One-year-olds are tough customers to entertain. They're not babies anymore: Gone are the days where you can just plunk them down on a blanket on the floor, put a few cool toys within easy reach, and keep them there happily for a long stretch of time. Now, toddlers are mobile, they have (sometimes strong) preferences for how they want to spend their time, and their brains and bodies need stimulation. The good news is you don't need a lot of fancy toys or games — or, heaven forbid, screens — to keep them occupied. The best activities for 1-year-olds can often be thrown together with items you have around the house. These toddler activities keep little one busy, and help develop those growing muscles and minds.
Of course, this comes with a word of caution: 1-year-olds can't play unsupervised. (You know that already, but we have to say it.) Keep an eye out for anything they can put in their mouths (because they will put everything in their mouths), and activities that involve water, since little ones can drown in a water bin or bucket. But, with you helping them out, these activities will be all the more fun!
If toddlers could, they'd play in the bath all day. When that's not feasible, get scoops, a few bubbles, a brush, and some Duplo bricks and throw them all in a bin of water. (Keep towels on hand.) Then watch as they wash, pour, and scrub their toys!
Recycle the lids to baby-wipe containers for a project that gets them investigating different textures. Glue down different materials under each lid — dry pasta, felt, pom poms, etc. — and watch the look of surprise as they open and feel each one.
Another thing you can do with an empty wipes box is fill it with scraps of fabric that are both long and short, rough and smooth, and different colors and patterns. Your tot will be delighted to reach in, pull out, and investigate each one, which helps with fine motor coordination.
Save those cardboard paper towel tubes! With a few quick adjustments, you have yourself a shaker so your toddler can practice percussion. Try filling a few with different materials — dried rice, beans, etc. — and let your 1-year-olds experiment with the different sounds they make. They can even help decorate the tube!
Did you ever notice that, even though there's a room full of toys, 1-year-olds always wind up fiddling with doorknobs or drawer pulls? Give them what they want: Attach locks, knobs, buttons, bells, flaps, zippers, and any other hardware to a board you can keep at kid level.
It seems so simple: Just cut a slot into the lid of a jar, and then offer some colored tokens to put in and take out. And yet fitting the coins into the slot, hearing the satisfying clunk when they hit the bottom, and then digging them all out again is endlessly amusing. Bonus: This activity helps practice fine motor coordination.
A bin, some ball-pit balls, and a sieve — and endless scooping fun. Challenge your toddler to scoop only red balls, or try and get two in one go, and get him practicing his gross motor coordination.
Like the Colorforms of yore, a DIY felt board lets toddlers take basic shapes and combine and re-combine them to make patterns and pictures. As they get older, you can add more advanced shapes with letters and numbers.
Take a bunch of pipe cleaners (make sure the ends aren't sharp) and thread them through a kitchen colander. Your toddler will love pulling the pipe cleaners out and trying to lace them through again, which helps strengthen hands and work on the pincer grasp. You can also do this activity by poking holes in an old egg carton.
Tape a piece of clear contact paper to the wall, sticky side out. Then give your toddler construction paper shapes, pom poms, and other doo dads. Pretty soon you'll have a collage that doesn't require any school glue.
Finger painting gets those little hands working, and lets them have fun with colors and textures. Tip: Squeeze out some paint and put it in a plastic bag with paper to avoid making a mess. If you want to go the extra mile, making it a "tummy time" activity gets more of those muscles working during art time
Use painter's tape to attach cardboard tubes of different sizes to a wall. Then, give your toddler bunch of pom poms to drop into tubes; she'll be amazed to see how they fall out of the other end again. Make sure you put some tubes where your toddler has to reach to get to them — standing up tall, and then squatting down to pick up the pom poms again, will help strengthen the leg muscles they need for walking.
Kids will get a kick out of seeing how the colored bits of rice mix. if you think letting them dig through a rice bin would be too messy (it does involve sweeping), you can always fill an empty, clear water or soda bottle with rice and other small objects, seal it up tightly, and make an "I Spy" game with it.
Another cool sensation for 1-year-olds? Sticking their hands (or feet!) in wet spaghetti. You can even hide toys under the strands and have them dig for them.
Toys that stack on top of each other or nest inside of each other help kids grasp the concept of "big" and "little" and get them learning about basic building concepts. You can buy a pre-made stacking cup toy, or gather different sizes of cups and containers (snack-sized Tupperware, empty yogurt cups) from around the house.
Time to practice those matching skills! If you don't want to buy a color-sorting or shape-sorting toy, you can DIY at home by putting different colored construction-paper circles in a muffin tin and having a kid sort colored pom poms, or even getting a bunch of colorful plastic bins and having your child sort toys by color.
Toddlers are fascinated with cleaning and pretending to clean. (If only they kept up that interest in their teenage years!) Go with it: Let them spray water with a spray bottle — it helps strengthen their hands.
Give your toddler yarn and big shapes of pasta and see if she can thread the pasta through, as if she were making a necklace. In order to get the yarn through, they have to master that pincer grasp.
Save those cardboard boxes from your big deliveries! Making a tunnel to crawl through works those little muscles.