The Parent’s Guide To Choosing Baby Toys

Choice Of Infant Toys

If toddlers need toys to help them understand and appreciate their new-found sense of independence, creativity, language and critical reasoning skills, infants will require toys for an entirely different purpose. In fact, child psychologists will tell you that toys used in infancy may have a more critical role to play in terms of laying the foundations for the child’s growth and development. Simply put, the toys you use when you were still a baby will have a very significant impact on how you develop as a person in later life.

It is therefore very important that you understand the implication of choosing the correct toys for your baby. While toddlers can already tell you what toys they like, your baby will not have the same kind of faculty yet. As such, your baby will be entirely dependent on your decisions. This is why it is very important to have a very clear understanding of the developmental milestones of infants so you will have an idea of the best and developmentally-appropriate toys to choose for your baby.

babies playing

A Closer Look at Your Baby’s Developmental Milestones

The period from birth to 1 year is generally considered as the period of infancy. However, there is a subset of infancy known as the neonatal period and this is defined as that period in life from birth to 28 days. If this were to be observed, then the infant period technically starts from 28 days to 12 months.

Now you might think that there is not much going on during this time. The baby is so small, so fragile. But if you are going to look closely, the period of infancy is actually that critical period in life wherein a lot of changes are taking place at a very rapid pace. Each baby is expected to accomplish a developmental task or an achievement stage. Check out our list of toys for newborn babies.

Over the years, child psychology and child growth and development scholars have collected numerous data on the achievements of infants and grouped them together on a monthly basis. These development milestones were then statistically treated in percentiles to help establish a so-called norm. All infants are evaluated against these established developmental norms and then analyzed according to their placement in the percentile range of a particular developmental task. For example, it is generally expected that 50 percent of all babies should already be able differentiate a stranger’s face from the face of their mothers or fathers at age 3 months. If the baby is already 6 months and he or she still cannot recognize the difference between familiar and stranger, then a child developmental specialist may have to be called for further evaluation. While the identified norms are not absolute, they nevertheless provide a means to assess whether or not a baby is developing in a manner that is consistent and expected of his or her age.

So, before you can start shopping for the best toys for your baby you have to first understand the many changes and developmental milestones they have achieved.

baby bath

At Age 1 Month – If your baby is still a neonate, then majority of his or her actions will be reflexive in nature; meaning, everything is an automatic response. This is because the neonate’s central nervous system is still not fully mature and that the newborn doesn’t have the necessary experiences yet to make a conscious effort of controlling or making sense of his or her thoughts.

So, everything is a reflex and this can include the sucking reflex, the startle reflex, the grasp reflex, and the stepping reflex. By the end of the first month however, your baby should be able to raise his or her when lying on his or her stomach and show a form of behavior in response to a noise.

At Age 1 to 3 Months – After the first month and well into the third month, your baby will slowly begin learning more purposeful movements and start developing his or her language, social, and emotional skills. By the 3rd month, you can expect your baby to be able to support his or her head and torso when lying on his or her stomach.

Additionally, babies can already bring their hands to their mouth; grab and shake a variety of hand toys; follow moving objects; bat or swipe at dangling objects; open and close hands; stretch and kick legs while lying; and push down legs when touching a flat surface. Also, by this time, you can expect babies to make cooing sounds; smile at the faces of familiar people; and enjoy playing in the company of other people.

At Age 4 to 7 Months– By the end of the 3rd month, you can already expect a lot of things from your baby. He or she will now become the darling of the crowd. And this continues well into the 4th to the 7th month. By the time babies enter the 8th month, they can already roll on the stomachs and back effortlessly; reach for objects using only one hand with a raking style of grasp; sit up, first with the support of their hands, and then without support; transfer objects between hands; and explore objects by shaking and banging.

They are also fond of exploring objects using their hands and mouth (check out our post on the best teething toys here) Babies by the end of the 7th month should also be able to support their weight when they are held upright on their legs. Additionally, they already know how to laugh and babble out consonants like ba-ba. They can also start distinguishing different emotions based on the tone of voice alone and finding partially-hidden items or objects.

baby and toys

At Age 8 to 12 Months– Towards the end of the 1st year, your baby will already be able to sit independently; initiate the crawling stance; use the pincer grasp to pick up objects; and begin to perform more functional activities like turning the pages of his or her storybook or even holding his or her favorite spoon.

