New Study Rates Baby Toys and Play Spaces

Wondering which baby toys to register for? Here is a scientific way to see if your infant has the right tools and spaces for healthy development.

New Study Rates Baby Toys and Play Spaces Keeshi/Shutterstock

When you first think about your baby registry, the number of toys to choose from can be overwhelming. But which ones are best for your child's development? A new study published in the journal Physical Therapy took a look at what types of toys affect infants' motor skills, as well as how to best arrange the space for baby to play in.

Researchers asked parents about the variety of toys and the set-up of their home in four categories: physical space, variety of stimulation, gross motor toys and fine motor toys, and then gave a scoring system of "less than adequate" to "excellent." "Everything that is in the home can help the infant's motor development, so we looked at all the different possibilities," study author Priscila Caí§ola, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas Arlington, told Although developed for physical and occupational therapists, the guide "is actually pretty good for parents when they are creating the space for the new baby. A really cool way that parents could optimize their environment is doing a checklist of, 'Do I have a toy in each category?' Different toys will offer different motor possibilities."

Which toys to buy

So, which toys should you get? For a young baby's gross motor skills, Caí§ola recommends:

  • colorful mats to encourage rolling or creeping
  • toys that dangle about the infant for them to reach toward
  • music toys
  • soft toys that make noise or move when the child squeezes or pulls them
  • exersaucers or jumpers,
  • water toys
  • balls.

For an infant's fine motor skills:

  • graspable toys like rattles
  • pull/push toys like trains and cars
  • pop-up or spinning toys
  • blocks
  • books.

But if you don't want your house to turn into a Toys R Us, don't worry—you don't need a bizillion objects to stimulate motor development. "It doesn't mean if a toy is not there they won't develop that motor skill. They're not missing out—it's just a guideline," Caí§ola says of the questionnaire. "If parents are concerned about not having enough toys, make sure you use the toys that you do have in different ways. And instead of getting three or four toys of all the same kind, maybe get one of each." Another money-saving option she suggests is creating homemade toys out of recyclables.

Creating a better play space

The other facet of the study looks at the child's home environment, both inside and outside. "Couches and coffee tables are the instruments that will afford the opportunity for infants to pull themselves up and walk," Caí§ola says. "Frequently the infant will make the first steps when walking from the couch to the coffee table." After making sure the furniture is safe, she advises setting up the room with pieces far enough away from each other so that the baby can move freely and is challenged to move from one to another, but not so far away that the child won't be able to do it. The questionnaire also evaluates whether there are different ground textures like carpet, wood or tile inside, and grass or concrete outside, as well as some slopes outside. Another factor is stairs. "Infants that have stairs in the home will learn how to climb up them a little bit earlier than infants who do not," she says. "That's not to cause any panic because the infants who do not have stairs will catch up, but if it's there it is an opportunity to optimize as much as possible."

The most important thing parents can do to stimulate development, regardless of which toys they have, is to use the objects to actually interact with their child. "Infants can have a lot of toys that optimize motor development but they might not be using them," she says. "The questionnaire is not asking whether you use them, it's just asking what you have; but it might be a good heads up for parents to ask, 'Am I actually trying this with my infant?'"