Children learn through play. This has been the battle cry of early childhood educators and advocates in at least the past four decades. A wealth of empirical data on brain development and the “science of learning" highlight the power of play and choosing the best developmental toys for babies.1
In fact, Ginsburg (2007)2 conducted a study on the importance of play and he is only one of many who proved how play is essential in all domains of a child’s development: healthy social, mental, physical, and emotional. Through the years, researchers have placed great importance on how play provides a strong foundation for intellectual growth, creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking.
It is through active engagement, exploration and discovery during play that children begin to find out who they are and what they can do, thus helping them become socially resilient with cognitively flexible brains.
Parents know that giving their children an ample amount of time to play is the best way to help them release that extra energy. What many do not fully realise is that there is so much more benefit not only in allowing children to play, but also in choosing the best developmental toys for babies.
Best Developmental Toys For Babies: How To Choose The Best
The best kind of toys
Kids love toys. Toys are more than just fun and games for kids; it is the tool they need for more meaningful learning. However, not all toys reap the same developmental benefits as others. Teena Valdez-Panga, early childhood educator for more than 25 years, explains that many toys provide at least some opportunity for children to learn, but the best toys engage children’s senses, spark their imagination, and encourage them to interact with others.
It is important for parents to choose toys that that will help their children not just have fun but also learn. Toys should help children figure out how things work, learn new ideas, build muscle control and strength, solve problems and use their imagination. It should also foster creativity and cooperation amongst children, Teacher Teena stresses. Toys should also match the child’s developmental stages, she adds.
Looking at your child’s age and stage
Safety is probably the first consideration that parents have when choosing toys. In addition, the best kind of toys for young children are those that match their stages of development and emerging abilities (National Association for the Education of Young Children, n.d.)3.
“The younger the child, less (quantity) and large (size) is apt," Teacher Teena explains. “For very young children, less number of pieces equates to maximum opportunity to engage with the materials and finish a task faster since the young child has a short attention span. Also, toys are easier to manipulate when they are big (but light-weight) enough to be held by small hands," she adds.
7 smart toys that nurture the brain: the tools of the trade
Promoting learning and growth through play requires the knack for choosing toys for every age and stage. The first thing parents need to know is how children play and what helps them understand the world better, learn social and emotional skills, and stimulate their developing brain.
The concept of pretend play starts now. This lays the groundwork for preschool play when baking pretend cookies in an oven or loading the toy washing machine with the baby doll’s laundry signifies the child’s growing understanding that different things around us have a purpose.
Toy #1 Laugh & Learn® Storybook Rhymes
From 6 months to 1 year, babies are fascinated with movement and they enjoy looking and listening, touching and feeling. Babies’ brains thrive on sensory stimulation (“Development Matters", n.d.)4. They gaze at faces and bright colours for hours on end, and recognises and responds with glee to voices and sounds. They are fascinated with what their hands and feet can do, too (NAEYC, n.d.)5.
They can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, make noise with—rattles, large rings, squeeze toys, teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and vinyl and board books. They love listening to nursery rhymes and poems, story read-alouds and recordings of lullabies and simple songs.
As the baby continues to grow and develops hand-eye coordination, parents and caregivers can begin introducing toys that encourage more interaction (“Why Educational Toys," n.d.)6. Age-appropriate toys for babies in their first year onwards are mobiles, rattles, busy boxes, and anything they can pull, grasp, tap, kick, squeeze, or shake (Frank, 2006)7.
Your favourite Laugh & Learn® story and nursery rhyme characters are brought to life in this carry-along Storybook Rhymes, stimulating your baby’s visual and auditory senses. It features 6 sing-along nursery rhyme songs, encouraging your active little ones to turn the pages and sing along.
More than that, this techie Storybook teaches the alphabet and first words, counting and numbers, shapes and rhymes. There are educational surprises to discover on each page, led by every toddler’s favourite pals, Puppy and Sis.
This Storybook fosters children’s curiosity and is a brilliant introduction to the idea of cause and effect, action and reaction. Games and interactive books can also help children develop name recognition and emergent literacy skills, which builds a strong foundation for later years.
Toy # 2 Laugh & Learn® Busy Learning Tool Bench
As your child becomes more active, cognitively and physically, problem solving toys are your best bet, as these will help very young children learn to work through conflicts and become familiar with the concept of cause and effect. At this age and stage, babies like to transfer toys from hand to hand and into and out of containers (Hockman, n.d.)8.
The Fisher-Price Busy Learning Tool Bench has all the right tools for learning and role play fun. Little builders can hammer, drill, and toggle the switch, all while familiar songs, phrases and sounds play on. This adorable make-believe workbench also has “wood chip" shapes for drop-through play, a pop-up birdhouse, and a real-working light. It is the smart way to introduce the concepts of counting, colors, vocabulary and language to babies and toddlers, while helping boost dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
This Laugh & Learn® Tool Bench also uses the Smart Stages™ technology, which introduces exciting new ways to change learning content as baby grows. Smart Stages™ follows the child’s own pace in learning, with two levels (ages 6M+ and 12M+) of developmentally appropriate songs, phrases and sounds.
