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25 Best Newborn & Baby Toys That Help With Development and Learning

It’s never too early to discover that learning is fun.
ByKelsey Paine
Updated
Jul 2017
collage of developmental toys for babies and toddlers
Image: Courtesy Manufacturer
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With an infant on your hands, it might feel like all you do these days is feed, change diapers and catch a nap while baby sleeps (if you’re lucky). But while it may seem like baby can’t do much, it’s actually never too early to start playing with your child. When it comes to the best baby toys out there, your little one might not exactly be ready to kick a soccer ball or put together a puzzle, but there are plenty of fun ways to engage with her that’ll have important long-term benefits for her physical and mental development.

"It’s a myth that babies can’t play, even if they don’t seem to be ‘doing much’ yet—they’re still taking everything in,” says Amanda Gummer, a research psychologist specializing in child development and spokesperson for the Genius of Play, a movement to raise awareness about the importance of play in kids’ lives. “Playing is a great way for parents and caregivers to build that vital bond with their baby, while sensory stimulations helps baby’s brain grow.”

When it comes to playing with babies, how much your child gets out of it is directly related to how much time and effort you put into it. “Baby’s development doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” says Rachel Coley, a pediatric occupational therapist who blogs at Can Do Kiddo. “A big part of baby hitting key milestones and gaining skills has to do with the materials, experiences and opportunities to practice that baby receives. By choosing toys and activities that match what your little one is ready to work on, you make the most of your infant’s awake times and set the stage for important early learning.”

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Since younger babies can’t exactly wander over to the toy bins and pick out something that catches their eye, it falls to you to select playthings that give baby the chance to practice and refine new skills. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry. Read on to get age-appropriate play ideas and learn about the best developmental baby toys at every age and stage.

Best Toys for Newborn Babies’ Development

Your newborn might look super-relaxed in his swing or bouncer, but it’s important to work in opportunities for movement throughout his day. “While it’s easy to assume that our squishy newborns just need a cozy spot to lounge and watch the world go by, what they really need is time and space to wiggle, stretch and strengthen their bodies in order to master those mini-milestones of early development,” Coley says.

One of the biggest developmental milestones for a newborn in the first month is stretching out of the curled-up fetal position they grew so used to in the womb. “Baby’s muscles are loose and floppy in this first month but will develop more muscle tone in the second month,” Coley says. While his movements are largely dominated by infant reflexes at this point, many of those are setting baby up for tummy time success.

Coley recommends starting tummy time in the early weeks of life, since the earlier you start, the better baby tends to tolerate it—try placing a receiving blanket on a flat, firm surface or a loved one’s chest or lap. “Baby won’t yet lift his head to look ahead, but you might see him briefly lift his head with it turned to the side or remain cheek-down,” Coley says. “This is normal and beneficial positioning for a very young infant.” Although he won’t yet track moving objects, baby may turn his head to find your face or a high-contrast black and white object placed close (about 8 to 12 inches) to his eyes. While on his back, he may also slowly turn toward the sound of a familiar voice or a shaking rattle.

Types of developmental toys to try

• Activity mats. A lot of play mats come with a whole bunch of toys to hang overhead, but these can be quite over-stimulating for a newborn. For now, remove the clip-on overhead toys and then place the mat on top of a rug to create a clean, comfortable place for practicing tummy time.

• Music-playing device. Baby’s hearing is one of the earlier senses to mature, and music can have both a calming and stimulating effect. Try playing some soothing songs or just sing to her yourself—a mother’s voice will be her favorite (and most familiar) at this age.

Mobiles. Since babies don’t start to really see color until about 3 months of age, look for a mobile that has high-contrast, black-and-white decorations.

Our favorite developmental toys

Image: Courtesy Lovevery

This activity gym comes with (sustainably sourced) wooden arches and hanging toys that can be removed, and a plush mat with different play zones that can be hidden or revealed with flaps, depending on baby’s level of stimulation.

The Play Gym by Lovevery, $140, Lovevery.com

Image: Courtesy Banana Panda

When it comes to the best toys for newborns, black and white clip-on flash cards “are great for giving newborns visual stimulation that they’re interested in and able to see,” Coley says. These double-sided flash cards feature large illustrations that are suitable for the smallest infants, who can only see high contrast colors and distinct contours. The simple, clear patterns engage baby’s attention and support visual development.

