How To Boost Baby’s Development With Age-Appropriate Play

Developmental Baby Toys Teether and Rattle Symphony Croc Plush Toy

With an infant on your hands, it might feel like all you do these days is feed, change diapers and catch a nap while baby sleeps (if you’re lucky). But while it may seem like baby can’t do much, it’s actually never too early to start playing with your child. In the early weeks and months, she isn’t exactly ready to kick a soccer ball or put together a puzzle, but there are plenty of fun ways to engage with her that’ll have important long-term benefits for her physical and mental development.

“It’s a myth that babies can’t play, even if they don’t seem to be ‘doing much’ yet—they’re still taking everything in,” says Amanda Gummer, a research psychologist specializing in child development and spokesperson for the Genius of Play, a movement to raise awareness about the importance of play in kids’ lives. “Playing is a great way for parents and caregivers to build that vital bond with their baby, while sensory stimulations helps baby’s brain grow.”

When it comes to playing with babies, how much your child gets out of it is directly related to how much time and effort you put into it. “Baby’s development doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” says Rachel Coley, a pediatric occupational therapist who blogs at Can Do Kiddo. “A big part of baby hitting key milestones and gaining skills has to do with the materials, experiences and opportunities to practice that baby receives. By choosing toys and activities that match what your little one is ready to work on, you make the most of your infant’s awake times and set the stage for important early learning.”

Since younger babies can’t exactly wander over to the toy bins and pick out something that catches their eye, it falls to you to select playthings that give baby the chance to practice and refine new skills. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry. Read on to get age-appropriate play ideas and learn which developmental toys are best for baby at every age and stage.

In This Article:
Best Developmental Toys for Newborn Babies
Best Developmental Toys for 2-Month Old and 3-Month-Old Babies
Best Developmental Toys for 4- to 5-Month-Old Babies
Best Developmental Toys for 6-Month-Old Babies
Best Developmental Toys for 9-Month-Old Babies
Best Developmental Toys for 1-Year-Old Babies
Developmental Toys for 18-Month-Old Toddlers
Best Developmental Toys for 2-Year Old Toddlers

Best Developmental Toys for Newborn Babies

Your newborn might look super-relaxed in his swing or bouncer, but it’s important to work in opportunities for movement throughout his day. “While it’s easy to assume that our squishy newborns just need a cozy spot to lounge and watch the world go by, what they really need is time and space to wiggle, stretch and strengthen their bodies in order to master those mini-milestones of early development,” Coley says.

One of the biggest developmental milestones for a newborn in the first month is stretching out of the curled-up fetal position they grew so used to in the womb. “Baby’s muscles are loose and floppy in this first month but will develop more muscle tone in the second month,” Coley says. While his movements are largely dominated by infant reflexes at this point, many of those are setting baby up for tummy time success.

Coley recommends starting tummy time in the early weeks of life, since the earlier you start, the better baby tends to tolerate it—try placing a receiving blanket on a flat, firm surface or a loved one’s chest or lap. “Baby won’t yet lift his head to look ahead, but you might see him briefly lift his head with it turned to the side or remain cheek-down,” Coley says. “This is normal and beneficial positioning for a very young infant.” Although he won’t yet track moving objects, baby may turn his head to find your face or a high-contrast black and white object placed close (about 8 to 12 inches) to his eyes. While on his back, he may also slowly turn toward the sound of a familiar voice or a shaking rattle.

Types of developmental toys to try out

• Activity mats. A lot of play mats come with a whole bunch of toys to hang overhead, but these can be quite over-stimulating for a newborn. For now, remove the clip-on overhead toys and then place the mat on top of a rug to create a clean, comfortable place for practicing tummy time.

• Music-playing device. Baby’s hearing is one of the earlier senses to mature, and music can have both a calming and stimulating effect. Try playing some soothing songs or just sing to her yourself—a mother’s voice will be her favorite (and most familiar) at this age.

Our favorite developmental toys

developmental-baby-toys-tiny-love-gymini-sunny-day-activity-gym

Photo: Courtesy of Tiny Love

This activity mat comes with brightly colored toys and a mirror to stimulate visual interest. The arches are removable and the mat can be easily folded flat for storage.
Tiny Love Gymini Move & Play mat, $75, Tinylove.com

developmental-baby-toys-black-white-infant-flash-cards

Photo: Courtesy of Genius Babies

Black and white clip-on flash cards from Genius Babies “are great for giving newborns visual stimulation that they’re interested in and able to see,” Coley says.
Genius Babies High Contrast Flash Cards for Baby, $12, Amazon.com

Best Developmental Toys for 1-Month-Old Babies

Big changes start to happen in baby’s second month of life—especially when it comes to arm and hand movements. “Babies have a reflex that encourages them to look at their own outstretched hand as they wave and jerk it around like a tiny orchestra conductor,” Coley says. As you continue practicing tummy time, baby will begin to hold his head up for very brief periods of bobbing and turning.

Types of developmental toys to try out

• Activity mats with toys. Now you can start introducing toys to help spark baby’s curiosity. Try to position objects away from the center of the activity gym (not just overhead), which encourages baby to turn her head and check out her outstretched hand.

• Mobiles. Since babies don’t start to really see color until about 3 months of age, look for a mobile that has high-contrast, black-and-white decorations.

Our favorite developmental toys

developmental-baby-toys-wimmer-ferguson-infant-stim-mobile-

Photo: Courtesy of The Manhattan Toy Company

The Infant Stim mobile has removable black-and-white and color cards with high-contrast images designed to appeal to babies (such as targets and bullseyes). The cards are labeled by age, and can be easily swapped in and out as baby’s vision develops. An adjustable cord positions them further away as baby starts to see more clearly.
Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim Mobile, $28, Manhattantoy.com

developmental-baby-toys-color-fun-play-gym

Photo: Courtesy of Haba

Delight baby’s senses with this overhead play gym. The bright colors are eye-catching and the wooden disks create a clacking sound as they swing. And because the toys are dangling from a portable frame, you can set this over baby wherever she is.
Haba Color Fun Play Gym, $70, Habausa.com

Best Developmental Toys for 2-Month Old and 3-Month-Old Babies

As you keep up with tummy time, you’ll see baby holding his head higher and steadier. By the end of month three, he may be able to raise his shoulders and upper chest. He’ll probably roll a few times accidentally if he turns his head too far, but before long he’ll doing it intentionally. (Want to get some rolling practice in? Place baby in a side-lying position.) You may also notice baby kicking a bunch while lying on his back, which helps strengthen the belly muscles needed to eventually roll over. Another fun development? Baby may start to intentionally reach for and grasp toys—but knowing how to let go of objects hasn’t set in yet. Keep in mind that babies at this stage are relying on their senses (sight, hearing, touch and smell) to navigate around the new world around them, so offer up some healthy stimulation.

Types of developmental toys to try

• Linkable plastic rings and…

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