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If you have a 1-year-old, chances are you already know it’s an exhilarating age. From learning to walk and talk to dancing, giggling, and playing with toys, your little one has come a long way — and for good reason. Babies make huge developmental leaps during their first year.
But how do you keep your newfound toddler engaged and entertained? The good news is you don’t need fancy toys, devices, or games.
Here are 25 fun-filled activities to help your love bug conceive, create, and learn.
Create a sensory station
From the moment children are born, they use their five senses to learn about the world. Why? Our senses help us make sense of things in varying ways.
Creating a sensory basket, or sensory station, will give your child the opportunity to explore new objects in a safe and creative way. And bonus: Sensory play supports cognitive development and the development of fine motor skills.
You can fill a bin with rice, blocks, pasta, fabric, water, or dish soap bubbles and drop in toys or other items. Provide cups or scoops. Allow your little one to explore, digging through the materials and discovering items. An important note: Always supervise during these activities and don’t provide any items that could pose a choking hazard.
Build a busy board
From zippers and latches to snaps, buckles, and knobs, busy boards are a great way to encourage exploration, creativity, and promote muscle dexterity. Not sure where to start? Check out this beautiful board by Something Turquoise.
Count on fingers and toes
Toddlers love to count things, so show your little one how to count by touching each of their fingers and toes as you recite the numbers.
Write in sand or rice
Looking for a creative way to engage your 12-month-old? Try filling a shallow container with rice or sand and letting your little one draw in it. The feel of each material is extremely appealing and will allow your child to learn, grow, and explore.
You can also try this with yogurt or food purées if your little one insists on putting everything into their mouth.
Play with blocks
From brand-name plastic bricks to simple wooden stacking blocks and other construction-based toys, block building can help your child develop their fine motor skills and enhance their hand-eye coordination.
Sort toys by color
There are countless color-matching toys on the market — and for good reason. Color matching helps children develop their cognitive skills. Grab your favorite color-matching game or toy or make your own, using construction paper, paint, pom-poms, and/or popsicle sticks.
Puzzles, particularly baby and toddler puzzles, appear deceptively simple. After all, most contain only a few, large, chunky pieces. However, completing puzzles with your little one will help improve their motor and cognitive reasoning skills. It will also help them understand the concept of a whole and parts.
Make a discovery basket
Much like a sensory bin, station, or basket, a discovery basket will give your child the chance to explore unique objects and items. Simply fill a basket with child-safe things you have around the house. Your child can then explore and experiment to better understand the contents.
What to include? Consider a basket of kitchen tools — from dish towels and spoons to colanders and plastic lids. Or, create a musical basket with items that rattle, bang, and clang. You can even theme by color, collecting various red, blue, green, or even rainbow-colored items.
Stack ’em up
From blocks and rings to Tupperware and cups, stacking toys is a great way to help your child develop dexterity and grasp the concept of “big” and “little.”
Have your child fetch objects
Asking your child to collect objects around the house isn’t just helpful, fetching objects — like a bottle, cup, or ball — will help your little one learn to listen and follow directions. It will also foster independence and an overall sense of pride.
Children love music — and for good reason. Music can be light and lively or super soothing, and kids feel this. They sing. They dance. Music helps children, young and old, sleep and relax. It can also help them develop socially, emotionally, and linguistically.
So play music. Make music, and find creative ways to incorporate both song and dance into their daily lives. Whether this means a dinner playlist or dance parties during bath time is up to you.
From building forts with cardboard boxes to caring for dolls or pretending to grocery shop, playing house is a great way to expand your child’s imagination and foster creativity.
Fishing games are relatively common — from board games to bathtub toys. So catch your child’s interest with a pretend fishing set and watch them improve their motor skills as they have fun playing.
Make a DIY ball pit
Babies love ball pits, but most parents don’t. Public pits tend to be dirty and unclean. However, you can make your own ball pit with plastic balls and a playard or plastic pool. Cheap and easy entertainment!
Build a fort
Whether you’re 12 months old or 12 years old, forts are fun. Drape some blankets over your furniture, hang sheets from the ceiling, or set up pillows or cardboard boxes for a cool, creative playspace.
Play with puppets
From finger and hand puppets to sock puppets, puppet play will encourage creativity and help foster your child’s social and emotional development. No strings attached!
Create a tunnel maze
Children love tunnels. After all, there’s something about crawling into — and out of — a tube that’s very appealing. Making a tunnel maze will encourage exercise and help your child use cognitive reasoning skills. And bonus: If you opt to DIY it will give you something to do with all of those oversized diaper boxes.
While there is a lot to be said about creative play, the benefits of basic play — like walking, running, jumping, and dancing — cannot be overstated. So go outside. Run. Play tag. Jump. Spin around. And work up a sweat.
Ride a tricycle or push car
Twelve-month-olds likely cannot ride tricycles — at least not yet — but many can and do before their second birthday so don’t be afraid to explore this and other outside activities. Some models come with push handles for parents to allow trike fun before your little one has mastered riding on their own.
Turn on the sprinklers
You don’t need a pool or even a water table for outdoor water play. A simple sprinkler that your child can run through can provide plenty of entertainment. Bring along some cups to catch the water and a towel for drying off and snuggles once the fun is done.
Paint with water
If you’re looking for a creative way to let your little one paint, look no further than water. With some colored construction paper and a paintbrush, your child can create a mess-free masterpiece.
Play with play dough
Whether you make your own modeling clay, salt dough, or buy a pack of Play-Doh doesn’t matter, what matters is that your little one is exploring their world with a new and creative medium. Bonus: Playing with dough helps your child develop dexterity and fine motor skills.
Little ones love doodling and scribbling. My 18-month-old regularly draws on scraps of paper, and my kitchen wall. And while I wish his artwork wasn’t so predominant, I happily engage his creativity. Why? Because it helps him focus, it encourages self-expression, and coloring improves muscle dexterity.
Finger painting is fun for children of all ages, but it can be messy. Try giving your 1-year-old a pile of paint and you’ll see what I mean. However, it doesn’t have to be messy. Simply put a sheet of paper and a few drops of acrylic paint in a Ziploc bag and voila! Your little one can squish and spread the paint through the plastic bag. You have tons of mess-free fun.
Paint in the bathtub
Looking for another mess-free way to let your little one play? Consider letting your child paint in the bathtub using finger paints.