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Happy Pregnancy

The Power of Play - Educational Toys For Babies

by Sherry Lee 05 Jan 2024

Play is serious business for kids’ health, cognitive and social progress. It’s also the basis for lifelong friendships and enduring memories.

Enrich your child’s playful spirit with toys that stimulate his senses. Educational toys like crinkle and rattle toys, musical toys and felt play structures encourage his magical imagination and love of learning.

The Importance of Play in Early Development

The Importance of Play in Early Development 

While it may seem like a luxury, play is a crucial part of healthy child development. It’s during this time that kids learn about themselves and their surroundings. It’s also a time when they can cultivate their creativity, imagination and social skills.

In fact, research shows that when children play, they build new brain cell connections. These are the building blocks for their future cognitive, emotional and physical development. The good news is that you can encourage this growth by providing your baby with educational toys.

For example, an infant’s ability to distinguish colors can be cultivated by playing with a colorful crinkle box that has a built-in rattle. Similarly, babies’ ability to understand the concept of gravity and how objects fall can be facilitated by a simple stacking toy.

Additionally, psychologists have discovered that children who play frequently and engage in dramatic or creative play have better social skills than those who do not. This is because playing encourages kids to develop their emotion regulation, which enables them to cope with the stresses of life.

Soft Sensory Blocks

soft sensory blocks

Sensory play shapes the brain and helps your child develop a rich network of neural connections. It also enhances cognitive development and prepares the brain for future learning. Toys like soft sensory blocks can help your baby develop fine and gross motor skills, visual stimulation, a sense of touch, smell, and sound.

Soft silicone blocks with animal, fruit or number sides stimulate the baby's senses and promote simple shape recognition. They have different surface textures for tactile exploration, and squeaky elements that make sounds when squeezed. The blocks have convex sides and can be connected together with special recesses and protrusions. They are made of safe, food-grade material and can be used as teethers.

Texture Exploration: Add items to your toddler's block set that are soft, squishy or crunchy, such as kitchen sponges, cotton balls or fabric swatches. Your child will enjoy feeling them, squeezing them or stacking them.

High-Contrast Mobiles

high contrast mobiles

Newborn babies have a limited attention span, and toys with high contrast colors and patterns grab their attention and stimulate their visual system. As they grow and their eyesight improve, these toys can help them develop their visual tracking skills.

The contrasting colors of this mobile make it easy for infants to focus on shapes and movements, which can strengthen their eye muscles and boost shape recognition abilities. This mobile has a minimalist design that looks great in any nursery, but it also attaches to strollers and car seats, making it a portable play option for traveling families.

Books and cards with alternating black and white images are another great way to encourage visual tracking. You can find many different sets of these on Etsy and other online retailers, or you can easily make your own. Just remember that when your baby shows signs of overstimulation (fussiness, restlessness) during a play session, it's time to take a break or change the toy. This could indicate that they're having trouble coordinating their eyes and hands, or that the toy is too stimulating for them.

Musical Activity Gym

musical activity gym

A musical activity gym encourages babies to move their heads around and grab toys that dangle above them. This helps them develop their visual skills, including tracking objects with their eyes, and it encourages the early development of hand control by enabling them to "work for" the object that they're trying to grasp (another lesson in object permanence).

Baby play gyms also help babies learn about cause and effect. Piaget's theory of cognitive development states that babies first engage in something called "primary circular reactions" when batting at a toy, then they begin purposefully hitting toys, learning about the connection between their actions and their consequences.

The Baby Einstein 4-in-1 Kickin' Tunes Gym is an excellent option, with a bright, high contrast mat and arches that include multi-sensory toys like a crinkle toy, Flounder plush rattle, baby safe mirror, character flashcards and more. The piano connects to the mat for stability, but it removes for easy cleaning and use on-the-go. This one also grows with the child, converting into an activity table for toddlers and preschoolers.

Shape Sorters and Stacking Rings

shape sorters

Many parents buy a shape sorter cube for their new baby. These toys are useful for a variety of reasons from improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills to teaching shape recognition and encouraging problem solving.

Stacking rings are another educational toy that babies will love to play with. Stacking the rings requires the use of both hands which promotes hand-eye coordination. Once your child gets the hang of stacking the rings you can try adding in other activities like counting or making fun patterns.

You can also turn the ring stacker into a treat hunt by placing it 1-2 feet apart and filling each one with a small treat like cheerios or crackers. Then encourage your child to crawl, scoot or walk between each ring to find their treat.

Some ring stackers also offer the opportunity to spin the barrel which will make fun sounds and move shapes around. This is a great way to introduce your toddler to cause and effect learning and can help improve their core strength and standing balance.

Interactive Cloth Books

interactive cloth books

Cloth books are a good option for infants and toddlers as they offer a safe first introduction to reading. The soft pages pose no choking hazards and are designed with rounded corners to ensure child safety. They are also washable, meaning they can withstand spills, drool and dirty fingers without losing color. In addition to the vibrant colors and pictures, interactive cloth books often include crinkle and squeaker pages to keep kids entertained and engaged.

These books are great for babies who love interacting with images and exploring the world around them. Their crinkle features, squeaker sounds and textured animal tails stimulate sensory interaction. They also encourage children to turn the book’s textured pages, helping to develop their motor skills.

Most of these toys come with a hanging loop or ring and can be connected to prams, cribs and car carriers for on-the-go play. They are an ideal gift for baby showers and birthdays, as they promote early learning and are non-toxic. Each book is lightweight, durable and comes in a variety of themes such as animal world, shapes, numbers, vegetables, fruits and more.

Selecting Educational Toys Wisely

selecting educational toys wisely

The toys you select are critical to your child’s growth and development. But the way your child plays with these toys is equally important. Look for toys that encourage imagination and creativity rather than rigid structure. This will allow your child to explore and figure out how they want to play with a toy, which will promote problem-solving skills.

It is also important to choose educational toys that are durable. Children can be rough on toys, and you don’t want to invest in something that will quickly break or become worn out after just a few uses. Lastly, opt for toys that are free from small parts and choking hazards.

Until babies fully develop color vision (approximately one week after birth), educational toys that utilize black and white can be effective. For example, the Wee Gallery Black and White Flash Cards are a great toy to promote visual stimulation for infants. They’re a fun way to teach colors, shapes and animals while fostering social-emotional development and fine motor control.

Incorporating Educational Toys into Daily Routine

baby daily routine

Educational toys help children learn a variety of different skills that can aid them in their growth and development. They encourage memory retention, coordination, reading and maths – all skills that can see a child’s IQ rise over time.

Babies are able to engage in cognitive play from an early age, even when they are only playing with toys that have a basic function, like rattles or mobiles. However, it’s important to encourage their creativity with open-ended toys that allow them to improvise and use their imaginations.

Incorporating these types of toys into your daily routine will help to develop your baby’s cognitive, motor and social skills, as well as their imagination and emotional regulation. You may also be able to learn more about your child’s interests and abilities through their interactions with educational toys. For example, if they repeatedly build a house or doctor’s office during their play, they might be showing interest in these occupations for the future. You might be able to then nurture this interest by introducing toys themed around these occupations, such as dolls, doctors’ outfits or kitchen sets.

 

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