Rik is a father, training specialist, and qualified physics teacher who is passionate about learning and development.
Choosing Toys for a Baby
Today’s parents can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the huge range of toys available for their new baby. Immediately after the Second World War, toys were limited and children often played with simple wooden toys or household objects such as spoons or old cotton reels.
Now we can chose from a perplexing range of more traditional toys made of wood or plastic to high tech toys incorporating flashing lights, sounds, electronics and computers.
So lets begin by asking ourselves what toys are for:
- First, they entertain a child and give them pleasure
- Second (and arguably more important), they are educational tools that enable and empower the child to develop to their full potential
In practice, any objects that children enjoy playing with will usually meet the educational requirement too. In other words children are preprogrammed to seek out learning opportunities and a normal, healthy baby is born hungry to learn and be stimulated.
The Five Senses
A newborn baby is rather like a sponge absorbing every bit of sensory data around it and then processing it in order to make sense of the new world it has been born into.
Each of the five senses are important in helping it to comprehend its new environment and develop cognitively, physically and socially.
Toys are not enough however. To maximise the learning benefits the child needs other people to interact with. A child left alone with a simple object like a spoon will suck it, feel it, shake it or touch it to different parts of their body.
However if an adult interacts with the baby, for example tickling the child with the spoon or play acting with the spoon the child will demonstrate a much wider range of involvement by, for example, giggling, laughing or waving their arms in the air.
In other words, toys are not enough. To gain the full benefit the child must have people to play with.
So what sort of toys might be suitable for a baby under a year old? Visual stimulation is important. Children enjoy a range of colours. Moving parts are also good, particularly if they omit a noise when moved.
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Combining Touch and Sight
Babies also learn a lot from touch and combining touch and sight helps them to recognise visually different textures and materials.
If we go back to the spoon example, the baby will see the metal spoon is shiny and feel it is relatively heavy, smooth and cold to the touch. The child will also, sooner or later, place the spoon in its mouth to see how it tastes.
Toys made from a variety of different materials and textures will therefore stimulate and encourage their tactile investigations of the world around them.
Toys that omit sound are also important. Children need to use sound to know what is going on around them.
Toys that omit sounds enable them to equate cause with effect (for example, shaking a rattle or pressing a button that triggers a sound) and help them to locate objects in space by sound. Sound can also be soothing and comforting.
However there is no substitute for the voice of a carer or parent. Even if you can’t hold a note, you singing a lullaby is worth far more than any professional singer on a TV or a CD player.
A range of educational toys is great but the magic ingredient is a thoughtful, caring adult to help the baby get the most out of them!
The last point reminds me of my Mother In Law buying my Son an expensive rocking horse. My Son liked the rocking horse but was much more fascinated by the packaging it was in - a huge brown paper bag, several feet long!
So don't ignore the appeal of old cardboard boxes or packaging material for babies and toddlers.
But don't forget to do a risk assessment first and supervise closely to ensure no harm comes to your child. Never let your baby play with plastic bags!
Simple Toys for Children Under One Year Old
- Balls consisting of different sizes, colours and textures
- A range of plastic and wooden bricks of various colours, shapes and sizes
- Picture cards for language and colour
- Wooden spoons, saucepans and other objects to create noise
- A toy xylophone for musical appreciation
- Boxes to put objects in and take objects out
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that educational baby toys need not be expensive or high tech. Children can learn and develop properly using relatively inexpensive learning toys and household objects.
The interaction of a loving, committed adult is often more beneficial for the child that playing with a range of expensive toys alone.
Dianna Grindelwald on June 04, 2011:
thanks for having this hub.
i have been homeschooling my kids. i have a two years old son. i cant wait to grab few of them when i get the chance.
alispaisley on May 22, 2011:
Great job, thanks for sharing.
OTmommy from Southern USA on October 06, 2009:
Great information on picking out educational toys! I'm a fan of the simple, traditional toys as well; not so big on electronic toys. Blocks, balls, and stacking rings are my favorite!
Rik Ravado (author) from England on February 18, 2009:
Many thanks Indiagolfer - glad you stopped by!
Rik Ravado (author) from England on February 15, 2009:
I bet you do - still it helps if you have a really supportive husband, doesn't it?
Vivenda from UK (South Coast) on February 15, 2009:
Ah, yes - I remember it well...