Ah, baby toys… So many to choose from! What’s a person to do?
First of all, let’s think back to the movie appropriately called “Babies”. One of the babies plays with rocks and a glass bottle. Another baby plays with more patented toys. Spoiler Alert: All the babies do well. So if you’re ever in a toy aisle pondering the merits of this or that, remember “Babies”. Not that toys don’t affect kiddos. They can offer a lot of great benefits for your little one. Just try not to panic, because there is a lot of stuff out there.
Nala doesn’t have many toys that require batteries. We don’t typically go for the bright, flashy stuff that is likely the “cool” stuff. We stick to some of the classics, and we like to get toys that are adaptable to different stages. We are frequent shoppers at Once Upon a Child, and they have toys that are still in great shape for a fraction of the price. They even have sales on their already marked-down prices! If you have one in your area, I suggest signing up for their emails. We often check the smart phone while in the store to see reviews and original prices on stuff to see if it’s a good deal, and we’ve scored some great ones. Same thing with books there. They just had a deal on select books that was 10 books for $10. Guess who just added 10 books to their home library?
Since this is such a broad topic, I’ll break it down:
- The same friend who sent the “couldn’t live without” duck tub also sent the “wish we would have known” Sophie the Giraffe (who has her own Wikipedia article here). Sophie was great even before the teething phase, and she continues to be a great help during teething. She was one of the first toys Nala was able to grasp and pick up thanks to her non-slip texture and variety of places to grasp.
- Oball: We should probably be their official spokespeople, because we love these things! As you can see on their site, they have a lot to offer. We started with one of the small Oball Rattle balls. This was also one of the first things Nala could grasp and pick up, thanks to its design. It continues to be a favorite, and we now use it for things like rolling it back and forth between us. Its shape is very forgiving if it gets squished into a backpack, etc. Their designs also makes them easy to clip onto a link (Oball O-Links are the best we’ve found) for fun on the go. We have expanded our Oball collection by adding the FlexiLoops (different textures are nice for teething), Rollin Rainstick (fun to roll or to shake to the music), Shaker, Sliding Spirals Chaser (found at Once Upon a Child), and the elephant Rollie Rattle (be careful with this one until baby has a bit of coordination, as the head is hard… this toy earned the name Boom early on).
- ABC/123 Ball: You know how I was saying most of Nala’s toys don’t have batteries? This ball is one of the exceptions. We stumbled upon it at a local toy store with low prices, and we couldn’t believe all the value this ball offered. It’s a soft ball with a reversible cover, so you can switch between the alphabet and numbers. It also has a talking feature that you can switch by opening a little Velcro pocket inside. When you pat the ball, it says a letter or number (depending on which setting it’s on). It started as a good teacher of cause and effect (pat the ball and it makes noise), and now it’s fun for rolling back and forth and getting the alphabet and numbers in during play. The voice isn’t too annoying, but the Alphabet Song at the end is more like the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” variation. Still way more pros than cons for us.
- I love the Mama OT blog, and she has some great lists and ideas for kiddos of different ages. She mentions Sophie and Oball in this list of 15 toys for baby’s first year, along with many other great ideas. We like the baby gym (we found one marketed as having a “vintage” look, aka colors and patterns we like), bath squeeze toys (used in or out of the bath), ring stacker, links (but since that type kept coming apart, we went with the Oball version while out and about), and many more… like books! Speaking of books, let’s make another category…
Books: Some of my favorite times are reading with Nala. She has LOVED books from the start. When she was still relatively young, she would get antsy about turning pages or closing the book. I remembered what I used to do with older kiddos when I worked at a daycare: I would say “Ding!” when it was time to turn the page (like in the read-along cassette tape/book combos I had as a kid), and that was their job. It really helped keep them focused. One day, somewhat out of habit, I said “Ding!” while I was reading with Nala. She turned the page! What?! She’s too young for that, right? Right? Or not. Kiddos can often do more than we think, and sometimes giving them opportunities is all it takes for them to prove the timelines wrong. We tried it with a lesser known book, and she continued turning pages when I said “Ding!” or “Please turn the page”. Ariel tried it, and Nala continued. It really does help her to stay focused and content while we read. With that said, books of different materials serve different functions at different times for us:
- Paper pages: These were great when Nala was a newborn and wasn’t reaching for pages or trying to get everything into her mouth. They are great now with lots of supervision, and they will be great in the future when she is past the put-it-in-my-mouth phase.
- Cardboard pages: Nice and sturdy, these were great when Nala was learning to turn pages. Some also have flaps and other things to manipulate. When left alone with them now, sometimes she looks through them nicely, and sometimes she starts chewing on them, so these are around under close supervision. They offer fun, short stories that have taught her things like that a cow says “Mooooo!” These will probably be some of the first she will read on her own. We also really like the board books with “touch and feel” pages. Nala especially loves the animal books, and she likes exploring the different textures. They give us an opportunity to reinforce the “gentle pets” rule we have with the real life kitty in our home.
- Plastic pages: Often known as bath books, these are really nice when the put-it-in-my-mouth phase is going on. They are also nice for beginning to learn how to turn pages, because the pages are thick, they don’t usually stick together, and they don’t rip. They have also helped bath time to be more fun for Nala these days. Woo hoo!
- Fabric pages: Also nice for the put-it-in-my-mouth phase and learning to turn pages. Some of books of this type have crinkle-sounding pages, which are fun. Some are like Quiet Books, which have little activities like lifting flaps, sliding objects across a ribbon, etc. Nala really likes this type and will look at them again and again. They are great for inspiring different lessons for different ages, from pointing out different colors to counting.
Music: Your days of music you love are NOT over! We have been introducing Nala to a lot of different types of music, and it’s really fun to watch her dance to the beat (this kid has great rhythm)! The library and the free version of Spotify (which has some commercials) have been great ways for us to try new music without the commitment of buying. We like music from different cultures, some of which has really strong rhythm. We have enjoyed re-discovering some of the favorites from our youth (more Raffi, anyone?). We also found “Rockabye Baby!” They offer “lullaby renditions of baby’s favorite rock bands”. What’s that? You don’t know which rock bands are your baby’s favorites? Well, it’s okay to try some of your own, I suppose. They have so many artists, and some translate better into this type of music than others. One of my personal favorites is the “Rockabye” album of The Beatles. This can be quite soothing during the bedtime routine, as is Coldplay, whose “Rockabye” renditions we found (and enjoyed) last night. When your kiddo is repeating anything they hear, it’s nice to enjoy grown-up music without grown-up lyrics.
There are lots of fun times to be had. You can do it!