The flashing screens of devices like iPads and Smartphones are attractive and mesmerizing to babies, but the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time before the age of two. Parents who want to keep their babies entertained while they make a phone call, wait in line, ride in the car, or simply take a shower may be tempted to hand over the nearest technological device, but there are actually a lot of really great alternatives. Here are ten simple items that have kept my daughter (7 months old) entertained for 30 minutes or more.
- Egg Cartons
We save all of our empty egg cartons in anticipation of future craft projects. One day, I handed one to Little Miss Muffet just to see what she would do. In the few weeks that it has been in her play area, she has gnawed on the corners, punched in the egg holders from the bottom, opened and closed the box, and even thrown it across the room to listen to the sound it makes when it lands. What I thought was going to be a ten minute diversion has turned into a favorite toy. (Note: It is possible for babies to bite pieces off of their egg cartons even before they have teeth. Use caution to avoid a choking incident.)
Little Miss Muffet is also fascinated by anything made of fabric. She likes washcloths (especially if they have tags), burp cloths, blankets, and our homemade wipes (sewn from scraps of old tee shirts.) I like to give her two cloths at a time so she can hold one in each hand, and she happily chews on them, drops them and picks them up, rubs them on her face, and otherwise cuddles them like loveys. Almost any small piece of fabric works; just be prepared to add it to your laundry pile!
- Tissue Paper
Tissue paper can be scary for very little babies. The sound of crumpling paper seems loud to their little ears, and when they’re very small, it kicks in their startle reflex. Starting from around 5 months, though, Miss Muffet became intrigued. First she liked me to hold the paper and shake it for her. Now she happily crumples, slaps, and kicks the paper all on her own. It’s not a great idea to leave a baby alone with a sheet of paper because eventually she will bite off a corner and try to swallow it, but if you can be nearby, it can give you a few minutes to get something done. (I filed my bills the other day!)
Knowing my daughter’s affinity for soft, cuddly things, I picked up a loofah at the dollar store. The fresh, bright color of it (green) combined with the interesting texture make this a very appealing sensory toy. To avoid having your baby get a mouth full of soap or mildew, it’s probably wise to buy this fresh rather than to share one that has been used, but it’s a dollar well spent.
- Stuffed Animals
Chances are, your child has an abundance of stuffed animals sent by friends and relatives in celebration of her birth, and perhaps even a favorite among them. Miss Muffet is fond of faces, so we often hand her a stuffed monkey or stuffed monster, both of which have smiling faces that she likes to bite, lick, and press on. Now that she has begun scooting, she often drags one of these friends around the living room floor as she checks out her other toys.
- Board Books
We take board books with us everywhere because they are portable and I never know when I might have a spare moment to read aloud. Our current favorite traveling companion is First 100 Animals by Roger Priddy, which features colorful boxes on every page filled with photos of animals from different habitats. We often have outdoor reading time, where I will read a chapter from my current read, and Miss Muffet will happily chew on the corners of her book in the shade of her stroller. Occasionally, she drops her book on the ground and fusses for me to pick it up, but I usually make it through a chapter before that happens.
- Plastic Containers
Miss Muffet is not crazy about teething rings, but boy will she bite down on some Tupperware! Though I will sometimes put something in her container for her to dump out, often it is just empty, and she bites the rim, rolls it across the floor, bangs it on the baby gate and shakes it in the air. The container we are using right now came from a Chinese restaurant when we ordered soup. She also really likes ricotta cheese containers.
- Plastic Rings
When my daughter was born, we were given two sets of Linkadoos. While their ostensible purpose is to attach other toys to strollers, car seats, and high chairs, we have always treated them as toys unto themselves. They come in a variety of textures and colors, and Miss Muffet likes to play with them individually and in chains. Her favorite thing to do is put them in her mouth, but she also shakes a string of them to hear them clack together, and occasionally flings them over her shoulder.
I bought a pack of the largest pompoms available at A.C. Moore and gave a few of them to Little Miss Muffet. I have to watch her when she plays with them because she likes to chew on them, and I don’t want her to put them all the way in her mouth, but their bright colors and soft texture really appeal to her. One day, we even put them in the egg carton, which was a source of great excitement. (Note: A good rule of thumb for choosing baby toys is to look for objects that will not fit through a toilet paper tube. Make sure your pompoms are nice and large if baby is going to chew on them.)
- String of Beads
In the same dollar store trip where I bought the loofah, I also purchased some Mardi Gras beads. Interestingly, these are the only toy Miss Muffet does not put in her mouth, and she never seems to get tired of them. She drags them across the floor like snakes, holds them in her hand and tugs on them gently, and shakes them around. (She also has a set of wooden rosary beads with which she does many similar things.) I don’t recommend stringing beads yourself and handing them over to a baby because you never know if they might become detached and turn into a choking hazard. It’s best to find a strand without loose beads and to monitor your baby while she plays.