A baby’s most important toy is you, which is why we don’t recommend many toys for babies, and for under six-months very little at all. A mobile, a baby gym and a couple of activity toys to scatter on the play mat is more than enough. But there are a few items in our range that can really engage and inspire babies during those early months.
The soothing sound of a musical toy can be the difference between a restful nap and a lot of bouncing and jiggling, trying to calm a sleepless and fractious baby. The music is also a source of delight and pleasure during happier times. The four children in the 100 Toys house all had their own preferences as babies, but they were united in their love of a calming tune. So much so that we could steal a few minutes to get the dinner on or enjoy a quick cup of tea.
Most of us sing to our babies from birth. Singing, ideally with plenty of eye contact, lays the foundations for language and the connection between two people that is conversation. Actions bring songs to life and make them more memorable. They also help develop key skills. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive encourages finger isolation; Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes for co-ordination; If You’re Happy and You Know it for listening.
A song bag like this one by Oskar & Ellen contains soft finger puppets to help you bring songs to life:
- Twinkle, twinkle
- Baa baa black sheep
- The wheels on the bus
- Incy Wincy spider
- Row, row, row your boat
- Sleeping bunnies
They are made in washable cotton and come in a soft drawstring bag that acts like a magical lucky dip – which song will you sing next?
From 1 month
An activity mat is one of our few baby must-haves. In many ways its main function is to be a washable, movable surface on which your baby can lie. So why buy a dedicated mat rather than using a blanket or quilt you already have? The answer is the overhead arms. A newborn, barely able to turn her head voluntarily and still not yet in control of her limbs enjoys watching and listening to the toys hanging from above. Over time, as she learns to co-ordinate her arms and legs, she’ll reach for – and eventually grasp – the dangling toys. This is hard work and the product of several months’ effort.
Eventually, you can move the toys away from the overhead position and further to the side, eventually putting them on the ground in line with her head, just out of reach. Your child learns to turn and eventually to roll, keen to see and to grasp the object of her desire. And then, with one great heave, she is on her tummy! She’s ready to build upper body strength and begin on the long road to crawling and independence.
An activity spiral is great for on-the-go when you can wrap it around the bar on a pram or pushchair.
Peg people and loose parts
From 6 months
Grapat’s rings and coins are beautiful, but what do you DO with them?’ It’s a question we get a lot. Are they for building, pattern-making, posting or something else? The answer is all of the above – and much more. The idea behind loose part play is that there are no rules. Children respond to the materials in whichever way makes most sense for them. For babies, that may mean nothing more than reaching, grasping, mouthing, placing and dropping. As adults, we look at the pieces and wonder what we can create, and the answer is often ‘not very much’. But seen through a baby’s eyes, they are a wonderful opportunity to learn to pick up and let go, to stack and scatter, to bash and chew.
Try plunging your hand into a basket of rings and coins. Rattle a few together to enjoy their soft, clear woody sound. Smooth, round and cool to the touch, they’re extremely satisfying to hold. Now their name makes sense: ‘grapat’ means ‘handful’ in Catalan.
From 9 months
Simple puzzles like these Plan Toys matching puzzles help develop your baby’s hand-eye co-ordination and spatial awareness. Three different size shapes fit neatly into three places but which one goes where?
Start with the circle puzzle, as the pieces fit whichever way round you put them:
Then the square (four-way rotational symmetry, for those who remember primary school maths.)
Triangles are harder as they only fit three ways.
The puzzle with three different shapes is hardest of all: the shapes have to match the right hole and be correctly orientated.
In the 100 Toys house, we used the sofa as an impromptu table, laying out puzzles in a row. Our nine-month-old, who could not yet stand unaided, would be on his feet for extended periods, ‘cruising’ from one activity to another, engrossed in puzzle play whilst also learning to walk.
Even before they can hold one by themselves, a baby will benefit from a rattle being shaken for them as they’ll learn to track the toy’s location by its sound.
As eyesight develops, a rattle with visible moving parts such as beads, encourages your baby to link what they see and what they hear, learning cause and effect. They also help with physical co-ordination and gross motor development.
Tegu’s swivel bug rattles to the next level with wooden ‘wings’ that move thanks to elastic cords and some magnetic magic. Babies like to explore and experiment with the elastic and magnetic forces, while the easy to grasp wooden wings make them great to take along with you on your travels.
A first set of blocks
A good set of wooden blocks is our number one toy and you can’t beat Grimm’s simple cubes for your baby’s first set. Handmade and stained (rather than painted) they retain the timeless feel and texture of wood, making them pleasing for small hands to hold, and they come in a range of natural colours.
When choosing blocks, consider the best size for your baby to hold. Too big is unwieldy, too small is too fiddly. A simple 4 x 4 cm cube works really well. Cubes are also brilliant for stacking, one of the first things a baby learns to do with blocks. When putting one block on top of another, the upper block’s centre of gravity must be located over the lower one. If it’s off to the side, the tower will topple. Long or oddly-shaped pieces will have a centre of gravity that’s hard to locate whereas it’s almost impossible to go wrong with a cube. As long as one block broadly matches the other, they will stack.
Tips for fewer toys
Finally, remember that children under one need very few toys. Human contact and opportunities to move and develop co-ordination are what’s important at this age. The drawers in your kitchen hold as much of interest to a nine-month-old as even the most well-stocked toy box. Make a treasure basket. There’s no toy that can match it.
For the rest of our Gift Guide series, see the posts on toddlers and preschoolers.