I always love when the time rolls around to curate these gift guides. This is my fourth year pulling lists together, and you’ll definitely see a few of the same toys again. That’s very purposeful, since I’m a sucker for tried + true classics. These toys are worth your hard-earned dollar and won’t break into a million pieces or give you headaches.
The simple toys are the ones that seem to stick and get the most play time for years and years. As my kids have gotten older – now 4, 3, and 1, their favorite toys are the sets that allow for deeper, creative, imaginative play, like a play kitchen or legos. So this year, I’ve included a giant list of the types of toys that fill our house. Kids get overwhelmed by excess just like adults, so pick quality over quantity. Please don’t feel like you need everything on this list. I’ve tried to make it easy so you could pick a few coordinating pieces to wrap under the tree and your child will end up with a toy that he or she will play with for months and years to come.
Also, I’d recommend spreading out presents throughout the day or even over a couple of days (if you can) to help your kids enjoy the experience. When a child opens a present, they want to explore and play with it right away. So giving them time, rather than rushing right to the next gift, is setting yourself up for a fun Christmas day that your kids can really enjoy.
Merry Christmas! It’s especially fun to celebrate the wonder of the season with little ones around the tree.
Gifts for Kids
Last year our kids got Magna-Tiles for Christmas and far and away, they are the favorite toy of the year. I’ve been so impressed with how well they’ve held up with daily use. The tiles still look like new, no broken or lost pieces. I love that they create little works of art and teach my kids about shapes and patterns. These are an easy toy to keep in our living room. The solid colors are my favorite choice. We bought the 100 piece set for Christmas and loved it so much (and the kids kept running out of pieces) that we added a 48 piece set for Tommy’s birthday. If you ask for one gift this year, I would highly recommend these.
One of our favorite activities as a family is to go on a bike ride to dinner or a park. Adding a child seat or a bike trailer to your adult bike means your family can suddenly have a whole new type of transportation and way of enjoying the outdoors. It took our kids only one or two biking trips to completely fall in love with this way of getting around. When they get older, a balance bike and then a big kid bike are some of the most exciting presents you could get on Christmas morning. Don’t forget helmets!
If you’re shopping for a little one and you have no idea what to give them, some fresh art supplies are never a bad idea. They also prove that kid gifts don’t have to be expensive (or more than $10) to be well-loved. There’s just nothing like a fresh box of crayons, a new watercolor set with paper, our tried + true favorite coloring books and sticker books, or a big roll of paper with dot markers.
This is another gift kids adore that doesn’t cost a lot. Kids love fresh, soft playdoh with colors that aren’t all mixed together yet plus a few simple tools (and we add in plasticware spoons and knives for them to use).
One of our most used and beloved toys is a collection of about 30 Schleich animals. We’ve gradually added animals which range from $3-10, and this brand has held up remarkably well compared with other toy animals, especially through teething toddlers. We like to build a zoo with duplo blocks, or line up all the animals in a parade. These make amazing stocking stuffers. Last year Tommy got a little gorilla family.
KNIGHTS + CASTLES
Kids can really get stuck on an idea, and for Tommy, this year it has been 100% knights, castles, princes, and kings. This has been really fun to see how we can encourage his imagination. I stumbled on Schleich’s series of knights and knew it was the perfect choice for Tom. Luckily, I already knew they would hold up well because of the animals we had bought. These are now the toy Tommy wants to take with him everywhere. This is a great toy you can build a collection of, since there are two “sides” for a battle, complete with kings and dragons and even a castle.
Alternatively, my mom still has my little brothers’ Playmobil castle and knights, and Tommy will disappear into the play room at her house and play with these for hours. I totally remember doing that as a kid too. Playmobil sets do have tons of little pieces, but it is definitely a tried & true brand (just beware if you have babies in the house too). They also have great sets like the city zoo, farm house, fire station, and pirate ship, which you could add to over time.
This is another toy that has endured in my parents’ house, always a good sign. We started with the figure 8 set, which I would recommend for a 2 year old. Then play becomes more fun + creative when you add the expansion pack, extra track, and a lifting bridge for preschool ages. The figure 8 set comes with a train, and we also have a caboose and a crane wagon set and Thomas the train.
A play kitchen is one of the best investments for a toy. When kids are visiting our house, this is inevitably the toy they all play with together. It’s a great toy for boys and girls too. Everyone needs to know how to cook! We bought a kitchen three Christmases ago, and I know we’ll keep it for grandkids someday. The baskets of play food from Learning Resources are the best. They look fairly realistic, are durable, and can be cleaned easily (since kids always want to eat the food). Kids love the baskets for picnics or grocery shopping, and I love them because it is instant storage. Also add on a cookware and dish set and some dessert, like cookies or ice cream!
I love the idea of one doll to become a little friend to my daughter, just like Laura’s doll in the Little House series. Those books will quickly remind you how little kids really need and how simplicity forces them to find and create their own fun. Here are a few dolls I love: Hazel Village animals, Abigail Brown fawn, Gotz baby dolls, BlaBla Bear. Hazel Village and BlaBla make great choices for little boys too. (note: don’t miss the ornament section below for another good doll idea!)
