Playing with Baby

Rogers Daytime (Feb 11, 2015)

Babies are born with a few basic instincts – breathing, eating and even gripping things that come near their fingers. But there's still a lot to learn. Even the simple things we take for granted, like learning to focus our eyes, need to be learned. Baby's first three months are spent just connecting with and taking control of his body. By three months old, baby not only has greater focal control, his eyes can follow slow moving objects and he's starting to develop some conscious hand control. Over the next three months baby starts to interact with the world around him – batting at hanging objects and smiling at those around him. Your role in all of this?... Play with him.

Most people instinctively know how to interact with babies. They move closer, talk in a high pitched voice, exaggerate their facial expressions and respond to baby's reactions. These early interactions are the beginning of play, and all baby really needs to enrich his early development. Still, knowing about the milestones he's reaching, makes it all the more wonderful to watch your baby grow, as well as, offering insights as to how you can further enrich your baby's early experience with the world.

Researchers know a lot about how infants develop. Hearing is a newborn's keenest sense. Toys that make sounds help baby develop his audio skills as he learns to locate the source of various noises. Baby can hear high pitched sounds better than low pitched ones, and soothing sounds, like a music box, are very effective for relaxing and calming him. Conversely, he is frightened by sudden, loud noises and very low pitched sounds. Not surprisingly, baby's favourite sounds are human voices, and he especially likes listening to rhythmic, rhyming, repetitive nursery rhymes.

However, the most important language development at this age is mastering body language. Your early interactions, and games that involve turn-taking, anticipation, and exaggerating facial expressions can help develop an understanding of conversational patterns. By six months, baby will have mastered most skills needed for an adult conversation, well before he learns his first word.

Newborn sight is limited to a small bubble of clear vision (at about the distance between your faces when you hold your infant), until about six weeks of age when baby learns to focus his eyes. By recording eye movements, researchers have determined that baby is attracted to bold, high contrast patterns and bright primary colours, and prefers curved lines and shapes, rather than straight, angular patterns. In fact, faces are baby's favourite thing to gaze at. Babies are attracted to moving stimuli, but have a hard time following objects until 2-3 months, when when he can start to track things that move slowly across his field of vision. Try moving objects slowly in and out of baby's line of sight, and closer to and further away from him so he can practice focusing as he follows the object. These tracking games are also great to encourage baby to move his head so he can explore his entire field of vision. Don't move too fast! Baby will get bored if he can't follow, and looming objects may scare him.

In addition to these social and perceptual developments, muscular control and visual-motor co-ordination also improve during this time. As he develops better muscle control, baby learns to make the necessary postural adjustments that accompany movement and different body positions. Provide opportunities for him to move in different ways – like being carried in a sling, spending tummy time on the floor, sitting in bouncy chair, or just riding in a stroller over rough pavement.

Seeing an object move when he touches it, is baby's first experience with cause and effect. And a shaking rattle alerts baby to look at his hands as he waves his arms. Baby begins reaching for objects around eight to ten weeks, and learns to connect what his eyes are seeing, to what his hands are doing by about three months. Before long, he will be grabbing everything and moving it to his mouth to suck, chew, explore. Reaching for objects at different distances helps encourage baby's developing spatial perception. Be sure to vary the size and shape of the things he holds to enhance different grips, especially after three months of age when baby's reflexive gripping (eg. of your finger) is replaced by more conscious hand control. Baby especially likes shiny objects, and enjoys feeling different textures, seemingly preferring roughly textured and solid objects. As his skill improves, a scattering of cheerios may become his favourite 'toy', especially around nine months when he can coordinate his finger and thumb to pick things up. The Cheerios are tiny enough to challenge baby's fine motor skill, yet dissolve easily in baby's mouth before they can pose a choking hazard.

Be aware of the many safety concerns at this age. Small objects are a choking hazard! An old style film container (or specially designed choke tube) will give you a rough idea about objects that are too small, however, supervision is always necessary where there is any doubt. Keep toys clean, and sterilize playthings that touch food since baby is particularly susceptible to food bacteria. Also keep in mind that baby isn't very strong or coordinated yet. Rattles should be lightweight and well balanced so they don't flop over and hurt him. And don't let baby hold any pointy things, as he's just as likely to poke his eye as he instinctively aims for his mouth.