By this age, your baby will first master the art of pulling himself or herself up to a standing position and then initiate walking while holding onto something. He or she will then progress into standing up without support then taking a few steps, also without support. By the time he or she has mastered this, he or she will already be walking. Your baby will already have words to describe parents; use gestures like waving and shaking the head; use exclamations; imitate words; and play highly interactive gesture games like peek-a-boo or even pat-a-cake. Babies by this age still have strong separation and stranger anxieties although the latter is more related to shyness. They also know how to use certain objects in the correct way.

Understanding the Value of Toys for Babies

The value of toys for babies cannot be emphasized enough. You now understand that each month of your child’s age is a new challenge for him or her. Your baby is discovering a lot of things. Because the first month of life is largely reflexive, it is not often ideal to give toys by this time. However, by the time your baby is already 1 month old, then you now have to seriously consider all of the things we have presented so far in the foregoing section.

Toys will only be valuable for babies if they help stimulate the accomplishment of the different developmental tasks of the baby.  For example, you know that by age 1 to 3 months babies will be batting or swiping at almost anything that is dangling or grab anything with their hands and shake it vigorously. You know that they also tend to follow moving objects. So, it may be wise to choose a toy that can be hung over your baby’s head so he or she will try to reach for it, bat it, or even swipe it. Rattles will be a good choice as well. However, since they are also known to bring anything they have in their hands to their mouths, this means you need a toy that is also safe – meaning, it should not be so small so as to pose a choking hazard and not contain chemicals that can leach.

So, if you really want to optimize the growth and development of your baby, it is very important to choose only toys that are appropriate for your baby’s developmental age.

toys for your child

How to Choose the Right Toys for Your Baby

Safety Considerations

Infants still do not have a very good concept of what is harmful and what is not. They still don’t understand that putting something in your mouth can sometimes be dangerous, especially toxic chemicals and small items or objects. Additionally, because their immune system is still not really that effective against such exogenous toxins, they may not really be able to manage them well. That is why it is very important to choose only toys that are made of safe materials including those that are free from harmful chemicals. It is crucial to understand some of the more common chemicals used in the production of plastics that may be used in the manufacture of children’s toys. It is also crucial to choose toys that do not have small removable mechanical parts as these can pose a major choking hazard especially among very young children.

Developmental Age of Your Own Baby

We have already presented in the preceding sections both an overview of the developmental milestones you can expect from your baby and the importance of understanding these developmental milestones in your choice of toys for your baby. While the list is just a very brief overview of what you can expect, there are generally a lot of resources online to help you better understand the developmental age of your child. You can also try learning how to use some of the developmental screening tests performed by many child psychologists and development specialists. You can check out the Denver Development Screening Test or the Baroda Developmental Screening Test. These tests, especially the DDST, are quite easy to use. Otherwise, you can always ask a child developmental psychologist to evaluate your baby’s developmental age for you.

 Age Appropriate Toys

Understanding the developmental age of your baby is one thing. Applying what you have learned is an entirely different matter. Just to give you an idea of the best toys that are appropriate for a certain developmental age, we have listed here the types of toys you would want to consider.

    • For 1-3 months, you can give hand-held toys, a music box, an MP3 player, a mobile, an unbreakable mirror, soft books that contain patterns of high contrast, wind chimes, sensory toys, and rattles attached to your baby’s socks or wrists.
    • For 3 to 6 months, you can give crib mobiles, lightweight rattles, musical toys, activity bars, soft stuffed dolls and animals, board books, rubberized squeaky toys, very colorful teething rings, activity play mats and quilts, stationary activity centers, and toys that your baby can manipulate.
    • For 6 to 9 months, you can give your baby stuffed animals, balls, soft dolls, push toys, household items, and toys that make a lot of noise. You can also give your baby toys which he or she can hold and manipulate.
    • For 19 to 12 months, you can give your baby shape sorters, toys that imitate real stuff, push toys, balls, books, pail and shovel, and blocks. Remember, your baby is already starting to cruise by this age.

Keep The Toy Simple

Child development psychologists strongly recommend against overloading the senses of an infant. As much as possible, choose a toy that will only stimulate one or two senses, at most three, so that the brain will still be able to process the different information. Remember that the baby brain is not yet fully primed for the processing of a variety of informational at the same time. Take a look at our list of cheap baby toys for some creative ideas.

These are the things that you need to consider when choosing the right toys for your baby. Perhaps the most important aspect of choosing toys is knowing the true developmental age of your baby. After all, you are laying the foundation to your baby’s future.