The Best Toys for 12-Month-Old Development

Treat your 12-month-old to a toy (or two!) that will support their blossoming skill sets.
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By Emma O'Regan-Reidy, Associate E-Commerce Editor
Updated March 3, 2023
best toys for 12 month olds
Image: The Tot
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So your child is officially a toddler—now what? It may seem like just yesterday you had a newborn, and now they’re walking (or just about to), socializing and exploring everything in their path. While they’ll still have fun with previous playthings, their toy collection may need a slight upgrade to align with their growing abilities and sense of self—which is where these top toys for one-year-olds come in. Ready to shop for your not-so-little little one? Here, check out the best toys for 12-month-old development, plus expert tips to help them learn and grow.

What Are the Best Toys for 12-Month-Olds?

As baby enters toddlerhood, you can expect all the physical and social abilities they’ve been working on as an infant to continue to flourish. At this age, toddlers are “very curious and eager to learn,” says Mona Amin, MD, a pediatrician and podcaster based in Miami, Florida. Playtime helps your little love to experiment with newfound skills and better make sense of the world around them. Expect your 12-month-old to discover themselves through pretend play and solve problems through trial and error, says Lisa Lohiser, EdD, manager of Early Childhood Development Research at the Fisher-Price Play Lab. With this in mind, look for playthings that allow them to mimic your behavior (think: baby dolls or pint-sized play kitchen appliances). Moreover, choose toys that encourage them to make use of their developing range of gross and fine motor skills, like stacking towers or push toys.

It’s no secret that 12-month-olds are big fans of play that incorporates movement. At this age, your child is pulling themselves up to stand or cruising all by themselves, giving them a newfound sense of independence, says Amin. This makes ride-on toys and climbing sets top-notch options to keep your kiddo occupied. During quieter play sessions, encourage your child’s blossoming language development by reading to them. Lohiser recommends sturdy books that feature familiar pictures, peek-a-boo elements or textures for your tot to explore.

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Lastly, Amin reminds parents that “there’s variability in developmental milestones,” meaning that each child will grow and learn at their own pace and will have unique preferences. If your little one doesn’t show much interest in classic toys for one-year-olds, opt for playthings that better align with their interests. For example, instead of picking out a puzzle with colorful shapes, gift your tot a puzzle that features animals or trucks to make playtime more enticing, suggests Amin. All in all, your child is one-of-a-kind, and the way they play will reflect this.

What To Look For in Toys for 12-Month-Olds

When it comes to toys for one-year-olds, there are a lot of options out there, making it hard to streamline your search. That’s why we’ve talked to experts to get the low-down on what you should consider when shopping for the best toys for 12-month-old kiddos. Below, discover what features the best options have in common to create enriching playtime experiences for your tot:

  • Movement. “As the name suggests, toddlers are constantly on the move learning new skills,” says Lohiser. Keep playtime engaging by incorporating toys that encourage your little one to be active. Lohiser recommends “toys with wheels to push or pull, balls to chase or music to dance to.”

  • Problem-solving elements. Toys for 12-month-olds that feature doors, lids and switches, or stacking, nesting and sorting elements are all great choices, according to Lohiser. This is because your child is able to pick up smaller objects with their thumb and pointer finger, allowing them to be more precise with their movements, says Amin. Not only will your tot find these toys stimulating, but they’ll also increase your little one’s attention span and teach them perseverance, she adds.

  • Pretend play. Feel like you constantly have eyes on you? You’re not imagining it. At this age, your little one is closely watching your behavior and will probably start imitating what they see. For this reason, Lohiser suggests picking out toys that allow them to play pretend. Your child may even find fun in household chores, says Amin. For these kiddos, a child-sized vacuum, mop or kitchen set would be ideal.

  • Avoid small pieces. Your little one may be a “big kid” now, but children around the one-year mark will most likely still explore their surroundings via their mouths. To avoid potential choking hazards, steer clear of toys for 12-month-olds that include small pieces.

Best Toys for 12-Month-Olds

Now that you know what to look for, you’ll have no problem picking a standout plaything for the one-year-old in your life. Here, browse the best toys for 12-month-olds on the market:

Soft climb and crawl set

ECR4Kids SoftZone Climb and Crawl Activity Play Set
Image: Amazon
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Have a mini athlete at home? Then this soft foam activity set is a must. It’s no secret that tots love to explore and reach new heights, and this climber will allow them to do so safely and independently. Amin cites this option as “a great example of an open-ended toy, since the play possibilities are endless.” Plus, it’ll help foster the development of their physical skills.

