Choosing Toys for Babies
By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Gentle Baby Care
You may not be
sure what kind of toys, or how many, you baby should have. It’s likely that
you hear conflicting advice that runs from one extreme to another! It’s
either: “Don’t give your baby toys ¾
he’ll be spoiled,” to “Give your baby lots of toys ¾
they develop his brain.” So…which is it?
Both sides of this
debate have valid points. A baby does indeed learn from the things she plays
with, and the more things she has access to, the more she can learn. With this
in mind, many parents spend a fortune buying toys; however, many toys hold a
child’s attention for three or four days, only to be relegated to the bottom
of the toybox or back of a shelf.
Babies learn about
their world by using all five of their senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell,
and touch. Toys engage and refine these senses by:
baby learn how to control his movements and body parts
baby figure out how things work
baby how he can control things in his world
baby new ideas
baby’s muscle control, coordination, and strength
baby how to use his imagination
baby how to solve simple problems
baby learn how to play by himself
foundation for learning how to share and cooperate with others
Experts agree that
babies need a variety of toys to enrich their lives and encourage learning.
While your baby can learn from expensive store-bought toys, she can also learn
from a crumpled piece of paper, a set of measuring spoons, an empty box, or a
leaf. Everything is new and interesting to a baby, and if you open your eyes
to the many wonders in our world, you’ll see that you don’t have to spend a
fortune to keep your baby happy, interested, and learning.
What “home-grown” toys are best?
As you view the
whole world as a bottomless toybox, here are some tips to consider:
Search for items
of different weights, materials, textures, flexibility, sizes, shapes,
colors, and smells. (Most store-bought baby toys are primary-colored
plastic; that’s why your metal keys on a leather key ring are so very
generalists. Your little one will apply what he learns from one object to
any other that is similar. Therefore, don’t give him an old book or magazine
to scribble in unless you want all
of your books to be potential notepads. A sealed bottle may look fun, but
your baby may then think he can play with your pill bottles.
Take a closer
look at the things you consider “trash.” Some may be valuable toys! Empty
boxes, egg cartons, and tin containers are just a few examples of everyday
castoffs that, once cleaned, can provide endless hours of play.
“I made a great
set of blocks for my daughter by collecting an assortment of empty boxes
from regular household products and covering them with contact paper. They
are colorful, light weight and man interesting shapes and sizes.”
of Shu-Lin (3 years old)
Your kitchen is
overflowing with baby toys! Once your little one begins to crawl, it’s time
to rearrange the kitchen. Put all your baby-safe items, such as plastic
containers, pots and pans, potholders and canned goods, in your lower
cabinets and let your baby know where his “toys” are. You’ll have to relax
your housekeeping standards and deal with disorganized cabinets for a while,
but the play potential is so fantastic that it’s worth it!
love water play, and a bowl or pan of water along with spoons and cups of
various sizes make a fabulous source of fun. You can put your baby in his
high chair, sit him on the floor on a beach towel, or take him outside in a
shady spot if the weather’s warm. I guarantee he’ll be soaked when he’s
done, but that will be after a very long and happy play session.
fill and empty are lots of fun for a baby. You can safely fulfill your older
baby’s desire to manipulate small things by filling a large bowl with a
variety of colorful children’s cereals (nothing hard or ball-shaped) and
supplying spoons, measuring cups, and other containers. Since you’re using
cereal pieces, it’s okay if some end up in his mouth. Don’t try this with beads,
seeds, macaroni, or other items that pose a choking hazard.
toys are best?
A while ago, I
went to the toy store to buy my youngest child, Coleton, a toy that my older
three adored when they were babies. It was a simple pop-up toy for toddlers
with various buttons, levers, and dials. I found a bewildering variety of this
kind of toy, but to my dismay, every single one was electronic. They made
sounds, they made music, they had blinking lights ¾
they just about played by themselves! I finally had to order the prized toy
from a specialty catalog that carries “back to basics” toys. Sure, electronic
toys can be exciting ¾
for a while ¾
but they can also stunt your baby’s developing ability to imagine and
manipulate (and let’s face it: those repetitive electronic sounds can get
annoying). If a toy does everything by itself, it loses its potential as a
tool for developing creativity. Also, if your little one gets used to these
toys, then simple pleasures like wooden blocks seem boring by comparison
because he expects the blocks to play for
him. And those simple toys are among the very best for baby playtime.
