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Stimulating Your Baby's Five Senses: The Most Effective Toys

written by: Sarah Malburg • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 6/18/2014

Effective learning toys that stimulate a baby's five sensory areas will help increase infant brain development. The five senses are the most valuable tools to an infant's growth.

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    Sensory Stimulation

    There are many forms of environmental stimulation that an infant's brain needs for proper development. These can be situations that Baby from LearnWhatIs parents create for them or ones they create themselves. For example, parents can communicate with their babies via sign language and by speaking to them over and over, having them move toward the sound of voice. This would be an example of purposeful stimulation. Babies often tend to stimulate themselves also, by trying to move around, by grasping and kicking, and by observing faces and objects and listening to various sounds.

    The more parents interact with their babies, however, the more stronger their relationship and bond will be. Parents, too, can stimulate their infants through physical movements, cognitive games and play, and through sharing emotions with them. Some of these activities can even involve using learning toys for assistance. All of these positive actions will help your baby to achieve the milestones that are essential to their overall development.

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    Infant 5 Senses Development

    Let's take a look at an infant's five senses and what happens in the various stages of infant sensory development:

    0-1 Month


    • Very low visual acuity
    • Only sees objects at a very short distance ( between 8-10")
    • Can mostly see black and white (some bolder colors like red or green are sometimes identifiable)
    • Can see motion, but is quite blurry


    • Hands are still closed in fists
    • Have very uncoordinated movements
    • Enjoy being rocked gently and held closely
    • Begin to develop basic reflexes like coughing, rooting, sucking, grasping, etc.
    • May hold head up for short periods of time
    • Prefers soft textures
    • Legs begin to stretch out a bit


    • Responds to sounds and voices by quieting
    • Startles easily
    • Prefers soft music
    • May make cooing sounds
    • Frequent crying

    1-3 Months


    • Begin to detect movement back and forth (left to right) and in a smoother motion.
    • See more color patterns
    • Can see further away
    • May begin to recognize faces and track your movements
    • May notice their own hands!


    • Lifts head while on tummy
    • Begin to keep their hands open
    • Prefers soft movements and soft textures
    • May begin to kick and wiggle a bit
    • May start to put feet down and bear a little weight


    • Begins to turn towards sounds they recognize (voices)
    • May begin to vocalize more (coos and gurgling even some squealing)
    • Cries begin to become distinct

    3-6 Months


    • Begins to develop depth perception
    • Better at tracking objects and can begin to see smaller objects
    • Decipher between similar colors like orange and red.
    • Recognizes your face and those other familiar faces


    • Begins to grasp objects
    • May begin to roll back to front and front to back
    • Some advanced ones may start to do the "army crawl" on their bellies and do "mini pushups"
    • Can sit up with support
    • Some advanced babies may even stay sitting upright for a few seconds without support
    • May be able to bring hands together and in front of their face
    • Plays with hands and feet
    • May begin to pass object from hand to hand
    • Can bear weight on legs
    • Tries to reach for objects


    • Turns toward loud sounds
    • Turns towards sounds they recognize (your voice)
    • Imitates sounds
    • May recognize their name when called
    • May develop more vocals like giggling

    The sense of smell and taste are explored continuously throughout an infant's development. All babies make faces at various smells and they prefer sweet tastes overall. In fact, one study has shown that when giving an infant a vanilla-scented toy over one that was unscented, they played with the scented one more. At every stage in development, a baby will turn their noses up to something stinky, or make faces after tasting something sour. It has also been proven, that babies really enjoy the sweet taste of their mother's milk, and they even can decipher (from birth) the difference between their mother's smell and another woman's or mother's smell! Another thing to keep in mind, is that the sense of taste is being explored constantly, mostly due to teething. Everything goes into the mouth!

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    Choosing Toys

    There are many infant learning toys that can be used for sensory stimulation that will definitely help to increase their physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities; all of which are connected to infant brain development.

