Beyond Board Books

It's never too soon to encourage a love of reading. A toddler can graduate from those chunky, chewable little board books to:

1)
Thinner board books, or even books with paper pages if she's not prone to tear them
2)
Simple stories--a few words per page is plenty
3)
Books that feature a lot of repetition: Kids this age love to hear the same thing over and over

Essentials for Toddler Play

Here's a dirty little secret: When it comes to playtime, some parents find the infant stage to be, well, a little boring. (Really, how much fun is wagging a rattle for you?!) But once a child approaches his first birthday, things take off. That's because for babies, play is work: Everything they do helps them to develop language, reasoning, fine- and gross motor skills, and more. And as they get more interesting, so do their toys. So be prepared to join in, and have fun!

BALLS
Your tot will, well, have a ball with these classic favorites. Look for ones that are small and lightweight enough for him to hold and throw. A squishy and/or textured one will be easiest for him to catch.
BLOCKS AND STACKING TOYS
Blocks never go out of style. Besides the classic wooden ABC variety, you can find blocks in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials (like fabric or plastic). Anything goes, as long as your child can build and stack them easily. Ditto stacking toys.
SHAPE SORTERS
Nothing's more satisfying to a 1-year-old than figuring out how to fit a square peg into a square hole. There's a wide variety of shape-sorting toys out there--from wooden ones that feature the basic shapes (circle, rectangle, star, etc.) to electronic ones that reward your child with flashing lights and music. What's key when buying: Make sure the pieces fit easily in the holes, and that they're sized to fit comfortably in a little hand.
JIGSAW PUZZLES
Pick plastic or wooden puzzles with big chunky pieces in simple shapes. Another toddler-friendly feature: Little knobs on each piece, to make it easier to pick up and put in place.
BEGINNER ART SUPPLIES
Inside every child there's a Renoir--or maybe a Keith Haring--just itching to get out. Indulge your child's inner artist with chunky crayons that he can hold easily, non-toxic, washable markers, paints, and fingerpaints (so you can clean up easily), and oversized sheets of sturdy paper that can stand up to exuberant coloring. A waterproof apron or smock can come in handy too. As for coloring books, look for ones with very simple, graphic drawings (and then look the other way when your kid colors outside of the lines!)
RIDE-ON TOYS
Your tot's first wheels will almost certainly be a mini-vehicle that he makes move by pushing with his feet (a great leg strengthener, by the way). Look for sturdy construction, a height that allows your child's feet to reach the ground comfortably, and, if you don't mind them, any bells and whistles that might add to the fun.
PUSH- AND PULL TOYS
As your child is learning to get around on his own two feet, he'll love having playthings he can push in front of him (think, toy lawn mowers or vacuum cleaners), and pull behind him (a cute fuzzy duck on a string, for example): Both types of toy will motivate him to hone his walking skills; some push toys, in fact, are designed to help with balance. Be sure push toys are sturdy and designed to not topple over (a base that's wider than the rest of the toy is ideal). Strings on pull toys should be no longer than 6 inches for kids under 3. (Don't hesitate to take a pair of scissors to a too-long cord or string.)
DOLLS
These are especially fun for big sibs-to-be, who'll love having a "baby" of their own. Dolls with soft bodies are perfect for rocking and cuddling; a waterproof doll makes a perfect bath time buddy
PRETEND PLAY TOYS
We're talking everything from toy telephones to pint-size kitchens. Let your child be your guide when shopping: At this age, he'll begin to show specific interests, so look for toys that will let him explore them. And since the point of pretend play is to give the imagination a workout, you might want to err on the side of simple--as in, not too many sound effects and other fancy add-ons. And be prepared to join in: You're going to be putting out a lot of fake fires, drinking tons of pretend tea, and succumbing to numerous "check-ups" by Dr. Tot.