The 10 Best Educational Toys For Under 1s

 

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I had hoped to get this post out before Christmas for you all…but, to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t manage it in time.  I know that you are all parents and understand that sometimes, life gets in the way of things, or just isn’t as predictable as you need it to be to get stuff done!  To top it all off, although I had finally finished writing this last night, we were hit by a Christmas Eve Power Cut which meant we had no internet (as well as no fridge, freezer, heating, hot water or oven).  This state of affairs has been quite a challenge.  I will not bore you (or myself) by writing down the details of this little middle-class drama…suffice to say I feel that (today of all days) I have really deserved the Christmas tipple and box of Lindor that I have in front of me.

Anyway…on with the post.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I intend to buy many of T’s presents AFTER Christmas – simply because he won’t really know what is happening anyway and too many presents at once will just be overwhelming.  So I am already planning my visit to the January Sales.  Perhaps this makes me a stingy old scrooge…I don’t know.  But I do love a bargain.

At the moment, I really am at my happiest when in a toy or bookshop.  The sight of a set of painted, smiling animals on a wooden peg puzzle or a row of shiny book spines on a shelf make me feel quite content.

But books and toys are pretty darn pricey.  So, to avoid digging too deep into my tiny purse and buying every single toy that takes my fancy, I try to weed out the “rubbish ones”.  I do this by asking myself the following questions:

  • what opportunities for learning does this toy really offer my baby?
  • how long will it hold his interest?
  • how many different ways can we play with it?
  • and (finally) if I actually decide I do like the toy – can I find a cheaper alternative online?!

So I thought I’d save you all from having to go through a similar process and write a list for you of all of T’s (and my) favourite toys at the moment.  These are the toys that T plays with the most, and so (in my view) they are worth shelling out for, because you will really get a good deal of FUN and LEARNING out of them.  It’s interesting that most of these toys are timeless – the sort of toys we all probably had when we were children.  T has some fancy-schmancy electronic toys but these don’t seem to hold his attention for long.

Anyway, here’s the little list, with all the educational benefits listed underneath the toy.

I feel it is important to add here that YOU are the most beneficial part of your child’s learning and playing experience.  All of your interactions with her will help her to learn and develop more than she would playing alone.  (Although, as I always say, independent play has it’s benefits too).  But these toys are on my list because they are all very well-suited to either guided OR independent play.

1.  Toy cars or vehicles

IMG_2056T adores ANYTHING with wheels at the moment.  He pushes and pulls his vehicles all over the house, on every surface, vertically and horizontally.

These three vehicles are particular favourites, perhaps because they all have a little something extra.

The Zoo Lorry has animals that T can post through the holes.  He has learned how to lift up the little gate and take them out.  The magnetic vehicles have their magnetism to amuse him and their little accessories for him to lift up and twist.  The tow truck has a little man that he can put in and take out…and, I would never have imagined it but this is one of his favourite things to do.  For around two months, he regularly sought out cars and little people and tried to put the people inside.

Good For Developing: problem-solving, fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity and imagination

2.  Building Blocks

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T has got a lot out of blocks, ever since he learned to stack one of top of the other.  This is an on-going skill that he will be refining for a while…I guess until he can stack the entire set of ten!  So this is a toy that will LAST and will remain challenging.  And we all agree a challenge is what keeps us interested in learning.

Here is a mini-list of what I consider to be the best blocks:

Squidgy (like those in the above photo) – these are nice as a starter block as they are light and hand-sized, making them easy to stack.

Alphabet blocks in a wagon – T loves pulling things, pointing to letters and putting things into containers.  So it seems to me that this is the PERFECT toy for a one-year-old!  We don’t have one yet, but I’m on the hunt for one.  I know he will go for it in a big way.

3D shape Building blocks – I cannot recommend these highly enough.  Much like lego, they provide excellent opportunities for open-ended play (the sort of play that encourages creativity).  I will be writing more about encouraging creativity in another post.  But, for now, just get hold of some of these if you can!

I found this little tube in a local toy shop to put in his stocking which (unlike other, bigger boxes of building blocks) says it is suitable for babies 12 months and over.  It is also a nice size – it contains just 15 blocks.

