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Our Top Learning Toys for Babies

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a pile of baby toys

 Sorting toys, stacking toys, construction toys, infant gyms - read up on which toy maximizes your baby's learning at each stage of development, and how.

Learning Toys for Month 1

For the first month or so, your baby can only see between 8 and 10 inches away (approximately the distance between her head and your face when you’re nursing her) – and only in black and white. Her hands are still fisted, but she likes soft textures.  

Your baby's toys

At this point she doesn’t particularly need toys, but that doesn’t mean she’s not learning a ton - very soon, for instance, she’ll start to quiet down (sometimes) when she hears voices or other sounds.

Maximizing playtime

Rock her, talk or sing gently to and around her and play some soft music – all of which help develop her listening skills generally, and specifically her ability to figure out where voices come from.

Learning Toys for Months 2 - 3

Your baby

Starting at about 2 months, your baby is starting to see further, detect back-and-forth movement, and see more colors and patterns. He’s beginning to open his fists - and kick and wiggle.

Your baby's toys

  • Books. Soft, black-and-white books especially designed for infants are great, but any reading will help and delight your child, even at this young age.
  • Mobile. He’ll now start to appreciate a mobile over his crib, though he can still only see black and white, and possibly red and green. Watching the mobile move helps his eye muscles develop.
  • Wrist. Bootie or ankle rattles he can’t grasp yet, but he’ll be intrigued by the movement and sound that happen when he wiggles.
  • Mirror. His improving vision and ability to discern faces mean he’ll be intrigued by the face he sees in the mirror - even if he won’t know it’s his own face for several months.

Maximizing playtime

Some educational mobiles have black and white patterns on one side, bright colors on the other, letting you change things up when baby gets a little older. Any toys that make noise – from rattles to battery-powered seats – help develop your baby’s listening skills. But keep in mind that so do listening to the radio or your iPod, hearing conversations and being read to.

Learning Toys for Months 4 - 6

Your baby

At this age, she is beginning to track objects and develop depth perception, and she can now see more colors and smaller objects. She’s also starting to roll - and maybe flip over - and sit up, maybe even without support. She’ll start reaching, grasping and passing objects from hand to hand. She can imitate sounds, and she’s also starting to teethe.

Your baby's toys

  • Mirror. A mirror – you can affix one securely in her crib, and/or a lot of toys have them – will help her recognize faces and encourage her when she starts to learn to smile.
  • Mobile. She’ll find new aspects of her mobile to enjoy - just make sure it’s now secured where she can’t reach it and accidentally pull it down on herself!
  • Rattles. She’ll still enjoy her strap-on rattles, but she’ll also be able to grasp slightly more complex noisemakers and start shaking them with her hands.
  • Play mat. Whether she’s on her back or her tummy, the play mat is a great place for her to develop her muscles. And she can practice reaching for those dangly toys!
  • Stuffed animals or soft dolls. Babies love soft things and she’ll likely start getting very attached to her cuddly friends by this point. Switch them around to avoid the catastrophic implications.

Maximizing playtime

Simple, lightweight toys are best for this age. And while there are lots of toys with tons of beels and whistles, literally, you can also be content that she’ll be learning as much from simpler versions. Any toys that she can hold, from rattles to stuffed animals, will help her finger and hand muscles develop.

This is a good time to attach the toys to the arch above the play mat (making sure, of course, that there are no loose strings, buttons or other choking hazards).

Learning Toys for Months 7 - 9

Your baby

By this time, your baby is likely to be able to sit up by himself for long periods and is starting to crawl. He can pick up and hold objects and his vision is almost fully developed.

Your baby’s toys

  • Toy phones. The baby can imitate you talking on the phone (he loves to imitate sounds) and it has buttons to push (intriguing).
  • Bath toys. By now he wants to be more active in the tub, and with any luck a very small flotilla of plastic boats or ducks or other creatures will keep as happy as he is clean.
  • Stuffed animals and dolls. He’ll enjoy watching you make two of her animals or dolls talk to each other or act out a story, which is an excellent way to help him develop his own imagination.

Maximizing playtime

A timeless favorite like patty cake helps hone his hand-eye coordination and ability to learn to follow patterns. Use the fact that he doesn’t have much of an attention span to your favor by switching the toys around frequently if he seems to become bored with something. And don’t forget to baby proof!

Learning Toys for Months 10 -12

Your baby

She’s learning to walk (or she’s on the way there), and she’s becoming more active in general. Her attention span is longer and she’s more interested in playing with you. She grabs, turns, pokes, throws and drops.  And she can remember more even though won’t have long-term recall till 2 or 3.

