12-18 Months: Play

12-18 months: Play and Toys

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At this age, your child's brain is absorbing on a literal, surface level and is looking for connections, cause and effect, and deep sensory information to attach to words.   There is no need for toddlers to have electronic toys, as these will directly get in the way of this brain development.  Toys for this age must be sturdy, simple, and realistic.  Look for play items that aren't too visually busy or overly complicated.  

Keep a small number of play items available at once (about 5-10 max)  where your child can easily see everything and put things back.  

Safety: Play objects for 12-18 months must be checked for small pieces and loose parts that could get swallowed.  Toys for this age should hold up to rigorous throwing, dropping, crushing, banging, and pulling, and be made from sturdy materials like thick cardboard, wood, plastic, or metal. 

Playing together: Help your toddler explore the world in a safe, independent way.  Provide simple demonstrations of what to do in a situation and how to do it.  Be mindful of over-helping or over-suggesting how to use something. This stunts creativity and problem solving

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Play Materials for 12-18 months

Stacking and Nesting

These cheerful wood bowls from Grimm's Toys are perfect for stacking or nesting, two favourite activities at this age.  Plus, these wood bowls can double as storage when your child outgrows them.  Start with 2-3 bowls of very different sizes like red-yellow-blue or orange-green.  As your child gets better at stacking or nesting, you can include all five.  

Other excellent stacking and nesting toys include: 

The First Years Stack Up Cups

Green Toys My First Stacker

Hammer Pounding Toy

This toy offers an appropriate way to practice pounding or smashing toys together.  This pounder toy from Hape also allows your child to see exactly how far the colored pegs go when she hits them, and can be flipped over to repeat.  No balls to loose around the house!  

Honey Sticks Beeswax Crayons

 These crayons are 100% beeswax, non-toxic, and too large to choke on or break easily.  They smell faintly of beeswax and honey, which I think is just lovely.  These chubby crayons are perfect for 12-24 month olds who are just learning to hold objects and intentionally make lines and designs on paper.  

Shape Sorter

This is my favorite version of this popular toy, because of the simplicity and sturdiness of this design.  Just three very different shapes are used here, and three very different colors.  The lid of this wood box is easy for 12 month old hands to lift up and replace.  This shape sorter doubles as an object permanence toy, as the shapes seem to disappear into the box when sorted correctly.  

Giant Ball

I've found these large exercise balls to be endless fun with young toddlers!  The ball is so big, it's easy to children to "catch" when rolled to them, it's light enough to be picked up and thrown, and, they can push, jump, and bounce into it.  This exercise ball features thick rubber walls that slow-deflate when punctured and it's easy to clean.  

image from  Heirloom Kids USA

Chunky Shape Sorting Puzzle

This simple chunky puzzle offers an introduction to sorting by shape and matching.  Knobbed pieces are a bit too difficult for most children this age, so look for a first puzzle with large, thick pieces of wood and less than 5 pieces.  Introduce this puzzle with just ONE shape and the board, adding the other two later.  This is handmade from Heirloom Kids USA

Ramp Racer

Every Montessori mom blog lists this car ramp racer from EverEarth, and for good reason.  It's a simplistic, compact design that's mesmerizing for young toddlers.  I particularly like the stop block at the end, so cars don't race across the room.  This toy encourages repetition with very little reset time, and is totally child-powered.  

image from  Amy Baby Toys

image from Amy Baby Toys


Beanbags are one of my go-to play items for young toddlers, so many possibilities!  Make a throwing game, stack them high, then knock them down, or balance one on your head.  These triangular beanbag blocks from Amy Baby Toys are perfect for smaller hands to grab, stack, or throw, and they come with a handy fabric bag for storage.  Note that these are filled with small plastic beads, and should not be used with children younger than 12 months for safety reasons.