Here is an overview of our top toy categories for one year olds, with links to our top picks within each section:
- Stackers and sorters
- First blocks & building toys
- First vehicles
- First puzzles
- Push/pull toys
- Ride-on toys
- Activity centers and tents
- Musical toys
- First arts & crafts
- Bath toys
- Water & sand toys
Also don’t miss our guide to buying safe/non-toxic toys.
One-year-olds are busy people — learning to walk, develop fine motor skills, and say their first few words. Favorite toys to support motor skill development include push/pull toys and simple ride-on toys. When it’s time to sit down and play, simple building blocks and toys, stacking/nesting and sorting toys, and music and sound toys are favorites. Over the course of the year your child will likely progress from chunky puzzles (where the pieces can be grasped in the palm) to peg puzzles (where the pieces are lifted using pegs between thumb and forefinger, requiring development of fine motor skills), and possibly even to simple (2-4 piece) multi-piece puzzles. Sturdy board books with lots of pictures demonstrating simple concepts (everyday objects, colors, numbers) are also key to support your child’s blossoming language skills.
Stackers and sorters are great for perfect for developing a one-year-old’s fine motor skills, and also for learning shape recognition. Here are a few of our favorites:
This classic, basic shape sorter includes 10 colorful shapes, bucket container, and a shape-sorting lid that will delight baby for hours. It’s excellent value for the price. Note that Fisher-Price is not very forthcoming about its materials, and does not market its toys as BPA, phthalate, or PVC free, so we recommend something else if your baby is still mouthing everything.
This classic wooden stacking ring set is high quality and is made from sustainable rubberwood, non-toxic water-based dyes, and non-toxic (non-formaldehyde) glue. If your child has already mastered basic stacking, the more complex Plan Toys Cone Sorting Stacker will offer additional challenge.
This hexagonal wooden shape sorter includes six different unique shapes with built-in beads in the centers to create different sounds (click, chime, rattle). It’s made from birch hardwood and plywood and is finished with non-toxic paint.
We love the design of this adorable house-shaped shape sorter. The roof easily lifts up to put pieces in or take them out, so it’s great for younger babies as well as older babies who can actually sort shapes. It’s made from sustainable rubberwood and is finished with non-toxic paint and formaldehyde-free glues.
Hape Pyramid of Play, $26
The versatile Pyramid of Play can be used for stacking and nesting, as a shape sorter, and as an aid to learn letters, numbers, and animals. Can be used for many months across multiple developmental stages, and stores up compactly in a cube.
This is a popular, great value first building set — featuring interlocking blocks similar to LEGO DUPLO, but even larger in scale. They’re also incredibly cheap, with 80 blocks included for around $15. Made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Unfortunately, Mega Bloks are not marketed as PVC, BPA, or phthalate free (and we disapprove highly of their misleading marketing tactics, which highlight the storage bag as PVC-free), so we recommend something else if your baby is still mouthing everything.
LEGO DUPLO Busy Farm, $10
Select LEGO DUPLO sets, including this fantastic set, are rated for toddlers from 18 months. Containing 15 blocks (comprising four animals) and an accompanying book (including a basic storyline and pictures to help your little one assemble the animals correctly), it’s the perfect introduction to the DUPLO world. For a more footloose-and-fancy-free alternative, check out the Toddler Starter Building Set.
Haba sticky bricks, $36
If you prefer wood, Haba offers a wonderful set of interlocking wooden building blocks. They’re a nice chunky size for little hands, and the interlocking blocks assist little ones with alignment and help to keep blocks together. Made of solid beech wood and non-toxic, water-based paint.
Haba building block sets, $40-70
Haba also makes a number of gorgeous wooden building block sets ($40-70 at Amazon), featuring unique shapes, bright colors, and interesting textures. They are made of solid beech wood and are painted with non-toxic, water-based paints. The large, to-die-for Sevilla set is our favorite; see all the blocks from HABA here.
