We love shopping for tots, toddlers and pre-teens - it gives us a brilliant excuse to check out all the neat project kits and toys that are being made these days, to browse sticker displays and/or to dip into the board game section and see what’s new. For that reason, this was an especially fun list for us to brainstorm and, if you are looking to give a gift to a young one (or two!) this holiday season, we hope you find it helpful!
A quick note: books and films both make for excellent gifts to youngsters but, because we’ve recently shared a list of picture books that we think make for fantastic gifts, as well as a list of children’s movies that are great for gifting, we haven’t included them on this list. Now, without further ado, to business!
Gift Idea Index
Jump quickly to a gift idea.
BATH TOYS - It has been our experience that givers often forget about bath time when it comes to gift giving but there’s a tremendous amount of potential there! For children who already love their bath, a toy or two can make the daily ritual more fun - for those who are less keen, a couple of toys may well change their mind, or at least provide a helpful distraction. Bath toys we have given in the past include: Boon’s water pipes, Magic Grow gel capsules, Nuby’s foam animals and Green Toys’ ferry.
MAKIT KIT - The plates we made in nursery school using a MakIt kit are still at our parents’ house. And, we’re happy to see, their kits are still widely available - what’s more, now you can order an even wider range of products! Here’s how it works: the child in question does a beautiful piece of artwork, an adult sends it into the MakIt company and, using the voucher included in the kit, chooses one product for the art to be printed on. A couple of weeks later, it arrives in the mail. Give a child the gift of seeing their own art on a plate, bowl, cup, water bottle, or placemat with a Makit Easy Craft Project Kit. Chances are, years from now, they’ll still have their work of art in the kitchen cupboard!
PLAY MAT - We recall many a happy hour spent playing on our “village” playmat with siblings when we were little. Ours was made of plastic but carpet versions are available. The best, we think, are ones that showcase a nice network of streets, perfect for playing with toy cars, trucks and fire engines, or to act as a street network for a LEGO village - so many uses! If you fancy going this route, you may wish to check out Ottomanson’s traffic rug, FANMATS’ city streets play rug, or HUAHOO’s rug.
PLAY-DOH FUN FACTORY - This Play-Doh gift set is heavy on the nostalgia for us as we have fond memories of playing with Play-Doh. The extruder included in this set allows for all sorts of marvelous messing about (making “spaghetti” was a particular highlight!). Also included - a solid collection of shape cutters, a tube/rolling pin and a plastic “knife.”
WOODEN PLANES - You know those little flyers you can pick up at the hardware store? They’re often near the checkout… Or, you can find them online too - for example, Guillow’s 4-pack of balsa wood gliders. Wherever you find them, they are eminently affordable (a couple of bucks, maybe?), but believe us when we tell you that for the right age group, these provide solid hours of fun!
BUTTERFLY KIT - A butterfly kit, like Insect Lore’s gift set (Deluxe or Platinum), where your child recipient gets to watch caterpillars transform into butterflies makes for a marvelously fun project. Too, consider tucking in a butterfly book, like National Geographic’s Caterpillar to Butterfly as an additional learning aid. Note: if you are gifting to a child in a very hot or cold climate, you may wish to give them a gift set that includes a caterpillar voucher so that they can order their butterflies when the weather is optimal. If you go this route, a butterfly book is an especially great accompaniment as it gives the child something tangible to do/prepare for the arrival of their caterpillars.
BUBBLE MAKER - We have not met the toddler that is not fascinated by bubbles. Older children (and, ahem, adults) often find delight too in the magic of bubble making. For gifting purposes, we recommend taking things up a notch, giving the gift of gigantic bubbles - check out South Beach Bubbles’ gigantic bubble wands (don’t forget some Big Bubble mix) or WOWmazing’s giant bubble wand kit to see what we’re talking about!
FASHION PLATES - Mix and match three plates to create an ensemble, lay a piece of paper on top rub with a crayon and then color away. Who else remembers spending hours (often with friends) mixing and matching all sorts of outfits? Start your little one off with Kahootz’ Fashion Plates Deluxe Kit and augment it (or add to an existing set) with the Sports and/or Glamour expansion packs.