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(all blocks) Good for developing: fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity, imagination, understanding of size, shape recognition

3.  Train set

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Once T was able to put the train onto the track without it falling off (this took lots of practice!), it was Love At First Sight.  He now enjoys pushing it through the tunnel and back, and is learning to push it gently to avoid derailments.  A train set can be added to over the years and the opportunity for constructing his own tracks will keep stretching him as he grows and develops.

Good for developing: fine motor control, imagination, creativity, understanding of shape and size

4.  Stacking Rings

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T keeps coming back to this.  He has shown interest in it since around 10 months, and, as time has gone by, he has learned how to use it with more and more independence. It provides a good opportunity to talk about shape and size with him, and to introduce counting.  There are lots of stacking toys around of varying levels of difficulty and it’s worth investing in a few different ones.

Good for developing: hand-eye co-ordination, understanding of size,  colour and shape recognition, sequencing skills, counting skills

5.  Finger Puppets

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T and I have HOURS OF FUN with these little chaps.  I used to keep the nursery rhyme animals in my music bag and he would regularly crawl over to where it hung on the door knob and point at it, saying “da! da!” (which I interpret as “Please would you fetch this fun bag mummy?  I yearn to watch the little creatures bobbing up and down and listen to you sing”).

He literally squeals with anticipation when he sees my hand dive inside the bag and then again when he sees a little tail poking out of the top.

I’ve now put some of the finger puppets up on his toy shelf so he can reach it when he wants to.  But I will keep switching from bag to shelf because he does adore the surprise element of the bag.  And of course, it keeps things fresh (for us both).  I let him choose the puppet and then we sing the song together.  He likes to hand me the animals for Old Macdonald, Incy Wincy or the Five Little Ducks ((they are not all pictured here).

I have found the five little ducks hand puppet particularly useful to take on outings as it is an easy way of keeping him entertained (if you don’t mind strangers hearing you sing that is).

The Goldilocks puppets are great fun too and he loves to see them acting out the story.  This story is particularly accessible to a one year old as he is not yet familiar with all the fairy tales but this has a simple, repeated refrain that he can recognise, and the characters can all be given different voices, keeping him engaged.

I GUARANTEE you will not be disappointed in the effect of a few finger puppets on your little one.  And at £3.75 a pop (from The Puppet Company) they are totally affordable.

Good for developing: speaking skills, confidence with singing, sequencing (when singing familiar rhymes or telling familiar stories), creativity (when used for making up stories)

6.  Walker

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I think the average age for walking is around 12 months.  Of course, none of our babies are “average” – they are all UNIQUE, and this is a beautiful thing.  But I am just pointing out why I have added this toy to the list.

T is cruising at the moment and has been really enjoying pushing this walker around.  He LOVES toddling along behind it, going up and down the living room – I have never seen such an enormous grin as when he does this.  Except, perhaps, for when he is on a swing!  Every home with a baby should have one of these.

It’s worth pointing out, I think, that a wagon of building blocks would be just as effective at supporting those first steps – so you could just get one of those and save yourself buying two pushing toys.

Good for developing: gross motor skills

7.  Duplo

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I don’t think I need to point out just how versatile Duplo is – it is a universal fact.  There is virtually no limit to the things you can build with Duplo.  And because the blocks stick together easily, it inspires confidence in babies and toddlers to build and create more.  That is all I have to say about this toy – it is simply BRILLIANT.

Good for developing: fine motor skills, understanding of number, size and shape, counting skills, colour recognition, creativity, symmetry

8.  Mini animals

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There are so many learning opportunities to be explored with a good and varied collection of mini animals.  Most of these say 3 years and up on the label though, so of course it is important to supervise your baby if they are still at the “everything in the mouth” stage.

These little beauties have really added to T’s play time.  We have played so many games with them (which I will be posting sometime soon) and they seem to spark T’s imagination – perhaps because he already knows of them from reading books – so, when he spots one, his expression is almost as if he has come across an old and dear friend unexpectedly.  It’s lovely!.  One of his favourite things to do is to go and pick one of the animals up when he has spotted it in a book and hold it up triumphantly, exclaiming “DA!”.   The lion has been known to prowl around his car garage, and the elephants like to go for rides on his tow truck.  Earlier today, his crocodiles (not pictured) were going up and down in the lift in his racing ramp.

