Made to Play

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DIY Developmental Toys for Your Child’s First 3 Years

CONTENTS BIRTH – 6 MONTHS 18 Crinkle Toy 22 Sensory Bag 26 Rattle 30 Mobile INTRODUCTION 07 Doing It Yourself 08 Glossary 12 Materials 6 – 12 MONTHS 38 Tug Box 42 Pasta Bracelet 46 Snow Globe 50 Drop Ball Box

12 – 24 MONTHS

58 Plush Toy

62 Color Shape Box

66 Abacus

70 Drum Kit



78 Building Blocks

82 Finger Puppets

86 iSpy Rice Bottle

90 Paper Garden


96 Resources

100 Authors

101 Capstone


We know it can be hard to keep up with your growing child when you still have to juggle life around you, but you’re doing a fantastic job!

Understanding what impacts the health and development of your baby can get overwhelming and it is easy to miss how developmental milestones can have lasting effects on your child's future — this is where we can help.

This handbook was made to provide quick, household DIY solutions to parental monitoring. No more spending hundreds of dollars on intimidating textbooks and toys, only to do it again in 3 months. All you need is some patience, creativity, and your baby!

Remember that all babies develop at different paces, so it's important to look at your child's growth independently from others. However, if there are concerns, see our Resources section in the back of the book to see what next steps are appropriate for your child.



Developmental Screening

Developmental screening is the systematic practice of observing and identifying potential risks in the early stages of a child’s development. Screening can help detect developmental delays and disabilities early on, so intervention can happen as soon as possible to aid in the child’s continued growth.

Parental Monitoring

While developmental screening is important, it can be intimidating and inaccessible to many communities. Parental monitoring is another important practice to understanding how a child is developing, but can be accomplished at home through observing a child’s daily routine and playtime. Monitoring refers to the active parental awareness and watchfulness of a child’s activities.

8 Glossary

Guided Play

Guided play is a specific type of playtime that benefits a child’s overall development and learning. During guided play, the child’s activity is directly overseen by an adult to lead them to a developmental goal or objective. It combines a child’s natural learning process of free play with mentorship to help the child and guardian forge deeper interpersonal connections.

Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are a set of age-specific skills or tasks to watch out for during a child’s growth. Identifying the milestones for your child will help with parental monitoring during playtime. It is important to understand that every child develops differently and at a different pace. If there are concerns about your child hitting certain milestones, see our Resources section in the back of the book.

9 Glossary

Communication Development

Communication development at a young age includes a child’s ability to understand and relay thoughts, emotions, and information to others. Children may communicate through head, eye, and body movements or vocalizations, amongst other methods.

Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional development includes a child’s social experience, expression, management of emotions, and ability to create rewarding relationships with others.

Motor Development

Motor development refers to the physical growth and strengthening of a child’s bones, muscles, and ability to interact with their environment. Gross motor skills pertain to skills involving large muscle movements, such as independent sitting, crawling, walking, or running. Fine motor skills involve use of smaller muscles, such as grasping, object manipulation, or drawing.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development includes building skills such as memory, problem solving, reading, language, vocabulary, and numerics. Young children naturally and actively develop their cognitive skills through exploration and testing.

10 Glossary


Here is a comprehensive list of all the materials and tools that parents or guardians will need to create these toys. Just remember, a lot of these materials can be easily replaced or substituted. For example, if you don't have stuffing, you can cut up an old t-shirt, or if you don't have shower gel, you can use soap. Whatever works best for you!

12 Materials



Clear Glue

Duct tape







Utility Knife

16oz plastic bottle



Bottle cap lids

Box template



Chip bag


Clothes pins

Colorful paper

Construction paper



Fuzzy sock

Gallon zipper bag


Measuring cups

Mini rubber bands



Paper towel roll

Pipe cleaners

Pom poms

Popcorn kernels

Rice Rubber bands


Shower gel

Small cardboard box

Spice container



Tin can



13 Materials




Social & Emotional

Social & emotional milestones are tricky to spot during infancy. We recommend lots of play: singing nursery rhymes, playing with toys, and reading books to your baby will stimulate their brain and strengthen your bond.


Language milestones are the building blocks to a baby’s communication and social skills. Your baby will soon start to communicate with you through sounds. Actively listen to their responses and make facial expressions to teach them about communication.


Sensory milestones track the development of a baby’s five senses and are the start to cognitive growth. Take your baby for walks in their stroller or baby carrier and point out the trees, birds, and clouds to help them learn about the world around them.

