The 10 Best Educational Toys For Under 1s



I had hoped to get this post out before Christmas for you all…but, to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t manage it in time.  I know that you are all parents and understand that sometimes, life gets in the way of things, or just isn’t as predictable as you need it to be to get stuff done!  To top it all off, although I had finally finished writing this last night, we were hit by a Christmas Eve Power Cut which meant we had no internet (as well as no fridge, freezer, heating, hot water or oven).  This state of affairs has been quite a challenge.  I will not bore you (or myself) by writing down the details of this little middle-class drama…suffice to say I feel that (today of all days) I have really deserved the Christmas tipple and box of Lindor that I have in front of me.

Anyway…on with the post.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I intend to buy many of T’s presents AFTER Christmas – simply because he won’t really know what is happening anyway and too many presents at once will just be overwhelming.  So I am already planning my visit to the January Sales.  Perhaps this makes me a stingy old scrooge…I don’t know.  But I do love a bargain.

At the moment, I really am at my happiest when in a toy or bookshop.  The sight of a set of painted, smiling animals on a wooden peg puzzle or a row of shiny book spines on a shelf make me feel quite content.

But books and toys are pretty darn pricey.  So, to avoid digging too deep into my tiny purse and buying every single toy that takes my fancy, I try to weed out the “rubbish ones”.  I do this by asking myself the following questions:

  • what opportunities for learning does this toy really offer my baby?
  • how long will it hold his interest?
  • how many different ways can we play with it?
  • and (finally) if I actually decide I do like the toy – can I find a cheaper alternative online?!

So I thought I’d save you all from having to go through a similar process and write a list for you of all of T’s (and my) favourite toys at the moment.  These are the toys that T plays with the most, and so (in my view) they are worth shelling out for, because you will really get a good deal of FUN and LEARNING out of them.  It’s interesting that most of these toys are timeless – the sort of toys we all probably had when we were children.  T has some fancy-schmancy electronic toys but these don’t seem to hold his attention for long.

Anyway, here’s the little list, with all the educational benefits listed underneath the toy.

I feel it is important to add here that YOU are the most beneficial part of your child’s learning and playing experience.  All of your interactions with her will help her to learn and develop more than she would playing alone.  (Although, as I always say, independent play has it’s benefits too).  But these toys are on my list because they are all very well-suited to either guided OR independent play.

1.  Toy cars or vehicles

IMG_2056T adores ANYTHING with wheels at the moment.  He pushes and pulls his vehicles all over the house, on every surface, vertically and horizontally.

These three vehicles are particular favourites, perhaps because they all have a little something extra.

The Zoo Lorry has animals that T can post through the holes.  He has learned how to lift up the little gate and take them out.  The magnetic vehicles have their magnetism to amuse him and their little accessories for him to lift up and twist.  The tow truck has a little man that he can put in and take out…and, I would never have imagined it but this is one of his favourite things to do.  For around two months, he regularly sought out cars and little people and tried to put the people inside.

Good For Developing: problem-solving, fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity and imagination

2.  Building Blocks


T has got a lot out of blocks, ever since he learned to stack one of top of the other.  This is an on-going skill that he will be refining for a while…I guess until he can stack the entire set of ten!  So this is a toy that will LAST and will remain challenging.  And we all agree a challenge is what keeps us interested in learning.

Here is a mini-list of what I consider to be the best blocks:

Squidgy (like those in the above photo) – these are nice as a starter block as they are light and hand-sized, making them easy to stack.

Alphabet blocks in a wagon – T loves pulling things, pointing to letters and putting things into containers.  So it seems to me that this is the PERFECT toy for a one-year-old!  We don’t have one yet, but I’m on the hunt for one.  I know he will go for it in a big way.

3D shape Building blocks – I cannot recommend these highly enough.  Much like lego, they provide excellent opportunities for open-ended play (the sort of play that encourages creativity).  I will be writing more about encouraging creativity in another post.  But, for now, just get hold of some of these if you can!

I found this little tube in a local toy shop to put in his stocking which (unlike other, bigger boxes of building blocks) says it is suitable for babies 12 months and over.  It is also a nice size – it contains just 15 blocks.


(all blocks) Good for developing: fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, creativity, imagination, understanding of size, shape recognition

3.  Train set


Once T was able to put the train onto the track without it falling off (this took lots of practice!), it was Love At First Sight.  He now enjoys pushing it through the tunnel and back, and is learning to push it gently to avoid derailments.  A train set can be added to over the years and the opportunity for constructing his own tracks will keep stretching him as he grows and develops.

Good for developing: fine motor control, imagination, creativity, understanding of shape and size

4.  Stacking Rings


T keeps coming back to this.  He has shown interest in it since around 10 months, and, as time has gone by, he has learned how to use it with more and more independence. It provides a good opportunity to talk about shape and size with him, and to introduce counting.  There are lots of stacking toys around of varying levels of difficulty and it’s worth investing in a few different ones.

