The toys that children are using should match their stages of development. As a parent or caregiver, it is encouraged to be proactive to help your child reach developmental milestones. To help support early childhood development, I broke down each major developmental milestone of your baby’s first year of life and suggested key toys for each. As you read about the suggested toys at different stages, note that every child develops at their own individual pace, so this may vary.
Initially Babies eyes can see best 10 inches away from their face and do well with higher contrast (black and white prints) and will track best in horizontal arcs. One of my favorite toys for this stage is sensory blocks. They are soft, have a black and white print side, they have different animals, different fabric textures, one vibrates, one has a bell, one has a mirror, and another has a flap. You can use them going forward for more fine motor skills like stacking. But for newborns it’s great to use the blocks for tracking, with head and eye movements and for sensory integration by exposing babies to a variety of textures, sounds, and sensations.
Tummy Time: Newborn and beyond
It’s never too early to start tummy time! Initially tummy time is a great way to bond with your baby by placing them prone on your chest. Talking to baby or moving your head out of view can be a great way to encourage your baby to lift their head, by 2 months baby should be able to lift their head to 45 degrees. Working on head lifting is important to be able to safely allow for stomach sleeping. If babies cannot lift their heads to turn when they roll on their stomach, they may not be able to move their mouth/nose away from surfaces which can cause suffocation. Tummy time should occur frequently throughout the day when baby is awake to prevent flat head (plagiocephaly) and to help develop head control. Working up to 1 hour throughout the day by 3 months old is a great goal. A tummy time mat/floor gym is a fun way to support tummy time. There are so many great ones out there! Having overhead toys can be great for also working on kicking feet and reaching arms to develop core strength. A small pillow can be helpful to provide some support for tummy time when the baby gets tired but is interested in toys. If you find baby favors one side with head turning, placing interesting toys or yourself to the opposite side can help motivate head turning to build symmetry. Floor mirrors are also an awesome option so baby can see themselves when they lift their head up.
Rolling: 3-6 months
Rolling typically starts off by accident when in tummy time, baby will lift their head up high and turn their head and then the weight of their head tends to pull them over. We can encourage this with any favorite toy by using tracking and moving the toy slowly out of sight. Reaching up for interesting objects in the baby gym can also be very motivating. When rolling from back to belly and reaching for objects above and to the side with hands or feet helps to build abdominal strength to facilitate rolling. Parents/caregivers can also help by lifting the feet and bringing them to the left or right when rolling from back to belly. Our blocks and tummy time mats are still great for helping with rolling milestones!
Supported sitting: 4-6 months
There are a lot of infant seats out there that can be helpful to busy parents in a pinch, but they are not very helpful in developing seated balance. Learning how to balance requires the ability to move and test the limits of our base of support by shifting our weight and moving our bodies. A boppy is a great tool that you probably have at home to start working on supported sitting. The Boppy can start close to baby and prevent a fall backward or sideways where the baby may hit their head. Since it sits up higher than the ground it can provide some upper extremity weight bearing assistance for one hand while the other plays with a toy. Nice sturdy toys like shape sorters are also great for upper extremity weightbearing to learn seated balance, and they transition well to learning fine motor skills when they get older.
Pulling to stand: Around 9 months
Sturdy tables with a lot of activities are great to allow for pulling to stand to develop the standing balance that babies need before they can learn to walk. A table that has fun activities to allow for reaching and cruising around to get to new things is an excellent option for them as they start trying to stand. Some even can be a good sitting support if they are low enough or adjust in height. Jumpers and bouncers are fun and can keep newly mobile babies contained, but they aren’t the best option for developing standing balance or for developing hips. An upside-down laundry basket, a small table, an ottoman, or a sturdy chair with a favorite toy on top can also be helpful for a place to practice pull to stand.
Walking: 10-18 months
Learning to walk is an exciting time for babies! An activity walker is one of my favorites because it has 2 settings on the wheels: one applies resistance for new walkers to have more stability and the other allows for free rolling for more balanced and experienced walkers. It also folds down, and the front can be removed to play in sitting or tummy time so it’s great from the start of baby play. Pushing a walker helps to develop standing balance, core strength, and strength in scapular stabilizers.
Crawling, pulling to stand, walking, transitions:
Ramps, steps, and a variety of levels can be a great way to provide a safe place to practice transitions in and out of sitting, quadruped, and standing. A foam corner setup can be a nice place to practice seated balance to prevent backward falls.
Playtime is important during your baby’s first year of life, but it should still be fun! Everyday objects around your house can be just as good as a toy from a toy store. If you ever have any concerns about your baby’s development, you can always schedule a free consultation with one of our therapists at OMPT Specialists!
By Beth Henigan, PT, DPT, OMPT