A child's first birthday always feels like it belongs a little more to the parents than to the child. After all, you've just survived some of the hardest trials of parenthood! Although your baby won't understand why everyone is making such a fuss, there's still a whole lot to celebrate. By simply observing and interacting with their surroundings, most babies have figured out how to sit up, crawl, pull up to stand, and even walk by the time they are toddlers. Their grasp of language is exploding, and they can hold a fork, pick up a Cheerio, and give hugs and kisses.
So, for your child's first birthday, consider selecting gifts that increase the development of large and fine motor skills, vocabulary, and language. As the owner of Magic Beans, a children's toy store in the Boston area, I spend a lot of time researching toys and development. Read on to learn about the types of toys I would recommend that enhance your child's skill set for this age.
First Birthday Cake - Part One
Pulling and Pushing
Of all the physical milestones a child reaches during the first year, walking is the most apparent, since it requires visible effort. To build the strength and coordination babies need, pushing toys are excellent gifts. Many have extra play features, like built-in shape sorters, bead mazes, music, or moving pieces, which add to the toy's longevity. If your baby is just starting to pull up to standing, find a push toy with a broad handle and a low center of gravity for maximum stability. Some models offer control over how fast the wheels spin. Once babies are walking without holding on to anything, you can graduate to pulling toys, especially those with bright colors and kinetic parts that will come to life when in motion. These engaging toys will give toddlers practice looking backward while also moving forward to improve balance and build confidence.
Filling and Spilling
If a toy falls on the floor, an infant won't look down to see where it went, but gradually she will seek objects that vanish. "When babies reach one year, they're getting to be in control of so many of their movements," explains Lisa J. Lewis, OTD, a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Kids Therapy Made Simple in Los Angeles, CA. "They're starting to understand cause and effect, and they're mastering the concept of object permanence. They suddenly have the ability to think, 'Hmm, I put this in and then when I spill it out, it's not there anymore. I wonder where it went.'" Fill-and-spill toys are perfect for introducing toddlers to the concept of losing and finding things, and the company Melissa & Doug makes a series of soft toys specifically designed for this. And other toys, such as Edushape Sensory Snap Beads, can be used as intended or be transformed into a fill-and-spill toy.
Sorting and Stacking
Shape sorters such as blocks and similar stacking toys allow toddlers to practice recognizing shapes, matching colors, and manipulating small objects. Blocks are one of the most open-ended and long-lasting toys. Child development experts highly recommend them. "We want to see toddlers use one hand to stabilize and the other hand to manipulate. LEGO DUPLO or Mega Bloks can help with coordination and bilateral motion," Dr. Lewis says. "Anything a 1-year-old can do in a sitting position is especially good because this builds core strength, which will ultimately enable him to work more effectively on fine motor skills development." In the beginning, keep it simple with blocks that are relatively small and uniform, like iconic wooden alphabet blocks or colorful plastic blocks such as Sweet Baby Blocks from International Playthings. A 1-year-old can stack a few blocks at a time and then learn spatial relationship skills and fundamental concepts of physics and math.
Rocking and Rolling
Whatever the theme (horses, monsters, motorcycles), rocking toys help build core strength and balance, and the back-and-forth motion provides soothing sensory input. When choosing designs, the best option for toddlers is a rocker that is low to the ground -- it will reduce the chance of injury if a child loses balance or trips while getting on and off.
Most 1-year-olds love to zoom around on their very own set of wheels, but they're not coordinated enough to pedal a tricycle yet. Choose a ride-on toy that will allow them to roll and push with their feet to gain momentum; this builds muscle tone, coordination, and body awareness. Look for one that is low to the ground and has a stable handle for extra support. You can also opt to get a tricycle with a push-bar for the parent. Your child won't get too much of a workout initially, but sitting on the trike should inspire him to figure out how to make it go. Plus, a tricycle will grow with your child for several years.
Jamming and Grooving
Musical toys hold great appeal for toddlers, who gravitate toward anything that helps them make noise. Although they may not be ready for instrument lessons, they can still benefit from musical experiences. Exposing children to music stimulates important areas of the brain, including language development, social skills, and gross-motor development. "Making music provides endless opportunities to practice imitation, conversational turn taking, and social cooperation," says Julia Priest, director of Music and Movement of Newton in Newton, MA. Toys that create music are better than those that just make music on their own. LP Rhythmix makes maracas and egg shakers that are perfectly sized for little hands, and Edushape makes a baby-friendly drum that is always popular. Musical instrument sets, like the Parum Pum Pum Drum from B. Toys, offer a variety of sounds all in one. Toddlers love repetition, so if you do want an electronic musical toy, choose one with volume control. Once they are confident on two feet, there will be a whole new musical experience waiting for them: dancing.
Creating and Pretending
During the next year or so, your tot will gain the language skills for following instructions. Until then, as you nurture her expression through art, choose materials that are easy to clean. The company Alex has a range of Little Hands art supplies and kits, designed for toddlers, which don't require too much fine motor control. Finger crayons, finger-paints, and Play-Doh are all excellent choices for this age, as are washable markers, which can be even better than crayons because very young children won't need to press down as hard to make bright, vivid colors. It's also okay to buy a set of art supplies that are more appropriate for slightly older children, so they can have fun together.
Drawing pictures for your baby is a smart way to practice language skills and to demonstrate what she'll be able to do as she gets older and strengthens coordination and grip. Get a giant pad or a paper roll with a cutter and a large set of crayons or markers -- all which you can use for many years. But creativity isn't just about drawing, of course: Make-believe is another way for expression and play. But your toddler is just learning how to pretend, so collect toys that are age-appropriate and that will enhance imaginative play. Consider baby dolls, toy trucks, and play food that can be repurposed in different ways as props.
Soothing and Snuggling
Nighttime rituals vary from family to family, but most parents have some routine of bath and books before bedtime. Bath toys echo the same styles of play your baby is engaged in outside the tub. Bathtub crayons and finger-paints are a fine gift because you can never have too many. There are shape sorters and stackers (with pieces that float and squirt) that are made for the bathtub, and toy boats and rubber ducks are also a hit. Books are always a fail-safe gift, no matter what age. "They're important for social and language development," Dr. Lewis says. Reading books aloud repeatedly helps toddlers understand anticipation and practice prediction, and allows for a chance to develop vocabulary and language skills. For a toddler-size attention span, choose board books that are fairly simple, with bold, vibrant pictures and interactive elements, like cutouts to poke little fingers through, touch-and-feel pages, or finger puppets.
How to Invest in the Best Gifts
The best toys are multifunctional and long-lasting, not to mention engaging. If you want to give a gift that will make an impact and be an excellent investment, choose something kids will use for years, not days. Toys made of high-quality materials like wood or heavy-duty plastic are more likely to withstand inevitable abuse from a toddler. And those that look more realistic and less "babyish" also have a better chance of staying in the mix as children get older.
A toy with a recommendation for age 2 and up can still make a first-rate gift for a 1-year-old. Safety standards dictate that any toy with a choking hazard has to be labeled for ages 3 and up, so if a toy is suitable for a 2-year-old, it's usually safe for a 1-year-old. Your toddler may not use the toy exactly in the way it was meant to be used, but that's a good thing. It reinforces the idea that flexibility and creativity are welcome.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.