As soon as my son turned from basic blob o’ baby to engaging playful pal, I was anxious to stock his toy box with his very first toys. Like any new parent, I had some pre-conceived notions on what my child would and wouldn’t play with. Some I stuck to, some I didn’t. Here are the ones that have been tried, tested, and approved by my research assistant, Ames (eight months).
Before my son was born, I pictured the perfect nursery— minimally decorated with select wooden toys. In this camp, we love Haba’s stuff. They specialize in (beech) wooden and cloth toys.
The groooowl pram decoration is one I use on the stroller. My son loves to grab at the darling little bears when the stroll scenery gets dull. I can also move it easily from the umbrella to the jogging stroller.
A few other on-the-go toys are the Rally clutching toy , which is made up of three wooden cars, one with a bell inside, another with a mirror, and the third, a little face—all strung on an elastic string.
A sweet cloth bear sets sail in the Bear Ahoy pull  toy in its boat with leaf sail, pulled on wooded wheels. The cloth sail has an inviting nubby end that my son likes to pull off and gum till it’s nice and soggy.
I’m a big believer in books and some are toy-like. When my son was with a nanny, I wanted her to read to him in Spanish. Baby Einstein Farm Discover & Play Teether Book  (in English, Spanish, and French) teaches baby about La Granja (The Farm) in his nanny’s native tongue. And speaking of tongue, the book’s soft plastic and cloth sides make for great teething when your baby’s had enough of el mooing and la clucking!
Two other great books are Tiny Love’s Play books, A Stroll in the Park  and A Day at the Sea Shore . Both have three-dimensional pop-up scenes with textured surfaces and peek-a-boo hidden images that lead baby on a stimulating journey. Plus, each one comes with a handy little clasp to hook on a stroller.
Every child develops his favorite stuffed toy. Amidst the heap o’ ones in Ames’ room is his beloved stuffed Junglie Monkey by Jellycat . My son likes to hug his soft snuggly fur and more than once, I’ve caught him nursing on his nose. They are the best of buds as you can see.
Your Playmat or Mine.
I swore I would never have a living room full of kid clutter, yet my place looks like a Bally’s fitness gym for babies with a contraption of some sort every few inches. My son moves from one station to the next as if he had a personal trainer with a whistle.
When my son’s pediatrician suggested at three months old that I get a play mat so he could bat at objects, we ended up with three such devices. Two are by Tiny Love. The Gymini Duet  is a double-sided playmat with one side suited for zero–three months and the other three–ten months. It has hanging toys that rattle and rock. And the mat has lights and a music touch pad and a large mirror on one side. The music includes ten minutes of Mozart and a medley of nursery rhymes.
We also have the new Gymini Total Playground , which is like having the circus in town every day. Among the multitude of hanging toys, it’s got a duck chime bell pull toy that is Ames’ favorite and a dual-position kick-and-play response pad. When Ames kicks or pats the pad, it belts out a crazy kooka-maney song (you can also set it to more parent-friendly classical music).
The Lamaze Spin & Explore Garden Gym  puts a new spin on tummy time. A ladybug gizmo is perched lazy-susan style atop a playmat with squeaky, crinkly tactile toys. Babies spin themselves around to look at toys in circles, forgetting that they otherwise hate tummy time. It worked for Ames as kind of the lazy man’s tummy time toy. At five months, you can send the ladybug off to fly away and he can sit up and play on it.
On The Road Again.
I also vowed to keep the annoying electronic noisy toys to a minimum. One exception is the Aqua Seal Kicker  that I use during car seat meltdowns. Along with the catchy tune you can’t get out of your head an hour after you’ve left the car, it must emit a hypnotic frequency only babies pick up on. My son can be in the middle of a crying jag and the second that tune starts, he sits quietly transfixed, watching the bubbles and fish float to the sound of the beat. It also has a play option where he can kick it to make it play the song for just a few seconds. We use it strictly in LP meltdown mode. When he stops crying for more than a few blocks, I get out at the light and turn it off so he can just stare at it. Works like a charm!
Having A Ball.
A great online source of neat toys for kids of all ages is CreativeKidStuff.com—toy experts with great customer service. That’s where I discovered the Oball , a ball made up of finger holes that are easy for even babies to hold onto. Ames thinks it’s the funniest thing to throw it to him and say, “ball,” and have it bounce off his stomach. I can throw it sixty times in a row and he laughs himself silly each toss. It also doubles as a cool bubble blower (dip it in a shallow dish of water and wave it around.)
Worth Sinking Your Teeth Into.
While a teether may not seem like a toy, to a baby, everything goes into the mouth, which makes every toy a teether to some degree. The Twisty Teether Ball  is a teething, twisting ball with nubby ends that offer soothing relief to gums. It encourages motor skills and auditory awareness—and gives my knuckles Ames prefers to chew on a break.
The Raz-berry teether  looks like a pacifier (which my son doesn’t take, yet oddly enough, loves this). The in-the-mouth part is a bumpy texture that looks like a raspberry, the part that hangs out of the mouth, a leaf of the raspberry for easy gripping. It’s made of non-toxic silicon.
Shake, Rattle and Roll.
Hands down, the favorite rattle is the Clickety twist  activity rattle with TAGGIES (soft satin tags babies love to clasp) and twisting parts with an easy to grab rattle ring on one end and a mirror on the other. This is an always-in the-diaper bag toy fav.
Chicco’s Night Light Soother  is a cribside panel that allows mommy to record a voice message that baby can replay by hitting the heart button to reassure him. It also has soft colored lights to the rhythm of sweet classical music, a new age number, as well as relaxing nature sounds. Switch it to “sound detector” mode and soft music soothes a baby’s whimper. My son has never actually spent a night in his crib to know how well this works, but he seems to like the heart function when he’s supposed to be napping during the day. I’ve tried several recordings ranging from a soft “night-night Ames, time to go to sleep” to my infamous fake sneezes which guarantee a giggle every time.
Usborne’s book of lullabies and CD  is a sweet quiet time book with a lovely soft music CD to induce baby into a peaceful slumber. Tunes include Rock-a-Bye-Baby, Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, and Sleep Baby Sleep. The book includes the lyrics in case you’ve forgotten the words (like me).
So here are suggestions to create a toy box full of great toys. If your child is anything like mine, he’ll still prefer the telephone, remote control, and fax machine over any toy you give him!
Related review: Baby Gear
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wilson