A Guide to Choosing Toys

 By Sreedevi Nair

To quote Jean Piaget, the developmental psychologist, “Play is the answer to the question, ‘How does anything new come about?”

When we think about children playing our first thought is about the objects that can be used to play, quite literally “Toys”! Every occasion we are constantly in search of that toy which will be most entertaining and useful for our little ones.

Let me share a personal experience-

When my son was learning to walk, I researched and purchased, what I thought would be the best push toy for him. When the toy arrived I was super excited and couldn’t wait for him to try it out. But to my surprise (and not to mention disappointment) my son was more interested in the cardboard box in which the toy arrived in. For several days he played with the box and derived more pleasure than I could have imagined from any toy I had purchased thus far for him! The things and events that intrigue babies are often unimaginable for our adult minds.

  • Baby’s Favourite Toy: The first year of a baby’s life forms the crux of several milestones in development- speech and language, motor skills, social skills etc. As a parent/caregiver, you play a huge role in making the baby feel secure and happy in the world around him/her. Using your own face, voice and touch, you can help the baby gain further self-awareness and prepare for a lifetime of joyful play.
  • Try Pots and Pans: It isn’t necessary to invest in expensive toys. It is not always the money spent on a toy that makes it worthwhile. Even using a small cushion/ cloth to play peek-a-boo, or letting the baby bang a spoon against a plate can be more fun than complicated and expensive toys. For a baby, it is the involvement in the game and in turn-taking that matters.
  • Age-Appropriate Toys: Try and follow the age-group recommendation for any toy or book you buy for the baby. If it is above the recommended age, it would not be very helpful. Accelerating the pace of development can do more harm than good. Also, it can be immensely frustrating for a baby to explore a toy that is way beyond his comprehension.
  • Keep it Safe: Always ensure that any toy/object the baby plays with has no sharp edges, is not small enough to be swallowed or tiny enough to go into the nose/ears of the baby. An object should be at least 1¼" (3 centimeters) in diameter and 2¼" (6 centimeters) in length to prevent a choking hazard. A general rule would be that -- if it fits in your closed fist or if it can be passed through a kitchen foil roll, it is not a safe toy for the baby.
    Similarly, toxic substances are often found in bright coloured toys of poor quality; Lead poisoning is a hazard that has to be taken out-most care about. Finally, any toy or object that can suffocate the baby should never be kept in the baby’s vicinity.
  • The Virtual Baby-Sitter: Babies and toddlers should not be left to passively watch TV or other screens, according to the World Health Organization guidelines. A baby might find an animated video amusing and might spend a long time on it, on a loop. It will also make you feel less tired as it becomes a virtual baby-sitter for you. But, it is a damage that might be irreversible. Language and social development can be adversely impaired when babies are entertained with electronic devices. Screen time can be used sparingly, with active inputs from you.

A guide to buying toys in the first year

Below is a general guide to purchasing some age-appropriate toys that are simple and suitable for interactive play as well as solitary exploration. Matching the toy with the stage of your child’s development is always helpful in making the right choice.

 Age (Approximate) Appropriate Toy(s)

0-3 months


YOU are the best and most entertaining toy for your baby. When you smile, make faces, coo, sing etc., the baby feels secure, happy and connected. It lays the foundation of parent-child bonding and early communication skills. The baby is also fascinated by his own body parts; so when he brings the hand to the mouth or watches his own legs kicking the air, a rudimentary self-awareness develops.

Baby rattles help to develop the grasping skills. Soft music, soothing colour lights, rocking cradles help to calm babies. High contrast, black and white images are very attractive to babies, because newborn babies cannot differentiate between the other colours yet. High contrast images help to develop the optic nerve, stimulate the visual areas of the brain and improve their focus. You can either buy them or create the cards yourself. They can be either strung together as a baby mobile or can be kept/pasted on the wall facing the baby’s bed/changing table.


4-6 months

“Tummy time” helps in strengthening neck and back muscles. Simple and interesting toys and activities to keep them on their tummies while playing are advisable for this age-group. These include floor gyms, toys that topple down and spring back up etc.


Cause and effect’ toys like rattles, baby mobiles, squeaky toys etc., are ideal. Differently textured toys, picture board books, musical toys, etc., are most engaging for the baby. Mirrors with smooth edges are also fascinating.

7-9 months

Around this age, “object permanence” (understanding that objects/people continue to exist even if out of sight) develops and a baby loves the game of “peek-a-boo”. The anticipation of when the parent will emerge from their hidden hands or from the object behind which they are hiding is so thrilling for the baby now.

This is the age of stacking and more stacking. Toys/blocks/cups/nesting eggs or shape sorters, soft balls or anything which can be stacked in sequence aid in gross motor development, spatial recognition, learn about balance and control.

Musical toys like maracas, cymbals, xylophones, flute, tambourines, hand bells are a great idea for this age-group. Apart from the obvious enjoyment in experiencing and experimenting with music, they help to learn sound discrimination and aid in sensory development.

10-12 months

Push/pull-along toys are ideal as most babies this age have started walking without support. Large toy vehicles to push around, large cardboard boxes, more complex ‘cause and effect’ toys, building blocks, painting, sand/water play etc., bring joy and develop their senses.

Babies this age love to imitate. Pretend play emerges and toys like dolls/puppets are great buys. Open-ended toys that can be used in a variety of ways such as cups, cloth pieces/scarves, small cushions, blocks that work as toy phones or walkie-talkie are interesting and engaging for them and help build and further enhance their creativity, vocabulary and communication skills.


Our babies are little scientists. Encourage their natural curiosity, keep it interactive, safe and fun for them. Finally, it is not just the toys or the books; it is your own mindful presence and undivided attention which make them feel safe and improves their understanding of the world around them.


  1. Baby Center Medical Advisory Board. “Developmental Milestones: Sight.” BabyCenter.com https://www.babycenter.com/baby/baby-development/baby-sensory-development-sight_6508

  2. Good Toys for Young Children by Age and Stage. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/toys

  3. Lead Poisoning. https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/non-communicable-disease/lead-poisoning

  4. No sedentary screen time for babies, WHO says. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-4802122

  5. The Importance of Stimulating a Child’s Vision: http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/articles/research-to-policy/research/the-importance-of-stimulating-a-childs-vision

About the author-

Sree has Postgraduate degrees in Clinical Psychology and Human Development. She has worked in the field of special education and disability awareness for several years. Teaching Psychology concepts and research methodology to young adults has been her choice of career for almost a decade now. She assures us that her toughest "work experience" though has been trying to train her strong willed Lhasa and parent her 11 year old son!

Image Credits

  • Flickr- Marco Verch
  • Pickrepo- licence to re-use photos
  • Author’s personal collection


Thank you Elizabeth, Sheetal and Thankamani for your generous feedback for my article !


Very nice article. The part about the “mindful presence” of the parent, is so true and yet, it is also something that one often overlooks.
Waiting for your next article!


Very informative write up & A must read topic much needed for today’s generation mommy’s as dey r working professionals so at times overload materialistic things over emotional bonding & qualitative time without being aware about d consequences !

Sheetal Dhillon

Really a good Guide for young parents.
Very informative about kids world and their interests. Gives a good knowledge about when and what kind of toys may interest kids. Thanks to the thought of bringing out such a book.🙏

Thankamani. P

Thank you for your feedback, Litty :)


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