Are You Encountering Toddler Sleep Struggles?
If your Toddler finds his way to your bed in the middle of the night, or is ready to start the day at ungodly early hours, you are surely dealing with toddler sleep issues and likely wicked sleep deprivation. We know, we've been there.
For many, relief comes in the form of a good Toddler Clock.
What are Toddler Clocks?
After testing four of the most popular sleep clocks for children side-by-side over several months, we found the My Tot Clock to be the best in functionality, quality, and versatility. This $60 clock outperformed the competition offering more features for parents and children than any other clock in our review. So despite it having a price tag that is about $20 more than other clocks we looked at, it still won our Editors' Choice award by providing a well-functioning product that is easy to use and engaging for children.
Our Selection Process
Deciding which clocks to include in our review, we drew from our own experience using My Tot Clock and hit the bricks with some online research to find out which other clocks were the most popular. The market in this category is still relatively new, so there were only a handful of possibilities for clocks that offered a color change that indicates to little ones when it is time to stay sleeping and when it is okay to get up and wake their parents. We also focused on clocks with aesthetics that children will likely be excited about and want to use.
We set out to find the very best toddler clock that can keep little ones in bed until the signal that means it is okay to venture forth and boldly face groggy parents. We tested our four selections side-by-side comparing their features, functions, useabilty for both parents and children, and likeability. We put these clocks through the ringer with kiddos from 2 to 6 years and discovered that in the world of Tot Clocks, there really is a big difference in their quality and functions.
How We Test
We tested these clocks hands-on side-by-side over several months with testers from 2 to 6 years of age. Our goals were to determine how well each one works, which functions were really used over time, and whether or not they withstood ordinary day-to-day use. They were each used for several weeks (in the case of My Tot Clock, for four years) to see how well they functioned over time, needed to be reset or adjusted, and how often batteries needed to be replaced. In addition, we paid attention to children's engagement in the clock over time and if they adapted to the color change concept easily.
These four clocks were also compared to each other in terms of the following objective metrics: features, set up (including instruction quality), design, performance, material quality, and kid-proofing details.
Features and Set Up
At their most basic level, all clocks we tested have a time setting feature and at least one color change alarm to indicate that it is time to rise and shine. We set up and used the clocks as outlined in their manuals, or online information, scrutinizing each one on how easy it was to set and whether or not the user interface is intuitive. Some of the clocks came with instructions on the clock itself and others offered manuals with more detail on how to toggle through the buttons. The Original My Tot Clock is the easiest to set by far with buttons that are clearly labeled and quick to set. The Onoroo Teach Me Time is the hardest with so few buttons that do various things depending on how many times you press them or how long you hold them down. The instructions for this clock (online only) weren't much help, and we never did figure out how to set its audible alarm. The Mirari Ok to Wake and Stoplight Alarm Clock were in between the Tot Clock and the Mirari Teach me Time in terms of level of set up difficulty.
Design and Performance
With the exception of the My Tot Clock, the other clocks we tested are not of the best quality. In our experience, and those of other user reviews, these clocks are made with materials that don't inspire confidence in longevity, and are more likely to succumb to toddler wear and tear. By comparison, the Stoplight Alarm Clock appears haphazardly put together. The two Mirari clocks are fabricated better than the Stoplight with no obvious structural problems, but they both harken thoughts of cheap plastic. In fact, user reviews cite significant trouble over time, with the Mirari clocks we reviewed either ceasing to function or falling apart.
Most of the clocks made attempts at kid proofing their buttons or features, but not all of them did it well. The Stoplight Clock probably offered the least amount of kid proofing with front facing buttons that are easy to press and change the settings without really trying. while it is nice that little ones can turn the night light feature on and off by the themselves, it is not nice that they can set the alarm or time for something completely different than the actual time or alarm parents want. The Onarro clocks claim they have a "child proof" "concealed" compartment where their buttons are located, but the tot testers in our review were able to pop the panel open in under 20 seconds without prompting or prior knowledge of the button location or flip open top. Only the New version of My Tot Clock really has quality kid proofing with buttons that are completely concealed by the front face plate. We suspect if parents only open the plate in private to adjust the settings and stories, that children could potentially never learn where the magic happens on this clock. The face plate isn't easy to remove, and it isn't obvious that it can be removed.
