Looking for the best toys for 1 year olds? This gift guide is curated with field-tested toys loved and played with by actual children. These are toys your child will enjoy for years, and supply countless hours of independent play.
What the best toys for 1 year olds are?
The best toys for 1 year olds are toys that will support their development, be a part of their play and learning, and grow with them over the years.
Toys are often seen as just “things” for children to own or “stuff” for adults to gift. But toys are much more than that – and it’s paramount that adults begin to shift our understanding of what toys actually are.
Toys are important.
Play is the work of childhood – so said psychologist Jean Piaget. If play is the work of childhood, then toys are the tools for play.
Let’s be mindful of what children need and find them the best tools for their hard work.
While I’m never one to put pressure on parents, owning the “right” toys can make or break independent play.
Note: It’s important to understand that the price of a toy does not dictate it’s value. The best toy for your child is not necessarily or always the most expensive.
How to choose toys for 1 year olds
Very generally speaking, there are two kinds of toys on the market: “one and done toys” and “open-ended toys.”
“One and done toys” are often large and flashy. They’re typically not going to work with mixed ages of children (they work with one age group only). These toys often have batteries, are meant to entertain a child, and usually have just ONE purpose (meaning you can’t use the toy in any way other than how it was intended).
One mark of this kind of toy is the lifespan: the child’s engagement and interest in this toy fades quickly. A “one and done toy” is not likely to hold your child’s attention year after year after year, like an open-ended toy is.
Please note my language: Often, likely, typically. Some seemingly “one and done” toys will hold your child’s attention for years or are very necessary for their personal development.
Toys are tools – that’s the message to leave here with. If a toy is a tool for your child and their play, that toy has value.
What kind of toys work best for one year olds?
As you build your toys collection, aim to fill it with open-ended toys.
These are the toys that most often support independent play in early childhood. Open-ended toys grow with children and though they fall in love with them at age 1, they continue to play with them (evolving that play) as they grow older.
Open-ended toys will help a one year old learn to imagine, create, and think. These toys help them learn to navigate the world, to act out social situations, problem solve, explore, learn, and develop.
Open-ended toys are powerful.
Toys don’t have a gender
All toys are GENDER NEUTRAL. Everything on this list is perfect for both boys AND girls, and will enrich all children’s play lives.
All children need equal access to all toys, regardless of their gender. They all need the chance to build, care give, drive, role play, bounce, hammer, and design.
Instead of choosing a toy based on gender, base it on the child’s interests or needs. If a child like building, invest in engineering toys. If a child likes care giving, support that with a doll.
All toys are for all kids.
How the toys on this list were selected
This list of toys were all field tested by children, actual children, and in the real-world (most toys for many, many years).
Every toy on this list has been cherished by either my children, neighbors, or friends of our family. We don’t put anything on this list that hasn’t been thoroughly played with.
A vast majority of the toys on this list are still played with at my house (my kids are 9, 7, and 6). This is what I mean by toys that grow with kids.
The best toys for 1 year olds revealed
These are the best toys for 1 year olds (and toys will keep loving, and using, and playing with far into the future). This list is not just for one-year-olds!
Because these toys grow with your child, many of these items are loved by children years older. I placed toys on this list as the “earliest age a child may be interested in this toy” which is different from other toy lists that share toys that will only be enjoyed by that age group.
Busy Toddler is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.
Pound & Tap Bench
Between the hammer, the xylophone, and the balls – let’s just say the play potential here is through the roof.
Shape Sorting Toy
Your 1-year-old needs some sort of shape sorter. This little toy teaches so much – problem solving, spatial awareness, and perseverance. It’s a big day when they finally get this one down, but don’t worry – they’ll keep using this for years to come.
I’m a big fan of vehicles for all kids – cars and trucks have no gender. One-year-olds love cars and trucks so make sure to get them a few big ones. This garbage truck is awesome, especially for fans of trash pick up days. DON’T OVERLOOK TRUCKS.
Stack and Count Wooden Parking Garage
These cars are the perfect size for little hands – juuuuust right. There’s colors, there’s numbers, there’s endless ways to play with 10 cars.
Pop-Up School Bus
Laugh all you want about how simple this toy looks and I’ll show you a four-year-old who still plays with it. This is typically one of the most bought toys on all my gift guides combined.
For an age group that often throws blocks, these rubber blocks are a great option. The blocks also connect to each other through shape cut outs which adds an extra layer of fun and play.
Ramps are awesome, and they actually never get old. They’re the perfect quiet toy and little ones will sit so a long time playing with these simple ramps.
Again, boy or girl – every house needs some babies. You need a baby doll for playing doctor games, to rescue from the fire, and to use in social stories (like pretending to be a caregiver). This basket of babies (literally what it’s called) is the cutest, sweetest set.
My 7-year-old (who still has this toy in her room and plays with it often) insisted it be added to this year’s gift guide. She’s not wrong. It’s a sweet toy that clearly has lots of longevity.
