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Finding Toys for Each of Your Child's First Year's Developmental Stages

New parents are often at a loss as they try to decide which toys they should buy for each stage of their child’s development. When you take your baby home from the hospital, he doesn’t need any playthings. But as he grows you should provide more stimulation to encourage him to o explore his world.

He doesn't need to start playing online poker at age 6 months. But the more opportunities that your baby has to explore at an age-appropriate level, the higher the likelihood that he’ll grow up to be an intelligent and well-adapted individual.

There are specific toys that fit each specific developmental stage. Some include

Birth to Three Months

During this first development stage, babies are learning to live in the outside world. The baby starts to smile between 4 and 6 weeks and tracks objects with her eyes. She can start to hold her head up and raise her head and chest when she’s put on her tummy. If an object is put into her hand she can grip it and will start to swipe at dangling objects.

At this age, you’ll need nothing more than some bright stimuli that you can put in front of the baby’s face. She’ll love to watch anything that captures her interest, though nothing more than your face! Rattles and other items that can be placed in her hand for her to grip will help her to develop eye-hand coordination and demonstrate to her that she is capable of holding items. You can hang a mobile over her bed to give her an opportunity to gaze at colorful images and pictures. There are also “university” mats on which you can lay her. These mats have hanging items that are placed close enough for her to grab. These mats will also take her into the four- to six-month stage of development which is when babies start to reach out to grab items.

Four to Six Months

Your baby is starting to get active. During these months he should be starting to roll over from stomach to back and then from back to stomach. You’ll hear him start to babble and laugh. His small motor develop will have him begin to reach out for and grab objects, manipulate toys and other objects in his hands and pass items from one hand to the other. By six months baby should have full head control and be able to sit up with support (though not yet sit himself up). 

Many of the same stimuli that you had for him during his first three months, especially those toys that he can hold in his small hands, will still be appropriate, though now he’ll be manipulating the objects in his hands and trying to grab everything in sight (watch out for your hair, your coffee cup, your computer...).

Now that the baby can manipulate objects, he can put the objects into his mouth. You’ll see the baby put EVERYTHING into his mouth at this stage because his mouth is his way of exploring his world. Don’t discourage him from putting things into his mouth – it’s a normal developmental phase and shouldn’t be skipped. Just make sure that any objects that the child holds cannot be swallowed.

One word of caution – right-handedness and left-handedness aren’t fully confirmed until the child is approximately three years old (though by 18 months, s/he generally has a preference). Therefore, it’s important to give the baby practice reaching out and holding things in both hands so that he gets practice using both hands and his eventual preference will be a natural one.

Seven to Nine Months

This stage is one of the biggest jumps for gross motor development. From rolling over, the baby will start to creep (pull herself ahead using her arms to propel her body forward) and then to crawl on hands and knees. If your baby doesn’t crawl, don’t worry….sometimes babies move by scooting on their bottom. By nine months many babies are also pulling themselves up to a standing position, though not always.

The baby’s ability to move and manipulate objects also changes here. She can hold two objects at once and pass an object from one hand to the next. She starts to understand that her actions impact her environment so you’ll also see babies in this stage banging objects in order to make a noise. Peek-a-boo is a good game for this age because the baby is learning object permanence – the understanding that an object still exists even though it’s no longer visible. (This is also the age that “stranger anxiety” develops since the baby now knows that, even though she may not see her mother, he mother is missing and is wanted!)

Toys for this age are still largely the same ones that you had for the earlier months but now you’ll want to spread them out to encourage the child to move around to take them. You’ll also see the baby testing the idea of object permanence by throwing objects down, repeatedly (generally from a high chair or your lap) so you have to keep reaching down to get it. Now’s the time that you can start buying containers into which you place objects since emptying the container is a source of great excitement to the baby during these months. (putting things into containers comes later).

Ten to Twelve Months

Babies at this age are starting to become more independent. They can feed themselves minimally but will still need to get most of their nutrition by being fed. They can hold tiny objects between their thumb and forefinger, manipulate objects and play basic versions of pretend games. Babies of this age enjoy songs and some can even start babbling while most understand basic concepts (“mommy’s here!” “Daddy is leaving”). Walking can start anytime at this time but it’s not unusually for a child to start walking later (up to 18 months is considered within the range of “normal development” – anything beyond that should be checked by a doctor).

The best toys for this age group are usually those in containers, which the baby will empty, and connecting toys (Duplo, blocks, etc) which the baby can pull apart. This is also the time that many babies start to have a favorite stuffed animal or doll. Some children, though not all, are ready to start reading simple books at this age. 

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