Oldies but Goodies: 5 Classic Toys That Build Your Baby's Smarts

Photo by Lauren Naefe / Stocksy United / 1385753
Photo by Lauren Naefe / Stocksy United

By Cheryl Flanders

Your baby’s first year is filled to the brim with curiosity, wonder, discovery, learning, and exploration of the world around him—and much of that happens through the world of play. That’s why the toys you’re providing to your little love muffin are so important: They should both entertain him and help him develop the skills he needs to reach those next few milestones—like the famous, delight-inducing scoot and crawl or clapping along to Beyonce’s latest and greatest on the radio (hey, we love a family dance party).

With so many flashy, electronic gadgets available, a lot of the classic toys can get overlooked nowadays—but we’re firm believers that classics are classic for a reason. These five timeless brain-building, skill-sharpening toys will grab your baby’s interest and support his rapid growth and development:

Photo By: Kelly Knox / Stocksy United / 1340244
Photo by Kelly Knox / Stocksy United

1. Rattles! 

Colorful and cute, rattles are a classic baby-shower staple that never go out of style. There’s plenty of reasons rattles make great gifts for bundles of joy, whether girl or boy.  As your baby grasps a rattle, she’s building her eye-hand coordination—a necessary skill for learning more advanced tasks later, like dressing herself and holding a pencil. Why is she so mesmerized? Her thrill and intrigue comes from realizing she can shake the rattle and make a sound! That awesome experience that she repeats again and again builds her memory skills through repetition and teaches her the basic concept of cause and effect. Building memory also happens to be an important part of executive function, a set of skills that are vital for success in school and beyond.  

Photo By Lauren Naefe / Stocksy United / 1723990
Photo by Lauren Naefe / Stocksy United

2. Blocks! 

Blocks have stood the test of time because they’re capable of teaching so much to young children. As your infant becomes more mobile, he will begin reaching for the blocks, moving them around, and eventually stacking them, which gives him excellent practice at using his fine-motor skills. As he gets older, blocks will aid him in all sorts of ways—from sparking his creativity to introducing basic math concepts (like shapes and sizes) and problem-solving skills. (Are you away a lot? Here’s a cool idea: Tape family photos to your baby’s blocks to reinforce your connection with him even when you’re gone!)

3. Books! 

She may just be starting to move and explore, but she’s never too young to start looking at books or being read to. Research shows that growing familiar with books and pages at a young age kicks her brain development into high gear and makes her a better learner in the future. Not to mention, cuddling up and reading to your baby is also a special bonding time that supports her social and emotional development. Right now, board books with simple illustrations and lots of colors are great choices to help her learn valuable pre-reading skills, such as understanding that objects have names and that pictures represent real things. (Check out our list of awesome touch and feel books made just for the littlest readers.)

4. Balls! 

Seeing his eyes grow as round as a ball when he discovers it can roll is a priceless moment. And an important one: The ball is teaching him one of his first science lessons as he figures out that round things roll, and can move at different speeds depending on how much effort he uses. Playing with the ball also encourages development of his motor skills and eye-hand coordination—and as he grows and begins going on play dates, ball play will become a group game that supports his social development. For indoor play with older infants, your best bets are Whiffle balls (light and easy to grasp!) and balls made from soft materials starting out.

5. Watering Cans or Cups! 

Being introduced to water play can be an awesome experience for infants. When she splashes and pours water in and out of the containers, she’s not just building her motor skills and physical development: She’s also learning about the properties of water, temperature, sinking, and floating. Beyond that, water play relaxes and calms your baby—the perfect activity for winding down after a long, satisfying day of play. 

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