One-year-olds are at a tricky transitional phase — no longer babies but not yet fully fledged toddlers. They’re developing rapidly, so the best gifts are things that will delight them in new ways as they become more dexterous and begin to master new skills. We spoke to nine parenting and child experts to compile an extensive list of ideas, from the best construction toys to the best bath toys, to suit any budget and any occasion.
The best construction toys for 1-year-olds
Putting blocks together and pulling them apart will help develop kids their fine-motor skills and encourage collaborative play, says Good Play Guide founder Amanda Gummer. These colourful magnetic cubes are a great choice, says Gummer, as they are easy for little hands to manipulate. Buy a starter pack now, and if they’re a hit, you’ll have your present options sorted for years to come, as there are plenty of sets to collect.
These interlinking tactile cubes were recommended by Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communications at the British Toy and Hobby Association. They are soft, squidgy, and interesting to chew — which is an important consideration since 1-year-olds are still very much in the teething zone.
Victoria Millsop, manager at Fledglings (an online shop that is part of a disability charity called Contact) recommended this set, as it straddles two categories on our list: construction and sensory. Each of the 16 blocks is filled with either liquid, glitter, beads, or sand “and can be used as a stimulus to children’s creativity for building or creating patterns.”
The best musical instruments for 1-year-olds
A musical instrument will help toddlers develop hand-eye coordination and learn about cause and effect. “This is something that adults will pick up and want to play with. And actually, what you want at that age is for the grown-ups to be playful with the kids, as that’s really good for developing social skills,” explains Gummer.
Andrea Yavasheva, early years programme officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society, recommends buying this brightly coloured tambourine as it is great for exploring light and sound. “As your child shakes and bangs the tambourine, the lights will change on the front, promoting movement, sound, and texture. It’s also lots of fun,” she says.
The best books for 1-year-olds
“One-year-olds enjoy anything with a bit of texture,” says Rachel Vecht, a teacher and mum of four who founded the “Educating Matters” seminars. This is especially true for blind or deaf children, says Yavasheva, who likes that this book “is full of lovely textures to explore, and the vocabulary used can be reinforced through role play and object play using animal toys.”
You don’t need to stick to books with simple vocabulary. Siobhan Freegard, founder of channelmum.com, advises thinking back to your own childhood or asking the child’s parents if they can remember what books they enjoyed reading when they were little. “It’ll bring memories flooding back,” she says. “If they can’t remember, just pick the classics.” This fun tale by the Ahlbergs is a firm favourite with this writer’s 1-year-old, who often picks up the story of the “dark dark house” and plonks himself on a knee to be read to.
The best imaginative toys and gifts for 1-year-olds
This soft doll, which is handmade by a fairtrade company in Sri Lanka, is recommended by Tessa Trabue, Let Toys Be Toys campaigner and co-founder of the Toymark Award. “Toys that encourage caring skills are particularly welcome at this age, when new toddlers fresh out of babyhood enjoy having their own little one to cuddle and look after,” she says.
Gummer recommends this soft and cuddly CBeebies character whose ears dance while it plays music. Noise and movement are two elements that Julie Elliott from the Royal Society for Blind Children says are important considerations when choosing toys for blind children. This Duggee toy is also a good option for deaf children, as it has colourful lights under each of its four badges that flash along with the music.
If you don’t want to add to the mountain of toys, Freegard recommends “choosing a gift that makes memories for the whole family” and gives them opportunities to explore the world. Club together with friends to buy a family membership for the National Trust, which includes access to more than 500 sites across the country, including adventure play areas, mazes and castles. This is a particularly good option for 1-year-olds with older siblings who have already inherited a lot of toys.
The best walking toys for 1-year-olds
Some 1-year-olds may be walking already, while others will still be crawling or bum-shuffling, but all of them will enjoy toys that help them feel more confident on their feet. “This is a great time to introduce push/pull toys that encourage movement to develop a 1-year-old’s gross motor skills and coordination,” says Trabue. “This adorable toy is very engaging, with a body that crawls up and down, and a bright wheel shell that spins when it is pulled along.”
The best sorting and stacking toys for 1-year-olds
“These back-to-basics toys will allow your child’s imagination to flourish,” says Zoe Bonser, director of The Baby Show. “Any nesting toys that stack — so you can build a tower and knock it down — provide hours of entertainment,” explains Vecht. “Whenever I travelled with my young children, I always had some stackable cups in my bag.”
Millsop adds: “Playing with stacking cups encourages children to use both hands in motion together, helping them develop bilateral coordination.” She recommends this set, as it is made from 100% recycled plastic.
“Simple shape-sorting toys are great for developing children’s hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills,” says Yavasheva. “They can also assist with language development by promoting shapes, colours, and movement vocabulary.” Trabue recommends this colourful set made from wood.
The best bath toys for 1-year-olds
“More and more parents are looking to buy toys which are sustainable and better for our environment,” says Crookes. She recommends this seven-piece set made from 100% recycled OceanBound plastic. Each of the shells and creatures is designed to interact with water in a different way — it will run down the legs of the jellyfish or create a cascading waterfall with the holes along the edge of the abalone.
One-year-olds love learning about animals and the noises they make. Trabue recommends this set, as the cute animals are easy for small hands to grip.
The best sit-on toys for 1-year-olds
“It is a big investment, but they’ll love playing with it for at least five more years, so it’s the gift that keeps giving,” says Freegard. “One-year-olds love sitting inside it and putting their toys in the little shelf in the back long before they have the strength to propel it along. It’s even fun to keep indoors in the winter if you’re not fussy about your skirting boards getting bumped.”
Bring an element of soft play into your home with this large, squidgy cube that has a different geometric soft mirror on each face. “With no hard edges and a wipe-clean vinyl cover, the Mirror Cube can help develop self-awareness and can also be used as a child’s seat,” says Millsop.
This large, soft toy is like a rocking horse for kids who aren’t yet able to balance. It features multiple textures and noise-making details to build fine-motor and auditory processing skills. Crookes says it “aids early-childhood development in three key skill areas: physical, cognitive, and social — all whilst having fun.”
The best sensory toys for 1-year-olds
“Give ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ a very special meaning for your 1-year-old,” suggests Freegard. “At an age when children are learning to sleep independently, this twinkling projector will help them drift off peacefully.” It is cordless and easy to transport, so you can keep your child’s bedtime routine consistent when you’re away from home.
“This soft sensory ball has various textured areas to explore, and it lights up and plays music. It’s great to promote large motor movements and social skills when playing, including turn-taking.” says Yavasheva. Elliott says noisy toys are a good choice for blind and partially sighted children, as hearing them will spark their curiosity. “Ordinarily, a young child learning to crawl will see something on the floor and that motivates them to move towards it, but for a child who may not see it, hearing it will make them want to move, and that’s really important for their development.”
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