The Best Gifts for 1-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts
You want toys that engage kids' imaginations and let them explore their world.
So you survived the first year of parenthood and maybe even got your kid to sleep through the night. Nice work! And seemingly overnight, you now have a toddling, babbling, drooling little person in your home who’s grabbing everything in sight and shoving it into their mouth. Twelve-month milestones vary wildly, which is why finding 1-year-old birthday and gifts can be tougher than changing a diaper while standing up. Gifts for 1-year-olds should, of course, be fun, but also help kids this age explore the world around them while mastering gross and fine motor skills.
You want products like shape sorters or stacking toys — any toy that encourages problem-solving is a winner. And because kids are figuring out how stuff works, give them things that look like the real deal: Pretend food is a great example. Plus, you want to invest in toys like Mega Bloks that will grow with your kids and are modular, so toddlers don’t get bored. And you can never go wrong with books.
“From 1 to 2 years old, babies become ‘big kids’ — walking and talking. They increasingly want to do more for themselves and enjoy toys that give them a sense of independence and mastery. Think about stacking rings, simple knob puzzles, chunky toy cars and trains, big balls to toss, roll, kick and throw, and push-toys they can move,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three.
One thing worth noting: The less a toy does, the more your child has to do with his or her imagination. And that’s what you want. Which is why our editors’ recommendations are light on electronic and battery-powered toys that engage kids through hi-tech prowess — and loaded instead with beautiful and thoughtful designs.
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The Best Toys for 1-Year-Olds
Think of a Jellycat as an investment in a years-long buddy for your one-year-old. They are fantastically plush and cuddly and last forever—one Fatherly tester confirmed his kiddo has used one nightly for four years. They are a perfect size for full body spooning when your child is little which makes them a serious comforting tool and they squeeze down nicely into carry-on luggage for when your child wants to bring them on vacation.
Essential equipment for most toys on this list, the Toy Bungee secures most items so that when they fall (and trust us, they will fall or be thrown or dropped), you won't sprain your back after repeated returns. The silicone tether is dishwasher-safe and super durable.
The VEER Cruiser is pricey for a wagon, but its sheer utility makes it a worthwhile investment. Burly hard plastic wheels go off road with ease, and they’re coupled with a sturdy handle, making Cruiser feel nimble even on rough terrain. Myriad optional accessories like the snack tray and car seat kit make this and ideal cruiser for walks.
Providing a soft padded space to let your one year flip, fall, and flop around is liberating for both child and caregiver. This simple mat from ProSource offers plenty of padding for those first step spills and the EVA foam is easy to wipe down after the occasional accident on the mat. The interlocking multicolored pieces will stimulate your littles’ eyes and also make the play space easy to break down and stash away during naptime.
The Deep Sea Adventure is a jellyfish with four quadrants that deliver dozens of toddler-stimulating activities in a stout four-legged form that doubles as a steadying table for shaky legs as kids play. This heirloom-quality wood activity center offers a world of tactile play in each quadrant and when your toddler grows out of it, the Deep Sea Adventure will make a proud hand-me-down gift thanks to its sturdy build.
The sensory delight of being fully immersed in a ball pit is timeless. At 13 inches deep, this 35-inch by 35-inch tub pit is just the right size for a little one to roll around in the safety of soft (too big to swallow) plastic balls (sold separately) but not so large that busting it out will dominate an entire room. Bonus: soft sides keep rowdy wigglers safe inside this pit.
The simple joy a child gets from a nicely balanced rocker means it will likely take up some real estate in your home for years, so you might as well like how it ties the room together. This Plush Rocker is a legacy piece that can be passed down from one sibling to another and even jump between generations thanks to its sturdy wooden frame and plush furlike exterior.
Mega Bloks have been a staple toy for toddlers since the 80s for good reason—their oversized easy-to-connect building units make creating one’s first structures very straightforward for small learning hands. A big enough set of them can also act as a stress relieving building kit for dads who are looking to take on some Lego-like projects with lower stakes and bigger pieces.
Simple, repetitive motions are the bread and butter of early brain development and few toys translate this as straightforwardly as this Pound and Tap Hammer Bench from Fat Brained Toys. Its brilliant colors engage young minds and the easy to use mallet and pegs will help mitigate frustration meltdowns.
Chock full of the industry-leading Montessori toys, a box of goodies arrives every three months, making this a gift that keeps on giving. From puzzles to learning aids, it's got it all in forms sure to please a little one. It's also tailored to specific ages, ensuring your child is never without an appropriate challenge.
One of our favorite toys, this one is a sensory sensation that lets kids explore shapes and colors while also burning off some energy. Kids play with 60 soft plastic balls, that come in two sizes and six colors. And when they're done, the balls zip up inside the turtle.
Getting the felt and fabric pineapple, banana, strawberry, slice of watermelon, apple, pear and orange out of the basket, and back into the basket, takes effort. Coordination. Focus. Concentration. All the skills you want your toddler to develop while engaging in open-ended play.
You don't need a ton of space for this wood climbing wall, because it folds up when not in use. But when it is in use (and it locks into place), it helps your toddler work on her balance, learn about her center of gravity, and develop her motor skills. Best of all, the inside doubles as a tunnel.
The hands-on activities on this wood table help toddlers develop their fine motor skills, as they turn, roll, flip, spin, slide, and shake all the attached pieces. Best of all, this table is low enough to the ground that wobbly walkers can sit down and play with the jungle animals.
Dolls are nurturing toys, teaching kids how to care for something. This 12 inch doll is soft, cuddly, and more diverse than the mostly all-white offerings out there. The pacifier is magnetic, and she has removable and interchangeable doll outfits and diapers.
If you're looking for a total splurge, the kind of gift that will make your toddler go nuts, behold this stunner of a play kitchen. It's made by Amish artisans from sustainable Baltic birch and North American maple, and topped with water-based, low-VOC, and HAPs-free finishes. It's a keepsake that will last for years, and it's also perfect for pretend play, as kids cook up dinner, and clean up.
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