MU Picked · To Inspire Exploration For Infants

As a refresher on play in the baby stages, we spoke to Jennie Monness, early childhood educator, co-founder of Union Square Play, RIE practicum instructor and all around incredible resource. Jennie and I crossed paths years ago before we had kids but came together in the motherhood chapter, in part because of our deep interest in the concept of flow.

Flow is a philosophy on a deep state of engagement that I’ve always found compelling in adulthood and career conversations but Jennie thinks about it through the mind of a child. For any of you local to New York, Jennie created a FlowPlay class as part of the quality programming at Union Square Play. For everyone else, Jennie put together today’s list of toys and play objects to encourage our littlest ones to find their flow.


3-6 months

THEIR HANDS! A baby’s own hands are his or her first play objects. Give your baby the opportunity to find his hands by not having something hanging over his head during every minute of “play time.” Activity gyms and mobiles are fine, but make sure to give the opportunity for them to notice their surroundings and then, their own hands.

The Oball is awesome because it provides an opportunity for “an accidental grasp.” The holes throughout it enable even a young baby to pick it up “by mistake” simply by brushing their fingers near it and having a finger get caught between the openings. Babies also love sticking their tongue through it. Its an optimal first toy because of the ease in which it can be picked up, the intrigue to explore it orally and also how it's visually open.

The  Oball

The Oball

6-12 months

Hair Rollers! Yes, not to get your “hair did” but as sorting objects. They nest within one another and roll, two qualities that make them intriguing to children. Just trust me, get them. While my 9-month-old rolls them around and bangs them, a friend of mine told me her toddler thought of them as a way to make ice cream cones by sticking balls on top of them! Get these specifically!

Baskets, canisters, containers

It's not just about providing thoughtful play materials, but it's also about how you present them. Think of a play space as an environment to be cognitively challenging (for example, providing things that fit inside one another or that go "in" and “out”), and that creates a "spark" for your child. Instead of all of the toys you own being out, why not present a few in baskets, canisters or containers. Young babies deserve to be exploring in a space that feels intentional, thoughtful, looks nice, and isn't overwhelming.

Rubbee Blocks (but these specifically because they're just SO good) They’re great chew toys in infancy that don't harbor mold because they have shapes cut out of them. They smell DELICIOUS because they’re made from natural rubber. They also become sorting objects for a toddler to line up and put into categories by shape or building blocks for a preschooler. Introducing them at this age helps create a familiar relationship with a toy that they’ll have for a long time.

12-18 months

Silk Scarves are beloved because they’re so open-ended. They can be capes, blankets for dolls, “water” to make waves, or just a fun object to run with. This one is my favorite. Sometimes I display it in a pile in a basket during my classes and it’s one of the first things that the toddlers are drawn to.

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A 5-Gallon Water Bottle seems random but trust me. Fill it with heavier objects if your child likes gross motor movement and seal the top. They’ll love pushing and rolling it. It’s also great to leave open and have your child place smaller objects inside of.

Nesting buckets for sorting, stacking, collecting or wearing as a hat.

18-24 months

Miniland dolls are the closest to resembling real-life which helps toddlers relate them to real babies making them more engaging and exciting. They represent something more imaginative rather than just a play object. They’ll start to talk to the baby, feed the baby, even diaper the baby!

Hide and Seek Balls are so simple yet so engaging. Not only can your child play hide and seek with the balls that come in the set, but they’ll want to play using some of their favorite toys. The possibilities for this are never-ending.

What were your favorite activities and toys with your kids when they were in their earliest stages of development? We’d love to have you add to the list in comments. xo

Featured Image of Jennie Monness and daughter, Tess, by Classic Kids Upper East Side