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There is a bit of irony in the fact that while pondering what will make the best gift for our two-year-old son, I decided to work on an article about gift ideas for one-year-olds. It certainly brings back memories. A year ago I was thinking just as fervently about the gifts that would our one-year-old son would like. It is exciting to tell now what worked for us and what could have been better.
Our December is filled with festivities! We are getting ready for Christmas and celebrate it generously, but it is also the month of Budster’s birthday; he was born less than a week before Christmas. And while the row of festivities may be a bit overwhelming for a little boy, it is very convenient for counting milestones, while coming to the logical end of a calendar year.
As first-time parents, we sometimes found it difficult to know what to expect in the year to come: what sort of skills our child will develop and how his abilities will change. One-year-olds change so much, transitioning from being babies to being toddlers, and building on their skills and interests. Over the last year, I found that my son was not interested in baby toys anymore, but that there were still a lot of toys he was not ready to play with. When choosing gifts for him, we did not want to get something that will only be used for a short period of time in his last days of babyhood. On the other hand, I hoped that he would be able to play with his gifts right after he opened them.
What I found helpful were ideas from other parents and their recollections of how old their children were when taking interest in certain toys. I hope my list will help you this way as well! In the brackets, I have added the age when my son got particularly fond of a certain toy. It is not a manufacturer’s guideline, nor is it a standard in any way. I added it for curiosity’s sake, and because it would have been nice to know a year ago.
Back then, we got a used set of big Mega Blocks, but Budster only played with them for a few months before being able to connect Lego Duplo blocks. We switched to them, since they made sturdier and more interesting constructions. If we had known that he would play with Lego Duplo so soon, we would have skipped Mega Blocks altogether.
I should also mention that I tend to be very cautious about gender stereotypes, yet I believe that certain choices of this list are influenced by the fact that my child is a boy. Neither my husband or I have any interest in vehicles outside of their ability to deliver us places. So I had a vague hope that my son will skip the period of fondness for “things that go” as well. I hardly ever pointed at a car when he was small. No more than at a tree or a flower, anyway. Come fifteen months, and “car” was his fourth word! Suddenly everything with wheels had a charm to Budster. He is twenty two months now, and still has a rather limited vocabulary… but he knows vehicles by name, and thanks to the book Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, he can tell us all the main parts of a crane. I do not mind: a vehicular obsession it is then. Yet I cannot help but notice, by looking around, that this interest is more evident in boys than in girls.
Update from 2018: A couple of years later, we got a baby girl! She liked to play with all the same toys that her older brother did, so this list hardly needed any updating. But we did find a few new toys for her, so we updated it anyway.
Toys for Gross Motor Development
Toddlers are very active people, and their brain development is surprisingly connected with gross motor activity, so I found it important to provide my son with opportunities to exercise his dexterity.
1. Learning tower (12 months+): The idea of a step with safety sides is brilliant! I do not see why such steps cannot become a standard purchase to make when having a child, along with high chairs and booster seats. Over the last year, Budster used his step a few times every day.
He stands on it when he washes his hands and brushes his teeth. He climbs on it to play in the sink, which is one of his favourite activities. He also participates in cooking, while standing on it – Budster never misses an opportunity to roll out a ball of dough!
We started using it when Budster was one year old, and at first I was worried about him falling. He actually did once… though by comparison, he has fallen about thirty times from the living room couch during the same period! He then learned to climb up and down by himself, and now he can move it around, proud of his independence.
2. Ride-on toy (12 months+): Having a little ride-on toy helps children practice coordination and balance. Based on many positive reviews, we went with a PlasmaCar, but upon receiving it, were not impressed. It worked fine for Budster when he pushed himself with his legs, but its advertised means of propulsion has yet to impress us. I think that having a ride-on car is great, but if I could, I would have tried something different.
Added in 2018: For our daughter, three years later, we got a cute Wheely Bug. We liked it more. So did our son (by then, 4). Our daughter? Mmm… Didn’t care all that much.
3. Rocking Horse (12 months+): We got a rocking moose, and Budster has taken him on some pretty wild rides!
4. Trampoline(18 month+): Truth to tell, we do not own any trampolines. However, we conceded to Budster’s jumping on the couch, due to the fact that it cost us as much as a new trampoline, yet did not look out of place in our living room. So jump he does! When he just discovered he could jump, he did it several times a day, but his interest has gradually waned. We may get him a bigger trampoline when he outgrows the couch, or we may not. Whether you go with a couch, an old mattress or a designated trampoline, I think it is a wonderful idea for children to have some means to jump and burn some energy, while learning to control their balance.
