Ever wondered which skills you should be teaching your 1-year-old toddler?
One of the biggest worries I had as a new mom was whether I was doing enough for my child. I wondered if there were things I could do to help him meet all his developmental milestones.
I decided to write this article because I wanted to share some of the things I have learned over the years. My hope is that I can help other moms like me who have the same questions.
In this article, I will outline 9 important skills your 1-year-old should know.
Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list. It is an outline of all the things I have learned from my research and personal experience over the years.
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Things you should be teaching your 1-year-old include:
- Social skills
- Language & communication skills
- Teach them to overcome separation anxiety
- Cognitive skills (thinking, learning, problem-solving, remembering, etc).
Now, let’s break each category down to understand them better
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1. Teach your 1-year-old social skills
At this age, I find that children are very shy around strangers.
They may show this stranger anxiety by crying when you hand them to someone less familiar to them. They may become very rigid and quiet out of fear.
Although shyness and stranger anxiety are normal at this age, it is important to teach your kids how to interact with others.
My son was born during the height of the COVID pandemic, so we spent the first 10 months of his life in isolation.
He had a hard time being away from me for any amount of time. He would cry when some of my family members held him for more than a few minutes.
To help my son overcome his shyness & stranger anxiety, I planned a lot of playdates with other moms in my area when he turned 1 year old.
Being able to see other kids as young as him, and play with them helped him a lot. He’s now less shy around new people.
Teach your 1-year-old language & communication skills
The ability to use language to communicate is something children are not born with.
To help them develop this important skill, we need to model for them as parents.
There are several ways we can help develop these skills. I’ve outlined them below.
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2. Have conversations with your baby
1 year-olds are beginning to learn the meaning of simple words & phrases like “no”, “come here”, “good job” ”come to mama” etc.
They may have learned to say one or two words already. At this age, my son was able to say “hi”, “mama”, “dada”, and “this”.
Whether they are saying words or not, it’s important that we have conversations with our kids. One way I do this is to narrate everything I’m doing around the house.
It doesn’t have to be a complicated conversation. Let me give you an example of how I do it.
Let’s say I’m about to vacuum the rugs. I’d say to my son.
Mom: “you made a lot of mess during breakfast. What do you say we vacuum it up?”
Baby: Babbles a little or smiles to show understanding.
Then I walk to where we keep the vacuum. After that, I call out to him so we can practice the phrase “come to mama”
Mom: “Come here Max”, “come to mama”.
I wait until he responds and comes over before I do anything else.
Mom: “Do you remember how we used the vacuum the other day?”. I wait for any babbling response.
Baby: babbles again or smiles to show interest in the vacuum.
Mom: “That’s right. We first unravel the cord, then we plug it in. What comes next?”.
I wait until he babbles again.
You get the idea. The conversation will continue until we finish vacuuming.
Having conversations with your baby is a great way to foster good communication skills. It may feel silly at first as you respond to your child’s babbling.
Remember that children understand you even when they can’t speak yet, so keep talking.
As they grow older, the babbling will become real words.
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3. Read to your 1-year-old
Children learn words quicker when they hear them spoken out loud as often as possible.
Reading is the best way to help develop language skills. It is one way that my son and I bond each day.
When he wants to hear a story, he goes to his bookshelf to pick out a book.
At this age, children have a very short attention span so we read books with lots of pictures.
I recommend touch and feel books as well as puppet books. Touching the raised images helps them bring each character to life on the page.
Here are some sensory books my kid loved at this age:
4. Teach your child baby sign language (BSL)
Baby sign language (BSL) is a modified form of American sign language (ASL).
Very Well Family explains that baby sign language was developed to help children communicate their needs even before they can talk.
A child who has trouble expressing their needs and emotions to their caregiver will be more frustrated
Think about it, if you were trying to tell someone what you wanted and you felt like they couldn’t understand you, you will probably get frustrated too.
So giving your child a tool for self-expression will lead to fewer tantrums and better communication.
You don’t need to teach all the words in baby sign language. My suggestion is to start with 2 or 3 until your baby has mastered those before adding more.
When my son was 9 months old, I started teaching him the sign for “all done”, “more”, “food”, and “hungry”. By the time he was 10 months, he could make the all-done sign.
I don’t have to wonder whether he’s still hungry anymore because he can tell me himself when he’s done and when he wants more.
One quick note here. It’s okay if your child doesn’t grasp any of the signs or only learns one. Most of the time, children will do their own version of the signs.
That’s okay too. As long as you know what they’re trying to say.
The complete guide to baby sign language was a great introduction to baby sign language for me.
5. Teach your 1-year-old to overcome separation anxiety
Medical News Today defines separation anxiety as the type of anxiety felt by children when their caretaker leaves them.
Some children express this separation anxiety by crying., while other children become very quiet and stiff.
Although separation anxiety is normal, it would be good for your baby to learn to overcome it. Separation anxiety can disrupt sleep and impact social interaction.
When my son was going through the height of separation anxiety, we did not sleep for weeks. He would wake up in the middle of the night crying as if he’d been injured.
My husband and I tried everything from using a nightlight to rocking to encourage him to sleep again, but nothing worked.
From all the research I did, I learned that when children develop the concept of object permanence they become afraid of being abandoned when their caregivers leave.
