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16 of the best toys for your one-year-old's development

According to a child-care expert, these toys for one-year-olds make playtime fun and educational.

16 of the best toys for your one-year-old's development

Photo: iStockPhoto

Choosing toys for your one-year-old—or gifts for a one-year-old in your life—may seem like an easy undertaking. Go to any toy website, pick something in the right age category and be done with it. But if you’re looking to help your child develop a wide range of skills—from balance and strength to creativity and cause and effect—you’ll want to have a variety of toys that promote different types of learning. Trudy Halvorsen, child care manager of the Remington YMCA and Quarry Park Child Development Centre in Calgary, works with hundreds of children aged 12 months to six years, and these are the toys for one-year-olds that she loves best.

Push-pull toys for a 1-year-old

When it comes to developing gross motor skills, such as standing and walking, push-pull toys can help. Push toys like grocery carts give kids something stable to hold while they develop balance and learn to walk, plus “they love to dump things into the basket,” says Halvorsen. Meanwhile, pull toys like rolling animals attached to a string promote hand-eye coordination. “They’re going to want to drag their arm behind them and look at the toy, which is a whole new skill for a one-year-old,” she says.

Wooden shopping cart with plastic food in the material basket Photo: Pottery Barn Kids

Wooden Shopping Cart, $87,

Wooden crocodile with string attached to its nose Photo: Snuggle Bugs

Hape Walk-A-Long Croc, $30,

Simple costumes for a 1-year-old


“At this age, dress-up clothes are difficult to put on, but they love them,” says Halvorsen. Stick to uncomplicated accessories, such as hats and purses, and consider placing your child in front of a mirror so that he can notice changes in his appearance. “It’s very cool to see a young child use a mirror as part of their play,” says Halvorsen. “It encourages facial expressions and emotional intelligence.” Scarves are also a multifunctional option. They’re perfect for playing peekaboo and pulling through empty paper-towel rolls.

Pink purse with a smile on it surrounded by toy car keys, phone, mirror and bracelet Photo: BabiesRUs

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn My Smart Purse, $18,

Colourful scarves form a circle Photo: Amazon

Scarves, $10,

Large blocks for a 1-year-old


Choose large, sturdy wooden blocks to bolster basic math and fine motor skills. Jumping over a single block, if the child is ready, can also be great for gross motor development. “Even knocking over a tower of blocks at this age teaches cause and effect,” says Halvorsen.

Stacked alphabet blocks Photo: ToysRUs

Imaginarium Discovery Jumbo Alphabet Blocks, $25,

Stacked colourful wooden building blocks Photo: Scholar's Choice

Hape Maple Blocks, $25,

Sand and water play zones


Sometimes, the simplest (and cheapest!) toys are best. Halvorsen loves messy play for one-year-olds. “My go-to is a low Rubbermaid container,” she says. “It stands about half a foot high, and you can fill it with sand, plastic balls or water, if supervised.” Place it on the floor and let your child interact with the different textures. Complete the play zone with shovels and cups of various sizes. “When they fill up one and then another, they are different weights,” says Halvorsen. “The child will be able to see and feel that. That’s a math skill.”

Colourful stack of fish cups Photo: ToysRUs

Imaginarium Baby Under the Sea Cups, $6,

Pack of animal water squirters Photo: KolKid

Sunnylife Bath Squirters, $25,

Simple puzzles for a 1-year-old


Help your child strengthen their hand and finger muscles and develop their pincer grip with chunky puzzles (especially the kind with handles) and toys like sponges and stackable bowls and baskets, says Halvorsen.

Four animal puzzles beside each other Photo: Indigo

Melissa & Doug First Play Jigsaw Puzzle Set Farm, $40,

Wooden animal puzzle Photo: KolKid

Djeco Wooden Puzzle, $20,

Pretend play toys for a 1-year-old


Any type of toy that promotes make-believe or role-playing is ideal for encouraging creative thinking. “Most kids will model whatever is going on in their homes with their primary caregivers,” says Halvorsen. That’s why little ones are often obsessed with sweeping, doing laundry, grocery shopping and caring for babies. Dolls, cars, play kitchens and toy brooms, along with accessories like play food, make great gifts for one-year-olds.

Colourful ice cream cart Photo: Bed Bath & Beyond

LeapFrog Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart, $40,

Pink wooden kitchen Photo: Walmart

KidKraft Grand Gourmet Corner Play Kitchen, $263,

Board books for a 1-year-old


Look for picture books with thick pages and simple words. Halvorsen prefers stories that feature lifelike pictures over illustrations. Peekaboo books (where the child opens and closes the flaps) and touch-and-feel books are a lot of fun for this age group, too. “You’ll know when you’ve hit the mark with a book when the child begins to tell the story himself,” she says. “He might not have the language yet, but if you read it in a certain tone, you will hear some of that voice modulation. It’s so fun to watch children develop those language skills, and it builds their self-confidence.”

Furry book of baby animals Photo: Indigo

Baby Animals, $4,

Goodnight Moon hard cover book Photo: Treasure Island Toys

Goodnight Moon, $11,

Paints for a 1-year-old


It’s (almost) never too early to start painting. “You can use paint rollers, sponge brushes and large paint brushes,” says Halvorsen. “Finger painting is also great for this age group.” Consider making your own edible paints in case your little one puts her paint-covered fingers in her mouth, and honour her creativity by hanging her picture on the wall or fridge when it’s done.

Yellow sponge roller with blue handle Photo: Michaels

ArtMinds Mini Sponge Roller, $4,

A child's hands spread red and yellow paint on the tray Photo: Scholar's Choice

No Mess Plastic Finger Paint Tray, $17,


There are so many great toys available for your one-year-old, but there are also a few things you should avoid. Beware of toys with tiny magnets that can fall off and cheaply made items that can break easily. “Durability is key,” says Halvorsen. “I would go for the higher-end playhouse rather than the cheaper one. Your child will use it to pull themselves up, and small pieces can break off.”

She also warns against screen time. “It’s such a tough topic since we’ve started using screen time to help us get everything done and maintain our sanity,” she says. “But I would prioritize unstructured playtime. It’s amazing what children can do. I think sometimes we forget how capable they are.” She also suggests setting clear limits early on. “Yes, your child may be in a high chair during dinner and you may want to give him screen time while you’re finishing your meal,” she says. “But is that something you want to continue when he is three, five or 15? Once you set those boundaries, it’s hard to go back.”

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