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The 9 Best Developmental Toys For Babies

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Your baby learns so much about the world in the first year and handing them some intentional toys can help them master their new skills. The best developmental toys for babies engage them in play that stimulates their senses and encourages them to hit developmental milestones for their age. And in a year’s span, as a newborn becomes a toddling 1-year-old, there are a lot of skills your baby will pick up.

Developmental milestones for babies — whether they’re skills that are social and emotional, language and communication-related, cognitive, or physical — can be as simple as smiling at people or holding their heads up but they progress every couple of months or so. By 4 months, babies often are babbling and 9-month-olds may crawl, sit up, and play peek-a-boo. The best developmental toys for babies are made with these specific skills in mind and can help babies practice and improve their capabilities. This also means a toy that’s ideal for a 1-month-old is likely different from the best toys for a 6-month-old, so I’ve gathered a list of educational and interactive toys that cover a baby's first year.

Toys that make noise, light up, or change shape may appeal to a baby’s developing senses. Also keep in mind any toys with fabric that are machine-washable or easily spot cleaned are especially convenient since babies tend to drool or spit up. Educational toys for babies can be as straightforward as a visually interesting card or as complex as a full-fledged gym with developmental zones for growing babies to explore.

Babies learn through play, and keeping the best educational toys on hand makes it easy to encourage their development. Here are the nine best developmental toys for babies to carry you through the first year.

1. A Developmental Toy Under $5 That's Racked Up More Than 40,000 Reviews

  • Recommended Age: 6 months and up

The best stacking cups are an unassuming toy that's actually a must-have for developmental play. This set has an impressive 4.8-star rating on Amazon with a whopping 41,000 reviews.

With eight brightly colored cups, babies can practice a lot of skills over several months. The cups can be nested, stacked, or used during bath time to create waterfalls with small holes in the bottom of each cup. Babies can learn a slew of developmental skills with this simple toy, like reaching for a cup with one hand, using hand-eye coordination, grasping, shaking, banging, throwing, making smoother arm movements, putting things in a container and taking them out, looking for hidden items underneath the cups, or cause and effect from knocking over the stacked cups. As the cups hit each other or fall to the ground, babies also can learn to recognize and turn towards sounds. As your baby grows, you can use these same cups to teach colors, sorting, and counting thanks to the numbered bottoms. Best of all: You get this endless play for under $5.

Keep these BPA-free cups clean by simply washing with warm water and mild liquid soap.

A helpful review: “If I could pick ONE and ONLY ONE toy to entertain a baby for the entire first year and beyond, THIS IS IT. Hands down, no question. These cups are frickin' amazing and versatile. Light enough for young babies to handle, sturdy enough for older babies and toddlers to beat on, no sharp corners, compact and easy to travel with, and they make a really satisfying clattering noise when you knock them down, unlike those soft blocks. Yeah, I hear you saying, 'Oh, they're just a bunch of stupid plastic cups. How exciting could they possibly be? What do you even DO with them??' Everything. [...] Just buy them. Your kid will know what to do.”

2. This Set Of Cards For Tummy Time Entertainment

  • Recommended Age: Newborn and up

Black and white baby cards are one of the first things I introduced to my son after a NICU nurse explained how high-contrast images, especially in black and white, are the easiest for babies 6 months and younger to see and interpret. This particular set stood out with its beautiful designs and sturdy recycled cardstock made with rounded corners and a matte lamination finish. Some parents even report framing the cards for nursery decor.

I'd set the cards up for a little gallery in his crib, and they motivated him during tummy time. These six reversible animal cards come with a box to store them in and are available in eight animal themes; you might also like the similarly designed animal alphabet cards and stroller cards — I took these on every walk with my son.

A helpful review: “My baby really enjoys these cards. The colors and patterns really get his attention. He is currently 12 weeks and has spent time looking at them since he was 7 weeks without getting bored; however, there is a lot of interaction to keep his attention. We usually use them at tummy time or I hold them about 8-10 inches above his face to while he is laying in his crib or at his activity gym. Depending on his mood, he favors certain pictures more than others, but he always makes faces, smiles, and coos at the pictures. The cards are also very well made and durable. I can tell they will hold up through all the drool and being handled by tiny hands. They are also larger than I expected [...] I also chose to go with 5 stars because I would recommend these to others and would buy it again!”

