Things to Teach a 1 Year Old

Looking for activities to do with your child? Your little one has years to go before going to school, but there are still plenty of things to teach your 1 year old in the meantime. Discover several activities, whether at home or out and about, that will encourage a love of learning and fun!

Things to Teach a 1 Year Old

Are you and your little one bored with your go-to activities? Perhaps you’d like a few ideas to organize your days or a list of places to take a 1 year old that are fun and educational.

I’ll admit, I’m the mom who wants to make sure her kids are learning all they can, even at a young age. That said, I’m the last mom who’ll stress about milestones or rely solely on apps and enrichment classes. 

Below, I share several “lessons” with a good balance of intentional teaching and everyday activities. They’re less about a formal curriculum and more about guiding her child and providing the environment to do so.

Take a look at these things to teach your 1 year old, perfect to run through when you’re low on ideas or want to create a lesson plan:

Early literacy

Reading is a must in any 1 year old lesson plan. So long as you’re reading every day with your little one, he’ll have everything he needs when it comes to early literacy.

Research shows that kids learn more vocabulary words when they’re read to, preparing them well for when they eventually go to school. And it’s less about trying to get him to recognize words early so much as nurturing his love of learning and curiosity.

Start by reading books every night before bedtime. Set a number of books you’ll read (for instance, 4 picture books) before laying him down to sleep. Leave books everywhere around the house where he can access them easily.

Make frequent trips to the library to attend story time as well as to regularly borrow books with each visit. Point out new words in your environment, like reading signs on your walk. And read for pleasure yourself! This models what readers do and makes reading something that everyone does.

Free printables: Want several book ideas? Grab your copy of the Read Aloud Book List! You’ll get hundreds of favorite selections to read aloud with your child. Get it below—at no cost to you. You’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:

“Thank you! My sister forwarded me your info a few months back and it’s been a great resource. Your emails have changed the way I view motherhood.” -Lizette Gutierrez

Read Aloud Book List


One of the simplest activities for 1 year olds is counting throughout the day. This will help him learn number sequence and realize that counting is part of everyday life. You’re not out to teach him hard math (or even basics like adding), but to expose him to the idea of counting quantities.

For instance, count the number of blocks he plays with or the steps you take up a flight of stairs. Count each cracker as you put them on his plate, or the times you pass a ball back and forth to each other. Perhaps you’ll say that you have five slices of apples while he has three, or that you’re now reading the third book from your pile of picture books.

Don’t try to “quiz” him, but incorporate this simple activity for an early introduction to numbers and counting.

Activities for 1 Year Olds

Arts and crafts

Yes, you can do arts and crafts for 1 year olds, but not in the way you might imagine. You’re not trying to complete a finished product, but providing your toddler with art supplies for open-ended play. Scribbling and making a mess is totally fine!

For instance, offer toddler crayons he can scribble with and play dough he can shape, pinch, and mix. Glue sticks and bits of paper can make a fantastic collage while finger paint offers a fun sensory art project. Even decorating with stickers can be a fun way to make art and practice fine motor skills.

Expert tip

Save any cardboard box you receive in the mail for instant fun with art! The thick cardboard is a fantastic canvas for finger paint as well as a creative way to scribble with crayons.

Crafts for 1 Year Olds

Sensory activities

Sensory activities for 1 year olds are a fantastic way to let your child explore using her senses. You don’t even need complicated toys—simple materials around the house are more than enough.

Fill a sensory bin with sand or dried rice and fill it with small toys she can dig and find. Have her soak a sponge in water and squeeze it onto an empty one. Fill that same bin of water with rosemary sprigs or lemon slices for different scents, or use it to make sudsy bubbles. There are so many easy sensory bins for 1 year olds that you can do.

Music is another way to introduce sensory experiences to your little one. Place dried beans into empty Easter eggs and shake them to make music. Turn on your favorite tunes and throw a dance party.

Expert tip

For the ultimate sensory experience, go to the beach where you can listen to the ocean waves, dig your hands into the sand, and splash in the water.

Sensory Bins for 1 Year Old

Self-sufficiency skills

As your child is making the shift away from infancy and toward toddlerhood, encourage self-sufficiency and independence. Thinking of her as anything but a baby can be difficult, but this is the perfect opportunity to practice these skills.

Thankfully, your days are filled with plenty of chances to do just that. Here are a few examples to include self-sufficiency in a daily routine for a 1 year old:

  • Feeding. Allow her to feed herself, however gradual the stages. If she can’t poke her food, poke it for her but allow her to put the fork in her mouth. Offer simple snacks she can grab and chew, or let her drink from a regular cup.
  • Getting dressed on her own. Your 1 year old isn’t going to be tying laces any time soon, but she can start with simple ways to dress herself. For instance, have her slip her arms through the sleeves, pull her pants up, or unsnap a simple button.
  • Cleaning up toys. Putting toys away can teach sorting and counting, as well as the importance of responsibility. After every play time, encourage her to help you put toys away, even if it’s simply to put balls back into boxes and push the box into a shelf.
  • Independent time. As necessary as your guidance will be, giving her uninterrupted, time on her own will allow her to be creative, push herself, and learn from mistakes.

