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What Babies Learn Through Play

As a firstborn and the first grandchild in the family, my 7-year-old daughter, Rachel, had been showered with nearly every developmental baby toy on the market by the time she was just a few months old. But I noticed that even though she loved many of the new high-contrast, battery-operated, brain-building gadgets she was presented with, she seemed equally entertained by old hats and handbags. While I was always happy whenever anything held her attention for an extended period of time, I couldn't help but wonder if I should try to steer her toward playthings specifically designed to boost her development.

As it turns out, I needn't have been concerned. "Babies are driven to explore," says Fergus Hughes, professor of human development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and author of Children, Play and Development. "If something grabs their attention, it doesn't matter whether it comes from a store." So while there are lots of great toys specially designed to interest and stimulate your baby, you can do a lot to entertain her and help her learn. All it takes is a little imagination. Some ideas for every age:

Kelly King Alexander has written for Family Circle and Southern Living.