Whether you are about to buy a gift for a baby yourself, or looking to give suggestions to friends or relatives, I have some great baby-friendly ideas for you. These simple toys are great for babies' attention span, creativity, and growing brains!
I have used all of these items personally in my classes or nanny work. If you would like to help support my work educating nannies, you can click the links to go to Amazon. Buying this way produces a small commission, 100% of which goes into my Nurturing Nanny Scholarship Fund. If you want to double your impact, you can also set up RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) as your chosen nonprofit for Amazon Smile!
1. Kitchen equipment
Kitchen equipment makes great toys as it is already food safe. For a six month old, my favorite gifts to give are measuring spoons or silicone baking cups. Measuring spoons make a wonderful rattle, and silicone makes a satisfying teether. Mixing bowls and condiment cups are also delightful!
2. Big water jugs
For an older baby, my favorite gift to give is a large, wide-mouthed water jug. I often give this as a set with some small objects like hair rollers (remove the ones that are too small to be choking-proof), wooden clothespins, or wiffle balls to put inside it. Of course, children often have more interesting ideas about what to do with these loose parts than I do, so I never show them that they "should" put the objects in the big jug...they will figure it out. That is part of the fun!
Every child, boy or girl, should have at least one realistic doll. In my RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Classes, I always have at least one realistic doll so that the children have a place to explore eyes and hair without disturbing other babies. As children get older, they use dolls to process their lives through pretend play, especially care activities like diapering and feeding. A realistic doll is also a useful tool for a parent to help the child understand something that will happen soon. For example, a parent can take a doll to the "dentist" or demonstrate a new bedtime routine. This is a great way to help children understand their lives.
4. Gross Motor Structures
In my classes, I like to joke that babies are filled with helium, because the inborn desire to move up in space is so impossible to stop! From those first efforts to lift the head when lying on their back, through crawling, sitting, climbing on low platforms, walking, running, and climbing trees, babies are very much upwardly mobile. If you have the space for it in your home, the gross motor structures made by f(x) cutting are just wonderful!
5. Tools for building
Older children thrive on building. Duplo Lego blocks and wooden unit blocks always get a lot of use! The building phase of play starts around 3 years old and continues through preschool and the school years. To help facilitate the most mathematically interesting block play, make sure you buy actual unit blocks, which means the smaller blocks are the equal portions of larger blocks (the rectangle block is the same as two of the square blocks, which is the same as four of the triangles...). Lego are a good example of this, but wooden blocks in a set should be units of each other as well. The Block Book provides a super-fascinating overview of how free play with blocks teaches children about physics, mathematics, and much more!
6. Tools for independence
Once children can stand securely, you can invite them to participate in cooking with you. A learning tower, or kitchen stand, is a great tool for this, and I particularly love the style that can fold into the perfect toddler eating (or coloring) bench. You can use this fantastic tower to make it safer for your toddler to wash dishes, chop food with a Montessori style knife, or simply watch you cook.