I remember a good friend telling me that babies don’t really need toys for the first few months of life — and she was right.
I also remember my mom telling me that household items like tupperware, measuring spoons, post-its, and water bottles are a baby’s favorite “toys” — and she was right, too.
I have therefore tried to keep mini’s toy collection to a minimum, though it’s borderline impossible to prevent an accumulation of them, whether they’re given as gifts, inherited as hand-me-downs, or — let me be honest — purchased in a moment of parental weakness (i.e., “I’m going on a three hour flight tomorrow and need to pull out all the stops” or “everyone says this is the best toy for her age!” or “it’s just too damn cute…”). Mini received so many gifts for her first birthday that Mr. Magpie and I put a bunch of them away to bring out later — for trips, for rainy days — and I recently went through her toy baskets (we have two sea grass baskets similar to these) to retire and donate items that are too young for her or that she’s never played with. (Does anyone know where to donate gently used toys and clothes in Manhattan?! Please leave a comment! I have been searching online for a good spot!)
All that said, babies do need stimulation and mamas do need to find ways to afford themselves much-needed breaks (Mr. Magpie is a strong believer in giving mini time to herself every afternoon — time to sit in her crib, playing with her own toys and books, entirely on her own), so I thought I’d share a list of the very best toys we’ve come across by age. I’d say that if we only had these toys on hand for mini, she would have been just as satisfied and stimulated by her toy collection!
The Best Baby Toys: 0-3 Months
+Sophie the Giraffe. Mini responded to the spots on Sophie well before she could actually grasp her — I think the size, the smile, the pattern on the back, the shape all attracted her. I can remember her cooing and smiling and batting at Sophie early on. She then liked to chew on Sophie and clasp her legs and turn her around in her hands as she became more dextrous. One thing I really like about Sophie is how soft and lightweight she is — some of the other rattles and teethers we had were too heavy and she’d occasionally drop them on her face.
+Art Cards for Baby. My mom is skeptical of the whole black-and-white trend for babies; people say that babies recognize the contrast between black and white earlier than they do between softer/more similar colors. I don’t have a horse in the race so I just go with the flow, picking some items in black/white and others in color. Setting aside the color question, these cards are wonderful when babies are itty bitty — I used them with mini when she was just four or five days old! — and I’ll tell you why: they’re like a book with training wheels, but are WAY EASIER TO HOLD in front of a baby reclining flat in front of you than a book with many pages that you have to awkwardly maneuver with one hand, while other pages fly into her face, etc. These cards also gave me a tool for making conversation with mini — what else do you say to a four-day-old child besides how obsessed you are with her? I found myself creating little stories based on the cards and pointing out various features of the animals on them, and it made me feel more motherly.
+Munchkin Rubber Duck. Mini’s first and only bath toy until about the age of six months. The shape and color are great, and she still adores it, especially now that we’re teaching her all the animal sounds. Plus, you can’t beat a $2 thrill.
The Best Baby Toys: 3-6 Months
+Fisher Price Rattle and Rock Maracas. It’s true what they say — when it comes to toys, the more plastic and garish, the better; here begins the gradual decline of attractiveness in toys. Mini loved these from the moment we gave them to her — they were easy for her to grasp, she liked the sound they made, and she enjoyed gumming both ends. I had looked into getting her some wooden maracas, but I liked that these were lighter weight and had brighter colors.
+Baby Einstein Take-Along Tunes. She was mesmerized by the music and flashing colors at this age — I remember holding it up in front of her for stretches of several minutes as she’d watch the flashing lights and take in the music. She still loves this. She’ll press a button, clap her hands, and rock back and forth.
+Baby Banana Toothbrush. She’s loved this forever — it’s a great size, easy to grip, and the texture of the bristles at the end is exciting. I still carry this around in my diaper bag when I need something easy to entertain her for a few minutes.
+Fisher Price Rainforest Activity Mat. We started using this when she was much younger (for tummy time), but I think she really started enjoying the mat during this age. I loved that you could remove all of the dangling toys, so she could swat at them for awhile, and then I could hand her them individually so she could chew on them/turn them around in her hands. She especially loved the monkey attachment, and I can remember many car and stroller rides with her screaming at the monkey (happily), in some sort of urgent conversation.
The Best Baby Toys: 6-9 Months
+Fisher Price Rock a Stack. A classic for a reason. Mini still adores this toy, and I think it’s helpful with dexterity, beginning to teach shape and order, etc. Is it a reflection on how overly-congratulatory I am of our daughter that when she slides a ring onto the center piece, she looks at me and claps?
+Haba Croo-ak Frog Rattle. I was devastated to learn that mini recently dropped this in the supermarket, and we couldn’t find it anywhere. One minute she was happily playing with it; the next, it was no where to be seen. She LOVED this little guy — she would hold it by its rope arms, swing it back and forth to make the rattling sound, chew on it. We gave it to her earlier than six months, but it’s a little heavy (since it’s made of wood) for an uncoordinated baby — she would occasionally drop this on herself and cry.
+The First Years Stack-Up Cups. Oh man, these are a bargain. Mini enjoys nesting these inside one another. She hasn’t quite figured out how to stack the right sizes on top of one another (when you invert them, they can stack into a tower, but they’ll only stack if they’re in the right size order), but she loves to knock down the towers I create. It’s also, I think, a good tool for teaching colors, and they’re a nice, petite size for her tiny hands. We’re constantly losing them, though — rookie mistake to have brought them on a train trip with us recently!
+Hape Music Set. She plays on her drum every single day. Another reader wrote about this, but babies ADORE the drumsticks! Mini will often crawl around with them in her hands and then bang on walls, books, toys, etc. I also noticed that she learned, fairly quickly, how to strike the drum — at first, she would miss the drum by a few inches; she’s gradually learned to focus her movement so she can strike it in the center.