    As a parent myself, I have found that some of these toys seem to be more effective than others for infant learning and development.

    0-3 Month Infant Learning Toy Suggestions

    Rattles (foot and wrist): These are great toys for stimulating the sense of touch. This also helps them do develop a sense of directional hearing. It will also encourage movement of arms and legs in order to make the sounds.

    Black and White Toys/Books: Black and white are boldest of color contrasts and are some of the only colors newborn's can see. These toys will help to develop their visual focus. There are a variety of books that offer black and white (and sometimes red) colors and if you are choosing a stuffed animal to develop recognition of faces, then you may want to choose pandas, zebras or penguins for good contrasts.

    Mobiles: These strengthen eye muscles and eye control, and help develop listening skills through music. They can also be soothing to those "fussy" babies.

    Soft Balls and Stuffed Toys/Animals: Balls and stuffed toys with many textures offer your infant a tactile experience that helps develop their grasp and hand and arm movements. While they cannot hold it on their own, they may open their hand when it brushes them, and they can be used for eye muscle development as well.

    Wind Chimes: These are great for tone development and for auditory development. They too, can be soothing sounds to calm them when needed.

    Soft Books with Textures: It is never to early to start reading to you baby and by showing them the pictures and colors, you are stimulating cognitive development as well as visual acuity and color contrast.

    3-6 Month Infant Learning Toy Suggestions

    Rattles (ones they can hold): This helps develop fine motor skills in the future and helps them to develop the muscles in their hands and fingers. They can also learn action/reaction by shaking them. It also helps listening skills.

    Playmat/Play Gym: This is a great necessity if you want to get your infant rolling over and starting to reach for toys. Some have dangling toys above and some have toys that make squeaking sounds when they grasp them. They are great for developing arm and leg muscles and control, eye muscles, hand-eye coordination, and gross motor skills. They are also great for "tummy time", which is a popular tactic to get your baby to strengthen their back, shoulders, and neck muscles in order to push up and keep their heads up. (The first stages of getting into the crawling position). They also have bright, stimulating colors and textures.

    Baby Mirrors: These are great toys for encouraging face recognition, smiling, for developing visual focus. Babies love human faces as a focal point, so these keep them entertained for quite awhile!

    Teethers: These are perfect for developing the muscles in the mouth, and for controlling drooling and helping soothe teething symptoms. It also helps with their ability to grasp and control their hands. Hand to mouth coordination also benefits from teether use.

    Soft Balls: These are great for developing different textural sensations and for learning to grasp. They may be even used to encourage rolling over and even crawling and reaching.

    Action/Reaction Toys: These are great for developing cognitive skills. Squeaking toys, toys that make sound when kicking it or batting at it, and toys encouraging crawling like action toys that move slowly for an infant to catch, are all great!

    Plastic Keys on a Ring (and other small toys they can easily manipulate): Great for developing hand and arm muscles and control. The sound of the shaking can also be considered an action/reaction toy.

    Hanging Toys: These are found on playmats and as activity bars for infant car seats, and strollers. Mobiles can be included in this category , for they all help build the large muscle groups and help to develop hand-eye coordination and visual acuity.

    Board Books and Soft Books: Reading with your baby develops memory skills, color contrast, recognition of pictures and faces, and it develops communication as well.

    Through these infant learning toys, you will find a dramatic increase in your baby's sensory areas and brain development. You options are endless, so play with your baby and see how much they grow!

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    Resources, Toys for Newborns.


    Disney's Baby, The ABCs of Choosing the Right Toys, by Marie Hartwell-Walker

Infant Brain Development and Sensory Stimulation

This series discusses the significance of sensory stimulation by parents on an infant's brain development and overall health. You will find information on how an infant's brain grows and what kind and specific make of toys are suggested to optimize infant learning.
  1. The Significance of Sensory Stimulation in Infant Brain Development
  2. Stimulating Your Baby's Five Senses: The Most Effective Toys
  3. The Best Brand Infant Toys For Infant Growth