by Janny Jackson
Disclaimer: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that I may earn a small commission from, at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. You may read my full disclaimer here.
The older I get, and the older my kids get, the more I have realized that I don’t just want to buy “stuff” for my kids. You know, the one and done toys that they open and play with for 2.5 seconds and then get buried underneath the other piles of toys that haven’t seen the light of day since they first opened it.
This isn’t an easy adjustment, as kids are constantly being influenced by other kids, and tv commercials, and the cartoons they watch, they often think they NEED the toys being shown, and therefore will pressure us to fulfill their little hearts desires for whatever special occasion is arriving.
If you have the same mindset about gift giving as I do, I’m here to encourage you. You are the gatekeeper of these toys. They are meant to be tools for our kids to help encourage individual play time, as well as group play, and learning. Being that toys are tools for us and them, our mindset (and pocketbook) needs to shift from one and done toys, to open ended play toys. From toys that make noise and tell you how to play with them, to toys that require the use of the creative and vibrant imaginations and the voices of our kids.
I have slowly been making that shift over the past several years, and if you feel stuck trying to make the transition from one and done toys to creative play toys I have some unique ideas for you, based on our experience with these toys and games, as well as some gifts that they will be receiving this year for Christmas.
My son received this gift for a birthday present and has been so enamored by it. He loves to help us with any chore that involves tools. This little set has the perfect size tools for his little hands, and is made of quality materials. His older siblings have thoroughly enjoyed playing with this as well. It’s great for improving those fine motor skills and concentration. You won’t regret this purchase!
Piggy backing off of the last gift idea and how much of a success it was, my little guy will be getting this set as well. This is a gift all my kids will share, so I guess it’s more of a community gift. My husband and I do a lot of home DIY projects, and take care of the maintenance of our home too, so there are many opportunities to have these tools out and helping one of us. I’m also a huge proponent of teaching my kids hands on skills that they will need for the rest of their lives, and this real tools set will help them to grow, in their desire to help, the skills they will need as they grow and become more independent. Adult supervision required, of course.
LIFE HACK! Do you have a child that gives you a hard time or takes forever to do tasks such as cleaning up? You NEED this visual timer! Kids don’t have any sense of time. They have no idea what “clean this room up in 5 minutes” means, and it is unfair of us to expect them to have that concept of time when they either have not been taught that, or are not developmentally ready to even learn it. This timer allows you to say, “I’m setting a timer for 5 minutes” and they can visually see how long they have to do the task at hand. It’s a great motivator and allows us as parents to encourage them in a more effective way.
This is another one of those gifts that will be more of a community toy if you have multiple children. The open ended play possibilities with this sand and water table are endless. For the fall, I put corn kernels on one side and sand on the other. During the summer, we use water on one side and they do a lot of mud play. You can also put things like water beads or make play foam or anything you want to be contained in an area for your kiddo to play with. My kids play with this almost daily, whether outside in the sun or in our screened in porch if the weather is too hot or rainy. Play sand is very inexpensive as well. This is an excellent investment that will be used for years.
Wooden Car Garage
This wooden car garage is personally one of my favorite gifts I’ve given my toddler. Unfortunately, I wasn’t unable to find a link for this exact one but here are similar ones at different price points. This one is priced on the lower end and is smaller, and this one is much bigger and a little more in the higher end of price range, but comes with cars, a helicopter, and has a neat helicopter pad. My toddler plays with his a lot when I am reading during school and he needs a quiet activity. And if your toddler is as obsessed with cars as much as mine is, this is the perfect complement to his car collection.
This is a tried and true gift that will withstand the test of time and last through multiple kids. I bought these several Christmases ago for my daughter who was a toddler at the time, and my kids still play with them regularly. They often will build big cities, that cover the entire living room area rug, centered around the builds built with the waffle blocks. This set isn’t the exact one we have, but it is very similar, in pieces and pricing.
My girl is 6 years old, so these gift suggestions, again based on our experiences with them, are aimed towards this age group.
This is a gift she will not be able to stop playing with. And on hot summer days, it’s the perfect toy to play with. This uses and functions with real water! My daughter has always enjoyed tiny toys, and the repetitive actions of filling up and a cup and pouring it out, or cutting the vegetables in half, or bossing her brothers around while playing kitchen, haha! It’s great practice for doing the real thing too! She will feel so grown and independent with her own little sink and dishes.
This little camera has brought so much fun and laughter into our home. My daughter loves to film videos of herself and her brothers, and this gives her the independence to do so without constantly asking for my phone and leaving me with a bunch of random pictures and videos on my camera roll. I know you know what I mean. Don’t be alarmed by how small this camera actually is when she opens it. It is small for our adult hands, but it is the perfect size for a kid’s hands. There are also fun picture filters, and games, and video recording capabilities. I love that she can wear it around her neck and that it is easy to charge when necessary.
