Toy Guide

Qualities of Excellent Toys

Infant toys should be simple and baby-activated instead of battery-activated. Babies are just beginning to explore objects, and it’s easier to understand ideas of shape & pattern with simple toys. Many commercial baby toys are texture and pattern overkill. All that is needed is just one or two textures, patterns, or colors.

 

Some of the best infant toys are not really toys at all, so keep your eyes open for interesting objects. Cooking equipment is sturdy and mouth-safe. You can also use things like empty water bottles, and empty laundry detergent bottles (clean, with labels and small parts removed).  

 

You can nourish your baby’s creativity by presenting toys to your baby without showing how they are used. When we refrain from showing children the “right” way to use a toy, they come up with activities we never would have thought of. They truly own any discovery they make.

 

Look for toys made from a variety of materials: wood, BPA-free plastic, silicone, stainless steel, and fabric. Look for objects with different properties: bumpy and smooth, soft and hard, heavy and light.

 

It is not necessary to have many toys available at any given moment. An approximate guide: try to keep the number of toys immediately available to under 4 for a premobile child, under 8 for a crawling child, and under 12 for a toddler, depending on the size of the space and number of parts to each toy.

 

It is essential to distinguish between toy display and toy storage. Toys present in the baby's play space should be displayed in a simple manner, on a rug, in a basket with 1-3 similar toys, or as a single object on a shelf. We must be careful not to overwhelm a baby with too many objects, which decreases their ability to foucs and burdens the parent with unnecessary clean-up. Every week or so, some of the toys can be rotated out of the play space and different toys can be displayed in their place. 

 

Seperate from the baby's play space, the parent must have a place to store toys that are currently out of rotation. These toys may be placed in big bins and sorting containers, which the adult mind is better able to cope with. An older baby or toddler can come with the parent to the storage area and help choose which toys they want in their play space.

What You Don't Need

Babies are driven to know how things work. They need to be able to see, touch, and mouth the workings of each toy in order to fully understand it. No electrical or button-based toy can fulfill this need. Removing all of those sorts of toys will nourish your baby's innate, inquisitive nature and long attention span, and it will keep you from going crazy from all the noise!

 

Similarly, toys with hiddlen rattles, crinkle paper, and squeakers are perpetually inexplicable to a baby and hinder their ability to understand the world. If you are looking for something that makes a lovely rattling sound, try plastic keys or measuring spoons on a ring. 

 

There is no need to dangle toys over a baby using a mobile or a tentlike play gym. Babies, especially newborns, have a looking reflex that makes them look at mobiles and other things that are in constant motion, but this does not necessarily mean the baby is truly interested in the object. In fact, since this is a reflex, they have no choice but to look at dangling objects like this, which is hardly respectful. Babies cannot fully explore a dangling toy, even if it is hung low enough for them to hold it. They need to be able to feel objects as they exist in free space, to manipulate them and mouth them. If you instead place toys next to your infant, they will demonstrate true interest and readiness when they reach for the toy of their own volition.

 

You also don't need objects designed to hold a baby or restrain them in any way, unless they are solely for transportation (i.e. car seat, strollers, carriers). Babies need every opportunity available to develop their motor skills, which they can’t do properly when restrained in a bouncy seat, swing, or exersaucer. A baby that is provided with a safe environment to explore quickly learns to occupy themself without these things.

 

The best toys are ones babies can play with independently. Your baby doesn’t need you to play with their toys in order to boost your relationship; they are getting huge doses of attention from you every time you change their diaper, feed them, soothe them, or help them to sleep.  

 

If your child can’t possibly play with a toy without you helping, they are probably not ready for that toy. For example, a nonmobile baby is not ready for toys that roll. A ball that rolls out of baby's reach will tempt you to play fetch every few moments and hinder independent exploration. Objects offered to the baby as toys must reflect their developmental stage and realistic abilities. A little bit of challenge is good, but not  so much that the baby can't ever do it without you.

Newborns

Babies who are learning to control their hand movements learn the most from exploring their own hands. Newborn babies have a reflex that causes them to grip objects placed in their hand, but this is not a conscious decision. Instead of placing a toy into a young baby’s grasp, I recommend letting your child discover the joy of their hands first. From this experience, they will learn to correlate conscious intention (deciding to move a finger) with a visual result (seeing the finger move), which is part of the process of developing a purposeful grasp. Once babies have developed core strength from playing on their backs, they will also enjoy playing with their feet.

Beginning Grasping

Place a simple, lightweight object within easy reach of pregrasping babies and you may see them showing interest by watching the toy. Even before they reach for it, they are learning about shape and color.  After a few months of playing with their hands and exploring the world visually, they will be reaching out to grasp the toy. There is no need to place objects in their hands. When they are ready they will pick it up themselves.

 

It’s often around this age that babies begin to experience the rigors of teething, so you will want to have objects with a variety of textures ready for some determined chewing!

 

Advanced Grasping

Once your baby has mastered grasping things that are small in diameter and lightweight, you can start adding some objects that are heavier or more difficult to pick up. Babies at this age love to scatter things, so you can fill up bowls with small objects, or set up nesting toys for them to take apart. There is no need to show your baby how to play with the toys. If you allow them to find their own way to explore the toys they will engage in the way most relevant to them. They will surely surprise you with their ingenuity!

Crawling

Once the baby becomes interested in movement, you can add in a few toys that move. Balls are perfect for beginning crawlers since they encourage the child to move after them when they inevitably roll away. If your baby is still new to moving and gets frustrated with a never-ending game of fetch, just put the balls away for a while and then bring them out once your baby is rested.

 

Infants are fascinated with other people. They love to touch eyes, pull hair, and poke faces. Although developmentally normal, it can get tiring for the adults or other babies on the receiving end of this curiosity. Let them explore a doll with realistic hair and eyes instead.

 

There are lots of things babies will enjoy crawling up or climbing on. You can buy wooden structures with a short height, use the bottom steps of a staircase, or find platforms and shapes out in the world for them to explore.

Build and Carry

Toddlers love to dump, fill, sort, collect, and carry. Look for objects that can be put inside other things, like a big water bottle that clothespins and wiffle balls can be dropped into. Most toddlers love to collect things in a purse or bag and carry them around. They might also enjoy walking toys that are pulled behind them on a string, or pushing cars around on their wheels. 

 

Building begins when children start to actually stack those stacking toys they have been chewing on and scattering for months. Unit blocks are a versatile toy that allow for fascinating building and pretend play, which continues to evolve all throughout preschool.

 

It takes the baby months of chewing and exploration to discover they can stack objects, so don't feel you need to instruct the baby in building and stacking. As with all accomplishments, it is far more rewarding for the baby to make this discovery on their own.

 

Once the child can interact with objects without needing to mouth them, usually between 12 and 24 months, you can introduce simple art activities. Exploring paint and clay is an enjoyable sensory experience. You can expect your toddler to be interested in the process of art, with no regard for the product, for years to come. 

Pretend

Believe it or not, kids will learn even complex pretend play completely on their own; no need to teach! Given the proper tools and time, this developmentally programmed play will emerge, usually modeled on your activities and events in their lives. Toddlers and preschoolers love pretend objects that reflect what they see around them in the real world, like cooking or cleaning tools.  

 

Bonus!

You might also want to check out my articles on setting up a safe play space, managing toy overload, and fostering independent play.

Respectful Caregiving

Christina Vlinder

San Francisco Bay Area

Training for Nannies and Parents

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© 2019 by Christina Vlinder.