- My Tot Clock: $60. Editors' Choice. With bells and whistles that are intuitive and function well, My Tot Clock is very well-made and versatile clock that is fun for children. The components withstand tiny tot play and offer fun features like stories and music, as well as useful ones like color change indicators for sleep, wake, nap, time out, and one other activity. Dr. Spurrier's children have used the My Tot Clock Original, and it is still going strong after 4 years of use. In this review, we tested both the Original and the New and Improved Version, but only the New Version is readily available while the Original tends to be more expensive and difficult to find. We discuss the differences between each in detail below.
- Mirari Ok to Wake: $36. Runner-Up. The two Mirari clocks we tested we felt were made of cheap plastic and fragile components. In fact, many Amazon user reviews cite that they are prone to breaking. While this clock is easier to set and use than its sibling, the Teach Me Time (below), It offers a nice nightlight feature and a fun moving face that children can see with the touch of a button, but that is the extent of it and it isn't very child proof to boot.
- Mirari Teach Me Time: $50. This second plastic Mirari is once again fabricated of components that make us worry about how long it can withstand normal everyday interaction with small children. The Teach Me Time's interface was more difficult that the OK to Wake (above), and we never did figure out how to set its audible alarm.
- Stoplight Alarm Clock: $40. The Stoplight Sleep Enhancing Alarm Clock is a cute idea, but unfortunately it is poorly executed with sloppy construction such as blobs of glue and paint outside the lines. With a $40 list price, we sure expected more from this product and feel it could potentially score better in tests if some minor changes were made in its design and overall quality.
For further in-depth detail on each Toddler Clock in our review, read on!
Editors' Choice: My Tot Clock
My Tot Clock is a quality modern device that incorporates old school ideas. Despite grubby little fingers, it is designed to last for years with a thoughtful design. The clocks features and functions are easy for parents to master, and with consistent repetition children are able to grasp the concept and learn what passes as a reasonable wake up time, all before they can truly tell time. The origins of My Tot Clock is a very cool story.
My Tot Clock has recently released a "New and Improved" version. The Original version is significantly larger than its newer counterpart, and has a larger and more traditional clock face with real hands. The New version is smaller and has an entirely digital clock face illuminated from behind. The Original looks like it is being phased out. We tested both versions and will comment on the differences. The photos below show the two clocks side-by-side for comparison.
This clock does it all and then some. Regardless of the New or Original design, if you want a clock to help children learn to stay in bed until a particular time, this clock does it (with music and lights if you'd like). If you want a nightlight that also offers lullabies, this clock does it with a white noise option that can run all night long. If you want a timer for time outs that can help kids focus and calm down, it does this too! With interchangeable stories and songs, as well as nap time lights, there isn't much you can't do with this little beauty. Though in full disclosure: it will not cook meals or do the dishes, bummer!
My Tot Clock is one of the most complete and versatile sleep clocks on the market. It has large top-mounted activation buttons and the New model has a hidden parent interface for Feature Set Up. Below are 10 different clock features that can be customized by parents and easily used by children.
- Blue: Bedtime
- Yellow: Wake Time
- Light Blue: Nap Time
- Green: Encouragement for activities like Reading, Clean Up, or Potty Time
- Red: Timeout Timer
- Interchangeable Bedtime Stories (One included, others sold separately)
- Lullabies (Multiple songs built right in)
- Wake Up Music
- Ocean Sound White Noise
- 5-Level Illumination Nightlight
Both the Original and New versions of this clock sport a clock face with hands; the Original clock has actual physical hands and is much larger, the New version is a digital representation of a clock face. The clock hands can help children learn about the passage of time. So, while digital numbers are certainly easier for a child to read once they learn their numbers, a clock face is more concrete and is a necessity to truly learn "how to tell time". One of the changes in the New version is that it has the digital time in numbers positioned below its digital clock face; as a result, the clock face is now smaller. According to user reviews online, and in our experience, the new face is difficult to see at a distance, particularly when lying down, which makes it not the best improvement. Though the Original lacks the digital numbers on the front (they are on the back) that are easier for children to read, most users (including us) prefer the old face over the new.
