Baby Toys are the first toys most of us get to play with! Parents are always looking for ways to stimulate their babies’ minds, to interact with their children, and to help their children gain the skills they need as they grow and develop. This section focuses on infants from birth to age one year.
The first year of life is one of the most magical. Babies experience more growth, both physical and mental, than children of any other age. From the relative helplessness of a newborn, to a child who sits, crawls, walks, and babbles…it’s an amazing transition in only twelve months.
All of us interact with our surroundings by using our five senses. But this exploration is brand new for a baby. Every sight, taste, sound, smell, and touch is a first for an infant. Toys can be used to help a child explore all five senses. As he learns how to experience life through his senses, he’ll learn independence and communication.
Touch is the most obvious way that babies can interact with toys. Look for products that have different textures – soft, nubby, hard, metallic. Many tactile toys offer a variety of touch surfaces within a single toy. Help a baby explore the item by rubbing his hand along the item, or when appropriate, rubbing it on his cheek.
Baby toys are often brightly-colored, with high contrasts that make them easier to see and more interesting for babies. Research indicates that the first colors babies are able to see are red, black, and white, so many first toys focus on these colors. In addition to color, look for toys with white or colored lights. A baby can be captivated by a simple white light shone upon a wall, and then moved around, while blinking lights help her begin to develop “persistence of memory” – the understanding that even when the light goes away, it still exists.
Toys that produce sounds are also great ways to play with an infant. Children react to sound, especially music, as both a physical and emotional stimulant. Look for soothing CDs that can be played during quite time, rattles that can be shaken to produce sound, and soft toys with “crinkle” paper inside the fabric that produces sound when manipulated by the baby.
Taste and smell are more difficult. We don’t like to encourge children to put toys in their mouths; most will figure that out all too well before they are very old! Scratch-and-sniff books are one way to engage a child’s sense of smell, but babies may be too young to understand. So experiment with non-toy items when working on these senses.
It’s never too early to encourage reading. Babies love the sound of a parent’s or caregiver’s voice, and picture books offer visual interest in addition to the story itself. Look for lyrical reading; Dr. Seuss books are great, with their poetic rhythm and repetitive phrases. Quieter books, such as those by Margaret Wise Brown, are great ways to wind down before bed.
When my children were in their first year. we’d lie down on the bed or floor, with me holding the book over our heads, and read. They loved the closeness, the stories, and the pictures. They all still love reading to this day.
Gross Motor Development
Gross motor skills involve using the large muscles of the body. These are usually the first movements a child learns to make – rolling over, sitting, crawling, and walking. They help an individual develop balance and coordination, and interact with other developmental skills.
Baby mat toys offer infants activities that encourage them to reach overhead while lying on their backs, or to push themselves up during tummy time. There are many types of mat toys, including some with water pouches that provide an unique experience from many other toys. Older babies learning to walk may enjoy walking toys, that they can push while using them to help balance while standing. Children already walking can gain experience with a push or pull toy.
Throwing or rolling a ball is another gross motor skill. An appropriate ball for a baby is lightweight, soft, and big enough to roll or push without too much coordination. Look for a ball with a textured surface that makes it easier to grip.
Children’s imaginations soar in ways we can’t dream of as adults. Start them off on the right foot by offering them toys which develop their imagination. Stuffed animals and puppets are much safer than their live counterparts, and you can manipulate them to talk and interact with your child.
Pretend play toys are also great for helping young children imagine that they are like mom and dad. They love to help clean and cook and act like big kids. Although babies in their first year may be too young to invent stories and scenes, pretend play items help set the stage for the more intricate imaginative play they will engage in over the following year.