Kids Radian 65 or the First Years True Fit.

Best: The Britax Marathon 70.

If Money is No Object: The Britax Boulevard 70 CS or the Recaro ProRIDE.

Another overview of convertibles (including helpful links)

What we have:

We have the Graco MyRide 65 for L. It works fine, and we like the cupholders. I hate hate hate the belt clasps, though.

It technically works for kids 5-40 pounds rearfacing then up to 65 pounds forward facing. However, when we tried to put Baby J in the seat on the way home from the hospital, we were not comfortable with how it worked (with the infant insert). Of course, we really couldn’t figure out how to get it right, so it was probably user error. I did read reviews that the MyRide isn’t as great for smaller babies (both L and J were 6lbs 9oz at birth). However, Lactation Chic used the MyRide from birth, and her daughter was also 6lb 9oz, so there you have it.

For Baby J’s convertible carseat, I am looking at three  – another MyRide 65, the Britax Roundabout 55 (apparently a nicer carseat, although I’d have to pay $12 to get an attached cupholder- believe me, when you have toddlers, it matters), and the upcoming Chicco NextFit, which has many many carseat dorks in a tizzy. The Roundabout and the MyRide are in the same price range; the NextFit is about $100 more expensive.
What if you need an extra convertible seat for Grandma’s car?

If you are using a bucket seat, just purchase an extra base.

For convertibles, most of the websites above have great recommendations for budget convertible carseats. The Cosco Scenera is one that comes up time and time again.

As for our Grandma, I may instead suggest to her that she get the upcoming Chicco NextFit, because of how easy it is to remove it from her car. It’s much more expensive than a typical “extra” carseat (it’s the carseat I want for Baby J), but in our family, ease of removal and re-installation is more important.


Most of the websites I list above have information on what carseats are best for preemies (ex: some need a carbed as opposed to a carseat). Keep in mind that although most convertible seats say that they can be used from babies 5lbs and above, that those seats are still a bit difficult for use with a preemie or a small baby. However, even some bucket carseats are not great with small babies.

More information:

For a great resource on carseat safety, plus more specs on various carseats, check out car-safety.org.

Universal Prekindergarten: Evidence from the Field

Welcome Carnival of Evidence-Based Parenting readers!  Today’s Carnival focuses on preschool education. I will keep an ongoing list of links from other participating blogs at the end of this post.

This is Part Three of my preschool series.

In Part One, I asked: Is Preschool Necessary? The answer? No, if there is enough enrichment, play-based activities, and speaking to your child at home. Which means the majority of middle-to-upper class families likely don’t need preschool. So what about more disadvantaged kids?

Enter Part Two, in which I asked: Does Head Start Work? The answer? To a point, yes. Like any preschool, it provides modest gains in kindergarten-1st grade. The problem is the 3rd/4th grade fade-out, which affects almost any preschool-type learning for almost any socio-economic group. So, short-term – yes, it often is helpful. Long-term – the jury is out.

So here we have Part Three. We are spending exorbitant amounts of money to educate disadvantaged kids through Head Start and other programs, with spotty results. We are also now advocating universal prekindergarten, even though the evidence shows preschool in general provides spotty results. There are confounding factors throughout, including the way one measures achievement, the varying degrees of quality in Head Start programs across the nation, and the quality of the schools the children enter for elementary.

Here we ask: So what is the measure of quality? What makes one program better than the other? And do we trust these measures of quality?

The Oklahoma Experiment vs Georgia vs Florida

First, let’s clear up a misstatement in President Obama’s State of the Union speech:

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. (my bolding)

Somewhat disingenuous.  The bolded parts are in reference to very specific preschool programs  such as the Perry Preschool Project and the Abcerdarian Experiment. Hardly a large scale universal prekindergarten program such as Oklahoma’s. No universal prekindergarten program has been able to prove that students are more likely to graduate high school, hold a job, or form more stable families – as a matter of fact, they are too new anyway.

