Basketful of Infant Toys

Toys for babies


Ever feel like the toys have taken over your home? I relish in being able to offer my daughters a variety of toys but can feel overwhelmed when toys start to carpet the floor. Offering playthings on a rotating basis in accessible bins or baskets help me reduce the number of toys available to the children while still keeping them varied.


The playthings are simple, sometimes natural, everyday ordinary things. I organize the baskets by type of material so that the items have a common property (and in some cases, several commonalities) as they do in the basket below. They are all metal spoons, with the main variation being size.




The baskets have enough items to satisfy Moon’s current interest in dumping things out and holding many things at once.


Here, I’ve set out cardboard tubes. Again, various sizes, but just one material. By keeping play things simple, Moon has the time to explore the tubes and the differences between them. She kept trying to bang different pairs together and was challenged by this idea because some were long and harder for her to wield than others.



Ringed objects. Trying to make those never-used bottle rings of some use.



Once she has become familiar with the materials, I have to added more types of the same playthings.



We’ve also had baskets of

  • gourds
  • pine cones
  • fabric


For other ideas of plaything collections, which I have seen referred to as “treasure baskets” or “discovery baskets,” check out these beautiful and clever ideas:




Most of the baskets you’ll see on these blogs have many, many items, and I can imagine that the more things that are in them, the longer the child will stay engaged. However, I prefer to keep ours simple for now, and will complicate them as she becomes increasingly familiar with all the things these simple toys can do.


How about your babies? What are their favorite non-toy play thing?


Infant & Toddler Toy Shelves


It’s time to reorganize the girls’ toy shelves to accommodate their latest interests and Moon’s new ability to access the shelf on her own. The girls share a room, and thus the toy shelves and play space.


Here was our toy shelf before our commando-crawling Moon could reach it on her own.




Here is our toy shelf now. In addition to rotating some toys out and others in, the toys are arranged so that the smallest items sit atop the highest shelves, safely out of Moon’s reach . . . most of the time.



Infant Toys Shelves
In setting up toys that both girls would have access to, I kept a few things in mind.

Nesting Cups & Papers


1.  Less is more


Infants only need a couple of one type of toy since they are typically exploring at this age. Rather than set up the entire set of eight nesting cups, which Greysen would use to stack, I only set out three, which allows Moon to do all the things she can do with cups, including taste, bang, drop, and push them.


Fewer toys allow for more focus, and increase the probability that they will explore that toy longer (or at least return to it).


2. Containers that organize


Baskets, bins, and bowls keep toys together, helping the shelf look organized and attractive. I am especially fond of the ball basket since it allows for the toys to be seen easily. I found the basket and the leaf-shaped wooden bowl that holds some shells at a second-hand store in town.


Balls & Seashells

3. Playthings that are reflective of her interests, experiences, competencies


Moon has been interested in shaking things, and her collection of paper continues to fascinate her.


Due to an interest of Greysen’s, we have been going to the beach every two weeks or so, and so a small assortment of sea shells are available to both girls.  Moon has been throwing the balls and moving after them. I used to have six out in a different area for Greysen, but since Moon has been the one using them the most, I moved them down low, making it easy for her to reach.


Toddler Cubes:


1. Less is still more . . .

Greysen is now engaging in imaginary play and using her life experiences as starting points for play. In light of recent interests, she now has several fish and sea creatures to tell a story with, and enough blocks to make a tunnel.


2. Reflective of her interests, experiences, competencies


They are many ways to organize a toy shelf but, the kids’ interests take precedent. I also try to make sure that there are a variety of playthings and books that support all the five areas of development (cognitive, motor, language, emotional, and social) throughout our home.


Greysen has been interested in all things ocean-related. A recent trip to the aquarium bolstered this passion, along with an ignited interest in previously unfamiliar sea creatures, namely sea horses and octopi.


3. Non Gender-Specific Toys


For the same reasons we prefer open-ended toys, we look for playthings that can be used in a variety of ways and not limit play in any way. Toys that espouse gender stereotypes like this one that I saw at our local chain store potentially promote gender role stereotypes, particularly in the conversations adults have with children around play with such toys.


4. Wood Toys


I almost always prefer wood toys to plastic, and I would replace her plastic cars with wooden ones in a heartbeat, but the investment is not an option for us right now. So for now, Greysen has access to cars that belonged to Mike – it’s best to reuse anyhow.

So that’s our reorganized shelf! I’m sure we will need to rethink it once Moon starts to try to stand but it’s working for now. How do you organize toys for children of multiple ages?

The Best of A Classic Toy


A classic toy by most standards, a ball is a common favorite of both children and adults. In fact, most every child has a ball among their toys. No longer are they limited in style to the red rubber balls that I used on the playground as a child. Now, balls can be made from all sorts of materials, from fleece to foam.

When choosing a ball for an infant, however, keep in mind how often it will be in her or his mouth.

I wanted to show you my two favorite balls for infants in the classroom and at home. Both balls are easy for little hands to grasp because of their shapes. Round with flat spots, these balls will not roll far when dropped.

Patchwork ball
These balls have long been a favorite of the babies I have cared for! The babies use these in their infancy and beyond. They are soft, cotton-filled orbs with easy to grab areas. Large yet lightweight, an infant can easily grasp this ball, which won’t roll too far when it is let go of.

I bought ours at The Joyful Child.

The Oball by Rhino Toys
The other must have ball is the Rhino Toys Oball Original. Tremendously popular with the infants, the original Oball is also easy to grasp due to its shape. Lightweight, flexible, and dishwasher safe (essential for sanitizing in the classroom), these balls roll a bit further than the patchwork ball, but still less so than regular balls.

