This has been sitting in my draft folder for about
six eight months now. The regular text applies to 0-6 months, the italic text I’ve added now, at 12 months. All babies have different interests (really! It’s surprising the extent to which this is true), so they will all gravitate toward different toys. Or electrical outlets, as the case may be, once they can crawl.
We did not go overboard buying baby toys. People gave us some, and my mom had saved some from when my brother and I were little (some stacking cups, a clackety wooden caterpillar, a rattle shaped like a bus) but I figured, she’s a baby: anything she can reach and put in her mouth is a toy, right?
Well, yes and no. There is something to all that developmental stuff; beyond the fact that she can’t play with Lego until she knows not to try to swallow them, certain toys really are great for certain developmental stages. Here are some she has enjoyed over the past half-year [year], in order of appearance, and all were either gifts, hand-me-downs, or bought used, except the “whoozit” teether (see “bandersnatch” below), which we saw in Henry Bear Park and Lyra claimed as her own, using the classic strategy of putting it in her mouth and saliva-ing all over it.
Stuffed cow: A gift from a co-worker (thanks Kathy!), we brought this with us to the hospital, thinking the black-and-white contrast would hold her attention. She didn’t get interested in it until 4-5 months later. About a week before her first birthday, she started cuddling things: she’ll pick up a stuffed animal, blanket, sock, whatever is around, and hold it to her cheek and it is the most adorable thing in the world. She loves cuddling with Cow.
Soft dangly toys: The turtle came with the activity mat at a yard sale, jingly Winnie and Tigger I picked up from the Little Fox Shop. She was so pleased the day she could finally reach Tigger’s foot and stuff it in her mouth. Jingle-Pooh and Jingle-Tigger are also perfect to attach to pacifiers in her crib, since the brand of pacifier she likes is not the one they make “Wubbanubs” for. Yes, Wubbanub is the name of a real thing.
Mirrors: I forgot who told me (or where I read) that babies love mirrors but DO THEY EVER. We have one that came with our play mat and one freestanding one (the brand is called Sassy) from a friend. The latter has a black-and-white ball that moves and some crinkly leaves. We found a real mirror on the curb, painted it, and put it up in her room; she loves looking at herself and us in it, and we brush teeth and hair in front of it too.
Cloth for peekaboo: We often use a swaddle blanket but any piece of fabric will work – napkin, hand towel, t-shirt, whatever – we float the cloth through the air and down over her as she’s lying on the floor. “Where’s baby? There she is!” Cannot get enough of this. Also a good way to get clean laundry folded. The laundry trick still kind of works if it’s big sheets, not so much for ordinary clothes. Now she is a more active participant in peekaboo, and we don’t even always need a cloth – she’ll peek from around furniture, etc. Or she’ll find one of my t-shirts or scarves, drape it over her head, and initiate a game herself.
Rattles: We have a classic style rattle made of plastic, a plastic shaker egg [we HAD a shaker egg, it is missing in action], and wooden shaker bird. Once she could grip things reliably, she loved all these, and the noise level isn’t bad at all. Rattles/shaker toys are still good! [Now we are TWO shaker eggs down.]
BOOKS: Board books, “indestructibles,” crinkly fabric books (Very Hungry Caterpillar)… we keep books in every room and have read to her every day. It has paid off: one of her favorite things to do is turn the pages of board books. Around 11 months she started to chew on the books a little bit less, and now at a year she is paying more attention to what is on the pages and pointing at things. She definitely recognizes certain books and has favorites. It’s not just librarian-mama’s imagination, either – at daycare her teachers have said she gravitates to the books. Yay!
Mini boppy with attached mat/toys: A present from Nana, this is ideal for the “tummy time” phase; it helps to prop them up, and gives them something to do while they’re there. The hard plastic toys come off and the pillow and mat are washable.
“My first snaps” linking toy: These are perfectly sized for little grasping hands (and mouths, with no scary points or edges). She can carry them around the house or when we go out on walks, she can knock over towers we set up for her, she can take them out and put them back in the barrel, and later she’ll be able to link them together to build things.
Stretchy sandwich/burger: This was a gift from friends (thanks, Uncle Tim and Aunt Jenny!). We hung it from her activity mat and she used to grab it and suck the little green bobble at the end. It has provided entertainment for grown-up visitors as well, musing on what mystery meat the sandwich might contain. (Is that bologna? With pimentos…?)
“Bandersnatch”/Whoozit: We didn’t know this was called a “whoozit” when we bought it, but we thought it kind of looked like the illustration of the Bandersnatch in the Jabberwocky board book, so that’s what we called it at first. It includes all the things babies like: a mirror, tags, a plush toy body, and teething toys to chew on.
Stacking rings: These were another yard sale acquisition. The top ring has a few little balls in it so it rattles, which she likes, but mostly she enjoys tipping it over, dumping the rings off, and mouthing the yellow base. At 12 months, she finally started removing the rings one by one and trying to put them back on. Learning!