Despite that misstatement, Oklahoma (Tulsa, specifically) does boast a “quality” Head Start program as well as a “quality” prekindergarten program. Due to the presence of these programs and a 74% enrollment rate for Tulsa prekindergarteners, Tulsa-area prekindergarten and its Head Start program is a subject of a multi-year Georgetown University research project.

However, first, we must define quality, as it is a contentious measure.  What most researchers call the ‘accepted’ measures of a program’s quality are measuring input factors – the amount of money spent per student, the student-teacher ratio, teacher pay and certification, and the facilities in which the children learn. Input then, rather than output.

Let’s look at input first.

Continue reading

Oh, Crap. Potty Training – A Review

Potty training. One of the best pieces of advice Jamie Glowacki puts in her e-book, Oh Crap. Potty Training, is to never announce on Facebook that you are potty training. You will get unsolicited advice by the pounds. And if you fail (especially if you are potty training ‘early’, i.e. before or right around 2 years old), the “I told you so”s will be epic.

It’s with that in mind that I start writing this post in the draft folder of the blog, hoping none of my contributing authors will really notice the subject. I didn’t plan on posting this until we actually succeeded in potty training, whether that was in the next three days or if it was in another year.  However, with Day 4 of training under way, I think we’re in a good enough place to submit an initial review.

Potty training is one of those things I’ve never exhaustively researched. I don’t have at hand one of the many scholarly articles that talks about the average age, or about night training, or about bed wetting; honestly, I think I’m in denial. I don’t want to potty train. If it were up to me, I’d be waiting until she’s three.

Unfortunately, I’m an avid enough blog reader that I came across Oh Crap. Potty Training about 6 months ago. And what Jamie Glowacki has to say hits home. The best age for potty training is between 20-30 months. The idea of waiting until everyone is ready is crap because by then, it’ll be too late. Don’t delay.

Well, crap. I don’t know if she’s right, but what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll try between 20 and 30 months. If not, we’ll do it at three years old like I prefer.

Jamie makes her money through selling her e-books and access to her forums, so I will try not to ‘give anything away’ here. But, the very gist of her message is that there’s nothing to give away. There’s no method. There’s no gimmick. Just common sense. (Reminds me of the No Cry Sleep Solution, which is just a collection of common sense, no matter how helpful it is.)

I finally bit the bullet and bought the e-book when L turned 23 months old. She hits all the criteria for readiness in Jamie’s book. She can sing her ABCs. She can communicate her needs. She can throw a tantrum over a piece of candy. It’s go time.

The first ‘block’ is all about letting your child run around naked and watch for pee cues. No begging every 15 minutes to go potty, no forced potty-sitting routines. Just catch them when they’re about to pee and stick them on the pot.

The first half day was an utter failure. I outsourced all home routines (and baby J care) to my husband. Yet, the two times I looked away for half a second, seriously, we had accidents. Jamie mentions – this is not the time to make the phone call you need to make. Your entire focus is on the kid.


L is my entire focus. But she runs away to the living room to get away from baby J, who is grabbing at her toy. I run after her. In that interim time, she pees. She is distraught, I calm her down, we clean up the mess together (she does this automatically, being trained from infancy to clean up spills).  This is all after, of course, I stick her first immediately on to the potty to catch any last drips.

This is the story for the entire rest of the day. Missed opportunities, a child that holds it like a camel. She knows what she’s supposed to do – she just doesn’t know how to do it.

At the end of Day 1, I have her sit for a while. I walk away to the kitchen (according to the book, a ‘stealth pee-er’ (my nickname) is a good sign. It means the child can hold it, and wants privacy).

Success, and a very proud child. I put a cloth diaper on her for bedtime and the day is done.

Day 2 – utter failure again. Utter, utter failure. With the success of the end of day 1, I decide to prompt her to potty. Over and over again. I stick her on there at intervals. She can sit there for an hour. Nothing. She stands up, runs away, and sometime later, another accident. Gah.

