"Your tot's toy should stimulate as many senses as possible: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell," advises Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book. Whenever possible, "Rotate toys so your child doesn't get bored," she adds. "Each month, bring out 'new' toys to delight the senses and entertain your child."
Always follow the manufacturer's safety recommendations and guidelines (eg, "Not for children under 6 months"); those age ranges on toy packaging are there for a reason. Though your child may at times be ahead of the curve or a little behind it, these product recommendations are an accurate way to keep your baby safe no matter what toy you give them.
Developmental toys for newborns
Your newborn is going to be sleeping and eating for much of his early life, but a little mental stimulation is still beneficial. During feedings and sleepless late nights, reach for books. Jessica Katz, founder of Mommy Don't Buy That, says, "There is nothing better than reading to your baby. It helps her build language skills and patience -- and books are soothing. When they are too little to play with toys, you can always read to them."
Simply put, babies like to stick things in their mouths, especially when those little chompers start peeking through the gums. Babies can start teething as early as 3 months old, says Katz, so be prepared. "Look for well-made, sturdy, non-toxic toys that are easy to wash and disinfect," says Nixon. Colorful teething toys and rings of various shapes and sizes are a great distraction that will save baby's books from getting chewed on and ease the mouth pain your baby is experiencing.
Other developmental toys for babies 2 to 6 months: mobile, crib gym, lightweight rattle, music, blankets with textures and brightly colored surfaces, activity center (for that all-important tummy time)
Toys for the baby on the move
Once your little one starts rolling, crawling, grunting and shimmying across all flat surfaces, you'll know it's time to nurture the development of her dexterity, hand-eye coordination and depth perception.
"Textured balls are perfect for hands-on sensory exploration," says Katz. "Plus, they're easy for little hands to grip, so children build fine motor skills as they roll, toss and bounce each one." Another great choice for exploring little fingers are cause-and-effect toys. Consider a jack-in-the-box or toys that pop up, light up or play music when baby touches a button.
Before you know it, baby will be standing tall. Be prepared to get your hands on a toy that she can push (such as a baby stroller or toy grocery cart) to help her learn to walk.
Other developmental toys for babies from 6 to 12 months: bath toys that splash or pour water, unbreakable mirrors, blocks, dolls and stuffed animals
Choosing age-appropriate toys
When choosing developmental toys for your little one, keep in mind the following: "Your child's toy should be age appropriate -- neither too simple nor too complex," says Nixon. Figuring out exactly what is right will come more easily as you watch your child grow and adjust. You'll soon know what toys will fascinate him, bore him or prove to be a little too challenging for the first year.
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