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57 gifts for 1-year-olds that will keep them entertained for hours

Experts say open-ended toys are best: They let 1-year-olds do what they want instead of following specific instructions.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Finding unique presents for kids can feel like a challenge, but getting a meaningful gift for a 1-year-old might be easier than you think: It’s that age when the box really can be more exciting than the toy inside.

That’s because favorite activities at age 1 include pushing and pulling, putting things together and taking them apart, and — yes — moving things in and out of boxes.

“It’s a very active time,” says Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City, and the author of “How Toddlers Thrive.”

What do 1-year-olds like to play with?

From their first birthday onward, one-year-olds are moving on from baby toys and practicing speaking and recognizing rhymes, so they’re primed for books that teach words or engage them with lifting flaps. In toys, look for a variety of textures they can explore with their hands, says Marie Conti, Director of Regional Community Relations for American Montessori Society and the former head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.

Development experts agree open-ended toys are best. Look for something that lets 1-year-olds do what they want instead of following specific instructions.

To quickly jump to the category you're looking for, click on the links below or keep scrolling to see our picks for the best gifts for the 1-year-old who already has everything.

Bestselling gifts | Toys under $25 | Developmental toys | Blocks | Play houses | Activity centers | Push, pull and ride-on toys | Stuffed animals and dolls | Musical toys | Puzzles and shape-sorters | Books | Meet the experts

Bestselling gifts for 1-year-olds

Infantino Press and Stay Sensory Blocks

These building blocks are frustration-free for the littlest builders, according to educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.

VTech Touch and Teach Interactive Learning Book

With a near-perfect average across several retailers, this adorable learning toy has won over countless parents and grandparents. Beyond teaching them all about fundamentals like numbers and the ABCs, it'll also keep them engaged and active with the bright lights and catchy tunes.

Eric Carle The Very Hungry Caterpillar Train Set

This classic train comes in a baby-friendly size for pushing, pulling apart and putting back together.

VTech Pop-a-Balls Push & Pop

Targeted for kids aged one to three, this bestselling bulldozer pops balls out of the chimney into the bucket and an handle for when they’re ready to get moving.

Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape-Sorting Grocery Cart

It’s a walker, a shape sorter and food play all in one. The shape-sorting grocery cart from Melissa & Doug comes with puzzle boards and chunky pieces that help with motor skills, sorting and more. Plus, there’s a cup holder so they can down some coffee on the go, just like their parents. (Don’t worry, this coffee won’t keep them up at night.)

Best toys for 1-year-olds under $25

Fisher-Price Baby's First Blocks

These blocks are also a shape-sorter that is perfect for teaching your little one how to identify shapes and colors. Plus, once playtime is over, they can be neatly stored in the bucket and stowed away.

Learning Resources Learn-a-Lot Avocados

Spin the "pit" to see different faces and emotions on these pull-apart avocados that let your 1-year-old work on fine motor skills, colors and feelings.

Ingenuity Nate the Teddy Bear Plush Toy

This friendly-looking teddy bear is sure to become their new BFF.

Hape Elephant Wooden Push and Pull Toy

Anything with wheels is fun to push as it moves. Your 1-year-old can pull around this wee elephant by its leash or grasp their little fingers around its hollow center to push it along like a car.

Skip Hop Baby Popper Push Toy

They're sure to get a kick out of this push toy that makes popping sounds as they stroll around.

Edushape Sensory Balls for Baby

Balls are among the most exciting things you can show a 1-year-old. These spiky versions allow them to grab tight and keep them from rolling too far away, while encouraging them to crawl, grab and throw.

Megan, a first-time mom who lives in Utah, adds that the sensory ball she gifted her 1-year-old, Aya, helps distract her when she's stressed out from teething.

Developmental toys for 1-year-olds

Learning Resources Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog

Appearing on Amazon's annual "Toys We Love" list this year is this sweet little hedgehog from Learning Resources. With a shell full of colorful quills, it's made to aid your little one with developing essential skills like sorting and counting.

KiwiCo Atom Bead Maze

Play two ways with this bead maze and clutching toy that fit together to look like an atom. It comes with a picture book to get your little scientist started.

Rainbow Nesting Wooden Blocks

These rainbow blocks aren't just pretty on the shelf. They are a favorite for expanding creative thinking — they stack any which way to promote a baby's ability to problem-solve.

Lovevery The Babbler Play Kit

Lovevery toys are designed by development experts to be just right for kids as they grow. Sign up for a subscription and get a new kit every three months — something Meg recommends.

"I started getting [Aya] play kits from birth — no regrets," she says.

