The toy market for young children is enormous, making it difficult to choose exactly the right thing when it’s time to gift a one year old on their birthday. Is it safe? Is it educational? Will it fall into a million pieces and make you the mortal enemy of the child’s parents?
We asked all this and more while talking to several childcare experts and parents about their favorite recommendations. The options they offered up range from classic playthings that never go out of style to books or toys with a more direct, modern educational purpose. Keep reading to see what sticks out to you and what you think the new toddler in your life might love the most.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Ted and Tina Adopt a Kitten: T, D, N Sounds
Books are always a fantastic and fun option to gift children, as they are educational while entertaining, plus they’re easy to pass along to younger siblings or even friends with new babies later on. The author of this particular tome is Cass Kim, a Speech-Language Pathologist who has penned a series of these books promoting the use of different letters throughout the alphabet. Cass tells us:
“Children start attending to mouth movements for speech around 8 months of age - right around when they begin babbling. With mask-wearing being an important factor in public health, daycares, and schools, children are not getting the visual stimuli they need for speech - which means extra practice at home, in a fun, safe, entertaining manner is needed.”
While Ted, Tina, and their adopted kitten will teach your little ones how to use their T, D, and N sounds, make sure to check out the rest of the series where your tykes can learn about their W, M, P, and B sounds, as well as their K and G sounds.
Fisher-Price Linkimals Smooth Moves Sloth
Ryan and Kara Youngberg are a married couple and parents who started babysjourney.com in order to help others gain knowledge on their child-rearing journey. They sent over a handful of suggestions that are currently going over very well in their household with young children, including this Fisher-Price Linkimals Sloth. As Ryan tells us:
“Our youngest will be a one year old in a couple of weeks and one of his favorite toys right now are the Fisher-Price Linkimals. They have 10 different animals with unique songs, sounds, and phrases that connect and interact with each other when placed nearby. He loves pushing the buttons and gets excited when he hears Sloth, Otter, Koala, & Moose singing and having fun together.”
FoxPrint Pop Up Kid’s Play Tunnel for Toddlers
If you ever had the time of your life crawling through the communal play space at a fast food restaurant but can’t imagine letting your little one follow suit in a post-Covid world, Ryan and Kara’s next suggestion will really catch your eye.
“Children love to explore and crawl through tunnels and small spaces,” Ryan says of the colorful, lightweight tube. “Your one year old will laugh as you play peekaboo with them while they’re inside or they’ll happily keep crawling through the tunnel. When they’re done, you can easily fold the tunnel up and store it anywhere.”
It’s also a budget-friendly option, and one where you won’t have to worry about the child receiving multiples as you can simply build a whole series of tunnels like a maze to explore! Ryan jokingly warns, “As a word of caution, older children and pets will be just as excited as your little one to play in the tunnel.”
Little Tikes Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Car, Non-Assembled, Standard Packaging
This next and last pick from Ryan and Kara is a recognizable staple that little kids everywhere go nuts over–the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe. If you’re a millennial or younger, you probably spent at least a little time in your childhood cruising around in one of these babies, so why not pass that fun gift down to your own kids?
“A product that both my one year old and four year old love is the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe,” says Ryan. “The car comes with a removable floor piece, which makes it perfect for children that can’t walk or reach the ground to push themselves. Their imaginations run wild as they cruise down the driveway and sidewalk in this adorable car. This gift is guaranteed to be played with for years to come.”
Elsie Girl Friend Doll with Face Mask
Bunnies By The Bay produce some of the cutest, softest plushes and dolls out there, and we’re over the moon for this modern choice for gifting a young child.
Elsie is an especially cute doll outfitted in soft, pastel pink with her very own mask to encourage both children and adults to do their part to help during the pandemic and beyond. While one year olds aren’t quite ready to wear masks themselves, it’s never too early to normalize healthy hygiene practices, and plenty of folks agree masks should absolutely be part of our normal lives during flu season or when we need to be in public while sick from here on out.
In addition to normalizing the practice, Elsie’s mask makes her unique to this period in history and will be a useful learning tool for when children grow a bit older and can start asking questions. As Bunnies By The Bay says, “Elsie Doll is a great way to help and explain to kids how to wear masks, making them feel more comfortable,” adding that despite the timeliness of this particular toy, she and the rest of the company’s beautiful toys are “very timeless and classic.” Make sure to check our their customizable gifts as well, and consider purchasing something personalized to create a lasting and precious memory for years to come.
