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2014 Holiday/Christmas Gift Guide: Best toys for babies

Baby’s first year is an exciting and precipitous one: he starts out tiny and completely helpless, unable to control anything aside from eating and crying. Over these 12 months, he begins to learn to grip and grab, how to roll, sit, crawl, stand, and toddle. He also learns to understand some words, and may be saying his first simple words. And your average baby triples their weight over their first year.

That’s a whole lot of physical and intellectual growth, and it happens FAST. And how do babies learn all these cool new skills? Through playtime, of course!

The best toys for babies encourage your child to practice new skills and build on them, helping him reach each milestone and move on to the next. While all of these toys are likely to be a good fit for any baby at or over the recommended age, you can get more specific by seeing how they correspond to the developmental stage a baby is at – check out our Guide To Toys For All Ages And Stages for the inside scoop!

 

NEWBORN TOYS

Green Toys My First Keysgreen-toys-my-first-rattling-keys-KYSA-1037, $9.99; ages newborn and up
These faux-keys imitate the clatter, the look, and the irresistible allure of your dangling keys, and they’re easy for babies to grab and grasp – and completely safe for her to shove into her mouth (after all, babies want to taste everything, as well as touching it).

They have rounded edges and no external coatings, and are free of BPA, phthalates, and PVC, so she can om and nom on them to her heart’s content. They’re dishwasher-safe, and like all Green Toys, they’re incredibly environmentally responsible: they’re made entirely with recycled plastics.

Skip Hop Treetop Friends Activity Gymskip-hop-treetop-friends-activity-gym-lifestyle-f, $74.99; ages newborn and up
Both tummy time and back time are essential early play for newborns, and this play gym gives babies plenty of interesting sensory activities to explore.

Put him on his tummy, and he can explore assorted textures on the mat, plus crinkling leaves, a squeaking flower, and a tree trunk mirror to admire himself in (who’s that cute baby? is it me?). Put him on his back, and there are textures and sounds and cute animal friends to play with, including a squeaking squirrel, a singing birdie, a crinkly-winged bird, and a mirrored apple with a tuggable stem. And it’s all so cute! This play gym set is also a terrific gift for a baby shower.

Manhattan Toy Owl Winkelmanhattan-toy-owl-winkel-211680, $14.99; ages newborn and up 
The Winkel is a perennial bestseller because it’s just so irresistible for babies: the colorful, chewable, bendable loops are easy to grab and endlessly fascinating to play with. This latest iteration on the classic adds a friendly owl face, which appeals to babies (because babies love round faces) and parents (because owls are in!). Baby gets to practice grasping, tracking, mouthing, and throwing, and explores cause-and-effect by shaking it and making it rattle, and mom and dad get to feel very hip. Everyone wins!

Lamaze Cuddle and Squeak Koalaslamaze-cuddle-and-squeak-koalas-LC27162, $19.99; ages newborn and up 
These two colorful little sweeties are linked together with Velcro: wrap mom’s arms around her baby to hold him in place, or remove the baby koala so your baby can enjoy the attached leaf teether and the squeaker in the baby’s belly.

The opportunities for tactile, visual, and auditory learning are vast, and the variety of stimulation will keep baby from getting tired of this winsome twosome anytime soon.

magnificent-baby-fleece-bear-footie-mocha-5000U-2013Magnificent Baby Fleece Bear Footie, $49.99; ages 3 months and up
Magnificent Baby Fleece Bear Hat with Ears, $19.99; ages newborn and up
Magnificent Baby Fleece Mittens, $12.99; ages newborn and up
Magnificent Baby Fleece Booties, $19.99; ages newborn and up 
Since babies haven’t the foggiest idea what Christmas is, who Santa is, or what a menorah is or what happened on those eight days, let’s face it: baby holiday gifts are mostly for mom and dad. And they’re going to LOVE this bunch: the Magnificent Baby Fleece Bear collection provides the perfect frame for their baby’s cuteness by adding sweet little bear ears and paws.

Plus, Magnificent Baby clothing makes it easy to get wiggly little ones dressed and keep them dressed on a chilly day, taking some of the challenge out of getting out of the house with a winter baby. The magnetic fasteners basically close on their own (so much easier than snaps!), and they keep mittens and booties securely on, so tiny hands and feet stay snuggly warm.

And they’re beary, beary cute: yes, the Footie and the Hat have teeny ears, and the Footie and the Mittens have little paw prints. Even if these weren’t supremely practical bits of baby apparel, they would be irresistible. All of these items are made with deliciously soft sherpa fleece and combed cotton, for superb comfort and warmth. No winter baby should be without them!