Vroom, vroom! Pushing around and manipuating little vehicles is great for developing fine motor skills, and toward the end of this year you may even witness the beginnings of pretend play from your child. Here are some of our favorite first vehicles:
Hape wooden vehicles, $8-11
We’ve scoured the market for the best small wooden vehicles out there, and Hape makes our favorites. Their wonderful line includes a dump truck, mini van, bus, boat, plane, and (our favorite) helicopter. No flashing lights or sounds, just wonderful classic design and quality construction to fuel the imagination. Made of solid wood and finished with non-toxic, water-based paint.
This large dump truck is perfect for hauling goods around sandbox, the backyard, … or the playroom. It’s made of recycled milk jugs (#2 plastic) and is BPA and phthalate free. See the full range of vehicles from Green Toys here.
First, a puzzle primer for those of you new to kiddie puzzles. 🙂 There are four types of puzzles that your baby may be ready to progress through in his second year:
- Oversize knob puzzles have just a few big pieces with large, easy-to-grasp knobs that fit into distinct spots on a puzzle board, often featuring matching outlines or full-color pictures underneath to give baby a hint as to what belongs there.
- Chunky puzzles feature extra-thick pieces grasped with the whole hand (no knob), still inserted into distinct spots on a puzzle board. Many chunky puzzle pieces also stand freely for standalone play.
- Peg puzzle pieces are also inserted into distinct spots, but now feature small pegs to help develop fine motor skills.
- Multi-piece jigsaw puzzles, smaller versions of the adult jigsaw puzzles that you probably imagine when you hear the term “puzzle,” are the next step once your child masters all of the above. Many kids are ready to graduate to small jigsaw puzzles (3-4 pieces) around their second birthday.
Different children will be at different stages of puzzle readiness, so we’ve just listed our favorite general puzzle brands below; select the type of puzzle appropriate for your child’s stage of development. If you’re buying a gift for a toddler that you don’t know well, we recommend chunky puzzles for this age group.
Melissa and Doug puzzles, ~$10 per puzzle
Far and away the market leader, Melissa & Doug offers a staggering array of children’s puzzles, many for $10 or less. However, M&D’s quality is definitely not what it used to be; the price is affordable, but the “solid wood” they advertise is often composite wood or plywood. Still, if you’re looking for something disposable or there’s a particular theme you want, M&D’s value often can’t be beat. Browse M&D’s jumbo knob puzzles, chunky puzzles, peg puzzles, and basic jigsaw puzzles.
Janod puzzles, ~$15 per puzzle
For a few more dollars, Janod puzzles are very high quality and feature wonderful designs. They offer chunky and jigsaw puzzles. Browse Janod puzzles here.
Hape puzzles, ~$10-20 per puzzle
Similar to Janod in quality, Hape also offers a select range of beautiful knob, chunky, peg, and cube puzzles in the $10-20 range. Browse Hape puzzles here.
Push/pull toys are a great way to encourage your little one to practice and push the boundaries on those newfound walking skills!
This versatile animal-train pull toy is an all-in-one train, a pull toy, and a wooden animal set. The wooden animals stand on their own for standalone plan. It’s made of solid wood and finished with non-toxic paints. The same line also includes trains with other themes.
PlanToys Walk N Roll, $27
This colorful push/pull toy makes a satisfying popping sound as the little wooden ball within rattles around. It can be taken for a simple walk around the playroom, or be used for pretend play activities such as vacuuming, mowing the lawn, etc.
Ride-ons are favorites of toddlers — and most one-year-olds are ready for their first one. Models that Mom or Dad can push or pull are appropriate for all ages. From 18 months or so, most babies are ready for ride-ons that they can power themselves using feet on the floor. Note that most children don’t develop the coordination to use pedals (as in a traditional tricycle) until two or three.
Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug, $49-60
The beloved Wheely Bug is a parent and child favorite. It rests on caster wheels that allow your child to travel forward, backward, sideways, in circles. It helps to promote gross motor skills and balance, and can be used on smooth floors either inside or outside. The small size is suitable up to 2.5 years. PVC free; the exterior layer is wipe-clean polyurethane.