LEGO - We’re betting most folks have heard of LEGO before but it’s the rare child that does not enjoy a new LEGO kit - not only does it give them a new project to work on, in the longer run it means that their collection of LGO bricks is that bit larger, allowing them to freestyle and go “off piste,” building something of their own imagining. For added novelty, you can tuck in a roll of LEGO-compatible tape or several base plates so the little builder can dream big and dream outside the box (both literally and figuratively).
BRIO TRAIN SET - These were a childhood staple, allowing for many hours of play, often with siblings. BRIO’s tracks are made of wood, giving them a nice weight that keeps them laying flat for easy train movement. Moreover, thanks to a wide range of track pieces, children can get quite creative when it comes to building their railway. For a train newbie, check out BRIO’s My First Railway Beginner Pack - or, for the child who already has the basics, we recommend increasing their track size and/or adding something like a drawbridge, tunnel, train garage or station. Side note: for vintage pieces, we’ve also had good luck buying BRIO train components on eBay.
BAKING UP A STORM - One of the things we remember from our earliest childhood days is baking, be it with a teacher or with a family member. In retrospect, the recipes were simple, but the wonder of participating in the creation of something, something delicious - and, of being allowed to take responsibility for part of a project, even if it was just dumping the cup of flour into the bowl, was a big deal. For that reason, we venture to suggest that a mini chef kit would be a great gift for young ones. Things you might consider including: a child-sized apron, a mini chef’s toque, a small spatula (or other diminutive utensils) and/or a cookbook like Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake! or American Girl Baking: Recipes for Cookies, Cupcakes & More.
SWIMMING GEAR - Be it in a pond, a swimming pool, the ocean, or the bathtub, it is our experience that children love exploring aquatic horizons begoggled. Come bath time too, goggles may also prove to be a way to help avoid the eternal soap-in-the-eyes problem. If your child recipient has access to a larger body of water than their bathtub, consider a snorkel set and/or flippers too. We still remember how impressed we were by the added speediness our first pair of flippers gave us.
SNOW FUN - Moving from liquid water on to frozen water, snow is another source of great delight for children and there are many gifts that can help augment their snow play. Be it a sled, a set of snow brick molds to help them make a snow fort, or snowshoes for them to pretend they are arctic explorers!
POPSICLE POTENTIAL - Speaking of making things, it’s the rare child who doesn’t love popsicles. What’s more, they make for a fun (and easy!) project. Give the gift of popsicle molds and a popsicle (aka paleta) recipe book. You can opt for traditional, adult-size molds (with a set of popsicle sticks), or we love these mini molds for smaller folks. As far as recipe books go, we really like Paletas by Fany Gerson which we own ourselves and have also gifted - with a special shout out for the strawberry ice pop recipe!
ARTY PARTY - Whether finger painting, drawing or using a paintbrush, there’s something marvelous about having the freedom to get creative on paper. Set a little one up properly with the gift of a child-sized easel. For bonus points, include back-up pads of paper, a set of washable paints and/or a smock or two (pro tip: no need to buy a smock if you have old dress shirts around the house - reversed with the sleeves cut to fit shorter arms, they act as perfect clothing protectors!).
THE JOY OF DISCOVERY - We’re going to admit right up front that when we gift an excavation kit to a youngster, we’re always a little jealous (seeing as how at one time we thought we wanted to be an archaeologist). For that reason, if you know a little one who thrills at a cool rock on the beach, a neat shell, a possible arrowhead found in the park, we suspect an excavation kit will likely be right up their alley, whether it be “digging” for meteorites, gemstones, fossils, crystals and/or some combination thereof.
CRAFTY CREATING - Most kiddoes will have access to drawing materials at school, at home, or both. However, do you remember the thrill of getting a fresh new set of markers? Or crayons? Or, if you were a younger sibling of getting a new set that was not already worn down or used by your older brothers and/or sisters. Gift a youngster a set of Pentel markers, a box of Crayola crayons, packets of Mrs. Grossman’s stickers and/or a few rolls of washi tape and fan the flames of their creativity!