 

SIX MONTHS AND UP

neo tobblesFat Brain Toys Neo Tobbles Stacking Toy, $27.99; ages 6 months and up 
Once babies can sit up, they can do a lot more with their hands, and that includes trying out their first stacking toys. On their own, Neo Tobbles wobble and spin; together, they form a wonderful wobbly stack that’s irresistible to wiggle and knock down. Since they’re really quite beautiful, the cracked-egg-shaped Tobbles are irresistible for adults as well, which will add enjoyment to playing with them with your baby. And they look so pretty on the shelf!

Fat Brain Toys Pipsquigzfat-brain-pip-squigz-FA089-1-2, $19.99; ages 6 months and up 
Even more suction cups from Fat Brain Toys! (Look at the last few gift guides, and you’ll see their other innovative and nifty uses for ’em.) Pipsquigz adapt the appeal of suction cups for the smallest hands: they’re giant-sized, baby-optimized versions of the popular Squigz, silicone nubs that attach to each other and to surfaces with suction cups.

The Pipsquigz are textured all over so they’re interesting for babies to touch and chew (and soothing for sore gums during teething), and they have rattles inside. Attach the suction cups to baby’s high chair tray, and watch your child yank, boing, mouth, and shake the Pipsquigz without knocking them onto the floor.Or, take them into the bathtub for babies to chew and rattle; attach them to the bathtub wall and make baby giggle with the awesome “pop!” of the suction cup detaching! There are so many ways to play, encouraging a wide variety of kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and motor learning. And they’re made with BPA-free silicone, completely safe for babies to chew, and with a pleasing rubbery feel.

HABA Magica Clutching Toyhaba-magica-clutching-toy-3856, $14.99; ages 6 months and up 
We love the vivid colors of this simple clutching toy, and your baby will love rolling around the linked beads in his hand and his mouth. Don’t worry about that pretty finish – HABA toys are finished with tough water-based, baby-safe lacquers that won’t budge no matter how much baby chews on them.

Mirari Pop Pop Pianolauri-mirari-pop-pop-piano-7942-A-f, $27.99; ages 9 months and up 
Cause-and-effect play is a key stage of babyhood (what happens when I do this? will it happen the same way again?), and the Pop Pop Piano offers a terrific variety of rewards for your baby’s explorations: pressing a key makes a sound (classical piano, or silly sound effects) and makes a rattling star go POP! You can leave the clear dome on to contain the rattling stars, or you can take it off so the stars zoom across the room.

There are so many ways to play with this enchanting baby toy: press keys and giggle at the sounds and rattling, have a younger child press the keys while an older sibling chases the flying stars around the room (or reverse the ages!), try to match the stars with the pipes of the same color, or heck, just play a song. It’s engaging for a wide range of ages, and it’s super fun for parents, too. And the giggles, oh, the giggles! This toy is a giggle machine, and it looks cool too. It’s a slam-dunk gift.

12 MONTHS AND UP

manhattan-toy-tree-top-adventure-212280Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Center, $109.99; ages 12 months and up 
We adore toys that combine beauty and style with kid-appeal and educational value, and this gorgeous activity center has all of these qualities in spades.

The intriguing multilayered, organic look is as pleasing to your eye as it is to your child, and the design is so thoroughly thought-out: it places the activities up high to encourage babies to play while standing, and it’s divided neatly into four quadrants, so multiple kids can play without getting in each other’s way (making this an awesome gift for families with twins or multiples!). The multitude of fine-motor activities will keep kids busy sliding gliders, pushing beads, springing flowers, and more.

And it’s all so beautiful that I suspect that as kids get older, they’ll want to use it as a pretend-play environment for dolls and action figures. (It would make a great playground for Calico Critters, don’t you think?)

Earlyears Click n’ Spin Activity Blocksearly-years-click-n-spin-blocks-E00354-3, $19.99; ages 12 months and up
These enchanting blocks add more “what happens when I do this?” activities to the playroom: each block has multiple facets that are activated when you press down on the top, making rainbow wheels spin, rollers roll, images change, and more. Everything happens with a delightful series of clicks – and when you link the blocks together, everything clicks at once! There’s so much visual, tactile, and auditory information in each block for babies to explore, and the individual blocks are sized just right so you can take along one or two in your diaper bag to keep baby entertained on the go.

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