Best Birthday Gifts for a 1-Year Old

Jun 11, 2000 (Updated Jun 12, 2000)

A major milestone is about to occur in our family - our last baby is about to turn 1 years old. Even though he's quite precocious, he can't yet write his own opinion on this topic so I'm taking the liberty of writing it for him. Rest assured, all eroyalties will go to him - in the form of diapers and food and clothes - and don't forget the toys!

Even though I'm sure my husband has not spent even a millisecond considering what would make an appropriate birthday gift for our son, I have spent hours and days pondering this question. Because our baby is the third child in our family, there definitely is NO shortage of toys in our house. However, reflecting back on the older two kids' first birthdays, I can remember some gifts that were especially popular with them. First things first, though…

Some Basic Rules of Gift-Giving for 1 Year Olds

~ Expect that the box and wrapping paper will be more entertaining for the baby than the enclosed gift.

~ Don't overwhelm the baby with lots of gifts. It quickly becomes sensory overload and the baby often either abandons them all, cries, or both. Babies have fairly simple needs, as far as gifts go. Keep the number of gifts to a minimum.

~ Remember that children at this age tend to put anything and everything into their mouths. Therefore, care must be taken to make sure the gift does not contain any small parts that could be swallowed by the baby, creating a choking hazard. This includes buttons and ribbons that are attached to the toy but could easily be removed (and subsequently swallowed). The rule of thumb is anything that can fit through a toilet paper tube is too small.

~ Don’t get hung up on selecting gender-specific toys at this age. They have plenty of time to be brainwashed into preferring Barbies over trucks or vice versa.

What About a Birthday Party?

Your baby couldn't care less if you throw him or her a party. I've been amazed by how many of my internet acquaintances are planning big, elaborate shindigs for their 1 year olds. In my opinion, it's fine to plan a SIMPLE party for your 1 year old, as long as you recognize that the party is primarily for YOUR enjoyment, for older kids in your home, or for photo opportunities. I suggest only inviting a few people, like maybe the grandparents or another couple with or without a child. Avoid having high expectations for your child's party so you don't get disappointed if your baby cries through the entire event (like my first son did).

Now, On To The Gift Ideas…

1. Books

A nice, sturdy board book would be my number one birthday gift recommendation. Books with paper pages or very elaborate pop-up figures are likely to get destroyed quickly by kids this age. There are countless numbers of wonderful board books for infants and young toddlers. Some of the most popular books in our house for this age group are:

o "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown - a simple, classic tale.

o "Tickle Tickle", "I Touch", "I Can", "I Hear", and "I See" by Helen Oxenbury - each of these books has simple illustrations of babies and very few words. Trust me - young kids LOVE these books.

ANY board book by Sandra Boynton - we have "Barnyard Dance!", "Moo Ba La La La", "But Not the Hippopotamus", "Horns to Toes", "The Going to Bed Book", "Blue Hat, Green Hat", "Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs", "A to Z", "One, Two, Three" and "Opposites" - these books have funny illustrations and rhyming prose that will tickle the funny bone in both kids and parents.

Most board books by Dr. Seuss - our favorites have been "The Foot Book", "Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?" and "There's a Wocket in My Pocket" - some of the other popular Dr. Seuss books tend to be a tad long (like "Cat in the Hat" or "Green Eggs and Ham") and may appeal more to a slightly older toddler.

The "Little Look-Around Books" by Joshua Morris, which include "Down Ladybug Lane", "In Dragonfly Forest", "In Songbird Jungle", and "On Butterfly Farm" - each of these books has attractive illustrations of animals, simple rhyming text, and tabs (with the picture of each animal) that make page turning a breeze of the younger set.

"Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" and "Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? - both by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle - both of these books have appealing illustrations of animals and lots of repetition, which is fun for kids because they know what to expect.

o "Jamberry" by Bruce Degen - a charming, lyrical story of a boy and a bear and their appreciation of berries of all kinds. The illustrations of animals and food are delightful. This one can be sung, too!

It's really hard to know where to stop because there are many, many more books that my kids have enjoyed. However, the one's above are pretty safe bet for most young children.

2. Blocks

It doesn't matter if you have a boy or a girl - all will enjoy the opportunity to build with blocks (and to knock them over!) Blocks are wonderful toys for developing fine motor skills and encouraging creativity and imagination.

Again, there are lots of different options when it comes to blocks. However, the ones that we have found most appealing to our kids are wooden blocks, soft blocks, and plastic blocks. You may ask, what's left? Well, you can also get cardboard blocks but we don't have any of those.