Little People Farm
This is my only toy on the list with a battery – but that’s because the songs and animal noises it plays are irrelevant. It doesn’t blast flashing lights at your child or ask them silly faux academic questions. It’s a solid toy that was loved at our home for well over six years. We got our money’s worth.
Stacking and nesting toys are great, but these buckets really take things up a notch with their size. Surprisingly, these buckets do a lot: they hold, they build, they carry… they do everything. This is still played with daily in my house (my kids are 9, 7, and 6).
Simple Building Set
This toy is so cool. It’s magnetic, it connects, it rolls, it rattles. There’s only 8 pieces (aka not much to lose) and endless ways to configure. They create rattles or stack together. They mix and match. It’s just a really great basic toy.
Nesting & Sorting Buildings & Vehicles
This toy is full of options: cars, buildings, stacking, sorting, hiding, moving. There’s a lot of invitations to play here, and so many years of fun. We’ve had this toy since my son’s first birthday – it’s heading to the “someday grandparents” box of toys we are saving.
Big Knob Puzzles
Puzzles are like books – you can’t have too many. The limit does not exist. Getting kids started on puzzles early on is a great gift to give.
Here’s a little gem that has been a hit with all my kids, starting when my youngest was 10 months old (he’s 4 years old and still reaches for this toy).
They sort the buttons into the box, play with the buttons on the carpet, pattern with them, design with them – yes, it’s just buttons… but to kids, they’re a whole lot more.
Classic Push Wagon
It’s a classic for a reason and used by children ages 1-9 in my neighborhood. Everyone can find a use for it. This is a gold star toy – with YEARS of life potential.
A staple, a classic, a must own: even just one bag of these is all you need for hours / days / years of building fun. These blocks are perfect for little hands – right around age 20 months, the play with these really takes off.
Hide & Squeak Eggs
AN ABSOLUTE JOY. Need a quick gift for a one-year-old? These squeaking eggs are magical and constantly in use at our house. You’d be surprised how much play these little eggs are a part of…
A gender neutral stroller is a fantastic toy for children learning empathy skills and care giving. This pairs great with a baby doll or stuffed animal – years and years of play came from our doll stroller.
It’s a simple toy to have, but it’s perfect for imaginary play. A jumbo set of animals (like these) are so much fun and invite so many play opportunities. It’s an ageless toy too – kids will be playing with these same animals for years.
You can’t go wrong with balls – the mother of all open-ended toys. We got this set 7 years ago… and many still remain in my house today!
Push toys – even simple ones like these – can have years of life in them and can be used in so many games. Don’t overlook them.
Gifts for 1-year-olds do not need to be fancy. I often use these gifts as a chance to give them things we need a refreshing of, like awesome bath toys. These boats are gold.
- Float and play bubble balls
- Floating octopus – great for siblings too
- Suction cup/scooping toys
This tunnel is so fun for kids of all ages – from new crawlers to big kids deep in imaginary play. Tunnels have multi-age capabilities and years of longevity.
Little People and Vehicles
Another Little People toy on the list, but there’s a reason these are so beloved in the early years. This set of vehicles and people is perfect – each can be played with separately or as a group.
What’s Inside? Soft Feely Box
This is an unexpected toy that’s full of open-ended play. Toys with “small” pieces like this make for great imaginary play. Kids will play with all the pieces from this (together or separate for years).
Frequently Asked Questions
All toys are educational toys. The phrase “educational” toy is a marketing term designed to evoke a reaction from parents. Marketers often prey on the fears of parents that their child will be “behind” so they add “educational” to a toy in hopes that parents will buy that toy over another.
What’s ironic is that most often the toys labeled as “educational” are the least educational (they light up, say color names, sing the ABCs), but a toy children will truly learn from (like a set of wooden blocks) doesn’t need to proclaim its educational powers.
Be leery of toys that claim to be “educational.” What are they actually teaching?
One-year-olds need toys that spark their interest, grow their curiosity, and help them learn, plan, and discover. This age group loves toys that have a cause and effect element, toys that move, and toys that help them practice real world skills (like driving, hammering, building, and caring).
That’s a personal question for each family, but my rule of thumb is this: the room where toys are played with should be “clean-able” in 15 minutes. If it takes longer than that to put away the toys, there may be too many.
Remember that toys are tools. Just like you get frustrated when you open a kitchen drawer and can’t find the tool you need to cook with, kids feel that when toy boxes are crowded. A frustrated child who can’t find their toy is then less likely to play independently.
Check out other gift guides
Don’t miss my other gift guides which may also work for your family. Many of the toys on this list and others have been enjoyed by my three kids from baby age to elementary school.
- Best Toys for Babies
- Best Toys for Toddlers
- Best Toys for Preschoolers (3-5 years)
- Best Stocking Stuffers
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
Leave a Comment