Once again we have to make the decision of what goes under that tree and won’t end up in a landfill but every year we get a bit better at it. So while this list is specific to my kids I can tell you that these things, below, were worth every single penny and they really have played with them for years and years.
Arts And Crafts
We craft a LOT at our house – long sessions together and many hours just the two of them. The key to this is having the right crafting inventory to spark their creativity so they’ll do it with or without you. And I’m sorry to tell you that like most fun things that kids actually want to do, crafting is super messy and we’ve accepted it (and no, you don’t have to have a designated space but it sure is nice).
We’ve LOVED this craft kit and have this one now with all the fun bells and whistles, and our kids seriously just go to town for hours without us. And yes they make a massive mess, but it’s really inspiring creatively.
If you don’t want something quite intense and more affordable, this craft kit is good. Our kids also really enjoy the mask making kit and this illustrated poster is an awesome stocking stuffer that I colored with both kids last year while listening to music and it was so relaxing.
Birdie is EXTREMELY into drawing. She has called herself an artist since she was 18 months old, so we take our marker game seriously. We love these markers that are double-ended because the colors are so good and there is both a fine tip and a strangely satisfying large tip. They are my favorite, hands down. HOWEVER, if you are fussy about cleanliness they aren’t that easy to clean up if you don’t wipe up immediately. They are so much brighter than normal washable markers (but these are good, too for washable), but just make sure it’s on a play surface. We have them all in this caddy and she carries it around the house to wherever she wants to draw (often next to me working which is so cute/fun). They just have really good coverage, multiple tips, and awesome colors.
We did a lot of pressed flower art during quarantine and used this microwave flower press kit which was very satisfying.
Elliot got the paint spinning and spirograph kit from a friend and while it’s a lot of plastic (and be sure to buy extra round paper) she created so much art with it and still pulls it out. And if you are looking for some guidance, this is hands down our favorite crafting book for the recycled stuff you have around the house. We have done probably 20 of the projects together, it’s clever, so cute, and pretty easy.
Last year I gave Birdie this ‘How to Draw Animals‘ book and she referenced it a lot (and it actually was very satisfying for me, too). Charlie is obsessed with this ‘Easy Origami‘ book and while I have a hard time at it, he’s super into it.
This tool kit is intense and SO AWESOME, with real blades that are safe for kids so they can actually make stuff, not just pretend (but you should be nearby). Charlie made a lot during quarantine. He made swords, badges, necklaces and cut out a lot of cool shapes. It’s one of those things that if we get it out and give him the prompt they’ll get inspired and spend a long time working on a project. It’s AWESOME.
Lastly, KiwiCo is seriously awesome. We don’t have a subscription anymore but it’s one of those that they looked forward to getting and we could do them together.
We are Lego people and while they will make any lego kit, (as most parents know) they just play for hours with all their bits and pieces once you’ve established a large enough inventory.
This straw construction set is still a huge favorite and one that they take out ALL THE TIME.
Magnatiles – A classic that can drain hours and are so fun and educational and I’ve been known to sit down with them for hours to make a skyscraper (get the set with more pieces if you want to do that).
Create a Chain Reaction Kit and Electronic Snaps are two awesome Stem toys that you guys recommended to us last year and you really nailed it. They do require some parent help at first, but it’s pretty fun to do together and it certainly feels like they are learning a lot about science and engineering.
We bought these when the kids were tiny and still have them. They are an investment (which is why they’d be a great gift for a family with young kids) but they are big and soft so they can build really high without blocks falling on toes. We would build worlds for cars and action figures (and they aren’t offensive to look at! Best big foam wood blocks (that look like wood)
Board Games They/We Love
Thanks to you all who turned us on to specifically “collaborative games” after asking last year. If you don’t know what that means, they are board games where everyone works together to win the game together rather than compete and it just feels super positive and fun.
We love all four of these games all the time – even tonight on a gloomy Portland night, they make us feel way better than turning on the TV.
Storytime Chess is a new way to teach kids how to learn and play chess by setting up a very easy-to-remember story for each type of chess piece. Charlie learned how to play in a couple of hours and now it’s a super fun shared interest with Brian (I want to learn now). And Guess Who is just a total classic.
Green Screen Stop Motion Kit – Now this is NOT something that our kids have yet (I just ordered) but our kids loved making stop motion videos with our iPad during quarantine, with superheroes and legos, but we had to tape together green construction paper to make the green screen. So this kit (including gloves) seems like it might be really fun for them.
Electronic ATM Piggy Bank – It looks like garbage, but for whatever reason we are going on year #3 with this bank. I think it makes them feel like a grownup having a “pin number”.
I think nothing occupies our kids more than imagination play and most parents know that a lot of that can happen without buying anything. But there are a few things that we found really successful that helped encourage the play and kept them engaged longer.
Play Store – This store is AWESOME. It has an operable conveyer belt, a scanner that beeps, and a working credit card machine. We have clocked so many hours up here both with them (“math”) and on their own. I highly recommend this wood toy food that is NOT plastic, not just for the environment but kids much prefer the heaviness of wood. You can obviously just turn anything into a “store” with a cash register. And lastly don’t get a cute wood grocery cart, kids like the real stuff that looks like a grownup would actually use, so we have this metal one.
HOT TIP – any and all fun costumes that involve shields, crowns, wands, swords, wings, literally anything that puts them in a different world (doesn’t have to be full costumes) are gold. I go to Goodwill and get wacky costumes, wash them and shove them in a box and they get very excited.
Stuffies – But Not The Pretty Ones We Love
Our kids are “stuffie kids”(as you can see above in their room in our rental), and they really do play with them A LOT. They’ll set up scenarios in their rooms, talk in weird voices and I don’t know what they are doing but when I go check in on them they have all their stuffies placed strategically around the room and they are in it. It’s painfully sweet. But unfortunately, they are not into the cute ones that are embroidered, knitted, handmade, or look heirloom quality, much to my chagrin ( I want to do a separate post for heirloom gifts for kids). Sure, I buy these to decorate their rooms (I love these ones from Goodee) but I know that as a present to THEM this will not do. What do they want? The cheap ones with big eyes, anything colorful/unicorn/kitty cat OR it must be SUPER DUPER SOFT. Charlie likes realistic-looking ones and Birdie loves anything rainbow and sparkly.
Jellycat (super soft) are so cuddle-able.
Beanie Boos – TY. Listen I’m not happy about this either, but for our kids at least don’t try to get the prettiest or the least offensive beanie baby. Birdie wants the leopard unicorn with glitter eyes EVERY SINGLE TIME.
But here are some more in case you’d like some more ideas:
Now, this gift guide is the ‘what they have and love’ but I’m still considering doing ‘What we’re thinking of getting them this year (they are 6 and 9)’ as well as ‘their favorite books and clothes’ and might finish with ‘heirloom quality kids gifts from makers and small businesses (the stuff WE love)’. Let me know if any of those sound useful for you It can be so overwhelming so we are hoping to help the gifting process.
Also while we’ve linked everything up I do implore you to shop small and local when possible and just know that 10% of all our affiliate sales (the commission we get through these links with many of the companies) will be donated to Pen + Napkin for future makeovers of families transitioning out of homelessness. So if/when you are buying through our links know that it is supporting families and community. While gift guide season is a large revenue driver that supports our team and design projects for the whole year, we are committed to paying it forward. xx
Want some more ideas? Here’s more: My Favorite Things – The Official “Emily” Gift Guide Just Landed: PART 1 Home Decor