A TRIKE FOR THE TIKE - For a youngster who has not yet had the pleasure of pedaling themselves around the driveway, or along the sidewalk to the park, consider the gift of a classic Red Flyer tricycle - available with either a single or dual back step. This gift has a lot of mileage - both literally and figuratively - in that it offers a great intro to bicycling but it is something that can also be used by any younger siblings when their turn comes along. Alternately, if the youngster in your gifting sights already has a tricycle, a Radio Flyer red wagon is also a great gift choice.
GLOW IN THE DARK - Glow in the dark stars is another gift that we think offers a pretty amazing delight to price ratio. Whether the stars get affixed to a bedroom ceiling, a closet door, or a basement wall, chances are they will make a little one’s evenings just a little bit more magical. Bonus points: tuck in a copy of Stars by Mary Lyn Ray for a thoroughly themed gift bundle!
CAMERA - Did you know that there are cameras made specifically for children? We didn’t until recently when doing some gift research for a little feller of our acquaintance. Already, the gift - a VTech Kidizoom DUO Selfie Camera - has paid dividends, both in terms of fun and silliness for the recipient but also for the adults around him (and, we hope, his future self) in the form of documented memories. Sure, many of us have smartphones now, or fancy DSLR cameras that take amazing photos. But, there’s something pretty priceless about photos taken from a child’s perspective, documenting their own world and what’s important to them. By gifting a child their own camera, one that their parents don’t have to worry about letting them loose with, you’re giving the little one the freedom to capture moments of their childhood unhindered by warnings of “don’t touch that,” or “be careful.” We suspect they’ll thank you in the years to come. Pro tip: don’t forget to include an extra micro SD card so that the camera can capture a ton of photos!
SPIROGRAPH - Even for adults, spirographs are fun - we speak from personal experience! This is classic toy by Kahootz manages to mesh math and art in the form of endless drawing amusement. We have gifted both their Deluxe Design Set and their smaller Design Tin Set, the former as a full-on birthday gift and the latter as a small token for a child of friends we were visiting. If you fancy splashing out in high style, there’s also a Super Spirograph 75-piece Jumbo Kit - or, for a spiral kit that’s a little unusual, Etsy vendor portrhombus sometimes offers a Hardwood Spiral Art Drawing Tool.
BOARD GAMES - There are many new board games on the market but there are a few classics that have stood the test of time. Depending on the age of your childhood recipient, if they haven’t yet experienced Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Sorry!, Clue, Operation and/or Monopoly, that may be a situation you could rectify.
KITE - Who else remembers that iconic kite scene and song from Mary Poppins? Getting a kite in the air feels pretty great as an adult and even more so - verging on magical - as a child. Give a kite in anticipation of fine weather to come, or to take advantage of currently blue skies. As long as it’s a bit gusty out there, your young recipient will be good to go, be it a classic diamond- or delta-shaped kite, or something more fanciful, like an octopus, or bird.
GINGERBREAD HOUSE KIT - A wonderfully fun project and an excuse to eat some candy - that’s how we remember gingerbread house making as children. Give a youngster a jumpstart on building a house by giving them all the essentials. You can bake the house pieces yourself or, if you don’t have the time or inclination, it’s possible to order the necessary components. Based in Leavenworth, WA, The Gingerbread Factory makes and sells undecorated houses ready for candy application - they also do custom orders if you have something particular in mind. Or, we tried a couple of Wilton kits last year - the gingerbread house and the gingerbread train - with some youngsters with great success. That said, vis a vis the Wilton kits, we’d give three bits of advice. First, if you need to separate any of the the gingerbread pieces for assembly be very careful as you snap them so they snap as intended. And, second, in terms of expectation management, we definitely found it necessary to supplement the supplied candies (a good excuse to tuck in a bag or two of your recipient’s favorite candies for extra decorating fun). Lastly, following some online advice we quickly made a caramel sugar glue to cement the house and train pieces together for a firm set. The included frosting is great for candy application but takes a fair while to set up and isn’t quite as secure as one might like for building stabilization (especially when very young construction workers are on site).
