Make Your Own Developmental Baby Toys

Homemade toys, as seen on the American Baby TV Show.

baby playing with toy BananaStock/ Jupiter

Black-and-White Mobile

Age range: Birth to 2 months

Developmental skills: Babies can discriminate among patterns after they are 1 week old. To grab the attention of newborns, patterns have to be made of sharply contrasting colors. Black on white makes the boldest design. Expect your baby to study these pictures most carefully between the ages of 6 and 8 weeks, but present them sooner.

    Materials needed:

    • white poster board
    • wide black felt-tip pen
    • photograph of face (about 4 x 6 inches)
    • string
    • scotch tape
    • Elmer’s glue


      1. Glue the photograph to poster board. Cut out picture.

      2. Cut a 4 1/2 x 6-inch oval from poster board. Draw a simple face on it with the pen.

      3. Cut out a circle of poster board about 5 inches in diameter and draw thick concentric circles with the pen.

      4. Cut out a piece of white poster board 5 1/2 x 7 inches. With the pen, draw and color in diagonal lines about 3/4 to 1 inch wide and the same distance apart.

      5. Cut a square 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches from poster board and color in a checkerboard design.

      6. On the back of each of these pictures, tape a tab made of a little strip of poster board. Bend the tab to allow space for a string to fit through.

      7. Thread a piece of string through each tab. Tie or thread pictures onto taut string, elastic, or a wooden dowel across the crib.

        Shiny Pendant Mobile

        Age range: 3-9 weeks

        Developmental skills: At this period your baby will express interest in his world if the immediate environment contains some bright objects. The bottoms of the mobile ornaments should be broad and shiny or colorful, since that is the side the baby sees.

          Materials needed:

          • thin chain (from hardware store), the width of crib
          • 4 foil tart pans, 5 inches in diameter
          • heavyweight string
          • red yarn
          • scotch tape
          • scissors


            1. Tie a length of string onto each end of chain to attach it to the crib.

            2. When you fasten the objects to the chain, pair them toward either end so the baby will see them when his head is turned to the side.

            3. Punch two small holes in center bottom of a foil tart pan. String yarn through the holes so the pan hangs upside down. The length of yarn depends on the distance between the crib rim and the mattress. You want the objects to dangle about 7 to 9 inches from the baby’s eyes.

            4. Cut out the bottom circles of two tart pans. Slit each from the edge to the center and punch a small hole farther along the edge of one. Slide the slits into each other. Keep the circles at right angles to each other with bits of tape applied where the circles intersect. Thread yarn through the hole and hang the ornament on the chain.

            5. Cut out the bottom circle of another pan. Starting from the edge, cut a spiral. Stretch it out. Make a hole in center. Thread yarn through the hole and tie it to a link on the chain.

            *Safety Note: Hang the mobile out of reach after your baby is 8 weeks old. This mobile has some sharp edges and is not meant to be touched or pulled.

              Nesting Rings

              Age range: 8-14 months

              Developmental skills: Fiddling with these rings gives your baby something to do when she’s standing in the crib. Babies like to see objects change in shape. These rings keep altering in appearance when handled. They cluster together sliding inside each other, or spread out in a colorful row.

                Materials needed:

                • empty toilet paper roll
                • empty paper towel roll
                • cylindrical oatmeal box
                • cylindrical salt box
                • cloth tape
                • contact paper, brightly colored or patterned, or pieces of bright fabric
                • Elmer’s glue
                • heavyweight string or dowel


                  1. Cut four rings, about 2 to 4 inches wide, from containers of varying diameters. Cover any rough edges with cloth tape.

                  2. Cover cardboard or plastic rings with contact paper or fabric. If you use fabric, cover the rings with glue and then attach fabric. Cut to size.

                  3. Thread rings along string and tie the ends to the crib rail near footboard. Or move the dowel to foot of crib and thread rings on the dowel.


                    Age range: 5 1/2 to 8 months

                    Developmental skills: With very little effort, babies can launch these cylinders into a forward roll. Babies often prefer a moving toy to a stationary one. The cylinders won’t roll far, though, and the desire to handle them again may encourage your baby to inch forward. These roly-polies can also serve as a great turn-taking activity as you roll them back and forth with your child. For additional fun, try stacking the lightweight cylinders. Your baby will delight in knocking down your tower!

                      Materials needed:

                      • 1 full cylindrical salt box
                      • 3 empty cylindrical salt boxes
                      • handful of small rocks, lentils, buttons, nails
                      • patterned contact paper or fabric
                      • cloth tape
                      • heavyweight string
                      • nontoxic epoxy


                        1. With sharp knife, cut off the tops of the empty boxes about 1/2 inch from the end.

                        2. Put lentils in one, nails in another, and small rocks in a third. (The heavy box, full of salt, rolls differently.)

                        3. Place the tops back in position on boxes.

                        4. Cut three circles of contact paper big enough to cover the ends of each box and the seams where the cut-off tops meet the bottoms. After slitting the contact paper edge about every 1/2 inch (so that it fits around the box better), adhere it over the top and across the seam of each box. Cover the bottom of the boxes too, if you wish.

                        5. Either use epoxy to secure the top or place a strip of tape around the seam to make sure the top won’t come off. For appearance, add more strips of contact paper or tape around the body of the boxes.

