For a while, babies don’t *do* much of anything but exist and be squishingly amazing. But, their brains are growing and evolving at exponential speeds, so you want to make sure you have the best baby toys for their development.
But really? Baby toys? Toys for baby-babies? Yes, even baby-babies but you want to be discriminating. Not all toys are created equally and when looking for the best baby toys for your little one, there are lots of things to consider!
What Is The Purpose Of A Toy For A Baby Anyway?
Child psychologist Jean Piaget said that play was the work of childhood. Piaget is revered for his cognitive development theories, and he knew that for children, play was how their brains would best develop and create neural connections.
And, babies are naturally curious. They are eager to explore their world and figure out what their newly recognized body parts can do. To a baby, every new color, shape, taste and texture is the opportunity for them to learn and grow and to integrate reflexes and work on their sensory systems. The toys we give our babies need to be safe but stimulating and the best baby toys are ones that help her discover her self and her senses in a safe and non-toxic way. Some baby favorites are always rattles or toys that make some sort of noise. And, as they develop their sight, toys with contrasting colors are mesmerizing.
As babies grow and develop, they also begin working their way through Piaget’s sensorimotor stage of development. This continues until they’re about 24-months, so the toys you ‘play’ with when they’re babies really are building blocks for their development as they get older.
Toys don’t have to be uber-complicated, though, so be careful not to fall for something as the latest and greatest for your baby just because it’s flashy and high-tech. For babies, low-tech is great, and there are lots of options from which you can choose.
Related: Baby Talk Actually Helps With Language Development
What Do I Need To Know About Picking The Best Baby Toys?
As we said, the best baby toys don’t necessarily need to be super high-tech. And that doesn’t mean that all high-tech baby toys are worthless, either. More important to think about is what is safest for your baby to play with? More and more toys are organic and/or non-toxic, and offer our children safe fun and growth.
But as in most things, you have to be really careful about the toys you choose, because even when some manufacturers label something as non-toxic, they’re going by bare minimum standards that may or may not be fully vetted. Just consider how some things in the United States are considered juuuuuuuust fine whereas in other countries? They’re a big, fat NO! The same goes for toys. So, it’s super important you look at not only how the best baby toys are made, but with what materials and with what manufacturing processes.
Obviously, when looking to find the best baby toys, you’re going to pay close attention to materials. Many baby toys are made with plastics.
Plastic toys take up space in already overfilled landfills, and destroy fragile eco-systems. They are often made with chemicals like phthalates, BPA and PVC. BPA stands for bisphenol A while PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used in plastics since the lates 60s, and while most plastic things for children will now say ‘BPA-free,’ alternatives aren’t necessarily safer. PVC exposure is associated with higher risks of lung, brain and liver cancers. Phthalates are also industrial chemicals that were often used in baby toys because they soften plastics, making them more pliable. Research continues to find they can cause damage to the liver, lungs or kidney, and can even disrupt your baby’s reproductive center, so you’ll want to stay away from them in all toys for baby.
Additionally, you’ll want to watch for things like chemical flame retardants, arsenic (yes, arsenic) chlorine, cadmium and toxic metals. Even though the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) set some new guidelines for testing requirements and documentations for toys, you will still find dangerous toys all over the place. Don’t believe us? Check out the ‘toy’ section at your local dollar store, or even in some of our favorite big-box retailers and their ‘special’ spots for seasonal items. Be careful about materials and be particularly careful about materials that were created to replace toxic materials. Sometimes? They’re even worse.
In 2017, a Public Interest Research Group published the Trouble in Toyland Report. It was the 32nd annual report, and though there have been strides in toy safety, there are still tons of toys being recalled on a regular basis. Tons of toys still have known (or suspected toxins) as a material, and let’s just be really honest:
Some toxins (okay, lots) have not been deemed ‘unsafe’ by the U.S. government, though they have by many others.
That’s why we repeatedly suggest you do your research, know from where and how your toys’ materials and products are made, and don’t ever hesitate to ask the toy companies themselves. Visiting with many toy vendors at the New York Toy Fair, it’s obvious to see who is committed to your children and their safety…and who is not.