Day 3 continues the string of accidents and hour long potty sessions with no production. I start despairing. I alternate throughout the day in letting her run around completely naked and putting some clothes on her (it’s cold here!).

Let’s go on a tangent here. If you read the book, you HAVE to absorb one of Jamie’s first lessons. This is NOT a method. You know your child the best. This is collected wisdom from an experienced potty trainer. There is no timetable. And, do not prompt your kid to potty over and over again. Stop bugging them.

Like many parents, I forgot that lesson. I thought Block One should equal Day One. It was Day Three. Shouldn’t we be on Block Three by now? I asked. Shouldn’t she be trained?

So, off that tangent. I realize I was bugging her and watching her because I really didn’t want her to have an accident. So, at the end of Day Three, I decided to give up. Into a diaper she’d go,and we’d commence ‘casual’ potty training (the kind Jamie despises). I’d let her use the potty once in a while – heck, I’d let her run around naked if she wanted – but I was sick of being tied to the house. We had already missed my church Bible study on Monday because she was potty training. I had a baby sitter coming the next day (today). We had a children’s music program on Wednesday. We couldn’t keep doing this.  My mom, a pediatrician, tells me she’s too young. Wait until at least 2.5 years old, she says. I agree. The experiment was done.

Oh, fate. Oh, relaxation. Well, my daughter is stubborn. She HATES diapers, she wants to be a big girl, and she knows what she’s supposed to do. I tried to put a cloth diaper on her. She resisted. She said she had to potty. Okay, I let her. She sat on there for 15-20 minutes. Nothing. I finally wrestled the diaper on her. About a minute later she’s screeching again that she needs to potty. I sit her on there again and walk away.

Success! She did need to – she just needed some time. Throughout the rest of the evening, she told me every time she needed to potty. Four successes, no prompting from me. The only accident we had was when I tried to put her on the big toilet (she hates it), and she immediately wanted to get down. (Note to self: buy potty chair for upstairs).

So we’re in Day 4. She’s with a babysitter. I told the sitter that she was welcome to force a cloth diaper on her so she wouldn’t be too much of a pain, but that at the moment she was commando. Our babysitter is an experienced mom of two (and if not a grandmother, is at least grandmotherly). She nodded sagely and confidently – she knows what to do.

L is definitely not trained. I don’t know what I’ll find when I get home. But I have a.) a smart girl who knows what I expect of her b.) a child that hates diapers c.) a child who wants to be a big girl d.) a child who is now in cloth diapers, which is a new experience for her (she’s used to disposables; I used to cloth diaper her when she was a baby but she doesn’t remember).

We have all the elements of success. It may take another year, or it may just take two more days – either way, I credit Jamie Glowacki’s book for setting the stage.

Buy “Oh Crap. Potty Training!” here. Buying the book also gives you access to the forums (fair warning – the forums were the place that gave me the ideas of bugging her to sit on the chair, etc – things that Jamie probably wouldn’t approve of). Jamie also has a call-in online radio show, private consultations, and group events.

Controversies: Does Head Start Work?

This is part two of my early education series.

For additional information on the general impact of preschools, see part one: Is Preschool Necessary?


A lot has been written recently on universal prekindergarten in Oklahoma since President Obama’s State of the Union speech.  Oklahoma’s program has been seen as a national model, due to its broad reach (over 74% children in pre-kindergarten) and its adherence to National Institute of Early Education Research quality benchmarks

There are, of course, detractors. Small government idealists, for example, are against any expansion in the system, especially what can amount to glorified childcare in many cases – and center-based childcare, some research suggests, can do more harm than good for children’s emotional development. Other detractors point out that four-year-olds need to play, not sit at a desk and learn.

