We can all use a little help brainstorming activities for 1 year olds.
Not quite kids but no longer babies, this age is the tweens of toddlerhood. They have outgrown a lot of baby toys, but aren’t quite ready for more complex toddler games.
They have their own way of doing things – usually a messy way.
Peanut Butter is a sport. Dog kibble is the entree of choice. They eat the crayons, have no patience for putting on pants, and paint the walls with gobs of slobbery hummus.
What to do with these little people? They are usually more interested in everyday household objects than the special toys we bought for them, and they choose their own adventure a lot of the time.
We set up an awesome activity: they throw it to the floor, then bear-crawl off to spend half-an-hour reorganizing the family’s shoes – into another dimension. From which some of them never return.
There are lots of complicated activity ideas out there, and many of them take longer to set up than our little rascals will actually spend doing them. That’s not a win for me.
Simple activities with little-to-no setup are the way to go. At this age everything is physical. Everything is an experiment. Outside is the perfect place for these wild things – they can move, they can explore, they can make a mess – and we can use the hose to clean it up.
The great thing about one-year-olds is it really doesn’t take much to entertain them.
The challenging thing about them is that they are always on the go, and it can be hard to predict what specific kinds of not-much they are going to connect with.
So, how to translate all this into outside activities for little learners?
Below is a list of brilliantly simple activities that are sure to engage, challenge, and delight that baby-kid-person and get them outside where they belong. No setup required.
Before we dive in, let’s get dressed for the occasion. Or undressed, as the case may be.
Simone Davies (Author of The Montessori Toddler) drops the quote by Maria Montessori:
“There is no bad weather, just bad clothing”.
Get the most out of being outside by dressing that baby well.
Choose clothes that:
- Protect from the elements: sun, rain, or cold. Hats, sun shirts, rain gear, etc.
- Protect from abrasion: tender little feet and knees need a layer of clothing on rough ground.
- Arent too precious: ideally, outside clothes aren’t so precious that you have to limit explorations to protect them. Bring on the mud, berries, and grass stains!
- Or, skip the clothes: On soft ground, who needs em? Babies are easier to clean than clothes, anyway.
1. Creative Water Play
One-year-olds need very little water to be happy as a clam. A trickling hose or a bowl of water can keep those busy hands occupied and learning – and almost supernaturally joyful – for a looooonng time. Take advantage of the summer weather to let the little experiment with water to their heart’s content. They are learning a lot in the process.
Here are a few ideas for water play that one-year-olds tend to love.
*Safety Meeting: I’ve got to say this because it is so easy to get distracted when kids are playing happily on their own. It only takes a few inches of water and a few minutes for kids to drown. Stay aware.*
Water Basin: Grab just about anything that holds water. Fill it a few inches. It’s important to pick something that your kid can explore without help – they should be able to comfortably reach the water from the ground on their own. Provide some objects and notice together what sinks and what floats. Try raiding the kitchen drawers. My kid is crazy about measuring cups, empty plastic bottles, the colander, our kitchen whisk, and tupperware with lids.
Drop Rocks in Water: So simple, so fun. My kid will do this indefinitely. Cause and Effect!
Running Water: If water conservation isn’t an issue in your area, a hose left open to just a trickle, (or spray if you have an on/off valve at the end), can provide nearly endless possibilities.
And of course, sprinklers: Turn the water flow down a bit so it’s gentler for babes this age, and explore together.
Pool: Again, nothing fancy needed here – a pool can be anything watertight that they can fit in. My 13-month-old loves splashing in a clear plastic storage tote with a few inches of water in the bottom (I always stay within arms reach.) His grandma got him an awesome foldable pool and he likes that too, but really, he doesn’t care as long as there is water involved.
Filling Containers: Pouring water from one container to the other is fascinating for kids this age. It can hit that perfect balance of challenging and achievable that we are aiming for. Get a baking pan or low tupperware of water so they can learn to refill the jugs themselves by partially submerging. Demonstrate pouring water from one container to another for them. Let them watch you pour, fill, and dump.
