Things to Teach a 1 Year Old

Looking for things to teach a 1 year old? Get ideas for educational games, sensory activities and places to go with your toddler, at home and out and about!

Things to Teach a 1 Year OldI’ll admit, I’m the mom who wants to make sure her kids are learning all they can, even when they were at a young age. After all, we’ve heard that kids are primed to learn about the world, and that giving them a head start can make a huge difference in how well they do in school.

That said, I’m the last mom who’ll stress about milestones or rely solely on apps and enrichment classes. It shouldn’t matter that your friend has already been teaching her toddler how to say the alphabet and sing nursery rhymes for months. I truly believe we can give toddlers all they need to learn using simple activities. That being more intentional about our interactions is far more effective than a strict curriculum.

This is especially helpful to the mom who’s mostly home with her toddler all day and is looking for fun activities.

Maybe you’ve been bored with your go-to agenda and are looking for ways to make your days more enriching and enjoyable. Perhaps you’d like to come up with loose lesson plans for your 1 year old—ideas to organize your days to stay focused. Otherwise, you end up slacking and going back to the same ol’, same ol’.

Or you feel like you’ve been doing your 1 year old an injustice by not being more purposeful with your activities.

So, what activities can you do, from educational games to places to take a 1 year old?

This list of things to teach a 1 year old is for the parent who wants a good balance of intentional teaching but with everyday activities. The one who knows it’s less about formal teaching and more about guiding her child and providing the environment to do so.

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

1. Early literacy

It always comes back to reading. So long as you’re reading all the time with your 1 year old, he’ll learn everything he needs when it comes to early literacy. Research shows that kids learn vocabulary words when they’re read to, preparing them well for when they eventually go to school.

Here are a few ways to incorporate reading into your daily life:

  • Read the same number of books every night before bedtime.
  • Leave books easily accessible and everywhere around the house.
  • Make frequent trips to the library (and regularly borrow books each time).
  • Point out new words in your environment.
  • Read for pleasure yourself to model what readers do.

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2. Self-sufficiency skills

Your 1 year old is making the shift away from the infancy stage and toward toddlerhood, gaining independence along the way. Thinking of her as anything but a baby can be difficult, but this is the perfect opportunity to practice self-sufficiency skills.

Thankfully, your days are filled with plenty of chances to do just that. Here are a few examples:

  • 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.

3. Communication skills

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

For instance, you can teach simple baby sign language for common words. 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 (here are several children’s books about feelings to read). 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 it might seem at first. Leave a pause or space for her to “respond,” even if it’s not with your typical words. This will teach her social skills and rudimentary ways to communicate.

Baby Sign Language Pros and Cons

4. 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, and if anything, will simply sit next to each other in parallel play. They know other people exist, but they’re only slightly interested in them, and certainly can’t imagine what they’re thinking.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t or don’t need to practice social skills at this age. Your 1 year old will most likely learn from imitating you, making 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.

Socializing Your Child

5. 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. Here are a few ideas to incorporate songs into your daily life:

  • 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.
  • Sing interactive songs. Plenty of songs 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.
  • Sing in the bath. Make your daily bath even more fun by singing songs as you wash up. Take a look at these bath time books for kids.

Bath Time Books

6. Colors

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. You can:

  • 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.”
  • Mix colors together. From play dough to paint, show your 1 year old the cool effects of mixing colors together.
  • Sort by color. Do you have a bunch of “stuff” that can be sorted by color (for instance, puff balls or building toys)? 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 while you observe.

7. Counting

As you talk with your 1 year old, make it a point to count 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 exposing him to the idea of counting quantities.

You can count the number of steps you take up a flight of stairs, the crackers you’re putting on his plate, or the times you pass a ball back and forth.

Learn how to help your child love math.

8. Stacking

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One of the milestones I was asked to check off in the pediatrician’s office was whether my kids can 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 were square foam blocks like these. They’re all square, which makes it simple to stack, and come in different colors so you can sort and differentiate.

And remember to let him knock the blocks down, too. That’s just as fun and educational as building them up.

9. Things about our world

Something as simple as exposing your 1 year old to things about our world can be fun for the both of you. For instance, you might read about fish in a book, then visit an aquarium so he can see fish in person. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Visit farm animals
  • Take a train ride
  • Play with toy cars
  • Go to the zoo
  • Walk around the neighborhood
  • Go to a botanical garden

10. Explore the outdoors

Being outside offers your 1 year old many learning opportunities, from nature objects to observe to exploring with her 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 her 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 her in a swing, play in the sandbox, or chase her across the lawn.

Take a look at these outdoor activities for 1 year olds.

Outdoor Activities for 1 Year Olds

11. Arts and crafts

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

For instance, supply your home with:

  • Crayons
  • Play dough
  • Glue sticks and bits of paper
  • Finger paint
  • Stickers

Expert tip

Save any cardboard box you receive in the mail for instant fun with art!

Crafts for 1 Year Olds

12. Sensory activities

Sensory activities allow your 1 year old to explore using her senses. Thankfully, you can use materials around the house for fun sensory play.

And remember, there isn’t one “right” way to play—it’s more about setting up the environment and letting her take the lead. This will nurture his imagination, curiosity, and problem-solving skills.

A few ideas include:

  • Squeezing water out of a sponge and into a bowl
  • Playing with a water or sand table
  • Making sudsy bubbles
  • Painting in the bath tub
  • Filling an Easter egg with dry rice and shaking it for music
  • Play with musical instruments

Get more sensory activities for 1 year olds.

18 Sensory Activities for 1 Year Olds


We all want the best for our kids, right from the start. Now you have several activities that are fun, age-appropriate, and follows your 1 year old’s lead.

The best place to start is with reading books—make sure to include reading time into your daily routine. Teach self-sufficiency skills from simple tasks like feeding himself. Practice communication and social skills, like labeling feelings and modeling appropriate behavior.

Sing songs, point out colors, stack blocks, and count items throughout the day. Expose him to things in your world, making sure to spend plenty of time outdoors. And finally, arts and crafts as well as sensory activities make discovery and learning fun and engaging.

As you can see, you have plenty of things to teach a 1 year old — with no app or enrichment classes necessary.

Outdoor Activities for 18 Month Olds

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