Out of the box the Original is so simple to set that you don't even need instructions or a certification from a technical institute. The user interface is intuitive and the buttons are clearly marked (a rare occurrence). Hooray! It is a cinch to set the time, alarm, nap, and time out durations in under a minute. The clock has a compartment for 4 AA batteries and it plugs into the wall.
Unfortunately, the new version of this clock has fewer buttons than the original, and setting the various timers and durations requires a little more user finesse. Without clearly marked buttons, and by using the same buttons for different settings, the new interface is not as user-friendly or easy to setup as the Original. Parents must press each button multiple times to get tot he next variable to set which shows up on the digital screen to help guide you through the process. While not a deal breaker, it also isn't an improvement in our book and we sort of wish the change hadn't been made. In addition, the newer version also sports adjustable time settings for weekend versus weekday wake timers, which is a nice feature, but it makes the setup process even more convoluted and didn't feel like a feature we would use all that often.
For bedtime routines there are some really nice perks with My Tot Clock. Lullabies, stories, or white noise can be used for calming and soothing. At bedtime, the lullaby feature will play multiple songs in a row for 30 minutes and white noise can be set to follow. The New version allows white noise to be played independent of music, something the Original can not do. This is a nice improvement because when a lullaby isn't wanted or needed, white noise can immediately drown out other household noises. All of the night time feature can be set as a complete night time routine, or used on the fly when the mood strikes.
The volume for white noise, songs, and stories is adjustable, but unfortunately, we feel that even at its minimum setting, it is just too darn loud. For features designed primarily to help little ones fall asleep (or stay asleep), we think the design team needs to offer a greater volume range so little ones can be lulled to sleep not kept awake.
For waking up parents can set the time that the light changes from blue to yellow, signaling to the child that it is an appropriate time to get out of bed. The color change can be set to occur with or without a song (which takes the place of a traditional beeping). The song function, which we like better than the beeping or radio of a traditional alarm clock, lasts approximately 4 minutes and can be turned on and off with just the slide of a switch. At the right volume, it is loud enough to wake most children. The other duration timers for Nap, Encouragement of a Positive Activity, or Timeout do not include the song alarm option. However, as with bedtime, a song can be selected to play during nap time.
For a product with a handle that makes it easy for little ones to hold and carry, it makes sense to cover the buttons so they can't accidentally or intentionally change settings. The top activation buttons require a secret key code to operate (holding for 5 seconds), so it is relatively kid-proof (certainly more so than the competition), but one 3 year old tester had the color changes buttons down in under 3 minutes and was able to use the top buttons without assistance. So waiting 2 minutes for a time out to be over turned into waiting for him to change the color to anything but red. As you can probably image he got pretty good at it. Preventing little ones from making adjustments to the other setting and sound buttons however, is a major improvement as we were often woken by the Original in the middle of the night because our children and their friends were having a heyday without us knowing. Why? The Original has all of its buttons exposed on the top and back of the clock, which means to circumvent foul play, it will need to be placed out of the reach of children. And trust us, they won't be too happy about that.
Though there are qualities we like better with the Original Tot Clock, the New version did make some nice improvements to kid-proofing and it is our opinion that My Tot Clock is still the best thing going in this category. We highly recommend this cool little clock.
Runner Up: Mirari Ok to Wake
The next best thing to My Tot Clock is the Mirari Ok to Wake. Even though we didn't love it as much, it is straight-forward and works as advertised costing about half the price of our Editors' Choice pick. This simple clock has very few features, but it does them well and as expected. It functions on 4 AA batteries only (no power adapter) and does not have an audible alarm function.
This dome shaped clock reminded our 4-year old tester of a cool alien. And, though we feel the quality could be better, it did come in one piece and worked right out of the box without hiccups or obvious mistakes in manufacturing. Its simplicity appealed to our tot testers who were attracted by both the blob design and the little face that appears at the touch of a button (which they touched repeatedly).
The clock face glows with two features:
- Visual Alarm Clock: Color change (from yellow to green) signifies it is time to wake. Our little testers seemed to grasp the color change without a problem, and the light is bright enough to see even in a daytime nap situation. The color change only stays green for 1 hour after the set time to change. While we didn't have any problem with this, and often little users slept through the change, some online users reported their children growing upset if they missed the color change. In fairness, none of the clocks we reviewed keep the color change indefinitely and an hour was the longest time for a light to stay on as an indicator.
- Nightlight: The nightlight on this model is a yellow glow that can be activated by pressing the left "foot" of the clock. Alternatively, if using the light change to wake feature, it must be set by parents to remain on for 24 hours only changing with the wake setting or it won't stay on during night.
- Glow Light: The left foot will turn on the nightlight feature, but not if the wake timer has been set.
- Silly Face: The right foot causes the "face" of the clock to change from displaying the time to an animated face that blinks and smiles. This really appealed to our testers.
This clock does not have an actual clock face and relies solely on digital numbers for time indication. While most little children will not be able to tell time anyway this doesn't feel like a deal breaker, but it does seem like a missed opportunity to start introducing children to what real clocks look like and how they function. Given that its similarly designed brother the Tech Me Time does have a clock face, we think it would relatively simple and easy for the manufacturers to change the Ok to Wake to include a face with hands.
While not offering the best user interface, it is still more manageable than its sibling, the Teach Me Time. We were able to set the time and the wake time without assistance from the manual, but we did struggle with keeping the nightlight on with the wake timer set. This setup feature required help from the manual included in our box and online resources to troubleshoot how to keep the nightlight glowing with the timer set. Once we figured it out it isn't a difficult feature to use, but it certainly could have been described in better detail in the manual so we didn't have to search for more help.
It would be really nice if the parent user panel was harder to open. With a foot button designed for kids to manipulate and engage with, it feels like a shame to put this clock up and out of reach. It seems like it would be a simple change in the design to prevent children from opening the panel door. we suppose parents could put some tape on the door to prevent idle hands from messing about, but with a $40 clock parents might be reluctant to make their own modifications, and the tape could turn into something children want to play with instead of prohibiting play.
Depending on your needs, the OK to Wake might just be the solution. However, we caution potential buyers that many online reviews complain of broken components, bad battery connections, and clocks that lose time. Nonetheless, if you want a solution that changes color at a predetermined time, without the added cost of extra bells and whistles, we must admit that the one we tested did this without any problems.
Mirari Teach Me Time
This plastic clock has a rounded shape that makes it look like a little bug, alien, or maybe just a blob with feet and comes with 3 interchangeable color face plates in yellow, blue, and pink to complement room décor or personal choice. Though it has many features, it primary function is to help kids learn when it is okay to wake up, which it does via color changes. It functions via an outlet plug-in, but can maintain time and alarm setting with 2AA batteries, which is nice in the event that the electricity goes out or you are traveling. However, the features do not work when using batteries alone. The Tech Time function and color changes will not work if the clock is not plugged in. The face of this clock is entirely digital with a traditional clock face that has numbers and hands, as well as simple digital numbers to show the time. The numbers are relatively small and the hands even smaller, which makes them hard to see from a distance or at certain angles.
The Teach Me Time has the following 6 Button Features:
- Display: This button on the back panel alternates between 3 display options: digital and clock face, clock face alone, or digital numbers alone.
- Wake: This On/Off button turns the alarm on or off, and audibly tells you what time it is set to wake.
- Audible Alarm: This clock is designed to have an Audible Alarm "just like mom and dad's". We aren't sold on the idea of waking small children with a loud beeping noise; the whole idea surrounding this product, at least in our opinion, is to increase a child's sleep time not to disrupt it unnaturally with a loud beeping sound. Nonetheless, even after locating the online manual, we were never able to get it set (a problem shared by many online Amazon reviewers). So while we aren't convinced we would ever need or want this feature, we strongly believe that if the clock has this feature, we should have been able to get it working for testing.
- Review: The Review button will tell you if the alarm is set or not. A picture on the clock's face serves the same purpose.
- Time Teach: The Time Teach function is a time game you can change based on your child's age or skill level. It consists primarily of pressing one foot for a random time display that children are supposed to guess and pressing the other for an audible time announcement. In between foot pressing, parents can "coax" their children to say the time out loud. Level 1 is hour only, Level 2 is hours and half-hours and it advances from there in difficulty. Mirari offers printable pdf worksheets online. In all honesty, our opinion is that the teach me time feature is more of a gimmick and not that useful. Our testers never did try to figure out the time themselves and instead just quickly hit the answer button to hear the correct time. Even with assistance and coaxing from parents testers were reluctant to figure out the answer themselves and grew frustrated and bored when they were prevented from hitting the answer button immediately.
The face of the clock is always glowing with adjustable brightness which can act as a dim nightlight. Its feet are buttons with the following different functions.
- Time Announcement: When the other foot is pressed, the clock will say the time out loud. The voice is a very unnatural electronic sound, but it is understandable. Parents can turn off the voice if they want to, which might be necessary for little ones who won't go to sleep because they keep hitting the foot for its entertainment value.
- Time Teach: Discussed below in Features
Brand new and out of the box, our Teach Me Time did not come with any written manual. As a result we had to resort to hunting down the manual online in order to set the timers and work the other features on this clock. While the time setup can be done by using the key on the back of the clock, the rest of the settings are not as intuitive. In addition, the controls are on the back of the clock and the visual cues are on the front, so it is almost impossible to see what is happening on the front at the same time you are looking at the buttons. We feel a product like this really should be easier to use or at least come with a quick start guide to get parents going.
As already discussed above, the audible alarm that is touted to be "just like mom and dad's", is very difficult to set. Even after locating the online manual, we were never able to get it set (a problem shared by many online Amazon reviewers).
Overall, we found this clock to be a bundle of confusing buttons and frustrating to use. We had difficulty getting half of the features to work and those that did weren't that impressive. In addition, is composition of cheap plastic renders it feeling pretty fragile. We feel that its overall durability with kid play is highly questionable, and given that kid play is encouraged with the foot buttons and time teaching modules, this feels a little short sighted on the part of the manufacturer.
Stoplight Alarm Clock
- Boy Car
- Girl Car
This clock is a simple, straight forward product that is easy to use and easy for children to understand. Though our little testers were drawn to the aesthetics of this Toddler Clock, the materials and overall construction render it fragile and not durable for kid play.
There are 3 main features to the Stoplight Alarm: the Visual Alarm Lights (3-in-1), Digital Clock, and Audible Alarm.
- Red: Bedtime
- Green: Wake Time. The green light to wake only stays on for an hour, which might be a problem if little ones sleep through the green and miss the wake up signal. However, we think that if little ones sleep in, that is great news and you can just get them up when they do rise and shine with no light indicator needed.
- Yellow: Optional Nightlight
- Digital Clock: At the base, the clock has the digital time in red numbers. Its position seems over-shadowed by the stoplight, looking almost like an afterthought. Without a clock face and hands, it fails to deliver even a chance for children to become familiar with traditional clocks or what they look like. As such, the clock portion certainly is not likely to engage children or offer much in the way of teaching children how to tell time. In fairness, however, it is not what this particular clock is designed to do. Nonetheless, it seems to be a missed opportunity and something that could have been incorporated into the design without much sacrifice.
- Audible Alarm: An adjustable audible alarm option is available and easy to set via a sliding button on the back in the event that you are lucky enough to have a preschooler who is a sound sleeper and sleeps late. The disturbing wake up beep that adults have grown to loath will likely awaken a hibernating bear.
The digital clock and timer are easy to set using the large buttons on the front of the clock. These buttons are intuitive and mimic old school alarm clocks some parents will be familiar with. We had no trouble setting ours and feel that most parents will be able to set the time and alarm without the assistance of the manual. While we liked how easy this clock is to use, it would be nice if the buttons were concealed or hidden.
When it comes to getting more sleep most parents will do just about anything. The simple idea of a clock that tells children when it is okay to wake up and get out of bed in an objective concrete manner, rather than their parent's pleas that it isn't morning yet, is brilliant. We also like the idea of setting boundaries and giving children responsibility for their own actions. These little clocks can aid little ones in exercising patience and following the rules. My Tot Clock does this better than any other product in our review in a way that appeals to children. With an easy to use parent interface and a fun child-friendly design, this clock has all of the bells and whistles to help the entire family get better sleep. We think it is a great buy.