Motor Skills

Motor milestones track your baby’s gross motor skills (core and upper body) and fine motor skills (hands and feet). We recommend "tummy time" to help strengthen those neck and upper body muscles.

17 Birth – 6 months


About this Toy

The Crinkle Toy is a great toy for young infants. It’s soft, easy to grab and hold, and makes lots of sound to hold their interest.


Babies love colors and texture! Try to use colorful or patterned fabric and different textures of paper.

Time : 30 min



Chip bag



Toy 18

Trace and cut two squares from a t–shirt, around 10×10in.

Cut 2×2in squares out of each corner.

Cut each side into strips (along the dotted line), around 1/2 inches apart.

Repeat this step for each side, so it looks like the photo above.

Tie the strips of each piece of fabric together, leaving one side untied.

If necessary, cut the chip bag down to the appropriate size.

Insert the chip bag into the middle of your toy.

Tie off the final side, and you’re done!

Birth – 6 months 19



Developmental Activity

Start by placing your child, tummy side down, on a soft blanket or mat. Pick up the Crinkle Toy and start making some noise to gain the attention of your child. You can move the Crinkle Toy around to see if they move their head with the noise or become excited. Once your child is engaged with the toy, you can hand it to them so they are able to play with it on their own. This activity is referred to as “tummy time” and encourages development in cognitive, fine motor and gross motor skills.


All babies are different! Milestones mark the month most babies start a certain behavior or ability based on baby’s age, but exact timing will vary. If you have any concerns, request an appointment with a healthcare provider.

20 Crinkle Toy


Watch for the development of your child’s cognitive skills. At this age, they might start to show signs of excitement by lifting and waving their arms and legs to get your attention. Encourage this growth by spending more “tummy time” with them.

Fine Motor Skills

Your child may begin to show their first signs of growth in their fine motor skills at this age. They will start to reach and grasp for the Crinkle Toy, working on smaller muscles in their hands and fingers. Show them how to crinkle the toy with their fist to further work those tiny areas.

Gross Motor Skills

As your child grows more comfortable during “tummy time”, they should begin to show signs of strength in their larger muscle groups. Your child will lift their chest when on their stomach and may even begin to roll over on the floor. Further encourage development in these muscles by moving the toy outside of their reach and above their head.

21 Birth – 6 months


About this Toy

The Sensory Bag is a great exploration toy for your child. It’s malleable and filled with fun objects for them to manipulate and explore.


Fill the bag with objects that vary in texture and firmness. Try a mixture of hard items (beads, popcorn kernels, plastic toys, etc.) and soft items (rubber bands, pom poms, foam shapes, etc.).

Time : 10 min


Gallon zipper bag

Shower gel


Duct tape

Sensory Bag 22

Take your shower gel and fill your plastic bag.

Don't fill too much — when laid flat, the gel should just reach the edges of the bag.

Add in your chosen filling: the more variety the better!

Seal the bag and test it out. Make adjustments if needed.

Fold one edge of the bag down.

Secure the folded edge with duct tape.

Repeat for each side, and you’re done!

Birth – 6 months 23



Developmental Activity

Once you have your bag, put it in the freezer for a few minutes until cold then give it to your baby. In addition to playing with hands, your baby will also want to bite any objects they may find in the bag, and the coolness will help with teething. You can give the Sensory Bag to your baby to play with while they sit or during tummy time.

Pay attention to the reactions from your baby as they interact with the bag. As your baby grows, they continuously gain an understanding of their own sensory thresholds and how to manage them. At this age, their initial reactions to playing with the Sensory Bag could consist of emotional reactions, like smiling, or physical reactions, like reaching for the toy.


Keep an eye on your little one, so they don't accidentally tear the bag or put any of the objects in their mouth!

Sensory Bag 24


Your baby is smarter than you think! During this period of infancy, children learn a lot about the environment around them. The Sensory Bag allows them to explore, discover, imagine, create, and learn while engaging their senses. The materials will hold the baby’s attention as they explore the differences in color, texture, and firmness.

Fine Motor Skills

A child’s muscle development during this time can range from a reflexive grasp to a controlled reach for an object. Fine motor skills are improved by manipulating small objects, dumping and scooping. These motions strengthen smaller muscles in the hands, as well as encourage full arm mobility the more they play with the toy.

Gross Motor Skills

The Sensory Bag is made to be lightweight and malleable in order to help strengthen the baby’s larger muscles. Manipulating the bag encourages full arm movement and mobility as they grow, as well as working neck and shoulder muscles for lifting their head.

