To help your baby become a confident toddler, you need to supply your baby with toys and games that address specific needs according to their development. In fact, play is the way a baby learns cause and effect, shapes and sizes, even how to socialize with others, and it's best to get the earliest start possible. With so many different toys available, you can't help but be confused about which toys go with which stage of your baby's development. Thankfully, most toys are clearly marked for different age groups right on their packages, but look below for some general guidelines to follow.
One month: Newborns are still getting used to light, sound, voices and general comfort. This is the getting-to-know-you stage, when babies only see things from about a foot away - roughly the same distance their face is from Mom or Dad's when they are being held. A high-contrast crib mobile, music and perhaps a rattle or two is all you'll need. Buy toys or mobiles in sharply contrasting colors that are easier on your baby's eyes - black, white and red work best.
Two months: Babies begin to wake up to the colors and sights around them. At this stage, you might be using rattles and maybe a stuffed animal in bright or contrasting colors. Babies at this stage also become more responsive to sounds and they love music. Even now, your baby has developed a keen ability to listen and will respond to soothing sounds or jazzy tunes. Your baby will also enjoy it if you play tapes or CDs in the car.
Three months: This is a fun stage because babies begin to notice more of the world around them. Babies start to notice other babies and can likely hold their heads up by now. Bouncer seats, baby swings and teething rattles can provide hours of fun, but so can a mirror placed by the crib. At this stage, babies love to stare at human (or pet) faces. For visual stimulation, put pictures of faces on the wall near the changing table and in the playroom and provide toys with different varieties of smiling faces.
Four months: As soon as babies unclench their fists, they are ready for touching and feeling: they want to reach out and experience what things feel like. You could, at this stage, invest in some rattles and teething toys. A play gym with lots of colorful dangling objects to swipe at is another great choice, along with a toy bar that attaches to your baby's crib.
Five months: Babies are better able to grasp with their hands this month and will appreciate toys like cups, balls, blocks and spheres that spin on the end of a stroller or swing. There will be a lot of pounding going on, as your baby's hands are his or her new favorite toys.
Six months: Babies are getting more and more mobile now, so this would be a good time to put your baby in a saucer exerciser or doorway jumper. Continue with cups, balls, stuffed animals, rattles and nursery rhymes as well. Look for some toys that provide different responses to different actions, such as a squeak toy that rewards your baby's squeeze.
Seven months: This is the stage where babies get invested in playing with mom and dad, so get ready for a game of "Peek-a-boo!" Toys that offer a surprise, such as a jack-in-the-box, are great now. Activity centers with dials to spin are ideal for this learning stage, since they come with so many things for your baby to investigate. You can also bring out the wooden spoon and pots or pans, since your baby will be ready to make music!
Eight months: Babies may be starting to crawl around now, so they will likely want to play with the things mom and dad are using. This might be a good time to let your baby have a big plastic bowl, a wooden spoon and items to put inside. Blocks and shape sorters are a perfect way to help improve your baby's motor skills.
Nine months: Babies get stronger and more mobile now, and they don't seem to mind the louder toys. Babies at this age are all about activity - they love to follow a rolling truck and press buttons to make sounds. Toys that have electronic buttons that make various noises would be most appreciated from this stage on. Also, blankets with Velcro-attached toys would be popular items.
Ten months: Your baby can make some interesting sounds and is most curious about items that you use on a regular basis. Toys like large wooden puzzles and dolls that play music (for baby girls) are good for this age. Your baby is close to walking now, so buy toys that will help them along in their mobility, such as a rocking horse and push/pull toys. An activity walker your baby can push or a ride-on toy that exercises your baby's legs may help him or her achieve the milestone of walking.
Eleven months: Board books are good at this stage, since babies can't rip up or eat the pages. Activity tables are also fun for babies at this age. Instruments like chimes, a harmonica, bells and drums will be a big hit with your baby, once he or she has learned how to make noise with them.
One year: Babies start to become more independent, walking throughout the house with help or by themselves now. You should start a collection of toys that your baby can grow into over the next year. Toys that teach sounds and toys that your baby can ride on will be the most appealing. Young children love water play, so a bowl of water along with spoons and cups make a fabulous source of fun. Put your baby in a high chair, on the floor with a towel or take your baby outside in a shady spot if the weather's warm.
Babies need a variety of toys to enrich their lives and encourage learning. While babies can learn from expensive store-bought toys, they can also learn from a crumpled piece of paper, egg cartons, a set of measuring spoons, an empty box or a leaf. Everything is new and interesting to babies, so some things you might consider "trash" may be valuable toys.