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 them—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 them and help them 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 their 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, they're building their eye-hand coordination—a necessary skill for learning more advanced tasks later, like dressing themselves and holding a pencil. Why are they so mesmerized? Their thrill and intrigue comes from realizing they can shake the rattle and make a sound! That awesome experience that they repeat again and again builds their memory skills through repetition and teaches themr 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, they will begin reaching for the blocks, moving them around, and eventually stacking them, which gives them excellent practice at using their fine-motor skills. As they get older, blocks will aid them in all sorts of ways—from sparking 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 even when you’re gone!)

3. Books

They may just be starting to move and explore, but they're 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 their brain development into high gear and makes them a better learner in the future. Not to mention, cuddling up and reading to your baby is also a special bonding time that supports their social and emotional development. Right now, board books with simple illustrations and lots of colors are great choices to help them 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 their eyes grow as round as a ball when they discover it can roll is a priceless moment. And an important one: The ball is teaching them one of their first science lessons as they figure out that round things roll, and can move at different speeds depending on how much effort they use. Playing with the ball also encourages development of their motor skills and eye-hand coordination—and as they grow and begin going on playdates, ball play will become a group game that supports their 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 they splash and pour water in and out of the containers, they're not just building their motor skills and physical development: They're 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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