Birth – 6 months 25


About this Toy

The Rattle is a classic for a reason. This toy is customizable, easy to make, and makes some great noise for your infant to explore.


If you don’t want to cover the Rattle with paper to add color, simply paint the inside of the container before you add in your filling.

Time : 10 min


Plastic spice container

Filling (rice, beads, kernels, etc.)

Colorful paper (optional)

Glue or other adhesive

Rattle 26

Empty and clean a small plastic container. Spice containers work great for this!

Gather together small, hard objects like rice, sprinkles, beads, etc.

Pour the objects into the spice container until it’s about 1/3 full.

Close the lid and test it out. Make adjustments if needed.

After adjusting, place glue on the inside of the lid to ensure it stays.

Twist the lid on and allow the glue to dry.

To add extra color, wrap the container with bright paper.

Birth – 6 months 27



Developmental Activity

Use the Rattle to test your child’s attention span and movement skills. You can shake the Rattle yourself and move it around to see if your child’s head follows your movements, tracking the noise. Once your child understands how you can use the Rattle to make sound, hand it to them to try it out for themselves. You can encourage them to dance as it will help develop their muscles and motor skills as they get older.


Never underestimate the strength of your baby! For safe measure, we recommend securing the cap with glue or tape to prevent them from opening the bottle.

Rattle 28


The Rattle promotes cognitive milestones, such as object permanence. Removing the Rattle from your child's eyesight and shaking it will prompt your child to identify the noise. Rattles can also prompt your baby to mirror your actions. For example, you shake the rattle to make noise, and your baby will want to imitate your actions to get the same sound.

Fine Motor Skills

Depending on your baby’s age and strength, they may start to poke at or shake the Rattle around. Their exploration with the Rattle will help strengthen small muscles no matter what stage they are at — interactions like pointing, turning, or even transferring objects from hand to hand will be key indicators of milestones at this time.

Gross Motor Skills

As their small hands grow stronger, shaking the bottle strengthens hand, arm and shoulder muscles. These small movements are important for the transition into using larger muscles like their upper body and back which will support their ability to sit on their own. Be sure to make the Rattle as lightweight as possible! Giving your baby heavy objects might cause strain on their muscles or discourage them from playing with the toy.

Birth – 6 months 29


About this Toy

This Mobile is cute, simple, and full of color and movement. It is a great tool to engage your baby and foster their interest in the world around them.


Want to hang your Mobile above the crib?

Instead of a cardboard base for your cloud, use a clothes hanger so you can hang it anywhere!

Time : 20 min



Colorful paper



Glue or tape


Mobile 30

Trace three overlapping circles on a piece of cardboard.

Cut around the outside of the circles to create your cloud.

Tape or glue three long pieces of string to the bottom of the cloud.

Cut out the cloud on colorful paper and glue to each side of the cardboard.

Trace raindrops on colorful paper and cut them out.

Glue two raindrops together on each side of the string.

Repeat this until all strings have raindrops.

Use a marker to draw a fun face on your cloud.

Birth – 6 months 31


Developmental Activity

Once you’ve created the base for the Mobile, you can then adjust the strings length so that it can be placed higher or lower above your baby depending on their age. Most commonly, the Mobile is hung above, hanging from the ceiling or the crib. Place your baby on their back below the Mobile. Intermittently spin the Mobile to keep it moving and hold your baby’s attention. Keep an eye on their engagement.

It’s important to look for eye engagement with the moving objects as this is a key milestone! Your child will focus a lot of their attention on their caregiver at this age, so be sure you are not directly in their line of sight. You could also play music for a full sensory experience, as well as lower the Mobile to encourage your baby to reach out for it. Always remember to keep the Mobile at a safe distance from your baby, and ensure its stability when hung to prevent any accidents!

Mobile 32


The Mobile is a great way for your baby to passively engage their minds. The Mobile’s distance from the baby can be adjusted depending on their age and engagement in order to better suit their development. Newborns focus best on objects that are about a foot away from their faces, so placing the Mobile this distance will allow them to see it well.

Fine Motor Skills

While your baby normally won’t physically interact with the Mobile, your baby should begin to follow the moving objects with their eyes. While looking up at the Mobile, a baby can also start to develop the ability to judge distances and spatial awareness, as the objects move towards and away from their eyes.

