Infant Toy Buying 101

Do not purchase a toy that:

Has small parts that detach (or could break off) easily and make their way into your baby's mouth
Is small enough to fit inside a toilet-paper tube; it's a choking hazard
Has strings that are six inches or longer (if you really love a plaything with a string, just cut it shorter)
Is labeled "Not for kids under 3."

Essentials for Infant Play

By the time she's 3 months old, your baby will be beyond the limp-biscuit stage (where all she did was eat, sleep, pee, and poop). Now when you put something in her hand, she'll hold it! And shake it! And probably taste it! That's your signal to stock the toy box. Here are the best basic toys for babies between 3 and 8 months old--and how to pick playthings that will be fun for both of you. Let the games begin!

For babies, rattles never go out of style as a form of entertainment. Look for rattles that are small enough for your baby wrap her fat little fingers around, lightweight enough for her to jiggle, and brightly-colored. The actual sound the toy makes won't matter to her--anything from a regulation "rattle" to a gentle jingle will make her happy. It's a good idea to have several on hand; for home, the diaper bag and the stroller.
We're talking about those playthings that do a little bit of everything--like rattles on steroids, they feature a variety of textures, eye-catching colors, sound-effects (squeaks, crinkles, animal noises, etc.), and squishy parts that are tailor-made for teething--designed to keep little hands busy and little minds engaged. These toys should be easy for a baby to hold and manipulate. Some come with clips, so you can attach them to the stroller or diaper bag.
The truth is, your baby loves the sound of your voice so much she'd be content to listen to you read the phone book. But since that would be boring for you, pick some tiny tomes that you'll enjoy as much as she will. Babies like bold, contrasting colors (black-and-white is passe); simple shapes; illustrations or photos of familiar objects (dogs, trees, mommies, other babies). Board books should be small and chunky (for holding and gnawing).
These padded mats have an arch from which toys hang: A baby can lie on her tummy (and should, to develop the upper body strength she'll need for sitting up, crawling, and walking) and look at the mat itself; or she can lie on her back and bat and kick at the dangling toys. You'll want a playmat that's plenty cushy (you'll be using it on the floor); machine-washable; easy to set up, take down, and carry around; and chock-full of fun for your baby: Often the toys that hang from the bar can be switched out for other ones (bought separately); sometimes the mats themselves have activities built right in (flaps that lift up to reveal a grinning gorilla, say, or a squeaker that sounds off when your baby presses on it).
Buttons to push, knobs to pull, wheels to turn, switches to flip--these all-in-one toys will definitely keep your baby busy (and teach her a thing or two about cause-and-effect, as in when she presses the blue button, the pig pops out). Busy boxes don't have to literally be boxes: Some are panels designed to attach to strollers or high chair trays; some are cubes, with different things to do on each of the six sides. What matters the most is that the parts are small enough for your baby to manipulate, and they should move easily and smoothly.
Lastly, a word about TOYS THAT CAN DRIVE PARENTS CRAZY. Steer clear of anything that irks you (makes irritating noises, say, or subsists on a diet of three new batteries a day). At this stage, you're 100 percent in charge of what your baby plays with--and the more fun it is for you, the more fun you'll have together.