Are you a new mom, with your bundle of joy safely ensconced at home with you? Are you now in the routine of eat, sleep, diaper change, and repeat? You might be wondering, when do babies start playing with toys?
Life has changed and all your attention now revolves around your newborn. While it’s wonderful to spend hours just gazing at them, you might want to know when they’ll start interacting with you and the things in their environment.
Let’s take a look at when babies play with toys and what sort of toys they might like.
When Babies Play with Toys
All babies love to play but when can you expect them to do what? When will they start reaching for toys, or playing with them on their own?
Let’s break it down into some developmental stages and what sort of toys might be best for each stage.
1. Birth to One Month
A newborn’s world consists of what they can see about eight to 10 inches in front of them. Their vision will not be clear, although they might move their eyes and follow your face. As their vision develops, your little one will start tracking objects and reaching for things (1).
You may also notice that your little one will grasp their tiny fingers around anything that’s placed in or near their hands. This could be your finger, your hair, or a dangling earring or necklace.
That grip can be vice-like and hard to break. I quickly learned to keep my long hair tied up, and not to wear dangly jewelry.
This reflex is called the “palmar grasp,” and lasts up until a baby is about six months old. It’s thought to happen to prepare them for grasping things voluntarily as they get older (2).
Your baby’s hearing is another aspect of development that helps them play. They’ll begin to turn towards noises or familiar voices.
Interaction is the name of the game at this stage. During this time of your baby’s life, talk to them as much as you can. Let them see changing facial expressions, smiles, and silly faces and learn to pair them with your words and tone of voice. This sets the stage, not only for communication but for reading others’ faces and expressions throughout life.
You could give them smooth rings or rattles which are easy to grasp. Walk around with your little one while singing to them. You don’t need to have a voice like Mariah Carey; they’ll be just as pleased to hear your out-of-tune renditions of lullabies or your favorite songs.
These interactions will encourage baby to follow the sound of your voice and movements.
2. Two to Three Months
Babies will now start to have a little more control over their arms and legs and also begin to develop hand-eye coordination (3).
The type of toys your baby is likely to enjoy playing with at this stage will be those they can see easily or ones that make a noise.
Bright colors and textures, like those on a playmat, are a good option. Give your baby tummy time several times a day and let them explore. You can dangle bright toys just above their face to encourage them to lift their head up, improving neck strength. Remember, red is the first color they will see!
Try a baby gym, which will have hanging toys to attract your baby’s attention and stimulate their curiosity. They’ll likely try to reach for them. The floors of these gyms often have different textures and colors to keep baby amused, especially during tummy time. As well as textured activity blankets, consider things like activity boxes that have movement and sound. It’s fun to start working on getting baby’s first interactive smiles during this time.
At this stage, pretty much anything you put in their hands will be a toy. Soft blocks, rattles, and large, squishy balls are good options. It’s a good idea to avoid things with hard edges as babies will often accidentally hit their faces or eyes while holding an object at this early stage.
3. Four to Six Months
By this time, your baby will start grabbing toys that interest them within their reach. They will begin playing with toys on their own, and guess what they do? They put them in their mouths.
This is one way your little one explores the world by learning how things feel and taste. There are lots of nerve endings in a baby’s mouth, which is easier for them to access than trying to reach them with their fingers.
Make sure any toys you choose are large enough that they can’t swallow or choke on them. There should be no loose parts, sharp edges, or toxic substances. Also, make sure the toys aren’t heavy enough to hurt them when dropped – you can almost guarantee they’ll lose their grip at some point and send things flying.
What Should I Look For?
Now that we know when babies play with toys, what factors should we be considering?
- Color and contrast: Until eight weeks of age, babies can usually only see black and white. Stimulating them with color and bold patterns can help them to notice and begin picking out different shapes. As babies develop, they’ll love bright primary colors best.
- Sounds: Wind chimes, rattles, and musical mobiles help babies learn where sounds are coming from. Squeaky toys are as much fun for your baby as they are for a puppy, although they’ll drive you crazy once they get the hang of it! Music is also thought to be beneficial, so — as long as they respond well — don’t hesitate to turn on the speakers but make sure to keep the volume low to protect baby’s sensitive ears. Peaceful, soft music is best for background sound. Lullabies and children’s songs are great for those interactive moments.
- Movement: Babies will naturally follow a moving object as their eyesight is developing, beginning at around 2 – 3 months of age. They’ll notice an object that is moving more easily than something which is stationary, and this is another way they explore their world.
- Texture: Fabric books and toys with different textures will help stimulate the senses and encourage exploration. Babies love to play with toys that feel different to them.
- Hanging toys: Toys that are suspended overhead will encourage babies to reach for them, and can help them develop their grasping skills along with hand-eye coordination.
No two babies are the same. Your baby may start grabbing or playing with toys earlier or later than the timelines we have described. Whenever it is, this will be great fun for them and for you.
Babies play with toys when they’re content, so make sure they have had their nap and are happily fed. Once they are well into playing, they will also let you know when they’ve had enough, by discarding the toys, becoming fussy, or losing interest (4).