5. Swing (12 months+): We do not own any swings either, for even though Budster enjoyed it since he turned a year old, he did not seem very passionate about it. When we went to a park, he would sit in a swing for a minute then hurry to do other things. He seems to have grown more into it since his best friend got a swing and he can swing at her place. I think, overall, a swing, either inside or outside, is a very good idea, but it just did not fall within Budster’s immediate interests.
Added in 2018: Our daughter, on the other hand, loves swinging, so now we owe three swings. One is for outside, one is for inside, and one is to share with her big brother. Because now that he has a sibling to share with, he is suddenly very passionate about swinging. Just kidding! He rather grew into it over the years.
6. Slide (12 months+): The same goes for the slide, except we do have a slide in our yard. I believe a slide is a great toy for toddlers, and Budster used ours, but his fondness of it was not excessive. What he really liked was not sliding down, but climbing up, which is just as well: it is excellent practice!
Added in 2018: Our daughter loves slides passionately. She also likes them in LEGO sets and wooden doll houses. For her, it’s a definite must-have.
Toys for Fine Motor Development
1. Lego Duplo set (18 months+): Lego Duplo was by far Budster’s favourite toy. He started connecting blocks together when he was around sixteen months, but he really got into constructing elaborate creations a couple of months later, when he got a set of building cars. Ever since, there has been a big pile of Duplo in the corner of the room. Budster comes and plays with it several times a day. It is a really great toy, and it
teaches concepts like shapes, colours, or balance in a practical way. It also encouraged creative and three-dimensional thinking, and is wonderful for fine motor skills! If I could only choose one toy for my son, I would choose Lego Duplo. A couple of our favourite sets are My First Creative Cars Building Set and My First Construction Site Building Set.
Added in 2018: Our daughter is also partial to Duplo, but her interests are slightly different. She loves building houses and arranging little people inside. If there is a slide involved, it’s also a bonus! Her favourite sets are Duplo Family House and Duplo Fair.
2. Train set (18 months+): At first, I did not think that Budster will get interested in trains, for his only experience with them was rather negative: hearing a train passing by our town at night scared him a few times. Was I ever wrong in my assumption! First, we got a a little train set set for him, then the book Steam Train, Dream Train, and suddenly trains became among his favourite things, along with cars and construction machinery. At the beginning, I built a railroad for Budster, and he moved his little trains along the tracks. Later he started connecting pieces by himself and engaging in long sessions of railroad building. We ended up getting a bigger set, but he seems a little bit overwhelmed by it at the moment, so it may be best to stick to a little set for one-year-old engineers.
3. Wooden blocks (12 months+): Even with all the new toy blocks, traditional wooden blocks still have their own place in every child’s playroom. We liked the set of Melissa & Doug blocks: they were big and made of nice hardwood. They had plenty of interesting shapes, and one of our favourite things to build with Budster was a car ramp! We also built a set of Waldorf-inspired nature blocks for him, and they were great for sensory bins.
4. Water Blocks, Mirror Blocks or Sand Rainbow Blocks (12 months+): These fancy blocks seem like they do not have much use at the first glance, but toddlers like them. A few have a transparent centre, which is great to look through and giggle at. Looking at older children play, I noticed that they use these blocks in creating beautiful constructions, so it is a worthwhile investment. The price is my main complaint for these blocks, so I was happy to see them in a thrift store! You can also check these DIY block tutorials on how to make your own: sand blocks and mirror blocks made by us and coloured blocks set by And Next Comes L. You can make very interesting blocks with just a few dollar store supplies!
5. First Jigsaw Puzzles (18 months+): Budster hardly played with his peg puzzles, and most of those games happened before he was a year old. He picked up the flat little animal figurines and moved them around. However, he never really played with them as puzzles. He also had a 36-piece jigsaw puzzle. I bought it for when he got older and kept trying to put it away, when Budster would take it out and play with its pieces contentedly for a quarter of an hour. A couple of times I made it for him, and he seemed to be fascinated with the process.
So I felt very excited when I found jigsaw puzzles for toddlers. A set had 3, 4, 5, and 6 piece figures. We started with only three figures, and within a couple of days Budster could do them all by himself. We got another set, and he was just as in love with it. So, over the last several months, we accumulated several puzzle sets, with 12-piece puzzles as our latest additions. Aside from giving practice to fine motor skills, they are great for developing logical thinking and concentration. I marvel at my energetic toddler, sitting down with one or two of his favourite puzzle sets and gets very quiet and serious, working on them by himself.
We got to taking them with us when we go to restaurants or to visit friends, and it has been helpful! We made our own puzzles from book dust covers, and bought some as well: Djeco (3-4-5-6 pieces), Djeco (4-6-9 pieces) and Melissa & Doug (12 pieces).
6. Sound blocks (18 months+): Sound Blocks were popular with my son as well. I feel like the secret of their particular popularity was hidden within the fact that his set made vehicle noises. The other variant is a farm set, and I find them particularly gratifying for toddlers because the element of checking the result is included in the toy: if the puzzle is done right, it will make a sound, and if not, they can try again.
