Enriching and Amusing Gifts for Toddlers
My granddaughter turned one recently, and I set out searching for the perfect toddler birthday gifts.
She’s an active child, who seems to be changing by the day, so finding the right present required some forethought. With my usual deep, investigative research, I discovered some wonderful educational and entertaining toys and books!
If you’re looking for the perfect birthday or holiday gift for a toddler in your life, read on to discover the best toys and books that are perfect for both girls and boys. I’ve included toys for open-ended play, push toys, dolls, open-flap books, peek-a-boo toys, bath toys, and classic, must-have books.
Read on to find plenty of toddler toy inspiration!
1 Year Old Development
One year old girls and boys are typically transitioning from rolling or crawling to walking. They’re also starting to recognize patterns and shapes, grab and drop objects, and understand the concept of something being hidden from view, but still there (that’s why they love peek-a-boo!).
Their favorite activities at age 1 include pushing and pulling, putting things together and taking them apart, and 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 and author of How Toddlers Thrive.
One-year-olds are also practicing saying words 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, like a doll or blanket that incorporates velvet, corduroy and silk, to give little ones things they can explore with their hands, advises Marie Conti, the head of the The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.
“Their fine motor skills have come to fruition with the ability to put lids on containers, use a cup, turn pages of books, and at around 18 months start to explore the foundations of drawing.”
Development experts agree open-ended toys are best. Open-ended toys are those that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the children, the day, their imagination, and desire. They foster play, creativity, and imagination.
Look for something that lets toddlers do what they want instead of following specific instructions.
In a NY Metro article on The Benefits of Open-Ended Toys for Kids, Colleen Multari, says,
“Open-ended toys result in open-ended play. This type of play can evolve over time while also encouraging children to create and problem-solve as they explore the world around them.”
High Tech Toys
There’s also something to be said for the excitement and teaching value of a high tech or electronic toy. These toys can stimulate the senses with lights and sounds, and open up a whole new world of discovery.
Smart, Fun Toddler Toys
These toys are perfect for a 12+ month toddler, and beyond.
This collection includes simple, open-ended toys, as well as high tech toys with electronic bells and whistles. Each of these high quality toys has great reviews and their own special charm.
This 100-piece Premium Wooden Block Set from Cubbie Lee is a classic toy that will be enjoyed for years to come (from just learning to stack, to building masterpieces).
These brightly-colored blocks are made from durable real juniper wood, and have no rough edges.
The wood used is sustainably sourced (certified by the Forest Stewardship Council) and the paint used is non-toxic, lead-free and phthalates-free: every Cubbie Lee Toy undergoes chemical tests for over 100 prohibited substances, and must pass choking hazard tests as well.
The box suggests this set is for ages 3+, but there’s no reason a one year old couldn’t play with these blocks (with supervision, of course). In fact, several reviewers say their 9 month olds love these!
One happy customer reported:
“I have worked at a daycare and have seen wooden blocks before that were old and yucky. I bought these blocks for my 9 month old to use in the near future. When I got the box, I was so impressed that the box was as nice as it was! I love that it can be used to store all of the blocks so that they aren’t scattered all over.
When I opened the bags of the blocks, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice they feel! They have a more slippery clear coat texture, so that my baby wont get slivers! I am so glad that these blocks are as nice as they are! I think they will last a long time and I am so excited to use them!
They would make a great baby shower gift, or a birthday gift for any age. I prefer these ones over Melissa and Doug!”
This Chomp and Clack Alligator Push Toy and Activity Walker from Melissa & Doug is a highly rated, engaging toy for your toddler!
It features three chomping alligators, fish on wheels, spinning butterfly and ladybug beads, and makes noise as your child pushes it (in other words, it’s very exciting for a toddler!).
With sturdy construction, this handcrafted wooden toy serves as a playful, dependable tool to help children ages one and up work on motor skills, develop hand-eye coordination, and take their first steps.
Three green gators in a blue pool are the centerpieces of the toy, and each of the four wheels features a multicolored fish that appears to be swimming as the wheels turn.