A LITTLE PATIENT - For the future doctors in our midst, you may wish to check out sigikid’s The Little Patient - either the Rosi (girl) or Erwin (boy) doll. Little Patient dolls have zippable chest cavities that open to reveal stuffed versions of our key organs, as well as an image depicting the skeletal structure of the core body. A little book accompanies each doll to help launch the child-recipient on their anatomical explorations. Bonus: pair with a Fisher-Price Medical Kit or Kidzlane Doctor Kit.
BEGINNER CHOPSTICKS - We were shopping in HMart when we came across Edison’s beginner chopsticks and picked up a couple of pairs for two youngsters we know who had previously only experienced forks and spoons. Not only did these intro chopsticks work (the kiddoes cottoned on very quickly), the novelty made meal time newly interesting for the children again. It also provided an opportunity to talk about a different cultural tradition. Bonus: pair with a copy of the excellent picture book I Live in Tokyo to further the conversation.
DETECTIVE OR SPY KIT - It’s the rare youngster who does not at some point play at being a spy and/or detective, be it uncovering clues, dusting for fingerprints, writing messages in invisible ink, creating secret codes with friends and/or dreaming of solving mysteries. Help them along in their imaginary play with Thames & Kosmos Master Detective Toolkit or Scientific Explorer’s Crime Catchers Kit. For something more travel-appropriate, check out ALEX Toy’ Undercover Spy Set, perfect for plane journeys or time spent on the go.
STUFFED ANIMALS - It’s hard to think of a child’s gift that’s more classic than a stuffed animal. However, we wanted to include it on this list because there are a few vendors we think are especially worth checking out if you fancy going this route. First up is Jellycat - we have gifted several of their stuffed animals and know that at least one that has gone on to become the recipient’s comfort toy. Honestly, we weren’t too surprised as Jellycat’s toys are so soft and cuddly. Another, stuffed animal vendor who has drawn our attention is Sudara which sources adorable handfelted stuffed animals. Their selection varies over time - as at writing, they have a puppy available (or a mom dog and puppy pair) - but we flag it as a place to watch. Last but not least, we recently came across Etsy vendor HappyGwensday whose adorable sasquatch caught our eye. Gwen Rucker, the artisan behind the shop, also makes mermaids, llamas, gnomes, horses, unicorns - and, is also open to custom orders.
PRETTY AS A PICTURE - When we were little, we were pretty fascinated by the various rocks, gems and stones on display at our local natural history museum, so much so that we started a little rock collection. If you know a youngster that is similarly interested in mineralogical matters, do check out Cavallini Papers & Co.’s beautiful Mineralogie poster. In fact, if you are interested in gifting something beautiful and decorative, you should check out their full range of vintage images - be it a world map, a butterfly chart, a color wheel, periodic table, flowers, among many others!
PAPER DOLLS - For the child who is interested in imaginary play as well as history and/or fashion, do not forget about paper dolls. We especially love Tom Tierney’s paper dolls - for example, Great Costumes from Classic Movies, Gibson Girls, Great Fashion Designs of the Forties, French Fashion Designers, Art Deco Fashions, Colonial and Early American Fashions, Christian Dior Fashions, and Grace Kelly, among many others! Alternately, for a very unique gift, there are artists who specialize in making custom paper dolls, personalizing them with the face you choose. If you are interested in going that route, you may wish to check out Etsy vendors KaseyCauliflower, RutherfordTime and/or CatsAreGross. Bonus idea: tuck in a brand new pair of scissors, suitable for small hands, with your gift, like Fiskars’ safety scissors.
KARAOKE MACHINE - Few folks fail to find joy in singing no matter how skilled they are - especially when you’re talking about children. If you are giving a gift to a real youngster who is a keen singer, you may wish to check out Little Pretender’s karaoke machine or VTech’s Kidi Super Star machine. For the slightly older child, you may wish to have a look at BONAOK’s Wireless Bluetooth Karaoke Microphone, Singing Machine’s karaoke unit - or, for a truly sophisticated set-up, check out Singtrix’ home karaoke system.
MAGIC KIT - Who doesn’t welcome a little bit of magic in their life? For the youngster who loves a bit of sleight of hand, or is currently reading Harry Potter, you may wish to check out Ideal’s beginner magic set, or Uncle Bunny Magic’s jumbo set of magic tricks.
