*Updated September 2021*
Recently a reader asked me for some ideas for play activities for a 1 year old.
My plan was to give her the link to one of my articles, and then I realized that I haven’t actually written anything specific about this topic.
I do have an article called The Best Learning Toys For Babies To Encourage Language Development, which is geared to 6-24 month old’s, but it is specific to toys that will help with your child’s development.
So, I decided it was time to write a more specific article geared towards play and a 1 year old because if one person is looking for fun ways to play with their 1 year old then I am sure others are looking for this information as well.
Luckily 1 year olds are easily entertained! By the end of this article you may be saying to yourself “wow, these ideas are so simple, why didn’t I think of that”.
Some of these activities will require your involvement while others can be done by your little one independently.
It is good to encourage independent play from a young age so that your child can build problem solving skills, reasoning and independence.
For the activities that require your involvement make sure to provide your little one with a language rich experience.
Talk about what you are doing and label the objects you are using!
Simple Play Activities For A 1 Year Old!
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Fun With A Cardboard Box
Cardboard is fun for kids of all ages! It really sparks their creativity and imagination.
However, with a 1 year old, it will be more about exploring the cardboard and even trying to rip it or stomp on it.
Here are 4 activities you can do with cardboard:
Cardboard Crumple and Toss
Find a cardboard box that is open at the top.
Get some tissue paper and crumple it into balls. Have your little one do this with you.
Then start throwing the crumpled tissue paper into the box.
Once it’s full your child will have a great time dumping out all of the tissue paper and starting again.
Talk about what you are doing “throw it IN the box” “let’s take it OUT of the box”. Don’t worry about repeating yourself, you are the only one it will sound silly too.
If you have a larger box, let your child sit in it while you push them around the house making sounds such as “vrooom, beep, wee”.
Talk to your child about driving in a car.
Crash into a wall (gently of course) and say “uh oh”.
Your little one will soon start repeating these simple sounds and words.
Why not hand over some crayons and markers and let your child decorate their car!
I know this is all about fun with cardboard, but if you don’t have a box a laundry basket makes a great substitution!
Cardboard Hide and Seek
Turn a cardboard box upside down, grab your child’s favorite toy and hide it under the box (while she is watching).
Then say “uh oh, where did _____ go?”
Pause and wait to see if they go to the box to find the toy.
If your child does do this they are demonstrating the basics of object permanence.
Cardboard Car Ramp
Turn a cardboard box upside down and add another piece of cardboard that is angled from the top to the bottom to make a ramp.
Give your child a toy car to put on the top of the box and then give it a push and watch it drive down the ramp.
Talk about the car going up the ramp and then driving down the ramp.
My son used to love this and could do the same repetitive movement of pushing the car up the ramp and watching it go down for a good 30 minutes before he became bored.
Children this age love ball pits, but so do older children!
Watch your child smile and giggle while sitting in a ball pit.
Be prepared for balls to go flying everywhere, but remember, your child is developing fine and gross motor skills while grasping, releasing and throwing the balls!
You can even get your child to help with clean up by throwing the balls back into the ball pit!
Label the colors of the balls as you throw them back in.
If you have one like the one in the picture, your child can practice trying to get the ball into the basket!
Young children love tactile experiences.
Sing songs such as “This Little Piggy”, “5 Little Ducks”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus” where you can touch his fingers or do actions with your hands.
Your child will love hearing you sing while looking at your actions.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a great singing voice, your child will still love it!
Finger plays and songs with actions help to build language and vocabulary, fine and gross motor skills, memory and hand eye coordination.
In no time your child will be doing the actions spontaneously on their own!
Fun With A Muffin Tin
As I said at the start of this article, 1 year olds are mesmerized with the simplest activities. And this is another one of those activities.
All you need is a muffin tin and some plastic balls. The ones meant for ball pits work well!
Show your child how you can put balls into the muffin tin.
Gently shake the muffin tin back and forth.
Then dump the balls out, gather them up and put them back in again. You might not even need to show your child all of this.