                        *Safety note: Keep checking to be sure that the glue or tape on the lids is holding.

                          Pull Toy

                          Age range: 9-12 months

                          Developmental skills: Pull toys can give your baby support as he learns to use his wobbly legs! Bright colors attract the child to the toy. Pulling it encourages grasping and walking skills. The sounds of the bells encourage listening and help to keep the child’s interest.

                            Materials needed:

                            • long, thin cardboard tube
                            • short, wide cardboard tube
                            • sturdy string
                            • colorful contact paper
                            • scissors
                            • small bells


                              1. Cover each tube with different colored contact paper.

                              2. Slip the wider tube over the thin tube.

                              3. Cut a long piece of string and pull it through the long thin tube.

                              4. Put the bells on the string so they are inside the long thin tube.

                              5. Tie the two ends of the string in a knot about 12 inches from the tubes.

                              6. Tie the rest of the string in knots so it’s easy for the child to grasp.

                              *Safety note: Keep checking to make sure that the bells are safely secured and staying inside the tube.

                                Colorful Liquid Bottles

                                Age range: 6-12 months

                                Developmental skills: Children will delight in looking at the colorful contents of these bottles. Crawlers might enjoy pushing the bottles along the floor and watching the contents of the bottle swirl and shine!

                                  Materials needed:

                                  • clear, plastic juice containers or soda bottles
                                  • water
                                  • food coloring
                                  • glitter
                                  • nontoxic epoxy


                                    1. Rinse out plastic juice containers or soda bottles and remove labels.

                                    2. Add water, food coloring to change the color of the water, and glitter to add sparkle and shine.

                                    3. Spread epoxy on the threads where the lids screw on. Attach the lids as tightly as possible and wipe away excess epoxy.

                                    *Safety note: Keep checking to make sure that the glue on the lids is holding.


                                      Age range: 14-24 months

                                      Developmental skills: Younger children will be motivated to shake these rattles when they discover that they make noise. For older toddlers, the variety of sounds produced when they shake these canisters will give them the incentive to listen closely. Gradually they’ll get interested in comparing the different rattles. They may even become aware of the different weights. They’ll be developing their ability to notice similarities and differences. Loud and soft or noisy and quiet are words you can use often to teach the concepts they describe.

                                        Materials needed:

                                        • 6 empty film containers or empty bubble containers
                                        • 1 tablespoon of unpopped popcorn
                                        • a penny
                                        • a button
                                        • safety pins
                                        • a barrette
                                        • a bolt
                                        • nontoxic epoxy


                                          1. Fill each container with a different item or group of items. For example, you could put a penny in the first container; a button in the second container; unpopped popcorn in the third, etc.

                                          2. Spread epoxy on the threads where the lids screw or snap on. Attach the lids as tightly as possible and wipe away excess epoxy.

                                          *Safety note: Keep checking to make sure that the glue on the lids is holding.

                                            First Puzzle

                                            Age range: 14-24 months

                                            Developmental skills: For toddlers, a favorite form of play is fitting one object to another. A child will often show pride when she fits puzzle pieces into their positions, and an adult’s praise of the child’s accomplishments is reinforcing. A child may also show signs of frustration, such as throwing the pieces aside, if you encourage her to fit them when she is not ready to enjoy such a task.

                                              Materials needed:

                                              • corrugated cardboard about 1/4 inch thick, cut from a sturdy carton
                                              • cloth tape
                                              • contact paper, patterned and plain
                                              • Elmer’s glue
                                              • mat knife or box cutter


                                                1. With the mat knife, cut two cardboard rectangles 7 x 13 inches. These will be your puzzles frames.

                                                2. Cut out of one frame a square of 3 1/2 inches on each side and a triangle 3 1/2 inches on each side.

                                                3. Lay the first frame with cutouts on top of your other frame. Trace the shapes through the holes and cut out another square and triangle.

                                                4. Trim 1/8 inch off all sides of your puzzle pieces (so when bound with tape they still fit the holes).

                                                5. Glue (laminate) the two squares together, then the two triangles, and finally, the two puzzle frames.

                                                6. Cover both sides of the puzzle pieces with plain contact paper and cover both sides of frame with patterned contact paper.

                                                7. Bind all edges with cloth tape.

                                                  Tube Poke

                                                  Age range: 24-36 months

                                                  Developmental skills: Tube poke provides another fun opportunity for toddlers to fit one object into another. Children will enjoy pushing the tubes through the holes and watching them pop out the other side and fall into the box. While younger toddlers may not put the tubes through the holes, they will enjoy filling up the box with tubes and then reaching in to take them out again.

                                                    Materials needed:

                                                    • sturdy medium-size box
                                                    • about 24 paper towel and toilet paper rolls
                                                    • colorful contact paper
                                                    • mat knife or box cutter
                                                    • dish tub


                                                      1. Tape the bottom of the box closed. Cut off the top of the box.

                                                      2. Cover the outside of the box with colorful contact paper.

                                                      3. Carefully cut four or five holes, the diameter of your tubes, in each side of the box.

                                                      4. Place all the rolls in a dish tub.

                                                      The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child’s condition.