Thursday, 18 April 2013

25 Essential Toys for Babies

There's a good chance your baby is or will be inundated with toys.

But within that deluge, I found it was easy to end up with lots the same that didn't keep up with the lightening speed at which new interests and skills develop in baby's first year.

I also discovered some toys were one month wonders whilst others that supported the same skills lasted the year and in some cases are still played with 3 years later.

25 Essential Baby Toys

Looking back, the 25 types of toy to best entertain and stimulate baby in their first year are ...

  1. Soft balls
  2. Soft mirror
  3. Soft blocks
  4. Soft books
  5. Sets of loops
  6. "Squishy" puzzles
  7. Plastic keys
  8. Bouncer
  9. Gears & cogs
  10. Twisting puzzles
  11. Toy phone
  12. Instruments
  13. A frame walker
  14. Stacking cups
  15. Stacking hoops
  16. Roll alongs
  17. Push alongs
  18. Bead mazes
  19. Grabbing tags
  20. Magnetic stackers
  21. Pop up toys
  22. Shape sorter
  23. Walker with bricks
  24. Plastic tea set
  25. Peg jigsaw puzzles

Getting Best Value

Obviously, you don't have to go out and buy all of these - lots of them can be made or can at least be bought second hand.  And you'll really get the best value if you buy things that grow with them - for example, baby will initially only differentiate black and white patterns but much better to buy a toy that has colour patterns as well so it will continue to entertain.

I have organised the toys below by roughly when babies will be ready to start playing with them and what skills they will help your child to develop. I have also included some examples of our absolute favourites that are still going strong 3 years later.

From Birth

Soft Balls

Soft balls grow with babies from their first weeks when they can be vaguely squidged through the ensuing months when in turn they will be batted, squeezed, rattled, rolled, used to knock things down and finally kicked.

Soft fabric balls with bells in and textured panels are great early on. Although they won't be interested in tags at first, they will be obsessed later, so worth getting them with tags. There are loads of gorgeous hand made balls on Etsy.

From about 4 months the sensory balls with little soft spikes are good such as these ones from Edushape.

Soft Mirror

Babies love mirrors from very early on and seeing and eventually recognising their reflection is really important in their emotional development. Play mats and nests usually have a mirror but it's nice to have a larger separate one that can be attached  to wherever baby is.

Soft Blocks

Initially great for squidging and exploring texture, as soon as they start batting they can have sooo much fun knocking down your towers before later on in the year they start building their own.

I can remember my Galt blocks from when I was a child and Galt are still going strong with a range of different sets.

Soft Books

In their first months babies will love the pictures and textures but there comes a point when they master the wrist movement of opening a flap and they are then fascinated by the movement and by all the "here it is - now it's gone" peekaboo games they can play with the flaps.

Again, Galt was my go to for soft books - I bought them for all of my ante-natal group and they were a big baby hit - but Jelly Cat and Manhattan Toys also do nice ones.

Sets of Loops

Sets of tangled loops can be used initially as a rattle and then as wrist development builds up twisted and turned in all sorts of directions. They also make a great teether.

From 2 Months

Squishy Puzzles

Squishy puzzles - such as the deservedly popular skwish  from Manhattan Toys - allow even young babies to explore how structures respond to their squishing.

As their grasping and wrist movements develop the puzzles provide endless fascination as they are turned round and round in their hands.

From 3 Months

Plastic Keys

Plastic keys are a good basic rattle for grasping and for teething but can also become a first imaginary "one like mummy" toy.


From 3 to 4 months babies seem to start bursting with physical energy and to be frustrated that pre-crawling and walking they can't express this.

Bouncers are a great way for babies to really enjoy moving about for themselves. I was sceptical of the benefits of those with activity centres attached but became a total convert after the pure pleasure I saw my daughter get from playing in a friend's for a whole afternoon!