They will figure it out pretty quickly and most kids can stay with this activity for 15 minutes or longer.
Babies and toddlers thrive on repetition.
They also need a lot of repetition in order to learn new skills.
Cookie Sheet and Shaving Cream
You will need to carefully supervisor your child for this one because you don’t want them eating the shaving cream.
However, this is a great sensory activity, so don’t let the possibility of eating shaving cream scare you.
Just make sure to pull your child’s hand away from their mouth if they try to taste it.
Try saying “yucky” each time you do this.
But be warned, this might become a game for some children as they love getting a reaction (positive or negative, unfortunately most young kids don’t differentiate between the 2) from their parents.
All you need for this is a cookie sheet and some shaving cream.
Spray shaving cream onto the cookie sheet and let your child draw in the shaving cream with his finger.
This is a great activity to work on finger isolation for children who are having difficulties with pointing (which is a skill needed for joint attention).
If you are really against using shaving cream due to the possibility of it being ingested, you could make some mousse as it has a similar texture and consistency to shaving cream but can be eaten.
Or try finger painting with food, it’s the next section.
Finger Painting With Food
This is similar to the cookie sheet and shaving cream activity, but using pureed food and a piece of paper.
You can either puree food yourself or purchase jars of baby food.
Try to find some different colors of food such as carrots (orange), peas (green), prunes (purple), etc.
Get your little one set up in a high chair and place a piece of paper on the tray.
Next put a tablespoon of one of the purees onto the paper.
Encourage your child to use their hands and fingers to draw.
Make sure you are narrating and talking to make this a language rich experience.
Talk about the color being used and how it feels (squishy, wet, cold).
Add more purees to add a variety of colors to your child’s creation!
This can also be a good activity for a picky eaters as it allows them to explore food in a playful way!
I know this isn’t exactly a “play activity” but it is something that 1 year olds love.
For really active children you may need to wait until nap time or bedtime to read together.
Reading together is a great language building and bonding experience.
You don’t need to focus on reading the actual words that are written in the book (unless it’s a simple and repetitive book like Brown Bear, Brown Bear.)
Talk about the pictures in the books.
Label simple words such as animal names and common objects.
Ask your child questions that you feel they can answer through pointing or words.
For example “where is the cat?” Your child can either point to the cat or say “there” or “cat” while pointing.
If you are using a book with repetitive words and it’s a book your child is familiar with, pause before saying one of the words that is frequently repeated.
See if your child will try to say the word themselves.
Make sure to check out the Indestructible book series.
These books can be pulled, chewed and drooled on and they will survive.
Many of the books in the series have only pictures (no words) so you can tell your child new stories each time you “read” these books together.
This is similar to the cardboard box turned upside down but you use a clear container instead.
It needs to be a container that is fairly wide at the top because you want to cover the bottom half of the container with paper so that you can only see in through the top half.
Place a pompom or any other small object into the container and then put the lid back on.
Watch as your young child is amazed as the pompom “disappears” into the bottom of the container and then reappears when the container if flipped over.
For full instructions with pictures, click here.
Salad Spinner Frenzy
I have to admit that when my children were around 7 and 9 they pulled the salad spinner out themselves and got pretty creative with it!
So a one year old should be fascinated for quite some time.
All you need is a salad spinner and some items to go in it (small toys, cotton balls, play food, pompoms, ball pit balls, etc.)
Model placing items into the salad spinner.
Name each item that you are putting in, assuming they are toys and not cotton balls or pompoms, although you could label these as “ball”.
Then put the lid on top and show your little one how to either spin the handle or push it down (depending on the type you have).
Say “push” and “spin” during this activity.
Keep repeating it with different items.
Activities for One Year Old’s Do Not Need To Be Complicated!
As you can see, there are so many simple activities that will amuse a young child.
Most of the ones I discussed can be quickly put together with household items, so you can put your wallet away!
I am sure based on this list you will be able to come up with even more ideas on your own.
Remember, what may seem simplistic and boring to an adult is a great learning experience for a baby and toddler!