3. A Crinkle Toy That Fits In Any Diaper Bag

  • Recommended Age: Newborn and up

Another one of the best developmental toys for babies is a crinkle toy. Babies use their five senses to learn and a crinkle or rattle toy can help alert little ones to noise and encourage them to turn their heads toward a sound. This Baby Paper design stands out for its size and function: the 6-inch square in black and white stripes is easy for tiny hands to grasp and also is visually stimulating. Plus, the crinkly noise is more, well, crinkly, than some others I've come across. It's lightweight and slim enough to always have around, and it's conveniently machine-washable.

A helpful review: “I absolutely love this toy, and so does my 4-month-old son. In fact, this is the second time I've bought it! I accidentally lost the first one, but he loves it so much that I ordered a new one the next day. This toy has a soft texture, high-contrast stripes, and a great crinkly sound, all of which appeal to a baby's developing senses. I love that it takes very little to get it to crinkle (make noise), because it immediately attracts attention and even very young babies can 'play' with it. I also love that it takes up almost no space in our diaper bag, which makes it the perfect toy for outings. We've had it for a couple of months and it is one of the few toys that my son hasn't lost interest in. Definitely a great product! I would recommend it as the perfect add-on to any baby shower gift!”

4. An Interactive Play Gym For The First Year

  • Recommended Age: Newborn and up

A baby play gym is absolutely worth finding room for in your home, and this award-winning interactive toy stands out for its longevity in engaging your baby through the first year — and beyond. There are five Montessori-inspired zones designed for specific developmental skills, and the gym comes with a guide for selecting age-appropriate activities that engage brain and motor skill development. And because little ones can be overstimulated with too much to see at once, each section can be covered to help them focus on one zone at a time.

This machine-washable mat is a soft space for a baby working on tummy time, and the different areas can also engage them in lifting their head, provide visual stimulation and encourage grasping with a high-contrast clutch ball and set of cards. This toy covers a lot of ground, and it later converts to a fort for imaginative play for toddlers, too.

Removable accessories like a teether and batting toy come with the mat for even more play, and these toys are made with premium materials like FSC-certified wood and organic cotton. With a 4.8-star rating and over 2,000 reviews, this pick is also the recipient of the Red Dot Award for Product Design in 2018; Parents' Choice Gold Award in 2018; and The Bump Best of Baby Award in 2019. Plus, it takes two minutes to set up or take down — no tools required.

A helpful review: “I was reluctant to buy a play gym in general because I didn't expect to get a ton of use out of it before baby outgrew it and didn't want to be just laying on the ground and they are all super bright and in my opinion, overwhelming. This play gym addresses all of the issues that I had with play gyms and offers way more than I could have expected. Its base is designed in soft, neutral tones so it's aesthetically pleasing but also not super overwhelming for baby. It has several different areas for learning and stimulation which can be used and covered as needed. It's made of high-quality, safe materials and it really can grow with the baby. The toys are removable so you can use them long after you use the gym or add your own toys to switch things up. It's created with principles of development in mind so there are a variety of ways to engage your baby and it comes complete with a little book to give you tips for each stage.[...]”

5. A Baby-Proof Mirror

  • Recommended Age: Newborn and up

A baby mirror with over 9,000 reviews? Yes, this developmental toy for babies is a fan favorite. This mirror is soft and unbreakable with an easel design for standing or propping it up. Two simple additions — a black-and-white ladybug (with a spinning ball belly and crinkly leaves) and a bumblebee that rotates with a clicking sound — are compelling toys for a baby's developing vision and senses. Newborns and up can engage in several developmental skills, including paying attention to faces and recognizing their faces and body parts in the mirror. Set this up in front of your baby during tummy time, and they're likely to exercise for a bit longer, too.

A helpful review: “My daughter is obsessed with this mirror. When she was 2 months old she would do her tummy time and look at herself in it. Now that she is 5 months and more mobile, she will knock it down (because it is very easy to do) and play with the ladybug rolling rattle of chew on the bees crunchy wings while it is laying in her pack and play. It is hardly ever up because it doesn't have much of a base but I would rather have a soft mirror than a sturdy hard one that would hurt her. [...] The mirror itself is that plastic bendy stuff that is distorted in some places, but it is a very good quality considering it is a child's toy. [...] I would recommend this product for curious children!”