Custom Catch Personalized Teddy Bear Baby Blanket Gift for Boy - Blue
As CEO and founder of WeThrift, a site dedicated to hunting down coupons and deals to save buyers as much money as possible, Nick Drewe has plenty of expertise when it comes to knowing the market for baby gifts. His suggestion is a must-have that will please kids now and store nicely for parents who want to hold onto precious memories in the future.
“These animal-themed blankets from Custom Catch combined a teddy bear and a favorite blanket all in one,” Nicks tells us. “The huggable bear makes it easier for a one-year-old to grab and cuddle, which is a nice developmentally appropriate tactile detail. Make these blankets even more special by adding their name and birthday date to the fabric for an extra personal touch.”
Stacking Garden Friends
Donna Bloss has an impressive recipe that includes being the CMO at Thrive Cuisine and a writer with a focus in sustainability, veganism, and motherhood, but what really makes her the expert on toys for youngins is the fact that she has four of her own–all under the age of 5! Trusting that level of experience, we took her recommendation to heart:
“Stacking toys are definitely the way to go. At one years of age a child is developing their motor skills. They are also seeking a challenge and can easily bore with soft toys. I always prefer wooden toys as they are natural, and often end up in baby’s mouth!”
She sent us to Oompa.com, a favorite site of hers with plenty of toys to choose from, with the specific suggestion to check out the adorable Garden Friends above. These stackers promise to “encourage logical thinking and inspire imaginative play,” and they’re also a breeze to pick up for parents and come with their own drawstring storage bag.
Radio Flyer Classic Push & Play Walker, Toddler Walker with Activity Play, Ages 1-4
Leo Young, father of two and founder and editor of OptimizedFamily.com, shared his ideal gift for a one year old in the form of a Radio Flyer Class Push & Play, a toy designed to both help the growing tyke learn the coordination skills useful for walking while providing visual and tactile stimuli via the activity center right in front of them.
“At the age of one, most kids will be venturing into the toddling stage,” Leo explains, “so an ideal gift would be something that encourages - and aids - them to practice that new skill, and makes it fun! This Walker by RADIO FLYER is perfect for your baby to push and pull with satisfyingly clicking wheels and has an activity board built in that will keep them usefully occupied during breaks!”
YGJT Baby Balance Bikes
This adorable bike is perfect for the fledgling rider whose motor skills aren’t quite up to par but ambitions are high. In addition to helping children develop balance and having a sturdy carbon steel frame, the spotty dog’s eyes blink as the handlebars move and setup takes on a couple of minutes.
“I purchased this for a 1 year old boy’s first birthday party,” says one satisfied buyer among thousands of positive reviews. “The mom said of all his gifts, this puppy is the one he could not stop playing with. He squealed when he saw it. Easy for him to use and operate!”
Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions
Sydney Griffith is a mother of two, including a little one who just passed her first birthday a few months back. She offered up Making Faces, an interactive photo board book that introduces five essential expressions to your growing baby.
“Making Faces is one of our favorite board books,” Sydney explains. “My daughter loves seeing other babies, and there’s a mirror at the end so she can practice her own facial expressions.”
Pop Blocs Farm Animals Learning Toy
Sydney also suggested these adorable farm animal toys for a one year old, telling us:
“Pop blocs are so great for learning about animals and their sounds, as well as developing fine motor skills. We have a lot of fun mixing and matching to create silly creatures.”
The creatures are made of soft plastic that’s malleable and easy to pop into place to help refine children’s “sensory, fine motor, gross motor, logical, creative, emotional, and self-esteem” skills, according to Pop Blocs.
Learning Resources Hoot the Fine Motor Owl, Color, Shapes and Number Development, Scissor Skills, 6 Pieces, Ages 18 Months +
Erin Vollmer is a certified and licensed pediatric speech language pathologist and co-founder at TherapyWorks , where a recent piece on Toddler Toys was published (read here). While several options from those recommendations are great, our personal favorite was this cute Hoot Owl whose colors, shapes, and numbers contain hours and hours of fun playtime for little ones that will help refine motor skills, coordination, hand strength, and scissor skills. It’s recommended for kids 18 months and up, so parents may want to practice a bit extra caution at first but do so knowing this toy will continue to grow with the child long after they rip off the birthday paper.