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Active Learning with Your One Year Old

Beth Hodgkison 0

“How Can I Engage in Active Play with my One Year Old?”

You may be surprised by how much constructive play at such an early age can contribute to development in children. The assumption is that at this age when your child is only just learning to walk and talk, play is limited to baby talk and peekaboo. While both are useful, there is a huge variety of activities you can engage in with your one year old, which, along with the developmental benefits for your little one, will help you bond with your child and make your time with them more memorable and exciting.

This post will go through some of the activities you can try, and will be followed soon by a post listing resources available for use at this age.

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Keep in mind: Most or all will need constant adult supervision (as will babies in general!), and some activities will better either suit the start of their year or the end of it- 1-year-olds change every day, so one size does not fit all!
Also, it may be fun (and safer) to make your own edible versions where paint or other ‘squishy’ substances are mentioned. You can use powdered/condensed milk, jelly, custard, angel delight, etc. and add food colouring.

So, without further ado, here’s the break down of age-appropriate activities for age 12-24 months:

  • Music.

    Examples: Playing music to them, letting them make music with simple instruments, dancing to music, finger-plays to rhymes, playing ‘active’ kids music and following the instructions together.

  • Playing with large props.

    Examples: Tunnels, boxes, and large balls such as blow-up beach balls. Boxes, in particular, are amazing for open-ended and imaginative play: turn a box into a playhouse, or cut out shapes in the top, or stick fairy lights inside- the possibilities are endless.

  • Roleplay.

    Examples: Hold a pretend telephone call together, pretend to be animals, or encourage them to act like their favourite story or tv character. Dress-up, in particular, is great fun, and doesn’t need much effort- a blanket becomes a hero’s cape, a magic carpet and a witch’s shawl with a little imagination. Anything’s good as long as it’s silly and improvised.

  • Sensory play.

    Examples: Water, sand, fabrics, play dough, slime- stick them in a tub, throw in a few toys, and your toddler will be entertained for hours. Get some toys together for bath-time and paddling pool play, or some small water pistols for outdoor play in warm weather. Put squishy stuff in a sealed plastic bag for mess-free (and, bonus) fine motor skill play!

  • Giving directions.

    Examples: Ask them questions such as “Where is your…?”, “Can you give me…”, or hide things and ask them to find them. This is a good opportunity to teach them to do ‘chores’, too, such as putting toys away. Encourage them to join in with what you are doing.

  • Simple sorting activities.

    Examples: Gather some objects and work together to sort them by simple categories; big and small, soft or hard. You can easily make a sorting activity by asking them to fill a muffin tray, with each space having one object, or only one type of object, depending on their stage of development.

  • Building towers.

    Examples: Stack items such as wooden blocks or rings and then knock them down again- as dramatically as possible! See who can build the tallest tower or the tower with the most pieces.

  • Large motor skills.

    Examples: Throwing balls and balloons, playing and running on grass. A good one is obstacle courses- put multiple activities outside in a circle and ask them to go around, asking them to go faster each time. Join in! You can also search Youtube for baby/toddler exercise videos.

  • Counting.

    Examples: Repetitive tasks are best for this, such as going up stairs, counting fingers and toes, setting the table, etc. Don’t be afraid to go over the same thing twice- as with stories and songs, children at this age learn numbers by repetition.

  • Drawing and ‘writing’.

    Examples: Give your child a tool they can easily use, such as a large crayon and some plain paper, or finger paints, sidewalk chalk, and even sand, and let them scrawl and scribble as they please. As you’ll know, one-year-olds are already adept at making a mess- encourage controlled ‘expression’ 😉

  • Go on trips outside.

    Examples: The park, nature walks, to a lake or beach for a picnic, to a petting zoo or farm. If you can make a trip to a local soft play centre, even better. Even your back garden can be full of opportunities- water the plants, collect flowers, look for insects, draw with sticks in the dirt, etc.

  • Reading.

    Examples: Read aloud from soft books and board books, and actively involve them- ask them about what will happen next, what they think of the story- who is the bad guy? Is it sad or funny? Try and end each day with a reassuring ritual of bedtime reading. These early days will form the foundation of your child’s relationship with reading.

  • Experiments.

    Examples: Will this sink or float? Will this melt in the sun? Choose experiments with an obvious physical outcome, involving tactile elements and visual change.

  • I-spy bottles.

    Examples: Fill a bottle (sealed tightly) with water or oil, then add fun little pieces to it- beads, toys, shapes, glitter, paint, food dye, sand, then see what they can find. Your child will be fascinated to watch this settle after being shaken.

  • Join some clubs.

    Examples: Clubs such as baby music, yoga, swimming, and art classes are usually available in towns and cities. If there’s nothing nearby, try babysitting or organising play dates so your little one can learn to interact with others.


I hope this has given you some ideas and inspiration. If you have any good experiences with these (or similar) activities or links to useful websites on this topic such as this one, remember to let us know in the comments. Have fun!

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