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The 21 Best Learning Toys For 1-Year-Olds — According To A Pediatrician

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Learning toys for 1-year-olds
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When it comes to play, Mr. Rogers is the authority. He’s credited with some of the most famous words on the matter: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” When a child reaches 12 months old, new developments begin to unfold. Sweet milestones like first words balance the stress-inducing ones as your kiddo explores a new range of mobility and emotions. The best learning toys for 1-year-olds give space for these milestones to develop and grow — all at the easy pace of playtime.

Before determining which toys to stock in the playroom, it’s important to understand what’s happening with your child developmentally. Scary Mommy reached out to board-certified pediatrician Dr. Elissa Gonzalez to get the low-down.

The Expert

Dr. Elissa Gonzalez is a board-certified pediatrician at Blue Monarch Pediatrics in Lakeway, Texas. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Development at the University of Texas (UT), her Doctorate of Medicine and Masters of Public Health at UT Health, and a specialty of pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital through Baylor School of Medicine. She enjoys supporting her patients by providing a whole child direct primary care model. She is also a mom of three.

1-Year-Old Developmental Milestones

As your child approaches a full 12 months of being on this earth, it feels like a monumental moment — and not just because of the time that’s passed. “By the age of 12 months, 75% of children are playing simple games, such as hide and seek with toys or peek-a-boo,” shares Dr. Gonzalez. “Most will be calling out for ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ and cruising around the furniture.”

But the endearing moments also come with challenges. “At this age, they may be experiencing the peak of stranger anxiety in public, but yearn for independence in the home. Emotionally, they are going through all the ranges of emotions of anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, and excitement... even in the same moment!”

As your child grows, a whole new world of physical movement, communication, and emotions unfold. “At 12 months, physically they are learning to walk, run, climb, use the stairs, and throw a ball. They are also learning to communicate a little better with single words or at least pointing their fingers to request or get your attention.” In addition to learning about feelings and new emotions, children are also “expanding their problem-solving skills by stacking blocks, putting simple puzzles together or playing hide-and-seek with objects.”

What Are The Best Learning Toys For 1-Year-Olds?

Thankfully, you don’t have to teach them alone. As your kiddo practices and explores these developmental milestones at their own pace, there are a number of toys designed to make the most of playtime. “Some toys that can help with development are simple blocks or puzzles,” reveals Dr. Gonzalez. “Toys that can be grouped together or categorized—such as colors and shapes. Placing toys inside other toys allows them to learn about shapes and sizes. Books with pictures of different emotions so they can learn what each one is and eventually know how to recognize them!”

And if your child isn’t catching on right away, it’s totally normal and expected. “One-year-olds aren't great with rules at this time so having exploratory zones and child-proof areas will help them learn and explore freely!”

Ready to play? We selected a collection of parent-approved toys for one-year-olds below.

In a hurry? Here are the top picks for the best learning toys for one-year-olds:

  1. The Best Stacking Rings: Sassy Stacks Of Circles Ring Stackers
  2. The Best Musical Toys: Oathx Baby Musical Toys
  3. The Best Puzzle Set: SKYFIELD Wooden Animal Puzzles
  4. The Best STEM Toy: SmartMax My First Magnetic Building Dinosaur Set

01

A Montessori Wooden Activity Cube For Curious Hands

There’s always something new to uncover with this 5-in-1 activity cube, which includes a bead maze on top, a learning clock with a friendly face, a shape sorter with essential shapes, some spinning gears, and a zig-zag sliding tool with cute insects. The Montessori toy was built with learning specifics in mind — namely sensory, fine-motor, and hand-eye coordination. This is a more compact activity cube than others on the market, measuring 6 by 6 by 5.9 inches (L x W x H), and while parents love the portability and affordability, some did mention that the tiny shapes could be a chocking hazard — so you’ll want to supervise closely.

Helpful Review: “My nephew feels very accomplished when he fits the little pieces into the correct holes. He just squeals with joy! There’s a reason that these toys are found in so many pediatrician’s offices.”

Recommended Age: 12 months +

02

A Fan-Favorite Stacking Ring Set

This wildy popular stacking ring set has so many fun textures to explore, so you get a sensory toy and teether in one. The cute and colorful rings come in nine different sizes that are designed to stack in any order for endless creations. Your 1-year-old will love dumping the chunky rings off and then reloading them, all the while working on hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

Helpful Review: “[...] The rings have several different weights, sizes, and especially textures, which are all great to help with sensory development. The straight pole in the center is perfect as well, because it doesn't require the rings to be stacked in a specific order. It is very colorful, and even includes rings with beads for sounds as well. It has a flat-bottom, which helps it balance better than the rounded ones, too. I [would] 100% recommend this toy to others!”

