A version of this story originally appeared on The Strategist US.
At 6 months old, babies can’t thank you for a well-considered gift, but they can make eye contact, grasp objects in their little hands, and smile back at you. Because they grow and learn through play, the best gifts for 6-month-olds will both nurture their development and keep them engaged. To narrow the market of baby toys, accessories, and books, and help guide you toward the very best baby gifts out there, we spoke to three child development experts: Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW senior writer and training specialist of Zero to Three; Dr. Patricia Cantor, professor of early childhood education at Plymouth State University and co-author of Techwise Infant and Toddler Teachers; and Dr. Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive.
All three agreed that the best thing for babies is adult interaction—talking, singing, and sensory play. But when it comes to things you can buy, or that will make those adult interactions more fun, they all pointed to simple gifts that encourage sensory exploration, motor skills, and cause and effect. Cantor gave us this easy rule of thumb: “You don’t want to get them something you turn on and they watch, you want to give them a toy they can do something with.” Here are a bunch of gifts that’ll make a not-quite-newborn very happy.
The most recommended gift for a 6-month-old
The No. 1 recommendation, which came by name from all three of our experts is a book called Baby Faces by Margaret Miller. “Babies at 6 months start to be more inclined to pay attention to a book and they’re starting to notice other babies’ faces. They really like to look at other babies,” said MacLaughlin. Klein further explained saying, “The words are not the most important part. Looking at a picture and the interaction with the parent around the book gives the message that looking at books is a positive thing.”
The best stacking toys for 6-month-olds
According to Cantor, 6-month-olds’ fine motor skills are still rudimentary and they don’t have full control of their movements. So she recommended buying a soft set of stacking rings that baby can play and experiment with now and grow into later. “They’re not really going to be stacking the rings just yet, but they like to hold them in each hand and bang the rings together. And you can get stacking rings that are soft so they won’t bang themselves in the head with them.”
Another stacking toy that babies will grow into, this time recommended by both Klein and Cantor, is a set of lightweight nesting cups. Like the soft rings, babies don’t need to be able to actually stack them to enjoy playing with them.
The best books for 6-month-olds
Cantor is a big fan of Board books because they are sturdy and can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. She also likes that you can put a baby on their stomach and easily prop the books up in front of them. “An author I really like for this age is Helen Oxenberry. She has a book that’s called Clap Hands with very simple pictures and actions that adults can do with babies.” said Cantor who explained the educational value of the book. “Babies really learn language when you use a word while matching it to an action or an object. So if you’re reading the book Clap Hands while actually clapping your hands they’re gonna pick up that language much faster.”
MacLaughlin told us that at 6 months babies still don’t see a full range of colour. So high contrast toys and books are attractive to them. She suggested board books in black and white. “This series of board books are made in black and white specifically for babies by Tana Hoban.”
MacLaughlin also suggested making your own picture book using photos of your baby and their family. “They like to look at themselves and catch themselves in the mirror. They may not necessarily know that it’s them and not another baby but that doesn’t matter. You can even take pictures of your baby and put them in a little album that they can’t destroy. At this point, their vision is getting better so they’re becoming a lot more aware of the world around them.” This album is soft, flexible, and will keep your photos and your baby’s drool separate.
The best handheld gifts for 6-month-olds
MacLaughlin recommended a very simple but powerful educational activity: passing a ball back and forth. “We know that babies’ brains build through those back and forth interactions with a caregiving adult. We call it serve and return.” said MacLaughlin “If you can prop your baby up in a seated position, then pass a ball back and forth, even if you have to do all the passing, with lots of eye contact and laughing it’s good for their motor skills and social-emotional development and it draws the connection between the child and adult.” This pack of 4 balls also act as sensory toys thanks to their soft nubby texture.
These little egg-shaped shakers fit perfectly into baby hands helping them practice grasping and clutching skills while also teaching cause and effect. Cantor recommended them saying “If they move their hand and this little egg shaker makes a noise that’s going to get their attention and then over time they’ll start to realize that their action is what’s causing the noise, which helps them understand cause and effect.”
The best teething toys for 6-month-olds
“They put everything in their mouth. Everything. So everything you buy, you are buying with the knowledge that this is going to go into their mouth.” said Cantor. This combination soft toy and teething ring is designed for just that and will help with the pain of incoming teeth.
When we asked about toys that are good for travelling Cantor mentioned something called Taggies which can help keep a baby occupied in a pram or on a plane without the aid of a screen (remember the World Health Organization does not recommend phones or tablets for children under 2-years old). “They’re like a little blanket or square of fabric and often times they’ll have tags all around the outside and lots of different textures…sometimes they have a patch of something crinkly or a plastic ring, so there’s a fair amount of interesting stuff for babies to do on that.” This giraffe toy is a combination stuffed animal, teether, and sensory toy.
Some babies will already be teething at 6 months. But they’re also not that great at holding onto things and might be starting to experiment with what happens when they throw their toys onto the floor. So for babies who really like to chuck their toys MacLaughlin suggests a teething mitt “It can be nice to make sure the toys stay with the baby, and because they’re putting their hands into their mouths anyway and their grip is kind of tenuous these funny little mittens could be a good solution.”
The best miscellaneous gifts for 6-month-olds
Both Cantor and MacLaughlin were specific about which noises they like and which they don’t — namely they suggested staying away from toys that produce tinny music and annoying squeaking sounds. “There are a lot of toys out that will say “plays 50 songs” and it’s usually awful tinny bad music that just creates noise.” said Cantor, however she did stress the importance of singing to your baby and her favorite baby singer songwriter is still Raffi “Babies really like to be sung to so if you can find something that helps you sing to a baby that’s great. Raffi is a favorite of mine and babies really love Raffi. He’s my go-to guy.”
“One toy I would get them is a mirror. You can get them with soft backing. They like looking in the mirror, they have no clue it’s themselves, but they like doing that.” said Cantor and MacLaughlin mentioned finding one that they can look at during tummy time (while they’re laying on their stomach and playing). This fold out mirror stands up so they can play with it on the floor and it’s soft so they won’t hurt themselves.
Speaking of tummy time, our experts said that some babies at this age can hold themselves up on their elbows while others have trouble with it. To help, MacLaughlin suggested this snake-shaped pillow that you can use to prop a baby up on their stomach or to support their back when they are sitting. “A lot of babies don’t like the feeling of their face on the floor if they don’t yet have the arm strength to hold themselves up. This prop supports tummy time which is very important for babies at this age.”
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