In this day and age? It’s imperative that we take care of Mother Earth, and her people. Sustainable toys are ones that are made from natural, renewable materials. In the process of their production, they don’t release carbon or other greenhouse gases (or they do in minimal increments). Sustainable toys don’t pollute the environment in any stage of their life cycle (so even if plastic, a recyclable plastic), and sustainable toys do not consume resources at unsustainable rates in the production.
Preferably, sustainable toys are ones made closest to you so that the cost to the environment is kept at a minimum with transportation. Of course, sustainable toys don’t pose any health risks to the consumer who will buy them, but also none to those who make them. Sustainable toys should be ones that offer benefits to the world at large, like supporting small-scale businesses or businesses that are committed to helping local communities with fair-trade work and jobs.
And most importantly, sustainable toys are ones that can be passed on for generations of love. No worrying about the end of their life taking away from our planet’s resources.
The Best Baby Toys We Love For Development And Growth
We had the opportunity to talk with Rudy Valenta, the National Sales and Marketing Manager of Plan Toys. We were at the New York Toy Fair and it was hard to miss their display. The first thing that jumps out when you see Plan Toys is: Sustainable Play.
When they say ‘sustainable,’ they mean it. Rudy told me that Plan Toys uses reclaimed rubber woods to enhance the first five formative years of your child’s life. He says this is when parents should encourage their children to experience the freedom in playing and being part of nature.
Plan Toys was formed in the ’80s when several University graduates got together to change the world. The wood they use is otherwise useless in its native land of Thailand. And while the rubberwood trees no longer produce latex, Rudy told me that Plan Toys founders figured out how to use every last bit of these reclaimed trees (even the sawdust!) to inspire children all over the world. Plan Toys has a mission to create a sustainable world, and it’s obvious in every product they produce. They believe sustainable play fosters creative minds to learn about how nature gives back to them, and how they, in turn, can give to nature as they grow. When they say they do business in a “Sustainable Way,” they mean using sustainable materials, with sustainable manufacturing processes and with sustainable mind at the forefront.
All their toys are free of formaldehyde, use water-based organic paints and are pretty much the bee’s knees!
Some of the best baby toys from Plan Toys are:
These adorable little sensory toys are in bright and cheery, pastel colors and made with their trademark reclaimed wood. They stimulate baby’s auditory, visual and sensory systems and they’re completely safe for your baby to gnaw on too. Rudy told me that they work on emotional intelligences with their toys as well, and we love the ‘faces’ on these tumblers!
Another favorite for a little just learning to explore and see what her hands can do! The smooth wood is inviting to touch and clutch, and babies will love exploring the feel as they go for the ball. Perfect toys for helping develop grip and grip strength too.
For decades, HABA has been a leader for quality toys for children. Family owned and run since World War II, the family’s sense of social responsibility is as strong today as it was then. Initially a fine wooden products company, HABA expected a lot from the industry in making their products, and that demand is what led to quality products for children. In 1987, they branched out as JAKO-O, a mail-order company for families with children under 10, and today, HABA is an industry leader in sustainable and safe toys for children. HABA gives back and continues to create jobs in economically disadvantaged regions.
HABA is one of the few companies that uses reforested trees, and they’re PEFC so you can trust they’re taking the environment seriously. Their coloring is from water-based solvents that are lacquered on, not paint, and they are toys you’ll pass down for generations. Some of the best baby toys HABA makes are:
This classic toy is one babies adore. Max’s body bends back and forth to clickety-clack and babies love the rattle. The ring at the bottom is a love of moms everywhere because it means that Max doesn’t get lost wherever he is. And the safe, reforested Beechwood from Germany means your baby can chew and slobber all she wants.
This rattle is one that isn’t like others! It’s a wooden toy that acts as a teether too and is really fun to work on grasping and grab. The colors are beautiful and vibrant (and solvent-free!) and the balls are super smooth and resistant to your little one tossing and twisting. They’re fun for sensory exploration and inviting because they’re so cheery.
