Babies might not look like they’re doing much besides eating and sleeping, but the first year of life is full of seismic shifts in development. And even before they can hold a toy, babies are ready to play.
The best baby toys stimulate their senses, focusing on the contrast they are able to see or the sounds and movements they can make themselves.
“Infants are really learning about their place in the world, so the best toys give them some sense of feedback,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive,” citing the classic baby rattle. “’I hit this and it moves’ is the beginning of having a sense of their place in the world.”
Babies also explore with their mouths, so look for toys that aren’t choking hazards (obviously) and might be interesting to a tiny tongue. And keep it simple.
“We tend to shy away from toys that are technological or lighting up and flashing, just because of the overstimulation that they provide,” says Marie Conti, the head of the The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.
Whoozit Wrist Activity Spiral, $10, Amazon
Wrist rattles are great for the littlest babies who can’t yet grab a toy. They notice the noise when they shake an arm (a favorite baby activity). Rattle socks are another fun choice.
Manhattan Toy Skwish Classic Rattle, $15, Amazon
This rattle is easy to hold, responds to baby’s movement and uses the primary colors they see best.
HABA Ring Around Wooden Clutching Toy, $12, Amazon
This simple wood toy is a rattle and teether, in baby favorite bright colors.
Sophie La Giraffe Teething Toy, $25, Nordstrom
Sophie is pliant, she squeaks and she’s easy to wash. She’s also universally delicious to babies.
Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Stroller Toy, $15, Target
Crinkly textures and teething spots that were made for tiny gums.
Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby, $15, Amazon
Infant eyes are best at seeing contrast and love symmetry (like the human face), so black-and-white patterns are great for stimulating their senses.
OBall Rattle, $5, Target
The holes in the ball make them easy for tiny hands to grab.
Edushape Sensory Balls, $13, Target
These are easy to grab, in bright colors and spiky shapes that feel great on the hands or tongue.
Infantino Discover and Play Activity Mirror, $12, Amazon
At around 6 months, babies love to look at themselves, even though they don’t know who it is in the mirror. A baby-safe mirror is a fun way to explore.
"Global Baby Bedtimes," $7, Amazon
“Babies love looking at faces of other babies,” says Nina Lindsay, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, adding that it’s particularly important to look for diverse faces because kids learn bias from a very young age. “It’s really important for all children to see children like themselves and different from themselves in books on a regular basis.”
“The I Love You Book” by Todd Parr, $6, Amazon
“Babies are still developing their color sight, so pictures with really high contrast and even black and white are really helpful,” Lindsay says.
Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim Mobile, $30, Amazon
This mobile uses black and white patterns and is designed to be seen from below, unlike many mobiles that look great from the side.
Baby Tree Blocks, $29, Amazon
Conti loves these baby versions of the tree blocks older kids use in Montessori school.
Green Toys My First Stacker, $12, Amazon
These stacking toys work whether they are in the “right” order or not.
Tiny Love Classic Mobile, $60, Amazon
This mobile takes the black and white pattern and adds movement and music, which older babies especially appreciate, says educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
Skip Hop Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym, $80, Amazon
Baby’s ready to hit the gym, with little toys that she can kick, pull and rattle herself.
Taggies Elephant Lovey, $20, Amazon
Babies and toddlers love to feel different textures, so “taggies” toys or blankets with tags sewn around them are perfect, Conti says.
SmartNoggin Noggin Stik, $20, Amazon
This rattle responds to baby’s movements by lighting up in three different colors.
Fisher-Price Precious Planet Kick and Play Piano, $30, Amazon
Tie this to the side of the crib and let baby tickle the ivories with his toes.
Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube, $23, Amazon
Baby can make all the sounds of a symphony by hitting a few buttons.
For more suggestions, check out our gift guide for 1-year-olds.
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