Category Archives: RATTLES

baby motor skill development with rattles


a teacher holds a baby rattle close so baby can look at it

baby holds a rattle


One of the first motor skills developed during baby’s first year is grasping and reaching.  It develops quite quickly as baby sees objects that interest her.  Her curiosity motivates her to reach out and grab the object to explore it with her own hands.  She likes to see if she can create the sound she hears when mom shakes the rattle.  She uses her arm to shake the toy and she touches the colorful pieces with her fingers.  Parents quickly accumulate a collection of baby rattles and toys to provide entertainment for baby.  One interesting toy can keep baby busy for quite awhile.  The rattles reflect a variety of stimulating features:  bright colors, soft fabric, moving parts, ringing bells, swishing sand, animal faces, and much more.  There is no limit to the market of imaginative and entertaining baby toys.


Often a caregiver holds out a toy for baby and quickly shakes it a few times and then watches to see if baby immediately grabs it.  When it appears that baby hesitates, the parent or nanny rejects the toy and offers a new one. He or she often thinks: “You don’t like this one, how about this one?  Or this one?”  This cycle repeats a few times until the parent or nanny gives up and just sets a toy next to baby.  This pattern reflects how fast-paced our society is today and how quickly adults process information with our hands and eyes.  It is important to remember that baby is still learning to see objects and to coordinate her body actions.  It takes time for baby to see the object, focus on it, and to develop an interest in it.  This process takes time.  Only when she is curious about the baby rattle will she develop the motivation to reach out and grasp it.   Give her time.


  1. Give her time to focus on the rattle with her eyes.  Hold it close to her so she can see it.  The younger babies usually need a bit more time since their eyesight is less developed.
  2. Move the rattle a bit so she sees the bright colors or hears the sound.  Babies see moving objects more clearly than still ones.  For some babies it helps to make the sound gently and for others a quick and loud sound is intriguing.  Shake the toy and pause.  Shake the toy and pause.  Give her time to figure out that this object is making this sound.
  3. Invite the baby to try shaking the rattle.  Ask, “Would you like to try it?”  or “Would you like to hold it?”  The tone of your voice lets them know that they can hold it.  It reassures them.  This is useful when the motor skill of reaching and grasping is very new to baby.


baby reaches to grasp a classic silver dumbell rattle

baby grasps and shakes classic silver dumbell rattle


What makes something a “classic”?  We all know “classic” cars, movies, toys, furniture, and sodas– Ford Thunderbird, Casablanca, Etch-A-Sketch, and the Eames desk chair.  According to, the term “classic” is used to describe something over 25 years old and still popular.  This definitely describes the silver dumbell rattle in the above photos.  Suitable as a baby’s first rattle and yet still a favorite choice by a seven month old baby (as in the photos above), this rattle has been popular for many years.  Upon seeing this classic baby toy during one of my Stellar Caterpillar lessons, many grandmothers  comment, “I used to use one of those rattles with my children!”


In the field of design there is one important principle that prevails.  This is the understanding that excellent design should not only be attractive to look at, but also must function extremely well.  We know that the dumbell design of the rattle is pleasing to look at as it is used in probably every fitness gym for the strength training weights, and has been for many years.  They come in several sets of varying sizes which means different weights.  For baby, the design of this rattle is excellent for motor skill development.  You can read our post “Best Baby Rattles” to learn more about rattles and motor skill development in infants.


green or eco-friendly baby rattle

The eco-conscious mother today is looking for baby rattles made from natural/organic materials.  These materials include:

  • natural wood
  • organic wool or felt
  • organic cotton
  • natural rubber
  • sterling silver
  • pewter

Ideally, baby rattles should be free of lead, phthalates, PVCs, and bisphenol-A.  Non-toxic coatings such as water-based inks and vegetable dyes are eco-friendly options for decoration.  However, in your quest for the perfect eco-friendly, sustainble, organic, and Fair Trade baby rattle, please don’t forget that one of the most important reasons for buying a rattle is to develop motor skills such as grasping and reaching.  If the rattle is eco-perfect but not useful for motor skills because the size or dimensions are not easy for the baby to hold and manipulate, the most important goal will be lost.  I encourage parents to have some eco-rattles, but not to fret over mixing in a few plastic ones as well.  Keep in mind that the cloth ones cannot be wiped clean, they need to be laundered.  This can be a bit labor intensive.