Stay tuned to baby's developing skills. A crib mobile should be moved out of the way around five months. Or when baby begins to reach and grab things. And it's important to keep toys well maintained. Check plush toys to make sure they aren't shedding fur or stuffing, and that fastenings remain securely attached. Ribbons that come untied, or fabric that frays can cause an entanglement hazard. Even if it is too short to go around baby's neck, it can get twisted around a finger and cut off circulation.

Young babies don't need many toys. You can provide plenty of stimulation by offering a variety of household objects, although well-designed baby toys often do a better job attracting – and keeping – baby's attention and are typically safer and easier to keep clean.

Baby Toys

It's difficult to predict what toys your baby will love most. One baby's favourite may well be ignored completely by another infant. But there are certainly a few important features to look for, and most babies enjoy a good variety.

Mobiles & Hanging Toys

Magical Night by Tiny Love

While having your attention is enriching, it's also important that baby can entertain himself. This versatile mobile keeps baby happily entertained, or lulled to sleep depending on the light and sound settings used. The unit features hanging toys, as well as, lighted ceiling projections and 30 minutes continuous music or nature sounds

Full Review

Soothe 'n Groove Mobile™ by Tiny Love

The mobile of choice for music loving babies, this unit features two high quality speakers and plays 40 minutes of non-repeating music - 18 different tunes in six different musical styles: jazz, world, nature, classic, lullaby and white noise.

Full Review

Wimmer-Ferguson Double-Feature Mirror by Manhattan Toy

Gazing at their reflections totally captivates young infants, and this extra large child-safe mirror offers the highest quality distortion-free reflective surface we've seen. The reverse side features bold, black and white graphics, giving baby double the gazing pleasure.

Full Review

Go-Go Bugs by Sassy Baby

Hanging from stroller or car seat, these little bug characters are fun to watch – especially as they jiggle along with the bumpy ride. They make good batting practice as baby perfects his visual-motor coordination.

Full Review

Rattles, Teethers & Grasping Toys

Rattles and other sounds enrich baby's auditory experience and can be used to help him locate sounds. Keep in mind, that baby's mouth is his highest functioning sensory outlet and the way he best explores his world, so teethers are often a favourite even before they offer teething relief.

Skwish Classic by Manhattan Toy

Strung together with elasticized cord, these brightly coloured wooden rods and beads are lightweight enough to rest comfortably on baby's chest, where he can grasp and jiggle the toy with his hands and chew on the knobby ends. The soothing swish and quiet clunk as the beads slide back and forth along the wooden rods is calming to listen too, and mesmerizing to watch.

Full Review

Green Toys™ Twist Teether by Green Toys Inc.

Babies love to shake and chew on this recycled plastic toy. The airy design offers plenty of gripping spots, and makes for a sizable toy that's still lightweight enough to sit on baby's chest. The rattling disks help babies learn to follow the sounds. Parents love that the toy is made from recycled food grade plastic – reassuringly safe for a chew toy.

Full Review

Twista Rattle™ Teether by Luv n' Care, Ltd. / Nûby

An intriguing, brightly coloured baby toy! The smoothly rotating curved pieces offer a soothing tactile distraction for all ages - including mom and dad. Even the quiet sound of rotating gears punctuated by built-in rattles adds a pleasant auditory background. And when baby starts teething, hard plastic and textured rubbery surfaces provide relief for sore gums.

Full Review

Elements Teether by Luv n' Care, Ltd. / Nûby

A fabulous little teether! Besides the varied surface textures, this chew-able toy features an assortment of materials with different degrees of hardness: rigid plastic, fabric, a flexible rubbery-like material, as well as, extra soft silicone. Bight colours attract visual examination and crinkly fabric offers auditory interest.

Full Review

Whoozit Twist & Scout Rattle by Manhattan Toy

Rotating curved pieces transform this teething circle into ever-changing shapes, making a quiet rattling sound as the pieces move and jiggle. Bright colours, textured surfaces and varied firmness all make this a great choice for both exploring and soothing sore gums.

