When my son was born, the apartment we were living in at the time had an old fashioned bathtub, it was deep with high walls and was hard to reach into even for a guy like me over six feet tall. It was hard for my wife to safely bathe him and also made her nervous.
Because of that, bath time ended up being my job every night. After almost 7 years of a nighttime bath routine I thought I would put together this guide to the best bath toys by age, including the developmental stages to consider and what to look for in a good bath toy for each phase.
Hopefully this guide will be helpful for other dads and moms looking for ways to make your bath time routine more engaging and fun for your child. See our top picks for bath toys for small infants (birth to 6 months)
For the first few month we used one of those small plastic bathtubs that fits into a kitchen sink or sits inside the large tub, we then later graduated to the “Big Tub” around 5 months old when he was big enough to sit up by himself in the tub. In the beginning I was totally clueless- I had no idea really what I was doing since I’d never bathed a newborn, but before long we had a smooth evening bath time routine. I soon grew to love this part of the evening as it was a great bonding time for me and my son.
At some point, once my son was bigger, my wife could have taken over the bathing or we could have easily split the responsibility 50-50 but I liked bath time so much that I actually got a little territorial about it and my wife was happy to give in as it gave her a nice break every evening. By the time we ran the bath and went thru our bath routine it took a total of about 45 mins so it was a welcomed break for here.
I tend to take things a little to the extreme so I would spend a lot of time online researching things like best time to bath a baby and get pretty particular about which baby shampoo to use, look for the softest towels and the funnest part…the coolest toys! After all, a lot of the bonding at bathtime comes from the interaction and play. Some of the most entertaining things in the tub….empty shampoo bottles and cups. Some nights it seemed he could stay forever just filling and emptying bottles. But of course fun toys can make the bath go much more smoothly.
While my son did have fun was easily entertained by some for the most simple, household items (empty shampoo bottles and kitchen measuring cups were a huge hit) there was something really fun about presenting him with a new bath toy…he would get excited about it and looked forward to trying it out often wanting to take a bath way before it was even time to get ready for bed.
There are several benefits to having a variety of bath toys- just like non-bath toys, they help keep your child engaged and as they pass through the different stages of development will benefit from having different types of bath toys to play as they grow. Apart from making bath time more fun for the child and less stressful for parents, age appropriate toys can help your child with motor skills, language skills and other developmental milestones.
Here is a rough break down of the stages of development in relation specifically to bath toys, along with some main things to consider and what to look for in a bath toy for each of the corresponding stages.
Age-by-Age Guide to Bath Toys:
Young Infants: Birth – 6 months:
According to doctors, for the first few months your baby really can’t see clearly. Well they can observe their immediate surroundings your child’s vision is most likely still pretty blurry. Because of that, bath toys should have bright, bold patterns and contrasting colors (black & white is also a good combo). These toys will will grab your child’s attention more quickly and keep them interested longer. Bath toys that make noises like squeaking or rattling will also be more interesting in this phase. Since children begin to teethe during this time, toys with knobby exteriors or textures they can chew on will be better picks.
Bath toy features to consider:
- Black and white patterns
- Bright contrasting colors
- Nubby edges or soft chewy toys that help with teething
- Unbreakable, kid-safe mirrors
- Large sized toys, no small pieces
- Noises: Squeaky toys, rattling or chiming sounds.
Older Infants: 7-12 months:
Many children at this age can now identify their body parts and know their own names.
They are curious about putting objects inside of others and then removing them. On land, stacking toys are often very popular with this age group, while may be hard to stack things in the tub, there are other toys with similar dexterity challenges
as well as some floating stackable toys or on the edge of the bathtub. Nesting cups and bowls also are a good solution. They can also be filled/emptied which is also fun for this age.
Bath toy features to consider:
- Pushing/Pulling toys or building and stacking.
- Simple sets of bowls or nesting cups can provide lots of entertainment.
- Basic Waterproof books: large faces and body parts are also good match for this age.
- Pretend Play: large bath puppets & dolls
During this phase many children are learning to pull themselves up to a standing position. Because of this you need to be very aware that they may try to pull themselves up using bath handles, bath spout and take extra safety precautions (bath spout cover for example can make the tub safer).
See our top picks for bath toys for older infants (6 months to 1 year)
1 Year Olds: Bath Toys to look for
One year old are on the move! This is an exciting stage to watch your child progress so quickly but it’s also a tiring time for parents as you spend a lot of time running behind them and making sure they don’t get into danger and hurt themselves.
This can be a stressful phase for bathtime since a lot of one-year-olds are crawling around the tub and pulling themselves – and slipping and sliding around a lot. It’s great that your child is active but not so great for the parents when you are trying to have a relaxing bath and get them settled down for the night. Finding toys that are more entertaining can help them seated longer.
