Ever wonder why items like mobiles, rattles, and even simple mirrors have remained baby toy staples over several decades? It’s because babies use their five senses for critical brain development and toys that engage those senses help with that process.
A newborn baby starts out with very low visual acuity, motor control, and communication skills. But it’s not long until he starts to be able to visually track and differentiate between objects, reach for and grasp objects, and communicate via signs and gestures. Today we’ve rounded up some of the best sensory toys to help your little one along this amazing journey.
For the first three months, sight and sound will be the best way to stimulate your baby. Popular toys for this age group include mobiles, mirrors, and rattles. Because babies start out being able to see only black, white and some reds, toys that use these colors (or bright, high contrast hues) work best for infants. Toys that play soft music or emit a squeaking sound will also capture their interest at this age.
Starting around three months, your baby will be ready for more complex stimulation. This is a great time to introduce toys that encourage tactile stimulation such as balls, stuffed animals, soft books, and play mats. As your baby continues to grow, she will begin to gravitate towards action/reaction and musical toys as well.
Following these guidelines, here are some of our favorite sensory toys for baby:
- Mobiles – Crib mobiles help the movement of eyes, which in turn strengthens eye muscles. They also enhance your baby’s listening skills, and for the first few weeks may be the only thing that really holds his attention. The award winning Infant-Stim mobile features vivid colors along with bold black-and-white graphic, and its simple-to-complex images stimulate early visual activity and pre-reaching movement.
- Soft Mirrors – When babies are first born they can only see 10 to 12 inches in front of them and can only distinguish human faces, making a soft baby mirror an ideal first toy. We like the high contrast colors and versatility of the Sassy Crib to Floor Mirror. Hang it above your baby in the crib to encourage reaching or next to her on the floor during tummy time.
- Wrist and Ankle Rattles – These strap-on rattles are ideal for infants who aren’t yet able to hold a traditional rattle. Along with stimulating the sense of touch, the noise that is created while your baby moves helps develop directional hearing and gross motor skills. There are several types available on the market. We like this one from Haba which also incorporates a teething ring.
- Play Mats – Play mats are great for sight, hearing and gross motor development in young babies. Plus they give you a safe place to put your little one down so you can do important things like getting dressed or going to the bathroom. The Gymini Super Deluxe – Lights and Music provides lots of great stimulation by incorporating hanging toys, a mirror, and textural items on the mat itself for your baby to grasp and feel.
- Hand-held Rattles and Teethers – Babies begin to grasp objects at three and four months of age. This is a good time to transition to hand-held rattles and teethers and also to introduce toys with various textures (stuffed animals and balls) to help stimulate dexterity. The Natural Wooden Ring Rattle is a lovely little rattle that’s free of coatings, stains or paints.
- Small Stuffed Animals – My kiddos loved the high contrast colors, sound effects, and various textures of the Lamaze line of stuffed animals. Their favorites were the Musical Inchworm at home and Mortimer the Moose when we were on the go.
- Balls – Younger babies will enjoy the various sizes and textures of Infantino’s Textured Multi Ball Set. As your baby gets older, rolling the balls back and forth will be one of his first interactive games with Mom or Dad.
- Books (board and soft) – It’s never too early to start reading to your child. Look for board books, soft books, high contrast photos and photos of faces to encourage your baby to interact with the books. The Amazing Baby Series does an excellent job of incorporating all of these things.
- Hand-held Action/Reaction Toys – Finally, around six or seven months, your baby will start to take a strong interest in toys that reward an action with movement, lights and sounds. These types of toys, though annoying at times, can be a life-saver in the car or while waiting at the doctor’s office. When my son was a baby, we never left home without our Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes.