Our children are now 4 and 6. For reasons I’m not sure of (though I’m delighted by it!), some of our friends seek us out for holiday gift recommendations. Here are things that have really kept our family’s attention over the years, rather than gather dust.
(For 2-3 year olds: my blog post here.)
For 3 + 6 year olds:
These gifts probably resonate with kids are intrigued by projects, fiction, making / trying / imagining, etc. We only have the most basic sports-stuff, so I really don’t feel qualified to make any recommendations there. But our bicycles and soccer ball and hockey-things do get a lot of use too.
Reconfigurable marble rolling tracks
The most popular playtime activity during visits to the grandparents’ is getting out the big box of Imaginarium Marble Race Deluxe. Sure, some pieces are a little bendy the wrong way, and when you want to build exactly what’s pictured, you need to follow the directions carefully. But it’s super fun. Note: at least one Amazon reviewer prefers this competitor’s toy instead.
Setting up a kid project area, and making STUFF
Turn off the TV and make PVC marshmallow shooters or a terrarium with Howtoons: The Possibilities are Endless, a comic book about a brother-sister inventor duo by MIT alumni.
Any Bruder tonka-like trucks.
Reconfigurable well-made wooden toys. They have a hint of a snooty “heirloom” edge, and they’re pricey, but they’ve kept our interest for several years. The regular-sized ones.
The Fisher-Price Imaginext toys generate hours of pretend play. Big, durable, plastic, fun.
During the year, we visit hardware stores, electronics shops, Radio Shack, and MIT flea markets for stuff to tear apart or build from scratch. If you’re keen on that, why not get your kids a small project-box or toolkit, and pledge to build a few things with them in the new year?
Science kits in a box
In general, these are awful. Even when I go to high-end toy stores, the boxes of kits like “light!” or “electronics!” often disappoint. Fortunately they’re cheap enough that you don’t have much regret. For instance, this kit from Ein-O Science on light had enough stuff to make a very simple periscope but I don’t recommend it as more than a stocking stuffer.
We did have fun with the enduringly popular snap-together electronics set from Elenco: Snap Circuits. But, these are not ways to actually learn about electronics theory. For that, your kids either need to do projects from a Radio Shack book by Forrest Mims III, or take a ham radio test after reading an ARRL book, or something like that.
We haven’t gotten into robots yet. Families with big budgets and some pre-existing programming or electronics know-how consistently report enjoying stuff like Lego Mindstorms (really $$) or things hacked together with Arduino (but if you’re the right audience for that you probably already know about it).
Checkers or Chess
In particular, this chess set – Quick Chess - has a neat “placemat” with cartoons showing legal piece movements.
A decently high-end magic set
I can’t find it online tonight, but good ones do exist, with instructional DVDs.
Plenty of art supplies
…and a dedicated “art table,” desk, right-sized chairs, little storage bins, etc.
I’m cheating here because we don’t own one yet, but several friends have said this is one of the best gifts ever. Rather than peering into an eyepiece, today you can look at the computer screen to see life in a drop of water, or the detail in a dollar bill.
Subscriptions to nature magazines
There are several National Geographic kids magazines, for various age ranges. I think. Am I wrong? Anyhow, here.
Give them tickets to a great planetarium. Or, find a friend with a 6”+ telescope, to see the moon, or Saturn.
ROKENBOK – ZOMG, Rokenbok
How many mornings have we spent watching these videos. Warning: you will soon feel like mere tenants in your home, paying rent to a landlord named Rokenbok.
Again – about science kits
Almost all science kits are AWFUL. ** Please ** post exceptions to this in the comments here. Seriously. There’s like this plague in the educational toy industry in which stuffing a bunch of paper and cardboard and plastic in a box and calling it “science!” is considered okay somehow.
I’ll add as I remember more!