One of the things I was most excited about when building our registry was picking out toys for James. I confess I had visions of neutral-toned toys to gloss the Insta feed and wooden Montessori toys to fuel his creative and emotional development. I was committed to a less is more approach and wanted to focus on sustainable, eco-friendly toys.
As with most things in parenting, some of those goals panned out and some of them didn’t. In this post, I’ll be sharing info about 4-5 month playtime in relation to developmental milestones, my expectations vs. reality of early playtime, and what toys have been James’ favorites so far.
Skills Your Baby Is Working On During Months 4-5
For us, month 4 was a huge growing period for James, and I think it is for a lot of babies. It coincides with the Week 19 Wonder Weeks Leap. During this time a lot of babies are:
- Working on rolling over,
- Learning to sit with assistance,
- Babbling with more complex combinations of sounds,
- Using their arms and legs to make more controlled movements, and
- Exploring their senses in more complex ways
On top of this, James had his first two teeth come in (typically, the first teeth don’t show up till around 6 months), we moved, and we transitioned him out of a swaddle and into a crib. Needless to say, it was A LOT of change, which resulted in a lot of fun new play, but some challenges as well.
Because of all of these exciting developments and transitions, play became an important place for James to practice his new developmental skills and to release his energies and frustrations. This is true for all babies.
Some skills you can practice during play with a 4-5-month-old include:
- Grasping and mouthing objects
- Hand-to-Hand transfer
- Recognizing patterns and contrasts
- Sitting, side-lying, and rolling
- Understanding everyday objects and routines and how the world around them works
Expectations Vs. Reality
As I mentioned above, I had planned for James’ toys to be primarily wooden, Montessori-based, and to (within reason) fit within an aesthetic that I had envisioned for our home. Looking back, I feel kind of bad about this last point. Yes, there are some amazing toys that children will love and that are in beautiful, neutral tones to fit the #boho vibe that is so popular right now. But babies like colors and contrasts. Not only do babies prefer them, but they need them for their development. This is why scientists recommend black and white, high-contrast toys and images for babies, especially those under 3 months of age. Dr. Sears puts it bluntly enough by saying, “Stronger signals mean more brain growth and faster visual development. Surround a baby with soft pastel colors, and you might as well be blindfolding him.” Ouch. Way to bring on the mom guilt, man.
Luckily for us, we moved in with my in-laws just before James turned 4 months old, and my mother-in-law had saved most of my husband’s toys from when he was little. Some of the new toys we have bought or been gifted have been great for James, but the addition of some added classics that I probably wouldn’t have purchased otherwise have been a great addition to our playtime repertoire.
I still contend that wooden toys are among the best and that less is more when it comes to the number of toys a child needs, but incorporating some durable plastics have also proven to be great, as have various sensory toys and toys with black and white or bright color contrasts. (Jump to Favorite Toys).
Beyond the toys themselves, my expectations about playtime versus the reality were also somewhat different. The main difference was that I wasn’t expecting James to get so frustrated with playtime. I thought playtime would just be happy time, and it is, but not always.
Among the things that can upset James during playtime are: a toy not working the way he thinks it should, not being able to grab two-dimensional pictures, boredom, a toy touching his face or mouth in a way he doesn’t like, not being able to pull an object to his mouth, and dropping a toy and not being able to find it. (Have I mentioned that our baby is a little ridiculous?) I’m told these are signs of a sensitive, intelligent child who is trying to make sense of the world around him…I can only hope so.
Maybe your child is great with play, but if not, just know you’re not alone. We’ve found that patience, frequent changes in playtime settings, positioning, and the toys themselves, and not being afraid to take a break and try again later or another day have been really helpful in navigating the wild mood swings.
With all that in mind, here’s our list of James’ favorite toys/toys I’d recommend getting for a 4-5 month-old baby (or as early as 3 months). A common theme with all of these toys is that they are 1) easy to grasp and 2) can be put in baby’s mouth.
1. The Number One: Sophie the Giraffe
Sophie goes with us everywhere and is James’ favorite toy. She is like a security blanket too in many ways. As long as Sophie is there, things are almost always okay. For whatever reason, she is just easy to hold and chew on and James loves her.
