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How to Stimulate a Child's Mind

Choosing the Right Toys for Babies

In their efforts to supply the best for their children, parents sometimes buy many toys and learning devices proclaimed by their promoters to aid the development of a multitude of skills. But the most creative, colorful, and expensive of these devices are helpful to a child only if her basic needs for food, warmth, and nurture are being supplied by a loving adult. The development of skills that toys encourage is only a part of the total picture; children must develop as total human beings -- body, mind, and spirit. Your child senses your values by the quantity and quality of time you devote to her and by your attitudes toward imaginative play, reading, and music. Your interaction with your child is more important than material goods.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on the Infant and Preschool Child, parents may be wasting money if they buy educational toys with the specific intention of increasing a child's IQ. Similarly, learning devices do little to advance social behavior. Developing a few deep relationships with people does more to advance your child's social skills than does any object you can buy.


Granted, toys are important. All play is learning, and your child's toys are her tools. The best way to use toys is to be aware of their limitations -- while they may enhance development, they can never substitute for contact with the parent. You are your newborn's first, best, and most amusing learning device -- you have an expressive face with changing expressions and moving eyes; you make sounds your baby likes; you have ten fascinating fingers to grasp and hold and pull. This section provides general tips for finding and buying the right toy and describes some age-appropriate toys for babies.

Finding and Buying Toys

Household toys for babies. Many of the best toys are homemade; others are household articles in general daily use. For example, a child younger than one year old loves -- and learns from -- dozens of perfectly safe objects in your kitchen: measuring spoons, nesting plastic bowls or cups, and pans and kettles. When the baby is mobile, store some of these entertaining supplies in a lower cupboard where she can get at them without your help. For several minutes' amusement any time, put a new four-inch rubber ball onto the high-chair tray. Don't throw away any clean, sturdy box, including cylindrical oatmeal boxes and those that hold store-bought toys -- your baby will often find the boxes more interesting than their contents.

Choose toys wisely. ­Your shopping preferences, your budget, and the amount of time you have determines where you buy toys -- in exclusive toy stores, gift shops, or children's shops; from catalogs that come in the mail; or in department stores, supermarkets, and discount outlets. One of your first considerations may be price. "You get what you pay for" is often true, but it's not necessarily a good guide in buying toys. You may pay a high price for a big name or to follow a fad, when a toy that costs considerably less is just as good and would give your child as much satisfaction. Or you may buy something well made and worth the price, but your child never plays with it. One way to look at the real value of toys is to consider the amount of pleasure they give in comparison with their cost. For example, it's worthwhile to pay a substantial price for a teddy bear that your child will drag around the house and sleep with every night for several years. But the cute jack-in-the-box that breaks after a few minutes of play is a bad buy at any price.

You should have other considerations besides cost. One is fun; your child should like the toy you buy. Every child should have access to certain classic kinds of toys: toys to build with, to love and cuddle, to work with and operate. But you should also consider a child's preferences, which start to show up early and continue to grow and change. One baby may like balls better than another baby does; one likes soft dolls best of all; another turns again and again to the mirror fastened inside the crib. On the basis of those preferences, you may sometimes buy a fad toy you suspect is overpriced simply because your child wants it and you like it.

Ask yourself a few questions when you select a toy: Will you have to supervise its use? If you have to teach your child to use the toy, are you willing to find the time? Is the toy so fragile or so expensive or so noisy you will curtail your child's use of it? Does the toy suit your family's lifestyle (farm or city, big house or small apartment)? Do you have storage space for the toy? Does the toy promote sex stereotyping?

Age appropriate toys. A very important question is whether the toy is appropriate for your child's age. Manufacturers give suggested ages, but you must use your own judgment, too, and your knowledge of your child's ability to manipulate, maneuver, and solve problems. The age range listed on toy packages is often so wide that you may be tempted to buy a toy too soon. Remember: You want to challenge and intrigue your child, not frustrate and anger her. A toy that requires the skill and experience of a two year old will be wasted on your one year old.

Make sure it's safe. Above all, toys must be safe. First, be sure what you buy is a toy. Some ornaments and decorations, however colorful and attractive, are not meant to be used as toys and are not manufactured in accordance with standards for toys. Do not assume every toy you see is safe, no matter how reputable the store that stocks it. Every year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) directs the recall of many kinds of toys that can't take the normal use and abuse young children give them. Watch for notices of these CPSC recalls in magazines and newspapers, inspect toys carefully before you buy them, and check them often as your child plays with them.

Your child's toys should be nonflammable, non-breakable (remember that brittle plastic may break as easily as glass), and nontoxic, of course. They should be washable and should have no sharp edges, no splinters or nails sticking out, no traps in which small fingers can get caught, no pins or buttons a child can pull off. Infant toys should not be small enough that they might be swallowed, and they should not have detachable parts that could find their way into your baby's windpipe, nose, or ears. No infant toy should have a cord longer than 12 inches that could become wrapped around the baby's neck. If you have older children, it's important to be aware that many of their toys may be dangerous for a baby or smaller child.

To list and evaluate every kind of toy available for babies and toddlers is impossible. We discuss here the classic groups of toys all children enjoy. Many can be homemade, some can be shared by two children close in age, and some can be passed down from one child to another. However, children often become so attached to some belongings, such as dolls and books, they can never let them go. Some of the toys listed here for babies will start collections you and your child will add to with more sophisticated or complicated items over the years.

A Baby's First Toys

Your baby's very first toys should be those that awaken and sharpen his senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Look for bright colors, melodic and appealing sounds, and interesting and varied textures. The youngest infants are fascinated by moving objects and are eager to touch, hold, and manipulate. Between three and six months of age, your baby is able to grasp objects. By six months, he enjoys putting one object inside another, banging and hitting objects, exploring them, and opening and closing doors and drawers. Do remember that during the first year, and often for some time after that, babies tend to put everything in their mouths. So in addition to making sure toys or other objects your child plays with cannot be swallowed, make sure they are clean.

  • Rattles will probably be your baby's first gifts. They range from sterling silver keepsake models to those made of plastic.
  • Stuffed animals and soft dolls are also among a baby's first toys, and they remain favorite gifts for many years. Your baby's first ones should be brightly colored, lightweight, and small enough so he can hold and cuddle them.
  • Mobiles, some of which are musical, are excellent for developing your baby's attention to specific objects and ability to track objects visually. Attach them to the crib or playpen or hang them from the ceiling.
  • Mirrors delight all babies. Safely constructed of unbreakable, polished stainless steel, they come in hand-held models to shake and rattle and in large sizes to attach to the inside of the crib or playpen.
  • Balls of every description are among the best toys for babies. Try to have some of different textures -- soft, rough, fluffy, smooth. Some are of cloth, with grips for little hands; some are of heavy plastic, weighted, and embedded with chimes or figures.
  • Activity boxes are usually made of plastic and can be mounted on crib or playpen sides or nailed to the wall. They usually include a mirror to look at, wheels and dials to turn, buttons to push, doors to slide open, and objects to slide along built-in tracks. Manufacturers often recommend activity boxes for infants aged three months and older, but until your baby can sit up well, chances are a box won't be much fun.

As your baby develops physically and cognitively, his ability to manipulate and understand the toys he plays with increases. By one year of age, some of the toys which fascinated him as a baby will no longer hold his attention. Click to the next page to read about toys that will captivate toddlers from age one through age three.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.