Good for developing: creativity, imagination, fine motor skills, knowledge and understanding of animals and their characteristics, sorting skills and counting skills (maths)

9.  Shape Sorters

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Since around 12 months (if I remember correctly) T has LOVED posting things through holes.  As he has developed more control over his fingers he has become more accurate at posting and so any shape sorter that he has come across has challenged and delighted him.  The reason I think it’s worth investing in one of these is that there is quite a considerable stretch of time in which your baby will be refining his posting ability – I’d imagine that T will still be enjoying this toy at two years old.  So you will definitely get your money’s worth out of this toy.

Good for developing: fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, shape recognition

10.  Jigsaw Puzzles

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I have written before about the games you can play with peg puzzles, and it is definitely worth just grabbing a few when you come across them.  But there is also lots of fun to be had with a good, old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle.

T loves these two piece jungle animal puzzles.  He is not yet able to physically connect them, but delights in finding the matching body parts and also enjoys putting them back in the box when we have finished!  I am SO glad I bought these as we have got so much out of them, and they have been an achievable  introduction to more complex puzzles.

Good for developing: matching skills, animal names and features, fine motor skills, reading skills

That’s it!  You’ve come to the end of the list.

I do hope you all manage to get hold of these toys and have loads of fun playing with them.  I’d love to hear of any games you come up with at home.  Or perhaps you don’t agree with this list.  Have you got any other toys you’d add?  post a comment up here if you have a game or toy you would like to share with other like-minded parents and carers.  I am always very happy to hear from you!

COMING SOON:

I plan to write soon about games that we play with some of these.  If you don’t want to miss another post, just click follow and you will receive an email whenever I write.

But I must go now – it is my duty to spend this evening finishing off my stockings on the sewing machine.  I can’t believe I’ve left it this late!

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17 Ways To Play With Stacking Cups

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Hello again, at last!  I meant to write this post sooner, actually, but we have had issues with our Wi-Fi recently.  I apologise for the wait.  I’ve been told that several of you went out and bought the amazing stacking cups after reading my post on toys and you are eager to play with them!  So, finally, here is my comprehensive list of Stacking Cup Play Ideas. I’ve written down all the games T and I have played with the stacking cups, in the order we’ve played them. I’ve also added some more ideas for when our babies are older.  Some games are guided, with lots of adult modelling, support and interaction, and some are suggestions for free-play.

All Babies Are Different

As requested, I’ve put a rough age range for each game. But – we all know of the familiar parenting mantra: “All babies are different”, so please don’t panic if your baby doesn’t follow exactly the same pattern as my T.  Babies really do all do things at different times and develop at different rates. T has always had babies “ahead” of him in some areas, and “behind” in other areas. But it’s all too easy to get caught up in the comparison game (I did it myself a couple of months ago when T wasn’t crawling).  As mothers, we must remember to just stop comparing and enjoy being, playing and learning with our beautiful babies, and loving what they are into right now. 

Here Are The Games:

1.  Bat The Tower

Age/developmental stage: from around two months, or when baby can bat an object

Helps to develop: gross motor skill (batting), hand-eye co-ordination, social skills, vocabulary

Lie your baby down on the floor.  Build a tower to her side, describing what you are doing and counting the cups as you stack them.  Your baby should naturally be interested enough by the colours and movement to want to reach over and bat it.  If they aren’t at first, wobble the tower by pushing down on the top cup and moving it from side to side, then knock it over yourself and cheer or applaud.  She’ll soon get into it!

Variations: put a rattle or soft toy on the tower so they fall when the tower is toppled.  This used to make T smile.

2.  Clapping The Cups

Age/developmental stage: from around four months, or when your baby can grasp and is beginning move their hands towards each other in a clapping motion

Helps to develop: interest in sound and rhythm, hand-eye co-ordination, clapping action

Pick up two cups and hit them together a few times to model what you want your baby to do.  Then put two cups near your baby and encourage them to do the same, asking “can you hit the cups together?”, and praising their efforts.  At first, you may need to put the cups in her hands and hold her hands as you “clap” them together.  T used to love doing this when he was younger and still does it occasionally, for fun.