Full Review

Winkle Color Burst by Manhattan Toy

Lightweight with bright colours for visual interest and pliable loops for chewing – especially when chilled in the fridge.

Full Review

Ring o' Links by Sassy Baby

Designed for attaching toys, the bright colours and textured surfaces make these “C” loops a great toy on their own.

Full Review

Ring Rattle by Sassy Baby

Bold black and white graphics add visual interest with a stylish splash of blue/green colour. Rattling rings and beads are useful for playing the 'locate the sound' game.

Full Review

Terry Teether Beads by Sassy Baby

All the appeal of a terry washcloth enhanced by softly stuffed “beads”. We like that this fabric toy soaks up drool as baby teethes. You can also wet and freeze the terry beads to provide some extra relief for sore, inflamed gums.

Full Review

Terry Teether with Handle by Sassy Baby

Brightly patterned terry cloth bags are designed to hold an ice cube (or two) to help soothe sore gums. The inner plastic bag, keeps melting water from soaking baby's clothes, and the handle helps keep baby's hands from getting chilled.

Full Review

Bug-a-Loop™ Teether by Luv n' Care, Ltd. / Nûby

Attractive bright colours on a bug-themed ring teether, with lots of textures and different densities for soothing gums.

Full Review

Play Links Teether by Luv n' Care, Ltd. / Nûby

Looped onto the central ring these “C” clips make a gentle rattling sound, and textured surfaces are great for teething. Or link them to attach toys to baby's stroller or car seat.

Full Review

Floor Play

Gymini® Move & Play Floor Gyms by Tiny Love

These classic arched fabric play mats keep baby entertained during floor and tummy time - great for helping to strengthen those all important back and neck muscles. Our favourite is the Gymini® Move & Play. We especially love the adjustable arches and sliding toy hangers that help hang toys closer to where baby can best see and interact with them.

Full Review

Wimmer-Ferguson 3-in-1 Triangle by Manhattan Toy

A very versatile toy, and certainly one of our favourites for floor play! Features ties to hang it crib side, magnets to hold it in a triangular wedge so baby can explore it it while squirming around during floor play, or baby can just hold it draped like a blanket as he examines the bright, bold graphics and special add-ons: the peek-a-boo flap, crinkly fabric pieces, squeakers, rattles and dangling bits.

Full Review

Crib and Floor Mirror by Sassy Baby

Whether he's reaching for the corner toys, or gazing at his mirrored reflexion, this is a great toy to add extra interest during tummy time play.

Full Review

Jumbo Playmat by Sassy Baby

An excellent, jumbo-sized cushiony floor mat. We love the roomy 60” x 40” (152 cm x 102 cm) play area, brightly coloured patterns, central peek-a-boo mirror and generous scattering of loops for attaching baby's toys.

Full Review

Clip Clop Activity Gym by PlayGro

A simple arched playmat. Brightly coloured graphics are perfect for attracting baby's attention both while on his tummy, or kicking his legs excitedly as he looks up at the 3D characters dangling from the arches.

Full Review

Gripping & Holding

Textured Balls

Great for tactile stimulation and enhancing baby's developing sense of grip, as well as early back and forth rolling-style catch games. Textured infant balls are offered by several manufacturers - look for sets that feature a variety of interesting textures and different shapes and sizes.

Ball Rainbow Natural Rubber Sensory Ball by caaocho / Nova Nature Inc.

Six bright colours and six differently textured surfaces for baby to explore with eyes, fingers and mouth. The toy packaging suggests this for birth and up, but we recommend you wait until baby is a little older as the 4” ball is a bit large for newborns and the squeaky noise loud enough to startle very young infants. This is a grow-with-me toy that will also be great for ball games with baby is older. Made from 100% pure natural rubber and decorated with non-toxic food-grade paint. Certified BPA, PVC, Phthalate and Nitosamine free.

Full Review

B. Ballyhoo Balls by B. Toys/Battat

Targeted to infants six months and older, the heavier central ball is certainly best kept aside until baby is older. But the five smaller balls can be introduced when baby takes an interest in exploring different textures and holding differently sized objects.

Full Review