Reader Question: What to Get a One-Year-Old and The Secret Toy Closet


Haba Walker Wagon
Reader Question:

Hello Ladies,

I know I'm a bit early but I know the question will inevitably come up and I'll be scrambling for ideas to give two sets of Grandparents and various Aunties and Uncles who all don't want to send a duplicate gift since we live overseas. And the other problem, myson's first birthday comes just 4 days after his first Christmas. Can we say gift-o-palooza?

Any suggestions would be
appreciated, but if you haven't the time, needn't fret; I've put out some
emails to some Moms as well.

Thanks Ain't No Mom Jeans! Keep
up the great work

Kind Regards



Pshaw!  We always have time for reader questions, Nell—we love them!  Thanks for writing in—it makes us feel
soooo popular : )

What first jumps to mind is books, books and more books, but I'll cover toys here and we'll do a round up of best books by age at a later date.

As luck would have it, Little
Lou celebrated the big 0-1 two days ago, so I just finished the scramble for
one-year-old gift ideas and it’s fresh in my head.  Little Lou is my second, so I feel like I have some
perspective on what kids this age will actually play with, and since S. and I
both have January babes, I’ll let you in on a well-tested method we’ve both
employed for combating gift-o-palooza: The Secret Toy Closet.

Especially for babes with b-days
in close proximity to the holidays, The Secret Toy Closet (or under-bed storage
bin or coat closet top shelf or whatever space you can spare) is the most
genius mom-vention ever.  Put away
half the stuff you get (seriously, it’s always too much, isn’t it?) in a hiding
spot—it’s like a magic wardrobe that lets you turn a boring, tantrum-ey or blue
day around in seconds flat, without spending a dime (that day, anyway).

At one-year-old, babes are often
overwhelmed by too many toys, anyway, especially when what they really love to
do best is explore their environment, make funny noises, play with Tupperware
and otherwise practice their motoring skills, so I think saving a few toys for
a month or two down the line is always a good idea, but especially for kids
born shortly after the holidays. 
Beyond getting just too many gifts all at once, December and January
babes also have a long stretch with no good reason for a gift, so The Secret Toy
Closet comes in handy on your peanut’s half birthday or name day or whatever
minor holiday excuse you come up with to shower the apple of your eye with
affection and gifts mid-year.   

Following are my picks for your
babe’s second year on Earth, broken down in two age ranges: 12-18 months (give
now), and 18-24 months (save for later).

Give Now – 12-18 Months 

Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon

Baby Walker or Walker Wagon
A must for the 10-16 month set
is a baby walker or walker wagon, and at the $70-$150 price point, it’s a
perfect grandparent gift.  My guys,
at 2-1/2 and just-turned-1, both love playing with it, so they have some
staying power (especially if you have a second in close range).  We have the Plan
Toy Baby Walker
, which is not heavily weighted and so was tricky for H.,
who was a bit wobbly on the legs as a wee one (I just couldn’t put him down),
but has been terrific for L., who’s as sturdy as can be on his skinny little
pegs.  Because the Plan version is
not weighted, it’s difficult for a child who really needs an object to pull up
on—it flops right down and could be dangerous.  S. has the Radio Flyer’s Classic
Walker Wagon
, a very bottom heavy version, which allows pre-walkers to pull
up on it without trouble and prevents the face-first flops and potential tooth
loss of the Plan version.  If I had
the purchase to make all over again, I would buy either the Radio Flyer or Haba
Walker Wagon
, which is heavy-bottomed and very well-reviewed.    

Green Sprouts Stacking Cup Set
Sprouts Nesting/Stacking Cup Set
This would have seemed like a pretty lame gift to me before having kids, but a set of nesting/stacking cups is
hands-down one of our favorite toys. 
Sometimes (ok, usually, with a one-year-old, I find), the simplest
things please best.  We pour with
them in the bath, stack them, nest them, throw them, scatter them—just so much
one-year-old fun it’s ridiculous. 
And even better, Green Sprouts toys are
phthalate, BPA and nitrosamine-free, perfect for something that will be in your
babe’s mouth non-stop.

Green Toys My First Tug Boat
Toys My First Tug Boat

Little Lou just got this for
his big b-day and he l-o-v-e-s it.  Henry is beside himself with jealousy, even though he already has a Sprig Dolphin Explorer boat.  It’s bright and cheery and beautifully designed and easy to grab by its
handle.  We took a bath with it
today and he was giddy with delight as I rinsed his hair with it—it pours, too,
doing double duty as a pitcher.  BTW,
I ‘m digging all things Green Toys. 
They’re made of 100% post-consumer milk jugs, and contain no BPA,
phthalates or PVC, and they’re at a great price point, barely higher than
conventional plastic toys.

