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I debated with myself about putting together a list of Christmas gifts for kids – but I lost the debate. So, even though no children still live in my home with me, here is my list of ideas.
But before I get to the actual list, I want to let you know how I decided what to include. I had a few firm guidelines to narrow my choices.
First, nothing that required batteries or made any sort of electronic sounds. I figure most families with children have this category well-covered.
Second, no books. I know, you’re shocked! But books are something that – to me at least – are a separate, special category. I have a few lists of books for kids on my blog already, so check them out if you need ideas.
Third, all my suggestions needed to nurture the imagination and creativity of children. For example, I love basic Lego kits, but the not fancy ones that give you precise directions for creating a castle or boat. By providing directions, your child’s imagination and creativity is squashed and their frustration usually increases!
Fourth, both indoor and outdoor toys and activities. I firmly believe that children need to play outside every day unless there’s a hurricane or blizzard blowing through. That’s why we buy them raincoats, rubber boots, heavy coats, and mittens. But you will also need indoor activities for those blizzards, hurricanes, and blazing hot summer afternoons when you’ve already been outside all morning.
Finally, I’m always concerned about safety. Maybe this should have been listed first, but I figured it was a no-brainer and almost didn’t include it at all.
Now, on to my recommendations!
Gifts for Indoor Activities
Dolls, Action Figures, Animal Figurines
Children can create entire worlds with their imaginations and sticks. If you throw in a few carefully selected dolls, action figures, or animals, they will amaze you.
As difficult as it may be to find them, you get more bang-for-your-buck in the world of imagination for providing toys not associated with any books, TV shows, movies, or YouTube videos. Just basic toys with no commercial tie-in. Besides, they are usually cheaper!
Paper, Paint, Brushes, and Crafting Supplies
I personally don’t prefer coloring books, although both my children and grandchildren loved/love them. Just limit their use.
Instead, unleash your child’s creativity with open-ended art items. Paint is universally adored by children – so get out that dollar store shower curtain, cover your table, strip them down or provide adult t-shirts, and let them create!
Also allow the liberal use of glue, scissors, paper in all sorts of colors, and items for gluing such as feathers, beads, felt cut-outs, or anything else that strikes your fancy (or theirs) in the craft store.
Just remember, this is more about doing than what the finished product is. As your children age, they will naturally and in their own time and manner switch their focus from doing to creating a project.
Yes, yes, yes! Puzzles are usually loved by children (unless they are too hard) and kids will do the same puzzles over and over again. They love the sense of accomplishment, success, and independence putting together a puzzle gives them.
You may have to help a little but do as little as possible!
As for what types of puzzles – that depends on your children’s ages and abilities. Chunky puzzles are great for toddlers, floor puzzles for preschoolers, and puzzles up to 50 pieces for most children above age 7 or 8. You know your children best, so let them be your guide.
As for brand: my hands-down favorite is Melissa & Doug. I have several of their puzzles. My kids have several of their puzzles at their houses too. They are extremely good quality and hold up to a lot of childish neglect and abuse. Although dog teeth can create some damage!
Wooden blocks (I personally dislike cardboard blocks), Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Legos, K’Nex, Erector Sets – any of these provide a great challenge for your children based on their ages. If fact, I’ve listed them in the order I think they should be introduced.
Again, as I mentioned in the introduction, be cautious of using kits with directions. They are great, just like building models, for older children (maybe age 12 & up) but can be a great source of frustration for younger children.
One problem my sons always had with the directions-provided kits was their unwillingness to deconstruct their creation so they could create something else. This teaches children there is only one right way to use that kit, there is only one right way to solve a problem, and the directions can never be modified. That’s a poor life lesson.
You just can’t go wrong with various sizes of cardboard boxes. From cereal boxes to moving boxes big enough to climb into, these cheap or free toys provide fertile ground for the imagination!
Gifts for Outdoor Activities
Bikes, Trikes, Scooters, Anything with Wheels
Outdoor play is all about activity – using and developing those major muscles that will propel your kids through life. And a large part of that is learning coordination between those muscles.
Learning to push toys with wheels, then sit and push with their feet, and finally learning to pedal – these are all part of learning coordination and balance that wheeled toys are superb at. A lifetime of the joy of bike-riding starts with toddler toys with wheels. Get some!
Toddlers are great at finding amazing treasures outside. Whether it’s a leaf, an acorn, a rock, a dead bug, or a flower petal – they are fascinated by discovering new and exciting playthings.
But as they move into the preschool years, adding a few tools can help them extend this joy of exploration and discovery into a painless learning experience. Start small by providing such tools as magnifying glasses, small containers for saving treasures, and oversized tweezers for picking up interesting but yucky items.
These found treasures can simply be saved indefinitely, sorted, used in art projects, or become the beginning of an elaborate collection. Again, don’t focus on the end, but on the exploration and discovery process.
I know sandboxes can be messy. They are hard to keep dry. They have to be covered to try to keep critters out. The sand ends up everywhere. But they are so much fun!
You can get a kit to build a sandbox on the ground with a closable lid. You can buy a plastic raised table for a sand play area that is easier to protect and clean. You can even just get oversized plastic storage tubs for sand play.
The benefits of playing with sand include developing fine motor skills (hello, decent handwriting!), gross motor skills, volume knowledge (how much sand fills this cup or that bucket), and creativity (how can I make a bigger tower?).
On a side note – you can also use rice, beans, lentils, and even some pastas to play with inside. Rice and sand are the perennial winners!
Playgrounds, Swings & Such
If you have a playground area anywhere close to where you live – take your kids often! Let them climb so high they need help getting down. Let them swing upside down by their knees (yes, you can stand close by!). Let them figure out the way up on their own.
Let them explore every inch of the playground in their way. Your job is to stand by, watch, encourage, and brush off the bruised knees when needed.
Risk is a part of life. You cannot protect your children from risk, but by allowing them to take risks, even small ones in a playground, you are teaching them to do hard things. That is so much more important than getting through childhood without stitches or broken bones!
Confession time – I had two sons, no daughters. I care for my two grandsons – not my granddaughter. I know about boys and anything that can be kicked, thrown, or caught!
From their earliest ages, my sons’ favorite toys with balls: playground balls, baseballs, soccer balls, footballs, basketballs. If there were no balls around, there were pillows to throw, wadded up paper to shoot at trash cans, and crushed cans for kicking around.
Again, it’s all about muscle development and coordination. Balls are cheap and there is no such thing as too many! Of course, set ground rules early – like all ball play is outside!
Indoors or Outdoors – the Important Work of Childhood is Play