Right Toys, Right Time-Our Top 5 Favorite Toys for Ages 0-3
Often the cost of having a baby can be burdensome and there are SO MANY toys on the market, it is hard to sift through and know which ones are worth the cost. Here are a list of our most used, interactive toys for that newborn stage and why we love them-many are inexpensive or can be a DIY!
Babies begin looking at faces early and responding to various facial features. Their vision develops significantly in the first 7 months of life, initially only able to focus on objects 8-10 inches away. We love using mirrors at this age to practice visual motor skills, direct their attention to various facial features (make silly faces, talk), or identify body parts (vocabulary, intonation, etc.) on you and your baby. You might even see them start to try and reach out to touch the mirror/their reflection. No need for anything expensive or fancy, propping up a dollar store mirror during tummy time or holding your baby in front of your bathroom mirror for interactive play work great!
Fun fact: inability to recognize familiar faces is called prosopagnosia!
2. Animated/Singing, Light-up Toys
While some of these can be costly, if you’re able to invest in one, look for one that has lights (bonus if they change colors!), movement, and makes noise/sings. Further, if you can find one that sings or reads lullabies for longer durations per push, that increases the duration of independent play and fosters sustained attention skills (read: less time pushing that button!). From a cognitive development perspective, we like these toys because they target visual development and introduce the cause-effect relationship (i.e., Mom pushes the button –>music plays). A toy is only a toy, so to make the most out of these toys, we recommend introducing the “more” or “again” sign during turns, use of “on/off” words, identifying colors/parts on the toy, or singing along with the songs. Animated toys can even give caregivers a little break from crying during diaper changes-prop one beside your changing station and hit the ‘start’ button!
3. Rattle or Crinkly Toys
Hand-eye coordination begins to develop as the infant starts tracking moving objects with his/her eyes and reaching for them. Closer to around 3 months of age, babies will begin grabbing for objects, which is why we love introducing easy to grasp rattles, such as the one pictured below. Unlike the visual system, the auditory system requires external auditory stimulation, such as a rattle or crinkling noise, to develop. While the auditory system begins to develop in utero, the hair cells of the cochlea, axons of the auditory. nerve, and neurons of the temporal lobe continue to develop into the first 5-6 months of life. Beyond the benefits to babies auditory and visual systems, rattle and crinkle toys assist in sensory development and reintegration of reflexes (e.g. startle).
4. Mobiles & Spinning Toys
Babies are not born all the visual abilities needed in life, but they need opportunities to learn how to focus and move their eyes accurately. While around 1 month babies can begin to hold eye contact, at around 3 month, they will focus on faces and follow moving objects with their eyes. Mobiles, fast and slow moving aid in eye muscle strengthening, improved head control, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness. We like the Baby Einstein ball because it suctions to various surfaces and has layers of colored rings that move when spun.
There are TONS of mobiles on the market, however one can easily be made with a needlepoint ring, string, and some felt or paper. The bonus to making your own is the opportunity for personalization and use of high contrast colors!
The mobile arm below features a motor for movement and music, easy attachment for moving to different furniture, and objects that can be interchanged with a little creativity. Some of our favorite objects on our mobile are black & white felt shapes and colorful, plastic rings!
You are by far the best learning toy out there. However, we know time is limited, life is stressful, there may be other children, etc., so maximizing interactive opportunities is key! We know babies learn about self-expression through playful movements (e.g., bouncing on knees, rocking, patty cake, etc.). Around this age you will notice they begin to “coo,” turn toward sounds/voices, and smile in response to interactions. Remember that babies are learning through you during daily activities, so activities like bathing, eating, riding in a stroller, etc. can all be great learning opportunities since they occur almost daily. Try talking about what you’re doing (e.g., “scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub that little head”), what’s happening around you (e.g., “Look at those dogs playing. Silly puppies!”), or the sounds things make (e.g., “mmmmm,” “choo choo”).