+Skip Hop Bath Squirties. We received these as a gift and mini DIES OVER THEM. LOVES. The balls/animals are just the right shape for her tiny hands, and she is mesmerized when she dunks them under water and they float back up to the top. In general, any toy that has a lot of different little parts are fantastic for her. She’s not quite sure how she feels when we squirt her with the water, but it makes for an entertaining bathtime for us.
+Skip Hop Explore Toy. This battery-operated toy moves around on the floor and encouraged mini to crawl. I also think it helped her learn cause and effect — when you lift the bee out of the cloud, the cloud stops moving and the music changes. The music on this one isn’t as bad as some of the other tunes we’ve had to sit through…
+Skip Hop Activity Center. I hesitate to call this a toy because it’s more a sanity boost for parents looking for a place to stow their active babies when they’re too tired to hold them or chase them around — but mini truly loves this thing; we still use it with her, though she’s honestly outgrown it. It’s genius because you can adjust the foot plate so that it’s the right height for your baby as she grows — and it can then convert into a toddler table when you insert the plate into the middle. The toys can be removed off the side if the baby doesn’t care for them, though the little musical keyboard has been a favorite of hers since she first received it (she still loves it), and she even now will sometimes spend a few minutes playing with the other toys. (Also, Mr. Magpie and I have a special dance we do when our favorite tune comes on…)
The Best Baby Toys: 9-12 Months
+Corolle Mini Baby Doll. I’ll never forget when she took this out of the wrapping paper on Christmas morning. She started panting heavily and grabbing for it, and she’s never let go since. She loves this babydoll! She will cradle “Lulu” (the name we’ve given her) in her arms and rock her back and forth — I think her nanny taught her this and it’s absolutely adorable. She recently received one of these magic milk bottles and she loves to “feed” her doll, too — we were astonished when she immediately knew what to do with it! She put it right up to the baby’s lips! She’s also learned how to point out her doll’s eyes — can’t quite remember the ears or nose, but baby steps…
+Maileg Princess + The Pea Set. I sound like a broken record here, but mini absolutely adores this set. She’ll sit in her crib playing with all the “mattresses” and her little mouse for a good 30 minutes each day. Heads up: make sure you remove the mattress with the pea stitched to it if she’s little like mini — it’s the perfect size for her to pluck off and try to swallow. This brand has the most precious collection, and I gave her another one on her first birthday and may have splurged on another for her Easter basket.
+Edushape Sensory Balls. She loves chasing these around the apartment. She’s coordinated enough to hurl them a few feet in front of herself and then dart after them — and she loves when I then punt it out of the way just before she reaches them. She shrieks and hustles to follow! My only gripe with them is that our dog seems to love them as much as she does, despite many discipline sessions reminding her that they are Emory’s.
The Best Baby Toys: 12 Months
+Vtech Sit-to-Stand Walker. So bulky and ugly, but this has been a serious source of entertainment at multiple different stages. She likes sitting in front of it (in her crib or on the floor), opening and closing the doors, pulling on all the various toggles, and pushing buttons. You can actually remove the “activity panel” from the walker, so she just has the flashing lights. She also started kneeling in front of this and pulling herself up as she got stronger — and then just recently started pushing it around and walking behind it! It’s a great tool for teaching babies to walk (and you can adjust a setting on the wheels so that they move more slowly, then more quickly, as the baby gains balance!), and all of the sounds and activities on the front keep her entertained. (The songs are my worst nightmare, however.)
+Brio Pull-Along Dachsund. She received a number of pull-toys for her birthday and loves them all, but this one is the best because it is very easy and lightweight to pull and it rolls really well. A couple of the others had other moving parts or weird balance, so she’d end up just sort of dragging it behind her on its side. This one pretty much always stays upright and turns on a dime. Also, it’s a classic.
+You’ll note that while mini has received dozens of stuffed animals, she rarely plays with them, with the exception of one black dog she received for her first birthday (is this the case for all babies or just ours?) That said, she has long loved her oversized stuffed giraffe — every morning, I pick her up and we walk over to greet giraffe. She’s taken to tapping it on the head, almost like she’s petting Tilly.
+Mini inherited a set of wooden nesting blocks from when Mr. Magpie was a babe sort of similar to these. She has LOVED them at every age — even when she was itty bitty, she reacted to the shape and the colors on the sides; now she loves nesting them and stacking them, delicately, on top of one another.
Baby Toy Wishlist.
+I’d like to get her a kickball — she loves those little edushape balls, but I think she’d get a kick out of something slightly larger to roll back and forth. I’m debating between this one by Melissa + Doug and this one by Crocodile Creek. I like the dinosaur print on the latter, and it’s a little smaller than a classic kickball, which might work well for her at this age.
+This ballet Maileg set. I die over it. DIE.
+Like most babies, mini loves music, and I think she’d find this roll-out piano keyboard exciting. As a Manhattanite, I also appreciate that it rolls up and can be stowed easily!
+Play microwave. I don’t know why, but this gets rave reviews! I think she’d like the activity of opening and closing the door, the interaction of the buttons, etc.
+Cupcake set. As noted above, mini is drawn to anything with multiple parts that involve stacking/nesting. I think these would be an interesting change of pace from the usual blocks/rings.
+Doll stroller. Now that she’s walking behind her v-tech walker, I am dying to get her one of these strollers for her baby. I’m obsessed with the wicker style (there’s also this more expensive one in white), though maybe this corolle one would be more reasonable.
P.P.S. How darling is this sweatshirt?!