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.
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.