Pick some vessels with handles, and some without. Try to give them containers that are small enough to be easy for little hands to manage, with wide enough mouths that water can be poured back into them. Measuring cups are fun. Plastic yogurt containers are perfect. Look in the recycling bin for ideas. They may surprise you with what they think is the perfect container, so let them take the lead.
More than anything, my 13-month-old son wants to do whatever I’m doing. Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of that tendency to provide teaching moments.
After reading an awesome book about Montessori for Toddlers (More on the book and my ideas about thathere) I’m always reminding myself to slow down and let him be involved. It certainly takes more time, and the results aren’t perfect, but he’s so excited to be involved, and I love that he’s learning awesome helper skills.
Yard Chores: Most yard chores can be adapted to walking babies. Crawling babies love to watch and follow along, and get their hands into the mix. Pick things that don’t need to be perfect, and let them! Rake the yard together, pile up the leaves, stack firewood, collect sticks for a firepit.
Working in the Garden: Small Gardening tools make this even more fun and educational, but just pulling weeds together and piling them in (and out of) a bucket or bowl can be a great way to get that kiddo involved.
Watering Plants: To be honest, this activity keeps my 1-year-old occupied for about 10 seconds – but – he’s excited about it. And I like that he is learning to care for the plants in our garden. We have a little watering can, but any kind of container with a handle will work – I fill it from the hose for him and he tries to get the water onto the soil.
He waters the same plant each day and is getting better and better at it. After some trial and error, we picked a small potted plant at his level that was easy for him to get water into.
He loves the repetition and I love that he is learning to care for the plants over time.
3. Play Ball
Balls – so fascinating, right? For a one-year-old, heck yes they are.
Any old ball will do, so long as it can’t fit inside their mouth. Ideally, they can hold this ball with one hand. This gives them an opportunity to experiment with both hands. This gives them more mobility as they learn to toss – and being able to pass it from hand to hand is great for practice. One-year-olds are extremely creative, so, let them lead and observe.
Try something between golf-ball and tennis-ball – or – a semi-deflated larger one that is soft enough that they can get a fistful.
Pass The Ball: Even a baby who can’t throw can roll a ball back and receive one on the ground. Roll that ball back and forth to baby’s delight.
Drop the Ball: Before they can toss a ball, young toddlers get a kick out of dropping one into a bucket, a parent’s lap, or dropping for a sibling or pet to pick up.
Goal!: Once they are comfortable dropping and rolling the ball, it’s fun and challenging to have a target. Creating a goal – which can be as simple as a box on its side – gives them something to aim for. Be sure to cheer.
Toss: Once they’ve got more of a toss going, the game can evolve into tossing into a bucket, starting close up, and working farther away as they gain mastery.
4. Play Naturalist
Kids this age are working hard at language and soaking it all up effortlessly. It’s a great time to play with words and help them build a rich vocabulary. Talk about the birds, bugs, slugs, snails, trees, and plants you see and tell them the names. I try to take the opportunity to expand my vocabulary as well, and to look up and learn more names of plants and animals I don’t know to share with my little naturalist.
Explore the yard: Point out, and name the plants in your yard. Let those busy hands explore the plant while you say the name. Smell the flowers, and pick some flowers and leaves together.
Talk about what plants and how much is okay to pick. My Son loves picking nasturtium leaves and handing me the little bits he ripped off. Nasturtiums are now taking over our yard, so he’s allowed to pick as much as he wants. But when they were little, we would practice being all done picking, because the plants needed their leaves to grow.
Now is a great time to identify any poisonous plants in your vicinity. Point them out to your kiddo by name, letting them know not to touch, and why.
Explore Nearby Parks: Get friendly with some trees, pet some moss, pick up pine cones and seed pods. Bring a basket to collect rocks and shells at the beach, build with sand, dig in the sand.