Communication skills

You’ve been showing your child how to communicate from day one, but now that he’s better able to express himself, you can use this stage to teach him different ways to do so.

For instance, research the pros and cons of baby sign language and see if this can work for your little one. I taught my kids signs for “more,” “all done,” and “eat,” among other words. You can also start pointing things out around the house as you use them. “I have the ball!” you might say, or “Would you like a banana?”

Start labeling feelings, from mad to happy to sad. This will come in especially useful as you start seeing 1 year old tantrums.

And finally, have frequent conversations, describing what you’re doing. Make it a two-way conversation, as impossible as it might seem at first. Leave a pause or space for him to “respond,” even if it’s not with your typical words. This will teach him social skills and rudimentary ways to communicate.

Baby Sign Language Pros and Cons

Explore the outdoors

Outdoor activities for 1 year olds provide your little one with many learning opportunities, from nature objects to observe to exploring with his hands. And by outdoors, we’re not talking about a weekend camping trip—something as simple as a visit to your local park or playing in the yard will do.

Allow him to walk on different paths, collect twigs, and grab fistfuls of grass. Look up at the clouds, point out different birds, and compare insects you might come across. Outdoor time can also be play time: push him in a swing, play in the sandbox, or chase him across the lawn.

The best part? By introducing him to the outdoors, he becomes a better steward of his environment. Caring for nature is much easier when he appreciates it.


One of the first activities my kids’ preschool—and later, kindergarten—teachers did was to “test” kids on their colors. My kids came home with sheets of coloring they did in class, clearly an effort from the teachers to know whether the students knew one color from the next.

In other words, colors matter. And thankfully, you can start talking about colors now in everyday life.

For instance, point out different colors while playing with toys. You can say, “Here’s the blue block,” “Let’s put all the red balls here,” or “I’ll use the green crayon.” From play dough to paint, show your 1 year old the cool effects of mixing colors.

And sort by color. Do you have a bunch of “stuff” that can be sorted by color (for instance, puff balls or building blocks)? Make a game by laying out bowls and putting each puff ball or block onto the plate with the same color.

Let him set the pace and direct his learning and playing. He might decide to play with the puff balls instead of sorting them onto the same-colored plates—that’s totally fine. Focus on creating a safe area for him to have as much freedom as you observe.

Social skills

One year olds are still the centers of their worlds when it comes to social development.

They won’t “play” together the way older kids can—if anything, they’ll sit next to each other in parallel play. They know other people exist but they’re only slightly interested in them, and they certainly can’t imagine what they’re thinking or show empathy.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t need to practice social skills at this age. Your child will most likely learn from imitating you, which makes modeling good behavior between the two of you even more important. As such, he’ll also need your guidance through trickier social conflicts he might face.

Giving him plenty of opportunities to socialize, in his 1 year old ways, is important. Library story time or play groups (especially with people he’ll see regularly) are great places to start.

Singing songs

Don’t worry if you don’t exactly have a “singing voice.” Your 1 year old won’t know the difference, or care for that matter. Instead, surround him with daily singing, from songs you love to nursery rhymes.

For instance, play nursery rhymes all day. Download songs on your phone or computer, and keep them on during the day to encourage you to sing along. Make your daily bath even more fun by singing songs as you wash up.

And sing songs that include physical participation, like The Hokey Pokey, Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, The Chicken Dance, and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. You can even play “regular” songs with a dance component, like The Cupid Shuffle or The Macarena.


One of the milestones I was asked to check off during the pediatrician’s visit was whether my kids could stack multiple blocks on top of each other. Block building teaches hand-eye coordination, cause and effect, and comparisons, among other benefits.

Blocks come in many, many forms. One of the first I introduced to my kids was square foam blocks. They’re all square, which makes it simple to stack and come in different colors so you can sort and differentiate.

Practice stacking blocks, cups, building toys—you name it. And remember to let him knock the blocks down, too. That’s just as fun and educational as building them up.

Things about our world

Expose your 1 year old to his wider world, whether that’s activities in your city or learning about distant animals. You can even tie it in with a “curriculum.” Let’s say you read books about fish, after which, you can visit an aquarium to see them in person.

Other “field trips” include visiting farm animals or going to the zoo to see animals and possibly even pet them. Taking a train ride can be a treat for the toddler who loves this mode of transportation. Visit the botanical garden so he can explore different types of plants and habitats.

You can also take him to cultural events, whether it’s a local multicultural summer festival or a musical concert featuring music from around the world.

The bottom line

We all want the best for our kids, right from the start. As you can see, you have plenty of things to teach a 1 year old—with no app or enrichment classes necessary.

Get more tips:

Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get your copy of the Read Aloud Book List below—at no cost to you:

Read Aloud Book List

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.