Are you being woken up by enthusiastic little ones who don't understand sleeping in on Saturdays? Want to help your toddler determine the difference between the sun being up and it being time to rise and shine? A toddler clock could be just the piece of gear you are looking for. We considered multiple top contenders for inclusion in our hands-on clock testing before zeroing in on 5 popular options to use with real toddlers. After much use and research, we've narrowed the field down to the best choices and included a few words concerning the not so great competition. So whether you want a simple light changing game changer or a mini entertainment system with storytelling capabilities, we've got you covered.
The Best Toddler Clocks
The My Tot Clock is the ultimate in toddler clock wizardry. With bells and whistles that are intuitive and function well, this clock is very well-made, a 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 a nightlight and white noise. Our little testers love this clock and repeatedly chose it over the other options in our review. Even before they knew it could sing songs and tell stories, they were drawn to its big friendly face with fun peripheral designs and easy to carry chunky handle. The Tot Clock is relatively kid proof with hidden buttons and a 5-second hold for activating exposed buttons. Older children will be able to remove the faceplate, and our 3-year-old tester had the color change buttons down in under 3 minutes and was able to use the top buttons without help, but it is more kid-proof than the competition. You can even purchase different faceplates or additional story cartridges to personalize your clock.
While we aren't huge fans of the digital clock face (it is harder to see), or the limited volume range and the setup process is harder to use, we still choose this clock over the competition and believe the My Tot Clock is a quality product that is kid-centric with thoughtful features.
The My Sleep Clock is similar to the My Tot Clock but it runs on batteries only and has fewer features like story cartridges and additional songs. This makes it an attractive option for families who are looking for a budget-friendly clock that little ones will be drawn to that is both kid-proof and higher quality. This clock has all of the must-have features of the My Tot Clock without the additional bells and whistles many kids will grow tired of anyway. You still get the color changes for bedtime, naptime, and waketime, plus it plays the lullabies, white noise, and wake music stored on the clock. With fewer features which means My Sleep Clock is also a little easier to use.
While some parents complain that this clock is a battery only option, we feel it is still a great buy and adding the additional adapter still keeps the budget lower than much of the competition. Together with the available power adapter (sold separately) the total price of this clock is still $20 less than the Tot Clock. This Makes the My Sleep Clock a toddler clock we think can get the job done and keep the wallet happy.
The Mirari Ok to Wake is straight-forward and works as advertised with a price of almost half of the My Tot Clock. This simple clock has very few features, but it does them well and as expected including a nightlight and color change alarm (from yellow to green) to indicate it's time to wake up (not audible alarm is included). It functions on 4 AA batteries only (no power adapter). Its simplicity appealed to our tot testers who were attracted to the blob design and the animated face that appears when you touch the right foot. Our testers grasped the color change without a problem, and the light is bright enough to see even during a daytime nap. This clock has no traditional clock face with only digital numbers to tell the time. This isn't a deal breaker but it seems like a misplaced opportunity to familiarize kids with clocks and telling time. The setup for the Ok to Wake is fairly easy but we needed extra help to get the nightlight to stay on while using the timer feature. This clock's buttons are concealed behind a faceplate that is very easy to remove (under 20 seconds for our 2-year-old tester), so we wouldn't call it kid proof and it could lead to a regular need to reset it.
Online reviewers indicate a regular occurrence of broken clocks, bad battery connections, and clocks that lose time. We didn't have these problems during testing, but we can see that the quality of the clock may be lacking in general. However, if you want a clock that changes color at a predetermined time, without the added cost of extra bells and whistles, then the OK to Wake might just be the solution you are looking for.
Notable, But Not the Best…
Not all toddler clocks are created equal and the following are two we tested that just didn't pass muster. Read on to see why we think these options may not meet your needs.
Time Teaching Potential?
Mirari Teach Me Time
The Teach Me Time clock can be set to change colors at a certain time and even has an audible alarm just like mom and dads. This higher priced option includes a clock face to familiarize children with real clocks and interactive activities designed to help them learn how to tell time. It has a "hidden" setup panel, child-centric design, and plugs in (something the Ok to Wake doesn't do). Our little testers were intrigued by the blob design but toddlers as young as 2 figured out how to open the access panel in under 20 seconds making it not very kid-proof.
While we like the concept of teaching little ones time, this clock feels more like a gimmick than a real teaching tool. We suspect little ones will lose interest after a day or two and only press the foot to hear the robotic voice say the time instead of really trying to figure it out. Also, while we like the simpler Ok to Wake, this clock is confusing and hard to use. With non-intuitive buttons on the back and the visual indicators on the front, you can't make adjustments and look at what you are doing at the same time. Ours didn't come with a manual but even after we found it online and watched a video, we never did figure out how to set the audible alarm (a problem shared by many online reviewers). The Teach Me Time is a good idea, but it falls short in execution with a higher price for features you can't figure out and a time game children will quickly lose interest in. If you'd like a clock that changes color we think the Ok to Wake is a better choice. If you want to teach your child how to tell time we think there are less expensive, more fun ways to do this than this clock.