With the baby’s developing motor skills, play becomes more coordinated and complex. Giving the baby a toy to hold and manipulate, with doors or flaps to open and shut, and objects to insert over and over, will help little DIY-ers discover and master a number of skills. What’s more? It boosts confidence, every time the child successfully makes the toy work after trial and error and guidance.
Toy # 3 Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn® Peek & Play Busy Garden
It is never too early to raise a nature-loving baby. The amazing Peek & Play Busy Garden features 7 different activities that will keep little gardeners’ hands busy pushing, flipping, spinning, and sliding fruits, veggies and potted plants. As they tend to their pretend vertical garden, babies and toddlers are introduced to the alphabet, numbers, colors and more with fun songs, sounds and phrases. This garden-themed activity hub will surely keep those tiny green thumbs engaged through many different developmental stages, for children from 6 months up to 36 months.
The 7 busy activities, including peek-a-boo carrot, toggle strawberries, spinning flowers, flip pea pod, roller, slider and bead bar, help develop many developmental skills such as object permanence (the concept that an object is still there even when out of sight), spatial relationships, language, imagination, creativity, and the use of building, planning, and construction principles. These engaging hands-on activities help strengthen fine motor skills also teaches frustration tolerance and cooperation with others.
Toy # 4 Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn® Magic Color Mixing Bowl
This one is for the bakers and pastry chefs in training who are truly eager to get started in the kitchen. This light-up musical mixing bowl is loaded with exciting hands-on play for babies and toddlers to explore and discover.
At this age and stage, children benefit from engaging in pretend play with small-world toys, as they are beginning to express their own preferences and interests. Babies and toddlers are also beginning to show interest in the activities they see others are doing, and often, they love imitating actions they see from adults (EYFS, n.d.)9.
Encouraging pretend play supports children to understand that their own thinking may be different from others. They are becoming aware of the function of objects, too, and watching them ‘pour’ and mix the different ingredients into the bowl, imitating mom or dad in the kitchen, is not just cute but is also a sign of development.
This ‘magic’ mixing bowl lights up and plays music, sounds, and learning phrases when little bakers grasp and move the play ingredients in and out of the mixing bowl. It truly is a deliciously sweet baking toy that helps boost the different areas of development, including phonics and phonemics awareness, language and communication skills, maths skills, and fine motor skills. Little hands get a fun workout: grasping and holding, pushing the buttons, all helping to strengthen dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Moreover, thinking skills are developed as children figure out how to activate the colorful lights and music—a true delight for every child’s visual, auditory and tactile senses.
Toy # 5 Laugh & Learn® Smart Stages™ Tablet
It’s a techie generation, and this toddler tablet is the most brilliant gadget your future Steve Jobs needs. At about 18 months and onwards, children begin to enjoy playing “pretend." This is the time to introduce dress-up clothing, dolls, kitchen sets, toy cars and trucks, and the millennial kid must-have—the tablet.
The Smart Stages Tablet is a complete early role play activity that lets your little IT geniuses tip tap through the day with their very own tablet. It is powered with the Smart Stages™ technology, which features three levels of play, and includes a playlist of children’s favourite songs, phrases and sounds.
A total of 28 “app" buttons to activate sounds, lights, and music and unlock 6 sing-along songs that introduce the alphabet, animal and colour names, and first words for babies’ developing language and communication skills.
Have you noticed how children today have become adept at tapping, clicking and swiping on the gadget screens? Buttons and clickers on hi-tech toys help strengthen children’s eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills, and also introduce cause and effect, which is a main feature of the Smart Stages™ Tablet.
These also encourage not only play and learning, but especially critical thinking.
Toy # 6 Laugh & Learn® Servin’ Up Fun Food Truck
Ring up your orders, little foodie! The Laugh & Learn® Servin’ Up Fun Food Truck delivers a menu full of fun and hours of exciting culinary role play adventures and hands-on activities. There is no other interactive mini food truck that will keep babies and toddlers busy for hours on end, learning about numbers, shapes, size, sequencing, and vocabulary. It plays lively songs, sounds, tunes and phrases, too.
This awesome food truck is a kitchen and vehicle play in one, with a realistic car dashboard, steering wheel, clicker key and gear shifter, a light-up grill, and a “magical" cash register with 4 different menu cards.
It even has a drop-through recycle bin and realistic fridge. Children can “cook," grab a “snack," whip up something delicious, and serve up customers while learning about taking turns and sharing, and good manners, too. Consider this as a training ground for your future food entrepreneurs.
Watch as they learn to greet customers, work the register, and prep ‘orders’ on the light-up grill. Toys with realistic design and play features encourage imaginative fun, fosters entrepreneurship and instills responsibility and hard work at an early age.
This Food Truck also uses the Smart Stages™ technology, with developmentally- and age-appropriate songs, sounds, and phrases, so the learning fun can keep going as your child keeps growing.
