Alrighty, Team Parent, I’m just going to throw this out there. As a mom of three children who have a zillion different interests (with very few overlapping), I know how hard it can be to find a reliable gift that actually keeps on giving…ya know, longer than five minutes on Christmas morning.
Here is my short, sweet and non-overwhelming list of toys, games and experiences that have been tried and tested in our home and have easily withstood the test of time. These are our go-tos…our reliable fun-finders, time-killers and laugh-makers that save our sanity and keep ALL the kids happy:
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
One of our family favorites, this game is good for ages 3+ and focuses on color matching and rule comprehension. The goal is to get one acorn of every color using the spinner, but you could lose a turn, steal an acorn from another play, or dump all your acorns and start over. My sore losers used to get frustrated at this game, but now they LOVE it (even my 7-year old).
I just feel like this should be a household staple. My daughter was playing it at two years old and our teenage neighbor enjoys playing it when she visits. It’s simple. Flip two cards over and the first one to find the icon that is shown on both cards takes the cards. Most cards at the end wins. You’d be completely surprised by how hard this can be and how quickly you will start to second-guess your vision. This game is available in a variety of themes, including sports, princesses, and junior.
Bugs in the Kitchen
This one got opened by my kindergartener Christmas morning and was played with by my entire family for the remainder of the day (yup, we’re all in our 30s). It’s almost more fun with adults because it can be speedy and intense. As a hex bug runs through the labyrinth of silverware, your goal is to create a path to your space before anyone else can. It’s a great game of fast thinking and consequential decision making…and the hex bugs are hilarious.
It’s a memory game for the ages. As simple as it comes, this game flashes through four colors and you have to repeat the order in which it lights up (“Simon Says”…get it?) This version is a hit in our house and creates some intense competition between siblings since it keeps score and offers multi-player options. Ours comes out often on road trips or during quiet time at home.
This marble challenge course requires coordination and concentration. I love the idea that you’re racing against yourself and that the obstacles are just hard enough to make it possible to succeed, but you’re not guaranteed a victory every time. My preschooler likes it (but gets a little flustered) but, you guys, my second grader and his buddies will spend hours on this thing! It’s small enough to fit in your lap and perfect for keeping little hands (and minds) busy.
I’ve asked around for toy suggestions and these magnetic building tiles are some sort of mass phenomenon. Everybody recommends them! We got a set years ago and my kids ask for more so often that we finally broke down and bought them a 100-piece set for this upcoming Christmas. The more, the merrier with these things, but you can build anything using even a couple dozen. Kids’ imaginations will run wild and their creativity will be boundless. Also, word to the frugal (or smart): there are plenty of off-brand “Magna Tiles” that are no different than the originals, so don’t be afraid to save some moola and go generic.
This toy is a personal fave because our house is small and this toy gets built vertically (hey, I’m all about space-saving). Marble Run allows you to assemble multiple types of runs, including loops and zigzags and funnels and windmills. The small plastic tubes make it easy for little hands to help build, but creating the run is so tempting that my husband and I always butt in to make it fancier and more complex. Watch small kids with the marbles, obviously. But this is a good one for kids and parents to create together!
My sister and I played store a lot growing up, and we would fight about being the cashier because we would get to use the cash register. Well, they’ve come a long way in 30 years and this is the one used at our house now by all of my kids. With a scale for weighing food (or anything, really), a coin slot, built-in scanner, lights and sound, this is used when my littlest ones are playing restaurant or my oldest needs to calculate change at his annual lemonade stand. Educational and fun! Yay, parent win!
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Kids Scrapbook Kit
Nerd alert – I’m a scrapbooker! My friend and I take at least two weekends a year and escape to the northwoods to scrap incessantly for a full weekend with no disruptions. But when I can’t be away, I sometimes do my crafting with my kids. My daugher has taken a great interest in this hobby, but handing over all my supplies gets a little pricier than I would like (she’s only four). So what better to keep her occupied while I’m having MY fun than to get her HER own fun? Not only are you spending time together, but you’re both accomplishing something productive.
Water WOW Activity Pads
My famiy is on the go, like, a LOT. And my kids have to be doing something, like, ALL THE TIME. That’s why we fell in love with these Melissa & Doug water pads. They’re each only about five pages long, but the pen holds the water and by the time the kids get to the back page, the first page has already dried off and is ready to be colored again. Our favorites are the “maze and puzzles” and the “makeup and manicures” pads, but they all keep toddlers and preschoolers entertained for a long road trip.
DOLLS & DRESS-UP
This one is all thanks to my nieces, who swear by these princesses. Their dresses are easily removable, safe and interchangable for little fingers and, yes, they’re expensive (thanks Disney), but they really are a time suck. If you have a princess lover in your life, these dolls will keep them busy and preoccupied for a long, long time. There’s nothing more magical than watching your babies playing pretend, which is what I witness every time I see my nieces with these Magiclip dolls.
The Whimsy Factory
If you’ve got a kid who enjoys playing dress-up, just check out this local business. A) It’s locally owned by two awesome moms, B) The costumes are all non-itchy, machine-washable, and comfortable, and C) The price isn’t unreasonable. The owners of The Whimsy Factory stay up on the trends and their selection is always changing. If you have a costume to buy – for boys or girls – do check out their shop. We own the Elsa and Rapunzel dresses and our list just gets longer every time we look at their website. Plus, they offer gift cards!