I wrote all about our DIY dollhouse here, but if you’d rather this wooden country mansion, is the one I’d buy. I think any kid would like a little Calico Critters family too, with or without a dollhouse. They are so sweet.
If you have a baby to shop for this year or are expecting, here are a few of our all-time favorite baby items to wrap up and tuck under the tree: Wheely Bug, Walker, Squish rattle, Raspberry teether, Ergo baby carrier, Jellycat lovey, Indestructibles books.
The kids got a trampoline last Christmas, and it truly helped us all survive the winter. They can get out a bunch of wiggles and energy when we are stuck indoors all day. I chose this trampoline because of the large square size with the padded handlebar and edges (but fyi: if you assemble it, it is a little bulky to transport). This option is foldable and comes highly rated. If you have the space, a slide is also a fantastic indoor toy for the winter.
Dress up is another great way to get your kids to expand their imagination. Post-Halloween is a perfect time to find dress up clothes on sale (be sure to look for outfits that will be durable.) Another option is to find pajamas that can double as a costume, which are super cute. Here are some options: Doctor, Ballerina, Superhero, Astronaut, Butterfly Fairy, Knight, Fire Chief, Chef’s Apron, Crown.
We love gifting books. For babies and toddlers, owning books is great because they chew them up and love repetition. For ages 0-2, I’d recommend: Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Charley Harper ABCs, Little Blue Truck (also a Christmas version), Dear Zoo, Each Peach Pear Plum, and I am a Bunny. As our kids have gotten older and like variety and novelty, we have become frequenters of our local library. However there are still some books that are worth owning. Here are some favorites for ages 3-5: The Jolly Postman (also a Christmas version), Caps for Sale, The Best Word Book Ever, Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, Jesus Storybook Bible with CDs, Stories Jesus Told, Busy Bunny Days, and Maps.
At the rate our kids grow, getting a new pair of shoes at Christmas is such a practical and welcome gift. We try to keep our kids’ shoe selections really limited for two reasons: to minimize the mess by the front door and to help them learn how to quickly get their own shoes on and off. This post has all the kid shoes we have loved over the years, but if I had to pick one it would be Saucony Jazz.
Last year we gave our kids a wooden nativity set, and I can’t wait to pull it out again. While we have a pretty glass set, it is really nice to have a version they can play with and use to act out the Christmas story. Since ours seems to be sold out and only available for 3 times what I paid, here are a few other versions: Haba 18 piece heirloom set, Playmobil set, Target nativity set.
This larger-scale version of Legos is an indispensable toy in our house. Like Magna-Tiles, our Duplos are played with often. A bonus is that our 11 month old often loves to chew on these, which helps keep the amount of baby toys needed to a minimum. The kids go play with the basket of duplos after breakfast almost every morning. You’ll also want a green building plate, and then you can add on fun sets like a number train, a zoo set, or a picnic set.
It’s a sweet tradition to gift your child an ornament each Christmas (although with three kids, I think our tree could fill up really fast!). We definitely have a few of the felted monogrammed ornaments from Anthro that are always super cute. Another tip though, is to check out the artist-designed ornaments from West Elm and cut off the string and you have an instant, handmade doll that’s perfectly toddler or preschool sized. We did this last year with a little felt ballerina bunny and Evelyn has kept her close by her side for the whole year. Don’t miss: ceramic monogrammed ornaments, deco letter ornaments, Erika Barratt Rabbit Girl ornament, Erika Barratt Fox Girl ornament, Erika Barratt Fox Boy ornament, Target snow kids ornaments, Target royal family ornaments.
Christmas pajamas are the cutest thing ever. Seeing all three of our kids last year in matching pajamas on Christmas Eve was the snuggliest. Here are some versions I like this year: Hanna Andersson striped pajamas, Burt’s Bees candy cane stripe, Gap + Pendleton plaid classic pajamas, Old Navy flannel pajamas, Old Navy striped henley sleeper.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” This fall has proven to me that if we can just get the kids outside, everyone’s mood improves and they are so much happier when they can get some energy out. I’m hoping to continue that during the winter, even when the weather drops. So, investing in some sturdy, warm snowsuits is a must (for them and me!). This doesn’t mean you have to buy all new stuff. I found a black puffer coat on ThredUP for myself, and snow overalls for the kids at a consignment store. Don’t forget mittens, hats (I like the Everlane Mini chunky knit beany), snow boots, and a sled or two.
Lastly, if you want to minimize clutter, ask for experience gifts. They are invaluable memories, but can be expensive for young families’ budgets. Here are some ideas: tickets to a ball game or amusement park; art, ballet, music, or gymnastics classes; family membership to the zoo, the Y, art museum, state park, children’s museum; tickets to see the Nutcracker ballet or a musical; swimming lessons. It’s especially fun if the gift-giver can join you in the experience or come to see a recital. Those memories will last much longer in your kids’ minds than any object could.