When you shop for the littlest kids, look for toys that are open-ended, like blocks and stacking cups that can be played with in more than one way, says Sarah Cleveland, the director of a childcare center outside of Austin, Texas. Play at this age is largely centered around sensory exploration and motor development, Cleveland points out, so toys with different textures that invite small hands (and, of course, mouths) to grab hold of and investigate are good choices, as are starter ride-on toys that give young toddlers the opportunity to roam. This age is also a time to invest in keepsake items that hold onto their specialness as the child grows up. Don’t get too caught up in a kid’s initial reaction to your present, though. One-year-olds might get most excited about the wrapping paper, which is all the more reason to use it. “The old adage is true: Give a kid a toy and they’re gonna play with the box,” Cleveland says. (So be sure to save the packaging.)
We talked with Cleveland and other child development experts—and mined the collective knowledge of parents and other caregivers on our staff—to identify fun and engaging gifts for the youngest recipients. If you’re looking for more kids gift ideas, check out our guides to the best gifts for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, as well as wonderful stocking stuffers for kids. And please share your own best ideas in the comments below.