Good for developing: hand-eye co-ordination, understanding of size,  colour and shape recognition, sequencing skills, counting skills

5.  Finger Puppets


T and I have HOURS OF FUN with these little chaps.  I used to keep the nursery rhyme animals in my music bag and he would regularly crawl over to where it hung on the door knob and point at it, saying “da! da!” (which I interpret as “Please would you fetch this fun bag mummy?  I yearn to watch the little creatures bobbing up and down and listen to you sing”).

He literally squeals with anticipation when he sees my hand dive inside the bag and then again when he sees a little tail poking out of the top.

I’ve now put some of the finger puppets up on his toy shelf so he can reach it when he wants to.  But I will keep switching from bag to shelf because he does adore the surprise element of the bag.  And of course, it keeps things fresh (for us both).  I let him choose the puppet and then we sing the song together.  He likes to hand me the animals for Old Macdonald, Incy Wincy or the Five Little Ducks ((they are not all pictured here).

I have found the five little ducks hand puppet particularly useful to take on outings as it is an easy way of keeping him entertained (if you don’t mind strangers hearing you sing that is).

The Goldilocks puppets are great fun too and he loves to see them acting out the story.  This story is particularly accessible to a one year old as he is not yet familiar with all the fairy tales but this has a simple, repeated refrain that he can recognise, and the characters can all be given different voices, keeping him engaged.

I GUARANTEE you will not be disappointed in the effect of a few finger puppets on your little one.  And at £3.75 a pop (from The Puppet Company) they are totally affordable.

Good for developing: speaking skills, confidence with singing, sequencing (when singing familiar rhymes or telling familiar stories), creativity (when used for making up stories)

6.  Walker


I think the average age for walking is around 12 months.  Of course, none of our babies are “average” – they are all UNIQUE, and this is a beautiful thing.  But I am just pointing out why I have added this toy to the list.

T is cruising at the moment and has been really enjoying pushing this walker around.  He LOVES toddling along behind it, going up and down the living room – I have never seen such an enormous grin as when he does this.  Except, perhaps, for when he is on a swing!  Every home with a baby should have one of these.

It’s worth pointing out, I think, that a wagon of building blocks would be just as effective at supporting those first steps – so you could just get one of those and save yourself buying two pushing toys.

Good for developing: gross motor skills

7.  Duplo


I don’t think I need to point out just how versatile Duplo is – it is a universal fact.  There is virtually no limit to the things you can build with Duplo.  And because the blocks stick together easily, it inspires confidence in babies and toddlers to build and create more.  That is all I have to say about this toy – it is simply BRILLIANT.

Good for developing: fine motor skills, understanding of number, size and shape, counting skills, colour recognition, creativity, symmetry

8.  Mini animals


There are so many learning opportunities to be explored with a good and varied collection of mini animals.  Most of these say 3 years and up on the label though, so of course it is important to supervise your baby if they are still at the “everything in the mouth” stage.

These little beauties have really added to T’s play time.  We have played so many games with them (which I will be posting sometime soon) and they seem to spark T’s imagination – perhaps because he already knows of them from reading books – so, when he spots one, his expression is almost as if he has come across an old and dear friend unexpectedly.  It’s lovely!.  One of his favourite things to do is to go and pick one of the animals up when he has spotted it in a book and hold it up triumphantly, exclaiming “DA!”.   The lion has been known to prowl around his car garage, and the elephants like to go for rides on his tow truck.  Earlier today, his crocodiles (not pictured) were going up and down in the lift in his racing ramp.

Good for developing: creativity, imagination, fine motor skills, knowledge and understanding of animals and their characteristics, sorting skills and counting skills (maths)

9.  Shape Sorters


Since around 12 months (if I remember correctly) T has LOVED posting things through holes.  As he has developed more control over his fingers he has become more accurate at posting and so any shape sorter that he has come across has challenged and delighted him.  The reason I think it’s worth investing in one of these is that there is quite a considerable stretch of time in which your baby will be refining his posting ability – I’d imagine that T will still be enjoying this toy at two years old.  So you will definitely get your money’s worth out of this toy.

Good for developing: fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination, shape recognition

10.  Jigsaw Puzzles


I have written before about the games you can play with peg puzzles, and it is definitely worth just grabbing a few when you come across them.  But there is also lots of fun to be had with a good, old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle.

T loves these two piece jungle animal puzzles.  He is not yet able to physically connect them, but delights in finding the matching body parts and also enjoys putting them back in the box when we have finished!  I am SO glad I bought these as we have got so much out of them, and they have been an achievable  introduction to more complex puzzles.

Good for developing: matching skills, animal names and features, fine motor skills, reading skills

That’s it!  You’ve come to the end of the list.

I do hope you all manage to get hold of these toys and have loads of fun playing with them.  I’d love to hear of any games you come up with at home.  Or perhaps you don’t agree with this list.  Have you got any other toys you’d add?  post a comment up here if you have a game or toy you would like to share with other like-minded parents and carers.  I am always very happy to hear from you!


I plan to write soon about games that we play with some of these.  If you don’t want to miss another post, just click follow and you will receive an email whenever I write.

But I must go now – it is my duty to spend this evening finishing off my stockings on the sewing machine.  I can’t believe I’ve left it this late!

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