What do you get the child who already has way too many toys? This gift guide for young kids will help you pick a gift that will be worth buying and won’t get lost in the depths of the toy box within a week.Disclaimer: This post is unsponsored (just sharing things I love); it does include affiliate links to the products mentioned. As always, feel free to shop around for the best deal! See my disclosure for more info.
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a parent say, “Gee, I wish we had more toys.” The fact of the matter is that most of us have far more toys in our houses than we need–or want. Because of this, I’m pretty careful about what toys I buy for my kids. If I’m going to spend money on it and let it take up space in my house and my life, it better be something that’s not going to be forgotten in the depths of the toy closet.
The problem though, is that my kids still love getting presents for birthdays and Christmas. I try not to go crazy with presents (I don’t want to create greedy, entitled monsters, after all), but I do love watching my boys’ eyes light up when they see what’s under the shiny wrapping paper and getting those, “I love it! You’re the best mom ever!” hugs.
I’m learning more and more, though, that these two ideas don’t have to conflict. When I am considering buying a gift, there are three main criteria I use when deciding. Most presents I buy fit into at least one of the following categories, but I feel like I hit the jackpot when I find something that meets all three.
- Open-ended. I love toys that encourage creative play and can be used in a variety of ways. Think play dough, blocks, etc.
- Long-lasting. I’m more likely to spend money on something that will grow with my kids and be used for several years. Think ride on toys, legos, books, etc.
- Consumable. The opposite of #2, I know. Hear me out, though. if my kids are going to use it up, it means that I don’t have to figure out a long-term place to store it. They get to enjoy it, and then it’s gone. Think art supplies, a certificate for a special “date”, etc.
Here are my top choices for gifts that you won’t regret buying for your kids:
Gift Guide for Kids:
Presents that are WORTH the money
Little Man received a set of these for his birthday this last year, and we love them! They are a great STEM toy as they help kids explore magnetic force, shapes, engineering, and architecture in simple and fun ways. I have been amazed by the various creations my four-year-old has made as he has tinkered: tunnels, houses, rockets…anything is possible. Getting some more Magformers to expand their set is on my Christmas list for my kids this year. Shhh, don’t tell them.
Is there any more classic childhood toy than a wooden train set? My husband and I both have fond memories of building massive train cities as children, and our two boys are just as enthralled. I love trains for the engineering component as well as for the imaginative pretend play they inspire. My boys love to act out their favorite Thomas the Train stories as well as create their own. Lately we’ve had a lot of “broken down” trains and one of us has to be the fix it train. We’ve had our train set for almost three years, and it’s still going strong. Expanding this set is on the Christmas list this year, too.
Consumables are great gifts! Something that will really get used, and used up, so it won’t take up space forever. Markers (especially cool scented ones), crayons, paints, stickers, coloring books, construction paper, etc. are perfect gifts. I remember as a little girl receiving a Little Mermaid suitcase one Christmas that was filled with construction paper and markers. I was thrilled! One inexpensive product I like are the Melissa and Doug sticker books. They’re big, they have LOTS of stickers, and it’s a fun way to play (and a great way to keep kids occupied on road trips!). Stock up your art closet with some special supplies that you’d like to buy anyway, like dot markers for preschool activities.
For my little guys, we still mostly use Mega Bloks (which are designed for ages 1-5), but for older preschoolers they have Lego Junior sets with smaller pieces and allow for more complex constructions. Our Legos turn into robots, parade floats, castles, rainbows, and all sorts of other things. Whatever kind you choose to get, this is another toy that I think is a must-have because it’s so open-ended and encourages imagination.
I got our play kitchen after seeing a friend who had one set up in her kitchen so her kids could cook while mommy was cooking. What a great idea! We make alphabet soup, play restaurant, and make all sorts of concoctions. We do have to deal with the fact that all the play food gets dumped onto the floor at least once a day (or more), but we have some simple little baskets that fit in the cupboards to help keep things corralled. Word of advice: don’t go overboard on buying play food. You need some, but a giant set will just end up spread all over the house.
My boys LOVE cooking with me in the kitchen, but they always end up with brownie batter and flour all over themselves. A couple years ago, Little Man received a nice, oilcloth apron as a gift, and he loves to wear it when we do projects together. It makes him feel more official, and I love that it keeps his clothes clean(ish). Amazon has some adorable options, and I also love these fun aprons for boys and girls from HelenHobby on Etsy. Use it for cooking, art projects, or during pretend play. It will definitely be well-used.
We have enough ride on toys to outfit every kid on our street, I think, but I don’t regret any of them. A gift like this is a great way to encourage exercise in a fun way. It also helps kids develop gross motor skills. I’m planning to get Little Man a scooter this year for Christmas partly because he keeps seeing all the older kids in the neighborhood with theirs, and partly because I’m hoping it will improve his balance so he’ll be able to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. Here are some of my favorite ride-on toys my kids have enjoyed:
Clothes aren’t a “fun” gift, right? Wrong. My four-year-old loves getting new clothes for birthdays and Christmas. Maybe not plain white socks, but if you find a fun hat, or cool pajamas, or another clothing necessity that has a little pizzazz, wrap it up! Let’s be honest, the kids like the process of unwrapping as much as they like the gift itself, so use that to your advantage.
We have a drawer full of puzzles at our house, and they get a lot of use. I especially love the chunky wooden Melissa and Doug puzzles for my little guys. And don’t write puzzles off as a toy that has only one use. We pull the pieces out to use for pretend play (especially the farm and safari sets), for scavenger hunts (one person hides the pieces and the other has to find them), and for sorting items by color, type, shape, etc. Here are some of the ones we personally own or have played with at friends’ houses and love:
- Magnetic fishing game puzzle
- Safari animals puzzle
- Farm animals puzzle
- Latches board
- Fire truck puzzle (especially good for preschoolers who need more of a challenge)
Call me a book-obsessed former English teacher, but I don’t think it’s possible to have too many books. And you don’t have to pay a ton for quality books, either, which is important if your kids are still young enough that you worry about chewed corners and ripped pages. I buy most of my books at thrift stores, T.J. Maxx, and on Amazon. We love the Tony Mitton books (pictured above) that my mom gave us a couple years ago. Some of our other favorites often cost under $5.00 on Amazon:
I think I often avoid gift certificates for my toddlers because I worry they’ll be disappointed at opening a present that just has a piece of paper inside. But I think that by age 3 or 4 they are really capable of understanding what that piece of paper means, especially if you include a picture of what they are going to get. Buy your family a museum membership they can use all year long, tickets to see a movie or go bowling. Whatever your child LOVES to do, give them the gift of your undivided attention while you go do a special activity together. It could be a family gift, or you could make it a special “date” with Mom or Dad. Build it up as you describe the gift to your child, and make sure you set a date to do it soon.
Now, I try not to go overboard on buying tons of gifts. I usually try to get one or two nice things that I know they will really get some use out of (like the things in this guide), and the rest of their gifts I make by hand or I buy second-hand. I feel like it gives us a good balance of investing in toys that will last, and also giving our boys the fun of opening a few more little, fun gifts (and sometimes big fun gifts that I happen to get at a thrift store for $3).
What do you think? Has your family invested in any of these? What toys or gifts do you think are actually worth buying?