The Benefits of Playtime for Babies

Newborns and Up

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

The classic first toy, a rattle gets baby's attention when shaken.

What Babies Learn: Born with natural curiosity, infants gather information about the world through their senses. "The more of the five senses a particular toy commands, the more rewarding and appealing it is," says Sally Goldberg, PhD, author of Baby and Toddler Learning Fun (Perseus).

Your baby can see a rattle's bright colors, feel its smooth or nubby texture, hear its clinking sound, and mouth it. A rattle also teaches about cause and effect -- if your baby shakes it, the toy makes a sound -- giving her the thrill of realizing she can make things happen.

The best rattles allow your baby to connect the sound to sight. "Get a rattle made of clear plastic so your baby can see the beads inside clinking together," says Goldberg. Young infants, who can't see in color yet, will also be more attracted to rattles in bright, primary hues rather than pastels.

Game Plan: Hold the rattle 6 to 12 inches from your newborn's face -- the distance at which he sees best -- and slowly move the toy back and forth. This technique helps develop eye coordination. Then shake the toy at various points in your baby's line of sight so he can track its sound. He'll also enjoy the novelty of hearing the tinkling from different angles. You can mold your newborn's fingers around a rattle and help him shake it. But until he's about 3 months old, he won't be able to hold it for more than a few seconds. Switch off presenting the toy to him from his right and left sides; he'll get practice grabbing it with both hands, which will help develop both sides of the brain.

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