0 to four weeks
In these first few weeks the best toys are things that move, are curvy and have high contrast. Many manufacturers now make first toys in black and white. This is because your baby’s eyesight isn’t finely tuned yet, and simple shapes with a good contrast are easier for him to see.
- Faces fit the bill perfectly, and are the ideal ‘toy’ for your newborn
- Mobiles: place a black and white mobile above his cot, or if it’s warm enough, roll his pushchair under a tree so that when he wakes from a sleep he has something interesting to watch.
One to three months
- Rattles: as he holds a rattle and waves his hands he will hear the noise and start to make a connection between his moving hand and the rattle; he’s learning that if you can hear something you can probably see it too
- Baby gym: he can lie on his back and focus on the brightly coloured shapes
Three to six months
You are still your baby’s best toy, but a range of toys and playthings will be useful now. Variety is all important; he may examine an object for just a few seconds before losing interest.
- Soft toys: at around six months most babies are able to hold on to toys they are given and will enjoy small soft toys, especially ones with interesting bits to discover, like different textures and noises. Avoid hard or heavy toys because at this stage babies may well hit themselves on the head as they wave their hands around holding a toy. You’ll need to offer your baby your outstretched palm or another firm surface to press the toy against before he will be able to release it.
- Teether toys: your baby will try to find out about a toy by putting it into his mouth. He uses his mouth to investigate because his tongue has more nerve endings per square centimetre than any other part of his body and is therefore amazingly sensitive. So choose toys that are lightweight, easy to grasp and safe to put in the mouth
- Activity centre: once your baby can grasp things in both hands an activity centre tied to the side of his cot will be fun, choose one that makes lots of different noises. These are ideal at this stage because they do not swing away, there’s lots to discover and they can be played with over and over
- Board books: your baby is also ready to look at the pictures in a thick board book with you, especially if they are simple shapes in bright colours.
Six to nine months
- Stacking toys: these make use of his developing ability to organise the world around him, and develop his hand-eye co-ordination. Choose between stacking beakers (which need sorting by size to successfully complete), bricks or a set of rings of different sizes that fit over a pole. At first your baby will not be able to do them and will need you to show him how. He may then copy you or he may just like to watch or to knock yours down. Over the next few months he will get more proficient at stacking and sorting
- Soft toys: offer him soft toys with interesting textures and shapes attached. He will use his mouth to explore them, and pass them from hand to hand
- Mirror: babies find their own reflection fascinating. Choose a safe, unbreakable mirror specially designed for babies
Nine to 12 months
- Shape sorters: simple posting and sorting games which encourage him to match shapes or increase his dexterity
- Activity toys: toys with buttons to press or turn that make sounds so he can learn that doing one thing leads to another thing happening
- Bath toys: now he can sit unsupported he will enjoy filling and tipping water from a container and watching it splash
12 to 18 months
What he needs now is your presence, your inspiration and your gentle help when things go wrong.
- Make believe toys: a telephone, some plastic food, a teddy. These encourage talking and imaginative play
- Building bricks: he may build small towers of his own or prefer simply to knock yours down. Good for hand-eye co-ordination
- Play-dough: fun for squishing. A rolling pin and a shaped cutter will extend play. He will enjoy watching you make things too
- Push and pull-along toys: good for improving balance and co-ordination. Push alongs give confidence to early walkers while pull alongs are popular when your toddler realises he can walk backwards. Look for ones with a low wide base so they are less
likely to tip over
- First jigsaws: individual pieces with knobs on to make them easy to hold are ideal at this stage
- Musical instruments: children enjoy joining in with making music. First instruments are those to shake or bang
18 to 24 months
- Make believe toys: imitating and pretending will encourage language skills, thinking through and sorting out ideas and social skills. Toy versions of adult household tools are fun but toddlers are usually happy to use imaginary props or to borrow yours - you’ll need to check for safety first
- Role play toys: toys which allow your toddler to be in charge of his world. For example a bus with people to put in and take out, a doll to put in a buggy, a few plastic plates and cups to feed the teddies. This organising allows him to experiment with how the world works and to be in control for a while
- Crayons: chunky wax crayons are easy to grip and they make a mark no matter how they are held. Initially your toddler will grab a crayon in his fist and make lines from side to side. Up and down lines, dots and circles all come later. It’s the joy of producing a mark, not what it looks like, that matters
- Balls: large soft balls to kick or throw. A beach ball or foam ball is ideal. Just as with everything else, the more fun practice he has, the quicker he’ll develop his skills
- Dressing up clothes: dressing up is a fun way of exploring what it’s like to be someone else. Old hats, scarves, bags and jumble sale finds are enough to inspire a good game
- Ride on toys: he will now be able to sit astride a four-wheeled riding toy and maintain his balance while he pushes himself along with his feet