Use All The Senses: Kids this age are incredibly sensitive, and it’s a great time to engage with all of their senses. Feel the breeze together, smell the flowers, listen to the birds and mimic the sounds you hear, feel the soft grass, or the prickly thistle, taste any berries or edible plants, telling them the name of the plant, and that “this plant is okay to eat”. Help them get them used to asking you before they eat any plants.
5. Make Outdoor Art
Draw: Play with fat sidewalk chalk, or use a paintbrush and some water to paint the porch, concrete, bricks. Try using big gestures and making loose marks to give them ideas on how to use the materials that they will be able to succeed at.
Make sculpture: Arrange found materials like rocks, leaves, flowers, and pinecones into stacks, piles, or patterns. This is a good chance to practice staying unattached to outcomes. Show them how to lay one stick over another to make an X shape, and sprinkle on a layer of flower petals.
Let them explore and scramble and scrumble and take the project in unexpected directions.
6. Get Moving
Just exploring a small yard is a lot of action for people this size. But the more movement the better.
Follow the Leader (Aka Chase the Baby!): Make a game of letting that baby take the lead. Say, “Following the leader!” and then crawl or walk behind them wherever they go! Let them get ahead, and then race to catch up, saying “Here I come!”.
Dance: Sing songs, clap, or play some fun music and dance outside together.
Do Yoga: My baby is drawn like a magnet whenever I get on my yoga mat and start doing down dogs. He gets right in the mix, sometimes trying to copy me, and sometimes just playing around my limbs. I like letting him see me take care of my body and demonstrating stretching and yoga.
7. Put on a Show
Of all the activities for 1 year olds out there, this one is sure to be a hit – but requires a bit of imagination and silliness. Use stuffed animals or puppets, and goofy voices to put on a little show. Or just grab whatever is nearest, and let two pine cones be the star of the show. Kids this age love when puppets bump into each other, make excited exclamations, dance, jump up and down, tickle people, get put to bed, and get put inside things. If they want to participate in the show, that’s great! They undoubtedly will do something. unexpected.
8. Setup House
Sometimes it feels like, between naps, snacks, and meals, we are inside almost all the time. But being inside all the time makes me feel cooped up and angsty.
So, I set to work finding some solutions to get us outside more and keep us there longer.
Have a Picnic: Throw a blanket on the ground and lay out some fun foods to have snack time In the yard, in a park, or on the porch. It’s a lot harder for little ones to sit still on the ground than in a chair, but it’s really fun and exciting to be picnicking in the yard.
Make a Fort: Use furniture and blankets to make a nice shady fort. Or, just pick a tree or shady bush, and set up some blankets, pillow, books, and have a cozy time.
Sand Box: This does take effort upfront, but pays off so much. It makes a great home base for outdoor play, a place where toys can be put back, which is a bonus, and provides so many hours of awesome outdoor play.
9. Set Up a Ramp
Really, this is so simple but so entertaining. It turns out that all it takes to have a good time is a flat board and something to put one end on. You can also use stiff cardboard, an upside-down plastic tote – anything flat, really. Cars, balls, trains, wind-up-toys, drop ’em down and watch’ em go!
10. Free Play!
Kid-led free time is so important! It’s easy to forget to just sit back and watch our kids, and enjoy their natural curiosity and what they are drawn to sharing. The opportunity allows them to explore the challenges that are perfect for them. And, as long as there is a safe zone so we don’t have to be constantly monitoring them, it means we can sit back and enjoy watching their antics.
Set up a Safe Zone: By putting away anything dangerous or off-limits, or using baby gates or barriers to enclose an area for them to play freely in, we can give our children the gift of letting them follow their curiosity wherever it takes them. It’s so good for them and takes the pressure off of us to always be entertaining them.
Bring Along Something For You: So, I like to bring along something enjoyable for me that doesn’t take all my attention – like an instrument to strum, a nice glass of iced tea, or a non-fiction book that’s not so engaging that I can’t put it down – that way I’m available and present, but not restless or impatient.
What Outdoor activities does your little one gravitate towards? What keeps them busy? A