Have you ever tried to find the perfect birthday gift for a one-year-old?
Walking those aisles of baby toys, many of them claiming that they will teach babies important developmental skills…especially those toys we call “SCLANS” that focus on teaching kids about shapes, colors, letters, and numbers (learn more about a speech therapist’s perspective on SCLANS here). How are we to know which toys are actually good for the little one who is transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as they turn one year old?
Well, thankfully, finding a developmentally appropriate gift for a one-year-old doesn’t have to be super complicated!
Here are a few basic things to keep in mind when looking for a great gift for baby’s first birthday:
- When it comes to play, one-year-olds are still in the sensorimotor stage of development. This means, more than likely, the birthday boy or girl still very much enjoys play that involves sensory exploration, repetition, and challenge to their emerging motor and cognitive skills.
- Pretend play skills start to take off between 12-18 months of age, particularly as it relates to imitating the actions of adults such as cuddling a baby, holding a toy phone up to their ear or pretending to drink from a cup or sweep the floor. Simple props that can be used for basic pretend play can go a long way!
- Children begin to understand that objects come in different colors, shapes, and sizes right around their first birthday, and they begin to demonstrate preferences amongst these factors. Toys that include these variables will support their growing understanding of these concepts.
- Many twelve-month-olds still love to put stuff in their mouth! Beware of birthday gifts that contain small parts that could be choking hazards.
- Children go through a variety of “sensitive periods” in which their brain and body are most open to particular types of inputs and learning experiences. Research shows that it is during these sensitive periods that children’s brains are most able to absorb and acquire new information about particular activities or experiences; the brain actually makes connections faster during these periods and, once the sensitive period is over, it is then more difficult for the brain to learn that skill later on. If you know that the birthday boy or girl is in a particular sensitive period, capitalize on that and choose a gift that matches what type of activity or learning experience they are seeking!
Does this sound like the soon-to-be one-year-old you’re shopping for?
Oh, one more thing.
Think about whether you want to buy a gift that the birthday kiddo can play with as soon as they open it or if you want them to be able to get some use out of it a few months down the road. This will help you determine what type of gift you should look for in terms of developmental difficulty. For example, I remember when my first little guy turned one year old and one of my family members gave him two puzzles — one had chunky pieces for his chubby baby hands and the other had small pegs for pinching with a more refined toddler grasp. It was so great to have a more advanced puzzle immediately available for him when, one day when he was around 15 or 16 months, he demonstrated that he had outgrown the chunky puzzles and was ready for an increased challenge!
Remember that children develop at their own pace and they each have their own unique preferences and strengths. One kiddo may prefer shape sorters and puzzles while the other prefers balls and ride-on toys. You know the birthday boy or girl better than I do, so let this list guide you in your birthday shopping quest. This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click over and wind up making a purchase, Mama OT may receive a small commission to help keep this blog running, at no extra cost to you (thank you!). Read my full disclosure here. You can click on the photos below to be taken to each specifically pictured product on Amazon, or click on the additional links included in the text for more ideas related to each category.
Okay, so keeping our basic developmental facts in mind, let’s dive right in with…
10 GIFTS FOR BABY’S 1ST BIRTHDAY!
Look for engaging books that encourage rhythm, rhyming, repetition, matching, touching and feeling, and/or identification of objects (animals, vehicles, body parts, shapes, colors, numbers, etc.). In my household we have loved this series of Usborne touchy feely books, this series of Karen Katz lift-the-flap books, and play-a-sound books like these. Some classics that incorporate rhythm and repetition for one-year-olds include I Went Walking and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? And, of course, now is a good time to get started on that collection of Dr. Seuss books!
Developmental skills encouraged: midline play, sitting, reaching, joint attention, pointing, grasping, bilateral coordination, visual perception, visual scanning, tactile processing (touch and feel books), object permanence (lift-the-flap books)
2. Blocks for Stacking or Building
You want blocks that are small enough for little hands but not so small that they will be choking hazards. I like these B. One Two Squeeze Blocks for little ones who are learning to stack and this bag of Mega Bloks for those who are ready to start building.
Developmental skills encouraged: midline play, grasping, releasing, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, depth perception, concentration, praxis
3. Shape Sorter
There are SO many shape sorters out there, it’s kinda overwhelming! Some people prefer wooden shape sorters like this Melissa & Doug one, but I have personally found that there are too many challenging shapes for young toddlers and the wooden top slides off way too easily, thus defeating the purpose. Instead I like this Playskool shape sorter for a new one-year-old. It has different textures on each shape, as well as textures on each side of the shape sorter itself. The cube shape teaches kids how to rotate the cube to find the correct side for the matching shape. Additionally, the shapes are basic enough for beginners, there aren’t an overwhelming number of shapes, and you can flip one side open to release the shapes once they’ve been placed inside. A good purchase, in my opinion.
