Eight must-have toys and activities for increasing your infant’s developmental skills

A list of eight appropriate activities that help to increase an infant’s development of motor, social, emotional and language skills.

April 3, 2017 - Author: Kevin Zoromski, Michigan State University Extension

Toys that encourage movement, touch, exploration and imitation are often the best to promote infant development.
Toys that encourage movement, touch, exploration and imitation are often the best to promote infant development.

Whenever you are looking for comfort objects and toys for infants, focus on items that enhance overall skill levels in areas such as gross motor, fine motor, language, social and emotional development. When choosing what to get for an infant, keep in mind the aspects of safety, durability and playability. Choose items that offer infants the chance for bonding and exploration. Toys that encourage movement, touch, exploration and imitation are often the best to promote infant development.

Below you will find a list of eight toys and items for infants that work to increase child development in multiple areas.

  1. Activity gym/tummy time mat. Activity gyms are great toys for increasing fine and gross motor development. They also help with social and emotional skills while the infant plays with the adults in their life. Activity gyms encourage the infant to kick while lying on their back and provide interesting things for them to reach for that are hung overhead. Activity gyms are a great way to increase tummy time and provide interesting objects for the infant to see.
  2. Floor mirror. The floor mirror is typically set inside of a soft cloth triangle-shaped pillow so it can set safely on the floor. While in tummy time, the infant can look directly into the mirror when placed directly in front of them. Looking into the mirror helps to promote social and emotional skills while providing a fun way to imitate faces and interact with the “new person” they are seeing in the mirror.
  3. Blankets. Use a special blanket to play peek-a-boo. Playing peek-a-boo helps to increase cognitive development and is the beginning of creating problem-solving skills. A very popular blanket is the plush blanket with an animal head attached in the middle (often made by Carters). These blankets are very soft and often become the first “lovie” of many children. One tip is for mom to take the blanket to bed with her for a couple of nights and then give it to the child. The blanket will smell like mom and the child will appreciate that mom will always feel close. Of note, make sure to only use blankets during the later stage of infancy (when the baby can move or roll over, etc.). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding blankets in the crib until a child reaches their first birthday.
  4. Soothing teether chill. There are many teething rings out there, but one of the best for soothing is the freezable chill ring. The cool texture created by being in the freezer offers the infant’s gums a chance to be numbed to help with any teething pain. Make sure to have more than one on hand so you can replace them quickly once they are warm. The teething ring not only soothes the gums, but also helps with fine motor development as the infant learns to grasp and hold the ring on their own.
  5. Traditional stack toy. This is the one we all remember or at least we think we remember: The ring stacker from Fisher Price with the five stackable rings. This is a great toy for increasing fine motor and social skills. Infants learn to grasp the rings and eventually place them over the base to stack them together. The top ring is typically built as a shaker and offers an extra incentive to enhance cognitive skill building through motion and music.
  6. Musical shakers/maracas. Shakers are a great way to build cognitive, social and fine motor development. Shakers offer the infant a chance to create music on their own and gain some control over an object in their hand. Shakers help to learn finger and hand control offering intricate movement from side to side, up and down and turning and twisting of the wrist.
  7. Inflatable water play mat. This is a great social and motor experience for infants to gain more tummy and floor time while holding their head up over the mat to look at the floating fish inside. The mat also increases gross motor skills as they push up and down on their arms and learn to gain enough control to hold up one hand long enough to push on the fish in the mat with their other hand.
  8. Toy keys and key ring. Infants love to hold onto rings and anything they can shake around. Toy keys offer a lot of ability to increase fine motor skills and social skill development. The toy key ring can be held in each hand and is a good toy to learn how to pass back and forth between hands. You can also share the key ring with the infant by passing the ring back and forth, making sure to pass it to each of the infant’s hands.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following resources that offer more ideas on developmental growth for infants.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2015 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

Tags: approaches to learning, caregiving, early childhood development, family, msu extension, physical development and health, social and emotional development


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