Variation: Bang a rhythm with the two cups; put the cups with other objects for your older baby to explore the sounds they make when she bangs them together.

3.  Pick Up Cups

Age/stage of development: from around four months, or when baby can sit up and is trying to grasp things

Helps to develop: fine motor skill (pincer grip), hand-eye co-ordination, concentration

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Nest all of the cups inside each other.  Put them, as one, with the hollow part facing up (see above) in front of your baby.

Demonstrate how to pull the smallest one out of the middle, and encourage her to do it by praising her for any attempt, even if all she does is touch it.  Once her grasp improves, she will be able to pull them all out.

This was T’s first game with the cups and he got really good at it after a couple of months.  He was very happy to just sit with them for ten minutes at a time, trying to pull them out.  We just got them out every morning, first thing. Now, he will sit and take each one out, one at a time, in order, until they are all free!

Variation: Once your baby has mastered this game, try this.  Put the three larger cups in front of your baby, each with one smaller cup inside.  Encourage her to take the smaller cup out, by showing her what you want her to do.  Sounds pretty dull, but your baby won’t think so!

4.  Topple the Tower (as featured in my games post)

Age/stage of development: we started playing this at around seven months old but we still play it now (at nearly eleven months).  This is exactly why it is one of my top ten games.  I’ve written down all the variations I’ve played, as T has grown up.

Helps to develop: hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skill (hitting), social skills, also encourages tummy time and crawling

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Before your baby is crawling: Put her on her tummy and build a tower in front of her with the stacking cups.  Count the cups as you stack.  I would tease T by saying “ooh what a brilliant tower I’ve just built.  I do hope nobody topples it!”.  He would smile or do what I call his “dirty laugh” (presumably pleased at the thought of destroying my creation!). Then he would swipe at it and knock it over.  I would then say “Oh no! T got my tower!” and he would shriek with delight.  This is a great game for encouraging tummy time.

Once baby is stretching forward from sitting: when T started doing this, I wanted to encourage this to make him crawl so I would put the tower just out of his reach.  It worked like a dream because he desperately wanted to knock that tower over!

Once baby goes from sitting to tummy: Move the tower even further away.  We did this with T to get him moving forward.  I am pretty sure this tower game taught him to commando crawl, which he still does now! 

Once baby is creeping/crawling: put a cushion or a pile of cushions with a sheet over them for her to climb over to get to the tower.  T loves this challenge now.  He is so quick now though that I have to get the cushions up and tower built pretty fast to beat him!

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Once baby is pulling herself up:  I’ve just started this one.  I build a tower on the sofa so he has to pull himself up to get to it.  He really loves this game and it has helped encourage him to pull himself up more.

5.  Hide and Seek

Age/stage of development: from around seven months, or when baby is beginning to understand object permanence – a good sign of this is your baby laughing at peekaboo or trying to play it themselves

Helps to develop: social skills, object permanence, fine motor skills, visual memory

See my blog post on games for the details of this game.  Here is a picture of T playing this recently:

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6.  Nesting Cups

Age/stage of development: from around nine months, or when baby’s pincer grip is developing

Helps to develop: pincer grip, concentration, understanding of size

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Essentially, this is the opposite of the number one game.  This is T’s current favourite (apart from the tower toppling of course!).  I generally put it out as a free-play activity because he is able to do it himself now.  You will have to assess whether your baby needs a little support or not.

I put the nested cups in front of him and he takes them out (as per number one game).  Then he tries to put them inside each other.  I modelled this at first, and he picked it up pretty quickly without much effort for me.  He started off just managing two cups, but now he can manage around four of increasing size.  I watched him this morning nest three small cups correctly, then three big cups.  Then he put the smaller set of three into the larger set of three.  Amazing!

After around fifteen minutes of free play (or when I can see he is getting bored) I sit down with him and guide him to complete the whole nesting task (all the cups), with lots of praise, as a sort of summarising activity.  Then we tidy them away.

