This topic is a highly requested one among my readers, and for one reason or another, I’ve always put it off. I think it’s because I’ve either been inspired by a more pressing health topic or because part of me wanted to write a post – something along the lines of – My Must/Wish/Ditch List – A post that featured things I couldn’t survive without, toys or gadgets I didn’t know existed until it was a little too late (but want to make sure to order for baby #2), and things that ended up being over-marketed, overrated, and/or a waste of money that could’ve been much better spent on a better, cooler item (like, why didn’t we get a stroller that could CONVERT to a double stroller? Hindsight is 20/20). Kinda like a Baby Buyer’s Guide, helpful for grandparents, mamas prepping to register for gifts, baby shower guests, etc.
So maybe that’ll come in the next few weeks. For now, I’ll stick to what my readers have requested – toys that correspond to your baby’s developmental age.
Onto the TOYS! …
The first couple of years are so important in helping your baby learn about the world around them.
Their brains are developing at warp speed, creating trillions of synapses and connections, doubling in size after only the first 12 months. This is why it’s so vital to provide a supportive learning environment with activities that coincide with their age and appropriate skill level. (Which is why naps and establishing proper bedtime rituals are important in order to give your baby plenty of sleep to recuperate and process everything she has learned during the day; it’s during REM sleep that your baby’s brain recovers and processes the day’s activities and events. Remember, this is why the majority of baby’s sleep is in REM mode. For more, read Your Snoozin’ Sprout)
Close physical contact, attachment, and responding to your baby’s cues are all so important in helping your infant become secure and supported in her very fast-paced world. But what else can you do, to ensure you are supporting their learning at every turn?
Safety and Skill Level
Before buying your child a toy, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to remind you to pick toys that are marked appropriate for your child’s age. The package’s age recommendation helps to safeguard and protect your little one from hazardous parts on toys that might be more advanced for their age.
Of course, the manufacturer’s packaging helps us parents (and grandparents, gift givers, etc) make sure that what we are buying isn’t “too young” or “too old” for the baby’s skill level, too.
Make sure the toy you’re buying isn’t defective, with missing pieces, loose parts, chipped paint/design, or cracked. Plastic gets brittle over time, so if you are using recycled or reused toys from a thrift store, friends, family members, childhood toys from when you were (or someone else was) a child, consignment shops, etc. make sure to inspect them carefully. BPA-free plastics are preferred over older plastic toys, since these toys often find their way into baby’s mouths. Wooden toys can last much longer than plastic toys, but make sure the wood’s integrity is holding up. Inspect for sharp splinters or chipping paint.
Birth to 3 Months
Looking and Listening: At this age, you really don’t need much in the toy department. Your face alone is just enough for entertainment. Hearing your voice (or your partner’s) while seeing you up close is what helps their brain development anyway.
Remember, your NEW newborn’s vision is limited to what’s right in front of her, up to about 6 to 10 inches, so a lot of what she sees beyond that is awfully fuzzy and unfocused. So, that means anything that is brightly colored or black and white is easier to see than subtle colors. According to the AAP, newborns don’t tend to see subtle changes in color until about 2-3 months of age. That’s why a lot of newborn toys you see in the stores have black and white designs with polka dots or checkerboard patterns, along with some bright contrasting colors.
If you want to get some toys for this age group, those that make soft relaxing music/sounds and – again – are brightly colored or black/white.
< 2 months:
Again, your face, scent (yes, scent), hearing your voice, playing soft calming music, singing to baby, are really all that you NEED for babies this little. It’s what helps your baby’s brain develop as well as soothes her, allowing her to regulate any stress from her still new and overwhelming world.
But, if you’re in search for an age-appropriate toy, I found this to be a good set to help those little developing eyes:
Genius Baby Toys’ Baby’s First Sight ($49.95, Amazon) Includes wrist and foot rattles, a soft black/white rattle, ABC soft cloth book, and tag ball. Babies love holding and pinching little tags and sticking them in their mouths, so this visually stimulating set really fits the bill for these young babies.
As your baby starts to notice things around him, items like sensory balls or stomp pads that make noise and light up are very entertaining. This Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano ($24.99) is a neat toy that lets baby notice “oh wait, when I kick my legs, I hear a musical sound!” This shows your baby exhibiting recognition of CAUSAL RELATIONSHIPS. A causes B. You can easily use aluminum baking pans instead of buying a fancy toy and it will illicit the same response from baby for way way cheaper. Just place your baby safely on a mat on the ground, and hold the pan in front of their feet, assisting if necessary. The loud jarring metallic noise of the pan will surprise him just as much as an expensive toy!