Green Toys My First Stacker
Toys My First Stacker

Yes, again with the Green Toys.  Love this stacker, not just because it’s
BPA, phthalate and PVC-free, but because it doesn’t have one of those awful
center posts, which babes seem so liable to poke an eye or a uvula out with and
the pieces can be stacked in any order, used separately as bath cups and also
spin really well.

Melissa & Doug Wooden Animal Nesting Blocks
& Doug Wooden Animal Nesting Blocks

The amount of nesting and
stacking a young toddler (yes, YIKES, that’s what your soon-to-be-one-year-old
is!) cannot be overestimated.  They
love it, and it’s great for hand-eye coordination, encourages spatial awareness
and improves logical thinking (even at a year old, they’re learning the
basics about gravity, weight-bearing loads and balance).  We have the Melissa & Doug
cardboard alphabet blocks and both boys get a kick out of how tall they stack
up (3 feet!) and how rewarding it is to get them nested correctly, but they are falling
apart after about a year of use. 
My next set will be the wood ones for sure.

Kids Chair

This isn’t an item I would have
thought to put on my birthday/Christmas wish list at one-year-old for H.  I asked for it for him last Christmas,
just before he turned two, which seemed more the age for sophisticated toddler
seating options, but Little Lou has all but taken the chair over.  He adores it.  He lounges on it, pushes it all over the place and (super!)
climbs all over and on top of it (including a recent attempt to use our
shutters as a ladder).  If your
young one doesn’t love it now, he probably will later.

Melissa & Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Puzzle
& Doug Large Shapes Jumbo Puzzle

Have you had a chance to see
your little man puff up with pride at one of his accomplishments yet?  If not, this your chance.  This Melissa & Doug puzzle is a great
intro to shapes and color and your babe won’t believe his bad self when he gets
it right. The puzzle has great, easy-to-grip knobs that really help pudgy
little hands develop fine motor and matching skills.  I started my guys off with just the
circle (pretty easy, obviously) by taking all the other shapes away, then
adding more difficult shapes one by one.

Green Toys Sand Play Set
Toys Sand Play Set

A classic bucket and shovel/rake
set is a must for a one-year-old if you’re spending any time at the playground
or in the sand box.  My pick (of
course), is the Green Toys Sand and Play Set.  In my experience, everything is in the mouth for the
duration of the second (and most of the third, so far. . . ) year, so why not
provide toys that are better for the environment and are safe to suck?

Patagonia Baby Down Sweater
Patagonia Baby Down Sweater  
Although it's not a toy, winter will be a lot more fun for your boy wonder if he has a jacket/coat he'll actually wear.  If you live in a cool-weather climate, this jacket is a must-have as far as I'm concerned.  

Save for Later – 18- 24 Months

Hohner Glockenspiel:Xylophone

Music is a beautiful thing, but
kids' instruments, for the most part, are not.  The sound quality is usually atrocious and I wonder
sometimes if poorly tuned, low-quality kids instruments actually damage a child’s
ability to understand pitch and tone, thereby negating the positive effects of
playing music at home. . . hmmmm. 
I must warn, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect xylophone (we have
three), but have not yet found it. 
Judging from the reviews, I think this might be it (if anyone is
planning on a belated gift for Lou, please feel free : ).  My babes can’t get enough of even our
make-me-crazy sounding glockenspiels, so imagine all of our delight if indeed
this is the Shangrila of children’s xylophones.  Note: please supervise a one-to-two-year-old playing with the mallets and put them away when you're not around–for whatever reason, they just love to pop them in their mouths and walk around, which can get pretty ugly if they fall.

Naturally Playful Sand and Water Activity Center
and Water Activity Table

It’s true.  Sand and water tables are inherently
hideous, but the fact that they provide 30-45 minutes of uninterrupted fun
cannot be denied.  Add that to the
fact that they’re way more compact and much less of a commitment than a sand
box, and the fact that it’s extremely difficult to find something more fun for
a toddler than sand and water—together (!), and they’re totally worth it.  This model is the least offensive
version to me, and, I must say, the little umbrella has come in very handy on
its own (we move it all over the yard to provide shade for playing in our
scorching west-facing backyard, take it to the park for picnics, set it up over
the baby pool after the water warms up, etc.).  Also, for four season fun (and I’m totally not sure I can
follow through on this), I was thinking I might give it a rinse and put it in
our basement with dried beans or something to that effect. . .

