Exposing your child to appropriate learning toys at the right ages will enhance her development and boost baby brain power. When selecting the toys that will stimulate your little one's senses, remember this: "The more a toy does by itself, the less the child can do with it. The goal for play should be to engage, rather than entertain," says Michelle LaRowe, author of A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists. "Playing is your baby's primary mode for learning and development. Choose stimulating, age-appropriate toys to foster your baby's cognitive, physical and social development."
You may think that baby is too little to "play," but there are plenty of toys with which he can work when he's younger than 6 months. "Toys should be geared toward sensory and motor development," says LaRowe. "Black and white and bright and bold-colored objects will interest your baby at this stage. Once baby begins to grab at objects or mouth them, textured toys are a great choice."
Tummy time is also very important at this stage to promote proper muscle development and keep baby's head from getting flat spots, says LaRowe, who recommends interactive play mats or activity quilts as tummy-time toys.
More learning toys for babies younger than 6 months: mobiles with lights and motion, plush toys that make noise, textured balls and toys, teething rings and toys, music or musical toys, unbreakable mirrors, cloth or board books, plastic links, soft blocks and balls, rattles.
Interactive play, here we come! Six to 12 months is when things really start to get fun, and your little one becomes very busy. "Toys that promote cause and effect and hand-eye coordination are great for this stage -- anything that makes noise or can be banged, dropped, stacked, piled up, knocked over or opened and shut," says LaRowe. In other words, your house is about to get much louder!
Just remember, a mobile baby necessitates extra caution on your part. "To prevent injury and strangulation, remove mobiles when your baby is able to push up on her hands and knees," says LaRowe. "Never attach strings to toys, cribs, strollers or infant seats."
More learning toys for 6 to 12 months: saucer or doorway jumper, push or pull toys that make noise, plush toys that vibrate, cloth and board books, music and musical toys and instruments, plastic photo albums, plastic cell phones, shape sorters, pop-up toys, nesting cups, stacking toys, soft blocks, bath toys, plastic child-safe keys.
Remember, "less is more" when it comes to toddlers; all those bells and whistles that were a boost to baby brain power for your developing infant are now a learning hindrance to your walking, talking little one. "Simple toys that promote exploration, independence, problem solving and pretending will engage your child best during this stage of development," LaRowe says. "Animals and dolls to nurture and cuddle, props to mimic activities that you do around the house, and toys that promote muscle development, hand-eye coordination and small and large motor skills are developmentally appropriate choices."
Also keep in mind that toddlers can handle only a minimum of toy choices while they play. "Encourage your toddler to play only with a few toys at a time, or rotate your child's toys each week so that she has the opportunity to explore everything," says LaRowe.
Learning toys for children 12 to 24 months: toys and containers for dumping and sorting, various types and sizes of balls, wooden blocks, stacking cups, nesting toys, pounding toys, peek-a-boo books, push and pull toys, lock and key toys, pop-up toys, shape sorters, stuffed toys, toy phone, simple train, tunnels for crawling through, peg and knob puzzles with three to five pieces.
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