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Here’s a list of 25 best essential baby development toys for the first year. Toys that help support babies as they change and develop new skills.
ESSENTIAL BABY DEVELOPMENT TOYS FOR THE FIRST YEAR
This guide to the best developmental toys for babies is broken down by age. Babies need a range of toys that support them as they change and develop new interests and skills in their first year.
Toys that will really engage babies imaginations and appeal to them at different stages of development during their first 12 months.
GETTING THE MOST VALUE FROM BABY TOYS: TOYS TO SUPPORT EVERY DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE
There are toys that will be one month wonders and then there are toys that support the same skills that still appeal throughout the first year.
Then there are also toys that have an enduring appeal and still be being played with as babies move from their first year into toddlerhood and on into the pre-school years.
You will get the most value out of toys that grow with your baby, so there are some toys that will have enduring appeal and will continue to be played with as your baby becomes a toddler and on into the preschool years.
For example, your baby will initially only differentiate black and white patterns. But it is much better to buy a toy that has colored patterns as well, so the toy will continue to entertain as your baby grows.
Before you dive into this big list of developmental baby toys, I wanted to let you know I’ve also just done another post on must-have toys for babies, where I’ve singled out one great toy that you can introduce to your baby every month for the first year.
25 DEVELOPMENTAL BABY TOYS FOR THE FIRST YEAR
1. SOFT BALLS
Soft balls are great for babies to have right from a few weeks old. It’s in these early weeks that babies will vaguely squish the ball.
Then, through the ensuing months, the soft ball will be batted, squeezed, rattled, rolled and used to knock things down. Eventually, the ball will be kicked.
Soft fabric balls with bells in and textured panels are great early on. Babies won’t be interested in tags at first, but they are likely to become obsessed with them later, so it is worth getting balls with tags on.
The six My First Baby multi-textured sensory soft balls come in bright colours and interesting textures to encourage sensory exploration. The My First Baby balls promote tactile development with different sizes, textures and shapes.
Age: From birth upwards
The Bababall sensory sphere and rattle has it all! In fact, it’s award-winning. Here’s the vital statistics of the ball:
- Made from a series of fabric-covered bands made of different textures, vibrant colours, and patterns.
- Thick satin ribbons attached to the outside for added tactile stimulation.
- Small black and white patterned ball that rattles when shaken in the centre.
Age: From one month onwards
The Edushape ball is a soft-textured, easy-grip, easy-to-catch ball. Perfect for babies from six months old. The ball has a nubby texture, which promotes the development of fine and gross motor skills. You can even use the ball to massage your baby’s back and feet!
The Edushape sensory ball comes fully inflated. It is latex-free and BPA free.
Age: From six months old, but can be used on baby as a massager from a few weeks old.
2. 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 wherever your baby is.
This is a great mirror, it’s made for tummy time and can be also used for sit and play. It folds flat, which makes it easy to take with you.
3. SOFT BLOCKS
Soft blocks are initially great for squeezing and for babies to explore the texture of.
Then as soon as babies start batting they can have so much fun knocking down your towers, before later on in the year they start building their own towers.
I can remember my Galt soft baby building blocks from when I was a child.
Galt are still going strong with a range of different sets.
4. SOFT BOOKS
In their first months babies will love the pictures and textures.
However, there comes a point when they master the wrist movement of opening a flap and they are then fascinated by that movement.
Which means they start to love all the “here it is – now it’s gone” peekaboo games they can play with the flaps.
Again, Galt is my suggested go-to for soft books.
I bought Galt soft books for all of my ante-natal group and they were a big baby hit.
Jelly Cat and Manhattan Toys also do nice ones.
This Manhattan Toy soft activity book has a tethered buzzy bee that works its way through the book.
Watch the fish swim through this lovely Lamaze soft book
5. SETS OF LOOPS
Sets of tangled loops can be used initially as a rattle. Later, as wrist development builds up, they can be twisted and turned in all sorts of directions. Loop sets also make great teethers.
This Lots A Loops teething ring by Nuby has a built-in rattle.
FROM 2 MONTHS OLD
6. SQUISHY PUZZLES
Squishy puzzles – such as the deservedly popular skwish from Manhattan Toy – allow even young babies to explore how structures respond to their squishing.
As babies grasping and wrist movements develop the puzzles provide endless fascination as they are turned round and round in their hands.
Skwish is a wooden clutching toy that helps build motor skills in babies from 0 months upwards.
It is super easy for tiny baby hands to grasp while rattling the beads that slide back and forth.
The wood is sustainable and painted in a non-toxic water-based finish.
The Skwish has become a design classic over the 35 years it has been in existence.
FROM 3 MONTHS OLD
7. TOY KEY SETS
Babies love keys. Fact!
So a set of toy keys is a good basic rattle for grasping and teething that can also be your baby’s first ‘one like mummy has’ toy.
This is a set of four brightly coloured keys held together on a sturdy keyring. Great for rattling and teething.
These keys are an upgrade on more old school key sets, they come complete with car-like key fob.
8. BABY BOUNCER
Babies are bursting with physical energy from three to four months. This can lead to frustration in the pre-crawling phase when there isn’t a lot they can do with this energy. So this is the point at which babies need toys that enable them to move without crawling.
Baby 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.
They aren’t the cheapest baby toy you’ll ever buy, but the resale value on them is high.
Oh and they are also great sanity savers for tired parents.
Honestly, buy one, you won’t regret it!
FROM 4 MONTHS OLD
9. GEARS AND COGS
From about four months babies become fascinated by gears and cogs.
