Buying holiday gifts for the children in your life can be challenging, especially when you want to give them something that they will enjoy but also will not annoy their parents (including you), break your budget, or just add to the overwhelm and clutter that threatens many families at this time of year.
Four children and many godchildren, friends, nieces and nephews, cousins, and younger siblings into this project of holiday gift-buying for kids, I have found a few things that I would like to suggest as good solutions to this quandry.
Behold, my top suggestions for gifts for children this holiday season, divided into three categories.
Yes, practical gifts are needed and can even be fun, but we all know that what kids really want for Christmas are toys. But toys can also create clutter, noise, and frustration, and we don’t want to give kids (or their parents) this kind. Here are a few of the better kind:
- This remote control car is, for lack of a better term, just plain rad. It is inexpensive, works on all surfaces, and is simple enough for a three-year-old to enjoy but still cool enough for a twelve-year-old. Girls enjoy this as much as boys! The brand you choose doesn’t matter; it’s the style that is genius. I suggest pairing it with rechargeable batteries.
- My children played with this toy car parking garage for literally hours a day in the three months after my fourth baby was born. It is worth its weight in gold. I don’t know what it is about it, but it is a complete and utter lifesaver!
- My preschool daughter is in love with these little pets that you color and then wash in their own bath-shower combo.
- For a toddler, this buckle doggy is always a favorite, and is not just another stuffed animal to clutter up the bedroom, but something with a bit more interest and purpose.
- For children of all ages, PlayMags always fit the bill. PlayMags are similar to the better-known MagnaTiles (and are compatible with them) but are stronger and better-designed, in addition to somehow being cheaper.
- There is no better gift for a school-aged child than a Razor scooter or, if you want to go up a little in price and quality (but the Razor is fine!), this scooter.
It’s hard to know where to start when recommending children’s books. There are just so many wonderful children’s books out there! So I will try to focus on a few that are perhaps lesser-known but are truly excellent.
- As read-alouds or for independent readers: Nancy and Plum, a truly satisfying orphan-story that contains not one, but two Christmasses; Adam of the Road, about a boy minstrel in the Middle Ages; Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, for adventurous and strong-willed children; and By the Great Horn Spoon, a truly delightful Gold Rush tale about a boy and his butler. (Yes, I said his butler.)
- Picture books that young children love and parents won’t mind reading over and over again: The Seven Silly Eaters, which is one of my all-time favorites; A Child’s Garden of Verses, with illustrations by Tasha Tudor; Nobody Likes A Goblin and This is Not My Hat, which have a darker humor but are loved by many children of my acquaintance; and any of the Little House Picture Books, which really can’t be beat (don’t neglect the ones about Almanzo, which are among the best!).
- Others: The Nutshell Library, a very fun set of books for little toddler and preschooler hands; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, a series of history-based graphic novels (warning, slightly bloody, which most children don’t seem to mind at all), and the companion book for kids to use to draw their own graphic novel; this visual encyclopedia of vehicles, which has literally been worn to pieces in my home; and for Christian (and especially Catholic) kids and teens ages 10 and up, this combo home front and front front World War II story.
Experience gifts are all the rage, but most gift guides suggest only very expensive ones. Get them tickets to a ball game! Pay for their dance lessons! Get them a subscription to one of those craft or science boxes! Well, multiply that by multiple kids and, I’m sorry, but no, not until I win the lottery.
I have found that the children I am close to actually love inexpensive experience gifts just as much as they love expensive ones. So here are some (mostly) inexpensive ideas that have worked well in my experience. Write one on a card and wrap it up:
- Give them the gift of your time and undivided attention. Examples: a coffee-and-donut date; and pancake breakfast at a local diner; a hike with cookies and thermoses of hot cocoa; a father-daughter dinner date with fancy clothes and a corsage and everything; a mother-son movie night with all his favorite snacks after the other kids are in bed; or an after-bedtime ice cream date.
- Give them the gift of teaching them a skill. Examples: some fun fabric and a date to teach the child to sew a simple pillowcase, skirt, or bag; a cooking or baking lesson; a whittling lesson; a fire-building lesson followed by s’mores; a biking lesson; a tour of your interesting workplace; whatever you can share with them.
- Give them a gift that equips them to grow. For example, if the parents would prefer that you not give the child yet another toy but you want to give them something special, give the child a “Neighbor Kit,” a cheap drawstring backpack that you fill with markers, stickers, blank cards, chocolates, and small gift bags. My young children love using such a kit to make card-and-chocolate cheer-up gifts for neighbors and friends. Or if the family is trying to cut down on screen time and encourage outdoor play, a bin full of inexpensive outdoor toys – soccer ball, jump ropes, wiffle ball and bat, sidewalk chalk – will be a hit. One of my children’s favorite “toys” is a stack of 8-foot pine 2×3’s that they use to make forts, lean-to’s, cabins (Lincoln-log style), and obstacle courses in our backyard. A little more expensive than the other things I’ve mentioned here, this is a great gift to a set of grandkids from their grandparents – my dad did this for my children.
Alternatively, if there is a new baby in the house or one of the parents works from home or there’s another need for the kids to play independently more often than they do, a CD player and some great kids’ audio like the Jim Weiss CD’s or Adventures in Odyssey or Narnia (more expensive, but this could be a group gift for, say, your sister’s six kids) will keep the kids busy for hours at a time and form their imaginations beautifully, and they can set it going themselves without having to use a smartphone.
Finally, for older kids and teens, consider giving the gift of independence (after consulting with their parents). A $10 coffee shop or fast food gift card per child and the promise of a ride to and from (if you like, you can stay and sit in the corner while you let them handle their own transactions and sit at their own table, depending on the kids’ ages and the parents’ comfort level) is just about the best gift you can give nine-to-fourteen-year-olds.