Balance bike

Retrospec Cricket Baby Walker Balance Bike
Image: Amazon

An appropriately sized balance bike promotes coordination and builds strength, says Amin, making this next option one of the best toys for one-year-olds. Your child will love zooming around on their new set of wheels—and you’ll love how it boosts their motor skill development. Lohiser adds that a foot-to-floor ride-on toy will promote self-confidence as your child discovers how to get around independently. For peace of mind, this bike is equipped with scratch-resistant wheels to keep your kiddo stable whether they’re cruising inside or out. Remember to have your child wear a helmet while using a balance bike to protect their head, says Amin.

Wooden activity cube

Bigjigs Toys Activity Cube
Image: Anthropologie

Next up on our list of the best 12-month-old toys is this modern activity cube. The wooden playset features four sides of fun for your little one to discover—not to mention the delightful bead mazes on top. Better yet, this pick will encourage your child to stand and walk around while figuring out puzzles or sorting shapes, adds Amin, making playtime even more engaging.

Montessori play kit

Lovevery The Thinker Play Kit
Image: Lovevery
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Lovevery’s stage-based play kits are a go-to gift for any age. This thoughtfully curated set consists of toys for 12-month-old development that have been designed to stimulate and challenge newly minted one-year-olds. Inside, you’ll find Montessori-inspired playthings that foster your child’s hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills and blossoming imagination.

Wooden car set

Magnetic Car Set
Image: KiwiCo
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Next up, we have a versatile car set for your child to experiment with. The three magnetic cars link together, allowing your tot to mix and match them for endless play possibilities. Plus, this car set features weather-themed coins that slot inside the tops of each car, encouraging your little love’s fine motor and problem-solving skills.

Wooden musical toy

Manhattan Toy Musical Lili Llama
Image: Amazon

Spark your kiddo’s creativity with this musical toy for 12-month-olds. The llama-shaped plaything consists of a xylophone, a maraca and other auditory elements that are sure to pique your mini Mozart’s interest. While it probably won’t sound like music to your ears, it will teach your little one about cause and effect.

Plush baby doll

Manhattan Toy Baby Stella Baby Doll
Image: Amazon

Toddlers are fascinated by pretend play, making a baby doll a perfect gift for a one-year-old. This plush option is lifelike enough that your tot can be a “parent” (how sweet!), but still cozy enough for cuddles. It comes with a magnetic pacifier, plus an array of cute doll clothing sets are available so your little one can play dress up with their baby.

Camper-themed activity center

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn 3-In-1 On-the-Go Camper Walker
Image: Target

Whether your 12-month-old is walking non-stop or just starting to stand with support, this 3-in-1 activity center is sure to be a hit. It can be played with sitting or standing, and also acts as a fun push toy. The mini camper features more than 100 songs, phrases and sounds that’ll teach your child all about colors, letters, numbers and shapes. For little ones who can’t get enough of pretend play, this pick is also equipped with play food, a fishing pole and a mini coffee pot for them to get creative with.

Wooden sensory blocks

PlanToys Wooden Sensory Blocks
Image: The Tot
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Amazon|$20The Tot|$20

When shopping for babies or toddlers, you can’t go wrong with sensory toys. This play set consists of six wooden blocks, each featuring auditory, tactile or visual elements for your little one to discover. Plus, the small size makes these perfect for one-year-olds working on their pincer grasps and hand-eye coordination.

Play tunnel

You Little Cutie Kids Popup Play Tunnel
Image: Amazon
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Create an environment for open-ended play with a classic tunnel. Your child will love crawling through it, or using it as part of imaginative play (its versatile shape makes it the perfect rocket ship, house or anything else your tot can think up). This option also features ties on either side, so you can connect it to other tunnels for even more fun. Best of all, it can easily be folded up and stored at the end of the day.

Colorful stacking cups

Battat Stacking Cups
Image: Amazon

Stacking toys are classic for a reason. Your kiddo will love arranging these multicolor cups into a tall tower and knocking them down, allowing them to explore cause and effect. The largest stacking cup even has a handle so your little one can carry their toy set with ease. Better yet, the versatile cup design can be used creatively in your backyard, at the beach or even in the bath.

About the experts:

Lisa Lohiser, EdD, is a Fisher-Price Play Lab expert, where she provides insights into how kids learn and play, and how to best support their development. She has a doctorate in education with a focus on learning and teaching in social contexts, as well as a master’s degree in creativity and change leadership and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Mona Amin, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician based in Florida. She’s also the host of the PedsDocTalk podcast. She received her medical degree from ATSU School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona, and completed her pediatric residency at the Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital in Albany, New York.

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