Your 6-month-old is halfway through her first year and is quickly making the transition from newborn to older baby. By 6 months old, babies are becoming more and more interested in the world around them and are eager to interact with it. As your baby begins to get more adept at sitting and making her way through physical, emotional and cognitive milestones at a rapid pace, toys and interactive play will have a major impact on her development.
“Play is important to babies because it is through play that they learn about the world around them,” says Kathleen Alfano, child development and play specialist. “For babies, play is observing, exploring, experimenting and discovering. While playing, babies develop and practice intellectual, social and physical skills.”
Kayla O’Neill, a developmental therapist who specializes in baby and toddler development, agrees that free play is an important component in your baby’s development and says that play encourages growth in an organic and fun way.
“Play is the most natural way for babies to learn,” says O’Neill. “When engaged in play, babies participate in repeated practice of skills without even realizing they are doing it.”
O’Neill says play is vital no matter which skill your baby is learning, as it helps to keep him interested as he learns.
“Play will naturally motivate your baby to keep practicing and master skills, all while having fun,” she says.
There are more and more toy options available to parents every day, and choosing the right toys for your 6-month-old baby can be overwhelming. To help narrow the field, we asked O’Neill for her top picks for toys that will help your baby develop important skills while playing.
1. Pop beads
Good for: developing fine motor skills
Fine motor skills involve the coordination and use of very small muscles, such as those found in your baby’s hands and wrists. Babies can develop their fine motor skills by playing with toys that they are able to grasp, push, pull and manipulate with their hands.
“Pop beads are a versatile toy that allows babies to learn how to grasp, bring a toy to their mouth, pull and push,” O’Neill says. “Babies love to play with them and they are small enough to toss in a diaper bag while on the go.”
Where to buy: My First Pop Beads ($30, Lakeshore)
2. Activity cubes
Good for: developing gross motor skills
Gross motor skills involve the coordination of baby’s larger muscles, including the legs, arms and torso. Toys that encourage development of gross motor skills usually encourage babies to move around into different positions while playing.
O’Neill loves activity cubes because they allow babies to move around as they explore the toy.
“Activity cubes work perfect for enhancing gross motor skills because they encourage babies to play in multiple positions such as on their tummy, sitting and standing with support,” she says.
Where to buy: B. toys Wooden Activity Cube ($60, Target)
3. Stacking cups
Good for: developing object permanence
Object permanence is the skill that enables your baby to recognize that objects, such as a favorite toy or mom and dad, still exist even if they are out of his sight. Babies begin to develop this skill around 5 months old, and it’s why a game of peek-a-boo is always a big hit with babies this age. Toys that involve hiding will help to develop this skill.
“Having a set of stacking cups can be helpful when teaching your baby object permanence,” O’Neill says. “Use the cups to hide smaller toys under them or inside.”
Where to buy: green sprouts Sprout Ware Stacking Cups ($10, Amazon)
4. Pop-up toys
Good for: developing cause and effect
Cause and effect is simply the ability for your baby to understand that doing one thing results in something else happening. Babies begin to develop this skill around 5 months old, and it’s why your baby may start to become amused by dropping a spoon or toy just to watch you pick it up. Toys that include things your baby can push, pull or turn to make something else happen in response are ideal for developing this skill.
“Pop-up toys help your baby learn that if you push a button, pull a lever or turn a knob something happens,” O’Neill says. “This toy is simple but very motivating to babies as they learn how the world works.”
Where to buy: Battat Pop-Up Pals ($12, Amazon)
5. Touch and feel books
Good for: encouraging speech and language development
As excited as parents may be to hear their baby’s first word, all babies develop their language and speech skills at their own pace. That said, doing certain things like talking to your baby often throughout the day and reading to him will help encourage the development of language skills.
Board books are the perfect toy for encouraging language development.
“Sitting down with a board book allows your baby to grow their receptive language skills every time you label a picture,” O’Neill says. “If you take their hand and show them how to point to the pictures labeled they are sharpening their expressive language skills.”
Where to buy: “Who Wears What?” ($7, Amazon)
6. Push cars
Good for: developing cognitive skills
Cognitive skills help your baby begin to understand how to learn and solve problems. Toys that encourage cognitive development focus on imaginary play and help them begin to process information, reason and to express emotion.
“Baby push cars open the door to imaginary play which is crucial for cognitive development,” O’Neill says. “Your baby also learns cause and effect as they give their car a push to make it go. You can easily work on following directions and simple commands with your baby during car play as you use target words such as ‘stop’ and ‘go.’”
Where to buy: Bright Starts O Ball 1-Piece Rattle & Roll Car ($6, Amazon)
7. Textured balls
Good for: sensory play and development
Sensory play includes anything that helps develop your baby’s senses, including touch, smell and taste. These senses help your baby explore the world around him. Toys with different textures are ideal for sensory play.
“Textured balls are great for babies because they can explore them using their hands and mouths,” O’Neill says.
Designed to promote tactile development and sensory exploration, this set includes balls made of different textures, shapes and sizes.
Where to buy: Infantino Textured Multi Ball Set ($5, Amazon)
8. Floor mirrors
Good for: developing social skills
Social skills are what enable us to easily interact with other people and read and interpret communication. Babies begin developing these social skills at birth and continue to grow them as their worlds expand. Toys that encourage your baby to observe human behavior are perfect for developing her social skills.
Floor mirrors are a time-honored favorite for developing social skills.
“Mirror play allows your baby to become more self aware,” O’Neill says. “They can spend time looking at their favorite baby in the mirror and discovering what they look like and how they move.”
Where to buy: Sassy Tummy Time Floor Mirror ($11, Amazon)