Your baby’s toys

  • Ball. She can push it or drop it, and playing with it won’t just delight her, it will also help teach her about cause and effect and develop her hand-eye coordination.
  • Activity center. Whether on her play mat, car seat or elsewhere, this will intrigue her as she practices opening and shutting flaps and doors, turning knobs and pushing buttons.
  • Stacking toys and Shape sorters. At this age babies love sorting. Stacking toys, including nesting cups, rings and blocks, while shape sorters will help her learn the names and colors of the shapes (if you talk to her as she’s playing!), but also let her practice her exciting new ability to put things in and take them out.
  • Picture books. She can understand more of what you’re saying even if she can’t talk yet, and books are a great way for her to share her knowledge. Ask her to point to the cow or the bulldozer, and see how quickly she knows the book by heart.
  • Drum, tambourine, maraca, xylophone. She’ll probably enjoy the fact that she’s causing these instrument to make sounds as much as the sounds themselves.

Maximizing playtime

Don’t forget, she still likes her old rattles, animals, dolls and mirrors, especially that there are now so many more ways she can play with them. When you take a toy away, make sure you swiftly substitute something else – she’s starting to be opinionated! And you’ll have lots of opportunities to take advantage of her new-found ability to put things in and take them out, which, among other things, is helping her learn.

Whenever she’s doing something with a toy, tell her what she’s doing (for example, “You’re putting the green star into the star hole”).

Learning Toys for Months 13 - 18

Your baby

Now that he’s walking, he loves to explore and climb as well as to sort and to classify. Between the few words he knows and his ability to point, he can start making his wishes known more clearly.

Your baby’s toys

  • Pull toys. Once he’s up and running, he’ll love pulling a wagon or a toy on a string (just make sure the string is very securely fastened). And while he’s pulling, he’s learning cause and effect - they’ll follow him wherever he goes! – as well as developing his muscles.
  • Push toys. Activity centers on wheels are among the many toys a young toddler will love to push. Make sure that they’re stable and won’t hurt him if they do manage to topple over.
  • Stacking toys (cups, rings, blocks, etc.). By at least the end of this period, he can probably sort by color and type as well as practice some of his favorite activities: putting in and taking out.
  • Puzzles. Very simple wooden versions with pegged pieces are great for this age.  They generally have themes such as a farm (one piece will be a barn, another a cow, etc.) or a tool kit.
  • Construction toys. There are all sorts of options, just make sure you get some that are big enough for him to hold – and not swallow (some examples are Megabloks and Duplos). They’re fun – and also they aid his hand-eye coordination and logical thinking skills.
  • Blocks. These can help children’s development so much that some nursery programs (particularly Montessori) are based around them. At this age, your child can stack them and knock them down, and if they are different colors or have different pictures, he can sort them by type.
  • Simple arts and crafts. During this period he’ll probably start to use crayons to color with (as opposed to testing them as a snack). Finger painting is also great at developing his self-expression – just make sure you emphasize that the paint goes on the paper, not on the walls.
  • Pounding toys. A wooden or plastic “hammer and nails” set or a drum or xylophone will satisfy his urge to make noise – and help him develop motor and skills at the same time. Is the noise driving you crazy? Try moving to a different room!

Maximizing playtime

Your baby can now be left to play without adult interference, which is great for his imagination. Let him go wild with cars and trains, play sets (Noah’s ark, a farm set, a kitchen set). Balls, activity centers, filling and dumping activities and dolls and stuffed animals are also still great for this age.

Create a cabinet or drawer just for your child and fill it with things that he’s free to take out and put in, over and over. Possibilities include takeout containers (just make sure they don’t have sharp edges or cracks), soft books, stuffed animals and stacking toys that he can easily lift.

Learning Toys for Months 19 - 24

Your baby

She can run, push and climb. She’s learned how to hit, but she’s also starting to learn how to share. Her self-confidence is increasing, and she’s starting to understand more about size and quantity.

Your baby’s toys

  • Books. Keep helping her with her vocal development by reading to her a lot. Ask her questions she can answer about what’s happening in the picture and where certain characters over. She’ll want to read the same books again and again and again.
  • Stuffed animals and dolls. She’s starting to develop empathy, and her toy friends are a great place to start. They’re also a great outlet for her to practice how to treat a sibling or another child.
  • Slide. Her ability to climb up and slide down will thrill your toddler and enhance her self-confidence as much as it does her muscle.

Maximizing playtime

Your toddler is starting to understand how to follow simple directions, like “Please bring me the bear that’s on the bed.” Help her develop these skills further by casually asking questions like “Where does the train stop? or “Where does the cow live?” (She might not always answer correctly, but she’s learning all the time.)

You can also help her work on what will become her math skills by asking her to sort the socks by color or count the T-shirts. And keep in mind that 15 minutes is about the maximum that you can expect a toddler to do one activity.

 
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