Before his second birthday, your one-year-old will learn, practice, and perhaps even master a remarkable number of skills. He will move from crawling to walking to running. He will go from babbling to chattering. On his first birthday, he could just barely pick things up and grasp them. By his second, he can pick objects up with ease, rotate them, throw them, catch them (well, some of the time), and stack them. Toys play a critical role in these developments. The best toys for your toddler give him an opportunity to practice all these new skills in a variety of different ways.
When you choose pushcarts or other toys for your toddler, be careful about sexual stereotyping. There's no reason why your son won't enjoy a shopping cart or your daughter, a truck.
Balance, Walking, and Climbing
Even before your child can walk, he can use toys and games to strengthen his leg muscles and improve his balance:
- Ride-on toys with wheels (cars, trucks, scooters, various animals) can help your child do both. Your one-year-old also will enjoy the mobility these toys provide: By pushing down with his feet, he can scoot along without having to stay on the ground. This gives your toddler an entirely new perspective on the world inside your home.
- After he's started walking, a pushcart or push-along corn popper can help him practice. Pushcarts are sometimes designed as shopping carts, trucks, baby carriages, vacuum cleaners, or lawn mowers—which make them not only useful to the early walker, but also fun for later toddler games of make-believe.
Make sure any pushcart you choose has a low center of gravity. It needs to be stable enough for your early toddler to use the handle to pull himself to a standing position. If your child is not yet steady on his feet and the pushcart is lightweight or top heavy, it will flip over on top of him.
- A makeshift balance beam can help your toddler improve his balance and the coordination of his feet. At first, just set a six-foot length of board directly on the floor. As your child's balance improves enough to let him negotiate the length of the board successfully, then you can start to raise it a little by putting several books under each end of the board. By your child's second birthday, you may be able to raise it all the way to chair level.
- As your toddler's standing balance and walking both improve, he will acquire the ability to turn his head while walking. At this point, a pull toy will entertain him, especially if it makes clicking or other noises. Noisy pull toys allow your child another opportunity to observe cause (movement) and effect (noise). Another good pull toy is a train that links up cars using hooks and rings. This encourages experimentation (will a ring connect with a ring?) while improving your toddler's manual dexterity.
- Near the end of your child's second year, he will enjoy "kicking" a large, soft ball. Actually, he won't really kick the ball, because he cannot yet sustain one-legged balance. But he'll use his legs and lower body to bump it along in front of him and he'll have a lot of fun doing it.
- Games and activities can help improve walking skills, too. "Ring-around-a-rosy" will let your toddler practice sitting, standing, squatting, jumping up, walking sideways in a circle, and maintaining his balance throughout. Dancing to any kind of music also will improve balance and walking skills.
- A toddler slide or toddler steps that are safe for your child to climb are also good ideas. Having a safe alternative will help curtail your toddler's urge to climb on more dangerous chairs, benches, sofas, tables, and shelves.
- After your toddler has mastered a variety of walking and climbing skills, set up an obstacle course using cloth tunnels, sofa cushions, cardboard boxes, toddler slides, and so on. Your child will love to crawl, climb, stand, and walk through, around, over, and under all the obstacles you create.