Recommended Age: 6 to 24 months

03

The Best Musical Toys For A 1-Year-Old

Do you dream of a family band? Introducing your 1-year-old to music and instruments from an early age might get you there. But regardless if the future holds Von Trapp family notoriety or a Jonas Brothers level of success, these cute percussion instruments will keep your kiddo’s little hands busy. Perfect for motor skill development and hand-eye coordination, not to mention a little creative expression, this musical toy set includes a tambourine, triangle with striker, xylophone, maracas, wrist bells, castanets, and more. Plus, there’s a band bag to keep it all contained after the encore.

Helpful Review: “My 1-year-old toddler is absolutely in love with these musical toys. She has been playing with them for the last 2-3 days, which is rare because she gets bored easily. They are small and fits perfectly in her small hands. Her favorite is the xylophone. In general, the sound isn’t too loud, which is easy on the ears for everyone else.”

Recommended Age: 6 months to 6 years

04

A Colorful Pound-A-Ball Toy To Show Cause And Effect

This fun toy comes with an easy-grip hammer so 1-year-olds can practice dexterity and hand-eye coordination by hammering the balls down and through the course. Parents can help kiddos match colors (there are four different colored balls included) and teach cause and effect as the balls move down the ramps. It’s a popular toy on Amazon, having amassed an impressive 4.6-star rating after 6,000+ reviews. Shoppers report that this is a sturdy toy, with many noting it’s still in good shape after months of use and abuse.

Helpful Review: “I purchased this as a birthday gift for my one-year-old grandson. He really liked handling the balls and figured out how to pound or move them down the slots. His 2 and 1/2 year old brother liked it, too. It is durable and well-made and colorful. [...]”

Recommended Age: 12 months +

05

A Wooden Ukulele With 21,000+ Ratings

When a toy has more than 21,000 ratings on Amazon, you know it deserves a spot in your playroom. Give your 1-year-old the gift of music — and give your ears the gift of a toy that doesn’t make you want to remove the batteries. This darling baby ukulele strums along with real chords (no clanging sounds here) and allows kiddos to play along in freestyle or play mode. Either way, there won’t be any guitar smashing as this toy can withstand a few toddler-inflicted bruises.

Want to add to your LO’s musical collection? There’s also a great touch piano in the same listing.

Helpful Review: “This is our go-to birthday gift for one and two year old birthdays. Everyone loves it. It has great sound, not grating or overly electronic in pitch. It’s a charming, well-made, and nicely interactive toy that doesn’t look or feel cheap. We have one in our own playroom and all of my children like to play with it, I have a 1 yr old, 4 yr old, and 7 yr old. The fact that it comes with color coded “sheet music” makes it an enjoyable toy even for older children. I will continue to purchase as long as it’s available.”

Recommended Age: 6 to 36 months

06

An Interactive Toy That’ll Grow With Your Kid

The Rollin’ Rovee is a “Smart Stage” interactive toy that can grow with your 1-year-old. Start with a simple seated playtime, followed by a crawl chase, before moving on to dancing, games, tossing a ball back and forth, and more. It even comes with 190 songs, sounds, and phrases for sing-along fun. Worth the price of admission if you want a toy that’ll entice your kiddo into endless “pick-a-boo” games!

Helpful Review: “Wonderful toy. Well made and certainly interactive. My 1-year-old appreciates it. Has four interactive play modes that play music and have activities. Has a light-up face and soft arms that move, so it can clap, play peek-a-boo, roll over for crawl and chase play, and play with the ball. Smart Stages learning content teaches your child about the alphabet, numbers, opposites, and much more. Worth buying.”

Recommended Age: 6 months to 5 years

07

This Heirloom-Quality Wooden Pull Toy

This adorable little puppy pull toy makes for the cutest low-maintenance first pet. Playtime fosters fine motor skills and imagination as the wooden pup can wag his tail, sit, and stand with the best of them. Each movement helps your child practice dexterity and hand-eye coordination, plus, the sturdy wood materials are kid-safe and sourced from sustainable forests.

Helpful Review: “Super cute toy! I love it. The back wheels are purposefully wonky so that it makes the dog's butt wiggle and his tail wag as he rolls around the floor. Its cute in person and the design is very impressive. It's a simple wood toy but the design is really good so the dog can scoot in the back legs, sit up - I love how the ears slide forward when the head is down so it looks like he's sniffing the ground, but then slide back as he looks up. Just really well made. [...]”

Recommended Age: 12 months to 3 years

08

A Montessori Toy That’s Perfect For Practicing Fine Motor Skills

Which carrot fits into which hole? Your kiddo will sharpen their size-recognition and dexterity skills to place the carrot in its matching slot. It’s a simple toy with a big benefit —leaning on Montessori methods to teach independence and resourcefulness. Plus, it’s built to last since it’s crafted from pine wood.

