Looking for educational activities for your 1-year-old? These at-home crafts can aid his growth and development, helping him achieve important milestones.

By Nicole Harris
Updated May 11, 2020
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Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Amazon

A tremendous amount of growth and development takes place in the first 12 months of a child's life, according to Laura Phillips, PsyD, ABPdN, clinical neuropsychologist at the Learning and Development Center for the Child Mind Institute

“By the end of the first year, toddlers are capable of pulling to stand, cruising, perhaps taking a few steps independently, picking up small objects using their pincer grasps, banging objects together, taking things out of a container, flipping switches, turning knobs, and imitating scribbling,” Phillips says. One-year-olds also have an increased attention to language, and they can respond to simple requests through gesturing and babbling

Because young toddlers are extremely curious, they learn about the world through exploration and play. Check out these six arts and crafts for 1-year-olds that encourage them to reach physical and cognitive milestones. They also provide an opportunity to talk, introducing new vocabulary and linguistic concepts.

“We know these concepts are best learned in the context of meaningful play with an attentive caregiver, as opposed to an otherwise meaningless, decontextualized way, such as through apps or even flashing toys,” says Phillips. “These projects are also great opportunities for your child to experience your undivided attention, which helps reinforce the sense that ‘I matter.’”

Courtesy of Allison McDonald

According to Phillips, finger painting promotes fine motor development. Non-toxic paint adds a sensory component, but your child can also use shaving cream for a different tactile experience. To reduce the messiness, have your child paint on a wipeable surface like a high chair tray, baking sheet, or plastic lids of storage bins. You can also tape sheets of paper to the kitchen table, plop your child in the bathtub, or set him up on a washable tarp. Just make sure you have plenty of wipes or towels at the ready! 

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Think your baby can manage a paintbrush? Encourage him to imitate scribbling by painting with water! You won’t need to worry about the inevitable mess that comes with paints, and your 1-year-old will still improve her fine motor skills. Here’s how to set it up: Fill a cup with water, dip in a graspable paintbrush, and give it to your toddler. Let him draw on construction paper, the sidewalk, or another surface. When the brush dries up, simply dip it in the water cup again.

Courtesy of Lynn Lilly

When the weather is nice, get outside with some sidewalk chalk!  Not only does it promote fine motor skills and small muscle control, it also encourages imagination, color recognition, and visual judgment. If your child would rather chew on chalk than draw, save this activity until he’s older. 

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Your 1-year-old can string beads on a thick lanyard or pipe cleaners, as long as the beads aren’t small enough to present a choking hazard. (You can also use O-shaped rice cereal or pasta if you’re worried about choking.) “Stringing beads helps with fine motor dexterity and coordination, along with hand-eye coordination,” says Phillips. Your child may get frustrated with this task, which requires plenty of fine motor skills, but encourage him to keep going. “You are communicating to him that you believe in his ability to do something, which translates into his own confidence in himself,” says Phillips. “After he has been successful, he develops a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Photograph by Aaron Dyer

Phillips recommends cutting sponges cut into different shapes and using them as stamps. You can also gather items like wooden blocks or wine crafts to dip into kid-friendly paint. This DIY stamp craft for a 1-year-old provides an opportunity to talk about shapes, colors, sizes, and numbers, says Philips. It also improves fine motor skills, offers a sensory experience, and introduces your child to cause-and-effect relationships.

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Whip up some homemade play dough with ingredients you have in your pantry; your child can help mix them together. Give the play dough to your 1-year-old and let him explore. He’ll develop fine motor skills by simply moving it around. You can also demonstrate different ways to play: mashing the play dough into a circle, rolling it into a log, flattening it on the floor, splitting it in half, etc. Your child will learn communication skills and imitation by copying you.

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