Free Baby Product Ideas
(the clear bib - but this is not Nico)
Having my son Nico roaming around our house for the past ten months has given me idea fodder for many child-oriented products. I don't plan to pursue any of these, so if you're an inventor, manufacturer, craftsperson or hobbyist, feel free to take up the gauntlet and develop anything here - it's yours for the taking.
The Clear Bib
Bibs suck. Okay, not really - there are more cool, clever bibs available now than there ever were before - but what sucks is the way they cover up most of the baby's shirt or onesie beneath. Nico has some awesome t-shirts, but most of the time they're completely obscured by his bib. So I propose a clear bib, to allow the clothing below to show through. Clearly (ha ha, I didn't even plan that), it couldn't be solid plastic because of the potential hazards - but maybe a clear plastic mesh, or some other type of gossamer material would work. This should exist! What's the point of making your baby wear shirts that amuse you if people can't see them 90% of the time?! They may as well go topless.
The Interchangeable Bib/Shirt Combo Collection
Similar to the above - a collection of bibs with the top portion of an image printed on them, and the bottom portion would be printed on the baby's shirt or onesie. Imagine a collection of robot heads, animal heads, superhero heads, monster heads (or maybe even something besides heads) with the bodies printed on the shirt or onesie. Everything would be interchangeable - stick a dragon head on a tiger's body. A superhero head on a robot body. Anything is possible, and because they'd all be well designed and harmonious in color scheme, a quick bib change would never cause a clash.
Toys with Wifi Music/Sound Effect Updates
The same few manufacturers (Fisher Price, Little Tykes, Graco, Vtech) produce the majority of baby toys. And most of these things have little sound components built into them these days. And not just in the toys, either - our pack and play, bouncy seat, and swing (all made by the same company) have battery-powered elements that not only gave you a choice between music loops or nature sound effects (seems to be a standard combination) - they also typically include a volume control, timer, and light. Very modern! But guess what? Even with longer loops, the sounds and music get burned into one's brain after a few dozens listens, and yet we'll listen to them thousands of times over the life of the product. I say let's add a Wifi connection that goes online once weekly or monthly and automatically pulls down new music and sound effects, replacing the current ones. The original audio could be stored in older sets, so the parent could revert if they chose to do so - but if not, they'd be surprised, even delighted, to discover new sounds awaiting them on a regular basis, with no action required on their parts. It would be a welcome mental relief for many, including me if it ever came into existence.
The real Nico, ensconced in his toys.
Baby Walking Training Environment
This one I literally dreamed up - and it's the wackiest one up here. Imagine if you will a collection of toddlers just on the verge of walking. They might be able to learn to walk on their own, sure - but (my sleeping mind wondered) how will they deal with differing terrains such as rocks, gravel, and mulch? Not to mention going around curves, up and downhill, maybe even through shallow puddles. In my dream, parents would take their children to play areas designed to train these kids by strapping them into harnesses (much like marionettes), supporting them at the shoulders. The children would be guided in a slow rotation around the track, cables (connected to a guide track above) slowly pulling them forward through the various environmental hazards. Meanwhile, parents would be on the sidelines, assisting them with a joystick control, lifting the kids and reorienting them when they got into rough patches. Perhaps there would even be mic/headset communication system, so the parents could give their kids encouraging feedback - like "Don't fall so much, Beth!" or "Way to navigate that cliff, Jeremy!" Everyone wins!
Nico loves to play with my collar. He loves to play with the buttons on my shirt, the laces on my shoes, and I could never deny the deep love he holds for my belt buckle. So why not create an Activity Shirt for adults to wear, so babies can be entertained by their parents' (or legal guardians') clothing? It could be an amalgam of the above-mentioned clothing items (buttons, buckles, zippers, laces), or it could be more electronic or mechanical (LED display screen, switches, knobs) or musical (jingles, bells, maybe even a little keyboard or drum machine) - anything to keep the kids busy and happy while they're interacting with our garments.
Storybooks Printed on Bedsheets
This one may already exist in some form - it's certainly the easiest to produce. When Nico came into our bed during the winter months (it happens) he was captivated by a set of flannel sheets we had, showing a pattern of snowmen and snow-covered houses. If instead of a pattern, the sheets told a full story - in images alone or words and images - children could enjoy reading the bed. Alternately, a "Where's Waldo?" kind of enormous puzzle-picture could work well, too. Printed on a child's bed linens, they'd have more reason than ever to want to get to sleep at night. Bedtime would no longer be a chore for children and their parents. Neat, eh?
Online Collaborative Children's Books
I've seen teachers do collaborative books - maybe a whole class creates the rough idea for a story, and each child write, and maybe illustrates, a single page. Put it all together, and you've got a class-created book. Very nice. And there is also the idea of the Exquisite Corpse - a pretty dark term for an innocent concept - similar to the above, each author/illustrator creates a page or section of a book, but it's done in sequence, so one person begins the story, and the next person continues it, going on until the end. I'm imagining an online community helping kids do the same thing electronically - they only see the page, or a summary of the page, that comes before their assignment. When the project is complete, the kids are all notified, and can read the book online (maybe add some web conferencing in there). And they can order hardcopies. And they can be a little famous. Kids like fame.
When Nico was really little, I'd set up my little M-Audio Keyrig 25 MIDI keyboard, hook it up to my laptop and sit it under his feet. He'd be laying on his back, kicking his feet and not even seeing the keyboard, but enjoying the various instrumentation that was emerging from it. I think a more purposeful foot-oriented musical device, with big pads instead of little finger-sized keys, would help young babies develop their motor skills, and their appreciation for making music. Why don't I do this with Nico anymore? Simple: his legs are too strong now, and his kicks would crush the darn thing.
Mix-and-Match Beverage Maker
This one's for the older kids. Have you ever seen a bunch of kids gathered around a beverage dispenser in a restaurant? What do they love to do more than anything? The answer: they love to mix multiple kinds of drinks, because it makes them feel that they're breaking the rules, maybe even doing something that hasn't done before. Kids get a huge kick out of this, even if the resultant beverage tastes nasty, because they created it themselves. I envision a product with a small collection of flavors that would all mix well, that kids could combine in their own preferred combinations. They'll become little bartenders for each other, but it'll be cute because they won't be drinking alcohol (children aren't supposed to do that). Depending on the complexity of the device, the dispenser could even save favorite mixes for future use, automatically creating them for kids with the push of a button.
So there you go. I say go for it. You, not me. I've got other projects going on.