Newborns quickly go from sleeping most of the day to learning many new skills. In the first 3 months, babies learn to smile, coo, hold their head up, and visually track objects. This does not just happen on it’s own. Babies need other people and a stimulating environment to help them develop.
Babies don’t need an abundance of complicated toys. Simple toys and activities are all they need in addition to a loving caregiver!
Toys for Visual Development
The visual system needs to be stimulated in order to develop properly. It does not need much in the early days. Your face and a few simple objects will be just fine! Newborn babies see bold patterns and bright colors best.
Light colors such as baby pink and baby blue may be cute for nursery walls, but they are not seen well by your newborn. While colorful toys are great too, black and white patterns are often preferred by babies due to the high contrast.
There are so many great toys out there with black and white patterns. I really like the ones that also have brightly colored patterns as well like this activity mat from Manhattan Toys. This gives you the option to stimulate different visual skills.
Mobiles are another great way to stimulate visual development. Babies get practice following the moving toys (visual tracking) as the mobile slowly turns. They will initially just follow moving objects with their eyes but within a few minutes turn their head as well to follow the object.
Whatever you do offer for your baby to look at, make sure you put it somewhat close to them. Newborns can only see within 8-12 inches. For more information on newborn vision, check out Nemours Kids Health’s website.
Toys for Fine Motor Skills
Babies can grasp from the day they are born, but this is just a reflex. In the first several months of life, babies learn how to more intentionally reach and grasp objects. My favorite first fine motor toy for babies is connecting links.
Links are so lightweight and can easily be held by young babies. They are somewhat difficult to drop because of their shape so babies tend to hold onto them longer. Their shape also makes it easy to pass from one hand to the other (called transferring), which is an important skill to learn! They often come in interesting textures which adds an enhanced sensory experience.
The Oball is a close second on my list of favorite fine motor baby toys. The shape makes it so easy for babies to hold onto, especially with both hands (bilateral coordination). Babies tend to really love this toy!
A lightweight rattle such as this one by Fisher Price is another great toy for babies 2-3 months of age. Many babies can learn to shake a rattle intentionally to make noise by 3 months of age. This is a great motor skill and also important for cognitive development. When babies learn to use objects for making noise they learn the skill of cause and effect.
Toys for Gross Motor Skills
Tummy time is the most important gross motor activity you can do with your baby. Gross motor skills are those that use the larger muscles of the body. Developing head control is one of the first gross motor milestones that babies achieve.
I recommend building up to at least 30 mins a day of tummy time by the time baby is 3 months old. This can be done in short increments if baby becomes fussy quickly with it. There are toys that can help make tummy time more interesting for your baby.
This water tummy time mat provides something interesting for baby to look at when they are on their tummy. If you add a lot of water, it also provides an added challenge of an unstable surface.
Some play gyms come with a piano on one end (like this one from Fisher Price) that baby can kick. This encourages them to raise their legs off the floor and kick in the air, which is a great core workout! Strengthening these muscles will help baby eventually be able to bring their feet up to their hands (and mouth!) and learn to roll. Babies will usually start to kick the piano keys when they are 2-3 months old.
Another great way to encourage baby to raise their legs up and kick is to put rattle socks on them! By 2-4 months of age, babies can learn to kick on purpose to make the noise. And if they raise their feet up high enough, they will be able to see the fun pattern on their socks and eventually try to reach and grab them!
For more information on reasons to prioritize floor time, check out our article The Importance of Floor Time for Babies.
Toys for Speech Development
It is never too early to read books to your child! Reading books is one of the best ways to support speech and language development from an early age. It also helps to build your child’s attention and their interest in books. It’s a great habit to start early on and it will be more likely to stick with them into childhood the earlier you start.
Reading board books with interesting pictures are great when babies are young. You can show them the pictures and label what you see (“Look at the cat, it’s black. Cat’s say meow”). Reading is a great way to use language you may not otherwise use. If you don’t have a cat, you may not think to talk to your baby about a cat, for example!
Toys for Oral Motor Skills
Teethers with a long edge or parts that stick out are great for oral motor skill development. In addition to soothing sore gums, teethers of this shape help to encourage the tongue to move in new ways, desensitize the mouth, and allow babies to practice chewing.
Some examples I love are:
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