Developmental skills encouraged: shape recognition, matching, visual perception, tactile discrimination, midline play, grasping, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual spatial reasoning, problem solving, concentration, praxis
Chunky puzzles like this safari animals one, this farm animals one, or this basic shapes one are great for one-year-olds who are still getting the hang of using their fingertips to grasp objects. Same with puzzles like these ones with jumbo knobs. (By the way, puzzles and shape sorters will teach kids’ developing brains WAY more about the properties of shapes than those SCLANS that were mentioned earlier could ever do. Just sayin’…) Puzzles appropriate for several months after baby’s first birthday would include ones like these puzzles with pegs for pinching. Great way to encourage the development of those early pencil grasping skills without ever picking up a pencil! Playing with puzzles also helps reinforce concepts needed for later development of math, reading, and writing skills. How about that!
Developmental skills encouraged: matching, visual perception, midline play, grasping, hand-eye coordination, visual spatial reasoning, problem solving, concentration, praxis
There really isn’t much to say about this one. A ball is a ball, it’s fun to play with, and it helps develop a ton of great skills! Just make sure it’s soft enough that it won’t hurt the little guy or gal when (not if) he or she gets bonked in the face with it.
Developmental skills encouraged: sitting, standing, squatting, walking, running, throwing, kicking, bilateral coordination, depth perception, visual tracking and convergence, joint attention, praxis
Much like shape sorters, there are MANY different types of nesting and stacking toys out there. Really, as long as it holds a child’s interest, it’s good! I do like these Fisher-Price Stack & Roll Cups because of how colorful and versatile they are. They come with a little yellow rattle ball, they are easy for little hands to hold, they can be played with in the water, they can be nested or stacked, and they don’t have any sharp corners. I will even say that my now-2 1/2 year old STILL likes these cups (even though we got them out for baby brother to play with) because they have numbers printed on them, which means he can practice stacking them in numeric order now that he is old enough to organize things by number. It’s great to have a toy that grows with your child! If you want to get a nesting and stacking toy that will be appropriate for the birthday kiddo several months after the big day, consider going for something like this set of Melissa & Doug Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks.
Developmental skills encouraged: understanding of size differences, midline play, bilateral coordination, grasping, sitting, standing, squatting, concentration, praxis
7. Musical Toy
In case you haven’t noticed, babies and toddlers love to make noise! They often enjoy making noise by shaking and banging on things, so why not channel that energy into musical instruments? You really have to be careful when giving one-year-olds musical instruments due to the potential choking or finger pinching hazards. Oh yeah, or they could whack themselves or someone else over the head with their musical instruments, too. You could pick up a baby/toddler-appropriate musical kit like this one, or you could do individual musical toys like this little piano, this little drum, these little maracas, this 2-in-1 piano/xylophone, or this highly rated Glockenspiel.
Developmental skills encouraged: midline play, grasping, tool use, bilateral coordination, auditory processing, auditory discrimination, sound localization, praxis
8. Baby Doll
There is almost nothing more appropriate for encouraging a one-year-old’s overall development than a baby doll! We’re talking cognitive, fine motor, self-help, language, and social-emotional development. Yes, playing with baby dolls is that beneficial! Want more details on why it’s good for young kids to play with dolls (yep, even BOYS!)? Then check out this post I wrote in collaboration with speech-language pathologist Katie Yeh of PlayingWithWords365 and clinical psychologist Laura Hutchison of PlayDrMom. Then hop over and check out these highly recommended Corolle dolls for girls and for boys!
Developmental skills encouraged: symbolic play, midline play, fine motor skills, self-help, speech-language, social-emotional
First I want to say that push toys should not be used to teach children to walk. That teaches them to use their body improperly and doesn’t encourage the natural balancing and positioning needed for learning to walk. However, push toys are great once baby is beginning to walk independently! Nowadays many push toys are also ride-on toys, which makes them versatile and allows them to grow with the toddler who becomes more and more independent every day. Of course there is the classic Cozy Coupe that many of us knew and loved as children. Or there are other toys for pushing or riding such as the corn popper, baby stroller, rolling puppy, or push & ride racer.
Developmental skills encouraged: standing, cruising, walking, propelling self, bilateral coordination
10. Pounding Toy
Tool use is a fun skill to learn in the year after the first birthday but WATCH OUT! Tools can easily and unintentionally turn into weapons! That being said, there are many pounding toys out there that are appropriate for the new one-year-old. I especially like the ones that can be used with hands at first, and then with pounding tools as they get older such as this pound-a-ball maze or this pound & tap xylophone bench.
Developmental skills encouraged: midline play, grasping, tool use, bilateral coordination, visual tracking and convergence, auditory processing
Bonus: Water Table
If summer is coming up and you know your little one likes to play with water, then a water sensory table might be right up your alley for a super duper birthday gift! I totally love our Step2 Splash N Scoop Bay. In fact, I love it so much that I wrote a post about it, including 10 different ways to play with a water sensory table. We ordered our water table for my son’s 2nd birthday, but I have had friends who have ordered it for their child’s 1st birthday and that timing worked out well for them. This particular water table is so versatile (as you’ll see in the post), and it’s a gift that will grow with your child through the years.
Developmental skills encouraged: midline play, standing, reaching, squatting, bilateral coordination, tactile processing
I truly hope this list has given you some great ideas for gifts for baby’s 1st birthday!
Do you have gift ideas for one-year-olds? Please share your suggestions in the comments section so we can all know!