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How To Choose The Best Baby Toys

A smiling baby girl wearing a blue top, playing with a colorful soft block set with a hole for the small stuffed toys.

With so many toys on the market, how can you possibly know which ones are best for your baby?

It’s an important question. For little ones, playing is about more than entertainment, it’s their primary means of learning and developing.

In just a few years, your helpless infant will become a competent youngster—walking, talking, socializing and reasoning. In fact, within the first four years of life, children develop a full 50% of their adult intelligence! That’s how fast their brains are growing.

Giving your baby stimulating, age-appropriate toys will help your child develop faster and more fully-cognitively, physically and creatively. Understanding how babies learn is the key to knowing what toys to provide.

Born to Learn

Babies are born virtually programmed to learn. Before birth, genetics determine how the brain is “wired.” Neurons travel to different parts of the brain, forming connections, called synapses, that await stimulation.

Once a baby is born, every experience—sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—helps stimulate those synapses and create trillions more. The more complex these interconnections, the brighter a child will be. By providing your child with early stimulation and a wide range of experiences, you can accelerate your baby’s development.

Birth – 6 Months: Stimulating Sensory and Motor Development

Even the tiniest newborn is poised to soak up sensory data like a sponge—and in doing so, stimulate brain development.

A newborn’s vision is limited, which is why tiny infants respond best to black-and-white objects, bright colors and bold graphics. But vision develops quickly, along with motor control. As early as the second month, babies will begin studying their hands and swiping at objects. Most begin rolling over between two and six months.

For babies under six months, the best toys are:

  • Rattles, teethers and other sensory toys that expose baby to a variety of sounds and textures
  • Colorful baby mobiles and banners that stimulate vision
  • Baby safe mirrors (babies are drawn to faces)
  • Baby activity centers and play gyms that encourage reaching and grasping
  • “Tummy time” mats that help build abdominal strength (a must for back-sleeping babies)
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music that stimulate vision and hearing

6 – 12 Months: Interactive Play

During this period, babies discover cause and effect—shaking, banging and pushing every object within reach. Hand-eye coordination improves; favorite games are “clap hands,” “pat-a-cake” and “peek-a-boo.” Most babies begin crawling around seven months and by ten months, many are starting to “cruise.” In addition, they begin to put sounds together to form simple words.

For babies between 6 – 12 months, the best toys are:

  • Shape sorters and nesting cups, which reinforce the concept of object permanence
  • Activity centers and push/pull toys that allow baby to create movement
  • Adventure courses that encourage creeping and crawling
  • Musical and sound-making toys
  • First photo albums
  • Gentle rockers and bouncers, which satisfy baby’s love of motion
  • Stuffed animals, dolls and “blankies” for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read to baby.

12 – 18 Months: Goal-Oriented Play

Many children begin walking around their first birthday, and with this exciting new skill comes a strong desire to explore. Most toddlers are goal-oriented and driven to experiment. They begin imitating grown-ups physically and verbally. Through constant movement, they begin strengthening large muscles and improving fine motor coordination.

For Toddlers 12 – 18 months, the best toys are:

  • “Hands on” toys like a jack-in-the-box, pail and shovel, and water toys
  • Building blocks, play sets and bead mazes that encourage experimentation and help develop fine motor skills
  • Active toys, such as swing sets, trikes and wagons that allow toddlers to move and build strong muscles
  • Very simple musical instruments.
  • Stuffed animals, baby dolls and “blankies” for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read to toddlers.

18 – 24 Months: Problem-Solving Play

At this age, children begin using their imagination. They engage in imitative and make-believe play and problem solving strategies. They can match objects by shape and color, follow simple instructions, and dance to music. Language also explodes around 18 months, and toddlers acquire new words at a mind-boggling rate.

For tots 18-24 months, the best toys are:


  • Puppets and baby dolls
  • Costumes
  • Rocking horses, playhouses, toy appliances and other toys that foster pretend play
  • Puzzles, blocks and construction sets that create opportunities for problem solving
  • Active toys, such as toddler climbers, tricycles and ride-on toys that encourage muscle growth and control
  • Simple musical instruments
  • Stuffed animals and “blankies” for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read together.

24 – 36 Months: The Age of Mastery

Fine motor coordination is on the upswing! Now kids are ready for arts and crafts projects, simple sports and beginner board games. Children this age are very responsive to music, videos and books. By the time they reach their third birthdays, most kids are fluent talkers. With this growing competency, many are ready for more “big kid” toys.

For children 24-36 months, the best toys are:

  • Art and craft supplies, such as finger paints, chalk boards, easels and modeling clay
  • Simple board games for beginners
  • Train sets and cars; dolls with accessories?all great imaginative toys
  • Rocking horses, playhouses, miniature appliances and other toys that foster imitative play
  • Costumes
  • Puzzles and construction sets that create opportunities for problem solving
  • Swing sets, sand boxes, trikes and other riding toys
  • Electronic educational games and workbooks that introduce kids to phonics, the alphabet and numbers
  • Simple musical instruments
  • Stuffed animals, dolls and “blankies” for cuddling
  • Age-appropriate educational videos and music
  • Storybooks that you read together.

Related Article(s):

Choosing Toys for Kids with Special Needs

Creating a Kids Playroom That is Fun and Functional

How to Encourage Solo Play

Improving Your Child’s Hand-Eye Coordination

Quality Time: Make the Most of One-on-One Playtime with Your Child

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