How To Choose the Best Baby Toys

Best Toys

With so many toys on the market, how can you possibly know which ones are best for your baby?

It's an important question. Because for little ones, playing is about more than entertainment, it's their primary means of learning and developing. (That's why at One Step Ahead and Leaps and Bounds, we are so committed to providing developmentally beneficial toys.)

In just a few, quicksilver years, your helpless infant will become a competent youngster-walking, talking, socializing, reasoning. In fact, within the first four years of life, children develop a full 50% of their adult intelligence! That's how fast their brains are growing.

Giving your baby stimulating, age-appropriate toys will help your child develop faster and more fully-cognitively, physically, creatively and more. Understanding how babies learn is the key to knowing what toys to provide.

Born to Learn

Babies are born virtually programmed to learn. Before birth, genetics determine how the brain is "wired." Neurons travel to different parts of the brain, forming connections, called synapses, that await stimulation.

Once a baby is born, every experience-sight, sound, touch, taste and smell-helps stimulate those synapses and create trillions more. The more complex these interconnections, the brighter a child will be. By providing your child with early stimulation and a wide range of experiences, you can accelerate your baby's development.

Birth - 6 Months: Stimulating Sensory and Motor Development

Even the tiniest newborn is poised to soak up sensory data like a sponge-and in doing so, stimulate brain development.

A newborn's vision is limited, which is why tiny infants respond best to black-and-white objects, bright colors and bold graphics. But vision develops quickly, along with motor control. As early as the second month, babies will begin studying their hands and swiping at objects. Most begin rolling over between two and six months.

For babies under six months, the best toys are:

Best Toys
  • Rattles, teethers and other sensory toys that expose baby to a variety of sounds and textures
  • Colorful mobiles and banners that stimulate vision
  • Baby safe mirrors (babies are drawn to faces)
  • Activity centers and baby gyms that encourage reaching and grasping
  • "Tummy time" toys that help build abdominal strength (a must for back-sleeping babies)
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music that stimulate vision and hearing

6 - 12 Months: Interactive Play

During this period, babies discover cause and effect-shaking, banging and pushing every object within reach. Hand-eye coordination improves; favorite games are "clap hands," "pat-a-cake" and "peek-a-boo." Most babies begin crawling around seven months and by ten months, many are starting to "cruise." In addition, they begin to put sounds together to form simple words.

For babies between 6 - 12 months, the best toys are:

Best Toys
  • Shape sorters and nesting cups, which reinforce the concept of object permanence
  • Activity centers and push/pull toys that allow baby to create movement
  • Adventure courses that encourage creeping and crawling
  • Musical and sound-making toys
  • First photo albums
  • Gentle rockers and bouncers, which satisfy baby's love of motion
  • Stuffed animals, dolls and "blankies" for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read to baby.

12 - 18 Months: Goal-Oriented Play

Many children begin walking around their first birthday, and with this exciting new skill comes a strong desire to explore. Most toddlers are goal-oriented and driven to experiment. They begin imitating grown-ups physically and verbally. Through constant activity, they begin strengthening large muscles and improving fine motor coordination.

For tots 12 - 18 months, the best toys are:

Best Toys
  • "Hands on" toys like a jack-in-the-box, pail and shovel, and water toys
  • Building blocks, play sets and bead mazes that encourage experimentation and help develop fine motor skills
  • Active toys, such as toddler swing sets, safety trikes and wagons that allow tots to delight in motion, while building strong muscles
  • Very simple musical instruments
  • Stuffed animals, dolls and "blankies" for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read to baby.

18 - 24 Months: Problem-Solving Play

At this age, tots begin using their imagination. Children engage in imitative and make-believe play and problem solving strategies. They can match objects by shape and color, follow simple instructions, and dance to music. Language also explodes around 18 months, and toddlers acquire new words at a mind-boggling rate.

For tots 18-24 months, the best toys are:

Best Toys
  • Puppets and dolls
  • Costumes
  • Rocking horses, playhouses, miniature appliances and other toys that foster imitative play
  • Puzzles, blocks and construction sets that create opportunities for problem solving
  • Active toys, such as toddler swing sets, safety trikes and vehicles that encourage muscle growth and control
  • Simple musical instruments
  • Stuffed animals and "blankies" for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read together.

24 - 36 Months: The Age of Mastery

Fine motor coordination is on the upswing! Now kids are ready for arts and crafts projects, simple sports and beginning board games. Children this age are very responsive to music, videos and books. By the time they reach their third birthdays, most kids are fluent talkers. With this growing competency, many are ready for more "big kid" toys.

For children 24-36 months, the best toys are:

Best Toys
  • Art and craft supplies, such as finger paints, chalk boards, easels and modeling clay
  • Simple board games for beginners
  • Train sets and cars; dolls with accessories
  • Rocking horses, playhouses, miniature appliances and other toys that foster imitative play
  • Costumes
  • Puzzles and construction sets that create opportunities for problem solving
  • Swing sets, sand boxes, trikes and other riding vehicles
  • Electronic educational games and workbooks that introduce kids to phonics, the alphabet and numbers
  • Simple musical instruments
  • Stuffed animals, dolls and "blankies" for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read together.

You'll find hundreds of beneficial, developmentally sound toys for babies, toddlers and children at One Step Ahead and Leaps and Bounds. All are tested for safety and play value, and many are award-winners. And we always indicate age appropriateness...so you can choose the right toy for the right age.

For toys for babies birth - three years, click here. For outdoor toys for kids ages three and up, click here. For indoor toys for kids ages three and up, click here.

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