It’s less than two weeks to Christmas, and you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) buy that “must have” toy.
Hooray! Now you can actually purchase gifts that the kids will love, and that will last long after Christmas morning!
I’ll make this easy and sort it by age range. And I’m going to be honest, none of these items are cool (and I’m not affiliated in any way, so I’m earning $0 for my truthful opinion).
Two words: board books
Yes, the kid can’t read yet, but that doesn’t matter. Just getting your infant around books and reading to him is boosting his chances of academic and life success. Plus, these books are sturdy and meant to last. My almost-three-year-old (yikes!) still pores over her infant board books, and they’ve held up to be passed on to Baby #2 in a few weeks!
No, there will be no shining towers being built in your living room (yet), but your baby will be learning and loving blocks that make noise or have mirrors. While little miss is examining her drooly chin in a mirrored block, she’ll be working on dexterity. Plus, her fine and gross motor skills will be getting some serious practice, too. This is the set my princess (and soon-to-be prince) has, and loves.
This is a commercial toy, yes. But it also helps to teach children imaginative play and how humans interact. Plus, the little figures are just the right size for chubby little fists to grab. And they are sturdy enough to stand up to a few nibbles here and there. My little girl LOVES her Little People Plane!
Think: the ones with big, chunky shapes and round knobs. Working on these early learning puzzles helps kids build their motor skills and flex their problem solving strategies. With puzzles like this available with different themes, it’s easy to find something that your little one will love. We really dig the Melissa & Doug house shapes puzzle and the farm puzzle.
LEGO and those kinds of blocks have their place, but real wooden blocks are where it’s at for me. These guys have a heft to them that challenges growing muscles. Building with wooden blocks helps cement concepts of balancing and strategy early. Plus, this is a gift that will last well beyond the PreK years. My sister and I were using our original wooden blocks to build houses for our Barbies and stables for our horses through elementary school. Now, my parents are repurposing the blocks as door holders. And my daughter is still playing with those SAME EXACT BLOCKS thirty years later.
This one could go in a bunch of directions, from an actual playhouse to a smaller kitchen set, from a doll house to a child-sized cleaning set. My preschooler has been begging for a “real broom, just like Mommy’s” for about three months. Her kitchen set is used on the daily. And she never gets tired of playing in her outdoor playhouse. All of her stuffed animals and dolls get rides in her mini-umbrella stroller, too.
For nervous parents of boys: all her male friends play just as hard with these items. Honestly, at this age playing with “girl” toys isn’t going to destroy your child’s budding masculinity any more than playing with trucks is going to hurt my girl’s femininity. But that’s a topic for a different post.
Primary Grades: PreK-2
All the books should be under your tree (or next to your menorah) this year. These kids are discovering letter/sound/word/story connections, and need lots of practice material. Check out Usborne and Scholastic books for ideas. Don’t want to spend a TON of money on books? Get your child a library card! It’s the gift that keeps on giving since your little guy or gal will be using it for life.
There is a time and a place for LEGO. It is now and forever. The early primary grades are great to introduce these types of toys (Lincoln Logs and K’Nex included). Building with LEGO blocks can mean either following a set plan from the guide book, or planning your own creation. Following a guide helps children connect directions to actions, a skill they will need forever and ever. Making their own structures requires planning and revising, two other skills that adults use daily. The whole concept develops imaginative thinking and play.
Elementary Grades: 3-5
Yes, even more books should be gifted at this age and stage. These kids are coming into their own as readers and exploring new genres. They are developing their favorites. This age is great for reading series of books, like Artemis Fowl or Little House on the Prairie. If you have a favorite series from childhood, gift the entire set (within reason) to your favorite middle grades kiddo. I absolutely love the Little House books that my mother passed down to me at this age! I plan to pass my own set of Anne of Green Gables to my daughter, when the time comes.
Kids are starting to build even more problem solving and strategy skills at this age. And this makes it the perfect time to bust out CLUE and LIFE. Or go old school and pick chess or checkers. Look for games that can grow with your kids through adulthood, but that are also appropriate for them right now.
Middle School: 6-8/High School: 9-12
I’m gonna be honest: at this age all I wanted was to do my own thing. At this point you can start the gradual release of gifting responsibility, within reason. Instead of going the straight cash route, maybe hand pick a few spots for gift cards. My best bets: bookstores, craft stores and toy stores. I would skip places for clothes, since those will quickly be outgrown, or electronics (unless educational/useful purchases can be made).
And that’s pretty much it. Ditto for high school. Unless you can get your hands on their required reading list. If you can, do that. Or starting banking money for college expenses.
What are your best gifts for different ages? Tell me in the comments!