Updated: Dec 22, 2020
With so many toys out there, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to know what to buy for your child. You can feel like your house is being taken over with mounds of plastic and your bank balance is rapidly being emptied of its content. In this series of posts, I talk about the toys I found had the most ‘play value’ with my own daughter, many of which I selected for her drawing on my professional experience. Many of the ‘toys’ I talk about are often not shop bought and are open- ended in the way they can be used, meaning they have greater play value.
Spoiler alert – for the first few weeks of your baby’s life your baby won’t ‘play’ alone and nor should they be expected to. The world is brand new and scary and they need to be close to their care giver. (For more on this, look for information on the 4th trimester). My top tip for those early months is grab yourself a sling and embrace a bit of baby wearing. It will at least allow you to make a cup of tea and grab a bite to eat. It also has the benefit of allowing your child to remain close and cocooned next to you.
However, from around 8/9 weeks your baby will start to wake up and notice a bit more of the world around them. From this stage onwards you may notice your child engaging in the world more and starting to show an interest in ‘toys’.
In this post I look at the toys I used the most before my daughter could sit, the ones she would return to time and time again and seem to never get bored with. As she got older, she would often remain self-absorbed for baby-appropriate periods of time, allowing me the opportunity to get on with a few jobs or just have a cup of tea. During these times, though I may not have been actively engaging with my daughter, she was always in the same room as me so that I could ensure her safety and provide a reassuring word or two if she needed.
We used this a lot; it was a place where my daughter could lie and look at things, initially developing her vision. As she got older, she was able to practise her gross motor skills as she reached out to grab things or kicked them with her feet.
However, for the most part, I did not use the toys it came with. Often these toys look great when viewed from a sitting position but when viewed from underneath they are very dull and unengaging. Instead I would use the arch structures to hang and dangle more interesting resources, changing them round as my daughter became bored with the current selection. Here she is playing with some of my running medals.
Black and white pictures
Because of their immature vision, things that have high contrast are brilliant for babies, so black and white and red really help them to develop their vision and start to focus.
You don’t need to spend lots of money on fancy black and white resources. I printed off some black and white patterns from the internet and stuck them near her cot. We also had this fabulous book, Rainbow Rob, where the whole back page is black and white and the book stood perfectly for my daughter to study.
This was another firm favourite. Initially my daughter would just sit and look at ‘him’, whether hung from her activity arch, on her bouncy chair or in her car seat. Inch Worm has a very simple face, and I think this is what engaged her in those early weeks. As she got older, Inch Worm was easy to reach for and his little feet, with different textures, were super fun to chew on! As she found her voice she would babble and talk to the toy.
Confession, I don’t actually know what this toy is called. It was in a bag of random hand-me-downs passed to me by a friend. But wow, it was a hit! (thank you Jo).
Again, initially the face was something my daughter would look at for a bit (and later babble at), but this toy came into its own once my daughter started reaching for things. It was simple to grasp and has a lovely soft feel. There are also lots of different textures on it to chew and munch on. With a handy ring, Chicken was often found hanging from her activity arch or her bouncy chair, but it was also light enough for my daughter to hold and explore for herself.
The one thing we did use a lot from our activity arch was the mirror that came with it. Babies love faces and looking at their own face is no exception! Initially my daughter would just look at herself but, as she got older, she would reach out and bash the mirror.
As she found her voice, she would babble, laugh and smile at herself. Not only did it keep her engaged for periods of time, it was amazingly cute to observe.
Wooden Rings and pegs
Once my daughter was able to hold something, the rings and pegs were a firm favourite. Their small size and light weight are perfect for little hands, while the ribbons provided hours of interest. They move as the ring is waved about, they are good to suck on, and they tickle the face as they pass over. Also, they are great to grasp, making these the first toys that my daughter could reliably pick up unaided.
The wood provides all kinds of sensory feelings (much more than plastic) and is also great to chew on. If you would like a set of sensory wooden rings and pegs, I make them, and they can be purchased here.
Small enough to grasp and light enough to wave about to produce a sound, this was another firm favourite. Just be aware that in the early days you may find your little one bops themself in the face a few times. In our experience it was never hard and didn’t cause my daughter any distress, but just be aware if your little one is perhaps more vigorous with their arm movements!
This was part of a four-piece Lamaze set with two wrist toys and two feet toys. The idea is that you pop them on your child’s hand and feet to help them ‘find them’ and practise moving their limbs.Personally, I never found that my daughter got much from the set – she would find her hands and feet just as easily on her own (particularly if left them uncovered).