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Gifts For One-Year-Olds and Other People Who Would Rather Just Eat Wrapping Paper

Gifts For One-Year-Olds & Other People Who Would Rather Just Eat Wrapping Paper

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I love your column, and I’ve been reading for a long time. Now I’m hoping you can help me out…My best friend’s baby girl is turning 1! I was wondering if you could give me some ideas for a really great 1st birthday present, from a mom’s point of view. I’d like to give something that mom and dad would appreciate as being really useful, or helpful, but also something memorable.

I normally would just ask my friend what they needed/wanted, but I want this to be a fun surprise for her, too. (Since she will likely be opening the actual presents.) 🙂

I don’t want to spend more than $50, but I would really appreciate any suggestions you, or your very knowledgeable readers, can offer.

Thanks a bunch!

I’m sure you realize you’re calling in a high order here, since there’s a big catch-22 to buying gifts for kids and babies: the favorite and most memorable toys for the child will probably annoy the crap out of the parents, while anything really useful for parents is going to bore and underwhelm the birthday girl. So you kind of have to pick who the present is *really* for and just aim to please them.

On the one hand, a one-year-old is not going to have any idea what’s going on. She’ll likely be off her schedule, overwhelmed, overstimulated, confused and (if you’re lucky, like I was) cutting all four of her one-year molars on the very day of her party.

On the other hand, it IS still her party, and her birthday, and after all the baby showers and baby gifts, it’s nice to start shifting the focus to her — as a separate little person from her parents.

So. I’m trying to remember any of the toys we received for Noah’s first birthday and I remember a couple that he played with a lot — he was really REALLY into this singing piggy bank toy, though my best friend’s son also had it and ignored it completely. He also got plenty of loud, blinking battery-powered plastic crap that he LOVED and I HATED and once the batteries died the first time we lied and told him the toy was broken. Stuffed animals get ignored around here; things Noah is “into” (like specific licensed characters [ELMO COUGH COUGH] or brief obsessions with dump trucks or elephants) have the shelf life of a bag of chips.

If I were buying a toy for a one-year-old today, I’d go with the Ball Popper, since it seems to be one of those toys that fascinates kids for YEARS on end, despite the plastic / battery-powered / music / balls-rolling-under-the-couch parental annoyance factors. No, it’s not a gorgeous unpainted toy made of environmentally-friendly reclaimed wood and it’s not teaching Spanish or promoting meta-cognition — it’s just a really fun toy. Kids go nuts over it, for some reason, and I was just talking to the mother of a five-year-old girl who STILL can’t put the Ball Popper in the yard sale pile — she still loves it that much. It’s a toy that is actually for the child; not some grown-ups’ idea of what the child should enjoy.

Then again, for every kid who loves it, there’s possibly one who will freak out and cry when it turns on. Kids are tough like that.

If I were buying a gift for the PARENTS of a one-year-old, I’d go with books, probably. We’ve been given a ton of books over the years — and we’re only just starting to read a lot of them to Noah now. I always appreciate when people buy us nice sturdy books, since they’re expensive and the choices are overwhelming, so it’s GREAT when people buy us the books they loved as a child. If you don’t personally have children and have no idea “what kids today are into,” it’s hard to go wrong buying a stack of the books you adored as a kid. I love it when books arrive with a personal testimony, you know? Noah loves all the classics — Corduroy, Make Way for Ducklings, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are, Caps for Sale Big Book, etc. He’s had some of these books since before he was born, and we’ve gotten years of enjoyment out of them, and I imagine he’ll be loving these stories for awhile longer. (I remember all of my old storybooks getting another lease on life when I learned to read them myself.) A one-year-old will still be best off with board books for now, but a nice hardcover book is a perfectly nice investment in future bedtime readings.

Readers, your turn. Name the best or most memorable gift your child has received. What gifts had you frantically searching for the receipt?

Photo: Depositphotos/elenathewise


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • KF

    April 20, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Something I’ve found to be a good gift recently is a gift certificate to “free play” sessions at a local indoor play/party center (think MyGym, but now there are independent local places with more unique and less crowded play sessions — this one is lovely for people in the DC-ish area: Most of them offer gift cards or session passes. Awesome time for kids of many ages, doesn’t add to the Stuff in the house, and gives parents a teensy break on rainy days without involving the local mall playground mayhem.

  • Jen

    April 20, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I got a customized hand drawing for my nursery wall that is my favorite baby gift ever. (Etsy shop:
    Full disclosure, the artist is a friend of mine, but I would have loved it anyway. You could probably get a custom drawing of a cute toy that the parents would love and then buy that toy for the child. Everyone is happy!

