14 Things To Easily Teach Your 1-Year-Old​ Through Play

by | Apr 10, 2020

If you’re like me, it’s always on your mind- Am I teaching my child enough? Am I giving her enough attention? Should I be doing more to help her learn? Could I be a better mom?? The mom guilt is REAL and it’s totally normal.

We always feel like we could be doing more for our children: feeding them better, teaching them more, being more patient with them.

Then, life sometimes gets in the way when we have to go to work, clean the house, make dinner, take kids to activities and practices, and still make time for our husband too.

My daughter is 13 months and I’m always thinking, what should I be teaching her? Should she start learning her colors? Her ABC’s and numbers? Should she be coloring? Learning how to build block towers or animal sounds?

Maybe this is the occupational therapist in me, since I’m used to teaching babies and children and know that there’s always more to learn. However, I’m sure most moms go through those feelings too.

How are they learning?

Especially at this age, our children are little sponges! They are taking in every little ounce of knowledge about the world around them. Every sound, color, picture, and movement.

Your 1 year old can understand much more than you probably think they can. They are learning every day and even if we don’t realize it, we are teaching them.

They are watching our every move, listening to our every word and picking it up so quickly. So first of all, when you feel like you’re not doing enough, remember that they’re always learning by just watching you all day!

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to develop activities, especially at this age. Most of these don’t require any set up or materials and just can be done while you’re sitting and playing with them.

Remember, you don’t need high-tech fancy toys for your child.  The best way they learn is through problem-solving and imaginative play with objects and toys that are simple enough to do a wide array of things with.

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14 Activities You Can Teach Your 1-Year-Old

There is a wide range of differences from a 13-month-old to a 21-month-old so be aware your child’s developmental level.

Here are a few activities that are simple enough to do everyday to be sure your child is learning:

1. Teaching new words

Your 1-year-old is starting to pick up a huge vocabulary during this crucial age and there is so much for them to learn and explore.

Here are some of the common words, phrases, and concepts that your one year old can pick up at this young age:

  • Body parts: Point out your child’s eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, head, hair, ears, hands, feet, etc. Show them on their bodies, a doll’s body, as well as your own.  Then at other times in the day ask them, Where’s your nose? Where are your eyes? An early 1 year old should be able to point to these body parts when asked and a later 1 year old should be able to start saying the words.
  • Animal sounds and names: They will love making animal sounds before they can say the animal’s name, but be sure to tell them both and show them pictures as they say it.
  • Their own name: Of course they should already be able to respond to their name, but they may be able to say their name at this point. Practice the first sounds of their name and make sure they respond to their name when called.
  • Names of relatives: Teach them common relatives like mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and siblings, or whoever they see most frequently. Making a picture book of family and friends is a great way to learn their names or even just showing them pictures on your phone.
  • Manners: Please, thank you, you’re welcome, and excuse me are common.
  • Vehicles: Cars, trucks, school bus, fire truck, etc.
  • Foods and utensils: Teach them how to say their favorite foods and the utensils they use: cup, fork, spoon, cheese, bread, banana, etc.
  • Words to show what they need or want: yes, no, more, need, want, give me, peepee, etc.
  • Colors: Your child should be able to start matching colors at this point so be sure to name the colors for them.

You can do this while you’re changing diapers, during mealtime, or just while you’re snuggling in bed.

Repetition is so important at this stage. That is the best way that they will pick up new words and phrases. Be as consistent as possible to repeat everything you’re saying over and over.

Here are more tips to get your baby to talk and learn words here.

2. Reading books

Books are incredible teachers of language. Just looking at the pictures of so many new objects, people, colors, and shapes can spark much curiosity and learning in their minds.

My daughter LOVES books.  She will hand us a book to read to her and snuggle up on our lap.  

Even though her attention span usually only lasts through 3 pages, she is so excited to look at the pictures and colors.  

Lift-the-flap books are her favorite and toddlers love lifting the flap to see whats behind it. We have a ton of baby board books at our house, but if you don’t, you can go to your local library and lend them out.

