Best Baby Toys for Development and Learning
We reveal the best toys and games that are vital for boosting your baby's brain development, socialisation skills and self-esteem
Choosing your child’s toys before they start school should be done at your own discretion and bearing their personality in mind. But certain items form the backbone of most children’s early years play, proving to be educationally excellent – not to mention good fun. Check out seven of our favourite brain-boosting skill-building toys and games.
Ideal for sensory play, whether they’re simple sand and water trays or all-singing, all-dancing electrical versions complete with lights and music. Look for designs that have removable legs; that way you can rest it on the floor when your tot is small, and then raise it to encourage standing once they have found their balance and started cruising.
The Lights and Sounds Activity Table (12 months up, £50, mothercare.com) includes eight activities and seven sounds
A simple but effective way to introduce a huge variety of critical skills needed for school and later life. The humble block will introduce your child to science and maths (studies show that children who create complicated structures are more likely to excel in mathematics), spatial reasoning, and even language skills and co-operation if they team up with a playmate.
After more bang for your buck? Consider Melissa & Doug Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks (£9.99, brightminds.co.uk)
Let’s-pretend versions of everyday items (dressing-up clothes, play kitchens, tills etc) are priceless for stimulating your child’s developing brain. Pretend play boosts problem-solving skills and encourages empathy; one study also found it teaches compromise, collaboration, and even promotes counterfactual reasoning (that’s ‘what if’ scenarios to you and me).
Dressing-up is always a winner, whether with your cast-offs or ready-made outfits, such as this astronaut (from £50, hedgehogshop.co.uk)
There’s nothing like a ride-on to develop balance, co-ordination, strength and endurance in toddlers. They also require absolute concentration to maintain stability. And if the ride-on is based on real transport, they also help with pretend play. The Little Tikes range starts from £37.99 and includes police cars and a horse-and-carriage combo (argos.co.uk).
The Wishbone Cruise balance bike grows with your child, lasting until they’re six (£164.99, toyella.com)
These build on skills such as pushing up off the floor or pulling themselves to standing. But using a pull toy is more complicated as toddlers need to trail their arm behind them. They will also want to look back at their toy while walking which means they need to work on their balance, co-ordination and spatial awareness.
The infant pull-along dachshund (£8.99, amazon.co.uk) is a Brio classic. For extra stimulation try the Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone (£9.99, smythstoys.com)
Studies show that listening to music in the womb is one of the keys to maximising foetal brain development. Little is known about how music affects babies’ brains, but children who have music in their lives seem to develop a lot faster and have been found to be more emotionally stable, sociable and intelligent as adults.
As well as listening to music, consider simple instruments such as the B Toys Parum Pum Pum Musical Set (£29.99, elc.co.uk)
Repeatedly proven to improve a child’s day-to-day quality of life as sensory experiences form the backbone of cognitive development. In short, sensory toys are designed to inform and change how a child’s brain reacts to touch, sight, sound, scent and movement. Children are naturally programmed to want to experience and interact with their environment, and sensory toys provide that vital interaction. Try Squigz suction toys (from £14.94) and Bunch’ems (from £10.99, both amazon.co.uk).
Kinetic sand (from £12.99, argos.co.uk), can be moulded like wet sand but never dries out, giving visual and tactile stimulation, and developing creativity.
Words by Rebecca Howard Dennis
If you enjoyed this extract from Rebecca Howard Dennis’s article, the full feature is available in the November issue of Gurgle, available now on your local newsstands and in branches of Mothercare.