As I’ve written before, I regret not including more learning and development toys on our baby registry before my daughter was born. It wasn’t the end of the world, but as a first-time mom, I was really surprised how quickly she was ready to engage with her environment, and I felt a bit unprepared. The good news is, you can have a lot of fun with some pretty basic toys and items from around your house!
There’s absolutely nothing magical about this list. These toys and activities worked for us based on our daughter’s developmental timeline. I highly recommend these two resources on learning and development to help with your journey. A note on this list: one item is included for each stage; the month listed is the month we introduced the toy to our daughter, but she’s continued to play with each toy (and still does today at almost 9 months).
Newborn – 2 months: Black and white art cards
There’s not a lot that you need during those first two months, but there is evidence that visual stimulation, particularly during the early months, may have a profound effect on baby’s development. As newborns, babies can only detect large contrasts between light and dark, so unfortunately those serene pastel nurseries aren’t doing much for them. That’s why products like Black Wee Gallery’s Art Cards for babies are so helpful. The company recommends placing the cards in a baby’s crib, above the changing table or any other place the baby spends time. It also describes how the cards facilitate a baby’s development over time, from birth through the first year.
3 months: Touch and Feel Board Book
Right after the newborn stage, our daughter starting showing an interest in textures. A friend of mine gave her the Jellycat Baby Touch and Feel Board Book If I were a Kitty. Each page of the book features a different texture, and the book itself has a curly cat tail. Unlike the other board books in our rotation during those early days, this one actually held her attention. If cats aren’t your thing, Jellycat makes the same book featuring bears, sloths, dragons and just about any other creature you can imagine.
4 months: DIY ribbon rattle
At around 4 months, our daughter started developing more motor skills and began showing more interest in her toys that made sounds, like rattles. Drawing inspiration from this post on DIY sensory shakers and noise makers, I made filled a plastic bottle with rice and colorful pom poms and attached ribbon to the lid. She likes her other rattles, but to this day, this one is her favorite because of the ribbons and all of the different colors.
5 months: DIY sensory bowl
Our daughter began to show a lot more curiosity at the 5-month mark. Coupling her increased interest in her environment with more awake time, and we found that it took more to stimulate her and keep her active. I started reading about sensory play, and got the idea to fill one of our mixing bowls with items from around the house that had a unique texture (sometimes called a sensory bowl or treasure basket). I went from room to room looking for candidates, but you can also find lists online. We started with a whisk, loofah, ball, wooden hairbrush, silicon cupcake mold, a board book and a few of her bath toys. I periodically rotate out her bowl friends to keep things fresh. I’m not exaggerating when I say we drag this bowl out every day, even now.
6 months: bath time animal stickers
At around 6 months, our daughter started to reliably sit up on her own. Up until that point, we were giving her baths lying down in the bath tub, but she loved her bath time, and I wanted to find a way for her to safely be able to splash around and play more. After doing some research, I got a Munchkin Sit and Soak Baby Bath Tub that we absolutely love. It has a built-in seat with back support so my husband and I can focus on washing and playing instead of trying to keep her in a seated position. That bath tub enabled our 6-month MVP: Weird and Wonderful Animals Bath Time Stickers. She always enjoyed bath time, but she’s absolutely obsessed with these foam stickers. They cling to the bath walls when they’re wet and float on the water surface if they fall in. My favorite feature is that the animals each come in three pieces, so she’ll have fun being silly and mixing and matching them once she’s older.
7 months: Bubbles
At 7 months, we faced a bit of a teething crisis. Our normally very happy girl started to get very cranky around 4 pm every day. I’d heard that babies love bubbles, so I ordered these Bubble Tree Sustainable Bubbles and saved them to play with during the most challenging part of each day. They immediately shift her mood and get her moving. I’m also really glad we didn’t introduce bubbles until we were having teething and crankiness issues; the novelty makes them even more special.