It’s hard to believe this is my fifth year curating a set of gift guides. It’s no mistake that many toys have shown up year after year. They’re the same tried + true classics that are still being used in my home. I’ve also updated the list with new suggestions as my kids have gotten bigger, and I’ve come across excellent new ideas. 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 5, 4, and nearly 2, 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
1 // TOOL BENCH
2 // MAGNA-TILES
One of our best all-time toys ever is Magna-Tiles. After two years, I’m so impressed with how well they’ve held up with daily use. The tiles still look like new, no broken or lost pieces. It’s phenomenal. I love that they create little works of art and teach my kids about geometric shapes and patterns. The solid colors are my favorite choice. We bought a large set for Christmas and loved it so much (and the kids kept running out of pieces) that we added more for Tommy’s birthday. If you ask for one gift this year, I would highly recommend these.
3 // BIKES
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.
4 // BABY TOYS
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:
5 // PLAY KITCHEN
A play kitchen is at the top of our best toy investments. 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 splurged on an oven and sink set four Christmases ago, and I know we’ll keep it for grandkids someday. If you’re shopping, we love the quality of our Pottery Barn kitchen, like this grey all-in-1, but I also like the kitchens by Hape and Ikea.
We started with a few baskets of play food from Learning Resources. The play food looks fairly realistic, is 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 set of dishes and cookware and some dessert, like these cute new cookies or a hot cocoa set.
6 // ANIMALS
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. They’re good enough that my kids are still requesting them this year – a deer family, an orca, a pangolin, a moose and black bear.
7 // ART SUPPLIES
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 the ultimate box of crayons and our tried + true favorite coloring books and sticker books.
For something a little more advanced, my daughter is asking for an art set box.
8 // DOLL
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. Some of our best gifts have actually been hand-me-downs. I’m so grateful my mom kept my Bitty Baby doll and American Girl Samantha doll. While you can buy new versions of the dolls, I’d strongly recommend checking Ebay and Etsy for the older versions by Pleasant Company, which really are more nuanced, detailed and higher quality. The older books have depth and teach about significant points of history for women and girls (you can also find them in the library). Plus, you can still send dolls to their Doll Hospital to make them look like new.
9 // DOLLHOUSE
10 // SHOES
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. I’d recommend Saucony Jazz , Minnetonka Boots, and Clark’s Desert Boots.
11 // PLAYMOBIL
During the last year, my kids’ love for the tiny pieces of Playmobil has exploded exponentially. They can disappear for hours setting up imaginative worlds. This cannon has been in use daily. (Beware of all the little pieces, if you have babies in the house.) They have sets that you can add to over time, with lots of different price ranges available. Try something like a Nativity Stable, Hawk Knights’ Castle, Roman Warrior Ship, or a Pony Farm.
12 // BOOKS
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), 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.
We also have started reading chapter books aloud, and our favorites have been The Little House on the Prairie books and Charlotte’s Web. I’m hoping to start Ballet Shoes (remember, Kathleen Kelly’s suggestion in You’ve Got Mail?) and The Chronicles of Narnia this year.
13 // TRAMPOLINE
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.
14 // LEGOS + DUPLOS
For years, our Duplos with a green building plate have been an indispensable toy for years now. I spotted this cute Duplos pizzeria set this year too. With a five-year old, we’re graduating to our first set of legit Legos. I’m imagining lots of building on Christmas morning.
15 // EXPERIENCES
Lastly, if you want to minimize clutter, ask for experience gifts. They are invaluable memories, but can be expensive for young families’ budgets. If you still love the idea of giving something tangible, consider tying your present to an experience. Here are some ideas:
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.