The types of toys for babies and children vary widely based on the child's age and development level. Here are breakdowns of suitable toys by age.
Newborns to 3 months old
Babies are born with natural curiosity and gather information about the world through their senses. Babies enjoy looking at the world around them—lights, shapes, patterns, and colors. At about 3 months, they begin to swipe at objects and might try to reach for them.
Suggested toysRattles and play keys with high-contrast colors that make interesting noises, and musical crib mobiles with bright, primary-color objects or patterns that stimulate your baby's sense of sight. But keep toys out of the crib. Mobiles can be suspended near or above the crib as long as they're safely mounted. Mobiles are safest near the foot of the bed, where they can't fall on a child. Remove the mobile when your baby can push up on his hands and knees, at about 6 months.
Babies can see bright colors and shapes of rattles and play keys (for babies younger than 4 months, the toy should be any combination of red, black and white—the colors this age group sees best), feel their smooth or nubby texture, hear their rattling or clinking sound, and mouth them, which stimulates brain development.
4 to 10 months old
By this age, babies can reach for and grasp objects, move them from one hand to the other, and play with their feet. They'll search for the source of sounds.
Suggested toysA take-off on overhead mobiles, activity gyms feature charming, brightly-colored floor and hanging detachable toys that make sounds, play music, and have tantalizing textures. Some might include unbreakable, embedded mirrors, a definite plus. Like rattles and play keys, activity gyms help babies to explore their environment through their senses of sound, touch, sight, and taste. Their fine-motor skills get a tune-up when they bat, reach, and grab for toys. And if you place your baby in a gym on his tummy ("tummy time"), you'll help develop his posture and neck strength, a prerequisite for crawling and other physical skills. Babies of this age also tend to enjoy soft balls with sounds inside, musical toys, washable baby books, and toys with flaps or lids that can be opened and closed. They'll still be fascinated by rattles, and the more their pickup skills develop, the more they'll reach for and play with them.
9 months to 1 year old
Starting about 9 months, babies play by shaking, banging, throwing, and dropping toys. They enjoy searching for hidden objects, taking objects out of containers, and poking their fingers into holes. Your baby will be able to grasp objects with her fingers and put one object on top of or into another, such as a ball into a box. Stacking and nesting are another way babies develop eye-hand coordination and learn about spatial relationships. Sorting helps babies to understand the relationships among objects—how they fit together and spatially relate to one another and how they differ in size and shape.
Suggested toysLightweight balls, nesting and stacking blocks or cups with rounded edges, pop-up toys that require sliding, toggling, pulling, and turning, squeeze and bath toys, soft dolls, puppets, and baby books, musical toys, and toy telephones and push-pull playthings.
1- to 3 years old
Playtime can get messy starting at 1 year old, when children begin to take an interest in emptying, transferring, and rearranging their environment. Filling and dumping are organizing skills that help your toddler to experience how things work and relate to each other. Stacking toys, which kids younger than 1 might enjoy, continue to be fun for kids this age. Starting about 12 months, your baby might also begin walking. From 2 to 3 years old, playing actively and testing physical skills by jumping, climbing, and throwing is the name of the game. Toddlers this age also like using their expanding hand-eye coordination to work with basic arts and crafts, blocks, and simple puzzles.
Suggested toysThose that encourage your child's budding ambulatory skills, including blocks, books, fit-together toys, push-and-pull toys, pounding and shape toys, fill-and-spill sets, and balls. To bath time, add spoons, a plastic pitcher, measuring cups, and plastic cups to encourage filling and dumping skills without a mess. Toddlers and preschoolers also love ride-on toys and starter tricycles. For more information, see our report on Tricycles, ride-on toys, and scooters.
3 to 6 years old
By 3 years old, children start interacting with each other and engaging in pretend play. They enjoy acting out grown-up roles and using props such as costumes to bring their imaginations to life.
Suggested toysElectronic toys that convert your TV or PC into a learning/interactive play site, nontoxic art supplies, books, videos, musical instruments, and outdoor toys such as a baseball tee, slide, or swing.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.