By Mihir Joshi
Toys, toys, toys…so many fantastic, fun, educational, entertaining, interesting toys! Seriously though, the selection and variety of toys these days is mind-boggling but what toys should you get for your babies? Let me try to answer that question with things we got for our son Neil and give you reasons for our choices.
Babies, or kids in general, will play with just about anything. You can most definitely notice that when you get the kid something awesome and all he or she wants to do is play with the box the toy came in. But as parents, we need to find toys that are age-appropriate, stimulating, safe and fun at the same time.
Here are a few rules we learnt by experience and that my wife Neha, who has done so much research and reading into babies, found out through some fantastic resources online. We found the suggestions made a lot of sense and we tried to implement those ideas in the toys we got Neil. So, here goes.
None or almost negligible electronic toys or gadgets
This includes phones and tables and electronic toys with loads of lights and loud sounds. We’ll get to the phones and tablets in a bit but let’s talk about the love that Indian uncles and aunties and grandparents have for loud electronic toys. They are too loud for babies and if they have flashing lights they can affect a child’s attention span. Just avoid loud toys in general or if someone you love does gift you one, do what we did – put three or four strips of sticky tape on the speakers. You’ll find that the sound gets significantly muffled. And if there are strobing lights and too much happening, just avoid the toy.
Now, phones, tv and tablets should be absolutely kept away from babies till they’re at least two years old and even after that limited to an hour or two at most for as long as possible. Watching content on electronic devices can cause kids to have weight gain (since they are just sitting in one place and not being active), hamper language and mental development and prevent them from thinking independently.
Keep it simple, stupid (or KISS)?
Okay, I didn’t mean to call you stupid but that’s just the acronym I remember. It is enough to say: Keep it simple. Toys that talk or do stuff don’t let the baby think too much. They take charge of the playtime instead of your baby discovering things by being curious and experimentative. Do not give your kids toys that are too specific and make them do just one thing. Get them blocks or when they’re old enough, toys with which they can interact themselves.
We have a lovely shape-sorter toy, in which you can put in different shapes like square pieces or round ones or triangular ones. We got it for him early. At first, he would just play with the shapes and not know what to do with them, but we found that in a few months he figured out how to put them into the holes. Similarly, a toy that kept him occupied for a long time was stacking rings toys. We got him these beautiful wooden rings that he could stack, and he absolutely loved them. Again, at first, he didn’t know what to do but soon enough he figured it out.
Simple toys help your kids figure stuff out and are open-ended. They can do stuff with the pieces that are not necessarily what you’d want to do with them. Let them explore and have fun. There is no right way to play with such toys. Let them have fun and discover what to do with these toys as they grow older.
Keep only a few toys out at one time
Too many toys are a problem. I’ve seen kids with so many toys that they don’t know what to do with them. Give them one toy at a time or two at most. If they don’t want to play with a specific toy, keep it away and get another one. Rotate the toys over playtimes and days. Doing this also keeps the toys fresh and new for them for a long time. The same toy can actually last a kid through many developmental stages.
Like I’ve mentioned before, toys like shape-sorters and stacking rings work differently for kids at different ages. When they are between six and eight months, they’ll play with them in one way and as they grow older they’ll start figuring out what they can do with the same toys. Figuring things out is a special moment for them and will be deeply satisfying for you too. Blocks for instance can be incredible for kids. They will happily keep them occupied for many many months in different ways and they’ll get to learn so many skills as they figure out how to play with them.
Also, definitely get your babies nesting cups. Neil loved his cups. Putting them inside each other and if I try to stack them, he loves to destroy the stacks as soon as I make them.
Choose age-appropriate toys
Babies love sounds and movement. They are just discovering their own bodies, working on hand-eye coordination and are just learning to hold stuff. I remember we got him rattles, small stuff he could hold, and we had this little jungle gym. It had small objects that would hang from the top while he would just lie down and watch them. As he grew a little older, he tried to grab them and enjoy the sounds they made. Soft toys are nice to look at, but I would stay away from them, especially the really big ones.
This is when Neil could just start holding toys in his tiny hands. Babies are just learning about cause and effect and they keep doing the same stuff over and over again to master simple things. For instance, he would use the shape-sorter toy just as a bucket and put things in it and take them out. It wasn’t about fitting things into the right pegs but just more about putting things in and taking them out.
This is when some serious development starts happening. They decide what they want to do and go about doing it. This is when he started figuring out how to stack rings on the pole. Or putting a block on top of other blocks. He’s also figured out how to open remotes of all our appliances and take out the batteries. The kid loves his batteries. I will never figure out why, but batteries are his jam! He will try to open toys that don’t even have batteries to look for them. It is truly adorable and fun.
This is when the blocks, simple toys that they can put together and split apart, nesting cups and other such toys take on a really new meaning for our babies. He also enjoys finger puppets, hand puppets and a few simple and small soft toys but he doesn’t seem to want to play with them too much. They are momentary pleasures, but we have a few in the house and he seems to like the ones we have.
Action figures and dolls are not a good idea if they have small and intricate parts that can move around. A non-articulated figure or a bendable action figure might be okay for this age though. Neil has a Spiderman figure he loves to play with, but the figure is quite a simple one with no real articulated parts.
I’ve not really gone beyond this stage but when I do, I’ll tell you about that too.
Finally, you need to control what your babies get. Grandparents and relatives will want to gift your kids toys all the time but they are not the ones with little babies (unless you have other relatives in the same boat as you) and they may not always think about what is right for your kid at a specific time. What we did was to make a wishlist on Amazon and keep updating it from time to time. We sent that list to our closest relatives – I mean the really close ones who treat him like he’s their own. Not the distant ones who come once in six months. That would be weird…but it isn’t weird with your closest people.
They will understand that you’ve put thought and effort into the list and respect it and get your kids toys to celebrate little milestones but get him or her stuff that you know is right for them. Both parties are thus happy. They get to experience the joy of giving their little one a gift and you’re happy that it isn’t another random toy but something you definitely want your child to experience and play with at the specific age they’re at.
So, there it is. It isn’t really complicated but you do need to put some thought into it. I’ve shared our toy journey with you. Let me know here in the comments or on social media about toys you’ve used and tried with your babies that really worked.
(The writer is a singer and his debut album Mumbai Blues won the GIMA Award for Best Rock Album in 2015. He hosts his own talk show-The MJ Show and does live Hindi commentary for WWE. Views are personal. Follow him on twitter @mihirjoshimusic)