One suggestion to help them understand that you will always return is to play games such as peek-a-boo. Infants between 7 and 12 months old enjoy this game.
Another thing you can do is to give them controlled separation during the day. Try stepping into another room for a few minutes at a time.
Gradually increase the time you step away, to give them some independent playtime. Before you go, say something like “mommy will be right back in a few minutes”.
This becomes a signal that you’re leaving so they know what to expect. Do keep your word and come back when you say you will.
Teach your 1-year-old Cognitive skills (learning, thinking, problem-solving, remembering)
Cognitive skills refer to the ability of the brain to think, learn new things, remember them, problem-solve, etc.
Cognition is one of the most important skills you can teach your baby.
Let’s break down what each component of cognition looks like.
6. Problem-solving skills for 1-year-olds
At the age of 1, kids are beginning to understand the concept of cause and effect.
They learn that shaking a rattle will produce a fun noise, or banging a toy on the table makes a loud noise.
They love displaying this new skill by banging two toys together, throwing items, dropping food from their tray, knocking things down, etc.
Children at this age also understand the concept of object permanence.
Object permanence is the ability to understand that things that may be out of sight are still there.
You may notice your child searching for something that you put away, or going to where their favorite book is kept on the shelve.
It is important that we nurture these cognitive skills by providing open-ended toys that foster creative play.
Some fun open-ended toys I would recommend to develop problem-solving skills are:
This toy teaches fine motor skills and provides the right amount of challenge for children of this age.
It takes great concentration and skill for a 1-year-old to place all the coins inside the box. You can also DIY and put any small household item in the box as well.
Your child can play with this in multiple ways. They can knock down the stack, and clink the items together to make a sound (my son loves to do this).
When they get a little older, they’ll be able to stack the toys themselves.
There are so many varieties of Montessori puzzles out there. I especially like the jumbo animal and shape puzzles because they teach color and animal recognition.
Your kid will start out just removing the puzzle pieces but will learn to put them back in correctly with practice.
7. Thinking skills for 1 year old
Thinking skill refers to the ability to recall things, make predictions, theorize, and evaluate a situation.
Your child can learn each of these if you provide them with the right tools.
A simple activity I did with my son when he was 1 (still crawling then) to teach evaluation skills, was to create obstacles in his path to see how well he could find his way through.
I did this by placing pillows and couch cushions on the floor. To pass through, he had to evaluate the situation and determine whether to crawl over or find another opening.
If your kid is walking already you may want to think of an alternative activity.
I use touch and feel picture cards to teach recall.
At this age, children are learning language and trying to put a name and sound to familiar things around them.
Showing them a picture card of a dog and making a barking sound will help reinforce the name and image of dogs in their mind.
8. Schema development for 1 year-olds
When my son turned 1, I started noticing his desire to drop and throw things. He would drop his food and toys from the highchair on purpose.
Every time I picked his toy from the floor, he’d drop it again.
Like any new parent, I was irritated at first. I turned to google to figure out how to stop my child from throwing things.
What I actually learned, changed my outlook forever.
You see, there is something called schema. It’s described as repeated behavior that allows children to explore new ideas and their surroundings through play.
There are many different schemas. The one my son was currently learning was called the trajectory schema.
By throwing things, he was using play to learn about distance, cause & effect, visual tracking, and gross motor skills.
Armed with this knowledge, I found appropriate toys designed to help children explore the trajectory schema.
Here are some toys we used to learn this schema
This toy allows children to learn visual tracking and cause & effect. It was used for many years in my household.
These balls serve multiple purposes. Kids can sort by color, or they can roll and drop them.
9. Learning skills for 1 year old
Last but not least, your should be teaching your 1-year-old some simple practical life skills.
Most people think of older kids and adults as those who need to learn life skills, but that is not true.
You can start teaching practical life skills from a very young age. Of course, the skills they will learn at this age will look different from the life skills they learn as older children.
At the age of 1, children need to learn how to drink independently from a cup. Preferably an open cup.
Being able to respond to their thirst without relying on you is a great step to independence.
To learn more about teaching your baby to drink from a cup or straw click here
Another thing they’re learning to do at this age is putting objects into something and taking it out.
This is known as transporting schema in child development.
Encouraging this schema will get them excited to do household chores such as loading and unloading the dishwasher, the laundry machine, putting their toys away, etc. when the time comes.
Things I recommend to encourage this stage of learning are:
- Endless tissue box (I DIY’d this by getting small silk scarves and tying them together to form a long thread. Then I stuffed it all in an empty tissue box).
- Balls in a small toy bin (your kid will love taking them out. Someday they’ll be old enough to put them back in).
Apart from putting things in and taking them out again, kids at this age have also started communicating by pointing to items they want or like.
When your child points at anything, take the time to pause and name the object of their fascination. This will help build language skills.
It will also show your child that you value their interest.
In this article, I explained 9 things you should be teaching your 1-year-old.
I know I’ve said a lot. To recap, you should teach them language and communication skills that involve
- Social skills
- Reading to them
- Having a conversation with them
- Teaching baby sign language
You should also teach them to overcome separation anxiety, and teach them cognitive skills.
Cognitive skills involve:
- Schema development
I hope that I have provided you with enough information to help you teach your child.
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What other things do you think parents should be teaching their 1-year-olds? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.