Helpful Review: “[...]Defiantly grows with the child. Perfect for counting, sorting, size recognition and hand dexterity. Paint is very sturdy and has not come off anywhere. Wood block is sturdy and smooth to touch. We play with these constantly. I HIGHLYrecommend this product with the understanding that you need to supervise infants and toddlers .”

Recommended Age: 6 months and up

09

A No-Pedal Bike For Toddlers On The Go

Baby’s first bike? This is the toy you’re looking for. The darling balance bike is safe and fun for little ones thanks to details such as covered wheels to avoid stuck fingers and limited steering and a low center of gravity to prevent spills. They’ll develop balance and coordination as they roll along. Parents and grandparents love this one for a 1st birthday present! Choose from six sweet colors.

Helpful Review: “[...]I bought it for my granddaughter’s first birthday she love this. I love the concept of it as a step before a tricycle. There are no pedals so it's easy for them to control it with their own feet. Lastly this bike is super compact so it isn't an issue to have in the house, even if you have a small house.”

Recommended Age: 18 months +

10

A Cute Pull-Back Car Set For Going Vrooom!

Every 1-year-old needs a good old-fashioned set of cars to discover how things goooo! These cute pull-back cars are the perfect place to start, teaching your kiddo both fine and gross motor skills. The cars are soft and lightweight, and when your tot pulls them back, off they cruise. The set includes a school bus, family car, fire truck, and police car that can all be packed away in their own carrying case. They’re so portable, you just might want to take them on the road for a real-life car toy to make longer road trips more manageable.

Helpful Review: “My kids LOVE these cars! And they can both play with them! I love toys that both my 2.5 year old and 10 monthold can both handle and use and these are perfect! These cars are even a hit with our kid’s friends!”

Recommended Age: 9 months and up

11

A Collection Of Stacking Stones That You’ll Actually Allow Inside

What is it with kids and the allure of rocks? We say go with it — in the form of this colorful collection of stacking rocks that allow for multiple ways to build and play. (Plus, no dirt particles making a new home in the carpet.) The size and weight of these colorful Montessori rock blocks make them easy to stack and learn about balance, spatial skills, and even basic geometry.

Helpful Review: “These are simple and durable wood blocks. These stacking rocks prove toys can be aesthetically pleasing and equally fun to play with. Our kids love being creative and building with these, and I enjoy stacking with them too. The odd shapes lead to a higher level of spacial creativity and thinking. This is a toddler toy you don't feel compelled to throw in the closet because they are really beautiful.”

Recommended Age: 12 months and up

12

An Interactive Mushroom Garden For Innovative Play

This beloved and award-winning toy is more than meets the eye. Simply push down on the mushrooms and watch them light up as the garden spins and delights. Your child can play in four different modes that encourage logical thinking, concentration, problem-solving, dexterity, and memory. It even comes with the three AAA batteries needed to get it up and running.

Helpful Review: “I bought this for my grandson who is one. But the two year old loves it too. It's great for teaching different skills, which is why I opted for it but it's also good fun with the voices and the music. The mushrooms are just right for small hands- not massive nor too small for them to choose the correct one. It doesn't take up loads of space and can be tidied away easily. It came with batteries-always a plus- and was very well received as a present. There is an on/off button so no wasting of battery. Well-constructed and would definitely recommend it”

Recommended Age: 12 months to 5 years

13

A High-Quality Learning Box Of Books, Toys, & More

This learning box is filled with tools to spark the imagination, develop memory skills, introduce language, vocabulary, and more. Each box includes two tear-resistant board books, a laminated first words poster, a simple board game for 1-year-olds, a rhyming card, and a set of animal face masks for story and role-playing. The box was created by parents, so it’s no wonder reviewers rave over the entire set.

Helpful Review: “gifted to my son for his birthday. We LOVE IT! he is so happy and its educational so its a great way to start teaching them animalsounds and their first words.”

Recommended Age: 12 months and up

14

A Dinosaur STEM Toy For Budding Engineers

Baby’s first engineering toy? Just go with it. This STEM set gives kiddos the tools to build, explore, and play by way of clicking together their own animals. Mix and match with 14 colorful magnetic pieces. Choose between sets with dinosaurs, farm animals, safari animals, trains, or tractors. Tip: This is another great toy to keep little hands busy on road trips!

Helpful Review: “These are so cool and I'm so happy to have found something like this. My 19 monthold daughter loves these and even my 3 year old has done some pretty creative things with these that surprised me. You can mix and match all the heads, butts and the middle magnet pieces for all sorts of creative fun. Definitely recommend”

Recommended Age: 12 months to 5 years

15

A Ball Pit That’s Perfect For Baby’s 1st Birthday & Beyond

This is one first birthday present that will get used well beyond the actual party day. The cute zoo-themed ball pit comes with 20 balls to get your little one started on the fun right away. A world of imagination awaits, and as they catch and throw the balls, they’ll be working on hand-eye coordination. Of course, helping to clean up the balls will teach them some great life skills, too. The quick pop-up design makes setup a breeze and it stores away flat so you don’t need a ton of space for this one.