For over 130 years, BRIO has been delighting children of all ages, and they don’t have any plans to stop. They’re continually growing, looking at how to make the best toys even safer and more eco-friendly. BRIO was founded in 1884 in a small town in Sweden and since 2006, has been headquartered in Malmö. BRIO stays true to its small roots doing mighty things with 70 employees as a whole, representing in about 20 countries. BRIO products are made exclusively from clear-grained, kiln-dried, toxin – and insecticide-free Birch and Beechwood, and they’re built to last for generations…certainly from big brother or sister to little sister or brother!
Some of BRIOs best baby toys are:
These toy balls are perfectly purposed to help baby develop her focus and fine mother skills, and can be used to help encourage activity and crawling as the bright colors will encourage motivation to move! The sounds and feel will give sensory input as well.
This guy wobbles back and forth but he never falls, and it will delight your baby’s sense of wonder! The shape is soft, and the wobble and accompanying sound is mesmerizing to little ones who are developing their senses!
EverEarth’s vision is to teach families more about our environment. How do they do that? With incredible products children and parents love. Their entire business structure revolves around sustainability. All toys are made from sustainable FSC-certified wood, and EverEarth preserves forests as part of it’s Plant-a-Tree Campaign. They work to be as green as they can–using recyclable packaging and environmentally friendly shipping. The use solar cells and wind-power to manufacture and they work to inspire parents and children to be closer to nature.
EverEarth cares about your baby’s health because they too are parents, and they also work to protect Mother Nature’s health as well.
Some of EverEarth’s best baby toys are:
This soft and squeezable bear is made from high-quality organic cotton and is tested and meets all European child safety standards. It enhances your child’s sight and touch, and you can feel safe with this ‘lovey’ helping your child learn about her senses and emotional intelligence. A lovey is almost a rite of childhood, and this is a safe one!
This colorful grasping ring acts as part toy, part teacher, part teether! It offers your baby lots of opportunity to work on visual perception and motor skills, as well as gross motor control. It has four colorful wooden beads that encourage your little one’s curiosity and has a teeny tiny mirror and little bell to add to the sensory development that is pivotal for your babe. The bell helps train their auditory processing while the stimulating colors work on vision and they just think it’s one of their favorite toys!
Our mama forums also rave about the following and we think they’re some of the best baby toys too!
Hohner/GreenTones has the belief that every child is born with an innate musicality and proper nurturing will grow your child into a budding musician. Music is great for fun, but also for the cognitive development in children, and these endangered animal shakers appeal to your baby’s senses and intrinsic musical inclinations. The company was established in 1857, and they use high-quality, FSC materials to keep things safe for your little one. They’re also big on sustainable packaging and giving 1% of their profits to groups that take care of the environment.
Speaking of appealing to a little one’s intrinsic sense of music and rhythm, we adore this wobbly musical penguin from HAPE. Hape toys are made from natural materials like bamboo and colored with organic inks and water-based mediums. The bright colors of this wooden waddling penguin will help your baby’s sense of focus, and the built-in-bell tinkles to mesmerize your little one. It’s a great toy for tummy time as it can be batted at without rolling away.
C0-created by Happy Baby Organics’s founder Jessica Rolph, this Montessori-based toy subscription is an incredible collection of the best baby toys for each stage of your baby’s life. You can choose your baby’s age for delivery and then you’ll receive boxes of Montessori-based toys. The toys are all thoughtfully crafted and sourced from sustainable sources. The cottons are soft and organic and the wood is FSC and sustainably and responsibly harvested. All toys are tested with third-party labs for safety, and best? You simply enter your baby’s birthday and you know you’re getting the best baby toys for that age and stage of development! Couldn’t be easier!
Thankfully, finding safe and fun toys for children of all ages is easier and easier as more mamas are demanding that from manufacturers. When it comes to the best baby toys, you’ve got many options to choose from, and our favorites are sure to be hits in your home as well!
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