When I was pregnant, I had the startling realization that I was completely clueless about childhood development. I didn’t know what babies needed or wanted. I knew as long as I had the basics covered (food, diapers, and a crib), the child would survive. But I had no idea how to entertain her! In case you’re in the same situation, I’m sharing the toys Lyla loved most in each developmental stage of her first year. I tried to choose things that she continued to play with rather than things she only cared about for a few weeks. Every baby is different, of course, but hopefully this will give you a starting point or spark some ideas.
Activity mat >> Lyla used this all the way from 0-6 months. There are a million varieties and you can’t go wrong. My only advice? Get one that’s easy to disassemble & is machine washable. It will get spit up on and probably worse…
Stroller toy/Activity toy >> Just like the activity mat, there are endless varieties of these toys. They can clip onto a stroller or really anywhere you want them. I would clip this to Lyla’s activity mat and she would grab it & kick it.
O-ballz >> This was Lyla’s first favorite toy. Her eyes would light up when she saw it. It was the first thing she could grab. She still plays with it to this day.
Bouncy seat >> Lyla used this from the time she was a newborn, but she really came to love it around three months. There are automated bouncers, rockers like the one pictured above, and bouncers you will have to bounce manually. It all depends on your preference. In those early days, this is one of the few things that allows baby to sit up.
Crinkle toys >> Lyla went through a phase where this crinkle giraffe was her favorite thing. We would hold it over her while she laid on her back and boop her nose with it and she thought it was the greatest thing ever. She has a crinkle book that she still plays with at 12 months.
Rattles >> The OG baby toy. There are approximately one billion of these out there, so don’t overthink it. Lyla favored wooden rattles (she would chew on them) and bright plastic ones like the one pictured above. They always love the cheap toys.
Teethers >> Even before babies start teething, their salivary glands develop and they drool constantly. Combine that with sensory development and a natural curiosity and you can guarantee everything is going in your baby’s mouth. With that in mind, it’s good to have a variety of safety-approved teethers around to offer instead of, say, the TV remote.
Stacking cups >> Oh my word. The cups. A family member got these for Lyla around six months and girlfriend has not STOPPED playing with them. These are around $3.00 and we have gotten hours of playtime out of them. So good for sensory learning and can be used for activities into the toddler stage.
Sleep lovey >> PLEASE note: The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official recommendation is no blankets of any kind in the crib until the age of two. Always educate yourself on safety risks before making a change in baby’s surroundings, especially when it comes to sleep, when SIDS is a higher risk. Around eight months, Lyla went through a bad sleep regression. We took a sleep training course when she was first born and tried everything to get through this regression. When we still didn’t see improvement, I assessed my baby and our situation and felt confident she was ready to have a comfort object in the crib with her. It solved our issues almost overnight so I know it was the right choice for our family. She still sleeps with it and we often see her on the monitor hugging it as tight as her little arm can squeeze!
Exersaucer >> This is what we graduated to when we retired the bouncy seat and activity mat. Besides a Pack n’ Play, it’s really the only thing that allowed me to be hands-free with her in this stage, and still is to this day. (Baby-wearing never really worked for us.) Lyla loved this thing pre-crawling, and it helps baby develop leg strength they need for all the developmental milestones to come. Post-crawling, we had to do a little work to get her to see it as fun and not a leg prison. But if we do it in short spurts, it still allows me to get housework done while being engaged with her.
Board books >> We’ve always read to Lyla, but it wasn’t until 9-12 months that she seemed interested in handling books herself. I of course promptly eliminated any book with paper pages from our rotation once that happened. She loves to turn the pages in board books and is getting more interactive with them by the day in terms of feeling textures, lifting flaps, and pointing to pictures.
Bouncy balls >> Andrew’s parents had a medium-sized bouncy ball in their toy box and Lyla loved it. I subsequently bought her a bouncy soccer ball because I saw it in a store and used it to keep her entertained in the cart while I focused on the errand we were running. You would have thought I bought her a pony. She laughs and claps for these things and they’re so cheap! I like that we can easily play with them outside, too.
Stuffed animals >> Lyla didn’t care a bit for stuffed animals until she got to this stage. And then she decided they were her favorite thing. She loves to hug and lay all over large stuffed animals, like this Winnie the Pooh we got her for her birthday. She carries around little ones, showing them to us and bringing them with her when she crawls. I can already tell we’re going to be a household that gets overrun with stuffies.
Sit to Stand Learning Walker >> I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating. I love any baby item that will move through stages with your baby. It all goes so fast and I hate spending money on something we will only use a few weeks. This activity board detaches from the walker frame. You can lay it flat for baby to play with when sitting up, then attach it to the walker when baby starts pulling up and cruising. You can also lock the front wheels. Baby will still be able to push the walker on hard surfaces, but it will slow down the speed enough to prevent them from getting it out ahead of their tiny arms.
What I wish I’d gotten:
Metal teethers >> This is the one thing we didn’t get and I wish we had. I think it’s a little late to get them now. Lyla loves chewing on anything metal because it’s cold, which is soothing on swollen gums. To be honest, she’s cut so many teeth lately these may end up on mommy’s Christmas list before it’s all said and done.
I hope this gives you a rough idea of where to start when buying baby toys, some gift ideas for the babies in your life, or sparks an idea for something new to put in your current rotation. What are the superstar toys in your house? Any you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Let me know in the comments!