Cute But Fragile
Stoplight Alarm Clock
The Stoplight Clock is a cute clock at first blush with its large easy to see lights and ceramic figures. The buttons are easy to use, even without the manual, and you'll have it up and running in no time with little ones waiting for the light to change. This clock is relatively budget-friendly, but for the price, we suspect parents may expect better quality or durability than they get. While we concede this clock will work well for some smaller children when it is placed out of reach, it isn't very versatile and it could easily be broken. We were disappointed in the visible glue strings and globs, and the poor paint job that fails to stay within the lines of its own design. For parents hoping to teach children anything about actual time, this clock is a no go as it has a small, hard to read digital clock (no clock face) that cannot be seen at a distance, which is where you need to place this clock so little ones don't touch and break it. In short, while we think the stoplight is intriguing to children, our tiny testers quickly lost interest in this product and we worried it was only a matter of time until the ceramic figure fell off or got dropped. However, if all you care about is a good light change and you don't want to mess around with teaching time or confusing functions you don't plan to use, then it may be a good stop gap between getting up too early and getting a few extra zzs. Though honestly, a light timer and a lamp can do this for you for a much lower price.
Toddler Clock Buying Advice
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?
Modern toddler clocks work primarily by changing color to alert little ones that the day has officially begun. Parents can set them to light up or change color (depending on the model) at a specific wake up time whether it is in the morning or for a nap. They are a great tool that can potentially help children learn about clocks and time via visual and auditory cues, and presents them with the opportunity to feel responsible for their own actions by respecting other's sleep time. This means that children can potentially be learning about numbers, clocks, and the passage of time in a natural and relevant manner. Though the learning process typically takes patience and repetition, most children will quickly understand the concept of red means no (stay in bed) and green means go (time to get up and start the day!).
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 when it is time to stay sleeping and when it is okay to get up. We also focused on clocks with aesthetics that children will likely be excited about and want to use.
We tested four selections side-by-side comparing their features, functions, usability, and likeability for both parents and children. We put these clocks through the ringer with kiddos from two- to six-years-old and discovered that in the world of clocks for toddlers, there really is a big difference.
We tested these clocks hands-on over several months. 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 at least several weeks and 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, quality, and kid-proofing.
Features and Set Up
At their most basic level, all of the 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 My Tot Clock and My Sleep Clock have similar setups and are both easy to set up with the My Sleep Clock having fewer features. The Teach Me Time is the hardest with few buttons that each do multiple 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 Ok to Wake and Stoplight Alarm Clock were in between the My Tot Clock and the Teach me Time in terms of the setup difficulty.
Once you figure out how to use them, some clocks offer more than just a light change when it is okay to get out of bed. The Teach Me Time has a teaching feature with a robotic voice that encourages little ones to guess the time and the ability to press the foot to tell the time. The My Tot Clock has the most features including lullabies, stories, additional light indicators, and white noise. Our little testers quickly figured out the red timeout light (above left) that switches to green (above right) when timeout is done. Some even figured out how to make the color change before the time was truly up, indicating a possible kid-proofing problem. The My Sleep Clock has the features we think you'll use the most and the color change that likely made you search for a clock in the first place without the bells and whistles of the Tot Clock.
Design and Performance
We considered overall design as it pertains to parental ease of use and child attractiveness. Of course, it became clear which were preferred, and which actually worked in terms of mechanical function and modifying child sleep behaviors. We had varying levels of success and the kids had varying levels of interest. While the Stoplight Clock was interesting to the testers at first, they lost interest after a couple of days and didn't really give the clock much thought beyond the change of color for the rest of the testing period. My Tot Clock definitely held the interest of the children more than the others with features children can use on their own and interact with for additional fun. The My Sleep Clock has music and white noise but no stories, so while kids enjoyed carrying the clock around and pressing the buttons, it does less than its brother. While the Mirari clocks were sort of fun at first, they didn't hold up to My Tot Clock either. The Ok to Wake doesn't do much, and the Teach Me Time can't be used without a parent and if little ones try to use it on their own they are likely to unplug it which can cause it to stop working or require a reset.
With the exception of the My Tot Clock and My Sleep 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. Additionally, the Stoplight Alarm Clock appears haphazardly put together with glue strings from part to part and painting that looks like it was done by a five-year-old. 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 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 offers the least amount of kid-proofing with front-facing buttons that are easy to press to change the settings without really trying. While it is nice that little ones can turn the night light feature on and off by 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 clock is also very fragile and could be easily broken if innocently dropped by little hands. The Mirari 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 and My Sleep Clock really have quality kid-proofing with most of the buttons being completely concealed by the front faceplate on both. 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 faceplates aren't easy to remove, and it isn't obvious that they can be removed. The top buttons are accessible and some tiny testers did figure out how to use them.
In addition to the control panel problems on most of the clocks, only My Tot Clock and My Sleep Clock are built in such a way that children can actually play with and hold the clocks. The Stoplight Clock is partially ceramic and the car can come loose from the base if manhandled because only a little bit of glue keeps the car attached to the base. The Mirari clocks both appear somewhat fragile and we worried about use over time if children held or moved them too much. We suspect they wouldn't hold up to regular handling and are, therefore, not childproof.
Finding a useful toddler clock can be the difference between a good night's sleep and getting up before the sun. While not a necessity for all families, it could feel like a necessity for you should your little one have trouble determining when it is ok to wake up and explore and when they need to get some much-needed shut-eye. We think there is an option for most families in this lineup no matter what your budget or goal, but we do hope this gear category continues to grow in the future with higher quality options that are more kid-friendly.
— Wendy Schmitz & Juliet Spurrier, MD