Look for these
qualities as you shop for your baby:
value: Will this hold your little one’s attention for more than a few weeks?
it hold up when sat on, thrown, jumped on, mouthed, or banged?
simplicity: Babies don’t need complicated toys.
for toys that teach but do not frustrate.
Does it match your baby’s thinking, language, and motor skills?
it encourage your baby to think?
does this toy foster creativity and imagination?
Does it engage your child or just entertain him as he watches passively?
your baby play with this in more than one way?
Well-loved toys tend to get very dirty!
Fit with your
family value system: Does this toy reflect your family’s particular values?
For example, is the toy friendly to the environment? Does it promote
diversity? Are you comfortable with what the toy represents?
Novelty: Is this
toy different from others your baby already has? You don’t want a toy box
filled with 30 different kinds of rattles!
Fun appeal: Is
it something that you will
enjoy playing with, too? Toys that encourage you to play along with your
baby are ideal.
Best toys for young babies:
Foot or hand
lightweight, easy-to-grasp toys
high-contrast graphics, bright colors, or black-and-white patterns
Best toys for older babies:
(two or three large pieces; knobs are helpful)
Cars and trucks
people and accessories
Dolls and stuffed
Push or pull toys
Toy versions of
everyday items (telephones, cooking utensils, doctor kits)
Toys you still
remember from your childhood (The classics endure and are always a good bet!)
or markers and blank paper
As you give you
baby new things to play with, keep in mind that there is no right way to play
with toys. For example, a puzzle is not always for “puzzling.” The pieces make
great manipulative characters, can be sorted or put in boxes, and make
interesting noises when banged together or against an empty pot.Children learn through play, so any toy they enjoy playing with is,
by definition, educational.
Safety for all toys
well the safety aspects of anything
your baby is going to play with. Here are a few ways to keep playtime safe:
plastic wrapping, plastic bags, packaging, or tags before giving a toy to a
Always watch for
choking hazards. Anything small enough to fit in your baby’s mouth has the
potential for danger. Watch for pieces that may become loose from a larger
object, too. Make sure that no small parts can be pulled off or chewed off
Check the paint
or finish on the toy to make sure it is non-toxic, since babies put
everything in their mouths.
Check toys for
sharp points, rough edges, rust, and broken parts.
Always abide by
the age rating on the package. No matter how smart your child is or how
wonderful the toy, don't second-guess the manufacturer, since age rankings
often are given due to safety issues. If you choose to purchase a toy with
an older age recommendation, make certain that the toy is used only when you
are playing with your baby, and that it is stored where your baby can’t get
to it without your supervision.
squeeze toys, teethers, stuffed animals, and other small toys from the crib
or bed when your baby goes to sleep for naps or bedtime. The exception here
is a specialty made-for-baby toy that has been carefully created to be a
safe sleeping lovey.
Avoid pull toys
with long cords that could wind around your baby’s neck. Pull toys for
babies should have either very short strings or rigid handles.
Make sure toys
are properly assembled, with no loose parts.
excessively loud toys. Babies tend to hold things close to their faces, and
you want to protect your baby’s sensitive ears.
Buy mobiles or
crib toys from reputable manufacturers, and make sure that they attach to
the crib without dangling strings. Remove mobiles and other crib toys once
your baby can sit up.
Make sure that
toys are never left on stairs, in doorways, or in walkways.
toybox should have a special safety lid (or no lid at all) to prevent it
from slamming on your baby's head or hands, or trapping your baby inside.
There shouldn’t be any hinges that could pinch little fingers.
Never give a
baby a balloon, Styrofoam, or plastic wrap as a toy; these present a serious
choking hazard, since they cannot be expelled using the Heimlich maneuver.
If a toy is
second-hand (whether purchased from a second-hand store or garage sale, or
given to you by a friend or relative), give all of the above rules extra
consideration. If you have any doubts, always err on the side of safety and
discard the toy. Don’t let your baby play with a paint-finished toy that
appears to be older than a few years ¾
the paint may be lead-based, which poses serious hazards to a baby who
touches or mouths it.
Keep toys (and
parts of toys) designed for older children out of the hands of babies.
Your baby may like to play with toys belonging to an older sibling or
friend, but these are geared, safety-wise, to older kids and are not safe
for little ones to use without very close supervision.
article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)