Other Popular Choices:
Soft balls like the Colorfun Ball Primary by Gund are great for throwing, especially as your child’s aim develops and they throw at full force. They are safe for babies to taste and hold, but in my experience these balls are chosen by the children less often than the ones above, although every child is different.

Gertie Balls
The texture on the Original Gertie Ball is unique. Let’s see… How should I describe them?  A little sticky or rubbery, perhaps? I can tell you that they are very light and have a smooth untextured surface. In the classroom, we would inflate these balls about 90-percent, leaving them easy for the infants to grasp and resistant to rolling away at the same time!

Sensory balls
Sensory balls are interesting to babies because of their texture. They roll well and are a favorite of crawling children. After all, Piaget describes this stage between birth and two years as the sensorimotor stage. These sensory-type balls offer babies interesting tactile experiences. I have seen a set of four at Target, and Small World Toys has a couple of versions.

Wiffle balls
These lightweight balls are inexpensive and usually come in a pack, so if you lose one at the park, no big deal. The little holes are great for babies to stick their fingers in, though sometimes the edges of these cutouts can be a little rough. And then there is the fact that they are made of who-knows-what-kind of plastic. I’d only buy one nowadays if my daughters weren’t mouthing toys.

The Processes by Which Children Learn
Balls are the perfect toy for learning about cause and effect. Let go of the ball and it bounces or rolls away. Throw it and it flops to the ground or soars through the air, depending on the trajectory.  Rolling a ball back and forth with a child gives him or her experience in perspective; that is, even though a ball looks larger as it rolls toward the infant, their experiences will help them understand that it is actually the same size regardless of how far away it is.


The Best Infant Toy

hands and feet
Gracie watching her hands.

The instant I saw Moon raise her hands to slowly turn and watch them, I bolted for the camera. A vision of a black and white photograph for her baby book was all I could hope for at the moment. The caption, “A first toy” or something along those lines.  “A toy, you say?” Well, perhaps not in the conventional sense, but a toy is essentially an object used for play, and that’s exactly what she does with her hands.

In this regard, infants’ hands are outstanding playthings for two reasons:

1. Hands are SAFE!  No need for a “BPA-free” label here. Put the choking tube away!

2. Hands are OPEN-ENDED and move in an infinite number of ways, which makes them such a fascinating study for a young mind.

Hands: Justifiable Toys

Around the third or fourth month of life, many infants suddenly become aware of their hands. Moments of self-discovery are happenstance at first, but will in time become intentional explorations of self. At four months, Moon often raises her hands, opening and shutting her palms and observing their every move.

How my daughters learn in their early years is as important to me as what they learn. Concepts related to academic knowledge, including numeracy and literacy, are topics guaranteed to be covered in classrooms. I, however, do not expect promises from their future teachers that other vital skills my children will need to be successful in school will be nurtured.

Will their interest in learning itself be maintained over the years? I sure hope so, but what can I do to help make sure that their learning continues, and not becoming a task that they will dread in the years to come. Will they keep trying to solve problems when they hit a figurative wall? Will they know how to concentrate despite classroom distractions?

What Are the Processes by Which the Child is Learning?
Focus and intrinsic motivation need not be taught by adults. Verbal reminders to “pay attention” or rewarding  behaviors to sustain engagement in an activity are ways many adults work to help their children learn in later years, after their natural motivation to learn has been dampened. Infants are naturally inclined to hone in on one activity at a time and are self-motivated in everything they do. For us to be truly effective and deliberate parents and caregivers, we can try our best to protect and preserve these traits in infants and put aside the adult agenda with regards to children’s play.

Lessons Learned by Playing with Hands
In the publication titled “The Bulletin,” Dr. Emmi Pikler describes the observation of hands and hand movement as one of several physical developments that constitute natural motor development.  Aside from the mouth, the hands and feet are, after all, the primary means by which children learn about their world.

As a teacher, I watched many children take notice of their hands when given the time and space to do so. While I knew that respecting an infant’s interests in her hands and not distracting her by offering her another object was supporting her focus, I was occasionally challenged to explain how my choice to watch the child rather than dangle a toy in front of him or her was in the child’s immediate best interest; that is, my choice to do nothing was actually a choice to do something really important.

Helping your infant learn focus and stay motivated by deciding to do nothing in this instance may feel counter-intuitive at first, but with practice you’ll find that your child’s ability to maintain focus and play on her own will strengthen. Watching Moon play with her hands has deepened my appreciation for her blossoming personality. In these moments, I get a glimpse into who she is becoming by the choices she makes, Will she look at her hands, or will she prefer to gaze at the lemon tree outside our window? Either way, she is learning about the world around her based on what is of interest to her, and I am protecting her intrinsic motivation.

To that end I say, let them play! What do you think? Are your babies getting enough time to play with objects of their own choosing?

Trusting Infants


Honoring Greysen’s playtime is a priority for us. As an extension of this, respecting Greysen’s choices in toys is important as well.

Mike and I try to make sure that she has time to play every day, without agenda, and with toys that are of interest to her.

I have organized our house so that she has a play space both in the living room and in her bedroom. These spaces are set up with toys so that she can play with pretty much anything she can reach.
Playing with Small Things

Though she is still very young (six months), I encourage Greysen to play with objects that fascinate her, even if that includes tiny objects.

When she chances upon little things that some adults would consider too dangerous for infants, I watch her closely as she plays with them because I trust that she can handle them safely.

Greysen does not often put toys in her mouth anymore, so small objects do not really pose a danger to her. If she tries to put something terribly small in her mouth, I will put it out of her reach, but her actions guide my decisions instead of preconceived ideas about what is an “infant toy”.

Also, I would never leave her unattended when she has small objects, so I’m always ready to intercept should she begin to act unsafely. She only uses such things when I can be sure that she will use them with the respect that they deserve.