We got this Sensory Ball Set from Sassy ($11.95, Amazon), after searching YouTube for “how to play with your 3 month old” and I really liked them. They actually proved to be useful for many months. The top 2 balls are very light and can help your baby learn how to hold onto items. The blue plastic one has a really fun nubby texture and is as light as a feather (it’s hollow) and the colorful polka dot one has crinkly material underneath the soft fabric, so it’s fun for baby to squeeze and hold! The bottom ball is like a rattle encased in a ball that is easy to wrap fingers around, but it’s a little on the heavier side, so that one may not come in “handy” (ha) until around 5 or 6 months. Advice from personal experience – if the blue one gets dirty, don’t put it in the dishwasher. Ours is now deformed and lopsided.
Actions = results! At this age, your baby is starting to learn that certain behaviors will make you smile. He’ll also start remembering certain things. Like, if you showed him that if he pulls the toy dangling above him, it’ll wind back up, make a noise, or dance for him, he will remember it and try to do it himself.
The third month is when most babies finally become interested in the play gym. Before then, most babies just sorta lie underneath it and are more entertained at the excited cheering parent than the objects dangling from it. But, at this age baby will start to interact with the toys above them. There are tons of play gyms out there, it’s just a personal choice, really. Another great item? Playmats/Activity quilts. I loved both for Jia. The Tiny Love Super Mat was great and it folded up with handles for easy transport. They each had their shining moments and it was nice having one in her room and the other in the living room. These offer great opportunities for lots of tummy time!
Swings, though not a toy, can be a godsend to some parents, giving the primary caregiver some time to do things close by (prepare meals, take a shower, and most importantly – let’s be honest – go to the bathroom). Jia didn’t care much for a baby swing, it didn’t send her off to dreamland. I think we might’ve waited too long to introduce it, since I held off on buying one in the event that we were fine without it. So obviously, you don’t NEED one, but some parents just want one. If you’re limited on space (like we were), you may want to wait it out to see if your baby is fine without one. If you want one, I recommend one with a gliding feature.
Soft stuffed animals and loveys can be introduced at this age, since they will more likely START TO respond to them. They may not be completely engaged yet, but here’s when repetition can help them find comfort in a soon-to-be “favorite” lovey. This age is actually when we started introducing her to her Green Sprouts Organic Velour Blankie Animal Lion ($15) loveys that Jia loves so much now (Ha, my review is the only one listed on the Amazon link). Make sure your stuffed animals are soft, with sewn-in eyes made of thread (not sewed ON buttons) and that they don’t have small, hard, and/or removable parts.
Squeaky toys and board books are recommended at this age, but for us honestly, I liked really long books (think: Seuss) because at this age, they aren’t anxious to turn (rip) the pages and they stay relatively relaxed hearing your voice. Board books bothered me at this age because I would have to go through bout 10 of them for a half-hour bedtime story. Squeaky toys will catch the attention of and amaze your 3-6 month old!
Oh. And NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE ENTERTAINMENT OF AN EMPTY WATER BOTTLE!
Object Permanence. At this age, the idea that if an object falls or is hidden, it still exists, is object permanence. Before this milestone, your baby would cry if you hid his favorite pacifier under a blanket, thinking it was gone forever. Now he may curiously lift the blanket to find it.
Additionally, your baby’s pincer grasp (the ability to use their thumb and pointer-finger together) is getting much more refined. He’s able to pick up smaller items he finds on the ground, bang on tables after learning to cruise along furniture, hit objects together, and make loud noises.
Fun toys at this age include activity centers or activity boards (make sure you can disinfect/wipe them down and that all parts are in good working condition), stuffed animals, board-like books with colorful big pictures and sturdy pages (since her dexterity is getting much better, watch out for those fingers that curiously want to help turn (rip) the pages!), soft stacking blocks, and soft balls (like our Sassy Ball Set, above). Babies at this age will assume everything they can reach is theirs.
This Vtech Sit-to-Stand Walker ($35, Amazon) is a loud, bright, but fun and economical way to entertain your little one. More appropriate for closer to the 9 month age, the activity portion can be removed from the walker so that curious (younger) fingers can explore the various parts without the walking component. We got this one for Jia’s 1st birthday and for a good week after, she woke up in the morning and crawled straight to it, eager to play with it.
Bright Starts Grab and Stack Blocks ($7.99, Amazon) are bright, colorful, and have some letters and numbers to grow with your baby. This is great to have – toys that grow with your kid. If they only stack blocks (if that) at this age, then in a few months, maybe they’ll start learning a color or two. Then after that, once they’re in the 12-18 month range, they’ll start to learn alphabet sounds. We got ours from Jia’s Gran who bought them at a Church consignment. After being tossed in the washing machine, they were good as new and Jia loved them. Click here for Amazon search results for “soft blocks”.