Toy # 7 Laugh & Learn® Smart Stages™ Click & Learn Instant Camera
If there is one gadget babies know too well, it would be the camera. Babies have been striking that pose and flashing that smile from the moment they were born. And in this age of selfies and social media, it cannot be too early for little ones to know some important photography tricks and skills.
The Laugh & Learn® Click & Learn Instant Camera is an amazing interactive, role-play gadget that gives jr. photographers a head start on so many developmental skills. Mechanical toys with pop-ups, knobs, buttons, and levers encourage fine motor skills and problem solving, and teach cause-and-effect (Ben-Joseph, 2018)10.
This exciting pretend camera features realistic shutter sounds and instant photograph card. Snap that shot, and familiar children’s songs and rhymes that introduce the alphabet and numbers begin to play. Interactive levers and buttons allow for discovery and exploration, as they help strengthen dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
Teacher Teena shares that she used play to keep her four children ‘entertained’ and busy when they were little. “And because they grew up in an environment where play is considered an important aspect and a worthwhile activity in their lives, they became critical thinkers, creative explorers, and crafty individuals," she explains.
More importantly, she adds that she made sure they were not inundated with toys. With four kids who are two years apart from each other, they did accumulate too many toys, especially after Christmas or birthdays.
“What worked for me, was I keep only a few toys out at one time. They can focus on one, and they also learn to appreciate it more," she continues. She suggests ‘toys rotation’ and then reintroducing a toy after a few weeks, when it feels fresh and new once again. “Let children fully explore one toy, before introducing another,"
Teacher Teena adds. She recommends holding on to toys that serve many developmental purposes, and to not be quick to replace toys and move on to something ‘newer.’
“We’ve been blessed that we were able to send our four children to a school where play is the medium of instruction in their early childhood years," Teacher Teena concludes. “I believe that one of the reasons why they are able to comprehend lessons easier is because they were having fun while learning," she stresses. And when you are enjoying what you are doing, you understand the concepts better and you remember it , and it stays in your memory for a longer period of time.
Understanding how children learn and play, and what kind of toys help stimulate children’s developing brain are the primary concerns for parents, especially in the early years. Remember that toys are more than just playthings. Toys are developmental learning tools.
It is important that children have fun, and the toys we give them should also be age-appropriate, stimulating, and safe. Careful and meticulous research is at the heart of product development at Fisher-Price.
Making products that teach, captivate, encourage, and delight, matching developmental skills with the ages and abilities of children, and taking safety as a top priority—is what Fisher-Price is all about.
For more information on Fisher-Price: https://www.fisher-price.com/
Toy # 8 Nuzzlings The Nuzzle Nana
Parents’ Choice Infant Toys
Plush toys are truly treasured, as anyone who has a newborn or toddler will attest. These cuddly toys are ideal for cuddling and are wonderful friends, soothing our young ones day and night. They frequently get filthy as well. This requires obtaining extras of the same soft toys or going without them while they dry for a few nights.
Hypoallergenic soft toys are toys that are made with materials that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to certain materials. Some examples of hypoallergenic soft toys include stuffed animals, dolls, and pillows. It’s important to note that no toy is completely hypoallergenic, as allergies can be caused by a variety of factors. However, hypoallergenic toys may be a good option for people who have allergies.
The delicate organic cotton Nuzzle Nana has gentle features like micro-nub velcro strips. These toys are made of shed-free material and have removable stuffing, making them hypoallergenic. This allows you to wash each toy frequently and dry it quickly. Additionally, the dimensions of the Nuzzle Nana were carefully chosen so it would be the cuddly companion that babies reach out to.
Check out the Nuzzle Nana here: https://nuzzlings.sg/products/the-nuzzle-nana.
1 Zosh, J. M., Fisher, K., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2013) The Ultimate Block Party: Bridging the science of learning and the importance of play. In M. Honey & D. Kantner (Eds.), Design, make, play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 95-118. Retrieved from kathyhirshpasek.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2018/06/9.-The-Ultimate-Block-Party-Bridging-the-science-of-learning-and-the-importance-of-play.pdf
2 Ginsburg, K.R. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child / Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Retrieved from pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/119/1/182.full.pdf
3, 5 Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage. (n.d.) National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/toys
4, 9 Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage. (n.d.). Early Education: The British Association for Early Childhood Education, (PDF). Retrieved from www.early-education.org.uk.
6 Why Educational Toys are Important to a Child’s Development. (2018). Educational Playcare. Retrieved from www.educationalplaycare.com/blog/why-educational-toys-are-important-to-a-childs-development/ #:~:text=Educational%20toys%20can%20help%20develop,nurtures%20their%20creativity%20and%20imagination.
7 Frank, C. (2006). Choosing the Right Toys for the Right Age. Grow. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/parenting/features/choosing-right-toys-for-right-age#1.
8 Hockman, C. (n.d.). Provider-Recommended Toys for Development. Retrieved from Live Well, https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx? id=22dbbb5f-22d8-4dc5-8bc2-f6a47ab5cca2.
10 Ben-Joseph, E. (2018). Smart Toys for Every Age. Retrieved from KidHealth, kidshealth.org/en/parents/smart-toys.html