1st Birthday Gift Ideas: Your BIG Guide to a Toddler’s First Birthday

We talk a lot about buying gifts for people who are difficult to shop for on this site, and to be sure, it is a challenge to buy a good present for someone who seems to have everything they could possibly want or need. But is it more challenging than buying a present for a one-year-old?? We’ll concede that the challenge differs according to the baby in question. Some children are highly developed by the time they reach the big 0-1. Others are more likely to show an interest in the wrapping paper than the gift inside. To buy the right gift, you’ll need to thread that developmental needle with your knowledge of the child. Still, all in all, we think there are some gifts that are nearly universal in their appeal. In some cases, the kid may need a few months to “grow into” the gift, but that’s okay.

Choosing the Right 1st Birthday Gift

Before we get into our list of gift suggestions, let’s take a moment to go over some helpful tips when choosing the right birthday gift for a child turning one. Hopefully, this guide can help you narrow down your shopping selections. And when you use these tips in conjunction with our big list of potential gifts, you should be able to come up with something great that the child will adore.

Here’s our advice:

Keep their development in mind – We mentioned this in our introduction, but it’s worth repeating. Parents will know, to a more precise degree, what their kids can and cannot do. Friends and other family members (grandparents, aunts, etc.) may have to do a bit of guesswork. You can eliminate that guesswork by discussing your gift ideas with the parents beforehand, or you can do your best based on what you know about the child. And, as we said, if they aren’t ready for a particular gift quite yet, it’s quite possible that they’ll love it in six months.

Individualize the gift – Personalization is always an excellent way to add meaning and substance to a gift, but we’re not exactly talking about personalization here. No, what we mean is that – even at the age of one – every child is different. One girl adores pink, frilly dresses. Another girl would rather play with dinosaurs in the backyard dirt. By tailoring your gift to what you know about the child’s developing personality, you’ll have a better shot at picking a winner.

Be cautious with technology – We’re not here to do a lot of preaching about how a child shouldn’t be raised by YouTube (though we could), but we do think you should be cautious before buying a gift that is too reliant on technology. This is an exceptionally important period in a child’s brain development; their parents may not want them to get hooked on an internet-connected device quite so early! There will be plenty of time for social media and video games in the future. Note: We’re not talking about educational toys that use computerized tech to work and are highly touted by experts.

Educational gifts are fantastic – Building off our note above, you should absolutely look for toys and games that mix learning and fun. Kids will get so much pleasure figuring these games out and solving puzzles that they won’t even realize that they’re getting an early education. Studies have shown that kids who show up for kindergarten with a head start on certain fundamental concepts (such as reading) do far better in school than those who do not. Give the one-year-old in your life the big boost they need to succeed!

Run it by their parents – Even if you’re 100% certain that the gift you’ve chosen is a home run, we recommend running the idea by the child’s parents before the big day. The reasons for this are two. One, the parents may have some reason to object to the gift. Two, the child may already own the toy you’ve got your eye on. With a quick text or call to the parents, you can avoid any awkwardness and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Okay, now that we have some basic tips to keep in mind, let’s get into the big list!

A Toddler Piano

Science has made it clear that there is a direct correlation between musical ability and intelligence. But don’t make the mistake of thinking these two traits are fixed in place. A lot of it depends on exposure, particularly during the early years. By getting a toddler-appropriate piano for a child turning one, you’re providing them with that early exposure that can be so important to long-term development. Who knows? You might be watering the seeds that turn into America’s next great composer. Even if that doesn’t turn out to be the case, these pianos will provide hours of playful enjoyment for any young child. Their parents may grow quickly weary of the music, but hey, that’s not your problem!

A Stroller/Tricycle Combo

It may be slightly early to start thinking about an outdoor tricycle for a kid who is blowing out the candles on his very first birthday cake…but only slightly. Companies like Radio Flyer and Modern Nursery have developed special tricycles that double as strollers. This will liven up those walks around the neighborhood in a hurry! Over time, the child will be able to take increased control over the vehicle, which will in turn prepare them for a real tricycle. And then, not long after, a bicycle with training wheels. There’s a lot of cultural complaining these days that kids spend too much time indoors and not enough time playing in the sun. Well, that’ll change in a hurry when a child gets his hands on one of these bad boys.

A Toolbox

Fisher Price and EverEarth are but a couple of the outstanding companies that sell plastic toolkits and toolboxes for very young children. With one of these tool sets, a child can do what they love to do best: Emulate Mommy and Daddy! It may be a little early to send Junior into the bathroom to do repairs on the leaky faucet, but it’s never too early to play with one of these sets. Many of the best tool kits come with boards and other accessories that the child can actually work with in conjunction with the provided hammers, screwdrivers, and so forth. Look for a set that’s age-appropriate, obviously, which means avoiding sets that come with small parts that a child could choke on.

Piggy Bank

Wait a minute. Is it already time to teach a young child the basics of money management, savings, and the wisdom of frugality? Well, probably not. But then again, what’s the harm? We don’t recommend that parents sit their (barely) toddler down for a discussion about compound interest, but a piggy bank can be fun. And you can even start off the fund with a few dollars in change. They may have little to no understanding of what the money means, but they’re sure to appreciate the fun colors and lively animal shapes that these banks are made with. Make sure you look specifically for a piggy bank meant for toddlers; more mature versions are often ceramic, and that’s just asking for trouble.

A Fun Onesie

The time for onesies will soon be over for any child turning one, but there’s a good chance that your gift will get some wear before the child grows completely out of it. Baby clothes are like that; they fit one minute and they become too tight the next. It’s enough to drive a parent crazy and drain their bank account. That’s why any parent will be appreciative of any gift that takes some of that burden away. Cute onesies come in all styles and unlimited phrases and designs, but we decided to spotlight this NOOB onesie because…well, because it’s hilarious. If the child in question was born to dedicated gamers, this onesie is certain to be a smash hit.

A Shape Sorter

We mentioned above that we are big proponents of the educational toy, and it’s not easy to think of a better one than this. We’d wager that a solid majority of American children have grown up with some version of a shape sorter in their lives, even if it was passed down from an elder sibling or they only had access to it at daycare. These little boxes are extraordinary in their ability to teach hand-eye coordination, improve fine motor skills, and even sharpen their problem-solving abilities. It also gives a child a head start when it comes to identifying shapes and colors, which will be an advantage when school starts.

Baby Doll

We couldn’t do a list like this and leave off an all-time classic choice! The venerable baby doll has been a fixture in children’s toys for more than a hundred years, and today’s manufacturers are still coming up with new spins on this old standby. A baby doll fosters imaginative play, which is an essential aspect of a healthy, developing mind. Many children will become powerfully attached to their favorite doll, to the point that it becomes their best friend in the world. What a gift to give a young child! Make sure the baby doll you buy is appropriate for a one-year-old – some of the versions for older children have complex systems and may be easier to break.

A Stacker Toy

Stacking toys come in a variety of formats, but the basic idea remains the same across names and manufacturers. These toys are simple enough, but they pack a punch when it comes to developing those important early childhood skills. Stacking can hone fine motor skills and encourage better dexterity; it can also improve a child’s ability to see things in 3D and work with the real world. Many children will already have a stacking toy of some kind at home by the time they turn one, so check with the parents on this one. If they already have a version, you can always get a different one as your gift.

Soft Alphabet Cards

It’s never too early to introduce a child to the written word, and one of the most helpful steps on that journey is learning the alphabet. That can be arduous…or it can be fun! With soft alphabet cards, the child can sort, play, and subconsciously learn that there is a connection between the pictures on the cards and the letter they represent. Before you know it, the kid is taking Dad’s volume of Mark Twain off the shelf and devouring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Okay, maybe that’s a bit premature, but you never know!

An Abacus

You don’t see the abacus used too much by older children and adults these days, but they are still a big hit for teaching elementary math to young toddlers. At first, the child may be able to do little more than shift the beads from left to right and back again. The thing is, that’s absolutely fine for right now. Just manipulating the pieces will be enough to keep them quiet and engaged. As their development grows, the parents can use the abacus to teach basic concepts like counting. An early introduction to math is perhaps just as important as an early intro to reading, so if you’re on the fence about this gift, don’t be!

Stuffed Animal

Call us old-fashioned, but we believe that every child in the world should have at least one stuffed animal – if not many more! Soft plush toys are about more than merely giving the child something squishy to hold onto when they feel afraid or alone. These little dolls are just as worthy of a child’s attention these days as they were in the 1980s or the 1940s. They have been shown to improve a toddler’s sensory skills, help them develop the emotional skills they’ll need as they get older, and even play a role in developing their social personality skills. Plus, they’re so cute! If you have been pounding your head against the wall trying to think of the perfect birthday gift for a one-year-old, keep it simple and go with a timeless classic.

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