Those assertions are valid.  Any literature study on childcare and preschools will indicate that quality play-based education is the way to go for young children – and that this education does not need to be provided by the state, or by private educators. Parents, indeed, can provide all that a four year old needs.

Regardless of these facts, the discussion on prekindergarten is jumbled between mixing childcare, preschool, rote education, and programs for low-income students such as Head Start all into one jumble.

I address much of this in my first article, with numerous citations.  However, it all comes down to this: quality matters. When we’re talking about childcare vs. nanny care or familial care, it matters if the childcare is quality and if the home environment is toxic to the child. When we’re talking about the benefits of preschool, it matters if the preschool has teachers with degrees, high pay, low class ratios, and a belief in play-based education. And, when we’re talking about measurable results, it matters what we’re measuring. A child may not be reading at five years old – but may be showing other measures of early literacy that indeed might be more important at that age. So, the quality of the testing, indeed, matters.

In the end, I concluded what many have concluded before me. Is preschool necessary? Does it work? In the end,  no. It is not necessary. Your child may gain some short term benefit toward being exposed to a classroom environment and being with his or her peers, but keeping your child home from preschool will likely not hamper him or her in the long run. That is, if you are an involved enough parent to be researching this in the first place. But, by all means, for a short-term enrichment, and for your own sanity – do it.  And, if you are choosing between center-based care or a preschool with actual teachers – sure. Go for the preschool – there are fewer negatives.

I addressed all that to some extent in my article. However, I did not address Head Start or universal pre-kindergarten. Suddenly, we’re dealing with massive taxpayer-funded programs that have yet to show measurable results.  On the other hand, we are faced with disadvantaged children, those who may not be hearing enough words in their daily lives to assist in literacy, those who may be facing substandard childcare.

Does, the question goes, Head Start work?

By many indicators, no. Not on the national scale.

According to the Head Start impact study, a randomized experiment funded by the federal government, there was indeed some short-term impacts for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, specifically pre-reading, pre-writing, and vocabulary. However, there were no benefits on oral comprehension, pre-math skills, or phonological awareness.

When the study moved into the first-grade realm, the study showed diminished impacts, apart from vocabulary and oral comprehension. In fact, math skills were higher in the control group than in those in the Head Start group.

Finally, the most damning – the third grade followup.  Although there were significant improvements in indicators during the actual duration of the Head Start program, by third grade, most of the those improvements had dissipated.  Other than a few indicators, there were no differences between the Head Start group and the control group by third grade. The only real positive impact was for the three-year-old cohort in the third grade, with average reading/language arts proficiency scores favoring the Head Start group.

What about Head Start’s other missions?

Most people, including myself, focus on the cognitive development portion of Head Start’s mission. However, Head Start was founded on a ‘whole child’ model, including but not limited to medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; helping emotional and social child development;  and parental training.

The Head Start impact study did in fact measures some of those indicators in addition to cognitive development. Alas, the same patterns applied: some modest gains early on, mostly erased by third grade.

So, Head Start is useless?

Probably a harsh judgment.   It may be true overall, but there are a few confounding factors.

For example, some of the children in the Head Start impact study did not actually enroll in Head Start, and some in the control group did enroll  (although usually in a Head Start center not involved in the study).  A 2008 reanalysis of the preschool outcomes obtained stronger positive effects for the Head Start group when accounting for this change.

In addition, not all Head Start centers are created equal. Some of the Head Start group attended centers with lower emphasis on language and literacy or math.  Forty percent of the students had teachers without a postsecondary degree. The majority had teachers with less than 25 hours of training the year before.

Third, the study did not measure the impact of Early Head Start.  One year of Head Start education likely will not provide lasting changes and/or undo the disadvantages children already acquire by age four. Even though there may be short term gains, in the long term, the home environment and a bad schooling environment for early elementary are going to take over. Some then focus on fixing the schools. Yes, but there are other lessons there, including earlier intervention and a focus on parenting education.

