While every toddler is different and might enjoy one gift more than another (they are little people with their own personalities, after all), we did the work of interviewing seasoned parents, pouring over Amazon reviews, and comparing top toy guides to compile our list of gift ideas for a 1-year-old.
The best gifts for 1-year-old children are ones that encourage them to engage, touch and do (whether that’s touching, clapping, pushing and pulling, or moving items from one container to another). When in doubt, a top-rated board book is always a great gift option – and parent-approved, since it takes up minimal space.
“As your little one transitions from baby to toddler, keep an eye out for toys that encourage building your baby’s vocabulary and developing social interactions,” says Brittany Mendes, a Speech-Language Pathologist who specializes in childhood social development. “They are making huge leaps in their development so it’s important to encourage imaginative play for emotional, mental, and physical growth.”
Ready? Let’s dive in to some of our favorite gifts for toddlers.
In this Article
Push Toy: Splurge
The Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon makes an appearance on almost every gift guide, and for good reason: It’s sturdy enough that you won’t have to worry about baby flipping it over, and features a “resist push,” which stops it from moving too quickly while your little one practices their first steps.
Using the wagon builds confidence and has a long life in terms of entertainment, with many families mentioning that their older toddlers still use it. Little ones eventually move on to filling the wagon with toys, stuffed animals or siblings (just kidding – maybe). It’s great for transporting sandbox essentials to the park, too. Bonus: Your furniture is safe thanks to a no-scratch bumper.
Push Toy: Save
Skip Hop’s bright and colorful Zoo 3-In-1 Ride On Toy transitions through three stages, starting as a walker/wagon for littlest ones to push (much like the Radio Flyer) and converting to a ride-on toy for toddlers to push themselves along with their feet and finally a scooter (generally for ages 2+).
The front button also acts as a headlight and makes fun beeps and sound effects (insert or leave out the batteries at your discretion). Parents love that it’s a great value for the versatility, and reviews confirm that assembly is very simple for each option. Overall, it’s a convenient and budget-friendly toy that toddlers can love for years.
Water Toy: Splurge
Water tables are the MVP of 1-year-old summer toys, and the Step2 Rain Showers Splash Pond Water Table is one of the top-rated ones on the market. Scoop water into the top section to watch it rain down into the pond below, or let toddlers experience cause-and-effect play by showing them how mini “waterfalls” cascade down the spinners and tubes on the side (which they can re-arrange).
This toy is a great pic for families with multiple youngsters since it’s big enough for a few tots to use it at the same time. A few families mentioned that they wish it came with a parasol for shade (some other Step4 options do) and a couple reviews said it was hard to assemble, but the overall consensus is that it’s a winner.
Water Toy: Save
The Munchkin Fishin’ Bath Toy might not look like much, but it’s practically reached cult status in the bath toy department. The fishing rod (complete with a clicking reel, of course) has a magnetic “hook” that lets kids practice their hand-eye coordination while they “fish” for three magnetic floating characters (air-tight to limit mold and mildew).
For under $10, it’s pretty much guaranteed to keep a toddler entertained for long enough to wash their hair without a struggle, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. For a great add-on to this toy, consider the BPA-free Green Toys Submarine, which is made from recycled milk jugs and features a spinning propeller at the back.
Water Toy: Runner-Up
If you’ve got a hose hookup, you’ve got what it takes to create your own mini water park for your toddler with a SPLASHEZ Inflatable Sprinkler Pool. The sides of the ultra-shallow pool feature fountain-like water streams they’ll want to jump around in for hours, and the bottom of the pool is a learning mat. Tots will love playing games in which you ask them to identify different elements.
This toy falls in the runner-up category because it’s not suitable for those without a yard and hose hookup, and it’s less durable than the other two options. Still, for the price ,it’s not a bad investment for cooling off in the summer heat and keeping little ones entertained.
Music Toy: Splurge
The good-looking Hape Baby Einstein Magic Touch Wood Piano encourages fine motor skills and teaches baby about cause and effect, sounds and rhythmic patterns with the tap of each “key.”
While a 1-year-old probably won’t use the included color-coded sheet music just yet, it won’t be long until they get the hang of it (though you’ll likely be treated to many improv performances until that day comes). Hape makes other adorable musical toys for toddlers, so if you’re shopping for the future prodigy of musician parents, you can select the instrument toy accordingly (from guitars to drum sets).
Music Toy: Save
With thousands of 5-star reviews, the small-but-mighty Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes is a must-have for babies as young as 3 months old (though toddlers 2+ are still entertained by it).
Think of it as a toddler iPod (remember those?), playing baby-friendly versions of 10 different classic songs, from Chopin to Mozart, with clicks of a large center button. Other features include flashing lights, a handle with fun colored beads, and two volume levels (to protect parent sanity). It’s perfect for long car rides since it’s so lightweight and packable.