TENT AND/OR SLEEPING BAG - Anyone else remember the thrill of camping out as a child? Be it on the floor of your bedroom, under a blanket tented over chairs, or in the actual out of doors, it was novel, fun and felt eminently adventurous. If you can relate, you may wish to consider gifting your youngster a small tent they can set up in the living room or the backyard. Alternately, consider giving a sleeping bag they can use for pretend camping and/or real life slumber parties!
PUZZLES - Know a kiddo who can’t get enough of puzzles? Check out this animal parade puzzle we recently discovered on Amazon.com. A pretty perfect nursery gift, no? Whether it is a gift that your little recipient will grow into, or age-appropriate at the moment, we think it’s awfully cute - in addition to providing puzzle and animal identification fun. We also love Melissa & Doug puzzles for the really young - either jigsaw or peg puzzles. And, for all ages, Ravensburger puzzles are hard to beat. Last but not least, for something truly unique, don’t miss Liberty Puzzles, Artifact Puzzles and Nervous System for some pretty awesome wooden puzzles (many including novelty pieces, a fantastic, old-fashioned puzzle feature!).
GIFT OF THE MONTH - Few things felt as special when we were little as getting something in the mail. Even now, despite the proliferation of online ordering, there’s something a little special about having a box arrive in the post. For that reason, you may wish to consider giving your young recipient a monthly subscription themed around something they will enjoy. Examples you may wish to check out: a history themed subscription from History Unboxed, a Ruby & Lane hair bows subscription, a Kidstir cooking subscription, or one of KiwiCo’s several project subscriptions (available for a range of ages).
SPORTS GEAR - Be it a badminton set, a baseball glove, a set of bases and a bat, a soccer ball, a basketball, a tennis racquet or a wiffle ball set, most kiddoes love to get outdoors and play games with friends and/or siblings! For that reason, sports gear rarely misses the mark.
ROCK POLISHER - This project takes a bit of time - you have to wait for the rock polisher to do its thing - but we think it’s worth it! Even as adults, we were kind of amazed at how transformative the process is and what lovely, polished rocks you end up with. For a child interested in geology, mineralogy, rocks and/or gemstones, check out National Geographic’s rock tumbler, Discover with Dr. Cool’s tumbler or, for heavy use, a Lortone tumbler. Note: operating tumblers can be a bit noisy and they need to be plugged in for a while so you’ll likely want to make sure your recipient has access to an outdoor shed, a remote garage or a basement area that is pretty soundproof before giving one as a gift.
FLOWER PRESS - A flower press is a fun way for children to interact with their natural environment. Be it wildflowers, part of a bouquet, or a few blooms from the family garden, preserving flowers encourages closer consideration of the natural environment. As for the result? If you tuck in some blank note cards and/or paper supplies (like gift tags), children can use a dab or two of glue to decorate all sorts of paper goods with their dried flowers. Maybe even decorating a thank you note for the generous person who gifted them their flower press? 😊
A CREATIVE CLASS - Children, for the most part, are an inherently curious lot, keen and interested in trying new things. For that reason, if you are giving a gift to a youngster, you may wish to check out the classes geared towards children in their area. Depending on their interests (and local availability), you might wish to give them a chance to try basket weaving, puppet making, robot building, painting, weaving - among many other activities!
TICKETS AND/OR FULL ACCESS PASS - As with creative classes, access to local museums and/or resources can be a great gift - for example, tickets or a membership to the local children’s museum and/or aquarium. Similarly, check out what ice dancing shows, magic shows and musicians will be passing through town. If you are gifting to a family with youngsters, consider too a family pass to local art museums and/or science or natural history museums. Tuck in a schedule of upcoming events and/or children’s classes for good measure!
VISUAL SCIENCE - For the kiddo who is fascinated by science and is ever keen to understand the hows and the whys, they will likely thrill at the chance to explore optical illusions and how our brains work in tandem with our eyes - sometimes deceptively, sometimes cooperatively. As to where to start? You may wish to check out 4M’s Illusion Science kit or Thames & Kosmos Optical Science set.