6. This Clip-On Interactive Baby Toy

  • Recommended Age: 2 months and up

Pro tip: you're going to want a reliable clip-on baby toy in your collection. This highly rated Skip Hop toy, with over 8,000 reviews, has a little bit of everything to engage your baby wherever you go, and you can make sure it doesn't end up on the ground by clipping it onto a stroller or car seat.

This soft interactive toy is a cornucopia of textures, patterns, and sounds that appeal to babies. It rattles, crinkles, and features rubbery nubs for safe chewing. A small mirror in the elephant's ear catches the light and a baby's attention. This toy engages a baby in multi-sensory play that can include reaching, grasping, rattling, shaking, batting, following things with their eyes, holding a toy with one hand, reacting to sounds.

This pick also comes in a few animal variations, including a popular fox activity toy.

A helpful review: "After visiting a friend who let my daughter play with this toy, I realized I had to get one for her! She had the whole thing slobbered in minutes! The various textures allow her to explore with her fingers and mouth. The legs are crinkly and fun for her to squeeze. The nose has a squeaker, the collar is soft rubber, there is a plastic rattle ring between the front paws, the tail is a textured firm rubber, and the torso makes noise. The packaging states only to wash it with a damp cloth, but my friend puts hers in the wash on gentle cycle and air dries it. All in all, this toy is definitely worth getting!"

7. This Colorful String Of Sensory Beads

  • Recommended Age: 3 months and up

These wooden sensory beads in a rainbow of colors is great for teething and grasping infants. Though each wooden ball is dense for resistance to chips and splinters, the string of beads is surprisingly lightweight for small hands to hold. This makes it easy for babies to slide the beads around, producing a gentle rattling sound.

During play, babies can work on honing developmental skills. Pulling and tugging on the beads creates a clickey-clop sound that teaches cause and effect, while also helping to strengthen hand-eye coordination and motor skills. As my baby got a little older, these interactive beads were invaluable for keeping him still during diaper changes; I'd ask him to find certain colors for me. The beads are decorated with water-based paint and should be washed by hand when needed.

A helpful review: “I am a huge fan of sensory toys but I usually hate the cost of them. I make some for my children out of recycled items but when I saw this item I had to order it! My 6 month old daughter loves this toy! She is just learning to pull toys towards her mouth while sitting up so this is helping her physical development as well as motor skills! I especially like it because most ball toys for babies roll away or slip out of their hands but the linked wooden beads definitely solves this issue!”

8. This Wooden Educational Toy That Teaches Object Permanence

  • Recommended Age: 6 months and up

Once your baby starts sitting up on their own, a whole new perspective opens up along with new skills to master. This educational toy for babies can teach them object permanence — aka things still exist even when you can't see them: it's a developmental milestone that will also help them understand you'll be back, even if you just need to step away for a moment. That's a big one.

Grasping for the wooden ball (which is large enough to not be a choking hazard) also engages them in fine-tuning their hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, focus, and ability to concentrate. The ball is dropped into the hole and rolls out from the bottom tray. Made of durable and smooth hardwood with a child-safe finish, this is a highly rated and Montessori-inspired pick.

A helpful review: “I have been looking for an object permanence box for months and months but haven't been able to find anything that was high quality, child safe, and not $50+... I'm so glad I found this one. It is heirloom quality!! It has that luxurious heaviness, the wood is lustrous and BUTTERY SOFT, it was made with an excellent eye for detail, and it smells so good. I have no fears letting my baby play with it and the DESIGN IS INCREDIBLE. It has special angled sections inside it so it is impossible for the ball to get stuck!! I love that I won't have to be on standby to rescue a stuck ball. 10/10 this is an amazing, my 11 month old will love this. A last note, this was very minimally packaged, which I appreciate. [...]”

9. This Soft Lovey To Comfort Your Baby

  • Recommended Age: Newborn and up

Loveys aren't just cute; this soft gray bunny is a transitional object that can comfort your baby from birth through toddlerhood. This smaller stuffed animal that's part blanket makes it lightweight enough for a baby to hold onto, and it's machine-washable.

Jellycat has been making soft toys since 1999, and having personally had a few, I can tell you they are exceptionally soft and cuddly and hold up really well over a couple of years.

A helpful review: “My daughter loves her bunny! It's the perfect size for her to grab and hold and quickly became her go to soother. It's been washed/ dried several times and holds up well. I bought another to have for backup just in case something happens to the original.”