Jasmine: Now, before I gave birth, I planned to be a toy minimalist. However, I’ve been inspired by Montessori principles of parenting (another post for another time) and their philosophy on toys, namely:
selected sparingly: toys can be rotated one at a time for newness without affecting the child’s need for stability and routine, and excess toys can be kept away (Andrew: I find the use of the word ‘sparingly’ ironic in light of the hours Dearie spends on Amazon shopping for toys and the 2 shipments coming our way, not including countless other toys she has already placed on her ‘wish list’.) (Jasmine: Dear, it is sparing! I comb through all the items listed and sparingly select the best. Mainly just cloth books and a couple of musical instruments… for now.)
displayed appealingly, on open shelving, so that it is easily accessible for children: Currently toys are housed in my Italian “xiaolongbao basket” as baby D can’t exactly get around on his own, not even through rolling, but I plan to buy or design some low shelving once he is able to crawl, to facilitate freedom of movement and ability to self-entertain. As you can see, his toys consist mainly of noise-making/ musical instruments (first basket), 4 books (second basket) and, another Montessori idea, some “un-toys” with different textures for him to explore (third basket) e.g. metal whisk, blue rubber spatula, canvas pouch my friend bought from Japan.
have natural textures (and scents, if you dare) e.g. fabric, wood, even metal or rubber to stimulate sensory development (see un-toys above). Plastic is a “closed” surface, meaning all plastic toys have the same texture and therefore reduces any learning about how to discriminate textures
be open-ended and facilitate children’s imaginative play, such as play food and Lego blocks. We don’t have many of these right now, but obviously, I’ve already shortlisted quite a few choices on Amazon for when Dylan reaches the right age for them. We try to minimise electronic toys that give instant gratification (press a button and you get a song and strobe lights)- though this is where I depart from Montessori principles and say that technology in itself is not evil and can in fact be rather engaging. My issue is with toys and TV, especially those that market themselves as “educational” in nature, that encourage children to be passive viewers rather than active discoverers and problem-solvers- which is how they learn best, through sensory experience and absorption.
1. Activity gym
Jasmine: For the first three months of his life, Baby D had almost no toys apart from one or two rattles.
Not very pleased about it
However, we came across this Skip Hop Alphabet Zoo play gym which I’d been eyeing up for ages, and it happened to be 30% off! The first time I put Dylan in, he played for an hour before quietly dozing off and taking a nap for another hour.
The main draw of the play gym, to be honest, was its stylish modern color palette. In comparison to some of the other models on the market, I could see this in our home and not find it too much of an eyesore, the way many others are, with their garish colors and flashy lights and music. Nothing too obnoxious.
In terms of function, I like that the mat itself has different textures and a detachable mirror for Dylan to play with during tummy time, and the soft fabric arches are moveable. The toys themselves are not too bad- each jingles, rattles or crinkles, and of course can be removed from the gym and played with separately. Dylan’s favourite is the monkey, with the clear ball filled with rattling beads so he can see what is making the noise when he shakes it (hones their understanding of cause and effect).
Tummy time fail
We’ve literally seen his skills grow with continued use of the gym- he has developed his batting and grasping reflexes (which require hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and fine motor skills), done tummy time (whenever we can remember… which is less often than we should, haha), and just recently, learning to roll and flip over (gross motor skills) to reach the toys dangling overhead!
Andrew: The playgym is where BabyD most frequently tries to flip and roll when trying to turn or stretch towards his favourite toys, so that’s where he gets the most exercise too. It has been one of his favourite napping spots too in the house, besides his bassinet/crib. (Jasmine: Also, a safe spot to leave him for a few minutes while we dress up or erm, blog. Heh.)
Jasmine: Somehow, our little boy seems drawn to books. He’s always looking at the bookshelves we set up in the nursery and will reach for books. When presented with a choice of two toys, he will almost always go for the book. To be fair, at this point, he is eating books rather than reading them, but they sustain his attention so we don’t complain. At 0-3 months, newborn vision isn’t great, so high-contrast black-and-white images work best. From 3 months up, soft books with different textures or flaps that he can lift help enhance his sensory development and understanding of object permanence (that things still exist even when they can’t be seen) respectively.
This book was a life-saver when we had to give him the nebulizer when he had a flu. The colours and sounds helped to distract him sufficiently such that he barely even cried throughout.
Andrew: At one of my work events, a director shared with us that the no. of words a baby hears has direct correlation to his intelligence in future. Research has shown that a baby who hears about 10,000 words a day will be more adept at language in future. As such, we did make attempts early on to read to him. Not just reading to him, but also pointing the words to him and letting him look at the pictures:
This is one of my favourite books for him now – the ‘Rhyme’ Bible, which adapts Bible stories into catchy rhymes and definitely a book we will revisit when Dylan grows up.
Occasionally I do read other materials to Dylan too, to try to stretch him. 🙂
It’s interesting that we categorise ‘book’ under ‘toys’, but that really is how Dylan is treating them now – as ‘playthings’. Like Jas mentioned, what we do now is we place the book before him while he sits in his bumbo seat and allow him to do what he wants with it – which usually involves grabbing the pages, ruff ling them and occasionally bringing them to his mouth. The value of the book now is more ‘sensory’ in terms of touch, for him to feel textures.
In the initial stages, I always felt the need to intervene when BabyD brought the book to his mouth, but Jas has told me that that goes against Montessori principles of allowing him to explore and do what he wants with the book, which includes mouthing it. So, our cloth book (mainly the one above, left side) more often than not ends up being drenched in his drool at the end of his playtime.
BabyD enjoys reading so much that he even looks like he’s reading to Baby Agnes during their playdate!
3. Fluffy penguin from Sapporo
Jasmine: Around 5 months, babies begin developing attachments to soft toys. This evolved quite organically for Dylan, who had been looking and batting at the penguin (which actually belonged to me) for months. He now sleeps with it, as it’s the perfect size for his chubby fingers. It’s so cute to see him smush the penguin to his face or stroke its tiny wing while hugging it tightly to his chest as he drifts off to Milk Wonderland. First my penguin, then my bed… what other possession of mine will Dylan take over next?? Haha. (Andrew: Actually… it’s my side of the bed that Dylan frequently occupies now.)
Andrew: It’s almost like a little bolster for him now! Now that he can turn and flip, BabyD likes to turn to his side to sleep and I often strategically place the penguin at the side where he turns to when falling asleep. It’s so adorable to see him grip the penguin and draw it closer towards him, while falling asleep.
Jasmine: The penguin also winds up in funny positions, like perched atop Dylan’s head at naptime.
4. Sassy Wonder Wheel
Jasmine: A gift from his granny, I too get hypnotised by the whirling colourful wheel. Although I generally avoid plastic and electronic toys, this one came with rather good reviews on Amazon. The suction cup base is perfect for his Bumbo tray and eventually, high chair. Dylan can spend 15 minutes just spinning the wheel and hearing the whoosh sound the beads make, or tugging the hoops around the base (another nice detail).
Andrew: Another feature of a good toy is the variety of ways in which the baby can play with it and this toy offers that – from spinning the wheel, to the little cylinders within the wheel, tugging the hoop and well, eating it – while is BabyD’s current default mode for most of his toys at some point. He gets unhappy sometimes when I ‘stick’ it too tightly on the bumbo seat because it means he can’t pull it towards his mouth to bite it. Heh.
Andrew: Oh I just realised most of the toys in this entry were bought by Dylan’s grandmother!
Jasmine: It brings us such joy to see Baby D grow and become more smiley and interactive each week. I am already doing some forward planning for the next stage of his development, so don’t be surprised to see another toy post in a few months!