Melissa and Doug Deluxe Standing Easel
and Doug Standing Easel

S. has this easel and I am so
jealous.  It’s been R.’s creation
station for over a year and he obviously adores it.  I’m not sure why I haven’t pulled the trigger yet except
that our system is to cover the kitchen table (a great tip courtesy of MIL
Sandy) with freezer paper, which is great, but requires some prep.  Painting starts coming together in the
18-20-month range, so this is a great bet for a December/January babe’s half

Green Toys My First Blocks
Toys My First Blocks

Duplo blocks are a time-honored
classic, but again—the mouth, the chemicals—yuck.  Switch out the BPA an phthalates for something greener and

Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug
Lionheart Wheely Bug

Love this toy.  Love. It.  Cute and fun for all ages. Young toddlers love to push it,
older toddlers can ride it.  I have
the large version and S. has the small but we’ve decided the small size is
definitely better.  These bugs
buzz.  Fast.  Like, really fast, so the small version
is more maneuverable and easier to control for a toddler.  If you’re worried about size, don’t.  As S. points out, she can even fit on
it (and while she is small, she is actual adult-size : ).

Plan Toy Punch and Drop
Toy Punch and Drop

This toy looks too simple to be
any fun, but after playing with it myself, I’ve come to view it as a
toned-down, PETA/toddler-friendly version of whack-a-mole.  Since I’m freaked out about sticks of
any kind (the mallet has a long one), this is a supervised-only-toy in our
house.  It encourages hand-eye
coordination and has a really satisfying thwack for agro toddlers (and

Radio Flyer All-Terrain Steel and Wood Wagon
Flyer All Terrain Wagon

Did you have a wagon when you
were a kid?  My brother pulled me
everywhere in ours when I was a tiny gal. 
Later, we carted fort building materials and any other junk we could put
in it around because, hey, hauling stuff is just fun.  That wagon provided a good 10 years or more of good times.  Today’s Radio Flyers are much improved
on the safety and comfort front.  I
like this, the steel and wood version my in-laws gave Huck for his first
birthday, but they come in lots of different version.  The air-filled tires are a smoother ride than we had as kids
and the higher wood rails help prevent head knocks.

Hope this gift guide for
one-year-olds helps, Nell!  Happy
Christmas and birthday and gift-o-palooza to your little man, and congratulations
on getting through your first year of parenthood.  Bonus points for doing it so far from home! 

I was about to type something
about enjoying your last few months as a new mama, that soon you’ll be a
veteran, but as I watch my boys, I feel like I’ll always be a new mom—every
day, even moment to moment, from child to child feels so different and new, and
every time I think I’ve got a handle on it, they throw me a (usually
delightful) curve. 

Maybe becoming a veteran mom, a
mom of older kids, is just learning to surrender to the constant state of chaotic
yet blissful flux that is being a parent. 




  1. Best. Present. Post. EVER. Thanks so much for all the great ideas. I can’t wait til The Puppy is old enough to play with all of this cool stuff!

  2. I’ll chime in as the mama of a 20-month old whose birthday is also 4 days after Christmas. You have pretty much hit on all her favorite things to play with (she has a wheely bug and the Green Sprouts bucket set, and loves her stackers and her special measuring cups). It’s a great idea to ask for things that will come in handy in the mid-year drought. More suggestions: a kitchen set and food toys to go in it. Puppets. A mini-table to draw at or put stickers all over. Shape sorters. And…stuff for you to carry around a growing toddler, since he/she will be outgrowing all your wraps and carriers. We just got a backpack carrier and are still looking for an affordable, safe bike trailer. Either would have been welcome Christmas/birthday presents.

  3. Jbal – you make several excellent points! Another option is also a cute table and chair set. Grandparents often like to buy these. Hmmm…didn’t we do a post on this? Ah yes – here it is! We did a post on modern and affordable table sets…but if the grandparents are splurging, you might want to go with the usual Offi, etc. In any case, try:
    Another idea are those large sets of unit blocks, made in the US. Those babies will last forever, and are often PRICEY. I like Barclay’s set:

  4. my son is 3, birthday in a few days…even 3 mo before christmas is too many toys! we still use the secret top shelf of the closet for saving presents. on the hot days of a texas summer, it has been a lifesaver.

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