As babies grow and develop, they will be able to play with, and learn from new toys. But as any parent who has visited Toys "R" Us knows, there are hundreds of different toys to choose from for any age. Though many toys are labeled with an indication of the age range that they are appropriate for, it is difficult to know which ones are going to be the most fun and educational for your little wiggle-bug. These are the kinds of toys that I have had the most success with for babies ages 3-6 months. Although, if something looks fun to you, your baby will probably appreciate it too.
1. Toys with lights.
Your baby is probably enjoying a new found control over his hands right now, and he is looking to grab a hold of some new and exciting things. Toys that light up when your baby hits, kicks or shakes them are not only fun, the help spur the next big development: recognizing cause-and-effect. There are battery powered rattles that light up, some hand held toys that need to be pulled on to light up and many that light up if your baby takes a swat at them while laying in the baby gym. Any of these that are in your price range and look fun to you will be great for your baby.
2. Musical toys.
It is a truth of baby toys that you will rarely, if ever, find a toy that lights up which does not also play music. However, there are some musical toys that do not light up. A little piano, a caterpillar that plays songs when you touch his feet or a stuffed animal that sings songs when it is snuggled or grabbed are fun choices if you want to separate the two types of stimulation. Music of any kind has been shown to very beneficial for babies, but especially classical, and most especially Mozart, so even if you don't get musical toys, getting in the habit of regularly playing some classical music in the play area is a great idea. I do not recommend the "Baby Einstein" DVD series however. A very recent study showed no improved mental functions from watching them, and a marked lag in social development from lack of parental face time among babies who did view the DVD's regularly.
3. A baby-safe photo album.
One of the first things your baby learns is to recognize facial structures, and one of the next things is to be able to tell one face from another. Giving your baby a safe, flexible photo album is a great way for your baby to enjoy these new-found skills and to stimulate the next social skill: facial memory. Being able to see different faces on a fairly regular basis is one thing that helps to reduce the frequency and intensity of stranger anxiety. It is a great idea to fill the album with pictures of friends and family, as well as pictures of you and your little diaper model. Having a variety of faces, both familiar and those seen less often, will prompt your baby to associate the same positive and comfortable emotions she experiences when looking at you with all of the faces in the album.
4. A bouncy seat or an exersaucer.
I will admit right off the bat that most infant physical therapists will disagree with me on this one. Before your baby can crawl putting weight on his feet will stimulate both the urge to stand and the muscles that he will be using to keep his balance while erect, but most infant physical therapists place such a strong emphasis on crawling before walking that they would not recommend putting your baby in an exersaucer until after he has started crawling. I still do recommend these play structures for babies because, in my opinion, the interactive and independent play behaviors that are stimulated outweigh the worry that it might discourage crawling. If your baby is getting an appropriate amount of tummy-time, and is developing the skill to roll over, there is no need to be worried about them playing in an upright position. When a baby is always oriented tummy down on the floor, it is hard to use toys effectively because they need to use their hands to hold themselves up. I have seen so many babies become frustrated with this aspect of tummy time, and after a while, they don't want to have tummy time at all. However, if after a long and productive session of tummy time you notice that your little blankie surfer is getting frustrated, a bouncy chair or exersaucer (the "circle o' fun!" as my friends Beth and Brad called it) makes a great place for your baby to take a break while still being entertained.
5. Cloth baby books.
Cloth baby books are the best thing since board books! They crinkle, squeak and jingle. They have flaps that cannot be ripped off, and baby saliva wont cause them to crumble into millions of tiny choking hazards. You might still have board books, but it is best to keep them out of your little librarian's reach unless she is sitting in your lap. Cloth books, on the other hand are good for reading time and for independent play time. One of the best features is that they lay flat on the floor, making tummy time more fun. And, when your baby gets tired of playing with one part of the book, you can just turn the page for a whole new selection of fun. This kind of toy stimulates tummy time, fine motor coordination, image recognition and cause-and-effect relationships. These awesome toys/books are one of my top recommendations for new parents.
Armed with these tips, your next trip to the toy store should be a lot easier. Don't be too quick to throw out old toys though, some baby toys will still be fun for your little goof-ball when he is two years old! A good strategy for keeping your baby from losing interest in his toys is to periodically take about a quarter of the toys in your baby's play area away and store them out of sight for about 2-4 weeks. Then, when he begins to lose interest in the toys he has, trade out the toys for the ones he seems to be getting used to. With fewer toys around you will be able to tell more easily if there are certain toys that your little firefly just doesn't use anymore and you can give them away or donate them to charity. If you have found these tips helpful, I hope you will forward them to any new or expecting parents you know. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcome. Happy parenting!