Helpful Review: “I got this as a 1st birthday gift for my son and he absolutely loves it! It is very easy to climb in and out of, sets up and folds away very easy, and it is big enough for two kids to play in comfortably. The balls it comes with are very soft and easy for little hands to hold.”

Recommended Age: 12 months and up

16

A Popular Stacking Toy

Stack and sort, organize and combine. There are endless learning opportunities when it comes to this colorful peg board set. A Montessori favorite, this learning toy presents several opportunities for your 1-year-old to explore. The pegs stack snuggly into each other to build towers on top of towers. Each set comes with 30 total plastic pegs in six colors and one foam building board. Pack it all up in the included storage bag.

Helpful Review: “My baby loves this toy and always find a new way to use the peg board. Develops manipulating skills and imagination.”

Recommended Age: 18 months and up

17

A Sensory Toy That Even Mesmerizes Parents

Every once in a while a toy comes along that even a parent can’t help but explore. These pop tube sensory toys are mysteriously addictive. The colorful toys encourage contemplative, calming play. (Tip: Pack a few in the glove compartment when kids get fussy in the car.) While the manufacturer recommended age is 3, you’ll find that younger toddlers will enjoy simply stretching them out and giggling over the fun sound that makes.

Helpful Review: “I am a teacher for children birth to three years of age with specialneeds. I purchased these to use in sensory play to work on hand strength and fine motor skills or to be used as fidgets. I love the bright colors and they were very reasonably priced. They are a favorite with the little ones and safe if they put them in their mouth.”

Recommended Age: 3 years and up

18

An Adorable Wooden Puzzle Set That Will Keep Their Attention

The humble puzzle is a classic toy when it comes to secretly teaching while playing. This colorful set of four animal puzzles is a creative way to introduce kiddos to the joy and satisfaction of interlocking pieces. The puzzles aid in building up problem-solving skills, in addition to extending attention spans. You might even have time to brew a cup of coffee.

Helpful Review: “These are the perfect puzzles for your little learner. super colorful and good for littleones to have fun with. they also come with a cute little carry storage bag.”

Recommended Age: 12 months to 3 years

19

A Set Of Crayons That Won’t Destroy Your House

These twistable crayons are nontoxic, easy to grip, and there’s not a wrapper to be slowly torn off in sight. Fans love the silky glide and when the color begins to run low, all you have to do is twist. Plus, when kiddos turn to the table or the wall or the couch as a canvas, you’ll rest easy knowing every scribble will wash right off. As your kiddo gets more skilled as gripping the crayon, they’ll also be working on important fine motor skills.

Helpful Review: “These crayons are amazing. Silky smooth with no resistance to write with, saturated pigmentation, and clean off of almost anything (except grout and the white plastic tray of kiddo’s walker). [...] We’ve had them since kiddo was 14 monthsold and she’s almost 19 monthsold now and loves them even more. And can spout off colors like “peach!” and “teal!””

Recommended Age: 1 to 4 years

20

A 3-Pack Of Drawing Paper For Creative Little Minds

There comes a time when odd pieces of computer paper, old bills, and notepads just won’t cut it. This three-pack of drawing paper pads is perfect to have on hand for when the creative bug strikes. And take it from us — the way toddlers rip through page after page after page — you’ll be happy you bought them in bulk. And remember, as they create masterpiece after masterpiece, they’re working on key fine motor skills.

Helpful Review: “Great drawing pads for our toddler. We mostly use with crayons. Have tried finger paints and will hold up as long as it doesn’t get too saturated with paint. I like that it came in a pack of 3.”

Recommended Age: 36 months to 5 years

21

A 6-Pack Of Finger Paints For Baby’s First Masterpiece

Finger paint is messy, and sure you’ll have to supervise, but it’s fun. And that squee of delight when your little one smears their first color across a page is downright heart-melting. Crayola’s washable paint set comes in bright (washable) pigments for colorful, squishy, tactile fun. And the flip-top lids are great for keeping things from getting too messy.

Helpful Review: “This is an awesome purchase for those with 12+mth babies. The product is nontoxic and easy to use. The colors were vibrant and attractive to my little one, and was easy to wash off after use. I bought the finger paint paper to go with this as regular paper would become water logged too quickly.”

Recommended Age: 12 months and up

Expert:

Dr. Elissa Gonzalez, board-certified pediatrician at Blue Monarch Pediatrics