Top Educational Baby Toys

Educational Baby ToysEvery parent strives to ensure that their child gets the best education possible. Some even move to new areas where they know the schools are better. They start “college funds” to save for the day that they put their child through.

It is no wonder that parents want to know which toys will help them further their child’s intellect but there are so many to wade through. That is where we come in. We have done the leg work; researching to discover just what toys will both engage baby’s attention and set the stage for lifelong learning.

Before we could determine the best educational toys for babies we needed to find out how babies learn.

How do babies learn?

You are your baby’s first teacher. They learn from watching and listening to you. How they observe you interacting in these first months of their lives will influence how they form social relationships in the future. This is also when the foundation of their language development is laid. Their diets, their interests, their understanding of the world around them … these are all started in the first 12 months of a child’s life.

As a matter of fact, HealthyChildren.org says that children grow faster in their first year than any other time in their lives.

They learn by watching, by exploring, by touching and tasting and listening and feeling. Babies learn the only way that they can … with their senses. Thus, toys which engage those senses will engage their learning.

But just what kinds of sensory input are right for what age group? Surely, listening to Beethoven at two months old cannot influence a child’s intellect and learning. Can it?

We are so glad you asked!

0 to 1 Month

Mother And BabyIn this first month of their life, baby is learning in a way that is completely unique to this age group. Through facial and voice recognition of those few closest to baby, they learn about the world around them.

The loving attention of a parent helps new brain cells connect in ways that help babies to feel secure and confident, make sense of new ideas and information, and grow healthy bodies. In the first month of a child’s life, this interaction is the most essential component of learning.

According to Dr. Susan McQuiston, a pediatric psychologist at Baystate Medical Center Children’s Hospital in Springfield Massachusetts, “At this early stage, the best game may be simply interacting with another person.” She goes on to say that singing and talking to baby, even when not interacting directly, furthers their language development.

With their vision only extending about as far as their tiny arms can reach, faces are their entire world. Your face, your spouses’ face, the faces of siblings, those faces that baby sees most often will become the guide post for their intellectual development. Further, while babies can see colors, they prefer high contrasts like black and white.

As such, pictures of those faces, and even simple black and white drawings of faces, will draw baby’s attention and get them to focus. Other monochrome geometric pictures are also good to help baby’s mind to develop connections.

As far as their language development, as their hearing develops during this stage, familiar voices will also grab their attention. Thus repeating common words and carrying on a descriptive monologue of what you are doing throughout the day will help baby form the first stages of understanding.

Finally, with the Palmar grasp reflex in place, your baby can clench anything put into their hand. Thus, toys that are easy to grasp are good for this age group. If those items make noise – like a rattle – it is even better as it engages more than one of their senses.

2 to 6 Months

Now that baby’s vision extends beyond their grasp and their bodies are developing and growing at what often seems an extremely fast rate – especially to overworked and under rested mothers and fathers who are at baby’s beck and call. This is when toys become more diverse and the best ones challenge baby to grow.

Early (2 to 3 months)

It is at this point that baby begins to employ domination over their arms and legs. After this period, they may even have developed hand eye coordination. Thus their reaching and kicking becomes more intentional and less like a fish out of water. Babies at this stage will repeat movements that bring them pleasure.

The key skills baby needs to learn at this stage it to hold their head up, reach for things, and keep their eyes moving together.

A mobile or play gym hanging above is an excellent tool to draw baby’s attention and have them stretching to reach the objects dangling above. With their vision still developing, baby will find monochromatic black and white or highly contrasted colors most appealing. Interacting with and watching the moving objects on a gym or mobile will help baby achieve their developmental milestones.

Cindy DeLuca, a physical therapy assistant at Bayside Medical Center says that gyms encourage babies to swipe and kick at things which increase their “control over (their) body and (their) world.” This is not only excellent physical exercise for baby; it is also great mental exercise as well.

According to Dr. Shelle Velleman, a clinical linguist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst adds that holding black and white puppets with moving mouths or colorful toys that make gentle, soft sounds scarcely beyond baby’s field of vision encourages them to lift their head. Practicing these lifts will strengthen baby’s chest, rib cage, and neck muscles which help them to cultivate the breathing patterns needed for speech.

