It’s so much fun to watch a baby plunge into cake face first and tear open wrapped gifts on her first birthday. But when the guest of honor isn’t saying much yet (beyond Mama and Dada) to tell us what she'd like for a present, picking the perfect birthday gift can be tricky.
Of course, a child will be thrilled to receive any gift that’s selected with love. Gifting him with a new book or learning toy is a present that has benefits far beyond just having fun. Any time spent playing with or reading to an infant is time well spent — it helps foster both his language and social skills. Reading together is the very best gift! But with so many wonderful books and toys for babies out there, it can be hard to decide which one to choose.
With the help of child development experts, we’ve gathered some standout gift options for baby’s first birthday. Sure, the bow from the gift bag will get way more of their attention than you planned on, but we promise they’ll love these too!
1. I Love Music: My First Sound Book
Six hidden musical sound buttons help bring this board book to life. Sarah Gray, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Tulane University points out that with books like these, kids are learning more than the sound a piano makes. The sounds can help support both baby and the reader’s attention for the book while offering a platform for social interaction while reading.
Help your favorite little one build their library with this classic hardcover volume she'll read for years to come. Kids see themselves in this lovable and sometimes clumsy dog who wants nothing more than to give and receive love. Clifford is relatable to toddlers learning not to spill their milk, as well as tweens negotiating friendships on the playground. Plus, who wouldn’t want a giant red dog as a pet?
3. Scholastic Early Learners: Noisy Touch and Lift Truck
With hidden sounds and liftable flaps, this book will have toddlers forgetting all about the television. Dr. Gray notes that books with sounds can help engage toddlers for longer periods of time — not only with the book — but also with the person reading to them. “You want to make sure you’re exploring those sounds and buttons together with the child, rather than just expecting them to be entertained on their own,” she explains. Yay for quality time!
4. Scholastic Early Learners: Peek-a-Boo Baby!
Maureen Healy, PhD, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child says that by nine months, babies are developmentally ready for peek-a-boo. “They know you’re my mom, you’re my dad,” she explains. He'll get a thrill from seeing babies faces disappear and reappear using the interactive flaps in this book.
5. Scholastic Early Learners: My First Book of Shapes (Bilingual)
This tactile book features cutout windows that show shapes as found in real-world objects. Labels in both English and Spanish help reinforce not just one, but two languages. “The book is allowing kids to explore some visual perception ideas around depth as well as exploring different language concepts,” notes Dr. Gray. “Young children's minds are uniquely open to different languages.”
6. Scholastic Early Learners: Touch and Feel ABC
This fun book presents the alphabet with the help of touch-and-feel flaps in a variety of textures, which Dr. Gray says can help kids in the very early stages of learning to read. “Anything that is multisensory and will enhance young children’s engagement with the material and their exploration of preliteracy materials (from a range of different sensory perspectives) can be great,” she says.
7. Scholastic Early Learners: Lift the Flap: Look Who's Talking (makes sounds)
With 25 words and sounds most toddlers recognize by age two, this book makes a fun and exciting first birthday gift. Each word also shows the baby sign symbol to go with it, so kids can explore communicating in different ways.
8. I Love You!
This soft and sweet book goes through the parts of the body using only text, no pictures. Dr. Gray says that makes it a smart pick for teaching little ones to identify their eyes, nose, toes and more through reading together. “We know that joint attention is really powerful in terms of developing children’s developing early receptive language and expressive language skills.”
9. This Little Piggy Hand Puppet Board Book
You might remember finger puppet books from when you were a child, but Dr. Healy says they’re still great toy choices for today’s youth with benefits that go far beyond the story. “Anything interactive and engaging like this teaches kids early on about emotional balance,” she explains, “and that’s it’s not always about the iPad.”
10. Five Little Monkeys: A Fingers & Toes Nursery Rhyme Book
A fun spin on a classic tale, Dr. Healy likes how this book is a no pressure way to introduce toddlers to the concept of counting to five. Plus, reading these fun rhymes now could help them learn to count when the time comes later on in preschool. “The more a child starts to hear something in different ways, it’s easier for them later on when it’s time to really pick things up,” says Dr. Healy.
This tasty stroll through the alphabet exposes kids to the variety of foods in the world, one letter at a time. “At one year old, kids are really focused on eating,” says Dr. Healy. “The idea that there are lots of foods in the world, this can be very enjoyable for kids, especially if it’s done playfully.”
12. Scholastic Early Learners: My First Book of Colors
This book uses clever cutout windows to expose kids to the secondary colors as well as the primary ones. Dr. Healy suggests it can be a way to expose young kids to all the colors without putting pressure on them to memorize names. It’s also a fun way to see which colors they favor. “Since you begin to see a child’s emotions so early, what they like and what they don’t like, it’s interesting to see if they’re drawn to different colors,” she says.
13. My First Taggies Book: Who Do You See
This peek-a-boo inspired book is a unique gift choice because it’s made of soft cloth rather than cardboard. It has smooth tags hanging off for toddlers to grasp and finger. Dr. Healy says these different textures are good for toddler cognitive development. “The more they can engage their different senses, the more they can develop in a healthy way,” she says. This soft book is also useful for littles to start learning which textures, like hard versus soft, appeal most to them.
“Between nine and 18 months babies start engaging in shapes and colors outside of themselves,” says Dr. Healy. This shape-sorting toy is a fun way to further develop those natural curiosities while helping them distinguish different shapes. It’s a sneaky way to help them learn while they play.
These classic wooden blocks make a great gift. Not only are they a quiet toy that’s a good option when older siblings are working on schoolwork, they help kids learn their letters while moving their muscles. “You never know a child’s capacity or interests,” says Dr. Healy. “The earlier we get them to engage and to move and develop those gross and fine motor skills is perfect.”
Check out 20 other ways to boost your baby’s brain power!