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Debunking 5 myths about toys for your tot

Find out which products are really essential for your baby's learning. Stephanie Oppenheim from shares advice on what's best for your newborn.
/ Source: TODAY

A new mom or dad may feel baby's not getting the best start in life unless they shower him with toys that promise to teach him everything he needs to know to get into college before he's out of diapers. But Stephanie Oppenheim from dispels the myths about what toys are best for babies' developmental needs.

New parents are bombarded with marketing messages that are very seductive. It can really add up to a lot of money and products that are a waste of your child’s time and your money.

We’re often asked what babies really need right from the start. Here’s what you need to know before you go shopping:

Myth #1: Babies need a lot of toys right from the start.

Reality: They really don’t need many toys.

Interactive parents are the most important gift you can give your baby — your voice and your eye contact are key to your baby’s development. The key is to start the dialogue with your baby. Of course, in the beginning you’ll be doing most of the talking, but you’ll soon pick up on your baby’s cues and have your own special kind of conversation.

Music is also wonderful. Lullabies are great for setting a calm mood, but don’t be afraid to share your own favorites. Puppets and rattles are also handy props for engaging your baby and working on visual tracking skills.

Myth #2: Babies need a stimulating environment — a concept that the toy companies have translated into crib toys loaded with lights and electronics.

Reality: The crib needs to be a soothing place to be — you don’t want to overload it with lots of bells and whistles.

There are three products you may want to purchase: a mobile, a musical pull toy and a crib mirror — that’s it. When shopping for a mobile be sure that the images are facing downwards towards your baby. Stay clear of pastel colors that are hard for a baby to see. A musical pull toy that attaches to the side of the crib is a good choice and we’d recommend staying clear of electronic music (would you want to listen to it?).

Finally, a crib mirror is ideal for a baby to gaze at and watch her own movements. At first she won’t know it’s her own image in the mirror, but it does give her an early opportunity for making something happen. As your baby gets older you’ll often find her having a whole “conversation” alone! Be sure to pick one that’s as distortion free as possible.

Myth #3: Babies need to work on knowing their ABC’s right from the start, so buy a plastic activity gym that has lots of bells and whistles.

Reality: For babies, letters mean nothing.

Developmentally, babies don’t think symbolically; they need concrete experiences. They learn about the world by using all of their senses. Earlier is not necessarily better. In fact, bombarding kids with this type of information can be frustrating. Talking, reading, singing to your baby — these are the basics to language development. We’d also stay clear of the current batch of heavy plastic activity gyms that have over-the-top light shows. It’s more bells and whistles than any baby needs. The heavy plastic overhead also poses a safety hazard. It doesn’t take much to move one of these units (especially if there’s an older sibling or pet in the house).

Instead we recommend a soft fabric activity mat that gives baby a large play area from which to take in the world around him. The new ActiviTot Developmental Mat from Tiny Love is really the best on the market in terms of design. The arches are made of fabric, and you move the dangling toys for babies to gaze at, reach out and bat with their hands and feet. The included tummy pillow is particularly important for babies that need to work on developing the muscles in their arms and neck. For safety reasons babies are rightly no longer placed in cribs on their stomachs, but they do need “awake” time in this position.

Myth #4: Babies learn best with interactive high-tech learning toys.

Reality: Babies learn best with interactive people!

Buy toys that invite social interaction. And having a variety of rattles and toys that they can manipulate is best. For younger babies, you may find that soft fabric rattles are a safer choice (many babies with limited motor control will knock themselves in the face with their rattles, so plastic at this stage is not great!). In the beginning, you’ll use the rattles to engage your baby, but rattles are also wonderful for developing your baby’s fine motor skills. Watch as she develops the ability to turn the rattle and pass it from hand to hand. These discoveries are so remarkable. They don’t need a lot of sounds to distract your baby. Less is more here.

As simple as it may seem, our number one pick for babies learning how to crawl is a soft fabric ball that can be used in so many ways. A set of soft fabric blocks is also a good choice and can be used in multiple ways, i.e. stacking, tossing and hide and seek. 

Filling and spilling toys are great for sitting up babies and toddlers. The ability to pick up blocks, and turn them in time and space is a huge developmental milestone. It doesn’t need to be cluttered with over-the-top lights and sounds.

Myth #5: Babies need videos right from the start.

Reality: Babies learn best from real life experiences — tasting, touching, feeling, hearing, smelling. They are sensory learners. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics “urges parents to avoid television for children under two years old.” Watching videos has not been proven to be beneficial in any way, and in fact it robs your baby of important playtime with real people. If language development is what you’re after, we’d recommend reading to your baby. This real life experience is so much more valuable than having your baby passively watch a video that introduces the concept of a trapezoid or introduces your babies to five languages (we kid you not).

For specific product recommendations, visit .