Toys: The Parenting Chapter’s top 5

When you are pregnant with your first child, you dream about scenarios that involve a well-behaved baby or toddler who sleeps from 7.00pm – 7.00am, always looks pristine in beautifully designed and stain-free clothing, and plays independently with lots of well-crafted wooden educational toys. Look away at this point expectant parents, while us old-timer parents laugh, cry and sigh all at once. 

The wooden educational toy idea is, to some extent, realistic and usually such toys are gifted by the Grandparents who have spent lots of time selecting something that reminds them of their own childhood. However, children of today have an in-built radar from an early age, which recognises that wooden toys are frankly a bit boring. And not very good for a) hitting Mum in the face with, or b) hitting the dog on the head with, or c) don’t have a built-in screechy American singing voice that irritates anyone in the house and the neighbours. All those rounded wooden edges are just a bit too predictable and safe for a plastic-obsessed child.

Fast forward to when your baby is about 7-10 months old, on the precipice of toddlerdom and you have more plastic in your house than at a recycling site. So rather than fight against the plastic consumer mania, I have put together a list of mine and my husband's top five plastic baby/toddler toys, which we have ranked against useful, parent-friendly criteria. All of these toys are good for your child’s development and something, in all seriousness, that we are glad we purchased.

1. Toy Name: JoJo Maman Bébé bell with handle

Irritating features: The noise and likelihood of the child not using it to create a bell-ringing sound, but instead to whack people or expensive glass tables with.

Will it calm a child going batshit about something? Yes, as it enables a ratty/frustrated child to start whacking things. Move all breakables and prized possessions out of the way before handing over this toy.

Situations to use this toy in: 5pm – 7pm (during the ratty hours), or when in the highchair and the child is waiting, not patiently, for his/her food.

2. Toy Name: Lamaze pram toys

Irritating features: If you had visions of looking stylish with your carefully selected pram and changing bag, these toys disrupt your overall look. They also get dropped/thrown on the floor a lot and then placed in your child's mouth over and over again, so more than likely a breeding ground for every illness going around.

Will it calm a child going batshit about something? A Lamaze toy is so stimulating for a young baby with all its bright (garish) colours and features, you can only use it for a limited period of time. Extend this by engaging in a game of putting it back in the pram when your child repeatedly throws it out. Do expect a back-ache following this.

Situations to use this toy in: In public places when your baby is tired/hungry/needs a nappy change and you anticipate having no more than 10 minutes before all hell breaks loose.

3. Toy Name: V-Tech Crawl Ball

Irritating features: Everything.

Will it calm a child going batshit about something? Yes, and this balances out the fact that every single feature of this toy is irritating. It is especially useful for a baby who, when placed on his or her tummy for tummy time, face-plants the carpet, as it encourages them to lift their neck.

Situations to use this toy in: Tummy time, to avoid face-planting of the carpet, and to encourage crawling. However, we found that our pet dog running away with our son's toy was the best motivation for crawling.

4. Toy Name: ELC Bubble machine

Irritating features: None, apart from if you tip the front of the machine downwards when filled with the bubble liquid. We now have lots of white-tinted, but very clean, patches on our carpets.

Will it calm a child going batshit about something? Yes. The best purchase we made, as it requires minimum input from the parent, but has maximum results. It also entertains our dog, who enjoys jumping up to try to eat the bubbles, which also entertains our son. Win-win all round.

Situations to use this toy in: Whiny moments or when you are trying to do something for yourself that only requires one hand. In one hand the bubble machine, in the other the remote/your phone/a book (maybe that’s pushing it). 

5. Toy Name: ELC Musical Maracas *

Irritating features: This is the most irritating toy I’ve ever come across. The eyes on the maracas feel a bit creepy, especially after a broken night’s sleep.

Will it calm a child going batshit about something? Yes. This toy was first introduced to our son at three months old and is still, sadly, in use. We have taken them everywhere, including the car, which I strongly warn against. See *

Situations to use this toy in: Every situation. Tip: when your child goes to the grandparents' house to be looked after, take this toy. Let your child get his or her maraca fix away from your home and ears.

*Do not, I repeat do not, EVER take these things on a car journey. You cannot turn them off and every little bump sets them off. My husband was ready to chuck them out of the window during a long car journey and we had to wrap them in a changing mat and coat, and stuff them in the boot to block out the noise. Even then, you could still hear them.

One very useful piece of advice I can give when it comes to any battery-operated plastic toy, is to leave them on permanently. This allows for the battery to unwittingly (sort of), run out much faster. When we hear that American screechy voice starting to go a bit drawly and then robotic like, we fist pump the air and pray that our son doesn’t start playing with the toy and pressing the buttons wanting to hear noise for at least a week. 

Roll on when cuddly toys are the flavour of the moment!