I hope to give first time mums an idea of the types of activities, toys and play equipment available and suitable for older babies. I don’t sell toys, I am simply a mum giving advice I wish I’d known.
This guide is aimed at babies past the newborn stage (I have written another guide on toys and activities for birth – 3 months if you are interested) up until when they are walking (anywhere between 8 months and 18 months). During this stage babies will gain more control over their bodies, being able to pick up and drop objects, learning to roll over, sit, crawl and then stand unaided.
(PLEASE NOTE: I have used ‘him’ throughout for no particular reason than that my youngest is a boy – it was simply easier than thinking up a unisex way to phrase every sentence)
FLOOR MAT / BLANKET
From about 3 months it is worth moving away from the playgym onto a floor blanket or a floor mat. This is because playgyms are a little ‘passive’ in the type of play they offer and don’t encourage the baby to twist, move and stretch. It is also important that babies are given ‘tummy time’ as often as possible, since health professionals believe this enables babies to learn to crawl. A floor mat (or just a cot sized blanket) on the floor offers the baby a safe and clean space to play on the floor. Dotting toys around will encourage him to reach and stretch for the toys, promoting him to roll over and move around. Play blankets are also very useful if there are older siblings, since the blanket denotes the ‘baby zone’ and they know to avoid the area when charging around.
PLAY NEST (OR A LOAD OF CUSHIONS)
From about 5 months baby will be beginning to learn to sit up, but will need some help at first. Play nests are essentially a big rubber ring covered in fabric. Some have arches above to hang toys from. The idea is that a not-quite-sitting baby can sit in it, but if he tumbles to the side he won’t fall down (therefore cushions all around him works just as well to prop him up). They are very good for when the baby wants a more sat-up view on the world, and toys can still be given to him to play with. I’d recommend buying a few extra of the link rings that the toys hang from. That way you can hang the toys from several link rings in a chain so that they are within reach of the baby.
Some babies love a door bouncer and others hate it. It is worth borrowing one from someone for a couple of weeks to see how yours reacts to it before you invest, because it may just gather dust and never get used if your baby doesn’t like it.
It is never too early to start reading. From an early age baby will love hearing your voice, will learn to turn pages for you, may like to touch textured books, and will look at the pictures. Start off with simple board books, textured ones are great. However, remember that you can read anything to your baby: the newspaper, a magazine, your novel, the pizza hut menu etc etc!
... on his neck, belly, back, bottom will certainly result in squeals of delight.
For some reason daddy’s love this one. Hold him horizontally above your head and move him around pretending he is an aeroplane (making the mmwwaa noises with it if you are so inclined).
SONGS (ESPECIALLY ONES WITH WHOLE BODY, SIMPLE ACTIONS)
Babies love to hear mummy’s voice, and even better if it is in the different tones of songs. Don’t worry if you think you can’t sing, your baby won’t care and will still love it. You could sing children’s songs, nursery rhymes, pop songs, or even TV theme tunes, anything goes! (my youngest will always start dancing if I put MTV on for half an hour!), Some songs with simple actions are: Grand Old Duke Of York (baby lifted up and down), Row-Row-Row Your Boat (rocking forward and backwards), Tick-Tock I’m A Little Cockoo Clock (rocking side to side and up and down), Horsey Horsey Don’t You Stop (bouncing on mummy’s knee).
Loved by grandparents the world over. Never fails to impress a baby. As you baby gets older, encourage him to peep-boo you.
Obviously there are rattles to shake, but you could also start getting a few musical toys. Try a drum, xylophone, maracas, tambourine, bells etc. You can also make your own ‘rattles’ in different sizes than ordinary ones. Just put any hard objects inside non-glass containers, and glue on the lid to make sure the stuff inside won’t get out. For example: Pasta in a margarine tub, metal screws in a metal tin or lentils in a baby food storage pot etc.
As soon as he has learnt how to hold things he will want to bang them. Give him lots of different things that make different noises. For example, his hand on a drum, then a metal spoon on a drum, then a rattle on the drum, now replace the drum with a upturned saucepan or wooden tray. Watch his reaction as the noises change.
TOYS THAT WILL ROLL AWAY
These can be balls, cars, trains, anything that your baby can make move. When he learns that he can do something that causes a consequence (I push the ball, it rolls away) he will do it over and over again. These types of toys also encourage him to move and crawl.
If you haven’t already got some bath toys, make sure you do by 3 months. Apart from the obvious ducks and boats, use your imagination when it comes to toys for bath time. A few inexpensive children’s beakers are good for pouring, and use different ‘normal’ toys in the bath as well (our bath toys currently contains a cow and a horse from a farmyard set, and some broccoli (!!) from the kitchen food set). Try and use both sinking and floating toys, so that baby learns to reach into the water to get them.
Entertaining your baby at that age when they can stand but can’t walk is always difficult, simply because they will be frustrated that they can’t walk. Activity tables or any other stand-up toys are risen surfaces that the child stands at to play. The problem is you may need a few stand-up toys but you won’t get much use out of these toys, because as soon as he learns to walk there will be far more interesting things for him to do than just stand and play. This type of toy is best to beg/steal/borrow from others, then lend it on to other mum’s when you’ve finished with it. Charity shops are also good places to look if not.
These can be the type to stand up and learn to walk by pushing it, or the smaller toys which he can sit with and push along the ground.
Don’t feel guilty about it, cbeebies (available on freeview) was invented for busy mums! Just not too often.
This is just a guide to what is available and you will not need to have everything on this list, just a few is enough. Offers of toys from friends and relations is great, always accept them and ask other mums for their idea’s on which toys are worth buying and why. Also, find out if your area has a toy library, great for making sure baby has lots of new and interesting toys. If you can’t find a local toy library, why not start one up?
ONE FINAL NOTE ON TOY ROTATION AND STORAGE
Children will get bored of their ‘usual’ toys quite quickly, but they forget about toys if they have been out of sight for a few weeks so that then these old toys reappear, it’s like they are new again. The idea of toy rotation is that you don’t have all of your toys out all of the time. One of those large plastic boxes with lids is great for storing toys in, and one of these is plenty big enough for the smaller toys your baby will want to play with. So I would recommend buying two of these storage boxes. Keep one out of the way (garage, spare room etc) and the other in the living room. Have an equal number of toys in both, and simply swap boxes every month. Also try to rotate which toys are played with on a daily basis. If we had the rattles and animal soft toys out this morning, we’ll get the musical instruments out this afternoon and get the balls, trains and books out tomorrow etc. This keeps your child much more interested than having all of the toys out all day every day.
I hope this guide has been useful, please feel free to read my other baby related guides.