19 Shockingly Fun Activities for 1 Year Olds that Boost Development

Hey, I get it. Being a parent to a 1-year-old is no joke. Their little minds are sponges, soaking up everything around them, but keeping them engaged and stimulated feels like a full-time job.

You’re probably racking your brain trying to think of activities for 1 year olds that don’t involve just plopping them in front of the TV. And you low-key feel guilty when screen time becomes your go-to just to get stuff done.

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I’ve been there too! Don’t sweat it! Playing with a 1-year-old doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need fancy gadgets or craft supplies galore to boost their development. Let’s talk easy, fun ways to entertain your tot and stimulate their rapidly growing mind at the same time.

I’ll share some simple activities you can do with stuff you’ve already got at home. From sensory play to imaginative games, we’ll cover tons of bases when it comes to skills like motor function, speech, creativity, and more.

Get ready to see playtime in a whole new way! Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

sensory activities

Sensory Activities to Build Neuropathways In 1 Year Olds

Babies learn through their senses, so sensory play is key for their development. You don’t need fancy toys – everyday household items will do.

Here are some more out-of-the-box sensory activities to fire up your 1-year-old’s neuropathways in addition to sensory bins:

Magic Bags

Fill old socks or ziplock bags with hair gel and small toys like plastic animals. Your baby will love squishing and squeezing these soft sensory bags. The gel provides resistance that strengthens the hand muscles needed for fine motor control. Who knew playtime could build key skills?

Tip: Supervise closely to prevent choking hazards. Best for ages 10+ months.

Texture Path 

Clear a space and lay down different textured items like bubble wrap, burlap, a towel, sandpaper, etc. Encourage your little explorer to crawl or walk across the path. The interesting textures stimulate their sense of touch and support sensory development. An unexpected benefit is it also works on coordination! 

Extend this activity by adding obstacles to balance on or bend over.

Sound Cylinders 

Take empty containers like oatmeal canisters or Pringles cans and fill with items like rice, pasta, or beans. Seal them up tight. Let your 1-year-old shake these DIY musical instruments to hear the sounds swish and slide. It builds auditory awareness and is pure entertainment! 

Vary the materials for different sounds. Let your toddler decorate the cylinders with stickers or paint.

1 year old in the grass with a dog

Backyard Activities for One Year Olds To Boost Body and Mind

Nice weather or the right baby gear let your little one take the play outdoors! Your backyard has tons of potential for boosting your 1-year-old’s physical and mental abilities. Here are developmental activities hiding in plain sight:

Obstacle Course 

Set up a basic obstacle path with household items like laundry baskets to crawl around, cardboard boxes to climb through, pool noodles to walk across. Your baby will work on coordination, balance, and spatial skills as they maneuver through the course. A bonus is the physical activity and fun! 

Change up the course regularly to keep it exciting. Supervise for safety.

Animal Walks 

Have your 1-year-old imitate different animal walks like bear crawls, crab walks, frog hops, or slithering like a snake. They’ll be giggling while improving balance and learning about different ways of moving their body. Your backyard jungle safari gets their creative juices going too! 

Make animal sounds to go with the walks. See who can be the silliest!

Water Play

Provide containers of different sizes and let your baby pour and splash in water. Develops hand-eye coordination and motor skills without them knowing it! Introducing simple science concepts is a bonus educational opportunity. Just be sure to supervise closely. 

Add funnels, measuring cups, and droppers for extra learning.

1 year old reaching for the camera

Activities For One Year Olds That Boost Independence

The Montessori method is a go-to for encouraging independence and self-sufficiency from a young age. Here are some simple Montessori-inspired activities that boost your 1-year-old’s capability, with no new toys required!

Child-size tools 

Provide a small broom, duster, or hand vacuum so your little one can help with cleaning. Real-life responsibilities foster a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Just don’t expect perfectly clean floors! 

12-18 months is a great age to introduce kid-sized cleaning tools.