Music Toy: Runner Up
The VTech KidiBeats Drum Set has made it onto several 1-year-old gift guides, offering tons of different play modes (it plays 9 different pop, dance and rock melodies, plus you can switch to letters, numbers and follow-along mode). Younger toddlers are likely to enjoy simply hitting the drum pads and cymbal (great for sensory development), but the other more complex features will make it interesting as they get older as well.
This drum set makes it onto the runner-up list only because the blunt sticks could still be a little dangerous (supervision is required), and some parents complain about an annoying background sound that you can’t shut off while it’s in use.
Educational Toy: Splurge
There are baby activity cubes, and then there’s the Battat Wooden Activity Cube. At 18 inches tall, it’s sturdy enough that it also acts as a support for babies learning to hold themselves up and take their first steps, but that’s the least of its appeal. Colorful and cute themed panels encourage hand-eye colorful with doors to open and shut, spinners to spin, beads to move around a “roller coaster,” a beaded alphabet featuring animal illustrations, and more.
While it’s not exactly the easiest item to store, it’s attractive enough that it doesn’t need to be, and its solid-wood craftsmanship means that it can survive multiple children (or be handed down in excellent condition).
Educational Toy: Save
Shape sorters are an amazing way to foster a toddler’s hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills, plus help them develop their vocabulary (since they’ll learn to name and identify the different shapes). The Melissa & Doug Take-Along Shape Sorter is a top-rated pick because the padded carrying case is also fun for kids learning to zip and unzip (which begins around 12 to 18 months).
It includes nine plastic shapes for them to fit through corresponding cut-outs, plus the back side of the carrier has crinkly flaps they can lift to discover items in each of the shapes. Parents say they’re amazed just how quickly little ones learn how to master shape sorting after a few sessions with assistance.
Educational Toy: Runner-Up
There are tons of baby flash cards out there, but if you’ve purchased any before, you’ll know that they often end up ripped, drooled on or lost. Teytoy Baby Soft Alphabet Cards come with their own convenient carrying case and are made of durable non-toxic fabric, so you can toss them in the wash when they get gross (inevitable).
Help little ones develop their vocabulary, memory and reading skills by making this part of your daily play. Some reviewers complain that the animals featured on these cards are a little obscure (narwhal?), which landed it on the runner-up list, but it’s still got an impressive amount of 5-star ratings.
Dolls and Plush: Splurge
What makes Cuddle and Kind dolls so special is a combination of heirloom quality, ethical production, and charitable mission (for each one sold, the company donates 10 meals to children in need). You can choose from 20 adorable designs in different tones, from Lola the llama to Oliver the bear, and each hand-knit with natural cotton by female artisans in Peru who are provided with fair trade income.
They’re safe for toddlers to sleep with since there are no choking-hazard bead eyes or buttons, plus they’re machine-washable on gentle cycle. At over $50, they’re admittedly a splurge, but they’re also durable enough to be handed down or kept as a childhood memento.
Dolls and Plush: Save
Little ones just love snuggling with oversized stuffed animals, and Melissa and Doug Cuddle Animals fit the bill while still being reasonably priced. They’re super soft, pretty big (around 27.5 inches long) and have the sweetest expressions.
They’ve got a handful of options, like dog, unicorn and dinosaur, and they come with a cute sewn-on collar, name tag, double-sided “adoption certificate,” and fun facts card. One con: They’re spot-clean only, which isn’t the most efficient for a toy that’s going to spend a lot of time on the floor.
Dolls and Plush: Runner Up
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably noticed your tot imitating things you do or trying to “help” with chores. The VTech Care for Me Learning Carrier Toy comes with a cute plush puppy and a bowl, ball, comb and bottle for pretend care of their “pet.”
Little ones also love putting everything in the included carrier – and taking it out again – and playing with the different light-up buttons. The carrier sings songs and has different buttons to introduce numbers and letters, but some parents complain that this feature is really unnecessary (and can be annoying).
You can’t go wrong with a touchy-feely book for a 1-year-old. Those in the Never Touch book series by Make Believe Ideas are designed with different textures on each page that correspond to various animals – a prickly hedgehog, a furry polar bear, and lots more. This helps toddlers learn about different sensations and textures (plus keeps them attentive as you read the words).
Sights and Sounds
Celebrated artist and writer Eric Carle – of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, another toddler library favorite – created Around the Farm, with fun facts about animals like sheep, pigs and roosters (all illustrated in Carle’s signature collage style), plus 30 different buttons for little ones to press and learn about the sounds they make. Some parents complain that buttons are hard for little fingers to press down and that the donkey sound is a little bizarre and inaccurate, but it’s still a winning pick to foster a love of reading and animals in any youngster.