Browsing the colorful aisles of a toy store or pages of an ecommerce site, you could easily think that vibrant hues, flashing lights, and lots of noise are required for every baby toy. But the best toys are flexible, open-end ones that grow with your child, letting her explore in lots of new and interesting ways.
Babies learn through play. They discover concepts such as bigger/smaller, cause/effect, and object permanence. They develop skills such as grasping, reaching, and hand-eye coordination. And they use toys as a tool to interact with you and with other children.
So, stock your baby’s shelves with the following playthings, which give your baby lots of room to grow!
Stackers, nesters, and fillers: Babies and toddlers love to pile things up and knock them down. They love to fill a container, then empty it and start again. Toys like these let them experiment with size and shape: Can this cup fit inside that one? Which one goes at the bottom of the tower, and which one at the top? What sound do I hear when I dump out this bucket? What happens when I take my cup into the bathtub?
As your baby or toddler grows, he will find new ways to build and pretend with these multipurpose items. Try:
- Blocks of all shapes, sizes, and textures (fabric, wood, plastic)
- Nesting cups
- Stacking rings
- Buckets and scoops
- Shape sorters
I see me! toys: Little ones are naturally attracted to faces, so a baby-safe mirror is a happy addition to your tot’s play space. You can use it on the floor to promote tummy time, then display it on a wall or table later to motivate your child to sit, kneel, and stand. Over time, your baby will learn that the cute face reflected in the mirror is actually her own. In the same vein: provide baby books that feature faces almost as sweet as the one in the mirror.
Pretenders: As young as three or four months of age, babies start to recognize familiar faces and objects. Soon after that, they’ll want to play with whatever you have: a kitchen spoon, a baster, pots, pans, and your keys. Kiddie structures like a play kitchen or tool bench with accompanying accessories let babies safely mouth and grab these items. And eventually they’ll begin to use them in pretend play too.
Noisemakers: Even newborns are interested in (low-tech) toys that make noise, like rattles and the crinkly pages in a fabric book. Playing with these helps his developing sense of hearing and teaches cause and effect. It also encourages your cutie to grab and reach for the enticing noisemaker, which he’ll start to do at about the four-month mark. Once he can sit up and especially as he enters toddlerhood, he can play with kid-friendly musical instruments, from egg shakers to tambourines.
Baby buffets: Activity mats, tables, puzzles, and boards give you and your baby lots of choices. She can use them in many positions (on her back, standing up, and so on), and they offer so much to see and do. Your baby can learn about shapes, colors, animals, letters, and numbers while she practices all kinds of manipulative moves with her hands and fingers: pushing buttons, twisting knobs, sliding doors, and more. Look for:
- Baby gyms (play mats with overhead arches for dangling toys)
- Play tables with removable legs so babies can play on their tummies
- Activity boards placed vertically (such as on the side of a play structure or push toy)
Rollers: Babies love to rock and roll! A ball is a simple but a super-versatile toy that every baby should have, whether it’s big and fuzzy or smaller and jingly. Roll it back and forth to each other on the floor. Watch it tumble down an incline, or try tossing it into a basket. And once he’s walking, just about every toddler enjoys a push toy, whether it’s the classic corn popper or a pretend-play option, such as a shopping basket, lawnmower, or doll stroller.