birthday cake with number one candle in front of metallic streamers

What’s cuter than a sweet 1-year-old opening presents and playing with the wrapping paper and bows? Not much — it’s a true milestone and one of the joys of parenthood! But for me, three babies in, and for so many other moms and families I know, the amount of toys and stuff overflowing our playrooms and family rooms and bedrooms is overwhelming.

And, somehow, the sweet giggles of a newly minted toddler convince us that one more fire truck or Paw Patrol character or baby doll is worth it! But every milestone deserves to be celebrated, and there are lots of non-toy options for that special first birthday gift. Here are five ideas for the next time you want to avoid the “stuff” for the 1-year-olds in your life!

Off-season gifts

It can be really tempting and convenient to buy something the birthday babe can use right away. Instead, think of something they, and their parents, can look forward to using. Baby has a birthday in January right after the holidays? I bet that baby would love a water table when they’re 18 months old this summer! Baby turning 1 in the middle of the summer and inundated with bubbles, chalk, and swimsuits? Go one size up and get that kiddo ready for winter fun with a snowsuit or sled!

Birthday photos

First birthday photos are just special and make a great gift. We’ve done a first birthday session with each of our boys, and these are some of my most treasured photos. Purchasing a session or part of a session for someone with a baby turning one can be a nice sentimental gift and an opportunity to go in on a group gift for a mama friend. Ask around for local photographer recommendations, or check the Boston Moms guide to photographers!

Toddler class/activity

Once they’re 1, the door to toddler activities really opens. From toddler gymnastics and yoga classes to art and music classes, the options are expansive. Most of these classes tend to run on short session-based schedules, so purchasing a session or number of classes for the birthday kiddo to try is a nice option.

A letter

If you’re the real sentimental type, writing a letter to the birthday boy/girl for them to open in the future (when they start kindergarten, graduate high school, turn 21, etc.) is a meaningful and personal first birthday gift that will give that child a sweet glimpse into what their life was like during their first year. My husband created email addresses for each of our boys when they were born, and they serve as sort of a “living scrapbook” of short messages and funny stories they’ll get to read through when they’re older. I can’t wait to give them the password so they can read through all the messages and so we can all be reminded of the fun things we did and funny things they said when they were little.

Functional items for real-world “play”

There are so many creative items that help our toddlers experience the real world right alongside us. When my oldest was 14 months old, his aunt gave him a helper stool for Christmas. When I tell you that helper stool has seen it all, I am not exaggerating. It has been one of our most-used items over the past five years, and our third baby is about to start being its primary user. We also love our kid-friendly kitchen tools for cooking together. There are lots of options for other child-sized, real-world items, like gardening tools and carpentry sets.


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