Your baby or young child might look like he's simply having fun when he coos at his rattle or tries his hand at stacking "donuts." But make no mistake—what looks like playtime to us is work to babies, and toys are the tools for getting the job done.
Playing helps to develop a baby's social, emotional, language, intellectual, and problem-solving skills, says Marilyn Segal, Ph.D., dean emeritus and director of the professional development program at Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Batting at a mobile, giving a musical ball a shove, or transferring a rattle from one hand to another helps babies to learn about the world. Such play also helps them to connect sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell to objects, to recognize shapes, patterns, and colors, develop hand-eye coordination and memory, and to bond with you and others. "It's how your baby learns, and so much more," Segal said.
When you choose toys and activities that enhance your child's development, you're speaking your baby's language and helping her to foster cognitive and social skills that she can build on. But don't give toys all the credit. You're a key player. "The most important toy is the parent and other caregivers because babies crave one-on-one social interaction and need the security it provides," Segal said. The right toy, though, can make key developmental stages more fun—for your child and for you. Use this toy guide to find age-appropriate toys for your baby—and to learn what you can do to play up their important lessons.
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