A wooden handle extends from the back of the base and includes colorful details of cattails and butterflies on its supports. Butterfly and ladybug beads attached to the supports are fun for little hands to slide and spin.
With each step your child takes, the alligators take turns opening and closing their mouths with a gentle clacking noise. The alligators’ noise and animation encourage movement and development of gross motor skills, while spinning, sliding beads on the handle supports help improve fine motor skills.
One satisfied reviewer states:
“We (but mostly our baby) loves this little walker! It’s very high quality, feels sturdy to the touch/push and works quite perfectly. Our daughter was even enthralled by the twisty blocks half way of the handle. Early on she would sit and spin those for longer than she would stand and push the whole cart.
Our daughter has been using this to walk around for almost four months now, well before she was walking on her own. So this provided her a practical and fun way to get up and start using her feet, learning to balance and practice walking. It’s been fun to watch her slowly get more confident and begin to walk correctly (not on toes, feet pointed straight, etc).
One note, that actually turned out to be more than fine, is that the gators on the front don’t actually make noise even though the name is chomp and clack. There isn’t really much of a clack to be heard. You really only hear the wheels turning. This wasn’t a bad thing (and for our sanity probably was a good thing), but I kind of thought the gators would make noise as the cart was pushed. They do make the chomp motion up and down though. Another thing to be aware of is the height of the handle is not flexible.
Our daughter is a bit short and smaller than normal for her size so she’s had no problem fitting the height of the handle. But thinking if someone had a taller baby maybe it wouldn’t fit so naturally? Not really a big deal as I would think once kids are too tall, they’re also too tall to be needing a walker. But something to know.
Overall it’s been a great purchase that we’re very happy we made.”
These Hide N Squeeks Egg Toy from Tomy International is deceptively simple-looking, but offers many opportunities for play and learning!
These eggs are designed for little hands to grip with ease, and crack open to reveal a different chick inside each. And each chick will make a surprise squeak when it’s gently pushed down!
This smart toy also teaches sorting, colors, and shapes, as your child:
- matches the shell’s face color to the color of the chick
- finds the matching egg and box shape to load up the carton
No batteries are needed for this fabulous open-ended toy, and it’s recommended for ages 6 months and up.
And wouldn’t it make a great Easter gift?
The Hide N Squeek Egg toy has over 2,700 reviews, and is (understandably) a very popular choice!
One happy purchaser reported:
“My 18 mo loved this toy. The eggs are super cute and make a little “squeak” (the spring making noise) when pushed down. My little girl kept saying “peep peep peep” all day after playing with this toy. Highly recommend!”
I personally don’t care one bit that this Lamaze Peek-A-Boo Forest Soft Book was chosen by Khloé Kardashian for her baby registry.
But – this is a fabulous little book for any 1 year old!
Your child will learn about the animals of the forest in this interactive soft book as they open and close the peek-a-boo flaps on each page.
The flaps are specifically designed for small fingers to open and close, and promote hand-eye coordination practice while entertaining.
The durable pages feature bright colors, multiple textures and surprise crinkles to encourage exploration. And of course, every toddler loves peek-a-boo!
Dolls are one of the very best toys for imaginative, open-ended play, and this fantastic Fisher-Price Little People Surprise & Sounds Home Playset (ages 1-5) will literally give your child years of inspired play and growth.
At first, they’ll just be touching everything – grabbing the figures, and opening and closing the oven or fridge doors.
But soon enough, they’ll discover that pushing the same button or opening the same door more than once makes something different happen!
As they grow, you’ll see them act out familiar stories as they make connections between what happens in this home and their real one!
Later on, they’ll discover more of the many play and learning opportunities offered by the Little People Surprise & Sounds Home.
This toy is loaded with interactive activities, like a ringing alarm clock, lifting toilet set with flush sound, lights to see and fun phrases to hear, as the the fridge and oven doors are opened, a music play and more! There is so much for your child to explore here!
With over 1,000 reviews, the FP Surprise & Sounds Home has an almost perfect rating!
