Updated January 2017

Infant Toy Basics

One could write a book on baby toys, so I will stick to the most useful basics.

Play Gym ~ 0-6 Months

baby-einstein-play-gym

If you have only $50 or so to spend on your 0-6 monther, this is where I would spend it. Note that you can usually buy these items used as well.

Newborns and infants love staring up at the different toys and learning how to swat with both their hands and feet. Many play mats (or “play gyms”) also have music-makers, lights, etc. Yes, this is the most excitement they have all day.

Between the bouncy seat and the play mat, you should be able to get a little bit of hands-free time, VERY important for your sanity. As an added bonus, your baby can get some ever important “tummy time.”

Newborn Playmat

Fisher-Price Rainforest Play Mat

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this; in fact, the most highly rated play mat is the Infantino Twist and Fold Play Gym ($39), but they are all very similar. Another popular one is the Fisher-Price Rainforest Mat (above) as well as the Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym (super fun!).

A recent favorite is one from Skip Hop, the Skip Hop Explore and More Arch Activity Gym that has a spot for a smartphone (no, it’s not for watching Baby Einstein!) so baby can easily FaceTime or Skype with the grandparents. So cool!

Skip Hop also makes a super cute one that resembles a camping teepee, the Camping Cubs Gym and Play Mat (below).

skiphopteepee

At $120, the Nook LilyPad is pricey, but this is an investment piece with multiple uses. My [Melissa] LilyPad has been through two kids and countless washes (machine washable) and still looks brand new. It folds into itself with a handle for easy carrying that we take everywhere with us – friend’s houses, hotels, the park, etc. I originally bought the LilyPad because it’s breathable and I didn’t have to worry about suffocation during tummy time, but since then I’ve discovered that it’s also a great place for a sleeping baby when traveling. It’s very soft and perfect on our hard floors. It’s large enough for lots of play toys and allows for baby to freely move and turn.

For the modern home, there is a beautiful wooden toy bar from our friends at Finn + Emma. See also: Modern Wood Toy favorites.

finn-and-emma-wood-play-gym

Stroller Toys

I don’t know what else to call these – soft, plush, dangly toy thingies?

Basically, they are soft toys that clip onto your car seat or stroller to keep baby entertained while you are out and about. You can also take them off and play with them normally. Infantino makes these little “travel pals” (left) for about $10.

Lamaze is also famous for their award-winning soft toys, with classics such as Freddie the Firefly, the Mix and Match Caterpillar, Franky the Hanky Whale toy and many more.

lamaze-clip-and-go-moose-mortimer

Lamaze “Moose Mortimer”

Another option is an “activity spiral” that can go on a car seat handle or any bar, for that matter.

Mamas & Papas Activity Spiral

Mamas & Papas Activity Spiral

Exersaucer ~ 6-18 Months

exersaucer2Starting at about 5 months (or as soon as baby’s feet can touch the ground), you can start using the king of all baby toys, which my husband has respectfully dubbed “the Neglecto-saucer.”

The Exersaucer is uh-maz-ing (also known generically as an “activity center”). Because of it, I could dry my hair AND put on some makeup every day (whaaat?!). My babies loved it, I loved it (sigh), everyone was happy.

The “activity center” is the evolution of baby walker devices, which have since been outlawed in Canada and strongly discouraged in the US due to the tremendous amount of injuries (mostly from babies falling down the stairs) and delayed motor development. A stationary activity center poses neither of these risks.

The go-to is the basic Evenflo Exersaucer because you can swap out the various toys when your baby grows bored of them (this is the case with most Evenflo products). Pick your favorite color/theme. Evenflo Exersaucers are in the $50-$80 range.

For something a little more versatile (and modern), check out the highly rated Oribel PortaPlay. The PortaPlay is an activity center, bouncey thing (sort of) and a play table all in one (to help justify the added cost, lol). As an added bonus, it folds up for easy storage or for transport to grandma’s house.

The play table can be used for arts and crafts, toy cars…. whatever…, until age 5 or so. You can also get these cute little chairs to go with it (below, right).

oribel-portaplay

Oribel PortaPlay

Note that you definitely don’t need these right away (i.e., for a newborn). For the junk-averse, I recommend getting the Exersaucer at the same time you retire your bouncy seat. Out with the old, in with the new.

There are a variety of other jumpers and bouncy things for the 6+ month crowd.

Jumpers

For a stand-alone jumperoo (stationary jumper), check out the Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo (below). Baby can spin around in his seat and jump off the ground with his feet; this Jumperoo is incredibly popular with little ones.

Graco Bumper Jumper

Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo

For a space-saving version, check out the Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Jumperoo (girls or boys), which folds up compactly (these things take up a LOT of space in ye’ old living room!).

fisher-price-spacesaver-jumperoo

Doorway jumpers are another alternative; these are popular because you can easily take them down and store them out of the way. They install onto any doorway with a molding.

doorway-jumper-figure

From Canada, the original doorway jumper is the Jolly Jumper, which remains a parent favorite today. The founder made the first sample using a cloth diaper, a soft-action steel spring, and a spreader bar from an old axe handle. Genius! Though not the cheapest doorway jumper, it has evolved today into a cult favorite. You can also get the freestanding version (and charge admission for neighborhood babies, aye?)

For a good bit less, check out the Graco Bumper Jumper. This one also clamps onto any doorway and provides solid entertainment for bebe so you can make dinner, do the laundry, or GSD (get stuff done).


Those are the biggies, folks. If you need gift ideas for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, check out our holiday toy list for 2016.

Having said all this though, I will tell you that you don’t have to go crazy buying toys for your infant. At the end of the day, my kids’ five favorite play things were:

  1. My keys
  2. Tupperware
  3. The huge box that her convertible car seat came in
  4. An old computer mouse
  5. My bra

And finally… 10. This and That. You’re almost done with your indoctrination, yay!!