Toddlers aren’t babies anymore, but they aren’t “big kids” yet either. Whether indoors or outdoors, crafts or educational games, here are fun activities for 1 year olds.
One-year-olds are in 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 1 year olds are also not at the “preschool” stage yet, either. They’re still limited with 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 activities for 1 year olds, you’ve come to the right place. In fact, take a look at what one parent had to say after gathering ideas from this article:
“Every time I have looked for activities for 1 year olds, the activities were too advanced for a one year old because they were geared towards 2 and 3 year olds. These activities are perfect for that ‘in between’ age! Thank you for putting this together! It’s reassuring to see that some of the stuff we have been doing is age appropriate and there are other ideas that can stem off of those.” -Jacqueline Corey
One year olds can’t focus for several hours, so these activities are short. 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 for the entire range of 1 year olds, from 12 to 24 months. If you find your child isn’t ready for a particular activity yet, hold off for a time when he is and try a different one for now. And finally, I’ve divided these activities by category to make them easier to refer to.
Ready to start? Here we go:
Playful activities for 1 year olds
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 1 year old right at home.
1. Play with a blanket
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.
This was a favorite activity with my kids. In fact, as they went through preschool and even elementary school, their teachers would do something similar with all the students in a game of “parachute.” They’d all grab an edge of an oversized piece of cloth and wave it up and down together.
Free printables: By the way, you can grab my printable calendar of all these activities I’m sharing! 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. So many parents love the printable calendar:
“We have done a few things from your list and I have checked them off of your calendar and added them to the blank calendar. I love your list because you give suggestions with objects and things that I had never thought of. We really appreciate you sharing your ideas—they are great!” -Elissa B.
“Thank you! I’m glad I came across your list. It is age appropriate, inexpensive and not messy. We really appreciate it.” -Sally S.
2. Play musical instruments
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Kids love playing with instruments, from xylophones to drums to maracas. Mine have played with both acoustic and battery-operated toys, and I much preferred the acoustic ones.
If you grab a set of instruments, you can even introduce one instrument a day or week, so your 1 year old can truly explore each one’s sounds and feel:
3. Sing nursery rhymes and have a dance party
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.
Bonus points for singing and dancing to nursery rhymes with movement! A few interactive songs 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
4. Blow bubbles
Nothing delights 1 year olds more than popping bubbles. Stick to a simple bottle of bubbles like this, or make plenty with a small bubble machine. You can also get this bubble machine which makes awesome bubbles for a long time (plus you don’t get tired from blowing bubbles!).
5. Play with a ball
Playing with a ball is so versatile. Roll a ball back and forth to one another. Encourage your 1 year old to kick or throw the ball as well. And you can also play “basketball” and teach him to throw the ball into a set place, like into a laundry basket.
6. Play with a balloon
Like a ball, a balloon makes for fun play. 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 and waiting for it to come right back.
If the balloon is deflated, cut the string off and have him toss it in the air and catch it. The air in the balloon makes for a slow fall—and an easier catch—for him.
7. Look at photos and paintings
You likely have walls and surfaces filled with picture frames and artwork. Carry or show your toddler the different images throughout your home. Explain who the people are in the pictures, or what the artwork is all about.
An alternative is to flip through albums (remember those?) and share old photos of loved ones. He’ll enjoy looking at people—familiar and new.
8. 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, or help him build something out of the blocks.
9. Lay out a large piece of cardboard on the floor
Cardboard is going to be one of your child’s favorite toys. One activity my kids enjoyed was to step and dance on it with their feet. I also encouraged them to draw on the cardboard with washable crayons like these:
10. 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 on the floor
- Loop pipe cleaners in and out of an upside-down colander
- Play drums with wooden spoons
- Crinkle an empty water bottle
11. Read books
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 got too tired. Scatter books throughout your home, and visit the library regularly for new selections.
Playful chores for 1 year olds
Yes, chores can be fun for your 1 year old! In fact, doing 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 chores-related activities:
12. 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.
13. Wipe surfaces
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 him.
14. 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 might count each piece as you put them away, or sort them by color. You and your toddler can also take turns tossing the pieces back in the box.
Arts and crafts activities for 1 year olds
Fair warning: I’m not a “crafty” mom. That’s why these activities are for the mom without containers of art supplies.
One year old arts and crafts focus more on introducing basic concepts than creating a final product. Finger painting, for example, 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, or take a look at this video:
15. Finger paint
Finger painting with a 1 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 him 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 also experiment with putting it on a surface (and yes, sometimes on himself), and you’ll 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. Get smocks to cover his body or keep him in his diapers and bathe him afterward.
Here’s a reader-submitted project of her one-year-old’s finger painting:
16. Paint with a sponge
Another way to paint without grasping a brush or using fingers is to paint with a sponge. You can 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 he can hold them better.
17. 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 and have him scribble colors all over.
Use washable crayons so you don’t have to worry about damaging any surfaces. I also designate a children’s table that adjusts to my kids’ height, which is a great option if you don’t want other surfaces in your home to get colored.
18. Draw with chalk
Chalk is another art supply that lends itself well to 1 year olds. Bigger chalk like these are easier to grasp, and they work well either on a chalkboard at home or on the sidewalk outside.
19. 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 tell 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 he can’t squeeze the bottle, pour some onto a paper plate he can dip the bits into.
Here’s how one reader helped her toddler created a collage out of gift wrapping paper:
20. Apply stickers
Stickers help your child develop the “pincer grasp,” that fine motor skill of using his thumb and pointer finger to pick things up. Lift the sticker first, then have him pull the rest 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.
Sensory activities for 1 year olds
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. Check out these sensory activities for 1 year olds:
21. Play with dirt
I’m a big fan of letting kids play in real dirt. We either head to the park or play with an empty pot of soil on the patio, 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.
22. Pour water
One of the first activities my kids did at their Montessori preschool is learning 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.
23. 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, just like you did with the water pouring activity.
24. 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 rice, especially when he can play with toys at the same time.
Fill a large container 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.
Out and about with a 1 year old
Finding activities for 1 year olds isn’t reserved for at 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:
25. 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 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
- Samo’s Clubhouse in Santa Monica Place
- The Great Room Café
- Lemon Tree Kids Café
- Under the Sea
26. Have a picnic at the park
One of the best outdoor activities is to 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 lie down, watch the leaves move, and relax in the shade.
27. 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, walk for 15 minutes in one direction, then another 15 minutes back.
A favorite pastime, especially with my eldest, was walking around the neighborhood. We’d explore everything, from leaves on the ground to 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.
28. Go to a children’s museum
Many cities have a children’s museum that offers hands-on discovery. I like those that cater to kids of all ages. Several include a “tot room” for little ones without the ambush of the big kids.
You can go to a “regular” museum as well. Toddlers will be happy walking around and exploring a new place.
29. Attend kid-friendly concerts
There’s something about watching people play live music right in front of you. Kid-friendly concerts don’t have to be an extravagant outing. Many farmers’ markets include live music from a band, and your city might offer concerts in the summer.
30. 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 them on kids-only train rides at the mall or a kids play area.
31. 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.
Remember to practice pool safety, including always being within arm’s reach and keeping an eye on him at all times. (That includes whether he’s in or out of the water.)
As easily entertained as toddlers can be, it’s amazing how challenging it is to find activities for 1 year olds every day. But as you can see, you can do many of these activities in a few minutes in the comfort of your home, as well as plan for exciting ones 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.
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