My TIP: What I found was genius (if I do say so myself) was clearing out underneath our coffee table in the living room of all the “adult” stuff (remotes, magazines, phone chargers, memory cards, CD’s, wires, knick knacks) and replacing them with baby toys (like puzzles, stuffed toy vegetables, stacking rings, basically anything that was baby-related and loose). I also grabbed an organizational box I had in a shelf, emptied it, and filled it with smaller little baby trinkets (rattles, wooden toys, soft blocks, a straw, plastic spoon, an empty water bottle, plastic baby keys) to keep under the coffee table. She was entertained for I think an entire 90 minutes straight just sifting through all the things within her reach. (see below)
If you haven’t started baby proofing, now is the time to start!
So at this age, your sprout is cruisin along, exploring every bit of the room to see what she can get into. Taking a diaper from the changing station out to look at, tossing it aside. What’s this in the drawer? (Takes everything out) What is this iPhone you refer to? Can I knock over your glass? Oh, wires! Chargers! As mentioned just a few lines up, if you haven’t started baby proofing, you’ll need to look into that now. For ideas, please read my post on Baby-proofing (For) My Sprout.
Their hands are plenty busy trying to connect the dots, so toys that indulge their curiosity are key.
Shape Sorters. These are tough for them, but repetition is important (like most things). Cheer loudly and excitedly when he finally gets the cube into the square hole, encourage and support him when he gets it wrong. Encourage him to keep trying the triangle if he misses it, but don’t focus on the same shape if he seems more interested in the star-shape. To not overwhelm him, give him only a couple shapes at a time rather than all of them. We got this adorable wooden Zoo Animals hand-me-down shape sorter that was originally from Target (below) and it’s really cute (but not available anymore). Target sells a great wooden Melissa & Doug Shape Sorter for $12.74 online. Big chunky puzzles would also fit in this category. (haha, pun not intended)
(Baby-Friendly) Kitchen Cabinets. Moms (or dads) if you cook, then you’ll undoubtedly need time in the kitchen and with solid foods, it’s impossible to prepare ALL your baby’s meals with a soon-to-be-toddler always sitting quietly in their high chair. So, to save your sanity, baby proof your cabinets with scissors, knives, chemicals (cleaning products and detergents), and small objects. But, leave a couple cabinets for your baby to explore. We have one drawer with all our cutting boards and colanders, and a cabinet with our pots and pans, where Jia is free to sift through and dump out onto the floor.
Toy Telephone. I resisted this one, but my mother-in-law bought Jia a toy iPhone and after a few months of it sitting around, she is now interested in it (started around 11 months). And, as I mentioned with buying toys that grow with your kid, the Vtech Sit-to-Stand Walker has an “old-school” wireless landline type phone that is pretty entertaining to babies in this generation. Well, at least mine. Pick up the phone to your ear, say “Hello?” and hand it to your baby. This’ll catch on pretty quick and it’s adorable to see your baby hold the phone (play phone or real phone) to their ear/neck and say “Hello?” in their baby talk.
Instruments. We have an old organ that Jia loves to play on; we turn it on and have her sit in our lap as she “plays” on it. Jia also received this really cool wooden xylophone by PLAN Toys (I love wooden toys) from Gran, and was gifted a bilingual hand-me-down drum from Nikolai. She really enjoys all of these, so we love to encourage her musical side!
Books with flaps, pop-ups, interactive features. Beware, some of these flaps may be ripped off sooner or later, but the babies love them! Right now, Bottoms Up! and Bizzy Bear, Dr. Seuss Happy Birthday Baby! (The goats and towel have been ripped from the pages now), Butterfly Butterfly (poor butterfly’s wing had to be taped together last week), and The Night Before Christmas (Yes… in April, and a snowy bush has been ripped off) are her favorite books at night and before naps, because she gets to participate. I got Bizzy Bear from Hooray 4 Books, a local bookshop here in town, and she’s obsessed with it (we haven’t yet had it 24 hours). It’s a very very sturdy and adorably creative flip book. I fear the flaps on the last page will be torn off, try as I might to reinforce “no ripping!”…
At this age, I can’t get away with reading normal Dr. Seuss stories anymore. She’s too impatient and wants to turn the page herself, wants to poke at things, lift flaps, or do SOMETHING other than sit through me telling a fun rhyming story. So, books at this age are great if they have entertainment value!
Blocks (We love our Mega Block set! Thanks Carol and Carlos!) Either your soft stacking blocks or big blocks that are easily grabbed by little hands, are wonderful for kids at this age to play with. Jia never stacked her soft blocks, but she enjoys playing with her girly Mega Blocks set she got for her 1st birthday. It is a great idea to introduce these during the 9-12 month age, so they can build on their skills and learn colors, too.
Well, I hope this post was helpful in choosing some useful toys appropriate for the lucky recipient in your life! There are so many toys out there, I only highlighted the major categories. Toy manufacturers make millions of different things, so what may be helpful is taking your baby to the store with you so they can interact with them and you can see what interests them the most.
Thanks for reading!
AAP’s Recommendations on What to Look for in a Toy: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/What-to-Look-for-in-a-Toy.aspx
Baby’s Cognitive Development by Age; Brain Map: www.zerotothree.org