Toys for Imaginative Play
1. Animals: Little plastic toys (Schleich toys or Safari Toobs) are irreplaceable companions for building small worlds and sensory games. The majority of them are not small enough to pose a chocking hazard for the youngest of children. I still would not give them to babies who mouth their toys: the materials used for their creation are certified non-toxic, but not food-grade.
However as soon as children are able to explore toys without putting them in their mouths excessively, which usually happens around one year of age, the figurines of animals are wonderful for exploring and studying new vocabulary. I love how realistic they are! I think that Budster’s knowledge of animal names and the ability to identify them that developed over the last year is to a large extent thanks to these toys. The older children can involve these animals in more complicated role-playing games, so it is a long-lasting investment.
2. Big Red Barn: A barn is a good addition to farm animal set, and since Budster liked animals even before turning one, this was our gift for him last year. We built the barn we have, but this one looks good and comes with animals! Our red barn has also serve double duty as a car garage, as well.
3. Little toy cars: Budster inherited about fifty such cars from Daddy. But he seems to love them all and care for all of them, the way some girls start caring about their dolls early on. He likes to include his cars in all of the other activities and has them next to his Lego blocks, wooden blocks and the railroad set. He often talks to himself while playing with them, so I assume those cars have a pretty dramatic life.
4. Puppet Theatre: Even though toddlers cannot give performances, they certainly enjoy watching them, especially if they are based on their favourite books! In the past I have written about how we made our puppet theatre and what fun it brought to our evenings.
5. Hand Puppets: A bunch of hand puppets can make for interactive performances, and one or two add fun to everyday activities. Budster is always happy when his friend Owl visits, perched at the end of Daddy’s arm. He brings her cars and shows her other toys.
6. Shadow Puppets: Shadow puppets are fun to design, and it is easy to set up a shadow play. I have been enjoying making them over the last year for Budster, based on more and more new books. His favourite sets are the ones based on Goldilocks and the Tree Bears and Three Little Pigs.
7. Baby dolls. Both of my kids liked their baby dolls. Yes, even my son! It was the only toy he ever really bonded with. He was always more of a construction guy, losing all the people pieces and no knowing what to do with his stuffed animals, but he enjoyed playing with his baby doll. We wrote more about it here. And our daughter loves dolls even more! They were both more interested in baby dolls than any other dolls at this age. Our son had a doll we picked up at a garage sale, kind of like this. For our daughter, we bought this Bibichou baby for Christmas: we liked the look, the fact it was made in EU and the articulation.
Art and crafts
Around the time Budster turned one, he became interested in consciously making art . First, he liked markers and paints, but eventually got into drawing with pencils and crayons. The later is probably his least favourite media, but I included them into our list as well. Here are our favourite art supplies for the very beginning of art exploration:
1. Washable Markers (12 months+)
2. Thick Unlacquered Colored Pencils(12 months+)
3. Crayons(12 months+)
4. Big Bottles of Washable Tempera Paint (12 months+)
I think that Budster’s interest in drawing and painting has been largely influenced by the accessibility of these materials. For instance, his fondness of drawing with pencils started when we organized a cozy little drawing station for him. Getting an easel (12 months+) was helpful in sparking his interest anew! At first we used it as a dry-erase board, then attached a roll of paper. That little change was very exciting for Budster, and he drew and painted a lot, using the paper on the easel. Afterwards, we alternated the dry-erase surface with paper. The blackboard has not seen much use, though we have tried it on some occasions as well.
Finally, one must mention play dough when discussing art supplies for one-year-olds (14 months+). You can make your own, or you can buy a big set. We did both, and we liked them in different ways. A set of 36 jars I got for Budster for the previous Christmas lasted us almost the whole year and brought hours of play!
Books are great gifts for children of all ages – and adults. It will be a sad year when none of us find a book under the Christmas tree! No worries for this year though: I have prepared a Book Advent Calendar for Budster. Last year he got many books as well. It takes a whole article to list all of his favourite books, which I have done here.
Also, please, check my article about choosing picture books as gifts, along with reviews of some of the books that made our favourite gifts: In the Town All Year ‘Round, Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury, Birds of a Feather – and many more!
Upon finishing this list, a happy thought occurred to me. There are very few things that Budster enjoyed in his second year that he will not be able to enjoy for years to come. He will outgrow his beginner’s puzzles soon, but he will be able to paint and draw more and better. His animals figurines will go on more adventures with him, and his Duplo constructions will grow bigger. It is an exciting thought!
What is your favourite thing to give as gifts to toddlers? I will be very interested to know as we are still working on our gift list for Budster for this holiday season.