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The Definitive Guide To The Best Toys For Babies and Toddlers
They might seem simple, but there’s more to toys than meets the eye. For babies and toddlers, the right toy can lead to happiness, joy, learning, development and growth while the wrong toy can spell frustration, disconnection, withdrawal an tears. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re a parent, family member or friend, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know make sure you only select the best toys for babies and toddlers!
Check Out Our Latest Round Up of the Best Gift Ideas for Babies!
Play is a crucial aspect of every infant’s life. Play encourages young children to develop various mental and physical abilities, as well as forge strong social bonds with family members and friends. Studies have shown that through play, children learn to make sense of the world around them, developing crucial soft skills such as respect, appreciation, interpersonal communication, and fair play. While the idea that play is critical to a child’s development is easy to understand, choosing a toy for your child might not be that simple. It’s important to find toys and games suitable for each of your child’s developmental stages. If you don’t, your baby may become frustrated and give up on a toy that’s too advanced to too simple. But don’t worry, this guide will provide you the information you need to buy the best toys for babies and toddlers!
Why are baby toys important for a child's development?
Babies are more than willing to study and learn about the world around them. In their first few months of life, almost everything they hear and see is new to them. Textures, colors, sounds, and shapes. As they experience more variety of sensory input, they begin to understand the way the fundamental nature of their reality. Therefore, it’s essential to provide babies with experiences that stimulate them so they can expand upon and experiment with their senses. Toys are perfect for this task.
For infants, musical rattles and other toys with contrasting colors are highly stimulating for the eyes and ears. Blocks and stacking rings are ideal choices for developing motor skills. As children grow, they should play with toys that allow them to experience object permanence.
During the first twelve months, babies explore their world through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. Through trial and error, they come to understand how the world works. The more time they have to interact with their toys, the more repetitive engagement in the tasks and activities that toys inspire, the more they grow and develop. It also usually involves a lot of touching with fingers and even their mouths, so always make sure toys are safe!
At this stage, they’re able to recognize contrasting colors, although their vision is not fully developed. In addition, they can’t easily recall memories of how a process works, so they’re happy to repeat the same actions again and again. Object permanence is also acquired during this stage. It refers to the ability to know that an object exists even though it is not seen, heard, touched, or smelled.
How does a baby's age factor into your toy-buying decisions?
Although it may seem obvious, age is a very important factor. Allowing children to play with toys that are not appropriate for their age not only takes away an opportunity for learning and development but can also jeopardize the child’s safety. Laws and safety standards have been developed over many years all across the globe to support safe play for children. One key element of this is the age rating or recommendation that typically comes displayed on a toy’s packaging. You should absolutely keep this in mind whenever purchasing toys, especially for newborns, babies and toddlers.
Beyond that, there are many other factors to consider. Depending on the age of the baby, they’ll want and need different types of toys. For example, babies who are 12 months or younger are trying to learn more about their surroundings. For that to happen, they use their senses (smell, sight, touch, hearing and even taste). When they are very young (a couple of months old), they don’t have much in the way of fine motor skills. This means they can’t move around as easily as an older child would, and they have trouble grasping things on their own. That’s why their more active senses are their sight and hearing.
When it comes to visual stimulation, babies are especially attracted to bright colors without complicated designs. A baby play mat is a great way to facilitate this. Toys that come with different sounds will also be appealing to them. Toys that play music are a great way to stimulate their little minds! You can also stimulate your child visually with toys that move on their own. A classic example is a mobile above a baby’s cot, which can offer a lot of stimulation for newborns. It is important at that age that the child cannot reach the mobile to pull it down on themselves. The recommended distance for a toy that is to be watched and not physically touched is a minimum of 14 inches. Be careful to modify it or even take it away from the crib as soon as your baby is able to sit or stand up on their own.
In addition, babies younger than 6 months old also like experimenting with new textures. Apart from touching everything they can, they’ll also put objects in their mouths. Usually this is because their mouth provides another avenue for sensory exploration but possibly because they are teething. So, make sure your baby doesn’t have access to anything poisonous, sharp, or dirty. Check baby toys for structural integrity often to avoid any accidental injuries. Some toys are specifically designed for this purpose and made with special materials to ensure the child’s safety. Teething toys are a great idea and can also help to soothe any pain the little one might be experiencing as their teeth come through.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to keep a baby entertained. There are many everyday objects that can serve that purpose which babies will absolutely love. A bottle filled with rice, for example, and any (baby-safe) colorful object provide endless hours of entertainment. Most children also enjoy bath toys. Empty plastic cups are great for bath time fun!
When they’re older than 6 months, babies start grabbing objects at will. As they start moving around more often, you might try placing a comfortable blanket or mat on the floor and covering it with toys of all different kinds! Try key rings, soft baby books, stuffed animals, and anything else your child is attracted to.
Once babies are able to sit on their own, gross motor skills will improve dramatically and rapidly. This is when cause and effect toys are the most useful as they allow babies to see what their bodies are capable of. During this period, balls and stacking toys such as activity cubes or pop up toys are good ideas for your child. Don’t forget musical instruments as well (you may want to buy yourself some ear plugs to go along with those).
At around 12 months of age children will begin to practice standing and walking. The core strength developed from sitting upright and the gross motor skills they’ve largely built with their arms help them to pull their little bodies off the ground and practice bearing weight on their legs. At this stage, its a great idea to make sure any cupboards or drawers or baby-proofed. Their inquisitive minds are sure to present safety risks if you’re not prepared! Encouraging standing and walking will help to build their confidence and independence. Walkers and push-along toys provide the perfect opportunity to practice these skills.
Below the age of 2, children will stick just about anything into their mouths, and some children develop an oral fixation. Obviously, this can be dangerous, so it’s especially important to avoid small toys that increase the risk of choking.
- Be sure to read labels, as manufacturers put a lot of time and research into creating toys that are suitable for specific age groups.
- Warnings are there for a reason. Children under 3 are particularly prone to accidents, so pay attention to reviews when purchasing toys.
- Avoid toys that could be choking hazards, such as balloons, small Lego pieces, or toys that break down into smaller parts your child could swallow.
- Magnets and buttons are also dangerous, especially if they’re brightly colored and capture your baby’s attention easily
As a parent, you should also monitor the gifts that your child receives from friends and loved ones. For instance, Aunt Betty may decide to gift a doll that belonged to her as a child. Even though she has the best of intentions, if there are any small parts that your baby can remove from the doll, you’ve got a choking hazard on your hands. If you’re Aunty Betty, be sure to consider the risks of whatever wonderful gifts you may be buying.
As ominous as that sounds, checking toys for safety will quickly become second nature to you.
For some more thoughts, see here.
Tips To Buying The Best Toys For Babies
There’s a lot to consider, but don’t panic when you go toy shopping! It’s often common sense. Just be studious when selecting toys, and don’t let your baby do the shopping for you! Choose toys that are rated for safety and constructed of quality materials. Consider the following tips when buying new baby toys:
1. Age Is Key
As stated above, age is a primary factor in determining whether or not a toy is suitable for your child. If a toy is too complicated, it won’t hold your baby’s attention. By example, it’s a bit pointless to give a ball to a 1 month-old baby that cannot grasp it yet. Make sure you understand the developmental milestones of infants and toddlers and try to select toys the help them to practice age-appropriate skills
2. Safety Is Priority #1
Not every toy for sale in a toy shop is safe for an infant. Even if a toy appears safe or other parents sing its praises, that doesn’t mean it’s right for your child. In fact, you’re the only person who can truly decide what’s right and what’s not when it comes to baby toys. Luckily, you don’t have figure all of that out on your own. Review sites such as this one exist to help you make informed decisions.
3. Foster Creativity
Playing with toys is a good opportunity for developing creativity. A toy that does everything for the child leaves no room for them to become more creative by using their imagination to figure out how to solve a puzzle or problem.
Toys such as Lego bricks that allow girls or boys to build the things they want can truly stimulate their minds. They can build a castle, house, hospital, or just something they like that has no name! In addition, you don’t need to spend a fortune for your child to have fun. Even a box can transform into a mansion for a baby with a vivid imagination! Encouraging drawing and their artistic side can also help to foster their creativity as well as develop motor skills.
4. Develop Motor Skills
Young children love to play games that stimulate them both physically and mentally. Once they grow up, however, they spend more time on their tablets or watching Netflix. So, it’s best to take advantage of this innate love of games at an early age by giving your child toys that require them to push or move. Of course, this does not need to be anything too innovative; a ball is a perfect example of this type of toy. Another great idea could be playing with a miniature shopping cart or spinning seats. Some toys are even specifically designed with motor skills development in mind.
5. Long Term Thinking
Some toys are so shiny and eye catching that you think they’re perfect for your baby! Yet, these types of toys may only last for a few months. Your child will play with them, and when they stop being “brand new,” interest levels wane.
So, be sure to read reviews and make informed decisions about toys your baby can play with as they grow and mature. There are many toys that are appropriate for wide age groups. Some of them can even be tweaked so they continue to be entertaining for older children (even if they were originally designed for younger children).
6. Find Multi-Purpose Toys
Some toys have only one real purpose…they might be just for chewing or listening. While this is fine, those aren’t always the best choices. To make the most out of your investment, why not stimulate as many of your baby’s senses as you can with one toy? There are many toys that, for example, play music and light up at the same time. They may also have interesting textures and bright colors. These toys are proven to reduce stress, and they’re especially helpful for babies with special needs.
7. Stimulate The Imagination
Sure, colorful toys that make lots of noises are fun and will keep your child busy for some time. But what is your baby learning? A baby’s mind is constantly changing and developing, so this is the best time to teach them valuable lessons. Be sure to make the most out of this important stage of your child’s life. Many toys aim at posing different challenges to your baby, such as puzzles or stories. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are key for a successful adult life, and this is the best time to start developing them.
8. Build Social Skills
Children develop social skills quickly. When your baby is very young, they typically won’t even perceive strangers around them. As they grow up, children start communicating with others. While doing so, they learn about collaboration and reaching an agreement whenever they have differences. Toys help facilitate development of these skills.
Recommended Types of Toys for Babies
- Cards — Children are quite shortsighted when they are born. They spend almost 9 months in a dark womb with very little change in light or color. That’s why it’s important to help them train their eyes, not only to see beyond their personal space, but also to recognize colors. To begin with, using black and white cards are great for stimulating your newborn’s eyes, and you can start adding colors (like red, blue, and yellow) as they continue to grow.
- Rattles are Your Allies — Yes, newborn children might be shortsighted, but their hearing is excellent. They learn all about their world by listening to the sounds around them. As they grow, they begin to associate sounds with their source. You can help them with this important task by pointing out where particular sounds originate. You can also introduce rattles. These toys make a strident sound that’s salient even if the background noise is loud. As soon as you shake it in front of your baby, they’ll understand where it comes from. Your child will learn to follow the toy with their eyes and even recognize music patterns. When you choose a rattle, make sure it has non-toxic paint and no small pieces that might break off.
- Classic Balls for a Lot of Fun — There are many types of balls: small or big, soft or hard, easy or difficult to grasp…and children love all of them! Balls with a bell inside are particularly popular with young babies. When they’re starting to crawl, trying to reach the ball can be a great stimulator to move forward. In further stages of development, balls can be used to teach basic shapes, such as a circle or sphere. Throwing, catching, or even kicking the ball is incredibly fun, not only for the baby but also for the rest of the family!
- Put Puzzles Together or Play With Activity Cubes — When most people think of puzzles, they imagine large jigsaw puzzles, in which you have to invest hundreds of hours and multiple headaches to complete. But those aren’t the only puzzles that exist! Today, manufacturers design excellent puzzles especially for babies. Apart from bringing many hours of joy, they’ll help your child work on their problem solving and fine motor skills. Also, they’ll begin to recognize shapes and realize that not all of them fit in every space. Some puzzles are made of cloth or foam to ensure they don’t hurt your baby in any way. Activity cubes are another form of a puzzle that can help a baby to better understand shapes and images. The classic shape sorting toys are always a great place to start! These often comes with aural stimulation as well!
- Buy an Activity Gym — These gyms are designed so babies have a safe space to spend their time and learn to interact with new objects. Most of them have hanging toys, lights and music, so your child will truly enjoy the experience of playing in their own “baby gym.” When choosing an activity gym, you’ll want to find one with a good balance of bright colors and sounds so as not to overwhelm your child with too much stimulation. Some of these toys are adaptable and can be customized as your baby ages, meaning you won’t have to buy several of them.
- Start with a Book — Everybody loves a good story, your child included! Children just enjoy hearing their loved ones talk, even if a story is very simple. They often want to hear one particular story over and over again. Books can be great motivators for babies to start recognizing shapes and colors. In addition to being intellectually stimulating, storytelling can help you connect with your child at a deeper level. Moreover, the pictures can be very educational for a young child learning new vocabulary.
Last Considerations To Choose The Best Toys for Babies
When children play tag or climb trees (which requires physical effort), they develop their physical abilities. Watching television or playing video games may help in some areas of development, such as hand-eye coordination and computer skills, but if children aren’t physically active when they’re younger, they may have problems with obesity as they age. Playing helps prevent heart disease and other illnesses, too.
Toys certainly foster mental skills, as well as physical. Toys and games that are challenging for children help them increase their mental capacities. Studies suggest that the more a child plays, the better they will perform in academic exams. For instance, when children stack blocks, they are implicitly learning how to count even if they don’t know their numbers yet.
The moral of the story here is that you should carefully consider the toys you purchase for your child. They don’t necessarily have to be expensive, just appropriate to their age and needs. With the best baby toys, not only will you be ensuring your baby has a happy childhood, but you’ll also bond with them more deeply. Toys can bring you together for hours of quality time, not to mention the fun you (even as an adult) can have playing too. You’re never too old to play!