  • Jen

    April 20, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    My son’s favorite 1st birthday present was his “Beep Beep” — a Step2 Push Around Buggy (available at Target and elsewhere). When we get home after daycare and work, we can’t even go into the house, but rather must immediately go to the garage so we can take the car for a ride around the neighborhood. He is very into the Ball Popper as well, so you couldn’t go wrong with that.

  • mdvelazquez

    April 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    I’m an avid reader, so I always lean toward books. Years after I’ve given the books I receive follow-up thank you notes from the parents because Jr. is crazy about the books. I usually also give an inexpensive moderately annoying noisy gift that the child will play with immediately.

  • PaintingChef

    April 20, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    So I’m NOT a mom. I don’t have any kids but I DO have many friends and neighbors who invite me to their kids’ birthday parties and after a few panicked phone calls to my mother from the middle of Toys R Us I have learned a couple of things.
    1. Stuffed animals are ALWAYS safe… the softer the better. This applies to both boys and girls until they are about 3. Then boys are out.
    2. The Melissa and Doug products you can find all over are FANTASTIC. They are cute and wooden so they aren’t crap but they are also inexpensive and parents seem to love them right along with kids. But that would be be someone older, not a one year old.
    Really, I’d stick with a stuffed animal and maybe a good children’s book like “The Big Orange Splot” by D. Manus Pinkwater (I think) or anything by Eric Carl. Something with great illustrations and no Disney or Nick Jr. characters. You’d be amazed at how much a 1 or 2 year old loves a super soft stuffed animal.

  • Melissa

    April 20, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    On my first birthday, I received a couple of savings bonds. That sounds boring, but I was one, so it didn’t bother me at the time and being able to cash them in when I was older and could appreciate the money was awesome.

  • Meghan

    April 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I gave my friend’s little boy the “My Very Own Name” book from I See Me for his 1st birthday. It’s in the price range you’re looking for (about $30) and for $5 more I added on the protective slipcase, it’s a super cute book that he’ll have forever.

  • oh amanda

    April 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I’d definitely go with a book—preferably a nice hardback. I usually get a book for my kids at every birthday that goes with the theme of their birthday party.
    But my new favorite gift for one year old GIRLS is a calendar print from Sarah Jane Studios:

  • Beth

    April 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. I LOVE books as gifts for my kids–especially books that have a special meaning for the giver. The kids might not go ga-ga for them right away, but they will love them all eventually. Include a gift receipt, just in case. You can’t go wrong! One of our all-time favorite toys, however, was a set of good-quality wooden blocks. Blocks are great for kids of all ages–they help kids use physical skills, math skills, and really draw on their imagination. We also have the ball popper, and both kids love it. But again–be sure to include a gift receipt. Toy stores and places like Target are notorious for only accepting returns and exchanges with a receipt!

  • Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom

    Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom

    April 20, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I just remembered two other gifts that are developmentally PERFECT for this age:
    1- a baby doll stroller. a 1-year old wants to copy her parents. By summer she will want to push her OWN baby stroller. Again, a push/ walking toy.
    2- a baby broom. my son would run around the house trying to sweep up everything between the age of 1 and 2 with his mini broom, it was better than knocking over vases with my broom.

  • Joceline

    April 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm
  • Allison

    April 20, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I’m on a work break trying to de-stress, and this is the perfect question for me, so forgive the lengthy comment…
    Books, books, books. We’re BIG readers at our house, and we’re getting to the point now that we’ve bought so many books for our little man (almost 2), that I can’t ask for books as presents anymore because we have so many we’re starting to get duplicates.
    Stuffed animals are almost completely ignored at our house, so I can’t really say that’s a great idea, but every kid is different.
    Since I have a boy, and I’m having another boy in June, for a girl I’d say cute clothes because that’s the one thing I’m jealous of when I’m in the stores. There’s just SO MUCH more selection for girls than boys.
    We’re also big on music, there’s a Yo Gabba Gabba CD that my son loves, and any Sesame Street/Muppets/Laurie Berkner, etc. is awesome.
    Since summer is coming, a cool hodge-podge of summery gifts like bubbles, sunglasses, pool toys, cute hats and other “summery” gear would be fun.
    There are a ton of really cool toys at, that’s my go-to site for buying gifts for other people’s kids, because the kids usually love them and the parents think they’re cool. It’s not the cheapest, but usually I can find a few good small toys that are a big hit.

  • Kim

    April 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I like the book idea. My husband is going crazy with all the toys in the house. I have no idea what we’re going to do when baby turns 1. I liked the one idea about the personalized book. I got one for my baby shower and it was so cute! It even has the dog’s names in it. It meant a lot to me that someone didn’t buy me another onesie and bought a really thoughtful gift.

  • paranoid

    April 20, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I think books are always a wonderful gift, but I’m also always paranoid that the person I’m buying for will already have the book I choose. For this reason, I’d maybe avoid the obvious classics (they probably have Goodnight Moon already, for example. I think it’s a law that all new parents get at least one copy.)
    One book my daughter loved at that age was Tumble Me Tumbly, which is cute, fun to read, and has fantastic illustrations. Or you could go with one of the book/cd combinations by Sandra Boynton. We have (and love) Philadelphia Chickens, but there are at least 2-3 others available now. The baby can listen to the music now, then read along later. Plus, the songs are cute and funny.
    Dolls are also a good gift for this age. Corolle makes one with versions appropriate for both appropriate for both girls and boys:
    Finally, my daughter LOVED her little people toys around this age, and still plays with some of her sets now (she’s 3).

  • chiquita

    April 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    My daughter just turned one and one of her presents was a Fridge Farm from Leapfrog. It keeps her occupied so I can wash dishes or fix lunch and it has an on/off switch for when it gets too annoying.

  • Di

    April 20, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Books are fantastic, but see if you can talk to the mom and find out what books they already sense in getting her “Hippos Go Berzerk” or something, if hippos terrify the child.
    C. loves that piggy. (We have two, one for here and one for Omie and Grampa’s house.)
    Push toys are good – and she loves to walk pushing her doll stroller next to me pushing the big stroller.
    Wooden puzzles with extra large pieces.
    Music for the parents AND the kids – maybe a gift card to itunes or something..there’s a lot out there that isn’t horrible (They Might be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, Elizabeth Mitchell…)
    As for the ball popper – scared the bejezus out of her. She was about 18 months old at the time…so maybe not for everyone.

  • Kate

    April 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    We’ve gone to three first birthday parties in less than a year and have given the same book each time since it was such a huge hit the first time. The book is “Gallop!” by Rufus Butler Seder
    It’s new enough that most people haven’t seen it, it’s a board book so the little ones can handle it, and it actually keeps their attention for a little while (the adults really get into it to).

  • Carmen

    April 20, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I’ll second the comment that stuffed animals are completely ignored at our house. By both kids – one boy & one girl. The best gift that my son got (and still plays with 2.5 years later) was a sandbox set that included a little wheelbarrow. He walked at 9 months, so he was proficient enough to push the wheelbarrow around the house & the backyard, “helping” with the gardening. Otherwise, as everyone else has said, books are great!

  • Erin

    April 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I totally agree with the book idea. Some great ones we have received that are a not considered classics are “the Cow that Laid an Egg” (I love reading this one), anything by Sandra Boynton, all of the Robert Munsch books, “Buzz Buzz Busy Bee” (book actually buzzes which my 1 year old loved) and “Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy”.
    A few of other things that we loved at that age were a shopping cart and some food, a lawn mower for the yard so the kids could mow like daddy and stacking cups which also double as bath toys.

  • Tracy

    April 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    I love this question, so I’ll try my best to be brief! Books are a wonderful idea. Some of our favorite children’s book authors are, Karen Katz (you can get a great set of her books on Amazon for like 10 bucks!), Sandra Boynton and my absolute favorite, Amy Krouse Rosenthal (her books are treasures, imo, but the humor may be a little advanced for a 1 yr. old.) Also, wooden ABC blocks are a classic gift, Uncle Goose has “heirloom quality” ones that are a little pricey, but Melissa & Doug also have a nice set (both on Amazon.) I have two little girls and jewelry is always a nice gift at any age! Search children’s jewelry on and find some beautiful handmade bracelets like this one,, little girls of any age and moms would love this! Someone above I think suggested a custom name painting from Etsy, great idea too! Have fun and good luck trying to stay under $50!

  • Meredith

    April 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    My best girlfriend’s daughter, who is almost 4, received 2 Corolle dolls for her first birthday…one with a white hat, one with a pink hat (Pink Hat Dolly). “Pink Hat Dolly” has become an extension of the child herself–we joke that there should be a website that chronicles PHD’s movements, much like the traveling gnome. Some may say that it’s a bad idea because it’s a “gender-based selection”, but from what I can tell, Mom and daughter are A-OK with it and PHD is a beloved friend.

  • Suzy Q

    April 20, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Dr. Seuss books. Are they not cool anymore?

  • Cassie

    April 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    I’m a big book fan, too, but I’ll throw out another option:
    We just went to a 1st birthday and gave the boy a CAT mini-truck ($3.99 at Toys R Us). His mom told me this morning that he played with it for more than 20 minutes on Sunday. That’s a long time for a one-year-old.
    Generally speaking, the more simple the gift, the better.
    My husband gave a different kid a toy monster truck for his second birthday, and it was by far his favorite toy.
    Apparently, I have no idea what to give a girl…

  • Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom

    Isabel Kallman @AlphaMom

    April 20, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I love books. Instant crowd pleaser.
    Two gifts that are definitely developmentally perfect for the 1-year old set are:
    1) push walkers, like
    (this one is expensive, but you get the point)
    2) pull toys

    These guys are just starting to walk around the 1-year mark and these toys will get a lot of fun use.

  • Oh

    April 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I also have to say the Step2 Push Around Buggy. My parents got it for my son at his first birthday and he still loves it two years later, although he is starting to get a little too big for it now. We got a lot of use out of it and when he’s not riding in it, he’s pushing it around. We used it instead of a stroller. I also agree with the books, always a great idea.

  • Corinne

    April 20, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I’ve always had a heck of a time with gifts for my cousins, but this year I got them each a They Might Be Giants CD. Here Come the ABC’s is one I bought for myself too and my fiance CANNOT STOP SINGING THE DAMN SONGS! They’re fun, catchy, and the alphabet is educational!
    For a baby girl you know well (maybe a bit older than 1 though) we’ve always liked getting them Bitty Baby from American Girl because it gives you gifts for YEARS with buying outfits for the doll. My godson always liked the simple gifts like cars you could push around the floor.
    Really with a one year old you probably should aim for something the parents will like, kids that age really don’t pay attention long enough for a gift to really make an impact on them.

  • Stephanie

    April 20, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Toy musical instruments are great for this age, too. My kids both loved toy drums, maracas, xylophones, and such. They’re still loud toys, but maybe not quite as bad as some of the obnoxious electronic ones.
    Of course, books are always great, and trucks/cars for boys and dolls and accessories for girls. (Totally stereotyping, but like it or not, they do just tend to gravitate to those traditionally gender-oriented toys—I have both a daughter and a son, and it’s just true, in my experience.)

  • Daisy

    April 20, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    For a baby girl I like to get a nice sterling silver cake knife & have her birth date engraved on it with her monogram- she (ok her parents) can use it to cut her first birthday cake & all the cakes after. When she gets married she can have her new monogram & wedding date added.
    Will she love the gift on her first birthday? No.
    Might she love it in years to come, her own special knife for her cake on her big day? Yes.

  • bethany actually

    April 20, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Books, yes, absolutely! I’ve yet to meet a 1-year-old who doesn’t love Sandra Boynton board books.
    My daughter got her first set of play pots & pans around that age and she loved them and used them all the time. A toy stroller or a toy wheelbarrow is a great idea too.

  • Della

    April 21, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Wahoo! Perfect timing for this question. My son turned 1 at the end of February, so, my two cents:
    My aunt and uncle sent us THIS:
    This. Is. The. Best. Toy. EVER! He could literally entertain himself for an hour at a time with it. The animals are all removable, and when pushed into the wagon slots they make animal sounds. Pushing the farmer plays Old MacDonald. The steering wheel honks and flashes the lights, and pushing the smokestack makes the tractor drive across the floor! The sounds are not too loud and annoying, although you’ll probably wish you could think of another song after about 100 replays of Old MacDonald 🙂
    Of course he loves the popper, too, but that thing is SO loud, it drives me batty.
    As far as books, one that we love is Baby Cakes, by Karma Wilson and Sam Williams. The rhyme makes a nice goodnight story, and the pictures are sweet. My favorite thing about it is that it keeps his attention, probably because of the rhyme and the actions. We have some other books that are just one-word-per-page or have a little story, and he doesn’t pay attention to those, but he’ll sit and listen to this whole book.
    I recommend all of the Roger Priddy/Happy Baby books; the fact that they use photographs instead of illustrations is cool. Our favorite one is the yellow-cover Animals book ( thru which we taught him a ton of animal sounds!
    Finally, if you’ve got parents that are really into educational stuff, Making Letters ( is just the neatest idea. Each letter is a groove that is fun to trace, and the pictures are neat. The educational bit is that as the kid gets older, they’ll be practicing forming the letters just like you learn in kindergarten (start at the biggest dot and follow the dotted line…)
    Hope this info is helpful to someone reading this!

  • Dean's Mommy

    April 21, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Someone gave my son the Parents Mag Musical Bee Bop Band set for his first birthday, and he loved it so much that we have given it as first bday gifts several more times (it’s available at Target). So far, all of the parents have said their kids love it, and my son (now 2) still plays with his a LOT. I also include a plastic microphone toy (check the dollar bins while you’re at Target) that amplifies sound and the kids all love that, too.

  • Gardner

    April 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Have you considered a membership to a nearby children’s museum? I know it sounds too old for a 1 year old, but it depends on the museum–the one closest to us is just a GIANT preschool; all different types of “centers” for the kids to play at (construction, vet clinic, grocery store, dress up, puppet show, music, to name a few). A great option for bad weather days, or days when you just need a change of scenery. The first time we went to ours, my youngest was just 14 months and it was the quickest 2 hours we have spent anywhere! No whining, no fussing, just running around to all the different places to play…
    We love the Ball Popper at this house too 🙂

  • Kathryn

    April 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I am known in my husband’s family for always getting our nieces and nephews the gift they love most on any given occasion. Julie’s friend’s daughter might be a little bit young for the best one we ever gave, but then again, maybe not. Amazon (I think) had a fairly inexpensive nylon tent/tunnel combo a few years back that we gave my nephew for his third birthday. He LOVED that thing beyond all reason. In fact, the second he opened it, he refused to open any other gifts because he wanted my brother-in-law to set it up so he could play in it.
    While a one-year-old might be a little young for the tent aspect, I had a tunnel when I was about that age that I loved (if she can crawl, she’ll have fun). It’ll be her favorite hideout for years.

  • Amy-Maybe

    April 21, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    The kid does not care. So just admit you are giving a gift to impress the parents. On that note, I’d give Mom & Dad a restaurant gift card and a babysitting IOU. They survived the first (hardest) year of parenting. Maybe the best thing you can do for the kid is send Mom & Dad out on a date night, doing your part to encourage a long and happy marriage. Mommy and Daddy may have lost sight of Husband and Wife!

  • susie

    April 22, 2009 at 8:59 am

    For the first birthday, especially if it is the first child, I like to get something they will use for a long time – like a wagon, a kid-size picnic table, or a wooden table with chairs. We still get positive feedback from parents – years later – on first birthday gifts like these. (Subsequent kids can use the original gift, obviously, so siblings usually get books or a toy.)

  • Jessica

    April 22, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I have an 8 month old and he’s just learning how to use the barnyard toys from Fisher Price. He loves to open the door and hear the sounds and I don’t see him getting sick of it any time soon. My two year old niece loved it as well.

  • Jill

    April 22, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I always give a shopping cart…even for boys. They are probably just starting to walk and they can carry around all their stuff. Whenever the kids open it I always hear, “Oh that was so-and-so’s favorite toy!” It is a total crowd pleaser and Toys R Us has them for around $35 bucks. Plus it’s in a big box so everyone always is dying to see what it is. Total satisfaction for the gift giver!

  • Frieda

    April 23, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    My grandson turned one in January, I got him a bookcase and several board bound books. The little library was a big hit. The bookcase is something he won’t grow out of and will last forever as I went the extra mile and purchased a pine bookcase- not the newfangled pressed stuff. When my twin nieces turned one the year before I got them each a Raffi DVD that my children enjoyed on CD about 20 years ago. The Raffi DVDs are hard to find but worth the search. I found them at FYE.

  • Becca

    April 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    First birthday gifts that were a hit with my kiddos:
    If the child is walking: any toy they can push as they walk around (bubble blowing “lawn mower”, stroller for baby dolls, etc.)
    Fisher Price used to make these toys that had different plastic balls that would loop de loop. We had a dragon/dinosaur (it was green) and my daughter would spend hours putting the balls in and watching them come out in different places.
    The beads on a wire games…..they are wooden and the different colored wires zig and zag and loop de loop. The child pushes the beads on the wires. My kiddos love these toys!
    The Leap frog alphabet spider (if they still make it) was a real hit for my daughters, too. It has three different settings and introduces the alphabet to the little ones in a non-stressful way plus it has music that won’t neccesarily drive the parents crazy.
    Finally….I have to plug myself here. A first birthday diaper cake is also a fun gift. Made with larger diapers, small toys the one year old will enjoy, a fun topper that is age appropriate and (perhaps) an embroidered hooded towel or Tee?? Toys for the baby and diapers for the parents. Everyone wins!

  • Stephanie

    July 19, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    A buggy of some sort, my nieces and nephew use to argue over pushing around my nieces stroller for her babies. So i got him a grocery buggy, he loveddddd it! He carried around his “truck trucks” in it. I also bought them wheel barrows for out side. And they would carry rocks and balls and all sorts of things in them.