Cloth books, both in black and white or highly contrasting colors, will also keep baby’s attention and help them develop intellectually. Mirrors also fascinate babies. Seeing their own face and interacting with it is the logical step after focusing on other faces for the first month. Here is a face that baby can control!

4 to 6 Months

BabyBy now, baby’s mouth has become their main tool in exploring their world and learning about the world around them. They not only put anything and everything that they can into it, they are fascinated by the sounds it makes. An endless serenade of clicking, bubble blowing, and raspberries are both fascinating to baby as well as, the first indications of language development. Get silly and teach baby all the wonderful sounds a mouth can make.

With this foray into language comes an interest in socializing. Baby now seeks out new and different faces other than those which they have been focused on. They become more physically active, struggling to control their limbs more and reaching out to greater lengths than previously possible. Now might be a good time to remove the mobile as baby may pull it down.

Keeping in mind that any toys will inevitably go in baby’s mouth, anything with parts or components that are small enough for baby to swallow should be kept clear of their exploring hands. Likewise, all items that baby will be playing with should be able to be sterilized.

Although it might be a while before baby is actually cutting teeth, teething rings are great toys for orally fixated infants at this stage. The variety of shapes, textures, and tastes will undoubtedly fascinate baby at this stage of development.

Simple cause and effect toys such as rattles and shakers are great for developing minds. Musical toys are fall under this heading as well, especially xylophones and drums. Which are also great for building hand eye coordination. Board books are great for coordination as well and introduce babies to real books.

Balls of all shapes and sizes are also great for building physical coordination. According to Dr. DeLuca, “rolling a ball presents a great physical challenge” for babies and can also be an excellent tool for developing those cause and effect correlations. Peekaboo also falls into that grouping.

7 to 12 Months

fun bath timeBy the end of the sixth month mark, babies have usually doubled in size and are becoming more and more physical with every day. Keeping up with baby at this point can be difficult and, like most things in life, it will get worse before it gets better. If you have not baby proofed your home, you may want to do it now.

Early (7 to 9 Months)

About now baby is really moving!

Scooting, crawling, creeping, and rolling are all going to begin during this developmental period. Combined with the development of baby’s pincer grasp, which allows them to pick up small objects, it is time to spread the educational toys around.

As Nanci Weinberger, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island says, “babies see everything as a toy and for the first time they have the power to reach it.” She adds that you may want to “get the electrical cords and cat food out of the way and offer attractive alternatives.”

Those “attractive alternatives” are educational toys.

Board, foam, and cloth books are still a good option. The new ability to control their arms and bring their hands together is fascinating to babies and being able to do what only you could previously is like a major triumph for our littlest people.

A non-breakable mirror is still a good source of entertainment, exploration, and education. Put it at crawling height and baby can explore their face, which they always like to look at. Dropping, banging, and throwing things are great fun now. Get baby some soft balls and a basketball hoop at their level to help them learn spatially.

Baby wants to use their new manual dexterity and explore through the senses involved. Stacking cups, blocks, and baskets full of odds and ends that are baby safe are outstanding. Toys with “hidden” objects inside or toys that allow baby to mimic you – cell phones, keys, credit card, etc. – are an excellent way for baby to learn about the world they are growing into.

Shape sorters engage baby’s first critical thinking skills. Toys with push buttons and levers and other simple mechanisms – especially if they make noises – will engage baby’s mind and further their understanding of cause and effect.

Other good suggestions for this age group are patty cake, bath toys, activity centers, and books featuring animals. Babies are beginning to understand words and the books that you read to them will be the basis for their initial vocabulary.

Another good game for building baby’s intellect is to lay objects around them on the floor and ask, “Where is the _______?” This initiates the hypothalamus by triggering memory and critical thinking.

10 to 12 Months

We know you are probably exhausted from trying to keep up with your exploring baby but buckle your seat belts because you are just getting started and so is baby. Between 10 to 12 months, many babies begin walking as their sense of balance greatly improves. Walking means that those things that you thought were up high enough that it would be okay … are not.