Best blocks for 1-year-olds

Mushie Stacking Cups

These stacking cups allow Baby to put a tower together and apart, a favorite activity for 1-year-olds. In fact, Meg says that Aya's two sets of stacking cups (one plastic and one silicone) are what get the most use on a given day.

B. Toys Elemenosqueeze Educational Baby Blocks

Each block in this set is embossed with a letter and corresponding animal. They come in a variety of different shapes so in addition to learning, the kiddies can get creative and build any structure.

Petit Collage Wooden Alphabet Blocks

These classic wooden blocks will entertain toddlers for years to come.

Best play houses for 1 year-olds

Melissa & Doug Go Tots Barnyard Tumble

The new Go Tots round figures work in multiple Melissa & Doug play sets and are perfect for rolling through the play barnyard, kind of like Connect 4 for little ones.

Fisher-Price Little People Friends Together Play House

Little People figures have been around long enough that parents and even grandparents probably remember playing with them. This play house combines nostalgia with updates including a kitchen “tablet,” a radio that lights up and a flushing toilet.

Best activity centers for 1-year-olds

LeapFrog Touch & Learn Wooden Activity Cube

Landing on The Toy Insider's Hot 20 list this year, editor-in-chief Marissa Silva had this to say about LeapFrog's eco-friendly activity cube: "There’s just so much play and learning built into all sides of this cube. So it’s one of those toys that is not going to cost you an arm and a leg, it’s good for the environment and kids are gonna get so much out of it.”

B. toys Zany Zoo Wooden Activity Cube

Tiny adventurers will get a kick out of exploring the peek-a-boos and loopty-loos at this wacky zoo. While they're maneuvering to find nature's greatest beasts, they'll be working on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills along the way.

Manhattan Toy Tree Top Adventure Activity Center

At this age, babies love to pull themselves up to stand, which they can do with this interactive wooden tree-themed toy, jam-packed with motor-skill activities.

Hape Country Critters Wooden Activity Play Cube

This play box is a shape sorter, maze and more all in one, with plenty of colorful, playful activities on each side.

Crate & Kids Ball Pit

We must acknowledge that a ball pit in your home is entirely silly, but it can also lead to hours of sensory fun. Plus, come on, imagine the pictures.

Best push, pull and ride-on toys for 1-year-olds

Fisher Price Corn Popper

This classic Fisher Price toy is always a favorite among babies, thanks to its fun sounds and ease of use. It's perfect for new walkers who need extra practice!

Green Toys Wagon

The classic wagon is a perfect pull toy that will last for years to come.

PlanToys Dancing Alligator

The alligator “dances” and makes click-clacking noises as a child pulls. It also comes in unpainted, natural wood.

Bababoo and Friends Whale Wilma Pull-Along Toy

This whale’s eyes roll and colorful wheels mesmerize as she moves along.

VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

Another inclusion on Amazon's Toys We Love list this year, this activity walker will keep them plenty occupied as they take on the challenge of standing and moving on their two feet.

Gentle Monster Wobble Balance Board

These curved wooden toys might not look like much, but they’re beloved by Montessori classrooms for their versatility. Use them as a ramp for cars, a surfboard, a bridge or just a gentle seat. Your child might discover something you hadn’t considered.

Retrospec Cricket Baby Walker

Your little one can learn to walk and balance on a bike at the same time with this balance bike walker.

Melissa & Doug Chomp and Clack Alligator Push Toy

This walker toy features chomping alligators, fish on the wheels, and spinning butterfly and ladybug beads. It also makes a gratifying click-clack sound as 1-year-olds push it along.

Skip Hop 3-in-1 Scooter Wagon

Most walkers are designed to be obsolete fairly quickly, if all goes to plan and the baby starts walking independently. Not so with the Skip Hop 3-in-1, which transforms into a ride-on toy and a scooter as baby grows.

Wishbone Flip Rock and Roll Ride

The Wishbone Flip grows with a child from age one to five, converting from rocker to push toy to ride-on.

Doona Liki Stroller & Trike

It’s a stroller; it’s a tricycle; it’s a bike. This little ride-on is designed to grow with your 1-year-old. Best of all, it comes out of the box fully assembled and folds up for easy storage so it's easy to take on-the-go.

Best stuffed animals and dolls for 1-year-olds

Squishmallows Veronica the Octopus

These cuddly friends are cool with much older kids, but they also feature sewn-on eyes that make them safe for even the smallest babies.

GUND Toothpick Stuffed Animal

Choose this sweet stuffed animal in corduroy to gives tactile feedback, or jaunty stripes to shake up the toy box. Either way, it’s small enough to tuck easily in a stroller for play on the go.

Melissa & Doug Mine to Love Doll

These 12-inch cuddly baby dolls are appealing to boys and girls alike. (It comes in a blue version, too.)