We bought the Fisher Price Jumperoo, which we got loads of use out of it as my daughter was a late walker. It's certainly not cheap. You can get the Jumperoo for about £100 in the UK and in the USA for about $100.

They are all also fairly easy to pick up second hand and keep their value well so are resellable.

From 4 Months

Gears & Cogs

From about 4 months babies become fascinated by gears and cogs, loving that moving one thing moves other things. The twisting movement involved in turning them also helps wrist development.

There are all sorts of gear and cog toys from puzzles to activity cubes and centres.

Twisting Toys

A bit similar to squish toys, twisting toys in which different parts move in different directions support wrist development.  It's not everyone's favourite but we really loved the Woogle from Manhattan toys.

It's a pretty simple idea it's based on and you could probably make something similar yourself.

From 6 Months

Toy Phone

It goes without saying that babies love your stuff and particularly anything you obviously love! So a copy cat phone with buttons that make noises are popular and may stop yours from being stolen and chewed.


Basic maracas, tambourines and rain shakers for accompanying nursery rhyme sing alongs and just randomly shaking and bashing are good first musical instruments. Rain shakers are great as babies love watching the moving sprinkles - our's went everywhere with us for a while.

You do need a bit of caution with instruments as they can whack themselves and others with them but really not sufficiently to do any harm. Both maracas and rain shakers are great to make yourself as long as you ensure they're really securely fastened.

A Frame Walker

Children start pulling themselves up, cruising and walking at such different ages. Some will be starting as early as 6 months and it's then worth investing in an A Frame Walker.  I love the traditional walkers with bricks but they are not as stable when babies are this young.

I confess I hated the look of the plastic walkers but again was converted by the opportunity to play with someone else's. We had the V Tech walker which worked absolutely brilliantly for us and is so loved that we still have it.

Stacking Cups

OK - stacking cups rock! 

I promise you, that you will get more play out of this simple toy that you can pick up for less than a fiver than you will out of many more fancy ones.

They can be chewed, bashed, rolled, knocked down, used to hide things, slotted in side each other, built into towers, filled with water, filled with sand, used as a tea set ... the list is endless. Our's currently live in the bath and we love them.

Stacking Hoops

We got almost as much play out of our stacking hoops as we did out of stacking cups.

They are really valuable in hand eye co-ordination skills and later in size sorting and the rings make great rollers. There are some lovely wooden ones out there but we actually got most play out of a very cheap plastic set from our local toy shop. It had a round bottom so could be knocked over to add to the fun and because it was plastic could go in the bath and the sand.

From 7 Months

Roll Alongs

Balls are obviously great rolling toys but little wooden roll-alongs are also wonderful once babies start to crawl or shuffle themselves around. I like the wooden ones rather than the plastic as the wood allows them to make clackety-clack noises as different parts move around.

We had some lovely ones from Plan Toys

Push Alongs

The next step on from roll alongs are basic push alongs. As all babies seem to adore vehicles of all sorts, small simple trains, trucks, cars, buses and diggers that can be easily grasped and pushed with one hand are a good idea.

Hape, Plan Toys and Brio all have some lovely wooden ones.

Bead Maze

Lots of kids love bead mazes that support the development of pincer, wrist turning and problem solving skills. We had some very simple ones targeted at rising ones that were fun but really didn't last - I wish we'd got one complicated maze as my daughter had hours of fun with these at nursery until she was over two.

From 8 Months

Grabbing Tags

At a certain point as babies start to master a fine pincer movement they become absolutely obsessed with tags of all sorts - the tinier the label on their clothes the more fascinating it is is to grab between finger and thumb.

It's worth buying their first soft balls and blocks with tags on, even though they won't be interested initially, as this way the early toys will support the later stage of development.

It's also a good idea to keep your eyes open for any inventive toys around that will support this interest and skill. We got given this Lamaze Stacking Rings toy - unfortunately, no longer generally available - in which you use all the different tags to grab rotating hoops, which was a really big hit.