Banana Panda Flash Cards for Baby, $14, Walmart.com

Image: Courtesy Gund

When you push this sweet stuffed bunny’s right foot, it flaps its ears and plays a song. When you push its left foot, it moves its ears over and off its eyes for a game of peekaboo. Who knew developmental toys for baby could be so sweet?

Gund Flora Musical Stuffed Animal, $40, Nordstrom.com

Image: Courtesy of Haba

Delight baby’s senses with this overhead play gym. The bright colors are eye-catching and the wooden disks create a clacking sound as they swing. And because the toys are dangling from a portable frame, you can set this over baby wherever she is.

Haba Color Fun Play Gym, $80, Nordstrom.com

Image: Courtesy Bright Starts

This playmat is one of the best toys for newborns just starting to explore tummy time and floor play. Not only does it have an adorable bear-shaped plush surface, but it comes with satin loops for tactile exploration, crinkle sounds, an age-shape mirror, rattle, teether and a cute prop pillow for extra support. Bonus: It’s machine-washable for easy cleaning!

Bright Starts White Polar Bear Tummy Time Prop and Play Mat, $25, Target.com

Best Toys for 2-Month-Old and 3-Month-Old Babies’ Development

As you keep up with tummy time, you’ll see baby holding his head higher and steadier. By the end of month three, he may be able to raise his shoulders and upper chest. He’ll probably roll a few times accidentally if he turns his head too far, but before long he’ll doing it intentionally. (Want to get some rolling practice in? Place baby in a side-lying position.) You may also notice baby kicking a bunch while lying on his back, which helps strengthen the belly muscles needed to eventually roll over. Another fun development? Baby may start to intentionally reach for and grasp toys—but knowing how to let go of objects hasn’t set in yet. Keep in mind that babies at this stage are relying on their senses (sight, hearing, touch and smell) to navigate around the new world around them, so offer up some healthy stimulation.

Types of developmental toys to try

• Linkable plastic rings and lightweight crinkle toys. These help a two- or three-month-old baby practice grasping.

• Unbreakable mirror. A mirror fastened securely to the inside of the crib allows baby to look at his face, which will become increasingly fascinating to him as he approaches the three-month mark.

Our favorite developmental toys

Image: Courtesy of Sassy

These colorful, durable links can be used individually (they’re the ideal weight for a baby working on grasping) or linked together to form a chain that’s perfect for keeping clip-on toys attached to the stroller.

Sassy Ring O’ Links, $5, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Courtesy Manhattan Toy

This versatile play mat can be used pretty much anywhere! Lay it flat for playtime, as a triangle for tummy time, secure it to a crib or changing table, use its magnetic closures to put it on your car seat or stroller. This developmental toy for baby includes a discovery mirror, peek-a-boo flaps, crinkle paper, grasping ribbons, jiggle pull ring, teether and a squeaker.

Manhattan Toy Wimmer Ferguson 3-in-1 Triangle, $23, Maisonette.com

Image: Courtesy The Tot

When it comes to finding the best educational toys for baby, why not purchase them all in the same pack? This Play & Learn Set—specifically designed for babies up to 3 months old—is full of activities and tips to help them reach developmental milestones. Included is an adorable swaddle, high-contrast illustrations, a sensory ball, crinkle toy, interlocking disks, silicone teether and a booklet full of teacher-recommended activities.

The Tot Play & Learn Set, $120, TheTot.com

Image: Courtesy Mobi Peeka

One of the best baby toys around is none other than a baby-safe mirror. This one is not only shatter-proof and safe for teething, but it also features colorful and engaging elements designed to help baby’s development. Your 2 or 3 month old can grasp the textured handles for tactile stimulation, move the balls along the top and bottom handles to improve fine motor skills, and observe their own reflection, which promotes cognitive development, eye contact, curiosity, and focus.

Mobi Peeka Developmental Mirror, $26, Walmart.com

Image: Courtesy of Lamaze

With bright colors, intriguing textures and graphic patterns, this clip-on firefly toy from Lamaze will become a diaper bag (or stroller or activity mat) staple. It even includes a textured teether for when those baby teeth start to pop through.

Lamaze Fifi the Firefly, $15, BuyBuyBaby.com

Best Toys for 4-Month-Old to 5-Month-Old Babies’ Development

At this point, baby is busy coordinating his emerging senses (such as sight and touch) and motor skills (such as rolling and grasping). He’ll begin to press up during tummy time, first through his forearms and then through straight arms—all of which is preparation for sitting up and (eventually) crawling. With their eyesight getting stronger, babies become especially interested in faces and other circular designs, like spirals and bullseyes. Babies at 4 and 5 months are also starting to learn cause and effect, so he may start to shake noisy toys (think: rattles) and bring them to his mouth.

Types of developmental toys to try

Teething toys. Although teething usually begins at 6 months, gum pain may start sooner. Some parents may even start to see pearl-like buds poking through as early as 3 or 4 months.

Rattles.“Next time you see baby playing with a rattle, make note of how she exercises her hand grip and arm strength while shaking it around,” Gummer says. “See how she delights in her discovery that shaking this toy creates a sound.”

• Soft toys that make sounds. Simple, lightweight objects like soft blocks or balls work well for babies discovering cause and effect. Bonus points if the toys have tags or flaps that make them easy to hold.

Our favorite developmental toys

Image: Courtesy of The Manhattan Toy Company

It’s a teether! It’s a rattle! It’s both! This rattle-teether combo easily flattens into cool configurations and has colorful beads with a non-toxic finish that are perfect for gnawing—and one of the best baby toys for your 4- to 5-month-old.

Manhattan Toy Skwish Classic, $20, Macys.com

Image: Courtesy of IQ Baby

You won’t be getting rid of these Knock-Knock Blocks any time soon: The variety of high-contrast colors and intriguing textures are sure to amuse a younger baby, while older toddlers will love stacking them into towers (and knocking them down) and identifying the people and animals in the pictures.

Small World Toys Knock-Knock Blocks, $46, Target.com

Image: Courtesy Baby Einstein

When it comes to developmental toys for baby, we love this ball that’s also a rattle. The large finger holes and bendable plastic make it easy for baby to grab and the interior rattles makes lots of baby-friendly noise when rolling—great for persuading them to practice their fine motor gripping skills.

Baby Einstein Bendy Ball Rattle Toy, $8, BedBathandBeyond.com

Image: Courtesy Manhattan Toy

This soft, cloth photo album will delight baby with its variety of sensory experiences. There’s hidden crinkle paper and squeakers for sound, bright colors and bold patterns for visual stimulation, and clear vinyl pockets for you to insert your own family photos to play peek-a-boo. Talk about a multipurpose development toy!

Manhattan Toy Whoozit Photo Album, $22, Maisonette.com

Image: Courtesy Skip Hop

These playful shakers are great developmental toys for your 4- or 5-month-old thanks to their easy-to-grasp shape, different colors, textures and animal shapes, and unique sounds. Baby can play with an owl, hedgehog and fox and hear fun different sounds as they shake them up.

Skip Hop Explore & More Egg Shaker Baby Toy Trio, $10, SkipHop.com

Best Toys for 6-Month-Old to 8-Month-Old Babies’ Development

Between 4 and 7 months, baby is working on sitting independently. If she’s still sitting with support, you can encourage her to strengthen her trunk muscles (abs and spine) by putting toys in front of her and encouraging her to reach for them. Once baby can sit without needing to put her hands in front of her (called “tripoding”), she’ll be free to use those hands to play with toys and, hopefully, entertain herself for short periods of time (but remember, never leave baby unattended).

Types of developmental toys to try

• Books. Board books and cloth books are not only the right size for little hands, they’re also practically indestructible.

• Stackable cups. Along with helping baby practice hand-eye coordination, these developmental toys can be used to teach baby about object permanence, the concept that items continue to exist even when you can’t see them. You can hide smaller items under the cups (just watch out for anything that might be a choking hazard) and then make a game of lifting the cups up for the reveal.

• Easy-to-hold balls. Hollow balls with holes will be easy to hold, so baby can continue to refine his grasping skills.

Our favorite developmental toys

Image: Courtesy Phaidon Books

The board book What Does Baby Want? is an adorable collection of drawings honestly depicting how babies are grown. You’ll love the surprisingly honest theme and story line, and baby will love the bright illustrations and graspable board texture.

What Does Baby Want? from Phaidon Books, $13, Maisonette.com

Image: Courtesy of Fisher-Price

This set of stacking cups from Fisher-Price can be rearranged into towers or individual balls, with each cup forming one half. It also comes with a jingle toy that can be hidden inside or underneath to surprise your little one, making it one of the best baby learning toys for your 6- to 8-month old.

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Stack & Roll Cups, $8, Walmart.com

Image: Courtesy Melissa & Doug

This soft six-page book is waterproof, so it can go right in the bath with baby! Accompanied by three colorful floating tugboat toys, baby will love grasping and touching both the boats and book as you show them the different primary colors. Bonus: The bath toys store in a mesh tube attached right to the waterproof book for easy cleanup.

Float Alongs Tiny Tugboats Book, $10, MelissaandDoug.com

Image: Courtesy Lovevery

A 2020 Best of Baby award winner, this subscription play kit comes packed with playthings your 7- to 8-month-old will love, making it one of the very best educational toys for baby. Each box features different age-appropriate toys made from sustainably sourced wood and 100 percent organic fabrics. They’re designed to engage your child in exploration and brain development play. Bonus: The company was started by two parents with the goal of helping other parents feel confident in the development of their child.

Lovevery Inspector Play Kit, starting at $36 a month, Lovevery.com

Image: Courtesy of Oball

A baby just learning to sit up will love goofing around with the Oball Classic ball. Lightweight and filled with easy-to-grasp holes, this developmental toy is made of flexible plastic that bounces back into shape even after being stepped on.

Oball Original, $6, BuyBuyBaby.com

Best Toys for 9-Month-Old Babies to 12-Month-Old Babies’ Development

By now many babies are crawling and starting to pull themselves into a standing position in preparation for cruising (aka moving alongside furniture while holding on) and walking. Your little one might also be mastering the act of picking up small objects between the thumb and index finger (known as the pincer grasp). At this age, babies are starting to use their memory recall and understand simple instructions. They’re also able to tolerate more stimulation.

Types of developmental toys to try

• Play kitchen items. Babies love to explore at this age. If you have the space, consider dedicating a lower kitchen cabinet to things she can play with, so she can open it and empty it on a whim. Household items such as egg cartons, cereal boxes and plastic food containers are practically a guaranteed good time.

Activity tables. With their sturdy, supportive legs and array of colorful buttons, these are ideal for entertaining a baby who’s just learned to stand.

Loveys. Starting around this time, a lot of babies start to grow attached to transitional objects and want to hang on to them, especially when upset or sleepy.

Our favorite developmental toys

Image: Courtesy of Angel Dear

When it comes to the best baby toys, a sweet and soft blanket is just the thing your 9- to 12-month-old will cherish. The loveys and blankets from Angel Dear (like this cow blankie) are cute, cuddly and machine washable.

Angel Dear Cow Blankie, $13, Bloomingdales.com

Image: Courtesy of LeapFrog

If baby isn’t standing yet, the beauty of this activity table is that the top detaches from the legs and can be placed on the floor, making it one of the best baby learning toys. Children can choose between dance and discovery with a music mode that introduces songs and sounds of instruments, and a learning mode that teaches basic shapes, colors and more.

LeapFrog Learn & Groove Musical Table, $90, Walmart.com

Image: Courtesy Lalaboom

This fun set includes two sensory balls and eight individual beads that snap together—a great developmental toy for baby. The sensory balls help stimulate baby’s senses and encourage gross motor, visual and perceptual skills. Not to mention the many different bead snap options enhance creativity. Plus, the whole set is dishwasher safe.

Lalaboom Sensory Balls and Beads Set, $28, Maisonette.com

Image: Courtesy B. Poppity

Some of the best baby toys are those that encourage your little one to crawl and stay active—and that’s exactly what this cute whale-shaped ball popper does! Baby can press the starfish to watch balls pop along to music, as well as swirl up and down the spout. The whale’s see-through body also encourages cause-and-effect learning.

B. Poppity Whale Pop Ball Popper, $35, BuyBuyBaby.com

Image: Courtesy Walmart

When it comes to the best educational toys for baby, we’re partial to anything that’s multipurpose. This one not only has a cute beaded maze with aquatic creatures, but it also includes a six-sided box, each with a different puzzle game. Your little one can play with the puzzle beads, gear hinges, fun maze, shape matching and more, ensuring hours of educational fun.

Activity Box Beaded Maze, $33, Walmart.com

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