Most libraries also offer free storytime in the mornings so check their events to see what baby/toddler activities they have. 

Simple, developmental activities and lessons you should teach your toddler everyday to help them learn, even when you're busy. They require no set up or creativity. This will help them to improve skills and they are constantly learning everyday.

You don’t have to actually read the book word for word, but point out every picture and describe it. Have them repeat it back. This will help to improve language.

When you’re reading, tell the child to turn the page. Also, ask your child to point to a picture.  

If you are the one reading, use your finger to follow along with the words on the page so your baby learns to recognize letters and words.

Related Post: The Outstanding Benefits of Reading to Babies and Toddlers

3. Describe what they’re doing (Developing language)

If she’s merely just sitting and playing, use language to say everything she’s doing and using, the color and shape of an item, and what action is happening.

For example, “You’re putting the bead in the cup, you’re throwing the red ball, you’re walking over to the steps.” Your child will now be able to associate words with his or her actions.

Related Post: How to Teach Your Toddler to Talk

4. Promote Independence 

Simple, developmental activities you should do everyday with your toddler to help them learn, even when you're busy. They require no set up or creativity.

Your little one is probably begging to start doing things on her own by now.  She will grab at the spoon, toothbrush, and even diaper wipes. Let them try to do these things on their own!

The only way a child will learn new skills is by doing it by themselves. So give them these opportunities to learn, understand, and make mistakes (within limits, of course).

Of course they may not be very successful at it, but don’t be intimidated by the mess it will make or that they won’t be able to complete the task.  

Guide them in parts of the activity that they actually can complete.

They should be able to assist in areas like:

  • dressing: socks off, pulling pants up, putting arms through shirt, putting on/taking off coat
  • feeding: using utensils, finger feeding, choosing meals and snacks by pointing or asking and saying yes or no
  • brushing teeth: holding toothbrush
  • cleaning up: wiping up messes, putting toys back into their bin
  • going up and downstairs (with supervision and hand-holding)
  • opening containers

Tell them to pull the shirt down over their head or put their arms through and try to get their hand unstuck from the sleeve. Let them hold the brush to brush their teeth or hair, hold the food pouch and fork to feed themselves, and clean up their own toys into a bin.

Practice makes perfect!

Related Post: Why It’s Important to Let your Baby Feed Themselves

5. Pretend play

Using their imagination opens up a world of fun and play for your toddler. This skill typically comes naturally as they copy and imitate what they see in the real world, in books, or on tv.

Whether it’s a play kitchen, tea party set, feeding a baby doll, driving a car, or sweeping the floor, your little one will love to participate in activities that she sees you doing.

See more examples of pretend play items here: Developmentally Appropriate Toys for a 1 Year Old

6. Inset Puzzles

Puzzles are great for developing so many skills!  

They’ll be developing hand-eye coordination with flipping and turning the pieces to fit them in their slots, fine motor skills by using their little hands to grasp and manipulate the little pegs or whole wooden pieces, and problem solving by letting their brains figure out the best ways to fit the piece in the space or where it’s matching counterpart is.  

At the same time, your child can be developing cognitive skills while also learning the concepts of the pictures on the puzzle, whether it be colors, shapes, animals (like the one above) or this one, foods, etc.

Chunky peg puzzles are best for younger 1 year olds, but as they get older, they can do puzzles of smaller sizes.

Name puzzles, such as this one from Bloom Owl, are so great with teaching your toddler the letters in their name. After playing with these puzzles, they’ll be spelling their name in no time!

Related Post: 14 Lessons You Can Teach Your Toddler

7. Singing songs with gestures

I’m sure you’re well aware of all the kiddie songs, such as The Wheels on The Bus, Row Row Row Your Boat, Old McDonald, etc. You can be singing these songs at any time: in the car, changing diapers, giving a bath.  

Children will love the rhythm and music. Demonstrate hand gestures while you’re singing and your baby will be sure to imitate!

This helps them in learning parts of the body, concepts like up/down, open/close, and sounds of animals, to name a few.