Magnetic Toys

Even young babies really "get" gravity - they take enormous delight in knowing that if they drop something it falls. So they are also equally delighted by the discovery that magnets can act against gravity. It may seem very young but I promise you that they will really enjoy exploring magnetism even at this early age.

The trick is to buy - if you can find them - creatures or fun objects that are magnetic rather than a big horse shoe magnet.  We had some brilliant Lamaze stacking bugs which we still use for all magnetism experiments.

Lamaze now do a new version which comes with loads of tags - so a real double whammy, tags and magnets in one toy!

From 9 Months

Pop Up Toys

Galt have been making the classic pop up for years - I had one as a child - and there are now all sorts of pop up toys based on their model of you pressing something down and something else popping up.

They can provide hours of entertainment and help babies develop an understanding of cause and effect and interdependence of separate objects.

An alternative pop-up toy which will can entertain - although our's wasn't a great success and I don't think they are as interesting - are jack in the boxes.

Shape Sorter

Shape sorters combine babies' increasing fascination with "posting" things through slots and the start of their ability to match shapes. There are all sorts of different shape sorters out there in all sorts of different forms from balls to cubes to buses. 

To make it last, my advice would be to get one with as many different shapes as possible and which has multiple sides that can be easily turned over so that children develop the idea that when they can't match it one side they look on another.

We had a Pintoy one very similar to this sorting cage.

Walker With Bricks

The classic walkers with bricks are great to get when babies are cruising quite confidently as they don't tend to be as stable as the A frame walkers. The great thing about them though is that you are obviously not just getting a walker, you're getting a set of bricks as they start to develop their building skills and a "delivery cart" which can be used to "transport" things and transporting things is something all babies love!

I would recommend researching them thoroughly via Amazon reviews before buying as the reviews are usually great at  flaggin slippy wheels, poor quality bricks, bad balance etc.

We had this one from Pintoy which we have had loads and loads of use of and is still going strong.

From 10 Months

Plastic Tea Set

By the end of the first year babies are starting to get into imaginative play and love making cups of tea for you. You can get all sorts of fancy tea sets with buttons and whizzy lights and noises but I would go for a no frills plastic one that can go in the bath, the sand, mud etc.

Only note of warning, if you use it in the bath, do sterilise it every now and again to prevent any mould growing inside.

Peg Jigsaw Puzzles

Peg puzzles are incredibly good for shape recognition, which is a really important foundation for later reading skills, but you won't get that much play out of them as they'll quickly move on to more complex shapes. So even though 10 months is early to be playing with them I would recommend getting them from now so you get the most possible play out of them.

Bigjigs and Melissa and Doug both have some nice wooden peg puzzles but it's definitely worth looking out for them second hand or from a toy library if you have access to one or organizing a regular "jigsaw swap" with friends.

I do hope this list helps you find some real gems for your baby's first year ...

P.S. If you enjoyed this post check out our other baby and play posts and subscribe to our mailer in which we share super simple tips for mums juggling too much ...

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  1. I love how you sorted this by month. Very creative and useful way to present the information.

  2. great list, i'm sharing on my FB page

  3. This is a great list! I love that none require batteries :) Thanks for sharing with us at Share It Saturday!
    Colleen at Sugar Aunts

  4. Stopping by from Tuesday Tots. Great list!

  5. Thanks for the awesome list. Featuring it at this week's Kid's Co-op :)

    Krissy @kzandme

  6. What a great list!! It is wonderful that they are not the flashy and loud toys (loud made by a machine and not a child). Thank you for sharing on Sharing Saturday!

  7. Thanks for linking this to Tuesday Tots. Just letting you know that I've featured it this week on Learn with Play at home. You're welcome to grab a featured button if you like. Hope to see more from you next week. :)

  8. Buy Toys for Babies in Australia at our online baby toys store - Browse no. of best baby toys; choose soft toys for baby, shipping available for kid’s toys in Australia.


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