Toddlers aren’t babies anymore, but aren’t “big kids” yet either. Here are several playful things to do with a one-year-old, from 12-24 months.
One-year-olds are at that “in between” stage. They’re not babies anymore, especially as they grow more interested in being mobile and developing motor skills. Their ability to play is more advanced than an infant, plus they won’t exactly sit still for a long time.
But one-year-olds are also not at the “preschool” stage yet. They’re still limited in what they can do, especially on their own. They don’t follow instructions too well, much less create a final product or craft.
If you’re looking for playful things to do with a one-year-old, you’ve come to the right place.
Playful things to do with a one-year-old
These activities are short. One-year-olds can’t focus for several hours. Think of them as bite-size activities to liven up your routine. I also suggest doing one activity a day, and relying on your regular routine to fill the rest of the time.
These activities are also for the entire range of one-year-olds, from 12 to 24 months. If you find your child isn’t ready for an activity yet, hold off until a time when he is.
And finally, I’ve divided the activities by category to make them easier to refer to. Ready to start? Here we go:
Playful things to do with a one-year-old at home
Most interactions with toddlers will happen at home, the very place where boredom tends to fester (cabin fever, anyone?). But don’t worry—as you’ll see, all you need are a few inspirational ideas to play with your one-year-old right at home.
Play with a blanket
This was a favorite activity with my kids. Sit your toddler down and have him grasp the ends of a blanket (a small one is fine). Then, sit in front of him and grasp the other end. Make waves with the blanket by moving it up and down.
Play musical instruments
Many children love playing with instruments, from xylophones to drums to maracas. We had both acoustic and battery-operated toys, and I much preferred the acoustic ones. Here are a few suggestions:
Bonus points for singing and dancing to nursery rhymes with movement. A few songs with movement include:
- Where Is Thumbkin?
- Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
- Itsy Bitsy Spider
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
- Hokey Pokey
- Wheels on the Bus
- If You’re Happy and You Know It
- I’m a Little Teapot
- Pat a Cake
Have a dance party
Speaking of movement, hold a dance party at home! Crank up music you like and dance along with your little one. If he can’t stand yet, carry him in your arms as you dance to the music.
Play with a ball
Playing with a ball is so versatile. Roll a ball back and forth to one another. If your one-year-old is able, encourage him to kick or throw the ball as well. You can also teach him to throw the ball into a set place, like into a basket.
Play with a balloon
Like a ball, a balloon makes for fun play with a one-year-old. If the balloon still has helium, attach a weight to the string so the balloon floats to your child’s head level. He’ll have a blast hitting the balloon only for it to come right back.
If the balloon is deflated, cut the string off and have your child toss it in the air and catch it. The air in the balloon makes for a slow fall—and an easier catch—for your one-year-old.
Look at photos and paintings
You likely have walls and surfaces filled with picture frames and artwork. Carry or show your child the different images throughout your home. Explain who the people are in the pictures, or what the artwork is all about.
Another alternative is to flip through albums (remember those?) and share old photos of loved ones. He’ll enjoy looking at people—familiar and new.
Play with blocks
I’m a fan of foam blocks since they’re easy to stack. Teach your child how to stack one block on top of the other. Build a tower and have him knock it down, and help him build something out of the blocks.
Lay out a large cardboard on the floor
Cardboard is going to be one of your child’s favorite toys. One activity mine liked to do was to step and dance on it with their feet. I also encouraged them to draw on the cardboard with washable crayons like these:
Play with household items
It doesn’t take much to keep kids entertained, especially if we teach them the value of simple play. Safe household items make for excellent playthings. Take any item nearby and see how you can turn it into a toy. For instance, these are some of the “toys” my kids loved playing with:
- Roll duct tape back and forth, or through the kitchen floor
- Loop pipe cleaners in and out of an upside-down colander
- Play drums with wooden spoons
- Crinkle an empty water bottle
My favorite activity to do with my kids! There were times I didn’t know what else to do with them that we’d sit and read until my voice was too tired. Scatter books throughout your home, and visit the library regularly for new selections.
Not sure which books to start with? Download my FREE Read Aloud Book List! You’ll get hundreds of favorite selections to read aloud with your kids. Get it below:
Yes, chores can be fun for your one-year-old! In fact, chores is not only one of the best habits you can instill now, they’re also an enjoyable activity for kids. Here are a few ideas:
Water the plants
Fill a small plastic cup, or get a child-friendly watering can like the one below, and show your child how to water plants. Stick to low, floor plants or those you can move for better access.
Need to wipe the coffee table? Spray the surface, then hand your little one a rag he can use to wipe! I recommend eco-friendly products like Mrs. Meyers when you do this with your child.
Put toys away
After playing with a set of toys with many parts (Lego or blocks, for instance), make a game of putting them away. You and your toddler can take turns tossing the pieces back in the box.
Playful art activities
Fair warning: I’m not a “crafty” mom. These activities are for the mom without containers of art supplies.
Any kind of art or craft a one-year-old does focuses more on introducing basic concepts than a final product. Finger painting is about experiencing the texture of paint and the idea of applying color to paper, not creating a picturesque image of a house.
Check out a few ideas for fun and simple art activities to do with your one-year-old:
As mentioned, finger painting with a one-year-old is more about the experience of painting than producing a work of art. In fact, your child’s paper will likely be nothing more than a soaked sheet with layers of paint.
But that’s besides the point. Finger painting allows your child to touch paint, learn what it is and what happens when you mix them together. He’s also using his fingers, which is a perfect introduction to painting if he can’t grasp a paintbrush yet.
He’ll experiment with putting it on a surface (and yes, sometimes on himself), and you’ll also have a fantastic opportunity to discuss color.
I recommend getting washable finger paint like these. You don’t need a ton of colors right now, only a few to mix and experiment with. And get smocks to cover his body, or keep him in his diapers and bathe him afterward.
Paint with a sponge
Like finger painting, painting with a sponge only requires your child to be able to grasp a sponge rather than hold a brush. You can also talk about the different patterns a sponge can make, and show him a few ways to apply it, such as dabbing or rubbing it straight down.
Get simple sponges without the brittle surface on the other side. You can also use scissors to cut these in half so your toddler can hold them better.
Color on a large piece of paper
A fantastic way to develop fine motor skills and grasping a crayon is to encourage your child to color. Tape a large piece of paper onto a low table, such as a coffee table or an art table. Then have your child scribble colors all over.
Get washable crayons so you don’t have to worry about damaging any surfaces. I also have a low children’s table that adjusts to my children’s height. This is a great option if you don’t want other surfaces in your home to get colored.
Draw with chalk
Chalk is another art supply that lends itself well to one-year-olds. Bigger chalks are easier to grasp, and they work well either on a chalkboard at home or on the sidewalk outside.
Make a collage
Gluing bits of material on a piece of paper is a fun activity for your child. Let him lead the activity rather than trying to create something discernible. For instance, don’t insist on making clouds with cotton balls and telling him where to glue. Instead, let him decide where he wants to place the pieces.
You can use any type of bits to glue. Cut junk mail or old scraps of paper into small bits and have him practice gluing. Start with a glue stick, then work your way up to liquid glue. If your child can’t squeeze the bottle, pour some onto a paper plate he can dip the bits into.
Stickers are not only fun, they also help your child develop the “pincer grasp,” the fine motor skill of using his thumb and pointer finger to pick things up. Get the sticker lifted first, then have him pull it off the sheet.
Finally, give him a paper or other surface to place the stickers on. You can re-use old pieces of paper, or even create a “card” he can decorate and send to a loved one.
Playful sensory activities
Everything is a sensory experience for kids, but certain activities lend themselves well to discovery. These ideas allow your child to play and learn about how things feel.
Play with dirt
I’m a big fan of letting kids play in real dirt. We don’t have a backyard, so we either head to the park or play with an empty pot of soil, where they love digging and playing with trucks on the surfaces.
Encourage your toddler to get his hands dirty. Find an empty spot at a park or your garden with plenty of soil to dig and explore.
One of the first activities my kids did at their Montessori preschool is learning how to pour water. Recreate the activity at home, using a large, rimmed baking sheet to catch spills, a small bowl to pour water into and a plastic measuring cup with a handle.
Fill the measuring cup with a little bit of water and show your child how to hold the handle and pour the water into the bowl. Once he’s finished, repeat for a fun exercise in pouring.
Squeeze water with a sponge
Besides painting, you can use a sponge for water play as well. Fill a bowl with water, and allow your child to dip the sponge and squeeze the water out. You can also have him squeeze water out of the sponge into another container.
Play with toys in a bucket of rice
There’s something thrilling about dipping your hand into a bucket of rice. Your child will love exploring the feel of the rice, especially when he can play with toys as well.
Fill a large tupperware or bucket with rice and place a few simple toys inside. Encourage him to find the toys, or use it as a setting for pretend play.
Playful things to do with a one-year-old out and about
Finding playful things to do with a one-year-old isn’t reserved for your home. In fact, I try to get out and about with my kids at least once a day so they’re not home all the time. Here are a few ideas you can do for getting out of the house:
Visit a kids play area
Depending on where you live, you might have a play area dedicated to young toddlers. Some are outright indoor playgrounds, while others are play rooms with pretend furniture and props. I’ve also gone to restaurants with impressive play areas as well (and not fast food, either!). Many malls also include a children’s play area.
Regardless of where you go, get there when it opens so you have more chances to have the place to yourself and avoid the crowds.
If you’re in Los Angeles, several to check out are:
- Peekaboo Playland
- A Magical Forest
- Samo’s Clubhouse in Santa Monica Place
- The Great Room Café
- Lemon Tree Kids Café
- Under the Sea
Have a picnic at the park
Pack your toddler’s meal and take it to the park! Bring a picnic blanket where you can both sit and enjoy a meal outdoors. Pick a spot under a tree so he can also lie down and watch the leaves move and relax in the shade.
Go on a nature stroll
Walking through nature is one of my favorite activities, and it doesn’t have to be strenuous! Local spots can include a favorite trail, a botanical garden or wetlands near your place.
You don’t have to go far, either. Base your outing more on time spent outdoors than actually trying to get through the whole place, even if it means staying near the entrance. For instance, rather than trying to get through your entire hike, simply walk for 15 minutes in one direction, then another 15 minutes back.
Go to a children’s museum
Many cities have children’s museum that offer hands-on discovery. I like those that cater to kids of all ages. Several also include a “tot room” for little ones without the ambush of the big kids.
You can also go to a “regular” museum as well. Toddlers will be happy walking around and exploring a new place.
Attend kid-friendly concerts
There’s something about watching people play music live, right in front of you. Kid-friendly concerts don’t have to be an extravagant outing. Many farmers market include live music from a band, and your city might offer concerts in the summer.
Go on a children’s train ride
Kids love riding trains, no matter where they are or what the view offers. We’ve gone on train rides at farmers markets or at the pumpkin patch. I’ve also put my kids on kids-only train rides at the mall or a kids play area.
Go for a swim
Warm weather calls for a dip in the pool! Introduce the pool to your toddler early on so he feels comfortable swimming with you. As always, practice pool safety, including always being within arm’s reach of your toddler and keeping an eye on him at all times (whether he’s in or out of the water).
Walk around the neighborhood
A favorite past time, especially with my eldest, was walking around the neighborhood. We’d explore everything, from leaves on the ground to the sprinklers on the sidewalk. I went at his pace, starting with one block at first until we were able to explore most of our area.
As easily entertained as toddlers can be, it’s amazing how challenging it is to find playful things to do with a one-year-old every day. But as you can see, many of these activities can be done in a few minutes in the comfort of your home, as well as exciting ones to plan for on big days.
One-year-olds aren’t babies we can carry around in a wrap anymore, but they’re still small without the skills a preschooler may have.
These activities cater to that “in between” stage. You’ll introduce your child to new concepts and environments while relishing in his ability to find joy in simple activities, even if it’s singing Hokey Pokey and coloring on cardboard.
Get more tips:
- The Benefits of Open Ended Play and How to Encourage It
- 8 Long Term Benefits of Reading to Your Child
- How to Raise Kids with Grit
- Why Technology Is Unnecessary for Your Kids (Even In These Modern Times)
- How to Be Awesome at Playing with Your Kids (Even if You Don’t Like It)
Tell me in the comments: What are your favorite things to do with your one-year-old?
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