Baby Gear Part 6: Toys

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Welcome to the Baby Gear Series! When you’re getting ready for a baby, long lists of “must haves” can be overwhelming. Here’s what you ACTUALLY need (and all the stuff you don’t). Click here for an introduction, links to the complete series, and a FREE baby gear checklist and e-book!


There are thousands of different baby toys out there. People all have their own preferences, but here are a few that will give you a lot of bang for your buck. Just a few quick notes before we dive in:

  1. Unless you have a specific reason for wanting a specific toy (i.e. I really wanted the collapsible bouncer to save space), don’t register for toys. You will get plenty.
  2. Less is more. Don’t flood your baby with toys. The thing he is she most wants to play with and look at is YOU.
  3. Everything on this list is optional, but recommended. There are far too many unnecessary toys out there for me to even try to list, so if you’re watching space or money, pick what sounds best from this list.
  4. Everything on this list is fine to get used as long as it is clean and in working order (NO LOOSE/BROKEN PARTS).

Handheld Toys

  • Balls. Balls are a classic toy for good reason. They are fun to roll and can help you teach color and texture. Rattle balls are particularly fun. A soft knit ball or a small soft plastic ball is perfect for a little one to explore, and a bigger bouncy ball is fun for a walker to chase. We keep a box of balls open for Man Cub to get whenever he wants (most of his toy storage consists of closed boxes, but balls & books he has free access to)
  • Board Books. Board books are great for inspiring a love or reading early. They are more durable than paper. Man Cub’s board books are in a basket on the floor, and he will often pick one out for me to read, or sit and “read” it by himself. Lift the flap books are fun for older babies or toddlers (just know that you’ll probably be repairing a few flaps that your little one lifted a bit too violently). Our favorite authors are Sandra Boynton & ND Wilson.
  • Stuffed Animals. Stuffed animals are another classic. This makes a good toy for the car because it’s soft (you don’t want hard toys that could hurt your child if it went flying in an accident). You’ll also want to check the eyes- sewn on eyes are safer because a bead eye could detach and become a choking hazard.
  • Musical Toys. Babies love music. A good toy that plays music (like Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes) can be a lot of fun. You can also just play CDs or the radio. Don’t limit yourself to lullabies and classical either. Man Cub’s favorite genre is Rock (we filter for appropriateness). He’s also a Frank Sinatra fan (he’s so my kid). Play what you like and see if your baby shares similar tastes.
  • Vehicles. Cars and trains are a lot of fun- just be sure the wheels are firmly attached. We like wooden cars and Brio trains best.
  • Stacking Blocks/Rings. Let me say something about “educational” toys. I don’t believe that a singing light up toy is going to teach my kid the alphabet. I do think that using things like stacking, colorful toys and TALKING TO HIM can teach him size and color. He already recognizes some shapes by name from using his shape sorter. You don’t need special equipment. Just you.
  • Link Rings. These are great! They also make a good stroller toy because you can clip them to the stroller and your little one can’t throw it off (or at least it will take longer). You can even use them to clip another toy to the stroller.
  • Bath toys. Elijah has several bath toys that he loves. But honestly? His favorite is a plastic cup. So if you get bath toys (they double as teething toys because they’re chewy, by the way), enjoy them. If not, grab some cups, bowls or spoons instead.
  • Rattle. Rattles are great for tiny fingers. Man Cub’s favorite was a stuffed alligator ring that had a rattle inside, like this one (okay, that one is an elephant, but you get the idea).
  • Mirror. Babies love seeing themselves. Man Cub still loves making faces at himself. Many toys have an unbreakable mirror inside. Just don’t leave them out in a hot car because the mirror will separate and no longer be reflective. Apparently.
  • Teething Toys. These don’t have to say “teething toy” on the package. Really anything chewable will work. Man Cub liked textured balls and plastic bath toys, but you can even use a clean wet frozen washcloth.
  • Pacifier. At the risk of sparking a debate, let me say that AAP deems pacifiers safe (they may even help prevent SIDS if used during sleep). They have not been proven to hinder nursing or damage teeth (when used by an infant). I like sleep, and pacifiers helped Man Cub sleep (which helped me sleep), so yes, we used them. I will admit that it’s hard to wean him now, but sleep is so precious in the beginning that I’d probably do it again. Get it used? Probably not.
  • Toy Chest/Bins. Again, this doesn’t have to say “toy chest”, but you need to find a storage solution for these toys. We use a combination of open and lidded bins as well as a toy chest filled with shoe boxes to keep toys organized. Find what works for you and don’t let the toys take over! Remember, less is more.
  • Awesome Toddler Toys. This series is for the first year, but if you’re looking ahead here are some of my favorites so far: Puzzles (chunky or peg- Melissa & Doug is a high quality brand but honestly any that won’t fall apart are good),  Shape Sorter (these are a bit beyond babies but Man Cub loves his now), Mega Blocks, Wooden Blocks, Music Toys (like toy drums, tambourines, and trumpets) and Puppets.

Baby Equipment

  • Playmat/Baby Gym. Newborns can’t do a lot, but they often like to lay on a mat and look up at something interesting. Play mats and baby gyms can be fun, but this is a brief phase so feel free to skip this one. A blanket and peekaboo works, too.
  • Mobile. A mobile hangs over a crib or changing table and provides another fun thing for your little one to look up at. This is another short-lived one, so if you need to skip it, go for it.
  • Newborn: Seat for little ones. It is SO very handy to have a safe space to set your little down in while you do a load of dishes, run to the bathroom, or maybe even finish a cup of coffee. Of course, with totally immobile babies you can just use a blanket, and slightly larger ones can go in a playpen, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little more fun (and compact), like a bouncer, swing, napper, or rocker (my friends recommend the Rock & Play). Motion can really comfort a newborn (but mom doesn’t always have the time or energy to rock). Man Cub used to fall asleep in his swing (plus it’s nice & compact)!
  • A place for bigger babies (who can hold their heads up). Mobile babies, even more than newborns, need to be safely restrained (and big or strong older babies can sometimes tip over a play pen). For bigger littles, there are several options. I’m hesitant to recommend a walker, because they can often make a baby more mobile (my brother once escaped the house as a baby in walker). Excersaucers and jumpers (sometimes called a Jumparoo) can do the trick. They’ve gotten a bad rap recently, but I think they is more due to overuse. Leaving a child in an excersaucer for hours on end in front of the TV is not a good plan, but using it for 20 minutes so you can do dishes and pee in peace is fine. Man Cub loved getting energy out in his jumper. The only thing I didn’t like was that he outgrew it so quickly, but I expect that has more to do with him being so big. If you want to go really compact or just want a seat, you can go for a Bumbo. These are popular with moms, but babies seem to give mixed reviews (and honestly, they’re a bit pricey so I could never justify the added expense).
  • Busy Box. Remember those fun toys at the Doctor’s office where you move the beads along the wire? They make those for home, too. We have and enjoy a busy box with gears, beads on a wire, and more. It’s a fun toy (for the grown-ups, too) if you have extra cash (or generous grandparents).

By the way, these posts aren’t in order of importance. I just thought after discussing diapers we could all use something a little more fun to talk about!

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