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The Ages and Stages of Play

You'll be amazed by how much your baby's smarts, coordination, and confidence develops with each passing month. Let the games begin!
toddler kicking a ball Ball

For little kids, playing is everything -- fun, yes, but also vital for their growth. It's how they explore the world and learn to do stuff: crawl, talk, walk, build, sing, draw, and make friends. Have you noticed that the toys that seem to capture your baby's attention over and over again are often the most basic ones, like wooden blocks and balls? "Parents today seem to feel it's necessary to buy expensive 'learning' toys with a thousand bells and whistles, even though there's no scientific evidence that they boost IQ," says Hillary Hettinger Steiner, PhD, an educational psychologist at the University of Georgia, in Athens. "Classic toys are more versatile because they don't ask for a specific response from a child like electronic ones do -- a kid can play with them in whatever way he pleases. Toys like this grow with your child." What can you expect your child to do with these toy-chest favorites as he develops from a baby to a full-blown toddler? We polled the experts on playtime milestones.

6 Months: Your baby will stare intently at the ball. He will also enjoy grasping and feeling it, so go for one with interesting textures like nubs or tags.

12 Months: He can sit on the floor and roll the ball back and forth with you. He might even be able to throw it, although without much aim or purpose.

18 Months: Welcome to the Little Little Little League! Your mini Mantle is a more adept -- and forceful -- overhand thrower and enjoys flinging the ball to you.

2 Years: He's refined his pitch and now starts to kick and dribble a ball with his feet. Thanks to their low center of gravity, toddlers are naturals at basic soccer play.

3 Years: Finally, your sports guy is able to catch a large ball. Some toddlers might be able to kick a ball toward a defined goal.

Safety Tip
Those super-bouncy rubber balls are a hoot -- but not for young kids who might pop 'em into their mouth. Any ball small enough to fit through a toilet-paper roll poses a choking hazard.

Flash Fact
By 18 months, your child will be able to recognize a ball in the real world and in a book, pointing to it and maybe even saying "ba!"

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