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Infant Toy Basics

One could write a book on baby toys, so we 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.

Fisher-Price Rainforest Music and Lights Gym
Fisher-Price Rainforest Music and Lights Gym

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 ($48), but they are all very similar. Another popular one is the Fisher-Price Music Lights Deluxe Gym, which costs $59 (above) as well as the Fisher-Price Kick and Play Piano Gym ($39, super fun!).

Skip Hop makes a super cute mat that resembles a camping teepee, the Camping Cubs Gym and Play Mat ($84), and the adorable Silver Lining Cloud Activity Gym ($84), which includes a soft tummy time pillow.

Skip Hop Tree Top Activity Gym
Skip Hop Tree Top Activity Gym

If you’re interested in a play mat that doubles as a bassinet, Fisher-Price makes the On-The-Go Baby Dome ($71). 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.

For the modern home, there is a beautiful wooden toy bar from our friends at Finn + Emma ($135). See also: Modern Wood Toy favorites.


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 $20.

Lamaze is also famous for their award-winning soft toys, with classics such as Freddie the Firefly, Mortimer the Moose, and many more.

Lamaze “Moose Mortimer”

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

Infantino Activity Spiral

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 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.

There are a variety of other activity centers for the 6+ month crowd. Here are some of the most popular:

Bright Starts Bounce Baby Activity Jumper ~ $69

A well-liked activity center 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.

Baby Einstein Around We Grow 4-in-1 Walk Activity Center ~ $109

This self-contained walker-style activity center 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.

Baby Einstein Around We Grow Activity Walker

Oribel PortaPlay ~ $149

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!

Baby Einstein Activity Jumper, Neighborhood Friends ~ $108

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).

Baby Einstein Activity Jumper

Evenflo ExerSaucer Jump and Learn Jumper ~ $149

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!

Evenflo Exersaucer Jumper

Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo ~ $99

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.

Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo

Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Jumperoo ~ $79

Folds up compactly (these things take up a LOT of space in ye’ old living room!).

Fisher-Price SpaceSaver Jumperoo


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 ($93), 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 $138 (or the taller super stand version for $147)… and charge admission for neighborhood babies, aye?

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. With miscellaneous baby necessities like pacifiers and diaper bags. You’re almost done with your indoctrination, yay!!


  1. Avatar of Heather Flaherty

    Thank god for you and this amazing article. I’m building my registry now, first time mom, and your explanations and recommendations are so helpful. THANK YOU!

  2. Avatar of Adam Hartmann

    Apparently jumpers/walkers, which have baby pointing their toes to the ground are not recommended by doctors. These can cause overdevelopment over certain muscles and encourage tiptoe walking. I just found this out after we were gifted an Exersaucer and a doorway jumper.

    1. Hi Adam! Thanks for your comment. Of course, always seek the advice of your pedi, but I wouldn’t be too worried about this for occasional use with these toys.

  3. Avatar of Laura

    I feel like maybe they weren’t as popular a few years ago when this list came out but definitely need to all in play couches! They are an awesome soft play addition!! We have a nugget and a barumba play.

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