Opening containers 

Let your 1-year-old twist open screw-top lids, flip flip-tops, unzip zippers. Practicing these motor skills helps build coordination for other tasks like dressing themselves. Independence, here we come! 

Start with easy-to-grasp lids and work up to tougher ones.

Food preparation 

Give your tot a plastic knife and soft foods to “chop”. Talk through what you’re making in the kitchen. Develops coordination and introduces new vocabulary. Hands-on kitchen play teaches real-world skills.

Dropper practice 

Show your baby how to squeeze a dropper bulb to suction up colored water and release it onto absorbent paper towels. Strengthens fingers and hand muscles while delivering a cool sensory experience. Have them “paint” the paper with fun designs.

Arts and Crafts for 1 Year Olds to Enhance Creativity

1 year old playing drums on pots


Make your own drums from empty containers like coffee cans or plastic buckets. Let your 1-year-old beat on them with spoons, sticks, or their own hands. A fun way to work on coordination while making music! Encourage loud drum solos to get energy out!

Your 1-year-old’s imagination is really blossoming. Nurture their inner artist with these crafty activities that develop creativity:


Offer finger paint, pudding, or yogurt on a tray or directly on paper. Sensory, messy fun that strengthens dexterity and pre-writing skills? Score! Tip: strip them down to their diaper first. Let them smear and squish to their heart’s content!

Colored rice 

Mix dry rice with food coloring or powdered tempera paint. Provide funnels, cups, and containers for scooping and pouring. Boosts fine motor skills along with color recognition. Watch their eyes light up when the rice changes colors!

Paper ripping 

Show your tot how to tear paper into pieces. Practices hand and finger pincer grasp. Plus, you’ll wind up with confetti for the next birthday partyShredding paper is great for strengthening little hand muscles.

Exciting Places to Explore With Your 1 Year Old

You likely don’t have to travel far to experience the learning potential of everyday places in your community. Outings provide mental stimulation and hands-on play for your 1-year-old:

Hardware store 

All those tools, parts, gadgets and more to see! Let them hold a child-size hammer or explore bins of washers. You’ll build their curiosity and early STEM skills.

Sporting event 

Whether it’s a local high school game or a pro match, sports games offer lots to watch and cheer about! The crowd energy will thrill your little one.

Train ride

Short excursion trains offer kid-friendly rides with lots of sensory stimulation. See the world chugging by from a new perspective.


The sights and smells of a local bakery make for a yummy outing. Bonus: grab a special cookie or cupcake to enjoy later!

Let’s Embrace Play

I get it. Some days it feels like you’re just making it through with your 1-year-old. The thought of setting up complex activities when you can barely find time to shower may seem laughable. But I promise, it doesn’t take fancy equipment or Pinterest perfection to make a difference in your little one’s development.

Small moments matter – like letting them stir a pot on the stove while you cook dinner. Opportunities are everywhere once you start looking for ways to engage your baby. It can be as simple as handing them a plastic spoon to bang on a pot lid drum. (Two birds, meet one stone!)

When you break out of autopilot and get creative, playtime transforms into true quality time. Your kiddo gets much-needed stimulation while you see the world through their eyes again. Everybody wins!

So what’s one new activity you can try together this week? I believe in you, parents! With a spirit of playfulness and compassion for yourself, you’ve so got this.

Now let’s go have some fun with those adorable 1-year-olds!

What activities are best for 1 year olds?

Playtime can be brain-building time with activities like obstacle courses, animal walks, water play, and bubble play. These types of activities help improve physical abilities like balance and coordination as well as cognitive skills like spatial awareness.

My 1-year-old has a short attention span. How can I keep them engaged?

Frequent activity rotation is key. Switch activities every 5-10 minutes to align with 1-year-old attention spans. Sensory elements, movement, and novelty will also help keep them interested and stimulated.

How can I help my 1 year old build cognitive skills through play?

Activities that encourage cause and effect (like pushing buttons on a toy), problem solving (figuring out containers), or introducing new environments (going to the park) exercise their developing brains.