Here’s just one example of the many glowing reviews:
“My daughter got this for her 1st birthday. She had been showing interest in carrying around the Little People figures. The minute she saw this, she instantly was attached to it. She loves the music that plays from the radio. It’s adorable to see her bobbing her head up and down. The oven and fridge also have lights when you open their doors.
I love the fact that it folds up to save space and is easy to carry around the house. I’d say this is perfect for 1 year olds and older. My 4 year old is constantly playing with it too!”
This Turtle Buckle Toy from Buckle Toys offers fun ways for toddlers to learn basic life skills, such as buckling, using a zipper, color recognition, hand-eye coordination, and problem solving.
“Bucky,” the Turtle features 6 child-friendly buckles in a variety of clasp styles, an easy-glide zipper pocket, and is brightly decorated with numbers and shapes.
His 9″ x 5″ size is perfect for small hands and to clip on a stroller, diaper bag, shopping cart, high chair, or car seat, and he’s easy to wipe clean.
Turtle Buckle Toy has over 450 excellent reviews.
This is a particularly helpful review (because I was wondering about the same thing…)
“I bought this for my son and my friends daughter who is 7 weeks older than my son. My son is 11 months old and I plan on giving this to him on his birthday.
My friends daughters birthday is this weekend so I’ll come back and update you on how she likes it.
I got a chance to fiddle around with it though. I wanted to make sure the buckles wouldn’t “snap” shut as I don’t want to risk getting their little fingers caught in the buckles when they clip. But the buckle clicks shut very softly if that makes any sense. They don’t have a lot of resistance so it’s a smooth click when they do close. Not a tight click (again if that makes any sense).
I think it’s a perfect gift for their learning brains. I give it a 5 star rating because the product is WELL put together, no loose strings. The zipper is on there right and it’s MEANT for a toddler. I don’t feel as if these buckles are ANY where close to the car seat buckles.
I posted on Facebook about this item seeing if any of my friends has used this with their kids and immediately someone mentioned “I don’t think this is a good idea. It’s teaching them how to get out of their car seats or high chairs” – NOT AT ALL THE CASE. If your kid can unbuckle themselves then I would be more concerned about the company making your carseat or high chair rather than this little toy. Car seat buckles are SO strong and difficult to unbuckle even as an adult. I wouldn’t worry about if your kid can unbuckle himself/herself after using this toy. This toy teaches them how to unbuckle but they are gentle buckles. Not durable car seat buckles.”
There is so much to do with this VTech Turn and Learn Driver! Your child will enjoy stimulating, imaginative play with the steering wheel, traffic light, a signal lever that triggers fun sounds and music, and a gear shifter that pushes and pulls to introduce opposites.
Turn and Learn Driver includes 3 play modes, so your toddler driver can learn in animal, driving, or music mode!
This toy is programmed with an impressive 60+ songs, melodies, sounds and phrases.
It comes with demo batteries installed, but the manufacturer recommends inserting fresh batteries when you unpack it (so pick up 2 AA batteries with this toy).
Again, fantastic reviews on this toy, with over 790 reviews.
One satisfied reviewer said:
“Good solid toy with lots of buttons and stuff for your baby to interact with. My daughter is a year old and we bought this for Christmas for her. Her favorite part is the horn. My almost 3 and 4.5 yr old also love it because it’s just like driving my car.”
For fun in the bathtub, it’s hard to beat the Whale Island Bathtub Toys Set from LilBeanzLand. This magical spray fountain and floating bath toys will make any little boy or girl’s bath time a lot more fun!
This interactive and educational Whale Island includes a fountain that can be configured to spray in a variety of ways, and fun floating characters that your child will arrange to create their own floating island.
It also comes with its own mesh bag to keep the set together and mold-free.
Pick up 3 AA batteries for this toy (the manufacturer says not to use rechargeable batteries).
If you’re wondering about a battery-powered toy being used under water, don’t be; the battery compartment is kept dry, and this toy is manufactured in compliance with industry safety standards and has been laboratory tested and found to be safe for children when used as directed, and meets all international safety standards. Reviewers have not reported any issues.
