Where did my living room go?
Barely three weeks after T was born, our living room had been transformed from a zen-like minimalist show-home into a multi-coloured jumble of boxes, bags and baskets containing toys and equipment. The generosity of friends and family – though touching and very much appreciated – went completely against our minimalist philosophy of – if you’re not using it, bin it.
But, having never had a baby before, I had no idea what to get rid of and what to hang on to. As with all baby-related things, I have had to work this out through old-fashioned Trial and Error.
You might think me mad to expect a tidy house free of toys when I’ve just given birth. But, whilst I admit that our house will never be as empty as it used to be, I do believe that it’s possible to:
a) be ruthless about the toys you select for your baby
b)contain the mess in an orderly way with well-planned storage systems
I am not going to write about organisation here because that is another post, and, quite frankly, my storage system isn’t fully sorted yet because I am saving up for it.
So, how do you choose which toys to keep and which to hand over to the charity shop?
Well, in the end, of course, I suppose it is a personal thing. We all have different ideas of what we want our children to learn and how we want them to develop. Some parents might prefer to focus heavily on puzzles and problem-solving toys, while others choose to encourage lots of imaginative play. For me, I am going for what is usually termed as the “holistic” approach – which basically means developing all areas equally, and viewing each as important as each other, to develop, as it were, the whole child. The areas in baby development are very similar to those for young children :
- social and emotional development
- literacy – speaking and listening skills
- reading skills
- mark-making (early writing) skills – although this can’t really be started until baby is over one, and has stopped putting everything in his mouth!
- physical development – fine and gross motor skills
- problem-solving/mathematical skills
- imaginative/creative skills
- understanding of the world (through many and varied sensory experiences of materials, objects, people and places)
When I look at a toy, I ask myself two questions:
1. How rich is this toy in learning potential?
2. How many different ways can we play with it?
And this is how I have selected the toys in this list. They all have maximum educational potential and versatility. The list is only for Under Ones though – so it won’t be long before I’m writing another!
Here they are:
1. An Activity Cube
We had a Lamaze one. I suppose they are all pretty fascinating to a baby but Lamaze toys really are infallible. They work hard to make educational toys and you can tell. T was ensconced by this cube on his jungle gym from birth up to around six months. Even now, at ten months, he goes back to it. I would never be without it if I had another baby. When he was tiny, he could just gaze at it. As he got older, he could touch it, then hold the handles, then lift the flaps and look in the mirror.
What your baby is developing: visual skills, fine motor skills, sensory awareness
Games to play: this is more of a “hang it and let baby explore” toy, but you can lift the flap and say “peekaboo” when she sees her reflection, or get her to touch the different animals on the surfaces.
2. A hard, plastic rattle.
Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?? And alright, most of you probably have visions of your baby giving himself a black eye while his grip is still developing.
But – don’t dismiss it yet…
T has always loved his blue rattle and never cared for the TEN other soft, pastel-coloured rattles he owned. And it’s no wonder. You can barely hear them rattle, and they aren’t easy to hold on to when your grip is kind of floppy. His blue rattle was the first toy he had that made him turn his head, smile and laugh.
What your baby is developing: auditory skills, fine motor skills, visual skills
Games to play: where’s the rattle? – shake it on one side of baby’s head to encourage him to turn to the sound. Shake it up and down and round and round in different shapes – it will really delight your baby and develop his visual skills
3. Stacking Cups
OMG. I feel quite strongly that I need to write an entire post, just focusing on the learning potential of these amazing things. T has been fascinated by these ever since he was around four months old. I think he’d take them to bed if he could.
What your baby is developing: mathematical skills, fine motor skills, social skills, creative skills
Games to play: I am going to do a separate post on this I think! Stay tuned…
4. A ball.
ANY kind of ball. Or, actually, EVERY kind of ball. You cannot have too many balls. Balls are simple, and simplicity is beautiful.
T loves all of his balls. He likes the way they move differently and feel different because of their size, weight and texture. One ball he has is rubber and bounces brilliantly (it also has raised letters on the surface), another is a beach ball, so is light and easy to throw, another has a ball inside that jingles and yet another has mirrors and tags to play with, and numbers and pictures to look at. There are literally hundreds of balls on the market, so I have selected my top ten, to save you looking around, when you’d much rather be playing!
1. Wimmer Ferguson Learn and Play Balls
2. Colourfun large primary colours baby ball
3. Baby’s first ball – genius baby toys
4. Whoozit Wiggle Ball
5. Gertie Ball
6. Roly Poly set of chiming fleece balls – jumbo – Jack Rabbit Creations
7. Bright Starts Activity Balls
8. Baby Einstein Bendy Ball
9. V Tech Move and Crawl Activity Ball
10. Glitter Ball
I think it’s worth investing in a few balls as there is a lot you can do with them.
What your baby is developing: hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skills, social skills, listening skills
Games to play: catch, take me out (see my Ten Games to Play With Babies post), knock over skittles or towers and throw into a bucket/other target as baby gets older, football while baby is on the door bouncer
5. Pull-toys with strings
T has several of these and, as his pincer grip has developed, really enjoys pulling them and seeing them move in different ways.
Here are some good ones:
- Plan Toys Pull-along Snail
- Plan Toys Dancing Alligator
- Melissa and Doug Deluxe Frolicking Frog
- Manhattan Toy Pull-Along Friend, Puppy
- Brio Pull-Along Bumblebee
What your baby is developing: fine motor skills, visual skills, creative skills
Games to play: pull the string (see my Top Ten Games for Babies), give your toy a voice and pull it around your baby, making it talk (T loves this!)
6. A Rain-Stick
This was another early favourite, like the rattle and the cube, which has had great staying power. T loved just watching the little balls inside, trickling slowly through the holes and it had quite a calming effect on him when he was little. Now, he enjoys turning it this way and that, studying the balls and shaking it.
What your baby is developing: auditory and visual skills, fine motor skills
Games to play: just turn it up and down and let your baby watch, roll it and have baby chase it, shake it on one side so baby turns and encourage her to hold it
7. Tomy Hide ‘n’ Squeak Eggs
This toy is EXCELLENT. It’s pretty cheap but there is so much for your baby to master. It’s essentially a puzzle toy. There is an egg box. Inside the egg box, there are six coloured chicks with shells that fit on top. Each shell has a different emotional expression in a colour that matches it’s chick. The bottom of the eggs have different shapes that fit into shapes in the egg box. If that isn’t enough for you, the little chicks squeak when you press down on them. If you get nothing else on this list, GET THIS TOY! Your baby won’t be in to it until at least six months old, but it will last for over a year after, I am sure.
What your baby is developing: mathematical skills – shape recognition, matching and sorting skills (shape and colour), fine motor skills – pressing and putting shells onto eggs, then fitting into the box, recognising emotions
Games to play: match the shells to the eggs, match the eggs to the box
8. Squishy Blocks
Well, any blocks will do, but I prefer these because they are indestructible. It’s all very well buying beautifully carved and painted wooden blocks, but they’re just not practical!
What your baby is developing: fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, social skills
Games to play: topple the tower (with hands or a ball), take me out (see my Top Ten Games for Babies , build a tower
9. A Sorting Toy
At first, all T did with his was take things out of the large hole and put them back in. Then, one day, he actually put a shape into the right hole, thereby completing his first puzzle! There are so many out there to try. We got one as a gift and then I found another in a charity shop. But, if I had a choice, I’d go for a very simple, two shapes one first, then graduate to a more complex one once my baby has mastered that.
What your baby is developing: mathematical skills, fine motor skills
Games to play: hold shape over hole and have baby push it in, put the shapes into the holes independently
10. Stacking Rings
Stacking rings onto a stick is an important developmental skill that appears around ten months. T has just started to have the dexterity and fine motor control to be able to put one ring on the stick. But there is potential for further games (see below). We have a more complex stacking rings game that he has started to use (it was donated) with different shapes and numbers of holes, but, if I did it all again, I’d start with a simple one and keep increasing the complexity once he had mastered one.
What your baby is developing: mathematical and fine motor skills
Games to play: put a ring on the stick, put two or more rings on the stick, put the rings in ascending/descending order of size.
Well, there are my Top Ten Toys for Under Ones. I hope you enjoyed reading this and found it useful. I’d love to hear from anyone who has a similar list, and I am looking forward to writing my next one!
- Toys That Teach: Fun, Educational Gadgets And Games For Kids (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Toys, Toys, Toys! (youngfabulousandnatural.com)
- Developmental Toys We Love, Volume I (jennifersmokler.com)