It’s been fun to watch how as his motor skills develop, he has been able to interact with her more intentionally and chew on different parts of her to create different sensations in his mouth. He even “talks” to her, which is adorable.
(Amazon: $24.92 Buy it Here)
2. Crinkle Books: Cloud Island Baby Book and Plush Elephant
Our baby likes to eat books. For the most part, sitting and reading a story together isn’t a thing for us, but we still want James to be introduced to the idea of books and to learn that they have an exciting world to explore inside.
Soft books made from crinkle cloth like this one from Cloud Island have been amazing because he can interact with the book and explore it without damaging the book or hurting his soft gums. The crinkle texture helps him develop a sense of cause-and-effect because he gets to practice making sounds, the multiple pages keep his attention for longer than most toys, and there are lots of fun sensory elements like a squeaky ball, rattle, and mirror.
(Target: $9.99 Buy it Here)
3. All-In-One On the Go: Freddie the Firefly
It’s amazing how many different things are packed into this one little toy. From about 2 months onward, James has liked to look at the black and white contrast patterns on the back of Freddie’s wings and once he started to be able to grasp things (at around 3 months), he has loved to put Freddie’s crinkly wings in his mouth. Freddie also has plastic teething rings, a small mirror, a rattle in his head, a hide and seek pocket, a squeaky ball, and surfaces of varying textures and colors. It’s like the entire Lovevery play gym in one stroller toy.
(Amazon: $14.99 Buy it Here)
4. The Perfect Rattle: Discovery Toys Helicopter
Unfortunately, this one is no longer available for purchase. This is one of the great toys we’ve been able to poach from my in-laws from when my husband was a baby. This was actually the first toy that James was able to hold on his own because the handle is very thin and fit easily in his hands even before they were fully open. Now that he’s a little older, he enjoys shaking and banging the rattle on various surfaces and exploring how the different pieces spin and move.
When buying a good rattle, I recommend ones with the little beads inside so that baby doesn’t have to work too hard to make the sounds and ones that are easy to hold/put in his mouth.
5. Favorite for Tummy Time: Manhattan Toy Co. Rattle
This has been one of our Montessori-type toys that’s also Instagram friendly. It’s made of all-natural wood and works great as a teether (James loves putting the little knobs in his mouth). And did you know wood has natural anti-bacterial properties?
He sometimes has a hard time holding it when he’s laying down or sitting in a seat because it’s a little on the large side for him right now, but when he’s on his tummy, it keeps him engaged for extended periods of time and challenges him to reach, grasp, and balance his weight in new ways. (Update: at 6 months, this is much easier for him to hold while sitting up. He also loves throwing it.)
(Amazon: $15.95 Buy it Here)
6. Exploring Cause and Effect: The Lovevery Play Gym Batting Ring
Despite how pricey it is, the Lovevery Play Gym has been a winner all around. It has a lot of great play zones that correspond to developmental stages and a helpful guidebook to make playtime more intentional.
Out of all the different toys and interactive zones on the play gym, the Batting Ring has been the best during months 4-5. It has three circles: the top one has a bell, the middle is a clapper, and the bottom is an easily graspable ring. These three rings allow James to interact with it in a variety of ways that have different effects. He can simply hold it, he can try to do little pull-ups with it, he can whap it, or he can wiggle with it. The different movements make different sounds (small movements ring the bell, big movements make the clapper sound). I also like that it continues to grow with him as he enters different stages of play.
(Lovevery or Amazon: $140 Buy it Here)
7. A Musical Toy You Won’t Hate Hearing: Nuby Safari Chimes Alligator
It is important to me that no toy enters our home that I will find annoying to listen to, and yet, babies love toys that make sounds. This stroller toy has been a favorite since James was about 2 months old because it makes a pleasing sound (to both him and us), and because it is easy to hold and put in his mouth.
(Walmart: $4.95 Buy it Here)
The Week 19 Leap during month 4 brings a lot of changes for little ones, but it also brings a lot of fun and exciting new abilities that your baby can practice during playtime with you. I hope you enjoyed learning about some of the lessons I’ve learned during this wild season and the toys that have been the biggest hits for us so far. I’ll be updating you as the months go by and would love to hear from others about what toys your little ones have loved (or hated) and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Cheers!