Sometimes the best toys are not toys at all – ask any Mom whose tot plays with the box and wrapping paper at his first birthday party.
The truth is there are very few actual toys that a child needs to have during the first year. Rather than trying to guess which toys will catch your baby’s attention, it is helpful to concentrate on different developmental stages and what types of skills a toy will help your child practice. Each stage is like an open window of opportunity with specific needs.
Birth to 4 Months – All About Vision
I Like to Gaze
Since vision is fuzzy at birth and slowly increases each month, your baby will mostly enjoy looking at contrasting items. Black and white is popular, but any dark color on a lighter background is equally fascinating. Face shapes are appealing to babies, so simple outlines of round faces with eyes, nose and smile are preferred. Things that move or sway (ceiling fans, mobiles) are also a big hit.
Stationary infants will rely on you to change their view throughout the day. You can provide interesting patterns through a crib bumper or draping a colorful baby blanket/comforter/play pad over the couch and positioning your baby nearby in an infant seat or bouncy.
Another trick is hanging simple black and white geometric images or faces on the wall near your changing table at eye level. You can find simple patterns and drawings on the internet and print them out in black and white.
It’s also never too early for books. Baby will really enjoy contrasting, colorful illustrations and hearing his favorite sound – your voice – as you read nursery rhymes to him. For this same reason, singing lullabies and listening to all types of music together is enjoyed at every stage.
Baby Pilates (Tummy Time)
Lots of babies dislike being on their tummies and for good reason – it is hard work. Not all of us like to exercise, but we make ourselves do it because of the health benefits.
Lifting his head and chest (and later arms) off the floor strenghthens the upper body muscles needed for crawling. Isn’t it true that not all babies crawl? Yes, some little overachievers pull themselves up one day and just start cruising, but research has shown that these same muscles are called upon in the early school years when learning how to write. So, there’s a good reason why everyone makes a big deal about the importance of tummy time.
If my baby is able to hold his head up early on while sitting, isn’t this the same thing as tummy time? No; lifting up while being on your tummy uses many more muscles than just holding your head up while sitting. As they grow, infants also begin to lift their legs off the ground in a flying fish position. This is when they start gaining the momentum to actually pivot or inch along the floor.
To make tummy time pass more enjoyably (5-minute sessions a few times a day at first), offer a propped up board book or anything with an interesting pattern to hold their attention. Laying babies on your chest while you are in a reclining position gives them incentive to lift their head up to gaze at your face.
Eyes and Hands Together
Towards the end of this period, babies will use their vision and motor skills together to reach out and touch objects they see. Any number of play gym type items that have dangling objects overhead are perfect. Some come with attached overhead clip links that allow you to add and delete toys to keep things interesting(picture below just for illustration purpose). Since these items can be pretty pricey and are only used for a few short months, you might want to request one on your baby registry or pick one up in a consignment shop. Better yet, maybe a generous friend will pass hers on to you!
A homemade version (one only suitable for infants who cannot pull things to them yet) can be accomplished by stringing a few of baby’s rattles on heavy yarn and hanging it across the baby’s crib for short supervised periods (not a permanent fixture). You can also place two dining room chairs on either side and string toys across while baby is on his back on the floor. What to hang? Rattles, plastic keys, or anything that jingles or makes a little noise. Since most of these toys will soon end up in his mouth in the months to come, nubby textures and safe items meant to be mouthed will be a good investment.
Once baby makes contact with an item and sees it sway or hears a rattling sound, he will soon be batting at more toys each day. All this reaching out and aiming for a toy will be strenuous for your baby, so don’t be surprised if anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes will be the limit at a time. Once baby is fussy, they’ve had enough, but will eagerly try again after a nap or tomorrow.
Nanny's Book Note: Always check your local library first for a test drive. It's a great way to find out which books are truly worth adding to your child's cherished collection.
Next Week: 5 to 8 Months
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