14 best gifts for 1-year-olds

Keep playtimes fun while furthering your little one's development

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The Independent Online

There’s always one clever clogs who will make a remark as your baby turns one, about how you may as well just wrap up an empty box given that the child will probably only play with the wrapping paper and the box. 

But when you are buying a present for a one-year-old you are buying them something that will see them through a phenomenal period in their development, a stage when they are learning to walk and talk, developing their fine motor skills and exploring the world with a greater degree of independence – not to mention throwing things on the floor and putting things in their mouth.

Please note that not all of these are recommended by the manufacturer for a one-year-old, which means they haven’t been safety tested for this age group. Please do your own safety assessment before giving these to a child. 

1. Tomy Aquadoodle – Thomas and Friends: £25.99, Argos

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The Aquadoodle is a reusable mat that you draw on with water – so even the smallest hands can make a mark using a brush, an Aquadoodle stamper, their hands or, er, by throwing a beaker of water over it, though the last of these takes longer to dry and therefore longer until you are able to use it again. The range has a variety of well-known character mats – including Minnie Mouse, Peppa Pig, Paw Patrol and Thomas – as well as non-character versions. This Thomas Aquadoodle has an actual Thomas train you dip in water and use to draw tracks on the mat. Ingenious. 

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2. Noah’s Ark Play Set: £29, JoJo Maman Bebe

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The Noah’s Ark story has something for everyone, no matter how religious you may or may not be. Pairs of animals – check. A big boat – check. The ability to put the animals in and out of the boat – check. This wooden version has stylish animals chunky enough for a young child to play with, and there are holes on the ark through which they can see the animals inside. This is the kind of present that grows with the child, as they can use the pieces for storytelling and imaginative play after the appeal of putting the animals in the boats and taking them out again wears off. 

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3. That’s not my dragon…: £6.99, Usborne

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The That’s not my… series by Usborne is huge – the fiftieth title will be published next year, so whether your child is into pirates or mermaids, lions or kittens, tractors or planes, there’s a book for them. The hardwearing pages, simple illustrations, repetition and lovely touchy-feely elements to each page make them ideal for reading with your child, or leaving them to it for a few minutes. We particularly like That’s not my dragon which introduces a whole raft of new texture words to your child, including tufty, knobbly and scaly.

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4. Little Bird Told Me Lambert Rocker: £89.95, Cuckooland

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There are many rocking horses to choose from on the market, and lots aren’t even horses. We like this rocking lamb, mainly because it has a nice face and is very strokeable, but also because it is strong enough to feel like you can ride it without it falling apart. And the self-assembly element is minimal (you have to attach the rockers to the lamb’s legs) which may go hand in hand with the previous point. This should last your little ones until they reach three years old.

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5. Little Tikes Gas ‘n’ Go Mower: £19.99, Argos

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This great bit of equipment seems to captivate children of all ages – if only they were so keen to mow the lawn when they got older – and is ideal for children as soon as they can walk. The gas can that children can use to pretend to fill the mower up and the balls that pop as you push mark this out from cheaper alternatives, as does the sturdy design. I am sure a child could get bored of pushing this up and down, but we’ve not seen it happen yet.

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6. Book Storage Cart – Mr Bear: £38, Great Little Trading Co.

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Adults tend to keep their books on shelves, or stacked on their bedside tables, but children like to carry their favourite objects around with them. This lovely bear pull-along trolley allows them to do just that, though they will need parental help to assemble it – so beware, there is no instant gratification upon ripping the paper open.

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7. Jellycat Tumblie Sheepdog: £16, John Lewis

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If you are in a shop and spy a soft toy that just makes you want to stop and touch it, chances are it’s a Jellycat one. Beautifully cute and incredibly soft, the range is immense, though this sheepdog has captured our heart. 

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8. Galt Toys Duck Family: £10.99, Amazon

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Bath ducks are pretty ubiquitous in family bathrooms, but this family of ducks is a cut above. Not realistic exactly, but in pleasingly bright colours, the parent duck’s back lifts up so the ducklings can fit inside. This is a bath toy that kids will also want to play with on dry land. 

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9. Lego Duplo All-in-one-box-of-fun: £24.99, Lego 

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Duplo is the Lego range for younger children. They stack together in the same way, and are in fact compatible with Lego, and can make anything your imagination lets you make. This set includes plenty of basic bricks plus opening windows, a boy, a dog, flowers and a wheeled base for a vehicle. Not everyone who plays with Duplo and Lego as they get older goes on to be an architect or engineer, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that every architect or engineer played with bricks like these. 

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10. Early Learning Centre Happyland Funfair: £60, Early Learning Centre

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The Early Learning Centre Happyland range is great for many reasons – not just developing imaginative play but also because the plastic figures are ideal for kids at the putting-everything-in-their-mouth stage, so they can act as unofficial teethers too. We like this Funfair set – it’s not cheap but contains three rides (carousel, rocket and pirate ride), three vehicles (ice cream cart, train and fun bus) and seven characters (including very un-scary clowns), so in theory there is plenty here to play with other children too, though we can’t guarantee they won’t all want the same character on the same carousel horse at the same time.

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11. Brio My First Railway Beginner Pack: £30.45, Amazon

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We may live in an era of aeroplanes, space rockets and buses that bend in the middle, but it’s still train sets that capture children’s imaginations more than anything. There are many wooden train companies offering track and train of the same gauge (for non-train aficionados that means they are compatible with each other) but the Swedish company Brio is a cut above in terms of quality. This first railway beginner pack is a great starter, and can be added to over the years with more carriages, extra track, stations, cranes, ferries and more.

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12. Playmobil 123 Fire Rescue Helicopter: £5.80, Amazon

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The Playmobil 123 range, unlike the better known Playmobil sets, are specially designed for under threes, and are washable with no small parts. We particularly like the Fire Rescue Helicopter, which comes with a fire helmet-wearing pilot and has a moveable propeller. The rest of the range includes a ship, a house, a recycling truck and a police car. 

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13. Halilit Baby Toy Xylohone: £11.99, John Lewis

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The most gratifying present for a one-year-old is one that makes a noise. This Halilet range of musical instruments for young children includes a drum, but we’re assuming you still want the child’s parents to like you, so have plumped for this xylophone, which can take a toddler’s random bashing and still produce a pleasant sound.

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14. Petilou My Stacking Garden: £14.50, Amazon

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Petilou is one of the ranges offered by Le Toy Van, who make attractive wooden toys, the kind that make parents feel they are doing a good job just by owning them. In theory this toy creates a tree, a toadstool and a flower, each topped with an animal, but this interchangeable stacking toy means that the child can create their wooden garden differently each time – toad-flower or tree-stool anyone?

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Verdict

Face it, a one-year-old isn’t going to remember what you bought them, so at this stage you are looking for other things to come out of your gift – admiration from the parents perhaps, or the knowledge that you have bought something improving or that will distract them long enough for mum and dad to have a shower. For a long term win where you can add to your present in years to come, we recommend the Brio train set, though the Gas ‘N’ Go Mower from Little Tikes has given the most children the most delight when it came to testing out our recommendations. However our Best Buy is the Aquadoodle, because it allows parents to feel like they are giving their child the opportunity to paint without actually having to go through the trauma that is painting with a toddler, an activity best saved for days when you feel strong and well-rested.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing

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