Friday, November 28th, 2008
Essential Toy Guide: Baby’s First Year
The best toy is still a cardboard box, but if you insist on having something in that box, here are some suggestions.
I will be updating these guides with additional toys over the next week based on your suggestions and a few more toys I have in mind (putting all this together takes a lot of time).
These are essential toys, the high value gender-neutral toys that your kids will enjoy and then later you’ll hand down to friends’ kids. These are not posh. They’re reality toys that you don’t have to mortgage your home to buy. Be sure to weigh in below with your opinion about other essential toys.
Dolphin and Fishes Activity Gym Mat by SoHo Designs — Any play mat will do, but I favor subdued tones over attention deficit color explosions. A newborn is learning to process all visual information, not just the artificial world of specific colors we try placing them into. An even better, but more time consuming option, is to use a textured blanket (ours has ridges like a Ruffles potato chip) and personally interact with your baby. $25.
Cloth books — You can’t start too early with reading to your baby. If your kid chews books, cloth is the way to go. It’s best to inspect these books in person at a physical store so you can assess whether they’re machine washable. Some books contain cardboard sewn inside or other elements not meant to be washed.
Many cloth books have counting or alphabet activities and not real stories. Our family’s favorite cloth stories are Rainbow Zebra, about accepting differences (sewn from fabric panels found at a cloth store), and Amadeus is Happy, about feelings (a fold-out pillow). Both are difficult to find online.
Learn & Groove Musical Table by LeapFrog — Activity tables primarily exist to occupy a baby’s attention (better than TV) and give the baby time practicing standing and balancing in place. With various buttons and switches, this one alternates between spoken words and musical notes, and has a switch for English or Spanish-only operation. There are two volume settings with the lower one being reasonably quiet. The legs can be removed for ground-level play.
If you’re familiar with previous incarnations of this table, know that the legs have been redesigned to be more tip-resistant, but every table is tippable. $40.
Spiral Spin Top by Infantino — Babies love to Bam! Bam! and this one has a big payoff for pounding hands. $11.
Shape-O Toy by Tupperware — It’s a classic shape sorter, but at 6 months it’s a pick-up-and-bang ball. Opening the ball is difficult for a baby, but about the time he’s mastered fitting all 12 shapes into the ball, he’ll know how to open the ball himself. $12.50. The linked merchant is significantly less expensive than other retailers such as Amazon’s $27. As with any incredibly good deal, determine shipping costs before forking over your credit card.
Sit-to-Stand Giraffe by Fisher-Price — A few years ago this toy was the Stand-up Ball Blast and my daughter loved it. She went crazy for it again at 4.5-years when we pulled it out for our 9-month-old son, although at 4.5 years it’s more of an adrenaline speed game.
The new version is redesigned as a giraffe, encouraging more independent standing and less leaning, although it can also be used in a seated position. Insert the three balls in the giraffe’s mouth, watch and hear them roll down the ramp and out the four holes at the base. Walk around the base to find the balls and start over again. A button on the giraffe’s head makes an appropriately annoying sound; just don’t insert batteries if it’s an issue. $13 at Toys R Us. Avoid Amazon’s independent merchant with its $53 price tag on this one.
Brilliant Basics Stacking Action Blocks by Fisher Price — Each of these three blocks have things to turn or interact with, and then you push the top for automated movement. Stack the blocks and push the top and all of the blocks come alive. $16.50.
This toy guide is not finished! We need your expertise! Help other parents by posting a comment below with your suggestions for must-have toys that your child(ren) have loved. And if you have strong feelings about toys in this guide, or similar ones, share those thoughts too. Thank you!
And be sure to check out all of our toy guides: