Choosing Age Appropriate Baby Toys

by Jennifer D. Kirkpatrick

Toys do more than just keep babies entertained -- they're extremely important for their mental, physical, intellectual and social development. Toys are the tools that teach baby about their world and their place in it. They add excitement to learning about life, how things work and how to get along with others. Good toys will give your little one the motivation to play and develop basic skills.

This article provides suggestions on choosing age appropriate toys and activities during baby's first year. Following these guidelines will help you be continually expanding baby's horizons and encouraging healthy development.

During the First 3 Months

For the first few months babies do little more than sleep and eat. In fact some sleep as much as 20 hours a day! Make the most of the time they're awake by choosing toys and nursery accessories that stimulate them and encourage them to use their developing senses.

When playing with a newborn, remember that they see best when objects are about eight inches away from their face. Make sure they can see you by leaning in when talking to them and holding toys close.

At this stage introduce:

  • A Mobile: Scientific research has shown that babies who are given appropriate stimulation show sustained developmental advantages over babies in less stimulating environments. Although they won't be able to focus on the specific shapes hanging from the mobile, babies are fascinated by the movement of a mobile and it encourages skills such as pattern recognition, eye/hand coordination, gross motor activity, and a sense of object permanence. Choose one that plays music and it will do double duty!

  • Music: From the time they're born, babies can hear high pitched noises and are soothed by low pitched noises. Numerous studies have concluded that playing music to babies in the womb and in the early years helps build the neural bridges along which thoughts and information travel. It's known as the Mozart Effect, a theory which is credited with boosting IQ, improving health, strengthening family ties and even producing the occasional child prodigy. It has also been shown that music can also stimulate the brain's alpha waves, creating a feeling of calm.

  • Simple Toys: Experts agree that babies get a great deal out of the toys that they can amuse themselves with. They learn many different things through their senses at this time, and through their senses, they discover their world. The most fascinating toys to a baby at this stage are those that make noise, or that use a lot of high contrast black and white, or bright colors such as red and yellow.

3 to 6 Months

By 3 months old baby has discovered her hands -- and her mouth. Her fists will uncurl more and she'll be able to start grasping. She may hold things for a moment and then lift them to her mouth to suck. Almost everything she grabs is likely to end up in her mouth.

During this stage babies also become much more aware of their environment. They respond to tickling, and other games you play with them. Now is the time to start introducing more interactive toys and activities that promote bonding and encourage baby to expand her boundaries.

At this stage introduce:

  • Nursing Necklaces: At a few months of age babies start to pinch, and pull at mom during feeding. Nursing necklaces (also called breastfeeding necklaces) give baby something else to hold to prevent mom from being hurt. They also provide baby with visual and tactile stimulation that furthers cognitive development.

  • Books: Baby is now able to focus on objects at different distances so it's a good time to start reading to her. She'll be able to see the pictures and words on the page and even at this young age will begin to associate words with sounds./

  • Handheld Toys: Baby can now hold onto objects and wave them around. She's also aware of the differences between her toys. Now is a good time to introduce different textures and sizes of toys that she can use by herself. She'll love the independence and you'll notice her hand eye co-ordination greatly improving.

  • Varied Music: Now that baby is more aware of her surroundings, you'll notice that sometimes she'll prefer to listen to a gentle lullaby, while at other times she'll want to hear more active music. Introduce a range of music at this stage so that she hears different musical instruments and tunes played at various speeds and volumes.

6 to 9 Months

By the time babies are six to nine months old, they are usually able to sit by themselves and are learning to crawl. Babies will also be learning fine motor skills, such as pinching and grasping objects with just two fingers. At this stage you'll want to provide baby with a variety of toys to play with in all shapes and sizes to satisfy the growing curiosity and need to explore.

At this stage introduce:

  • Reasoning Toys: Baby can now understand that an object is behind something and the idea of nesting objects. Encourage the use of reasoning skills with toys and games that make him think. Be sure to celebrate when he figures them out!

  • Physical Development Toys: Encourage baby to use his body in new ways by providing toys that require him to move and stretch. Balls are great because you can make a game of rolling them back and forth, as are toys on wheels that move away from him so he'll have to chase them.

  • Bath Toys: Now that baby can sit up, he'll begin to be more active during his bath. This is a great time to introduce water toys that encourage baby to learn about water. Squeaky ducks, cups to fill with water and empty again and anything else that is water safe and easy to hold can provide lots of entertainment.

9 to 12 Months

Babies at this stage like to make things happen -- they enjoy pushing a button and hearing a song, or seeing something light up. Having the ability to interact with their surroundings is very exciting and once they find something they like, they do it over and over (and over!) again.

At this stage introduce:

  • Interactive Toys: Babies can now interact with their toys in a way they weren't able to before. Anything that responds in some way to baby's actions or makes a noise will become fast favorites and will teach baby about cause and effect.

  • Co-Ordination Enhancing Toys: Babies at this stage are very mobile and enjoy pushing and pulling items. Toys that require them to use their whole body are great for encouraging them to walk. Other favorite games will include stacking items and then knocking them over and filling up an item and then dumping its contents.

  • Language Development Toys: Baby is now able to say simple words such as "no" and "dog." Encourage his growing vocabulary with toys and games that develop language skills. Great options are toys that say words when a button is pushed or videos that focus on language development. Fabric or board books are also good because after reading the story you can give the book to baby to flip the pages and "read" it back to you.

  • Role Playing Toys: They watch you and will want to start mimicking the things you do. Toys such as play telephones, brooms, shopping carts and steering wheels will be a big hit and will help baby explore the world of make believe.

Raising a well rounded child requires knowing what stage baby is at and introducing ways for them to grow and develop their minds and skills. Giving baby age appropriate toys will give him or her the best possible foundation for mental and personal growth.

Jennifer Kirkpatrick is the owner of the online baby store, Pipsqueak Boutique. With it's unique collection of baby toys, essentials, music and nursery items it's a one-stop shop for everything baby. To find products that are suitable for every stage of development, visit http://www.pipsqueakboutique.com

Copyright © Jennifer Kirkpatrick. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.