A while ago, I went to the toy store to buy my youngest child, Coleton, a toy that my older three adored when they were babies. It was a simple pop-up toy for toddlers with various buttons, levers, and dials. I found a bewildering variety of this kind of toy, but to my dismay, every single one was electronic. They made sounds, they made music, they had blinking lights -- they just about played by themselves! I finally had to order the prized toy from a specialty catalog that carries "back to basics" toys.
Sure, electronic toys can be exciting -- for a while -- but they can also stunt your baby's developing ability to imagine and manipulate (and let's face it: those repetitive electronic sounds can get annoying). If a toy does everything by itself, it loses its potential as a tool for developing creativity. Also, if your little one gets used to these toys, then simple pleasures like wooden blocks seem boring by comparison because he expects the blocks to play for him. And those simple toys are among the very best for baby playtime.
Look for these qualities as you shop for your baby:
Foot or hand puppets
Small, lightweight, easy-to-grasp toys
Toys with high-contrast graphics, bright colors, or black-and-white patterns
Activity boxes (levers/buttons/dials/hinges)
Beginning puzzles (two or three large pieces; knobs are helpful)
Cars and trucks
Chunky small people and accessories
Dolls and stuffed animals
Large interlocking beads
Push or pull toys
Toy versions of everyday items (telephones, cooking utensils, doctor kits)
Toys you still remember from your childhood (The classics endure and are always a good bet!)
Washable crayons or markers and blank paper
As you give you baby new things to play with, keep in mind that there is no right way to play with toys. For example, a puzzle is not always for "puzzling." The pieces make great manipulative characters, can be sorted or put in boxes, and make interesting noises when banged together or against an empty pot. Children learn through play, so any toy they enjoy playing with is, by definition, educational.
Always consider well the safety aspects of anything your baby is going to play with. Here are a few ways to keep playtime safe: