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We’ve most recently added the Goodevas Triangle Ladder + Slide Climbing Set to this guide. Finger Toys
When it comes to presents, many 1-year-olds aren’t picky. In fact, they may be as excited by the packaging as by what’s inside. (Be sure to save those boxes.) Others have already begun to develop their own unique preferences, personalities, and abilities. By investing in the right toys and gifts, you can set your child up for years of fun.
Look for toys that are open-ended, like blocks and stacking cups that can be played with in more than one way, said Sarah Cleveland, director of a child-care center near Austin, Texas. Play at this age is largely focused on sensory exploration and motor development, Cleveland points out. So toys with different textures that invite small hands (and, of course, mouths) to grab and investigate are good choices, as are starter ride-on toys that offer the opportunity to roam. This age is also a good time to invest in keepsake items that will remain special as a child grows up.
We talked with Cleveland and other child development experts—and mined the collective knowledge of parents and other caregivers on our staff—to identify fun and engaging gifts for the youngest recipients. Some of the toys on this list are officially recommended for children ages 2 and up and 3 and up. Our testers have played with these toys outside of their age-range recommendations and found them to be appropriate for this guide. Children with medical complications and developmental delays may engage most with toys recommended for infants; when shopping for them, it’s best to ask their parent or caregiver about the child’s developmental (versus biological) age.
If you’re looking for more kids gift ideas, check out our guides to the best gifts for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, as well as great stocking stuffers for kids. We also have guides to gifts for tweens and teens. (Since kids develop at different rates, all age recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt.) And please share your own best ideas in the comments below.
My First Signs: American Sign Language (Baby Signing) ($7 at the time of publication)
I introduced My First Signs: American Sign Language (Baby Signing) to my then-4-month-old during the early days of “I’ll try anything to keep you entertained for more than 2 minutes.” The sturdy, 11-by-11-inch board book soon proved to be tummy-time gold. Illustrated with pictures of sweetly rounded babies and their props, it demonstrates the signs for 43 words, from eat, sleep, and drink to the more complex I love you, on the last page. While lying there, my son would carefully study each baby’s expression, eventually picking up several signs (with some coaching, of course). Nearly two years later, we still enjoy looking at the pictures. And though he can now say the actual words, my son still uses the signs for please, help, and owie, which never fails to melt my heart.
Fat Brain Toys Oombee Cube Sorter (about $30 at the time of publication)
Shape-sorting toys give babies and toddlers an early introduction to puzzles by helping them work on their problem-solving skills. Heather Singh, associate director of school and gallery education at the Thinkery (a children’s museum in Austin, Texas) at the time of our interview, recommended this tactile cube from Oombee. And every time we’re at the Thinkery, my toddler finds and plays with them. The shapes are attached with thick strings, so you won’t be constantly hunting under the couch for the missing triangle, and this toy is easy to take along in the stroller. Sure, most 1-year-olds will simply put those rubbery, textured shapes directly into their mouths. But that’s fine—the teething-friendly Oombee is made from food-grade silicone and is simple to clean with soap and water or in the dishwasher.
Learning Resources Snap-n-Learn Counting Cows ($18 at the time of publication)
Think of these 10 plastic Snap-n-Learn Counting Cows as two-piece, Lego-like heifers, with heads and hindquarters that snap together with a satisfying click. The pieces are interchangeable, but they can also be matched by counting the dots on each piece’s rear end and finding the front half with the corresponding number. At age 1, my son was entertained simply by taking the cows apart and putting them back together in any combination, a fine-motor-skills exercise that took a few attempts to master. Now, at age 2, he likes to pair the pieces by color and arrange them in a make-believe cow line-up. Soon enough, I think he’ll understand that the dots on the sides correlate to actual numbers, and take this counting toy to a whole new level.
