Courtesy of Moolka.com
Why she'll love it: Sorting shapes is trial and error at its most basic.
Why experts love it: "Children work on hand-eye coordination and learn how objects with similar properties go together," says Joyce Nuner, PhD, assistant professor of child development and family studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Our pick: This adorable wooden cow-shaped box looks like a folk art piece and comes with all the requisite shapes, so your kid gets a start at learning those too. Since the pieces are stored inside, he'll learn how to clean up when he's done.
Courtesy of Willow Tree Toys
Nesting or Stacking Toy
Why he'll love it: There's something about getting one object to fit into another that just gives your 1-year-old a kick -- and it works his motor skills.
Why experts love it: "There's more than one way to play with nesting bowls -- make them fit together, stack them, knock them down, use them to pour," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, a developmental psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and co-author of A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool. "They can be taken apart and put back together, which builds imagination."
Our pick: These rainbow-colored nesting bowls are made of wood and glazed with all-natural oils and nontoxic dyes -- much cooler and heirloom-y than the plastic versions that abound.
Courtesy of IKEA
Why she'll love it: A push toy helps unsteady new walkers feel a little more stable.
Why experts love it: "A push toy allows the child to see some of the benefits of walking without the risks," says pediatric physical therapist Vickie Dakin, president of Magical Innovations, a company that creates therapeutic products for preemies.
Our pick: We love this push cart's clean, modern, this-would-look-gorgeous-in-my-living-room lines, and -- bonus! -- it doubles as toy storage.
Courtesy of Target
Why he'll love it: Making noise is the number-one thing on any 1-year-old's to-do list.
Why experts love it: "If parents can stand it, instruments are fabulous for learning causality," says Hirsh-Pasek. "You can even use things around the house -- pots and pans and empty bottles work."
Our pick: This indestructible set gives your babe six instruments to bang, bash, and shake -- enough for Mom and Dad to join the band.
Courtesy of Boon
Why she'll love it: At this point, your baby probably doesn't need convincing to linger in the bath. After all the washing's been done, turn bathtime into playtime.
Why experts love it: "Kids love a bath toy that's more than a rubber duckie," says Kirsh-Pasek. "Look for something that requires them to be active rather than passive, and that can be used in different ways to create something new."
Our pick: These floating abstract shapes, plus three balls and two mini scrubbies, don't absorb water so they won't get mildew-y. Your babe will love sticking the appliques on the wall, and splashing Mommy with the balls, and squeezing water out of the scrubbies.
Courtesy of ebeanstalk.com
Why he'll love it: You may have had one of these when you were a kid -- and no wonder! Toys that let baby pound away are a classic must-have.
Why experts love it: "These toys help with fine motor development and also introduce the concept that certain objects fit together," says Nuner.
Our pick: With this workbench, kids pound pegs until they're hammered through, then can flip the bench over to do it all over again.
Courtesy of K's Kids
Why she'll love it: Your little one is probably already imitating you on the cell and playing "phone" with the remote and your iPod, so why not give her a mini-version of her own?
Why experts love it: "A toy phone is great for imitation and language," says Dakin.
Our pick: This mini phone will let her to make pretend calls, punching buttons to hear numbers or songs. You can also record your voice so that your kiddo can get a call from Mama any time she likes.
Courtesy of UPromise
College Fund Contribution
Why he'll love it: He will one day! It seems impossible that your little peanut will someday be shooing you out of her dorm room, but college is out there, and you better start saving. If you haven't started a 529 like the Upromise College Fund, use the occasion of the first birthday as motivation.
Why experts love it: "Starting early means that even modest monthly contributions will go a long way toward paying future college bills," says Joseph Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com and author of The Best Way to Save for College: A Complete Guide to 529 Plans.
Our pick: If friends want to donate, Ugift, a new online resource from the Upromise, let them print off gift coupons to give to family and friends.
Courtesy of MoMa Store
Why she'll love it: The ultimate creative toy, blocks offer infinite opportunities for freeform play, and hone motor skills.
Why experts love it: "They're initially used for banging together, then dropping into a container," says Dakin. "Stacking blocks starts later so this toy grows with your child."
Our pick: We love these squishy blocks for their grabby texture, which makes them easy for your budding I.M. Pei to learn stacking. And, because they're made of foam, towers that go "timber!" are nothing to fear. They float, too.
Courtesy of Amazon.com
Why he'll love it: It will be a while before you can tackle Harry Potter together. For now, 1-year-olds love books with thick pages.
Why experts love it: "Board books are hard to destroy, so they're great for this age," says Hirsh-Pasek. "Sitting down with a book and having that special time together is so important, plus kids are learning language skills by figuring out that those squiggles on the page have meaning."
Our pick: A board book like Touch the Art: Pop Warhol's Top has textured features like Marilyn Monroe's eyelashes popping out of Andy Warhol's 1964 masterpiece -- and it's a subtle, age-appropriate way to introduce your little one to modern art.
Courtesy of UncommonGoods
Why she'll love it: If your 1-year-old isn't yet a confident walker, give her the motivation to keep working on those gross motor skills with a pull toy.
Why experts love it: "Pull toys allow kids to practice their balance while having fun," says Dakin.
Our pick: When tugged, this wooden cowboy (coated with nontoxic varnish) kicks up his boots so his horse can roll. We also love how the wheels look when they spin.
Courtesy of Toys R Us
Why he'll love it: Now that your babe is standing, he'll work his motor skills by bouncing, throwing, and dropping (and dropping and dropping) a soft, textured ball.
Why experts love it: "Think of all the things you can do with a ball," says Hirsh-Pasek. "You can roll it, bounce it, catch it, throw it, and kids direct the play."
Our pick: Hubs dying to play catch? Get your babe off to a great start with this easy-to-grab version. Its bumpy surface makes it a cinch for little hands to hold on to.
Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.
Home Organization: Organizing Toys
Tame all your toddler's toys! Watch this video to see the best ways to organize toys in your home.