Babies begin life unable to change their position. They lie on their backs, arms and legs moving in an uncontrolled manner. Over time, they begin to develop an awareness of their limbs. Their hands and feet accidentally bump into the sides of the cot or an interesting object, like a crinkly toy. ‘That was fun and new!’ they think. ‘Let’s see if I can do it again’.
At first, of course, they can’t. But slowly they begin to exercise greater control over their body. They learn to move one limb at a time - and sometimes even the right one! You’ll have seen this happen with a baby who wants to reach for something with their hand but kicks their leg instead.
This is the time for a baby gym.
Baby gyms serve two main purposes:
- They present babies who are unable to move their bodies with something interesting to look at.
- They suspend toys for babies to reach for and grasp.
By five or six months, as they start to roll and crawl, babies no longer need a gym, but for those first few months nothing really stands in for one.
*such as a whisk, a knotted carrier bag or a sock filled with something that makes a pleasant sound, like marbles. If you choose to create a DIY activity toy, remember that it hasn’t been safety-tested. Stay with your baby at all times. We can’t always foresee the dangers our creations present.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT
The first four or five months are the time for a baby gym.
Here are the features to look out for:
- Adjustable height so that you can lower the toys until they are within reach.
- Scope to add or remove activity toys. Some gyms come with their activity toys fixed in place. Unsurprisingly, babies stop paying attention to these very quickly. The key is to rotate (i.e. replace) the toys every so often so that there’s always something interesting to look at.
- Multiple attachment points for activity toys. Bonus points if the gym allows you to hang a toy by your child’s feet. Kicking a jingly toy is brilliant fun when you are three months old.
- A wide base, especially if you choose a wooden one. It has to be completely stable as you don’t want to accidentally knock it onto your baby.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT
The best activity toys have well thought-out features:
- High-contrast for the youngest babies. Babies’ vision develops rapidly from birth, but for the first few months, they can only see in black and white. Those nice mobiles featuring cream-coloured teddy bears are completely useless for a newborn as they don’t stand out against ceiling above.
- A clear shape (for the same reason). Possibly the biggest activity toy crime is to face outwards to the adults, rather than down towards the child. A beautiful, age-appropriate figure is worthless if the baby can only see the soles of its feet.
- From 3 months, babies prefer colour to black and white.
- Easy to grip (the Manhattan Toy Co. ‘Winkel’, pictured here, is composed of 12 loops, ensuring that whatever angle your child’s hand approaches from, they will find a something to hold).