These are my daughter’s favorites:

  • Head, shoulders, knees, and toes
  • Itsy, bitsy spider
  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Row, Row, Row your boat
  • Old McDonald

Related Post: How to Child Proof Your Home

8. Coloring

This is a great fine motor activity that 1 year olds should start practicing.  It teaches them cause and effect: that they make a mark on the paper and it stays there.  

All you need is paper and crayons.  I highly suggest these finger crayons for the young ones.  They are perfect for little hands and promote a good grasp when holding the crayons.

Related Post: 6 Good Habits You Should be Teaching Your 1 Year Old

9. Teaching Colors

Simple, developmental activities you should do everyday with your toddler to help them learn, even when you're busy. They require no set up or creativity.

Everything your child plays with or touches has a color.  It’s easy to point out colors to them and even group things by color.

For example, if you see a red ball, red crayon, and red block in their toy box, show them all of these together and that they are red.

They should really start being able to distinguish different colors around 18 months. They will know the difference between them, although naming them may still be difficult.

Related Post: How to Teach Your Baby to Walk

10. Making Music

Babies LOVE music!  They can make music on their own or while listening to music played on the radio or sound system. If you have toy instruments like maracas, xylophone, tamborine, etc. that’s great to use, but you can also make musical ‘instruments’ with so many household objects.  

You can have them shake a pill bottle (child safety sealed, of course) to make noise, bang a wooden spoon on a pot, box, tin can, counter top to make various sounds, fill plastic easter eggs with uncooked beans or rice and shake them.

11. Dance

Turn up the tunes on your tv, radio, or Amazon Alexa, and dance with your toddler! Every baby loves to get their moves on when they hear music. They’ll have fun and it will tire them out quickly too!

12. Get Outside

Simple, developmental activities you should do everyday with your toddler to help them learn, even when you're busy. They require no set up or creativity.

Kids love the outdoors and get stir crazy when you keep them inside all day.  Take them for a walk and point out all the sights you see: green trees, blue sky, house, car, road.

They’re soaking up all of this vocabulary so get them to see a little more.  

Blow bubbles, pick up leaves, or run through the sprinkler. If they need to be outside to run around and get some energy out, sitting in the grass is a great sensory experience. Getting some sunshine and running around a bit will even tire them out if they’re refusing a nap. 

13. Stacking blocks

This activity also helps improve your child’s hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.  Just take a few blocks and demonstrate how to build a tower, then hand them the blocks and ask them to do it. They should pick it up quickly and want to imitate you.

This Melissa & Doug Alphabet block set is great for older 1 year olds to stack, but great fine motor practice for the younger ones. Kids also love Mega Bloks which are great for stacking, putting together, and taking apart.

Stacking toys and activities like these encourage imaginative play and let them problem solve and investigate the world around them. 

14. Uninterrupted one-on-one time

PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AND PLAY!  Trust me, I’m so guilty of it too. With all the technology we have access to now, it’s hard to just spend the time sitting on the floor playing.  

I try to dedicate at least a 20-minute block a day (I know that doesn’t seem like a lot at all) where I am completely in the zone with my toddler. I ask her what she wants to play with, what song she wants me to sing, or what book she wants me to read.   

I made it a goal that I would just sit down in her play room and have fun for a block of time through out the day.  I don’t bring my phone or laptop in and we just play. It may seem like they’re too young to know that you’re not paying attention to them, but trust me, they’re always watching. Your child will appreciate the one-on-one time more than you know.

Related Post: How to Show Your Toddler Attention with a New Baby


Try out these fun and simple ways to teach your one year old new things. You’ll be surprised at how much they are taking in! Also, check out 14 Lessons You Should Be Teaching Your Toddler

Simple, developmental activities and lessons you should teach your toddler everyday to help them learn, even when you're busy. They require no set up or creativity. This will help them to improve skills and they are constantly learning everyday.

Hi I’m Marissa!

A mom of two little ones, here to provide some relatable experiences, tips, and tricks to the joys and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth through raising babies and toddlers.  Read more about me here.