Speaking of reviews, one helpful reviewer said:
“Great find!!! I was looking for a long time for a good toy for bath time. I have a 3 and a 5 yr old boy and 1 yr old girl and they swim together.
Its a fun! They played together and asked me to go to bath next day in the morning. I was worried about the batteries in the water, but it is isolated very well and batteries stay dry.
A few things to know:
– “turn on” button is the orange one!
-give it a time before it starts working-it collects water inside before starting the fountain;
– rechargeable batteries didn’t work well (maybe I have the old version), but the instruction says you should not use rechargable-who knows why. I got duracell-worked great. You need three of them.
First I thought what a waste of money this useless mesh bag, but now I am happy I have it as it helped to clean toys mess in my bathroom. Even my kiddo said “wow! Now I have my own toy organizer even in the bathroom “. Lol.
Thank you for a good quality product and a fun!
Now i can clean the bathroom without “mommy, mommy” while they are playing.”
Important Kids Books to Own (Or Give)
Even if you’re a regular visitor to the library, I think it’s important to own some “forever” books that your child will enjoy and become familiar with over the years.
Nursery Rhymes – Start Now!
There’s a reason we learn nursery rhymes as young children. They help us develop an ear for our language. Rhyme and rhythm highlight the sounds and syllables in words. And understanding sounds and syllables helps kids learn to read!
Long before your child understands what the nursery rhyme is about, they receive many benefits from being read the rhymes.
Short and Repetitive
Nursery rhymes are often short and have a great deal of repetition. Repetition offers your growing child the opportunity to tune into words a second and third time and helps him remember what he has just heard. A rhyme’s repetition can also help your child become aware of the individual units of sound, known as phonemes, which make up words.
Nursery rhymes are organized so that similar sounds jump out at you, which doesn’t happen in every day speech. By introducing your child to patterns of sounds, your little one’s brain receives the input it will need to categorize words by their internal structure.
This is the precursor to the awareness that letters can represent the sounds of words. So, nursery rhymes help your child’s brain segment words into syllables, hear similarities between words that rhyme or start with the same sounds, and enjoy sound play.
Love of Books
Nursery rhymes can also pave the way for a love of books. They introduce the idea of listening from beginning to end as the narrative develops, however they are short, so your youngster doesn’t have to sit still very long. As she gets older, you can introduce longer stories and those with a real plot.
Bonding and Memories
Nursery rhymes link us to the past. Many adults, once they have children, will often be surprised at how many nursery rhymes they remember from their own childhood. There may even be some strong emotional feelings attached to these memories. As parents, we often enjoy retelling them to our own children and so the nursery rhyme becomes an important bonding link between past and present as it is passed down from generation to generation.
Toddler Books to Own
These are the books I recommend that you purchase for your child’s own book collection. Choose a durable, hardcover binding and they will be enjoyed for years to come.
Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose: 100 Best-Loved Verses is my top choice for nursery rhymes. If you buy just one rhyming book to read to your toddler, this is it.
This is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated treasury of all the wonderful rhymes you remember, and much more. It even has an index of first lines, so you can easily find your favorites!
I’m confident that you and your toddler will enjoy this book together today, and as they grow.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was simply amazing. As Bex Frankeberger writes in Why Reading Dr. Seuss Is So Good For Your Child’s Development.
“The man better known as Dr. Seuss used sleight of hand to make readers believe his seemingly silly rhymes were just that. But the good doctor’s prose, be it concerning plates of eggs or mustachioed tree-people, was deceptive. His casual couplets and nonsense words serve as a linguistic boot camp for kids.“
Dr. Seuss’ Beginner Book collections are a must have for your toddler. These books will help develop your child’s word recognition and pave the way for future language skills. Later on, these will be perfect beginner reader books!
There are so many fun and educational toys and books for the magical stage of toddlerhood; I hope I’ve provided you with some good ideas! Let me know what you think of my recommendations (and what I missed!).
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