Melissa & Doug Seaside Sidekicks Funnel Fun ($15 at the time of publication)
Even though we live a half-day’s drive from the nearest beach, during our daughter’s early toddlerhood, we got into the habit of toting this Melissa & Doug sand toy almost everywhere we went. It was our secret weapon for entertaining her in a city full of restaurants and breweries with outdoor patio seating and crushed-gravel floors. Anytime we wanted to enjoy an adult conversation over dinner, we packed up the Seaside Sidekicks Funnel. Our daughter and her new toddler friends from surrounding tables would busy themselves by crouching on the ground and pouring tiny rocks and sand through the contraption over and over again. This toy is made of sturdy plastic, and the handle makes it easy to carry anywhere—whether that’s to a restaurant, a park, or the actual seaside.
Boon Building Bath Pipes ($16 at the time of publication)
Bath time has always involved a fair amount of toddler drama in my house. My daughter traditionally refused to get into the tub; now the meltdowns are reserved for when it’s time to get out. Her bath-time turnaround happened when we leveled up our bath toys with (among other things) these Building Bath Pipes. They’re easy for kids to suction to the bathtub wall and can be connected to create a twisted path for water. In addition to giving little ones a reason to look forward to bath time, these pipes are also a great sensory learning tool that helps them explore cause and effect.
Edushape Senso-Dot Ball (7 inches) (about $15 at the time of publication)
Many toddlers go through a period of ball obsession, but given their still-developing fine motor skills, 1-year-olds can get frustrated when trying to grip and catch regular soccer or playground balls. When they were first learning to grip and throw a ball, my kids loved colorful, nubby, grippy balls similar to these from Edushape. Another hit with my boys: the visiting friends who would patiently roll or throw a ball back and forth with them dozens of times.
Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker ($19 at the time of publication)
There are endless varieties of these kinds of block-on-stick stackers. Over the years, this Melissa & Doug version—a sort of deluxe wooden incarnation of the classic Fisher-Price baby toy—has provided tons of engagement for lots of kids in my family. One-year-olds may like to sort by color or shape, and the different-shaped towers offer more of a challenge as babies become toddlers. And there are just enough blocks here that bigger kids can stay engaged, stacking and building at will.
TOMY Toomies Hide & Squeak Eggs ($14 at the time of publication)
Eggs are popular in our house. We talk about them, we cook them, and when my son was 2, he started playing with these cute, squeaky versions daily. A perennial favorite (my older son got them as a gift when he was a baby), the six colorful eggs each have a differently shaped base that fits into a corresponding divot in the carton. My kid couldn’t get enough of matching up the shapes, fitting the shells together, and hiding them everywhere. When he popped them into a pot on his play kitchen’s stove and exclaimed, “Eggs!” I felt like our breakfast future was in good hands, too.
Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy ($10 at the time of publication)
When I was expecting my first child, a friend bequeathed me a garbage bag full of used baby gear, and this unassuming little piece of plastic was in the jumbled mix. Despite that humble introduction, the music maker—which plays an array of classical tunes, like Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Mozart’s Serenade No. 13, as colorful lights flash along—would prove irresistible to my son and, later, his little sister. (They’re not the only fans: The first generation of Take Along Tunes was released over a decade ago, and it’s remained popular ever since.) I suspect the appeal lies in the generously sized, tempting center push-button that activates the melodies, the easily graspable beaded handle (my toddler daughter would clutch it in one hand while cruising around, as if wielding a tiny boombox), and (perhaps most important) its tolerable sound level. With two civilized volume settings, it’s just chirpy enough to stimulate tots, but without driving caregivers batty in the process. Because the best musical toy is the one that doesn’t end up “accidentally” buried in the diaper pail.
Jellycat Bashful Bunny Stuffed Animal, Small ($25 at the time of publication)
An especially soft and cuddly stuffed friend makes a sweet gift for the littlest kids. Gund versions are popular, but many Wirecutter kids are partial to London-based Jellycat stuffed toys. This company makes soft, pellet-filled stuffed animals in several sizes, but the small version is particularly easy for a 1-year-old to tote around. We gave my daughter this bunny when we took away her pacifier at 14 months. The exchange was shockingly successful: Bun Bun became a constant companion in bed, at the park, on our bike commute, and at her day care (where “Bun Bun” replaced the word rabbit for the entire class). Today we have three of them in rotation (lest one go missing even momentarily), and all are worn to the point of looking like they just completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Fortunately, they’re easy to wash and restore to their former sweet, plush selves.
Topanifarm Nest and Stack Blocks Set (about $25 at the time of publishing)
It’s been fun watching my son grow alongside the Topanifarm Nest and Stack Blocks Set, a toy he originally received for his first birthday. It comes with six multicolored cardboard blocks that have cutout doors and windows, so they can also act as homes for six animal figurines (including a pig and a dog). Early on, my son focused hard on balancing and stacking the boxes and animals (hello, fine motor skills). Now that he’s 2, and imaginative play has taken over, the blocks double as garages for small cars or homes for some of his other figurine characters. And though my son hasn’t yet made the connection, each box has a number on the side that corresponds to the number of objects—like flowers and birds—illustrated on it. When he does, I know it will add another layer of dimension to the play.
Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Builders (from about $25 at the time of publication)
In our house, Magna-Tiles go by the name “Meltdown-Tiles” because they’re constantly collapsing and infuriating my fumble-fingered toddler. Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Builders—which fall into a similar category of magnetic STEM building toys—are more her speed. The blocks are made of soft, durable foam that’s floatable (so you can use these as bath toys), and they click together easily to make rockets, helicopters, ant-like critters, and more. They’re easy for small hands to grip and fun to sort, stack, and connect in creative new configurations that won’t cave in on a frustrated toddler.
Teytoy Zoo Series Soft Alphabet Cards (about $25 at the time of publication)
When you have two little ones in tow, a good distraction is always needed for checkups or restaurant outings. The Teytoy Zoo Series Soft Alphabet Cards do the trick. Motor-skills development and letter recognition are just two of the things this colorful package inspires. As our 1-year-old excitedly grabs each card out of the cloth carrying case, our 3-year-old is poised to call out each letter and color—earning a high-five from Dad for successfully naming the animal on the back. When it’s time to pack up our cards, the cloth carrying bag has a soft handle and snaps, making it easy for our youngest to tote it with confidence. Next stop? Numbers!
Pinhole Press ABC Board Book (about $45 at the time of publication)
Like many young kids, my son has always loved to look at photographs of himself, his favorite people, and his favorite things. But at the age of 1, he was also rough with his belongings, especially books, and prone to sticking things in his mouth. Pinhole Press, which lets you customize board books with your own photos, uses thick, glossy paper (better for small hands). The ABC Board Book is one of around three-dozen templates; others include All About My Sister, Grandpa & Me, and Count With Me. True, this gift takes considerable effort—you have to select and upload your photographs—but it makes a nice, durable keepsake that a child can enjoy for years.
Wee Baby Stella (about $25 at the time of publication)
Baby dolls can make wonderful toys and companions for 1-year-olds because they allow kids this age to see some of their own needs (bottle, diaper, blankie) reflected back at them. Compared with a hard vinyl doll, the plush Wee Baby Stella is a great first friend (and also a pick in our guide to the best dolls). This line offers a range of accessories that encourage early imaginative play, and the doll itself is soft and squishy enough for naps and cuddles. Baby Stella comes with a magnetic pacifier, which has a thick handle that’s great for kids working on their pincer grasp and fine motor skills. And the magnet is plenty strong to keep the pacifier from falling off during play. Other (optional) accessories include a feeding set, a cradle, and a bath set. As for clothing, this retro pool party outfit and window-paned jumpsuit are the most stylish plushie outfits I’ve seen. All Wee Baby Stella dolls—including a more toddler-like version with pigtails—are available in peach, beige, and brown skin tones.
Kidwill Portable Bubble Machine (about $25 at the time of publication) Gazillion Bubbles Solution ($10 at the time of publication)
Accustomed to blowing bubbles the old-fashioned way, with a wand and often middling results, my two kids discovered the joys of a bubble machine when they were 2 and nearly 6—and there was no going back. Although the model they fell for was unexpectedly discontinued, a Wirecutter colleague has had good luck with this cordless, rechargeable machine, which has three speeds and 360-degree rotation. (As for the bubble solution, we’re in agreement that Gazillion Bubbles is tops.) My family also tried this (noticeably noisy) Zerhunt machine; it runs on six C batteries, as well as AC, and produced a dense volume of bubbles.
Grimm’s Spiel & Holz Small Rainbow (about $35 at the time of publication)
Grimm’s Spiel & Holz makes beautifully crafted wooden stacking and puzzle toys that are as pleasing to look at as they are fun to play with. My niece loves to see this classic rainbow stacker in its fully assembled form, and she has endless fun taking it apart and imagining new uses for the individual pieces. So far we’ve used them as a belt, a phone, a hat, and a headband, and I have no doubt that we’ll continue to add to the list (the rainbow is also available in a majestic supersize version). When playtime is over, you won’t mind seeing the rainbow stacker on your shelf. It’s such a lovely, cheery object that you may even opt to keep it there long after your child has outgrown stacking toys.
Modern Moose Popclox Pendulum Clock (about $65 at the time of publication)
We were given this wooden owl pendulum clock when my first child was born. And with its cheery colors, charming design, and gentle tick-tock, it’s been a fixture in the kids’ bedroom ever since. (At one point, the clock’s pendulum stopped swinging, and Modern Moose sent us a replacement movement for free, returning the clock to tick-tock order.) Modern Moose offers dozens of designs, including a menagerie of animals (giraffe, monkey, sloth, unicorn) and more off-the-wall options (like this garbage truck)
Joovy Tricycoo 4.1 ($140 at the time of publication)
After riding in a stroller for literally his entire life, my 1-year-old was ecstatic to saddle up in the Joovy Tricycoo, a sturdy, versatile tricycle that doubles as a stroller alternative. (It’s the top pick in our tricycles guide.) The basic premise is legit: The Joovy Tricycoo’s five-point harness keeps a 1-year-old secure; the pedals work well for a kid who’s big enough to reach them (for younger kids, there are foot rests); and the rig is fast, fun, and tough enough to survive years of crashes. (We can’t say the same for your kid’s elbows, though.) As your child grows, you can shed the stroller-like components, and the Joovy will work just like a traditional trike—when you’re both good and ready.
Goodevas Triangle Ladder and Slide Climbing Set ($190 at the time of publication)
A climbing triangle—also known as a Pikler Triangle—looks like an oversize drying rack. It’s designed so that a baby or toddler can pull up on it and begin to climb it when they’re ready—a boon for brain and body awareness. Made of a hefty hardwood, the Goodevas Triangle Ladder and Slide Climbing Set has become a key component in keeping my kid moving and happy during bad weather days. The angle of the ladder is adjustable, and there’s a slide that hooks onto the triangle and can be flipped over, for an additional climbing option. When we first got the set, my then-1-year-old needed constant, hands-on spotting anytime he went near it. A year into using it, however, he loves scrambling up the structure solo or racing toy cars down the slide. This probably goes without saying, but just keep in mind that a Pikler Triangle is not a small toy. It’s close to 2 feet wide and 6½ feet long with the slide attached at the medium slope—and at almost 20 pounds, it can be a pain to move around the house. Shipping on this item costs $40 within the continental U.S.
Crate & Kids Small Nod Chair (about $80 at the time of publication)
The Crate & Kids Small Nod Chair is a soft yet sturdy armchair that’s perfectly sized to fit toddlers. My son received one as a gift for his first birthday, and it proved useful for practicing sitting down and standing up. Since he mastered that, the chair has been a nice place for him to cozy up with a book (though sometimes he uses the chair as a step stool to reach things he’s not supposed to). Despite any unauthorized use of the chair, I appreciate that the size makes it feel like something special for my son and that he can use the sewn-on fabric handle to drag it to the spot of his choice. The Nod Chair works well as a gift you can personalize for a specific child: It comes in sizes small and large and in dozens of different patterns. And you can also opt to get the child’s name embroidered on the chair back.