Early Head Start does appear to have some advantages, albeit modest. At the age of three, the program benefited families across child, parent, and family self-sufficiency outcomes. However, ,programs that fully implemented the Head Start performance standards and mixed-appprach programs (home- and center-based services) had broader and stronger impacts. Impacts also varied by sub-groups (race, length of time in program, and risk factors). In the prekindergarten years, students who continued with formal early childhood education exhibited an impact. A grade 5 followup (with a smaller sample size), however, experienced the same ‘fade out’ effect on the full group, but gains persisted in some subgroups. Thus, although short-term gains are stronger with earlier intervention, long-term gains remain problematic.

As a corollary to the failing schools argument: fourth, although the study showed lowered indications of math ability for the Head Start children in kindergarten, that indicator was based only on teacher reports of children’s performance and not supported by scores on three direct math assessments.  And, this is where the actual school attended for early elementary may matter – the control group children attended school reporting a higher percentage of students at or above a proficient level of math than the Head Start children’s schools.

However, the argument that it is the schools that are failing do not hold as much water in most cases. Perhaps the schools are erasing any and all cognitive gains, thereby re-leveling the playing field, but with small exceptions such as the math one above, one cannot argue that the control group children attended better schools and the Head Start children did not – these children were pulled in general from the same sociodemographic group.

It is important to understand that although failing schools is a policy concern, most gains in preschool and kindergarten education are erased by third grade. This is true with any type of preschooling – regardless of socioeconomic status – and it is true in the case of redshirting kindergartners.  I address this in my articles on whether preschool matters and on redshirting, and the Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research Stephen Barnett addresses this in his apologetic paper on Head Start where he claims right off the bat: “Head Start is Effective“. Although I do not make such a bold statement, we are in agreement over some of the problems: measures of improvement are flawed, and Head Start implementation is spotty.

In addition, as Barnett argues,  we have to look at fifth: Benefits of preschool are not necessarily measurable by test scores. Research has shown an increase in high school graduation rates, future economic earnings, and lower crime rates in participants who attended preschool.  Some of those studies are based on Head Start participants, but many are from small sample sizes with intensive programs such as the Perry Preschool Project and the Abcedarian experiment. As Megan McArdle points out, if you look at it from a market standpoint, yes, the return on investment for those programs is huge. However, also from a market standpoint, scaling up such programs leads to spending exorbitant amounts of money. Quality will get sacrificed for quantity. (See: Head Start) And, the small sample sizes of those two preschool darlings mean the results are more likely to be happenstance than statistically significant.

Sixth:  Another nod to Barnett’s article.  The research may be flawed here. In discussions with local educators and literacy professors, I’ve learned that most pre-reading tests do not fully embrace the five pillars of literacy, most importantly, comprehension.  Comprehension also gets shortchanged in most ‘teach-to-the-test’ instruction in the early grades. Hence, the third and fourth grade drop off in literacy – when, suddenly, reading is more than just stringing words together.

Seventh The study could not accurately separate the effects of Head Start versus familial care versus other other early education programs versus substandard childcare. We know that substandard care has a negative effect on children, while quality care has a positive effect on children when coming from bad home environments. The control group children did not stay exclusively in parental or familial care.  In fact, the control group were in non-parental care for more hours per week, on average.  The results of the impact study do not augur well for Head Start writ large as a program, but it would be incorrect to conclude that early childhood programs have no impact for disadvantaged children, as many in the control group also attended early childhood programs. Instead, the results indicate Head Start does not have a comparative advantage in early childhood education. That makes sense, given the haphazard way in which it is implemented (and, as small government advocates would likely point out, given that federal government does not by any means have an advantage in effective programs).

Therefore, what if Head Start and universal prekindergarten programs were implemented via best practices models?

We will explore that next, in looking at models from Oklahoma, Georgia, and Florida.

After that, policy proscriptions that come out of all this research, based on small government and market-driven principles.