Yeah, yeah…don’t judge. iPads have saved our family at restaurants, dinner parties, doctor visits, road trips, airplane rides, hospital stays, and a multitude of other public outings. It’s not a cheap gift, and I do think you need to be age-appropriate when your gifting this (it’s expensive), but it IS the gift that keeps on giving…you your time back when you can’t get a damn thing done because the kids need you 24/7 and this is your only source of reprieve. You can find them cheaper (check for certified refurbished options) and always be sure to pick up a shatterproof case to accompany it. This one is great (inexpensive AND it has a handle)!
Think & Learn Code-a-pillar
Well, we don’t own this cute little guy, but rumor has it, it’s the Gift of the Year! The motorized caterpillar is intended for kids ages 3-8 and encourages learning, patterns, problem-solving, and sequence. Littler ones will like the lights, noise and movement. Older kids will enjoy the critical thinking that goes into determining the caterpillar’s path by “programming” him together in various ways. I’m not gonna lie – I kind of want to play with this crazy bug.
Have your kids talked about these yet? Mine came home from school and let me know it was all the rage! It’s like a practice board for skateboarding or snowboarding (neither of which my son has any interest in doing…go figure), but can be done in the house or outside. He practices spin moves and board flips and hasn’t scuffed my floor up with it…yet. It’s a huge hit with his 2nd grade buddies and keeps him active and building his confidence. But if you have a little one who doesn’t like the idea of not having full bodily control, skip this one.
Strider Balance Bike
This is a gift that pays for itself in training alone. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – balance bikes completely eliminate the need for training wheels and I guarantee your kid will learn faster and more confidently with a balance bike like this. Both of our kids were two-wheeling at four years old thanks to our Strider. It’s simple enough for (courageous) toddlers and gives freedom to the preschooler who wants to soar with their feet off the ground. It builds balance so efficiently that taking off with a two-wheel bike should be easy breezy. An absolute must-have!
Because the power of pretend play is so very important, this teepee is key in our house. Not only does it serve a great role in giving my kids a quiet space to read or play without interruption from their siblings, but it’s super cute and easy to fit in a smaller, narrower space. For the kid who has everything, this is a sure bet. It can even be used outside in the summer months to host picnics and tea parties!
Foam Bath Letters and Numbers
Oh, bath toys…literally the bane of my existence. I’m far to OCD to enjoy those rubber squirters because I keep envisioning them filled with mold as my child sucks the water off of them with all his vigor. Nope, I’m much more content with something like these foam letters. They stick to the side of the bath wall, they don’t get moldy (in fact, the mesh bag is the perfect way to air them out post-tub), and BONUS: they’re educational! My kids love spelling phrases and giggling with each other (yes, spelling “FART” is a staple for us) and clean-up is a breeze. I don’t know. I just think these make a great gift for all ages. They are used in our house by baby and elementary schooler alike.
Laugh and Learn Workbench
My one-year old just received this gift for his birthday and it’s easily his favorite new toy in the house. Parents like it because there is volume control, it doesn’t take up a lot of space, it teaches shapes and colors and there aren’t any detachable pieces. Babies love it because it lights up, sings to them and they can whack it til their hearts content without doing any damage. Seriously, my son is El Destructo, and this workbench has withstood some major beatings. A great, compact gift for the littlest love in your life.
Little People Rampway
THIS! This is the big winner! This toy has been in our house for 7 years and has been thoroughly enjoyed by all three children. There’s a million car ramps out there to choose from, but we love this one because our kids could play with it at one year old withouth tipping it too easily, it takes up less horizontal space than other car ramps out there, plus the Little People cars are chunky and easier for small hands to hold. There are sounds and lights and a small pretend gas pump that my preschooler uses when playing pretend. Basically, this toy has been used at random by all of them from babyhood to toddlerhood and even through preschool. This one might be the hardest for me to retire when the time comes (it’ll most likely be saved in my laundry room for the day we have grandkids. I know, I know…I’m ridiculous). Definitely a fantastic gift for both genders and a variety of ages.
Yookidoo Bath Toys
There are mixed reviews out there about Yookidoo bath toys, but all the ones we have owned have been fantastic and lasted longer than many of the bad reviews warned they would, including this Musical Duck Race. These small spray ducks are fun for little hands, babies and toddlers alike. With sound and spray, it can keep them busy forever! It does take batteries, but the water pump just sucks up the tub water and it can run the whole bathtime should your child prefer. My kids also enjoyed the Yookidoo Stack and Spray fountain (available here). Definitely makes bath time more enjoyable (for kids AND parents!).
If we’re being honest though, toys can only get you so far and last so long. Making memories and taking adventures is an excellent gift for your children too, so here’s a quick list of our favorite “experience” gifts we’ve enjoyed with our littles:
- A membership to the Crayola Experience
- A day spent at the American Girl Store (includes a trip to the doll hair salon, of course)
- Build-a-Bear gift certificates
- A night at a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game
- Passes to the Minnesota Zoo
- A membership to the MN Children’s Museum
- Check out my post with 26 additional ideas for awesome experience gifts
I hope this gift guide gave you some decent ideas for the child in your life. Giving the perfect present is one of the best feelings…almost as fulfilling as watching a kid jump up and down with excitement upon opening it!
Already looking to your shopping future? Check out these hot toys for Christmas 2017.
What gift ideas do YOU have? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments so I can add them to our list.
And Happy Holidays from the family of MinneMama Adventures!!
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