Damhorst Toys and Puzzles Step ’N Store Name Stool ($180 at the time of publication)
When we received this personalized stool as a baby gift, we were charmed to pieces to see our son’s name in big, bold letters. At first, the stool was simply a welcome decorative element in Jacob’s play space. As he grew bigger, he used it to support himself while he learned to stand, sat adorably on the bench while “reading,” and, eventually, used it to reach his top dresser drawer. He loved playing with the puzzle (and maybe subconsciously learning to spell his name), as well as incorporating the wooden letters into his building-block masterpieces. It wasn't until Jacob turned 10 that we scrubbed off the stickers and gave the stool away—to my sister’s neighbor, who had a new baby boy named Jacob.
Huntington Gardens General Membership (starting at about $160 per year at the time of publication)
A membership to a local museum or botanical garden can make a thoughtful gift for a family with young kids. When my sons were toddlers, we spent many, many hours at the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California, just outside of Pasadena; a membership pays for itself in about three visits. The Huntington’s lovely Children’s Garden, in particular, was the site of countless playdates, both planned and impromptu. Though a membership to a natural history or children’s museum also makes a nice gift for families with kids of a wide age range, a botanical garden membership is especially nice for families with 1-year-olds. It offers a pleasant place to stroll while a little one naps and a picturesque spot for babies to toddle around. It can also be an ideal meet-up destination for adults who are mostly interested in chatting while the kids roll around in the grass or splash in fountains (the ones at the Huntington are especially cool).
Lovevery Play Kits ($120 per kit at the time of publication)
When I had my second baby, I resolved to take a less-is-more approach to toys. I was desperate to avoid accruing another towering heap of tacky, light-up plastic monstrosities—or “Baby Vegas,” as we used to call it. So we sprang for a subscription to Lovevery’s Play Kits, vowing that its curated selections would be the only items we’d buy. Amazingly, the plan has actually worked. Every few months, a just-right assortment of toys and activities arrives; designed by child development experts, the Montessori-inspired goodies are intended to complement tots’ interests as they move through various milestones. (One shipment, “The Babbler,” for ages 13 months to 15 months, included a rudimentary coin bank, to help hone fine motor skills. It also had a spiral thingy that offers lessons in object permanence as a ball shoots down a slide and disappears into a box.) An enclosed booklet offers surprisingly helpful tips on how to get the most out of the kit’s contents—because, yes, apparently there is an optimal way to play Hide and Seek using miniature bunnies. Not every item has been an instant hit with my daughter—and this makes sense, given that kiddos develop at their own pace. But we leave them out for her to explore, and she always warms to them eventually. And since the toys are unusually attractive and made from high-grade materials—many are solid wood—I barely wince at the sight of them scattered across the floor.
Woom 1 Balance Bike ($200 at the time of publication)
Woom’s concept is fairly simple: Start kids on a bike that’s beautifully made and thoughtfully designed just for them, and they’ll fall in love with riding bikes for life. To see it actually work on the little ones in my world is pretty cool. The Woom 1 is the line’s entry point, designed for kids ranging in age from 18 months to 3½, or 31 to 40 inches tall. (It’s also the upgrade pick in our guide to the best balance bikes.) The Woom 1 offers advanced features like a super-lightweight frame and mountain-bike-style handlebars. The ultra-low step-through frame is easy to mount and dismount without snagging a leg, something my dress-wearing child appreciates. It also has a hand brake—a rarity in the world of balance bikes—that helps kids better transition to higher-end pedal bikes. Is it on the pricey side? You betcha. But Austin, Texas–based Woom Bikes is one of the few US companies making high-quality bikes for kids, and there’s a certain level of passion for them in local parent circles. So when your child outgrows theirs, you’re likely to have options. (In fact, one Wirecutter contributor noted that she was able to resell her son’s Woom bike on Craigslist—after two years of regular use—for close to its original purchase price.)
We love finding gifts that are unusual, thoughtful, and well vetted. See even more gift ideas we recommend.
—Additional reporting by Julie Kim
The following article was edited by Ellen Lee, Angela Ratledge Amundson, and Kalee Thompson.
Caitlin Giddings is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Bicycling, Runner’s World, Lonely Planet, Outside magazine, and more.
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