In addition to this physical triumph, baby’s language, perceptual, and fine motor skills are increasing in strength. Encourage perceptual skills by giving baby nesting cups and stacking rings. It may be a while before baby gets the order right, but they will love trying.

Use hand and finger games that emphasize language like The Wheels on the Bus and Itsy Bitsy Spider are an excellent way to engage baby’s developing language skills. Blocks or stacking toys and pounding pegs into holes are excellent toys for developing baby’s fine motor skills.

Baby also begins imitative play and you can use this to teach them. Dr. DeLuca says, “A favorite game is dump and fill. Give your child crates filled with anything you do not mind having dumped. Take advantage of their interest in putting things in containers and teaching them to clean up.”

Creative items such as building blocks, painting items, crafts, crayons, sand and water are all great ways to encourage your baby’s artistic growth. There are many nontoxic items created for just this task. More complex cause and effect toys are also of educational value to babies.

As they near the one year mark, the imitative play increases and babies enjoy roll play toys such as plastic food and tools, large plastic or wooden cars and trucks, toy cell phones, dolls, and animals. These items allow baby to mimic the world around her on her scale and thus better understand that world.

What Babies Learn from Playing

Wrist control: This is a difficult skill to learn and often takes a year and a half to master but the basis for wrist control is now. The reaching, grabbing, pinching, etc is the first steps towards wrist control.

Social Skills: Seeing your face is great, but baby needs to see other faces. Nothing fascinates a baby more than another baby.

Spatial concepts: With blocks, stacking rings and cups, and other trial and error toys, babies begin their understanding of the concepts of space and size.

Senses and motor skills: Even at just a month old, if you call to your baby from across the room they will try to lift and turn their heads in an attempt to find you. When a six month old baby shakes and rattle and lifts it so that they can see it, listening to the sound intently; they are also building their hearing, vision, and hand eye coordination.

Language learning: Playing interactively with your baby helps your baby to learn a lot of words. The standard repetitive songs such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are excellent way to get baby involved. Adding hand movements will only intensify the affect.

Cause and effect: From four to nine months babies are fascinated with the idea spilling, dumping, and knocking things over to see what happens. This is an excellent opportunity to teach them cause and effect. Rather than chastising them for dumping their food on the floor, say “Oh dear, you spilled your food and now I have to clean it up and you have to wait for a new one.” This will help get two points across, that the cause – dumping – had an effect on their parent – cleaning – and them – waiting for dinner.

Separate hand coordination: Many toys make one hand do one activity while the other hand does something else. Coloring with crayons is a great way to help your baby learn this. First, they have to use one hand to hold the papers while the other colors and second, they will need to use a crayon sharpener. Both of these activities involve doing separate things with each hand.

Sorting and making groups: Toys that help babies learn how to order them from smaller to larger or skinnier to fatter are great for teaching babies how to order. Stacking toys are a great aid for this

It is never too early to begin your baby’s learning. You are the key though. Your child’s first and most important teacher is you. You do not need to spend a fortune buying any of these toys from the local overpriced toy store; you can find creative ways to make all of these toys yourself.

From your first job as their only source of information through your face and voice to running behind them so that they do not fall to hard, you are their first teacher. Shakers and rattles, board books and puzzles, play phones and keys, stacking cups and wooden stacking blocks, are all things that can be found around the house or made rather easily.

Make rattles and shakers out of rice and old paper towel or toilet paper rolls and aluminum foil. Write and draw your own board books and puzzles. Use old cell phones and all of those mystery keys that suddenly appear out of nowhere for minimal toys.

Nesting measuring cups work just as well as anything and are often cheaper to buy than toy nesting cups. When they are four to nine months old and they want to beat on drums and other instruments, bring out the pots and pans and some wooden or plastic spoons and let them bang away.

Educational toys are excellent tools to encourage growth in the areas of language, social interaction, fine motor, and perceptual skills. How well these toys work depends entirely on you and how you employ them to help your baby’s mind grow.

You are essential to your baby’s learning and you determine what course their earliest learning will take. There are many toys you can employ as aides in this learning process. These toys do not need to be anything fancy or expensive, just simple toys that utilize the areas where infants learn at the time. So, get down to your baby’s level and get playing!

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