By the age of one, there are more complex toys you can introduce to the bath that will help keep your child’s attention. At this
stage you can include more toys that encourage creativity, pretend play and story-telling.
- Creative: bath crayons, bath markets or non-toxic color bath drops
- Waterproof books: stories that will keep their attention
- Waterproof puppets, dolls or animals.
- Vehicles: toy boats, submarines or other realistic mini watercraft to create stories, chases, races or taking a fantasy trip on ocean or lake.
- Building: stackables, blocks,
- Dexterity: knobs, pegs, holes, caps, lids
See our top picks for bath toys for 1-year-old.
Bath Toys for 2 Year Olds (Toddlers)
By two years old, most children’s language skills are advancing very quickly. Bath time is a perfect time to reinforce vocabulary. While toddlers have some basic sense of danger, they are still a danger to themselves since they are becoming much more active, moving quickly and testing their physical
abilities (jumping, rough-housing). Because of this bath time can be a challenge as your child may not want to sit still… again a wide variety of fun toys can keep them entertained and make bath time a smoother routine.
The toys build on what one year olds like, so many of the toys are similar although most kids at this age will be easily bored with what the had a year ago so more complexity (toys with more pieces that are more difficult to put together).
- Construction: beyond basic blocks, there are floating construction sets
- Waterproof puzzles usually larger pieces a dozen pieces or less (depending on the child).
- More complex toys with smaller shapes
- Crayons, markers and other bath paints are still a great option
See our top picks for bath toys for 2-year-old.
Bath Toys for 3 Years Olds (Preschoolers)
By this age, children’s attention spans are growing and they are very inquisitive- asking lots of questions. Why, Why, Why? This age is still early for most board games but is a good time to start to introduce them to simple games where they have to take turns and follow some very basic instructions.
When it comes to bath time, this stage is a great time to introduce slightly more complex sorting challenges, so pieces with same shape, size, color or pattern. Creativity and pretend play continue to develop so adding more transportation themed toys, mini versions of everyday items (food, fruits, animals, etc) that can be used to help parents tell stories are also good options. Children will often make up their own creative storylines, especially if that have figures, dolls, boats and other props to make up their own pretend world in the tub.
- Longer story books,
- More complex puzzles with more smaller pieces.
- More difficult construction sets or fantasy themed floating tools
- Creative outlets are all ways to keep your child entertained in the tub
See our top picks for bath toys for 3-year-old.
Bath Toys for 4, 5, 6 Years Old | Older Kids, Kindergarteners
I decided to group these years together because at this point there is less of a dramatic change from one year to the next. At this stage, 4-6 year olds are more or less in the same developmental phase as far as the type of toys they enjoy and the developmental skills needed.
By ages four and up, most kids continue to enjoy pretend play, building and creativity but demand much more as far as the type of toys that will keep their interest level. At this age, many children start to enjoy simple board games. These can be a great way to teach them the importance of taking turns and following rules which helps lead up to going to school.
They are also getting more competitive and many go through a phase of being a sore loser, this is the age when many parents let their child win at board games to avoid the tantrum afterwards or at least dose out the losses in small amounts and use them as learning experiences. While you won’t be playing board games in the tub, something simple like a tic-tac-toe that sticks to the bathroom tile or side of the bub could be the kind of game to start with.
Building toys will need to have more pieces or unique parts to give your child more options. Luckily there are some newer bath toys on the market with some very well designed construction sets that allow kids to let their imagination loose and create all kinds of inventions. While some of these are only meant to be used on dry land, there are some fun waterproof construction toys that will keep even the most motivated budding engineer busy in the tub.
- Stories: more pages, longer and more complex story lines
- Creativity: crayons, colors and markers are still popular but they may be looking for more colors, different shades and different sizes (fine vs broad brushes or points on crayons).
- Building: Much more complex sets with more pieces, smaller and additional attachments.
- Hand-Eye coordination: Toys with throwing, catching challenges.
- Targets, floating ring toss games and toys where they need to use their aim.
See our top picks for bath toys for 4, 5 and 6 year-old.
Towards the end of this phase, around age 6 or 7, most children are graduating from the tub to shower. While some kids still take baths well beyond this age, by early grade school many parents are ready for their children to make the transition. Much of this is for practical reasons, showers tend to be shorter and less of a ritual than nighttime baths. Also showers teach independence as children can shower on their own and are learning to dress themselves and get ready for bed on their own.
My son started showering around 7 but still enjoyed taking a bath so we usually reserved baths for the weekend when we had more time than we did during the school week. After all many adults love to unwind in the tub after a long day at work or during stressful times so there is no reason to pressure kids into showering rather than bathing, especially if they still enjoy the bath and it continues to be a bonding experience between parents and kids and a relaxing pre-bed routine.