It the stage when they love moving something that makes another thing move.
The twisting movement involved in turning gears and cogs also helps wrist development.
There are all sorts of gear and cog toys from puzzles to activity cubes and centres.
This Melissa & Doug rainbow caterpillar gear toy has six brightly coloured interchangeable gears
Le Toy Van make the most beautiful wooden toys and this Petilou cogs and gears moving puzzle is no exception.
10. TWISTING TOYS
Twisting toys with moving parts that move in different directions serve to support wrist development.
This wooden twisty caterpillar from Toy My Toy was massive hit with my daughter and we still have it because we can’t bear to part with it!
FROM 6 MONTHS OLD
11. 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 can be very popular and may stop your phone from being stolen and chewed.
We had this Vtech phone with its light up bleeping buttons.
A smile still crosses my face every time I remember the ‘conversations’ my daughter used to have on this phone.
12. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
It’s at around six months that babies really appreciate being able to use things to make fun noises.
So this is the time to invest in some baby friendly musical instruments.
Basic maracas, tambourines and rain shakers for accompanying nursery rhyme sing alongs and just randomly shaking and bashing make great first musical instruments.
Rain shakers are particularly great as babies love watching the moving sprinkles.
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.
13. A FRAME WALKER
Babies start pulling themselves up, cruising and walking at such different ages.
Some will be starting as early as six 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 was converted by the opportunity to play with someone else’s.
We had the V Tech walker which worked absolutely brilliantly for us.
It is an award winning baby toy, most recently winning the Infant / Pre-school Toy of the Year Award ATA.
The walker has textured wheels, an easy grip handle and it’s got a really durable design. It’s super sturdy to give babies all the support they need as they take their first steps supported by it.
I love that the activity panel on the front can also be removed so that your baby can sit down and play with it when they’re done walking.
It’s also got some really bright, cheery music and some friendly phrases.
I have to say it looks like it should cost far more money than it does, it really is a very well priced toy for all that you get from it.
14. STACKING CUPS
Who doesn’t love a stacking cup set?!!
I promise you, that you will get more play out of this simple toy that you can pick up so cheaply than you will out of many more fancy ones.
Stacking cups 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 stacking cups set ended up living in the bath for years.
15. 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 OLD
16. PULL ALONG TOYS
Balls are obviously great rolling toys but little wooden pull-alongs are also wonderful once babies start to crawl or shuffle around.
I like the wooden ones rather than the plastic, as the wooden ones make that delightful ‘clackety-clack’ noise as they move.
This BRIO duck was my daughter’s favourite. In fact she still has it now, though it’s more ornament than toy as she’s nine!
This is a Fisher-Price design classic, modelled on the original Little Snoopy pull along toy from yesteryear.
Dachshunds are the dog of the moment in the UK! Not got the energy for a real one? This gorgeous dachshund pull-along will make a great pet instead!!
Not a fan of dogs? How about this brightly coloured alligator instead?
17. Push alongs
The next step on from pull alongs are basic push alongs.
All babies seem to adore vehicles and there are many types to choose from.
Go for push alongs small enough that they can be grasped and pushed with one tiny hand.
Hape, Plan Toys and Brio all have some lovely wooden ones.
18. BEAD MAZE
Lots of babies and toddlers love bead mazes.
Bead mazes support the development of pincer, wrist turning and problem solving skills.
We had some very simple bead mazes that were targeted at rising one year olds, but they weren’t great fun.
So what I would recommend is getting a more complicated bead maze that will hold a child’s attention until they are two years plus.
FROM 8 MONTHS OLD
19. Grabbing tags
At a certain point as babies start to master a fine pincer movement and 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.
20. MAGNETIC TOYS
Even young babies understand gravity and 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.
FROM 9 MONTHS OLD
21. Pop up toys
Galt has 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.
22. 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.
Plus one that has multiple sides that can be easily turned over so that babies and toddlers develop the idea that when they can’t match it one side they look on another.
Here’s a selection of shape sorter toys
23. Walker with bricks
Classic walkers with bricks are great for once babies are cruising quite confidently, as they don’t tend to be as stable as the A frame walkers.
The brilliant thing about brick walkers is that you aren’t just getting a walker.
You’re getting a set of bricks just as your baby start to develop their building skills.
Plus you are also getting a ‘delivery cart’ which can be used to transport things and transporting things is something all babies love!
We had this brick walker from Pintoy which we got loads and loads of use out of.
FROM 10 MONTHS OLD
24. Play tea set
By the end of their 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 more classic set every time.
Here are some gorgeous play tea sets
25. Peg jigsaw puzzles
Peg puzzles are incredibly good for shape recognition, which is a really important foundation for later reading skills.
However you won’t get that many months’ play out of peg puzzles as babies tend to quickly move on to more complex shapes.
So even though 10 months is early to be playing with them I would recommend getting a peg puzzle from now so you get the most possible play out of it.
Here are some brilliant peg puzzles
SHARE THE TOY BUYING!
Babies can be very expensive!
But luckily for many of us there are many lovely friends and family members who are keen to buy our babies gifts.
This list will hopefully prove a very useful accompaniment to your baby essentials shopping list and also as a baby toy gift list to share whenever there’s an opportunity to give a doting grandparent or fairy godmother ideas for what to buy your baby.
So there you have it, all the essential baby toys you will need for your baby’s first year.
The first 12 months of a baby’s life are incredible, so it’s lovely be able to support their development with toys that they will love.
This list of essential toys is also a great baby gift list to be able to share with friends, grandparents and other family wanting to buy Christmas and other gifts for your baby.
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