Picking out gifts for babies may seem like fun and games, but finding something that will excite the wee ones—and let’s be honest, their parents—for more than a day or two isn’t always child’s play. And more often than not, they are just as mesmerized by the gift wrap as what’s inside. To help you one up even the most crinkly wrapping paper, we polled the parenting pros on exactly which baby gifts will have the whole family smiling.
For hands-on learners
Wooden Activity Cube
At the infant age, where toys are constantly being introduced for the first time, a classic like this wooden activity cube is the surprise hit you’ve been scrolling for. “It’s an instant gratification gift,” says Veena Goel Crownholm, Los Angeles-based lifestyle expert and mom of two. “Babies are excited as soon as they see it, which also means you get that moment of joy as a gift giver.” With tons of objects to push, pull, move, twist and spin, plus a sturdy base with rounded corners that can stand up to babies who are learning to, well, stand up themselves, this playroom staple is ready for prime time as soon as babies are sitting up on their own.
For boho babes
Grimm’s Spiel Und Holz
Large Stackable Rainbow Blocks
When an eco-friendly toy doubles as nursery decor, you’ve got a win-win baby gift on your hands. The Grimms Wooden Rainbow Stacker is a favorite of Lizzie Assa, founder of The Workspace for Children in New York City, because “it looks beautiful on a shelf and will truly be used throughout childhood.” Babies will grip and mouth the brightly colored, non-toxic wood arches now, says Assa, and as they grow, they’ll stack and build with them, and later turn them into tunnels for toy cars and homes for animals or dolls.
For non-stop climbers
Climb and Crawl Activity Play Set
Climb and Crawl Activity Play Set
As soon as babies are on the move, this climb and crawl play set will “keep them busy and challenging themselves,” says Assa. The Greenguard Gold certified foam shapes are made of high-quality vegan leather, she says, and their soft exterior and non-slip base make them perfect for crawling, sliding, climbing and building. Plus, the easy-to-wipe-clean pieces hold up to all that activity for the long haul. “Our own set was passed down six or seven times over and is still like new,” Assa says.
Sloth Snuggler Routines Collection
This snuggly sloth comes to life for little ones with an accompanying board book that promotes early emotional learning. “My son got this as a gift and it’s incredibly soft and came so well packaged,” notes Goel Crownholm, who also likes reading the book with her boy. “It has a positive message that I know he’ll grow to understand soon enough,” she adds. Other feel-good features: the Slumberkins Sloth Snuggler is stuffed with hypoallergenic fiberfill and has no detachable pieces.
For taste testers
Those first bites and sips can be extra exciting, but also extra messy, which is why this cleverly designed bowl-placemat combo makes an excellent present. It suctions to a high chair tray or dining table to cut down on bowl flips and tosses. Monica Banks, New York City-based founder of Gugu Guru, a community of parent product testers and content creators likes that it is dishwasher-safe “and babies will love the bright colors.”
For floor explorers
This award-winning play gym, designed by a team of child-development experts, is the most-recommended gift by our parenting pros. Crafted from organic cotton and Forest Stewardship Council-certified, sustainably sourced wood, it offers stage-based activities that grow with a baby through toddlerhood. “A lot of baby products are in and out so fast, but this one offers a whole year’s worth of play,” says Goel Crownholm, who personally used one inside and outside of her house with her second child. Both Goel Crownholm and Banks also praised the included guide, which offers stage-based tips to make playtime more meaningful.
For aspiring architects
Sometimes it’s the simplest designs that inspire little ones the most, says Assa, who swears by Mushie Stacking Cups. Not only are they easy to grip, but they’re also “great for fine motor skills and learning cause and effect,” she says. The concentric design makes them particularly fun to stack and knock over or fill and dump at the beach or in the bath. Since they nest, the cups are a great travel toy, too.
For baby-loving babies
Plush Basket of Babies
The only gift better than one soft, squishy baby doll is a diverse basket of six. The dolls in this set, a favorite of Assa’s, come with sewn-on hats and removable sleep sacks that attach with Velcro so they’re easy for little ones to put on and take off.
For nature lovers
Caravan Stroller Wagon
When adventure awaits (aka siblings’ soccer games or family park playdates), this easy-to-maneuver stroller-wagon combination makes it a cinch for babies—and all their stuff—to keep up with the rest of the crew. Unlike other models, this one has a 5-point harness that makes it safe for babies six months and up, according to the company, and for an extra fee, you can add two canopies for just the right amount of shade.
For bouncy tots
Little Big Playroom
Classic Ivory Bundle
A ball pit is a place of wonder for babies who are comfortably sitting or walking, and this 38-inch diameter version that comes with 200 balls delivers a lot of play space. Goel Crownholm personally appreciates an option with a padded circle mat that has a purpose with and without the balls. “You can use it to set up a cozy, comfy play space for babies now, then move it outside for movie night on the lawn when they’re older,” she suggests. This pick from Little Big Playroom is made with a memory foam interior, a machine-washable exterior cover and 2-inch thick walls that are designed to resist caving in. The pit balls come in three colors for plenty of fun.
For future creatives
This hand-dyed silk is another toy that can be used from infancy through grade school, says Assa, who has used it with little ones as a preschool teacher and as a mom. “Babies love seeing this silk sway in the wind and feeling it in their hands as they learn to master their grip,” she says, and as they get older, they can play peekaboo with it, hide and find objects inside it, use it for dress-up or as a blanket for a baby doll and more.
For movers and shakers
In a pile of baby toys, this musical shaker is the one babies always gravitate toward, says Goel Crownholm, who bought one for her first child more than a decade ago when he was 11 months old and now watches her 2-year-old adore it just as much. “The motion and rain-like ‘tick tick tick’ sound of the tiny balls falling down the notches is soothing and oddly captivating,” she says. “It’s a great way to teach music and cause and effect.”
For light sleepers
Early risers and night owls alike have plenty to gain from the ultra-calming, continuous sounds of this night light and sound machine in one, according to Banks. You can use the app to customize your baby’s sleep space, including sound and light effects, from anywhere, while the Touch Ring feature saves favorite settings so you (or your little one) can tap it on or off when sleep time starts or ends. This latest version comes with a backup battery, notes Banks, “which makes it even more portable.”
For mini mes and their moms
Smoke Show Sweatshirt (Baby)
Smoke Show Sweatshirt
Yes, babies love toys, but they also love the feel of a comfy sweatshirt like this customizable one Goel Crownholm recommends—in baby and adult sizes. “It always feels thoughtful when people give a personalized gift,” she says, and “this one washes and wears impressively well.”
For tiny travelers
Melissa and Doug
Take-Along Shape Sorter Toy
A hit at home or for road trips or visits to Grandma’s, this shape-sorting toy has multi-sensory features like crinkly picture flaps, shape matching and a nifty zipper to keep your kiddo captivated.
The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of the Buy Side from WSJ editorial team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.