Here at Mama OT I love to write about the best baby toys and activities to promote infant development, so today I am excited to have pediatric physical therapist Nicole Sergent, co-owner of Milestones & Miracles, share about how to choose the best toys for baby’s first year in order to make play time beneficial to your child’s development!
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One of my younger cousins is expecting her first child. He will be our 10th great grandchild, or Lucky #10 as we like to call him. Among a million other reasons to be excited about this was one of my favorites – carefully choosing the toys he needed during his first special year.
When I became a mom for the first time, I remember being JUST SO EXCITED about everything. I squealed and sighed over every plush animal, receiving blanket, and tiny dress. I happily and thankful arranged the many generous gifts in our nursery anxiously awaiting our baby girl. The same thing happened with her first Christmas. We were so excited to pick out toys and watch her scrunch the wrapping paper surrounding them instead of really playing with them. In both cases there was plenty of excitement but not much thought (if I’m being honest).
So when I got the opportunity to shop for my younger cousin Monica, I took my role as older, wiser (maybe a little), cousin who works as an early intervention physical therapist VERY seriously.
When my oldest was born almost 11 years ago, I began working exclusively with the 0-3 population. Along the way, I’ve learning much more about all areas of child development than I ever thought I’d need when I studied early motor development in graduate school. I’ve leaned on developmental specialists, early childhood teachers, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, parents, and experience to come to conclusion that toys are not just toys. They are SO MUCH more!
Toys are the tools of learning.
Thinking of it in that way makes me choose toys as baby shower, birthday, or holiday gifts much more closely. I’ve observed through years of practice in the homes of children, that what we hand them to play with in part shapes how they learn about the world.
Did you know that children have big beautiful brains filled with more synapses (nerve connections) than they need? As they begin to explore the world, they strengthen the channels that they are exposed to and begin to prune out those that they aren’t. Use it or lose it, right? In one estimation, during the first 3 years, a child’s brain develops 700 neural connections per second.
That means WHAT WE DO MATTERS!
When I share this with parents, I encourage them to not feel intimidated by the pressure but excited about the potential! Cuddling, reading, singing, talking to your baby (even when they don’t talk back) are things most parents do without even thinking! Healthy strong connections are built with every day experiences.
The same can be said for toys. Are we exposing them to toys that will be strong and efficient tools for early learning? Let me give you one hint…this does not mean more! And it certainly doesn’t mean the most expensive. It just means thought out, and may I even suggest fewer in number. Fewer toys and materials with a focus on quality and purpose (what is the child learning) is the key. Too much can be overwhelming. One to two toys per type of play is plenty! And DIY options are free and excellent. See some ideas HERE. So when I shopped for Monica, I tried to think of one toy per stage in development. And I had so much fun building that basket of toys!
Here are a few of the gifts Lucky #10 will enjoy learning with – sprinkled in with a few more suggestions and age recommendations when these would be good to introduce to your baby. Click on each image to be taken to the corresponding website where you can find each toy online! (Editor’s Note: Affiliate links have also been included below each set of images for your convenience, see full disclosure here.)
EXPLORING TOYS (0-6 months)
CAUSE AND EFFECT TOYS (4-7 months for this type of play, although babies can bat and kick at the play gym sooner!)
IMAGINATIVE TOYS (9 months and up)
MANIPULATIVE TOYS (10 months and up)
COOPERATIVE TOYS (12 months and up when used interactively with an adult or peer, but baby may explore and enjoy earlier)
EXPRESSIVE AND ARTISTIC TOYS (18 months and up is when you should expect typical expression with purpose, however baby may enjoy exploring with the musical set as early as 4-6 months and may have interest in marking on a paper with crayons as early as 12 months)
MOTOR TOYS (10-12 months and up – the shopping cart is my favorite “learn to walk” toy!)
LANGUAGE/LITERACY TOYS (Infancy and on! Baby may start to recognize familiar people/objects in a homemade photo book by 9-12 months)
If the idea of thoughtful shopping for toys with a learning purpose interests you, please check out this article we wrote for a course we offer through Medbridge Education. With it, we are pleased to offer you a free guide – a “cheat sheet” if you will, to help keep your eye on the prize. Just click on the FREE DOWNLOAD button in the article.
Oh and the reason I got the chance to buy Monica the toy basket is because my very own usual DIY BABY GIFT was already purchased for Lucky #10 – Monica purchased it herself as a creative and sweet way to let me know he was on the way. She announced the news of the pregnancy in the seller’s note I received with her order. I can’t wait to tell Lucky #10 that story one day.
All the toys mentioned in this post can also be found on the following websites:
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Nicole M. Sergent, MPT, is a mom of 2, and a practicing Early Intervention PT in Almost Heaven West Virginia. Along with her best friend, Speech Language Pathologist, Lacy Morise, she owns Milestones & Miracles, LLC, a company dedicated to supporting play as THE best way a young child can learn. Learn about their company and product 1-2-3 Just Play With Me at the website, and on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Both Lacy & Nicole are honored to share with the Mama OT audience!