Wood blocks - there are many different types and manufacturers of wood blocks. We have Tootsie blocks but that doesn't mean they are necessarily the best - just the most available and affordable. The advantages of wood blocks are their durability and "classic" nature (many parents fondly remember their wood blocks from childhood), their versatility, and the variety of shapes and sizes you can find (including cylinders). The disadvantage is that they are noisy when wood block towers are knocked down (some kids would see this as an advantage), they hurt the most when thrown at you (trust me on this one), and the paint can leave little colored "scuff" marks on your wood floors, especially if there have been a lot of toppling towers.

Soft blocks - again, there's a lot to choose from. I strongly recommend Pooh Baby's First Soft Blocks though you'll have to buy a few sets if you want to do any elaborate building. We also have a set of closed cell foam blocks (don’t know the manufacturer) and they are perfect for building towers on the edge of the bathtub during bath time. They DO show teeth marks, though, so might be better for kids who are past the teething age. The advantages of soft blocks are that they are relatively quiet and don't hurt when you get bonked with them. They also tend to be fairly forgiving for the novice tower builder. I'm not really sure about the disadvantages of these blocks, expect possibly the teeth marks (not a problem in the Pooh Soft Blocks).

Plastic blocks - the most well-known plastic blocks for this age set are Primo LEGO. These are the baby version of the traditional Legos. They are easy for little hands to hold and have lots of shapes that double as rattles. Although these blocks are designed for this age group, we preferred the Duplo LEGOs because they are much more versatile and entertain kids for many more years. However, a 1 year old baby might not get much enjoyment out of the Duplos right away. You can also get plastic blocks from saving the empty wipe boxes from Playtex Chubs baby wipes. We quickly saved over a 100 of these and found they were terrific for building large towers or forts that your baby can gleefully knock over. Later they can be used for storing toys and little knick-knacks. The plastic blocks have many of the same advantages and disadvantages of wood blocks, except they aren't really "classics" - unless you are a young parent!

3. Push Toys

Since learning to walk is the major milestone of the one year old set, toys that allow your baby to practice walking with a little support can be very popular - and useful. One obvious choice is Fisher Price Activity Walker. Our first son enjoyed this toy tremendously while he was learning to walk and our youngest currently enjoys it. We also have a Pooh Spinning Walker from Mattel that I got for my 14 month old daughter for Christmas and this toy is STILL popular with all of my kids, including the 4 1/2 year old. Toy lawn mowers, shopping carts, and buggies are also all popular push toys for the novice walkers. If the toy allows the child to load on some stuffed animals or other favorites, it will be appreciated all the more.

4. Pull Toys

If your baby is an early walker and is fairly comfortable on their feet, you will find that pull toys can be very entertaining. Young children love to pull toys behind them, especially ones that make noise. We had a set of quacking ducks that my daughter liked, though it drove me nuts. For my son's upcoming birthday, I bought him the Alphabet Pal by Leap Frog. This is a green caterpillar pull toy that names colors, letter names, and letter sounds. Look for a review on this product in a few weeks. :) There are many, many other pull toys on the market or at yard sales that will tickle the fancy of the walking baby. The important feature to look for is a short string or cord that won't inadvertently be wrapped around the baby's neck and result in strangulation. Be aware that pull toys take more coordination than push toys because the child will often try to turn around and watch the toy while they pull it, resulting in balance difficulties.

5. Manipulatives

For lack of a better name, I use the term "manipulatives" to refer to toys that your child can stack (other than blocks) or turn dials or knobs, hit levers, insert pieces etc. These toys allow young children to develop their fine motor skills, learn about basic cause and effect, and allow babies to develop a sense of mastery. More than anything, they are just plain fun. There are huge number and variety of toys in this category so I'm just going to list a small sample of the less expensive ones with which we have personal experience:

o Stack Up Cups by The First Years ($2.59)
o Snap-Lock Beads by Fisher Price ($2.99)
o Rock-A-Stack by Fisher Price (if they don't already have this classic toy!) ($3.99)
o Form Fitter by Playskool ($6.99) - a puzzle shape box
o Busy Poppin' Pals by Playskool ($9.99)

Again, the possibilities in this category are vast. Just remember that often simpler is better. One of the best gifts my daughter got at this age was box of Kleenex which she could happily empty, one at a time, without getting into trouble!

Most one year olds will enjoy at least one or more of the items I've listed. Remember, though, that each child is different so something that thrills one child may be a complete dud with another. Still, I hope this list will help people select appropriate and enjoyable gifts of one year olds. Please add others that you would recommend in the comments section.

In closing, all the toys and books in the world cannot replace the importance of a parent's attention, love, affection.


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