Gross Motor Skills

As your baby grows and their movement develops, reaching up for the Mobile helps them to master hand-eye and foot-eye coordination. Your baby may begin to reach for the Mobile sooner if they are in a supported sitting position. Their motor skills will continue to develop and strengthen over time the more they watch, explore, and play.

Birth – 6 months 33



The following are free, online resources for parents and guardians to access in order to learn more about their child's development.

If you have concerns or notice any delay indicators in your child's development, the following can help you take the proper next steps.

Medical Professional

If you are concerned about your child’s development or have questions about monitoring at home, it is always best to consult with a medical professional. A pediatrician will be able to address any of your concerns and can direct you to accessible resources in their network. While monitoring is a great way to track your child’s growth, it is important to check in with a healthcare professional if you have questions or concerns regarding their development.

36 Resources


The Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) is an age-specific questionnaire designed to help parents and guardians properly assess their child’s developmental milestones as they grow. The ASQ draws from guardians’ expert knowledge, specifically made to pinpoint developmental progress and catch delays in children.

CDC Developmental Screening |


This site provides further information and definitions outside of this handbook that can help you better understand the support your child may need to best monitor their development. You can also find a downloadable PDF that quickly explains and highlights important aspects of both developmental monitoring and screening. At the bottom of the site, there is information on services for children with developmental disabilities.

Countdown to Kindergarten |


Countdown to Kindergarten engages families, educators and the community to enhance early learning opportunities. It also supports the successful transition to kindergarten. The programs and activities create a continuum of services that support families from birth through kindergarten entry. It connects families in the City to Boston Public Schools (BPS). This approach ensures families register for BPS and Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK).

37 Resources

Office of Early Childhood | departments/early-childhood

The Office of Early Childhood is committed to universal, affordable, high-quality early education and care for all infants, toddlers, and children under five. Their main goals are to expand access to highquality early education and childcare programs, invest in Boston’s early education and care workforce, and serve as a central point-ofentry for residents looking for information on early education and childcare programming, and wraparound services for young children and their families. watchmethrive/

The Help Me Grow National Center is a nationwide system of support that utilizes and builds upon existing resources in order to develop and enhance a comprehensive approach to childhood growth and development. The Center links family services in the area and provides ongoing support. The Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive initiative was created to encourage developmental monitoring, promote behavioral screening, help with the identification of possible delays early on and enhance support through a wide range of professions that deliver services to families with young children. Here, you can access all of the initiative’s materials, including information on behavioral health, early intervention, and more.

38 Resources
Help Me Grow National Center |

Healthy Children |

Healthy Children is an online parenting website led by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is a highly trusted resource for parents who want to learn more about their child’s growth. Found on their homepage, you can sign up for their Ages & Stages Messaging Program which sends you age-specific health advice from pediatricians across the country via text or email. It’s like having a pediatrician in your pocket!

Insure Kids Now |

Insure Kids Now is a healthcare aid program that helps families and young children find coverage for their healthcare needs. Millions of children and young adults qualify for free or low-cost health and dental coverage through Medicaid and the Child’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). At Insure Kids Now, you can find out more and learn about coverage options for your family and child. Their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section includes information on insurance coverage eligibility for a range of individuals.

CDC information for Parents |

The CDC shares resources for parents and families here, including free tools to track your child’s developmental milestones, milestone checklists, children’s books, and more. Find more resources to support and promote your child’s development with regards to nutrition, learning, and positive parenting tips.

39 Resources


Julia Marrie

Julia Marrie graduated from Northeastern University in May of 2022, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Experience Design and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Her expertise spans a wide range of disciplines, focusing on research and human-centered design. More of Julia’s work can be found at

Alaine Bennett

Alaine Bennett graduated from Northeastern University in May of 2022 with a BFA degree in Interaction Design and a minor in Psychology. She currently works as a designer in Boston, and she is interested in graphic design, user experience, and accessibility design. Her other design work can be found at

Amanda Dupell

Amanda Dupell graduated from Northeastern University in May of 2022 with a B.S. degree in Computer Science and Design. She is interested in experience design, design systems, frontend development, and accessibility. Visit her portfolio at

40 About the Authors


Made to Play was created as a part of Northeastern University’s Senior Design Capstone, a rigorous course dedicated to researchdriven design. The course objective was to create effective design solutions for early childhood development in the Boston community.

Research shows that ages 0 to 3 are most critical for brain development. During this time, parents should actively engage in observing and understanding their child's developmental needs for growth- a practice known as developmental monitoring. To help make parental monitoring more accessible, inclusive, and emphasized in the family home, we developed Made to Play.

41 Capstone
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