7.  Investigating Water

Age/stage of development: from around six months, or when baby is sitting up

Helps to develop: pincer grasp, pouring action, hand-eye co-ordination, understanding of the properties of water

This is another free-play exploration activity.  Take two or three stacking cups into the bath.  Demonstrate how to fill them up with water, by scooping or filling with another cup.  Some stacking cups have holes in them.  If yours do, you can watch the water pouring through the holes together and describe what’s happening.  Then let it trickle (or “rain”) over your baby’s arms, back and head – that makes T giggle!

If there are no holes, you can just pour the water out yourself, all over your baby’s body.  You could sing “I’m a little teapot” and when it comes to the line “tip me over and pour me out” you could pour it out.  I chant “pitter-patter” rain-drops on T’s shoulders/back/tummy (etc.).

Variations:  your older child can explore at a deeper level: invite them to consider concepts by asking questions: how many scoops from a small cup will fill the big cup? What is the quickest way to fill them all up?  Let’s try and fill this bowl/bottle up! Which cup would be best for filling it.  Why?

8.  Ball and Tower

Age/stage of development: from around nine months, or when baby is beginning to try and throw

Helps to develop: gross motor skill: throwing, hand-eye co-ordination, social skills

Build a tower, as in number four.  Then demonstrate how to throw a ball at the tower to knock it over.  Pass baby the ball and encourage them to throw it at the tower.  T took a while to manage this, but he really enjoys the challenge now that he is a bit older.

Variations:  Use different balls; make several smaller towers and have him knock them all down in turn

9. Cups And Other Stuff

Age/stage of development: From around six months, or when baby is able to grasp objects

Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity/imagination

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Another free-play activity.  Provide one or two large cups with other objects and let baby explore!  This really encourages creativity, because your baby will come up with their own ideas for games and will try their own little experiments. T used to chew them, then he loved banging them together for a couple of months.  Now, he likes to put the cup over the object and lift it up to reveal it again.  He also likes to put the objects inside the cup and remove them.  In this picture, he was enjoying transferring them from cup to cup.

Variation: change the objects you put out with the cups – the beauty of this game is that it is endlessly versatile as it is really up to your baby what they decide to do.

10.  Sand And Water Investigations

Age/stage of development: From around two years

Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity/imagination, knowledge and understanding of the properties of water and sand, understanding of mathematical concept of capacity

Try using the cups to investigate sand and water with different objects.

Some good combinations that would work with sand and water are:
cups on their own, cups and spoons, cups and spades, cups and jugs, cups and wooden spoons, cups and sieves, cups and paper/plastic cups, cups and a colander, cups and yoghurt pots

Ask questions to get your little one thinking and investigating:  How many scoops of sand can we fit inside each cup? Why? Which cup holds the most/least?

Variation: make the game more creative by building sand castles with the cups and  providing sea creatures, dinosaurs, little lego people or any other small world characters.  Make up stories together involving the cups, and let your little one’s imagination go where it wants to.

11. Can You Remember?

Age/stage of development: from around two years

Helps to develop: visual memory (reading skills), listening skills, vocabulary (of whatever objects you choose to introduce in the game)

This is one of my favourites and I can’t wait to try this with T.  I swear by memory games for improving mental recall and reading skills.

Introduce three objects (in a row) and discuss them all.  Place three cups over the objects.  Ask your baby to find each object, one at a time.  Can she remember where each one was? This is a great game for improving visual memory, which helps with reading.

Variation: to challenge older children, or when your child has mastered the above, try moving the cups around, so that she has to remember which size or colour of cup covers which object (rather than their position).

12.  Messy Play

Age/stage of development: from around eighteen months, or when baby is past the “everything-in-the-mouth” stage

Helps to develop: vocabulary of texture, sense of touch, understanding of capacity

Exploring messy substances with the cups would be a fun activity, especially if your cups have holes!  You could make corn-flour goop, oats mixture, custard, or jelly and just explore what happens when you put it in the cups.

13.  Play-dough and Cups

Age/stage of development: From around eighteen months, or when baby isn’t eating everything in sight

Helps to develop: sense of touch, imagination/creativity, fine motor skills, listening skills, social skills, vocabulary

I think this would be a lovely free-play invitation.  There are so many things a baby or toddler could do with play-dough and cups: push it into the cup and see if they can fill it up, stamp the cups into the play-dough to make circle marks, use them as a cutter for making different-sized circles.  You could roll lots of little balls and see how many fit into the cups, or create play-dough sandcastles by filling the cups.  If the cups have holes, they could push the play-dough through, making little “worms”.  If the cups have patterns or markings on (ours have numbers), they could stamp these onto the PD.   I am sure that your baby, toddler or three or four year old would also come up with lots of beautifully creative ways of using play-dough.

14.  Mark-making

Age/stage of development: from around two years, or when baby/toddler is beginning to show an interest in mark-making

Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity, vocabulary of shape and number

Dip the edge of the cups in paint and press down on the paper for circular art.  Mine also have raised numbers on the bottom, so I can use those to stamp numbers onto paper.  With an older child, you could encourage them to stamp the numbers in order.

15.  Size Sequencing

Age/stage of development: From around two and a half years

Challenge your child to line up the cups in order of size or number.  Start with three cups – the smallest, the largest, and one in the middle.  Demonstrate how to sequence by doing it yourself first, talking through what you are doing: This is the first cup, the smallest.  Which one is next?  This one is next.  This is bigger. Which one is next?  This one is next.  This is the biggest.  Point to them all and say small, bigger, biggest!  Introduce more cups when you feel she is ready.

You can make this a little easier by taking a photograph of the cups in order of size, laminating it (usually local stationers will do this) and having it in front of your toddler to give them a reference point.  This is a very Montessori way of doing things as it makes the activity more independent – your toddler can self-correct as they complete the task.

Variation: line up all the cups in order of size and remove two.  Challenge your child to put them back in the right place.  Praise them when they get it right, and get them to explain why they got it right.  Swap the cups so they are in the wrong positions and ask: why is that not right?

16.  Number Games

Age/stage of development: From around three years old, or when your child is able to recognise and identify a few numbers

Helps to develop: number recognition, counting up to ten and sequencing

1.  Number sequencing:  write numbers 1-10 on post-it notes.  Stick them to the cups in a random way –  not in order of size – so that she cannot use the size of the cup to guess what order the numbers go in.  Help her to put them in order by asking prompting questions: what comes after number 1?..let’s count to work it out.    Where is number two?  Can you find it?  And so on, in this way until she has sequenced all the cups!

2.  Which two have I swapped? Swap two numbers round while she closes her eyes and get her to identify them and switch them back.

3.  Which number is missing? Remove a number and ask her to work out which one is missing.

4.  Grouping Collect interesting objects and count them into the cups to match the numbers on your post-it notes or cups.

Even if your toddler isn’t quite able to do these activities without lots of support, they will still benefit from you playing these games with them and one day they will just get it!

17.  Cup Art

Age/stage of development: From around two years or when your child is showing an interest in creating their own art/mark-making

Helps to develop: imagination/creativity, fine motor skills (pencil and pincer grip)

Draw around the cups and change the circles into pictures – challenge your child to come up with their own ideas and praise them all to encourage creativity.  Some ideas to start them off are: pig, ladybird, caterpillar, snowman, sunshine, chick, faces, wheels for a car

Variations: Provide your child with collage materials and glue or different mark-making materials.  How about: cotton wool, cut up tissue paper, buttons, cut up wool, dried pasta, cotton buds and paint, corks and paint, fingers and paint? The tip is to keep it simple  – just use one or two collage materials or one form of mark-making.  This encourages creativity.

OK….I think that’s all I can think of.  I had NO IDEA how many play ideas I would come up with until I started writing.  But now I know – SEVENTEEN!

If you haven’t bought these cups yet, I bet you’re considering it now :).

Got something to share? I hear of so many brilliant creative play ideas from mummy and daddy friends.  If you and your baby, toddler or child have come up with any other stacking cup games, or have particularly enjoyed playing the games above with the cups, I and my readers would love to hear from you, either in the comments box below or on my facebook page. 

Minimise Toy Clutter: Top 10 Toys to Buy for Under 1s

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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

and

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

Genius Babies also has a great list: http://www.geniusbabies.com/balls-for-baby.html

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!