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.
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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 absolutely want to invest in toys like Duplo blocks 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 this list is light on electronic and battery-powered toys that engage kids through hi-tech prowess — and loaded instead with beautiful and thoughtful design.
The Best Toys for 1-Year-Olds
When kids press the blocks together, they stick together. Imagine that! Not only does it making building big things that much easier, but it also really works their reflexes.
Crawlers can push this multi-faceted toy, while walkers can pull it along. And it's also a shape sorter, with three differently shapes holes so toddlers can learn about colors and how things go together.
Birds and bunnies, oh my! This train is made up of three wagons that kids can push or pull, and they stack 17 blocks, along with the animals, so everything stays safely in place when the caboose hits the road.
A sweet toy that helps kids with hand-eye coordination and the development of fine motor skills, this one has them placing soft birds inside a soft, colorful birdhouse.
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.
Toddlers learn about cause and effect when they shake each of these blocks, because each one makes a different sound. They hear squeaks, rattles, and clicks. And they can practice pushing them around, too.
Here's how kids learn about cause and effect: They press a key on the piano and hear the corresponding sound.
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.
A puzzle and stacking toy combo: This one challenges toddlers to stack the five pieces in all manner of different configurations.
You can go super high-tech with toys, but we love this back-to-basics stacking cup set, which encourages motor skills. It's a surefire winner. Kids can scoop and pour water, build towers and forts by turning the cups upside down, or just sort the cups by size.
Both a rattle and a sensory musical toy, this one has vibrant trickling beads and makes soothing raindrop sounds when your child flips it around and around and around.
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.
This toy does so many things at once. It's a stacking toy, teaching kids about what goes where. It's a pretend play toy, as it morphs into a tunnel or a bridge. And kids learn about colors as they play with the rainbow.
Each of the colorful blocks has a different texture, making playing with this toy a rich sensory experience. And the goal is to push the block into the box, thus aiding kids with their fine motor skills.
A beautiful discovery pyramid, this one is a feast of fun. One side plays music, another side is a shape sorter, a third side has moving gears, and a fourth has a mirror.
These gloriously simple Danish stacking cups leave everything up to the kids' imaginations. They are tunnels. Or towers. Or dragons. Or whatever they want them to be. Toddlers learn how to stack objects, and thus work their fine motor skills.
Put those motor skills to work by having your 1 year old try to knock down these foam pins using the foam ball. Hours of fun.
Toddlers learn about motion when they push and pull this car around; plus, the objects inside make noise, thus hammering home the idea of cause and effect.
It's a mashup of two great concepts: Sesame Street and magnetic tiles. Kids play with Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar while learning about shapes, numbers, colors, and building whatever their imaginations dream up.
So simple and so perfect: Kids' problem solving skills get a nice workout as they try to fit the correct shapes into the correct openings.
One year olds match each brightly-colored ball to its designated slot. The hammer toys help promote hand-eye coordination and improves dexterity. Plus, it lets kids bang stuff while learning their colors.
Not only does this clock get kids to work on their motor skills, but it also helps them learn numbers and begin to understand the concept of time. And it also helps with transitions: You tell your kiddo that in three minutes, it's time for lunch.
Clowns can be cute, as opposed to scary. Just look at this stacking toy. First released in 1955 (yes, 1955), this nine-piece wood stacking toy remains a favorite. It helps children with their reasoning and motor skills, and helps them learn about colors.
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.
A great movement toy for walkers, this one transforms from rocker to push toy to ride-on in seconds.
These wood blocks help toddlers learn about colors and gravity. And they can stack and stack with impunity until they inevitably fall down, which just makes it all the more fun, and challenging.
Children learn by watching and doing. And this wood kitchen lets them hone their motor skills as they make breakfast or lunch by stirring what's in the pot.
These cards help children with social-emotional learning, as they match the expressions on kids' faces with the corresponding feelings.
They thought of everything with this tool belt. The measuring tape retracts. And kids can start fixing things around the house with the pretend hammer, screwdriver, and saw with real wooden handles. There's a donut when they get hungry.
Not only is this toy colorful and fun, but it also helps kids develop their coordination, balance, and motor skills.When kids push the toy, butterflies spin around. Kids learn about cause and effect, and burn off some energy.
A bright and engaging wood knob puzzle, this one teaches kids about shapes and colors while also helping them with their motor skills.
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.
Kids toss these textured balls, which help develop their senses, and learn all about movement and their own physicality.
This is a pull toy that's handsome, promotes activity in kids, and is built to last — a combination that can't be beat. But it's also responsible: It’s made from recycled plastic milk jugs, which is something every parent can feel good
These chunky toy cars teach kids about motion. These bright cars are stackable, and have wheels that are easy for little hands to maneuver.
Pretend play gets a real-life twist with toy pots and pans that have the look and feel of the real thing. Whether they're used as metal drums or wooden-block carriers or in a play kitchen, to cook up some felt-and-velcro veggies, a kitchen play set launches years of edifying, screen-free fun. This stain-steel set includes a colander, pot with lid, two pans, two wooden utensils, and a rack.
A more electronic take on the traditional pull toy. This canine plays more than 60 songs and has a light-up nose to keep your child's attention focused. It helps teach numbers and colors, too.
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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