Gifts for a first birthday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our friend's daughter is turning one next week, and it has got me thinking about the sorts of gifts to buy for this birthday. It's always a tricky one. The parents are SO PROUD, and rightly so. They have made it through a whole year with their new baby and managed to keep them alive. One year is a massive turning-point in all the good things and exhausting things about being a parent.

Plenty of derogatory words have been said about first birthdays being more for the parents than the child, to which I say DUH. Of course they are! And rightly so because frankly, the parents have done the lion's share of the work to get to this point! (Don't get me wrong, babies are awesome. I wish I had started having them earlier because I seriously would have like about eight. And I get that they are adjusting to, you know, Earth, for the first time, and that's not something to be sniffed at. But let's be honest: there's not a whole of exhaustion to be found in the sleep-feed-cry-cuddle-poo-play cycle, when played on repeat for 12 months).

Anyway, back to the point of this post(!)

So you have been invited to a first birthday party. What present do you buy? They're too little for you to have any helpful idea about their likes and dislikes. You don't want to get anything too young, because they'll grow out of them so quickly. But you don't want to give them something totally inappropriate.

What you see here is a short list of gifts that our children were given when they turned one, that have stood the test of time in terms of popularity and durability. My children are now aged two and three-and-a-half, and both of them still play with all of these. When I think about it, most of these toys are the types that can grow with the child, so that they play with them very differently now to the way they played with them when they were little... but they DO still play with them!

Onward to the list.

Stacking building blocks


These typically come in sets of ten, and are made out of sturdy cardboard. They are five-sided cubes that stack away neatly inside each other. When Ralph was one, his favourite game was for one of us to build a "tower" and then he would knock it down. Now he is two and I watch him building his own towers, carefully figuring out which sized 'block' is big enough to support the next. (And yes, he and his sister still like to knock those towers down).

Doctor's kit


We bought this kit (why yes it IS Peppa Pig themed. Don't judge!) when Scout was about one. Thanks to a stable but regularly-checked heart condition she has had from birth, plus a nasty bout of septicaemia when she was 11 months old, Scout developed a devout fear of doctors, and all kinds of medical intervention (even bandaids!). She loves role-play, so we thought a doctor's kit might help to remove some of the stigma. It maybe helped that situation a quarter of a fraction so in that sense it was a fail, but in every other sense, it has been a fantastic toy. The children both still play with it regularly. The other day I saw Ralph performing a "check-up" on Scout, using all the different instruments appropriately. Except that he listened to her heart through her leg.

Things on wheels


Scout has a green car she was given on her first birthday and she and Ralph still love to play with it. Anything (safe) on wheels is a long-term winner. I've pictured the bus here because it is extra popular, for a number of reasons. I bought this for Ralph when he was one. He loved "brooming" it around the room, but also loved that the roof opened up (there are little wooden people in there - I just kept those confiscated until he became big enough for them not to be a choking hazard). One of his favourite games (other than brooming) is to put little things into big things, so he uses this bus to hold all his matchbox cars. Also, he and Scout two days ago spent almost an hour with this bus and another big truck, racing them at top speed up and down the length of the house. I don't know. They both just love things on wheels.

Ride-on things on wheels


Here is another great toy. This bumble-bee, a gift for Scout I think when she was about one, is a perennial favourite, not only with my kids but also with visitors. Before Ralph could walk, he would hold onto the bee's antlers and move around on his knees (the wheels went too fast for it to double as a 'walker'). He used it to transport things on its back and, as he grew older, started to ride on it. This one is still so popular that they fight over having turns.

A stroller


When Scout turned one, a friend of ours gave her this stroller*, to cart around the dolly she had also been given from another friend (we were deep into "second baby on the way" mode and coming up with all kinds of schemes to help her adjust to life with a baby). Once Scout learned to walk, she would push that stroller all the way up to the post office or shops, it helped her balance and focus in those early walking days. We had no idea it would be as perennially popular as it has been, but both children still really love to play with it. Ralph likes to stack his cars inside the stroller and call them "my babies." Both children take turns - one with the stroller and one with the bus from above - to put their favourite toys inside and race up and down the house and into the garden.

* About a week ago after MUCH use, this stroller finally bit the dust, so I've had to dig out an old photo to use instead. This is Scout at about 16 months, pushing her stroller to the post office. Aagh too much cute!

A doll's house


I use this term loosely. What you see here is Ralph's rocket ship, complete with stairs and a ramp and a lift, and it is very popular around here. It was given to him recently, when he turned two. But I've included it because we also have a similar structure that is more of a traditional "doll house" (Peppa Pig themed - I'm serious don't judge!) which was given to Scout when she turned one, so I know this kind of play is also popular with one-year-olds. House or rocket ship, it doesn't really make a difference: this is all about accessible play-spaces to encourage imagination. My children play with both "doll structures" frequently and in the same way. I rotate the two structures, and the rocket ship happens to be out now. The kids role-play like champions with this thing and, now that they can talk, they even do voices! The other day I overheard Ralph narrating this conversation to himself, complete with voices, between astronauts and some anthropomorphised (by Ralph) cars:

"It isn't a problem" says the astronaut "It IS a problem" says the car, "I can't get up high!" "I will help you" says the astronaut, "It is magic" UP UP UP (and Ralph sent the car up the lift)

Also... we first came across the Peppa Pig house at the office of my obstetrician when I fell pregnant with Ralph (Scout was nine months old). She instantly took to it, and the obstetrician noted that it was universally popular with every child who came into her office. "Even six-year-olds," she said. Point being, kids love to role-play, and it is SO good for them!

Musical instruments


Full disclosure, these instruments come and go in popularity. They are not as consistently used as some of the others included here, but they have definitely survived the age test. This wooden set was a present for Ralph when he turned one: he loved banging things and making noise, so, hey! He played with it pretty consistently for about six months, and still returns to it semi-regularly. Add in a tambourine, and one of the children's favourite games these days is to grab an instrument and march around the house singing "We're in a marching band, we're in a marching band," one following the other. It's pretty cute!



You know what? Books are always great. I'll do a proper post on some good books for one-year-olds (that seem to stay popular for longer) shortly. In the meantime, we bought the book above for the family friend I told you about at the start of this post, who is turning one. It is a little bit old for her, but she will quickly grow into it. It's a book with no words, so you can make up a story to go with the pictures. These books are great for growing with children, and fostering imagination. When they are little like this one, the reader can make up a story for them, according to their interests. As they get older, they can make up their own stories... and the stories will change as the child grows.

Two final tips:

1. If you're buying a present for a child and this is a new activity for you, treat those "age recommendations" with a fair bit of flexibility. If a toy says "suitable 2-4 years" that's most likely a safety recommendation in terms of choking hazards and the size of the equipment etc, it's not necessarily a sign that a four-year-old will enjoy the toy. Get it for the two-year old. My rule of thumb is to "buy up" when it comes to age, unless it's a safety issue. Assume the kids you're buying for are a lot brighter than the box would have you believe. They almost always are.

2. One-year-old is a funny time in a child's development to be buying most toys. In my experience, they REALLY start to get into serious, imaginative play at around the 18 month mark... but of course that's not a birthday so they don't have lots of people buying them toys. Most of the toys I've recommended here will be kind of liked at one, but will probably (hopefully!) become really popular at around 18 months.

How about you? What are/were some of the most popular toys for the one-year-olds in your life?

ps. I just discovered this mess-free finger-painting activity last week. The kids had fun even now but, seriously, this would have been a LIFE CHANGER if I'd known about it when my guys were one!