Looking for fun places to take a 1 year old? Check out these ideas for things to do and where to take your toddler to play, both indoors and outdoors.
“I can’t wait until my baby is a little older, maybe when he turns a year old,” I confessed to a coworker. “That way, I don’t have to carry him around so much. He could just walk anywhere he wants!”
He tilted his head and smiled as he said, “I don’t know about that. Things actually got more complicated when my kids learned to walk because they wanted to walk everywhere! Restaurants were the worst—we could never just sit down and eat.”
Of course, as soon as my son did learn to walk and explore, I ran into the problems my coworker predicted. Finding places to take a 1 year old became the new problem. He was between having just shed his “baby days” and entering his newfound independence.
And yes, restaurants were truly the worst—my husband or I had to take turns walking him around or taking him outside.
Maybe you can relate, especially when your 1 year old doesn’t want to ride in a stroller or hold your hand—much less be carried. He’d rather be free to walk around wherever he pleases.
Perhaps you’re having a hard time keeping him occupied during the day, having run out of ideas or tired of your usual routine. Or maybe you’re simply looking for inexpensive or free outings for really young toddlers (where they won’t get trampled by the big kids).
Places to take a 1 year old
What do you do with a 1 year old? You see, not all outings are suitable for kids of all ages.
Telling your child to stop touching things or chasing him through crowded places isn’t exactly a fun way to spend your day. He’s also still taking at least one nap, so an all-day outing just won’t cut it. And spending a ton on memberships may not be within your budget.
I was in the same position when all three of my kids were this age. We had a routine, but I also wanted to expose them to a variety of places to take a 1 year old that wouldn’t break the bank. I needed to find activities where they could roam freely without getting trampled by bigger kids.
And I didn’t want to have to carry, confine, or tell them to stop touching, running or otherwise behaving like normal 1 year olds.
That’s why I wanted to share the places to go with a 1 year old that I took my kids to.
Many can be done throughout the year, while others are seasonal or suitable for the outdoors. Thankfully, kids this age don’t need a whole lot to be entertained. As you’ll see, a simple outing to you could be the most fascinating experience for your child.
So, where can you take your toddler to have fun—the good places to take a 1 year old? Take a look at my favorites to vary your routine and make your days more enjoyable:
1. Toddler parks
“I used to take my kids to Lindberg Park,” our apartment manager told me when my eldest was a year old. “Everything there is perfect for the really small kids.”
And he was right. Sure, our local park boasted large stretches of grass and walking trails. But apparently another nearby park seemed to have been built for young toddlers only.
One year olds will enjoy just about any park, but one that’s suitable for the really young age group is ideal. Look for a park with low structures, full fencing to encourage safe exploring, and opportunities for open-ended play.
Don’t forget to return to the park and explore even more of what it has to offer. Play in the sandbox, climb the structures, chase him across the grass—parks offer a variety of things to do.
And go early in the morning during hot weather, in the afternoon when it’s cool, and during school hours to avoid crowds.
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2. Children’s museums
Nothing beats a children’s museum that encourages hands-on exploring. Other museums might discourage touching or running for obvious reasons. But children’s museums allow your 1 year old to feel, climb, build, and otherwise enjoy his time.
Many even include a “toddler area” to further allow young children to play without bigger kids getting in the way. They’re also often quieter, should your 1 year old feel overwhelmed with the crowds of the larger museum.
Another option is to take him to regular museums and visit the child-friendly exhibits and programs. For instance, one might have a “painting program,” a “kids room,” or a garden for him to roam.
3. Toddler swim sessions
As fun as aquatic centers and city pools may be, sometimes they can get overwhelming and crowded for little toddlers. Instead, check your local centers and pools to see if they have programs for toddlers.
This might include a mommy-and-me swim class or a toddler wading area that’s off-limits to older kids. A spray or sprinkler park can also include a section for babies and toddlers, giving your 1 year old an opportunity to play.
Maybe you have access to a private pool, like a shared pool among residents or even your own. Swimming in the shallow side will be sure to delight your little one.
4. Library events
Libraries offer plenty of resources for young children. Many programs segment events by age, such as story time or crafts for toddlers. All-age events can also be fun for your 1 year old, such as puppet shows or Harry Potter-themed parties.
Even without events, visiting the library is already an activity in itself. Read books in a comfortable chair, play with the library toys, and borrow books and music to take home.
And check out many libraries, not just the one nearest to you. One library might not have the resources to offer programs, while another not too far away could provide plenty. Or perhaps you want to fill up your week with multiple library events, in which case, visiting several is your best bet.
Just about anything is sure to delight 1 year olds, including conservatories. I’d often take mine to local wetlands, where we’d walk along a trail doing nothing more than taking in the nature around us.
Search online for conservatories open to the public, such as water conservation parks, duck ponds, lagoons, and state parks. Many hiking trails offer shorter hikes as well as conservancy nature centers with indoor exhibits and programs for kids.
You also don’t have to worry about your toddler breaking things. Conservatories offer plenty of room for your 1 year old to wander, with very little, if anything, he could damage or break.
6. Play groups
My kids had a sole caregiver while I was at work, so I wanted them to meet other children regularly to practice their social skills. Play groups can give you something to do with your 1 year old, as many are catered to specific age groups and locations.
Many play groups meet at local parks, but I’ve been to some where we’d alternate hosting play dates in our homes. You can also rent a community recreation room in the park if you’d like to host it in a public space while staying indoors.
7. Neighborhood walk
At a year old, nothing delighted my son more than pushing sprinklers down around our neighborhood. A simple walk around our block would take up a good amount of the day simply because he had so many things to look at and wonder.
Take a neighborhood walk and let your 1 year old lead the way. He might pick up a few leaves, crouch down to inspect cracks, and yes, observe and push sprinklers.
You might even think of a “destination,” whether it’s a nearby park or a corner bakery. In our old neighborhood, we’d walk to a waterfall in front of one of the condos. After spending some time in your destination, you can then turn around and head home.
8. Indoor playgrounds
Indoor playgrounds are a great alternative to being outdoors, especially during harsh weather. Explore nearby playgrounds like trampoline parks, indoor gymnasiums, and bounce houses.
While most require payment to play, you can reserve these for special occasions or once-in-a-while treats. Many also offer a free trial, especially if they typically schedule weeks-long classes. And try to go during a school day to avoid the big kids running around.
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Nearly every mall features a children’s play area, making it a fun way to spend time with your 1 year old. Try to go first thing in the morning—even before most shops in the store open—to avoid the crowds.
Remember to bring socks in case the children’s area has a no-shoes policy (grip socks like these are even better).
You can also simply walk around the mall to pass the time. Go right when the mall opens so you can let your 1 year old walk by himself instead of sitting in a stroller.
10. Children’s section at a bookstore
Check out nearby bookstores to see if they include a children’s section. Many feature little nooks to sit and read, plus coffee shops for a small snack. Some even display toys—a tabletop train set, for instance—within their children’s areas.
Even better: take a look at their author lineup. They just might invite a children’s book author to visit, read a story, and sign books.
11. Community classes
Does your city or local community college feature classes? They might include those for young toddlers.
For instance, your local city and community colleges might include dance, art, and music, among other options. The aquatics center might host mommy-and-me swim classes, while your local YMCA might offer tumbling, yoga, or gymnastics.
While these are paid classes, they’re more affordable than private lessons, with perks and discounts for residents.
12. Backyards and patios
We spend most of our time indoors that it’s easy to overlook our very own backyards and patios. Sure, you’re still at home, but sometimes that works to your advantage, especially if you’re short on time or feeling under the weather.
Don’t overlook the many things your outdoor space offers, from playing in the grass to eating outdoors. You might collect acorns and rocks, crawl on the grass, sit in a baby pool, or bounce on your mini trampoline.
Even if your patio—like ours—had no grass at all, you can still sit and eat your snacks outdoors, or kick a ball back and forth.
13. Zoos and aquariums
There’s nothing as awe-inspiring as seeing exotic and wild animals in real life. Zoos and aquariums can make for a fantastic place to go with your 1 year old, as he’s likely getting curious about these animals. You might even borrow books from the library all about zoo and aquarium animals.
These places do get expensive, so save these for special treats. Or even better, if someone asks what your 1 year old would like for his birthday or the holidays, suggest an annual pass to the zoo or aquarium. This will give you unlimited access all year long.
If you happen to live within easy access to the beach, take advantage of the proximity and take your little one with you! Bring a sand-safe wagon to pull him and your belongings, or simply travel light so you can carry him in your arms.
No need to make the trip overwhelming, either. A simple one-hour stay sitting on the sand can be all it takes. I hardly took my kids into the water, other than the occasional dip of the feet, when I went alone with them. Instead, we’d eat snacks and play near our beach towel or tent.
15. Visit family and friends
Are you home with your 1 year old all day? Plan a visit with family and friends! Spend the day with the grandparents, plan a play date with a friend and her kids, or have lunch with your spouse in the middle of the work day.
Not only will you have something to do with your toddler, you’ll also get to socialize and spend time with other adults.
What do you do with a 1 year old all day? Now you have several ideas throughout the year, both indoors and out, to take your toddler! Many of these are free or inexpensive, and allow him to play and explore.
No more being stuck at home doing to the same activities—much less chasing him through a crowded restaurant.
Get more tips:
- Sensory Activities for 1 Year Olds
- How to Discipline a 1 Year Old
- Outdoor Activities for 1 Year Olds
- Easy Arts and Crafts for 1 Year Olds
- 31 Playful Activities for 1 Year Olds
Looking for more places to take a 1 year old? Grab my printable calendar of fun and simple play activities! Check them off as you go along, or use the blank template to add your own ideas. Join my newsletter and download it below—at no cost to you: