Updated November 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
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.”
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 Music and Lights Deluxe Gym, which costs $69 (above) as well as the Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym ($49, super fun!).
A recent favorite is one from Skip Hop, the Skip Hop Explore and More Arch Activity Gym ($90) 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 mat that resembles a camping teepee, the Camping Cubs Gym and Play Mat ($79), and the adorable Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym ($79), which includes a soft tummy time pillow.
If you’re interested in a play mat that doubles as a bassinet, Fisher-Price makes the On-The-Go Baby Dome ($69). Parents note that it’s great for outdoor use, since it both shades baby and keeps the bugs off. It’s also handy for travel, since it’s lightweight and easy to pack up.
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 $12.
Another option is an “activity spiral” that can go on a car seat handle or any bar, for that matter.
Exersaucer ~ 6-18 Months
Starting 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 $45-$110 range.
There are a variety of other activity centers for the 6+ month crowd. Here are some of the most popular:
A well-liked exersaucer that’s great if you’re on a budget, this one is lightweight, takes up less space than many others, and has plenty of spots to clip on different toys to keep your baby engaged.
This self-contained walker-style exersaucer features over 15 toys, including a flip book that makes different sounds and a piano that plays songs. Babies can walk around the table in the chair (and later stand at it on their own). Parents love how long it keeps their little ones entertained.
This exersaucer offers over 12 activities, including a light-up piano that plays songs and speaks in English, French, and Spanish phrases. It has a seat that rotates and lots of colorful, fun toys. Bonus: made in the U.S.A.
Oribel PortaPlay ~ $120
Something a little more versatile, modern, and highly rated. The PortaPlay is an activity center, bouncy 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).
These hybrid activity centers are combination exersaucer/jumper (jumpersaucers?), so babies can catch some air while enjoying their many toys!
This popular activity center has a chair that both rotates and jumps and over 12 activities (including a piano that plays songs and speaks English, French, and Spanish phrases).
Babies love jumping in this activity center while playing with its dozens of colorful toy options. This one is very popular among parents, though it has a fairly large footprint, so make sure you’ve got the room before purchasing!
Babies can spin the seat around in this stand-alone jumperoo (stationary jumper) and jump off the ground with their feet; this Jumperoo is incredibly popular with little ones.
Folds up compactly (these things take up a LOT of space in ye’ old living room!).
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.
Doorway jumpers are another baby entertainment 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.
From Canada, the original doorway jumper is the Jolly Jumper ($50), 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 for $99 (or the taller super stand version for $149)… and charge admission for neighborhood babies, aye?
For a good bit less, check out the Graco Bumper Jumper ($35). 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).
See also: playing with your 9-month old
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:
- My keys
- The huge box that her convertible car seat came in
- An old computer mouse
- My bra
And finally… 10. This and That. You’re almost done with your indoctrination, yay!!