Guide to the Best Baby Toys and Gifts for Infants Newborn to 18 Month Olds
Purchasing baby toys can be confusing not only for new parents but family and work colleagues as well. We have done plenty of research in medical journals, pediatric journals, and other trusted sources and used that information to put together our definitive guide on baby toys for you.
Baby toys buying Guide
The benefit of this guide is it will provide you with worry free shopping for the coolest baby toys that are safe and age appropriate for your child, niece, nephew, grandchild or friend or business colleague's child. This guide will help family and even those who do not know the new parents well and want to buy them a unique baby gift that their baby will use, treasure and appreciate, something that will be a keepsake and become a fond memory of their childhood.
What makes a good toy for babies?
According the American Association of Pediatrics Journal, “Play is essential to optimal child development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” (Aleeya Healey, 2018).
Given that play is essential for babies, the question is what are the best baby toys for them to play with? Dr. Claire MacCarthy, a pediatrician and Professor at Harvard University Medical School recommends baby toys that do one or more of the following 3 things:
1. Toys that require imagination
2. Toys that encourage interaction
3. Toys that get your child moving
(See “The 3 kinds of toys that really help your child” from Harvard Medical School.)
Dr. MacCarthy cautions against commercial toys that advertise the latest technology, license the hottest kids movies, make noises and are often very expensive. She warns that these usually plastic, battery operated toys seldom ‘help children be happier, smarter, or more successful.”
A study by Anna V. Sosa, Ph.D., of Northern Arizona University goes further, it found that digital toys often advertised as educational actually impede children’s educational growth. She found that when kids used electronic toys there was less verbal interaction between the adult and child. Also, the child was less vocalized while playing with electronics.
“The truth is most tablets, computer games, and apps advertised as ‘educational’ aren’t. Most ‘educational’ apps target memory skills, such as ABCs and shapes,” according to the report by (Aleeya Healey, 2018). What this means is the more kids use electronics, the less other functions such as verbal skills, imagination, and motor skills are developed.
The Best Types of toys for babies and young children
So what types of toys either
a) Encourage babies to use their imagination
b) Encourage interaction between the child and parent or caregiver
c) Gets the child moving
d) A combination of some or all of these educational factors?
Since we have ruled out mass market, digital and electronic toys that studies have shown to have the adverse effect, we are going to focus on developmental baby toys that are eco-friendly. Not only are these natural baby toys educational, but they are safe for babies, the environment and for the workers who made them. When purchased as baby gifts, parents appreciate them more because they are unique, well thought through gifts that will outlive trendy baby gifts that they will likely receive from other people.
Developmental toys for babies
“When choosing a toy for a child, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the toy be appropriate for the child's age and stage of development. This makes it more likely the toy will engage the child – and reduces the risk it could cause injury." - Toy Safety Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics
This article will focus on natural baby toys and gifts, which promote motor and cognitive skills, and vocabulary and recommend them by age. We will break down toys for babies by appropriate age groups and what you should be looking for in order to provide the best toys that will help the child mentally, emotionally, and physically. These toys will promote motor skills, vocalization, imagination, and cognitive skills that each child needs. That will help the child build skills and socialization with the parents, caregivers and siblings. Toys that allow children to use their imagination, help them learn to solve problems and develop critical thinking. But if you don’t know the baby’s exact age, don’t worry most of these toys will last for the kid’s entire infancy and well into toddler-hood.
Newborn baby toys
Newborns are stimulated and learn through sight, touch, and sound as described in kidshealth. Since babies are learning passively, parents and caregivers can stimulate them with toys that make sound, move, feel good and require parents and caregivers to talk and make sounds to newborns so that they can learn your voice and decipher different sounds. So we recommend the following infant baby toys: mobiles, rattles, textured toys, mirrors and baby books.
Rattle Toys are wonderful newborn baby gifts because if thought through, they can become the go to toy, comforter and soother for baby, last well beyond infancy and become a keepsake. We recommend fabric organic baby rattles that are not only soft to touch on baby’s tender skin, but that are non toxic and safe for baby, the workers who made them and the environment.
We also recommend rattles with a soft non-jarring sound. While you want to support infants learning various sounds, you don’t want to alarm them with an overwhelming rattle.
Similarly, purchase rattles that are too large to be choking hazards, yet small enough for baby to hold them. Soon after infancy, babies start to work on grasping things. A well sized rattle will be appropriate for babies’ small fingers. Avoid large baby rattles that appear to give you better value for your money because those are too big for babies. On the contrary, if you give baby a rattle that they cannot grip it may never be used because they never bond with it.
Choose a rattle toy that has character and can be more than one thing. For infancy you want toy taxi rattles, toy animal and food rattles so that you can use the rattles to make up stories for babies. They will first listen and learn your voice and later bond with you over the stories and then as toddlers will use those same rattles to make up their own stories. Such baby rattles will be educational because like Dr. MacCarthy prescribes, it encourages interaction with the parent or caregiver and encourages children to use their imagination. Thus, a well chosen baby rattle can be a great educational baby gift that endures.
Similarly a good stuffed toy can be great for babies and be a memorable baby gift. Like rattles, we recommend stuffed animals and toys that are soft to touch and bursting with character. They will be gentle on newborns’ skin, great for caregivers to tell story with, bond with baby and then empower the toddler to use it for imaginative play. I still have my snuggle bunny from my childhood, treasure the memories that I have with it and while I did not pass it on to any of my kids, I am certainly happy that I kept it.