Soft stacking blocks: Another great find at the Little Fox Shop, a set of four blocks, some crinkly, some jingly. I realized the stacking cups had some sharp edges, so these are better for now. The stacking cups are fine now! In fact, she pulls them apart with her teeth. Her many, many teeth. But the soft blocks are fun too – we made a game where I try to keep one up in the air, and when it inevitably hits the ground she is gleeful.
Kid-o car (anything with wheels): There was a little one of these at a library storytime (baby storytimes consist of one or two books, then songs or rhymes, then dumping out a bunch of toys on the floor and letting the babies roll or crawl around together). She seemed interested in it so I found one for her, but she has shown minimal interest in toy cars. Maybe later?
Walker toy: A friend with two older kids gave us one of these from her basement before a move. You may hear dire warnings about walker toys, but mostly they have to do with stairs; if you don’t have stairs, they’re fine. The front part is interactive (a little door that opens and closes, shapes that are attached with springy cord, some spinning gears, etc.), and the sounds and music are a little repetitive, but not intolerable. She really liked this for several months; especially in the mornings, we’d put the interactive part (detached from the wheel base) in the pack ‘n’ play in the living room and let her entertain herself for a few minutes while we brushed our teeth. She didn’t use it to practice walking very much; she kind of got the hang of that by herself.
Activity cube: Borrowed this from a friend with a younger baby. Previously I’d only seen these in dentists’ and doctors’ waiting rooms, and had no idea what they were called. Entertaining for while babies are practicing standing, and even before that, since there is something different on each side of the cube as well as the wires and beads on top. I think we had this from about four months to nine or ten months. It’s heavy, but not so heavy that a baby can use it to pull herself up to standing without tipping the cube over.
Activity table with music/sounds: I was wary of anything that made noise on its own, but we borrowed an activity table (again, from a friend with a younger baby) and it was completely tolerable! There were two different volume settings, neither particularly loud, and it had Spanish as well as English (so now we can sing the ABC song in Spanish). Had this from about five or six months to eleven months. The legs detach, so you can put just the top of it on the ground for babies who aren’t standing yet.
Balls: I was hoping she’d be interested in rolling them, at least, if not throwing and catching, but she has shown very little interest, no matter the size or texture. The one with the rattle inside it intrigues her for a while, but once she realizes she can’t get the rattle out, she loses interest. The one with the nubbles on the outside was easiest for her to hold, from about four months on, I think. *Update* She now enjoys playing with balls! Doesn’t quite throw them yet, but will fetch. So she’s doing better than our dog.
Blocks: I found some nice wooden blocks on the curb and cleaned them up. Now they live in a mixing bowl on the kitchen floor. She doesn’t build anything yet but enjoys knocking over anything we build, and now she’ll take them all out of the bowl and put them back in. *Update* Now she stacks them!
Other things that have been very useful this first year:
Bibs: Initially I’d thought we wouldn’t need bibs until she was eating food, but in the words of William Goldman, “Boy, are you wrong!” Milk dribbles, spits, etc. happen plenty right off the bat, and while you still have to wash the bib, you don’t have to do a complete outfit change. Cloth bibs also double as washcloths as needed. Once they start eating food, waterproof bibs with pockets are really handy.
Sleep sacks: We did swaddle at first, but she usually wriggled out of the swaddle, so we switched to sleep sacks. At first we used the Halo brand, but I found a secondhand Gunapod one and it is the best, because: the zipper zips from bottom to top and is already connected – no need to line up the zipper just right in the dark with a wriggling baby! There are also shoulder snaps and a zipper around the side, but we just use the middle one. I’ll be sad when she outgrows it and have my eye out for the next size up. She has outgrown it. I am sad.
Pacifiers and clips: Through trial and error (borrowing from friends’ babies), we discovered she likes the Tommee Tippee pacifier best. Through crowdsourcing other parents on facebook, we found a “pacifier leash” that works well, too, so we can clip it to her car seat or carrier and not worry too much about losing it. (So far we’ve only lost one of six!) (And we found it…mangled by the disposal in the kitchen sink.)
Wet bags: I had never heard of these before having a baby. They are bags for holding wet things and they are incredibly useful. Cloth diaper folks can use them for that, and the rest of us can use them for wet/dirty clothes or damp bathing suits. After eleven months, I set aside the diaper bag and started using a regular backpack with a wet bag in it. In retrospect, I’d suggest this approach from the start, especially for anyone who thinks they might be wearing/carrying baby more than using a stroller.
We’re still doing our best to keep screens (TV, computer, phone) out of her sight, but a couple times a week we watch a few minutes of Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow, which transfixes her enough so that we can cut her fingernails. This is a trick I learned from a former nanny (thanks, Caitlin!) and it works beautifully.
People who have, or have had, or have experience with toddlers: what are your favorite toys and games for the next couple years?