This is another one my daughter plays with regularly. Halloween just passed, and she organized a costume fashion show between her siblings and some neighbor kids, and had one of the parents judge their costumes, using this board for the scores. (They were all 10s of course!) She uses it when they play kitchen to take orders, or when she draws; she is always drawing girls with long hair and long flowing dresses. I love seeing and talking about all the beautiful drawings my daughter does, I feel like it’s a way for me to see inside her mind and how she is thinking in the moment.
I have fond memories of being taught to sew when I was a kid, and I knew when I saw this kit that I had to get it for my daughter so that I could teach her to sew as well. This set is so well thought out and put together. It has everything you need to create the little sea animals, including the stuffing. This isn’t necessarily something you can do over and over again once they’ve been done, but the quality of the creations allows her to keep them as keepsakes and be proud of them. This helps teach patience and control, and of course works on those fine motor skills. If you are looking for bonding, learning, and memory-making opportunities through play, this is the one for you.
These are obviously a gender neutral gift, but my daughter enjoys using them the most. We have had this exact set for 2 years now, and they have held up perfectly. The batteries last a long time with moderate use, and they are easy to program and use. We use ours specifically when the kids are outside and want to go for a bike ride around the neighborhood, one kid will have a walkie, the other will be with a parent. Or if we go to a big playground or theme park, and decide to split up, these come in handy for checking in and regrouping. The kids enjoy playing with them, but I highly recommend these also for safety and peace of mind as well. You can’t beat a toy that can do both!
My daughter received this exact one for a gift, and it’s so beautiful and the perfect size. This piggy bank obviously isn’t something she will play with regularly, but if you are trying to teach your child the value of money and how important it is to save, you will need one of these. If you have kids, you know that as soon as they have any amount of money they are ready to rush to the store to buy something. Saving has always been important to me, and I was taught at a young age that yes, it is okay to buy things you want, but if you want to buy bigger and better things you have to save up for it. As she continues to learn more about money, she also enjoys dumping her piggy bank out and adding up her savings every once in awhile, which I also encourage and help her with.
BIG BOY GIFTS
My oldest boy is 8 years old, so these gift suggestions, again based on our experience with them, are aimed towards this age group.
If I had to pick a favorite toy I gifted my oldest, it would be this. It’s cheap, is great quality, and requires a lot of focus, concentration and patience. The excitement and joy my son had on his face when he was first able to hit his target (empty water bottles) is something I will never forget. I love that it comes with a replaceable band, and pellets to shoot.
If you are looking for a fun and simple DIY for your Lego-loving son (or anyone) I highly recommend purchasing these baseplates. Whether you have the IKEA Trofast shelves, or a small kids table, the construction adhesive already attached to these baseplates will allow attachment to any clean, smooth surface. I added these to my son’s Lego storage over 2 years ago, and it has held up perfectly. No peeling of the corners or movement from them at all. The install process can be done in less than an hour and requires only a razorblade and some Lego pieces (to make a straight line for cutting), and the instructions are very clear. My son plays with these daily, and the creations he can make on them make me so proud of the time and effort I put into creating this gift for him.
Piggybacking off of the last gift idea, this gift has been really fun for my son. He is extremely creative with his building blocks, but he wanted more ideas on how to make specific things. Insert this book. It does not have step by step instructions, but instead gives ideas on how to build different objects, in which you can improvise with the pieces you already have. It allows him to use his imagination and problem solving skills to be creative, and I love seeing what he learns and creates.
This is another fun and educational gift. It requires using some math thinking and lots of concentration and focus. I love how durable it is, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. The image cards offer a good variety of difficulty range, and I love how when my son needs help, I can just see the wheels turning in his head as he thinks about how to create the image. This is something that can be done over and over again, and can even be used as an open ended toy in which he can use his imagination to create other things, such as numbers and letters.
If you have a big kid that wants to be more helpful and independent in the kitchen, this is the perfect gift. I not only bought these for my kids, but also gifted a set to a friend for her kids. It comes with a small, medium, and large knife, and are sharp enough to chop food up, but not sharp enough to injure anyone. I have loved teaching my son how to responsibly and carefully use a knife, and he has enjoyed helping me make dinner and cut up fruit for snacks.
I’m ending this post with a bang, and leaving you with one of my favorite gift recommendations of ALL time. I would be lying if I said I only bought this for my son, but I not so secretly have always wanted to learn how to play chess, but have always been intimidated by it. This game allowed my son and I to be able to learn how to play together. It offers a board game option, where you only play the card you turn over, and also the option to play without the labels and cards. The more you play, the more you learn and memorize how the individual pieces can move, and before you know it you don’t even need them. I am really impressed with how simple it is, and how easily it taught us a game that can be so intimidating and complex. Whenever my kids want to play a board game, I always suggest this one because I enjoy it so much, and I truly enjoy playing it with my kids. Did I mention how affordable it is? Don’t get sucked into other versions that are more expensive and kid-friendly. This one does the job perfectly, and you can buy a beautiful keepsake chess set once everyone has learned how to play using this set.
I truly hope this guide was helpful to you and yours, whether it be for the upcoming holiday season or any other occasion. Thanks for being here!