Loveys and Security Blankets
Lovies and security blankets can also be good developmental newborn toys. We recommend non-toxic organic baby blankets that are again gentle on baby's soft skin and are interactive. Interactive blankies have finger puppets or a character and are great for newborns and older babies because not only do they first explore the feel and texture, but will be a tool for bonding and eventually imaginative play. As with interactive rattles and stuffed toys, parents will first entertain infants with stories, bond with baby, the baby gets attached to the lovey, finds comfort in it and learns to use it to create characters and engage in their own imaginative, open ended play when they become toddlers.
Of course, mirrors and mobiles are similarly great choices to help visual development, just make sure that the child cannot reach the mobile. The mobile can play music and turn or simply hang from the crib. If you use photos or cards, use black and white pictures as first until the baby’s sight develops a little more then switch to more colorful items.
You can similarly use soft crocheted animals or butterflies in soft pastel colors. Newborns sight develops as they focus on objects that are close by and a mirror gives them a place to look where they can see their face.
Best toys for babies three to six months old
At this point of their development, most 3 to 6 month old babies are familiar with their caregivers voices and faces and are able to interact with them - smiling, laughing, cooing and making various noises and engaging with them.
3 to 6 month old babies are learning to control their bodies:
- Moving their fingers
- Opening and closing their hands
- Trying to grasp their toys and put them in their mouth
- Lifting their heads, arms and legs while they’re on their stomachs
- Learning to roll over
- Sit up and feed themselves.
Accordingly, the best developmental toys for babies 3-6 months old will encourage them to engage in the above described movements and interactions. Mirrors, mobiles, organic baby rattles, stuffed toys, security blankets, which we also recommended as newborn baby toys continue to be great for 3-6 month old.
Given that babies are now more aware and engaged, this is an important time for parents and caregivers to read to and interact with them. The books need not be complex literature, but should be fun and engaging. There are a lot of great ones, but I personally recommend classic board books, like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown or Pat the Bunny by Edith Kunhardt Davis. I read those to my 3 kids, never tired of them and as teenagers they now have fond memories of me reading those books to them.
Best baby toys six to twelve months
The next six months, the child will learn many new skills both physical and cognitive. US Center for Disease Control ‘CDC,’ they will be sitting, crawling or scooting on their stomachs, pulling themselves up, standing, either walking independently or while holding onto things, knowing and interacting with parents and caregivers.
Some can now communicate verbally or non-verbally by nodding “yes,” waving “no,” saying mama or papa or more. Emotionally, they are much more mature and can show excitement and sadness for people and things that miss and are a lot more able to interact with people.
So if you’ve been reading to them, they can hand you their favorite book suggesting that you read it, they can participate in and play peek-a-boo and more. They can communicate their feelings about the toys, books, stuffed toys and any other games that you may have thus far exposed them to. They can tell you what they like, what comforts and soothes them and what they’re thrilled about.
You can now add toys like stacking blocks, musical instruments, push toys, ring cones and other toys that challenge them to use their newfound motor skills - toys with levers, and toys that let them fit one thing into another for example. Simple bath toys like cups for emptying and pouring water are fun and educational for 6-12 month olds.
Best toys for twelves to eighteen months
Per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 12 to 18 month old babies may now be: walking on flat surfaces, some up steps and running, undressing themselves, using utensils like a spoon and cup. Their communication skill are much improved, they can say several single words and point to what they want. Also improved are their learning, thinking and problem-solving skills - they can identify body parts, ordinary items like telephone, brush, spoon; they can not only identify their stuffed animals, but can feed them and interact with them; and will sit and understand simple commands.
12 to 18 month old babies can now start to engage in imaginative play with rattles, stuffed animals, interactive lovies and toys that they may have. In addition, children this age to provide cool baby toys such as dolls, which they can now try to dress and undress as part of imaginative play. They can also enjoy organic wooden baby toys like blocks, ride on toys, wooden jungle gyms, climbing toys, and push pull toys to help with motor skills.
Wooden blocks can help promote skills like color, letters, vocabulary, and building as they can be stacked to form walls or towers. These walls and towers can be turned into an imaginative story to tell the child as while helping them build those walls and towers. All toys at this age will help with socialization with teaching sharing, taking turns, and more.
The caregiver should play with the child and watch for the possibility of the child being hurt from falling. That does not mean do not let the child have toys or fun. That is how they learn just be aware and if the child does fall do not make a huge deal of it if they are not seriously hurt. As long as they are ok instead of making a big deal over a fall let them know they are alright and continue to play.
Washable crayons and paper are additionally a great way to help develop imagination and skills that will lead to writing as the child gets older. Doodling and drawing with crayons allows the parent or caregiver to join the playtime too.
Our winning picks for unique baby toy gifts
In conclusion, all the toys we recommend for babies newborn to 18 months are age appropriate and per the research are educational because they either get babies moving, interacting with their parents or others or stretching their imagination while having fun. All are topnotch picks for baby shower gifts to give to babies and toddlers. Research shows that these old fashioned toys are far better for learning than the newer electronic toys.
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