This foot-powered tricycle is made of wood and features a clever reverse design with the wide wheel base in the front so as not to trip up little feet. This little trike is sized for tiny riders: it’s small enough for many 12-month-olds to ride, but should still fit most two-year-olds.
This classic steel Radio Flyer wagon is perfect for toting your kiddo around the neighborhood. Older kids will also delight in pulling around toys or siblings. All-terrain and wood versions also available.
Activity centers are great for keeping one-year-olds occupied, and play tents are fantastic for peek-a-boo and pretend play.
This wonderful play tent ($19.99 at IKEA, $34 at Amazon) from IKEA is cute and well designed, and offers fantastic play value. If you have a local IKEA and can pick one up in person, the value for money is unbeatable. It is made of polyester and polyester fiber fill, and uses safer (non-brominated) flame retardants.
Haba play tents, $76-300
HABA play tents are whimsical and high quality, though definitely pricey. They are the only play tents we are aware of that are completely free of chemical flame retardants. Made of cotton and polyester; PVC, BPA, and phthalate free. See the full range of Haba tents here.
This wonderful doctor’s office-style wooden activity cube ($59.99 at Target) from B Toys offers four sides of activities, plus a bead maze on top. It offers fantastic quality and value. BPA, lead, and phthalate free.
Any household objects or toys that will encourage baby’s emerging love of music and rhythm is a great choice. If you want something fancier than kitchen pots and pans, here are some of our top picks.
B. Toys has another winner in this excellent value multi-piece music set. It includes a drum (which doubles as storage container), drumsticks, tambourine, bells, large shaker, and two egg shakers.
This wonderful, baby-safe glockenspiel is pitch-perfect and pleasing to the ear. Baby may not yet possess the fine motor skills necessary to strike the mallet against the keys successfully, but in the meantime he’ll raptly listen to you play (and of course he’ll also be able to bang the keys with blocks and other objects).
This ain’t no wimpy toy drum — it’s the best kids’ drum on the market, made by a real musical instrument company. It can be played with hands, mallets (included), or drumsticks. Fantastic for developing hand-eye coordination.
This is a great age to introduce baby’s first arts & crafts. Finger paints and block crayons are great to start. Over time, you can introduce more traditional pen/pencil type implements.
Of course, you can pick up Crayola crayons anywhere. But for superior performance, try Stockmar crayons ($14 for 8-pack at Amazon). Popular with Waldorf schools, they are made from a unique wax mix (including 10% beeswax) which produces more vibrant colors and allows layering of color. They are available in block shape (easier for younger artistes to grip) as well as traditional stick form (larger and so slightly easier to grip than Crayola), and are non-toxic.
Don’t forget to get an art smock to contain those big messes. We’ve tried them all, and this is the best one on the market — thanks to its generous coverage, long sleeves, and elastic at the wrists. It’s also easy to clean (wipes clean and is machine washable), and is made of Oeko-Tex certified fabric (50% polyester, 50% polyurethane).
Here are our top picks for keeping your one-year-old entertained in the tub:
These adorable bath toys from CaaOcho are made out of 100% natural rubber, are painted with food-grade paint, and are hermetically sealed — so (unlike other rubber bath toys) they aren’t prone to mold/mildew (yuck).
Green Toys Submarine, $14
Improve your little one’s hand-eye coordination with this fun bug-and-net toy from Boon. The pieces are hard plastic with no holes, so they don’t contain PVC or phthalates or facilitate mold growth like so many other bath toys. PVC, phthalate, and BPA free.
There’s nothing like water and sand to engage the senses of a one-year-old. Many young toddlers will happily play for hours with these!
This classic sand set includes all your little one needs for the beach or the sand box: a bucket, a mold, a rake, and a shovel. Unlike many other plastic sand toys, it’s made of totally safe plastic; it’s made from recycled milk jugs (#2 plastic) and is phthalate and BPA free.
Water tables are a one-year-old favorite, and this bestselling water table from Step2 is a kid favorite. Younger babies will be perfectly happy to just splash in the water, while older toddlers will be entertained by the waterwheel and boats. It is made of low density polyethylene (plastic #4) and is PVC, phthalate, and BPA free.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
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