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?
As a pediatrician, I can tell you from experience that not every baby is alike. Each child reaches their developmental milestones at their own pace. However, we can estimate when your little one will start to show interest in the world around them and enjoy these experiences.
In this article, we’ll discuss what’s involved in learning to play and what toys might appeal to your baby in these early stages of exploration and fun.
- Babies start playing with toys at different developmental stages, usually between birth and six months.
- At birth to one month, babies grasp things reflexively and benefit from simple toys like smooth rings or rattles.
- At two to three months, babies develop hand-eye coordination and enjoy colorful, noisy toys like playmats and baby gyms.
- Between four to six months, babies grab and explore toys with their mouths, so choose safe, large, and easy-to-clean toys.
When Do Babies Begin To Play with Toys?
All babies love to play, but what can you expect them to do at each stage of learning? 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 toys might be best for each stage.
1. Birth to One Month
A newborn’s world consists of what they can see about 8 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 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 it lasts up until a baby is about 6 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 that 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 your 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 begin to develop hand-eye coordination (3).
The toys your baby will likely enjoy playing with at this stage will be those they can see easily or those that make a noise.
Bright colors and textures are a good option, like those on a playmat. Give your baby tummy time several times a day and let them explore. You can dangle bright toys above their face to encourage them to lift their head up, improving their neck strength. Remember, red is the first color they will see!
Try a baby gym with 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 your 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 your 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.
One way your little one explores the world is by learning how things feel and taste. There are many 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 your baby 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 8 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 come 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 keep the volume low to protect your 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 develops, beginning at around 2 to 3 months of age. They’ll notice an object that is moving more easily than something 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 suspended overhead will encourage babies to reach for them and help them develop their grasping skills and 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).