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Babies might not look like they’re doing much besides eating and sleeping, but the first year of life is full of seismic shifts in development. And even before they can hold a toy, babies are ready to play.
If you're looking for the best gifts for babies, the best baby toys stimulate their senses, focusing on the contrast they are able to see or the sounds and movements they can make themselves.
“Infants are really learning about their place in the world, so the best toys give them some sense of feedback,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive,” citing the classic baby rattle. “'I hit this and it moves’ is the beginning of having a sense of their place in the world.”
Babies also explore with their mouths, so look for toys that aren’t choking hazards (obviously) and might be interesting to a tiny tongue. And keep it simple.
“We tend to shy away from toys that are technological or lighting up and flashing, just because of the overstimulation that they provide,” said Marie Conti, the head of the The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.
1. Manhattan Toy Skwish Classic Rattle, $12 (usually $16), Amazon
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This rattle is easy to hold, responds to baby’s movement and uses the primary colors they see best.
2. HABA Ring Around Wooden Clutching Toy, $12, Amazon
This simple wood toy is a rattle and teether, in baby's favorite bright colors.
3. Sophie La Giraffe Teething Toy, $25, Nordstrom
Also available for $25 at Target.
Sophie is pliant, she squeaks and she’s easy to wash. She’s also universally delicious to babies.
4. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," Eric Carle, $15, Amazon
The beloved children's classic celebrates 50 years with a special edition.
5. Skip Hop Bandana Buddies Stroller Toy, $15, Target
Also available for $18 at Walmart.
Crinkly textures and teething spots were made for tiny gums.
6. Wee Gallery Art Cards for Baby, $16, Amazon
Infant eyes are best at seeing contrast and love symmetry (like the human face), so black-and-white patterns are great for stimulating their senses.
7. Grimm's Rainbow Stacker, $42, Amazon
Bright colors are also great for baby eyes, and easy stacking toys help develop motor skills.
8. Oball Rollin' Rainstick Rattle, $10, Amazon
Also available at Walmart.
The holes in the ball make it easy for tiny hands to grab.
9. "Sometimes You Fly," by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, $15 (originally $18), Amazon
The pages aren't drool-proof, but the simple, empowering message about persistence gives plenty for parent and baby to chew on.
10. Edushape Sensory Balls, $12, Amazon
These are easy to grab, in bright colors and spiky shapes that feel great on the hands or tongue.
11. Infantino Discover And Play Activity Mirror, $13 (usually $20), Amazon
At around 6 months, babies love to look at themselves, even though they don’t know who it is in the mirror. A baby-safe mirror is a fun way to explore.
12. "But Not the Armadillo," by Sandra Boynton, $5, Amazon
Sandra Boynton, the queen of board books, is back with a long-awaited follow-up to "But Not the Hippopotamus" about going your own way.
13. Manhattan Toy Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim Mobile, $25 (usually $30), Amazon
Also available for $28 at Bed Bath & Beyond.
This mobile uses black and white patterns and is designed to be seen from below, unlike many mobiles that look great from the side.
14. Green Toys My First Stacker, $10 (usually $15), Amazon
Also available at Walmart.
These stacking toys work whether they are in the “right” order or not.
15. Tiny Love Into The Forest Classic Mobile, $45, Amazon
Also available for $45 at Target.
This mobile takes the black and white pattern and adds movement and music, which older babies especially appreciate, said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
16. "Global Baby Bedtimes" by Maya Ajmera, $6 (usually $7), Amazon
“Babies love looking at faces of other babies,” said Nina Lindsay, president of the Association for Library Service to Children, adding that it’s particularly important to look for diverse faces because kids learn bias from a very young age. “It’s really important for all children to see children like themselves and different from themselves in books on a regular basis.”
17. Skip Hop Farmstand Activity Gym, $80, Amazon
Also available for $80 at Target.
Baby’s ready to hit the gym, with little toys that she can kick, pull and rattle herself.
18. Taggies Little Leaf Elephant Lovey Soft Toy, $17 (usually $20), Amazon
Babies and toddlers love to feel different textures, so “taggies” toys or blankets with tags sewn around them are perfect, Conti said.
19. “The I Love You Book” by Todd Parr, $6, Amazon
“Babies are still developing their color sight, so pictures with really high contrast and even black and white are really helpful,” Lindsay said.
20. SmartNoggin NogginStik Developmental Light-up Rattle, $21 (usually $23), Amazon
This rattle responds to baby’s movements by lighting up in three different colors.
21. Fisher-Price Kick & Play Piano, $16 (usually $25), Walmart
Also available at Target.
Tie this to the side of the crib and let baby tickle the ivories with his toes.
22. Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube, $25, Amazon
Also available for $25 at Target.
Baby can make all the sounds of a symphony by hitting a few buttons.
23. Baby Tree Blocks, $23, Amazon
Also available for $23 at Fat Brain Toys.
Conti loves these baby versions of the tree blocks older kids use in Montessori school.
Looking for more suggestions? Check out the gift guide for 1-year olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds. Or try Good Housekeeping’s 2017 ‘Best Toy Award’ winners, the 10 toys that will be on every kid’s wish list this holiday season or Amazon's top 2017 toy list.