FOR A LITTLE LETTER WRITER - For a kiddo who is just learning to write, or one who is already a handy handwriter (but who loves to put pen to paper), consider the gift of some lovely stationery - be it notecards or postcards. If you fancy giving them some inadvertent maths practice, tuck in a packet of vintage stamps in varying denominations from the likes of VintagePostageShop, EnfieldPost and MailMaidStamps. Last but not least, for youngsters keen on writing, a calligraphy set is likely to be a big hit gift-wise!
TOOTH FAIRY PILLOW - For any little one on the verge of or just starting to lose their baby teeth, a tooth fairy pillow can be a fun gift. We love the adorable pillows made out of repurposed cashmere by Christine Samardich of Etsy shop tallulahssatchels, having gifted an owl one ourselves. That said, there are a ton of options out there - from CPAdesigns’ personalized pillows to a full-on tooth kit - and more!
ICE CREAM GIFT CERTIFICATE - Few children (indeed, few people!), we know don’t love a good bowl of ice cream every now and again. For a truly decadent gift to any kiddo, a gift certificate to an ice cream parlor is bound to be a big hit - the power to choose their own ice cream is a pretty awesome thing at a young age. Opt for a local favorite or choose from amongst the various ice cream makers who sell their pints online, shipping them with a little help from dry ice.
DIARY OR JOURNAL - As children learn how to navigate life, to handle relationships with friends, teachers and family members, to figure out who they are and what they want, a place to work that out in their minds can be both fun and helpful. In that sense, a journal or diary can become almost like a life workbook, a place to vent, to ruminate, to record accomplishments, hopes and dreams. A Moleskine notebook is a solid choice as are journals and/or composition books by Rhodia and Michael Roger - or, if you want to go the lock and key route, you may wish to check out Peaceable Kingdom’s space diary or the pink Saffiano diary.
GARDENING GEAR - If your young recipient has access to a bit of earth in their backyard or in a nearby community garden, some gardening tools all their own (and sized to their hands) can make for a great gift. For bonus points, consider tucking in some fun seeds and/or a young plant for something a little out of the ordinary - maybe a peanut plant, popcorn seeds, or pumpkin seeds (hello, Halloween!). Alternately, give something sweet and delicious, like a strawberry plant, or a blackberry plant.
WHEELS - It is the rare kiddo that does not enjoy the feeling of independence that their own set of wheels brings. Be it a bike, a scooter, or a skateboard, you’ll likely know what mode of transport will suit your recipient best. Whether it is nipping to the corner store, a visit to the park, or simply a trip around the block, chances are your gift will be a hit. Final note: don’t forget to include a helmet!
POGO STICK - Where wheels are practical, a pogo stick is an old-fashioned flight of fancy, a real novelty gift. We remember discovering an old one in the garage of the new house we moved into as a child - and boy did it provide hours of fun, both in our efforts to master it and then, once we had, of hopping around the driveway like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh!
FUNNY FRENCH (LANGUAGE) CLASSICS - Tintin (by Belgian cartoonist Hergé) and Asterix (by French comic book artists René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo) were childhood staples and, to this day, still manage to bring a smile to our face when we think of Professor Calculus’ response to “acting the goat,” or Obelix eating a wild boar (or four!). Both series of comics are clever, witty, full of adventure and available in excellent English translations. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the youngster who won’t want to devour the series whole once they get a taste. Bonus: for kiddoes who are reluctant readers, this is often a great way to ease them into the pleasures of reading.
CHARITABLE SPONSORSHIP - Last but not least, we’d flag charitable contributions as a top notch gift for children. Sometimes children, especially very young children, find it hard to relate to people or animals in the abstract so, if you go this route, consider carefully where you will be donating. Simply explaining that you have given money in the child’s honor for X, Y or Z likely will not serve to engage them in the gift as much as you might hope. Instead, we recommend donating to a cause where children are sent materials to help them understand the impact of their gift - for example, receiving updates on a specific elephant you helped them “adopt.” Children often connect better through stories and if they can be part of the story of rescuing an animal, for example, we have a sneaking suspicion the impact of your gift will be more keenly felt and appreciated.
Tags: gifts for children
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