Q: [Infant/Toddler] We received holiday gift cards for our twin toddlers and would love to pick out some education toys. What’s best?
A: Have you noticed that young children enjoy simple activities like ripping the wrapping paper off a box and crunching it between their little fingers? Have you seen the joy they get from banging on pots and pans with a wooden spoon? Young children love – and learn through – sensory experiences like these. Simple, exploratory activities can be more valuable to a developing brain than a fancy toy inside the box.
Many forms of “smart baby” technology, such as learning videos, have received low marks for baby brain development. Research not only proved that some high-tech toys were not helpful for development–but they may actually delay learning in some cases. These back-to-basics suggestions don’t require batteries or a big budget.
0-3 Months: Toys with movement and sounds. At this young age, babies love hearing sounds and anything that shows movement. A simple rattle is a great gift. Similarly, a set of plastic keys can make a new sound that distracts and surprises young babies. At any age, books are a great gift and young babies love hearing the sound of a parent reading to them. Music also stimulates brain development. Playing soft background music can help infants recognize the melody of a song before they can even understand the words; making children’s CDs another great gift.
4-8 Months: Toys they can touch or hear. At this stage, babies are gaining more upper body strength and begin to wave their arms and feet. Foot and wrist rattles, blankets with tags, toys with crunching sounds and mirrors are a few examples of toys that can be interesting to a baby’s growing brain. Because babies’ fine motor skills are developing as they learn to grab and reach, this is also the age when parents must be diligent about removing unsafe objects from baby’s reach. Babies will put everything in their mouths, so be mindful of choking hazards when looking for that perfect gift. Remember, any toy that is small enough to fit through a 1-1/4-inch circle or is smaller than 2-1/4 inches long is unsafe for children under 4 years old.
8-10 Months: Toys that stack. Babies are growing rapidly at this age, doing more babbling, smiling and laughing every day. At 8-10 months, a baby can put objects in and take objects out of a container, strengthening fine-motor skills and building problem-solving skills. A good set of rubber or wooden blocks is always a classic, long-lasting gift for this group.
12+ Months: Beginning puzzles, sorting and nesting toys. At this age, most children are very interested in the “cause and effect” of their actions, and because their memory isn’t well developed, they don’t tire of repetition. Puzzles are key in exercising the skill of problem solving and shape recognition (and they can be found in most local dollar stores). Pick up a wooden shape-sorting toy, or even large, cardboard building bricks that are big enough to stack up into a fort or wall. Any ball that is easy to grasp will be a hit with this age (but avoid small balls).
Understanding how babies learn is the key to knowing what toys to provide at any age. These brain-boosting toys won’t break the bank and will keep playtime a time of learning and developing for the little ones in your life.
Pamela Pimentel, RN, CEO of MOMS Orange County, has helped at-risk mothers have healthy babies through the nonprofit’s services of providing prenatal care, health and infant development screenings, health education and referral services through monthly home visits and group classes. www.momsorangecounty.org.