Brands such as HABA and VIULLI have made names for themselves by manufacturing and selling only eco-friendly baby toys and rattles.  HABA manufactures an entire line of baby rattles and toys, while VIULLI is the maker of the classic baby teether ‘Sophi” the giraffe among others.  You can find them online and often at local children’s boutiques.  Although the cost is usually higher, a few carefully selected rattles last a long time.


large baby rattle

rattles for babies aged 9-12 months


Larger rattles require more movement of the arms and hands from baby.  Previously, we discussed the importance of smaller rattles for babies from birth to three months.  The rattles need to be small enough so their little hands can hold them, and light enough that they can shake them.  As baby grows, she can eventually handle these larger rattles.  Usually by around seven months of age these larger rattles are well manipulated, as the baby in the above photo demonstrates.  They are excellent for her motor skill development since they require much more use of the arms and hand-eye coordination.


In today’s nursery, the toy selection often includes an abundance of electronic toys.  Although the fun sounds and twinkling lights may provide a long stretch of entertainment, it is important to be mindful of motor skill development.  Pushing buttons with fingers does not develop the muscles of the arms or the hand-eye coordination nearly as much as shaking a large rattle with bells.  To make a sound with a rattle, baby has to physically pick it up and move it several inches up and down or side to side.  When baby stops moving, the sound of the rattle stops as well.  Although some variety with both electronic and non-electronic toys may be ideal for some parents, it is important to keep baby’s motor skill development advancing with the manually operated toys:  simple rattles.


baby rattle

The favorite baby rattle is this one.  Every baby that comes in for a lesson loves to play with this Brio bell rattle.  The parents soon ask, “Where did you get that rattle?  She loves it!”  The question to ask, however, is “Why does she enjoy playing with that particular rattle?”


This rattle is quite simple in its design, yet it is the most coveted toy in my studio.  The reason, I would like to suggest, is that it stimulates multiple senses:  hearing, touch, and sight.  In previous posts we discussed  the importance of a rattle that makes sound clearly and easily.  This rattle not only makes a very clear and distinct sound, but the cage design allows baby to see the bell move.  This stimulates both hearing and sight.   Touch is stimulated because the cage bars are very thin in diameter, making it easy to hold and easy to shake and produce the sound.  Baby is also able to stick part of a finger in between the bars and attempt to touch the bell.  She can hear the bell, see the bell, and touch the bell.  This is very interesting for her and she learns a lot from this process of exploration.


This rattle is wonderful to introduce for baby play when she is about 3 or 4 months old.  It is more complex than the rattles recommended for newborns, and yet it is small enough for her to easily manipulate.  The design is closed at both ends so there is no danger of poking with a pointy rattle tip.  The lightweight plastic material makes it light enough to make it easy for her to shake and create a magical sound.



newborn rattles


One of the most popular baby shower gifts is the rattle, even though a newborn baby is not able to hold and shake the rattle for a few weeks.  The majority of rattles on the market are easy for the older babies to hold and play with.  They have a thicker handle, are bigger in size, and require more movement to create the sound than a 2 month-old baby can manage.  The yellow maraca rattle in the above photo meets our requirements for baby’s first rattle:

  • lightweight
  • has a small handle
  • easily makes an interesting sound


It is necessary, however, to watch the point on the one end of the maraca.  Use should be supervised.


This rattle design is often sold in sterling silver or pewter, giving the rattle a bit more weight.  It is also available in wood variations as well as plastic, however baby develops more strength from the silver or pewter material. This rattle is best introduced after some time with a lighter weight rattle. Otherwise, it is too heavy for her to play with.  The diameter of the stick handle is still small enough for her tiny hand to grasp  and shake it.  Another virtue of this classic design are the rounded ends, as baby now avoids the potential hazard of the pointy end of the maraca-style.


Baby benefits tremendously from playing with a rattle in her early months.  The skills learned are both fine and gross motor skills as baby learns to both grasp the rattle with her hand and fingers (small muscles=fine motor) as well as shake it with her entire arm (large muscles=gross motor). The feeling of holding the firm material of the stick handle in the palm of the hand develops proprioception.  The interesting sounds facilitate the hand-eye coordination since it gives baby an obvious clue as to where in space the rattle is.  Baby learns to match the proprioceptive feeling with the sounds she hears.


These two styles of rattles, purchased together, make a unique baby shower gift.  I guarantee you that no one else thought to pick out something for the earliest days of rattle play. For a more elaborate gift, choose an additional two or three rattles of larger size and with thicker handles for when baby is a bit older.  Try to select a variety of weights and sounds for your gift.