Plush Creations Safari Animals Set

These cuddly friends are perfect bedtime companions, and better yet, it comes with a carrying case for storage.

Warmies Microwavable Plush Animal

Available in a variety of animals, these stuffed toys (one of Oprah's Favorite Things last year!) are scented with French lavender and are microwavable to bring warmth, comfort and stress relief for bedtime, daytime or during travel.

Best musical toys for 1-year-olds

Hape Baby Drum

Drums are great for pounding out rhythm and developing fine motor skills. When the drum rolls around, it emits melodies and flashing lights.

Baby Einstein Magic Touch Ukulele

Kids can get an early start developing a love for music and rocking out.

Baby Einstein and Hape Magic Touch Piano

Have a budding Mozart on your hands? Tap into their creativity young while strengthening other essential life skills with this tot-friendly wooden piano that allows them to create their own original tunes.

Hape Pound & Tap Bench with Slide-Out Xylophone

Little ones pound the balls on top until they cascade down to the xylophone, which also pulls out for independent play.

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn DJ Set

Making its way on both Toy Insider's Hot 20 and Walmart's Top Toys lists, Fisher-Price's retro-inspired play table features three Smart Stages learning levels that target various fine motor skills as they continue to grow. They also might create the next hot mixtape in the process!

Best puzzles and shape-sorters for 1-year-olds

Melissa & Doug Shape-Sorting Cube

This classic wooden shape-sorter lets 1-year-olds put things inside a box and take them back out — similar to the joy of opening a gift box.

Melissa & Doug Peek-a-Boo Touch and Feel Puzzle

Megan tells us that this touch-and-feel puzzle is one of the favorites of her very tactile Aya. It’s a good starter puzzle as tiny hands learn to fit pieces together.

Bonus? “She really likes to look at herself in the mirror,” Meg laughs.

Melissa & Doug Jumbo Knob Puzzle

This Melissa & Dough puzzle has jumbo knobs that are perfect for tiny hands.

Best books for 1-year-olds

“Adurable: Little Pups in Big Trucks” by Bob Shea and Brian Won

This new board book series features little pups with jobs to do, and enough humor to make repeat readings fun for parents, too.

“Hush, Little Trucker” by Kim Norman and Toshiki Nakamura

Little ones will love this truck-centric take on “Hush Little Baby” (which was overdue for an update). And if that tired Mom won’t sing, its pleasing rhyme is just the thing.

“Sunrise Dance” by Serena Gingold Allen and Teagan White

Megan's 1-year-old is a huge fan of books with flaps. "It adds a sense of excitement to an otherwise linear story. Aya gets to discover things along the way, she gets to predict what will be underneath the flap, and in general, she just loves being more involved in the reading process by allowing her a chance to be tactile."

We recommend this flap-filled book, in which animals start their days with lively dances — that just may have your little one wiggling, too. Push and pull the tabs to make the animals shimmy, mambo and cha-cha.

“I Just Want to Say Good Night” by Rachel Isadora

It’s time for bed in the African plains, but Lala isn’t ready for her day to end, so she says good night to the animals, a rock, and of course, in a nod to Margaret Wise Brown, the moon.

“Little Star” by Lisa Edwards and Kat Kalindi

This rhyming book celebrates the little star that lights up the sky, shooting so fast a year has passed. It also happens to be one of 1-year-old Aya's absolute favorites, Meg says.

"'Little Star' is a sensory book filled with cute little animals that Baby can touch and feel to have a fun, tactile experience. While she's doing that she can press [a button] to play and listen to 'Twinkle Little Star.' My baby loves it so much that our book is now falling apart!" she says.

“My Fade Is Fresh” by Shauntay Grant and Kitt Thomas

A little girl heads to the neighborhood barbershop to get “the freshest fade on the block” and gets a lot of other suggestions from her mom and others. Her triumph in her less-expected look is a sweet resolution.

"Bathe the Cat" by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts

This family has to get the house in order — and bathe the cat — before grandma arrives. But the clever cat finds a way to scramble the chore list into ever more ridiculous chores, like sweeping the dishes, scrubbing the fish and mowing the floor.

Artifact Uprising Personalized Baby Board Book

Make your own book of baby's favorite people with this custom board book that lets your 1-year-old match faces and names — a great choice when relatives are far away.

Meet the experts

  • Marie Conti is Director of Regional Community Relations for American Montessori Society. She was the former head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Conti is based in Greater Philadelphia.
  • Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., is Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York, as well as the author of “How Toddlers Thrive." She focuses on young children's social and emotional development, as well as parents' experiences raising them. Klein is also an adjunct associate professor and teaches a year-long course on toddler development.

Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s other gift guides to find the perfect present for every kid on your list including babies, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds.