Of everyone on our lists, kids are the most fun to buy holiday gifts for. Sharing their delight and wonder reinvigorates our joy for the holiday. So it’s no wonder a 2018 survey by ipostparcels, a British division of the shipping service DHL, showed people spend more time thinking about and shopping for children than for anyone else.
Though children are the most likely to tell us what they want for Christmas, we could all use a little help when it comes to finding gifts for the kids on our lists. Despite all his magic talents, Santa’s not a mind reader – especially when it involves trying to discern the writing on a handwritten letter. And friends and family members who don’t see the children on their lists often frequently have even more trouble choosing the right gift.
Luckily, there are loads of expert- and kid-approved picks for every age.
How to Choose the Best Gifts for Kids
It’s a common misconception that kids only ever want the hot toy of the year. Having been an educator at all grade levels for more than 20 years, I can attest that each kid has their own unique interests.
So, before you pull the latest Hatchimal off the shelf, think about the specific child you’re buying for.
- Know Their Interests. If you aren’t the parent and don’t already know, check in with the parents or the kids themselves. Are they into sports, science, music, or art? Disney princesses, “Paw Patrol,” or Legos? Don’t be afraid to simply ask what kids want. Research published by the Association for Psychological Science found the best gifts are those people specifically requested.
- Consider the Child’s Age and Development. Kids’ physical and cognitive abilities vary widely from one age range to the next. A board game that requires anything more complicated than spinning a dial and moving game pieces along colored squares is wasted on a preschooler. But don’t assume that building and programming a robot is too advanced for an 8-year-old.
- Avoid Gender Stereotyping. Don’t assume all girls are into dolls and unicorns and all boys are into dinosaurs and superheroes. I know many a kid whose interests run counter to gender stereotypes. That doesn’t mean you should get every little boy on your list a doll and every little girl a superhero action figure – only that some of them may be interested in those things.
Gift Ideas for Preschoolers – Ages 3-4
Kids don’t really start getting into Christmas until they’re around 3. They know all about the big guy and can’t wait to see what he brings them. Even though they’ve left their baby and toddler years behind, it still pays to think about preschoolers’ physical, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities when choosing the right gift.
Language & Literacy Skills
Preschoolers are great talkers. They love to chat up anyone who’ll listen as they learn about the art of conversation. And as they master the use of language, they start to develop early literacy skills. Preschool curriculums typically focus on learning letters, numbers, and phonics in preparation for reading.
1. Picture Books
Children can graduate from board books as soon as they’re unlikely to tear the pages of a real book. This opens up a wide range of more sophisticated stories, including those that help teach emotional and social development and inform preschoolers about the world around them.
With this in mind, here are some choice picks to stock a preschooler’s library with:
- “The Wonderful Things You Will Be” by Emily Winfield Martin leads the child through a magical world from the perspective of the parents, who see wonderful things when they look at their kids.
- “Ada Twist, Scientist” by Andrea Beatty stars a curious girl who can’t stop asking why. It’s also one of a marvelous series of children’s books that include titles like “Sofia Valdez, Future Prez,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” and “Iggy Peck, Architect.”
- “Moon! Earth’s Best Friend” by Stacy McAnulty teaches children about the moon from the viewpoint of the moon herself. It’s part of the “Our Universe” series, which includes “Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years” and “Sun! One in a Billion.”
- “When You Are Brave” by Zietlow Miller gives kids a strategy for dealing with their fears when the world seems scary.
- “Saturday” by Oge Mora is about how wonderful it is spending time with family, even when plans go wrong.
2. A Kids Edition Learning Tablet
Electronic learning tools like tablets teach children this age literacy skills through apps and games. The 2019 Kindle Fire HD 10 kids-edition tablet features a 10-inch screen, full high-definition display, and a kid-proof case, so it won’t break if dropped. Plus, unlike the case that came with its predecessor, this one has a fold-out stand to prop it up.
Preload it with Homer, a top-rated, research-backed literacy app for the Kindle that teaches letters and phonics through fun games and art activities. Although the app is a free download, use of the app beyond the initial 30-day trial period requires a reasonably priced monthly subscription.
For a tablet that’s explicitly learning- and literacy-focused, go with the LeapPad Academy kids’ learning tablet from LeapFrog, the leader in kids electronic literacy tools. It comes preloaded with over 20 educational apps, including a three-month free trial of LeapFrog Academy, an interactive progressive-learning program. And its Android-based system allows kids to download hundreds more.
3. A Smart Speaker & Lamp
Amazon specifically created the Echo Dot for kids with children in mind. Parents no longer have to worry about their kids getting into mischief, like ordering an expensive dollhouse and 4 pounds of cookies with the parents’ stored credit cards. Instead, kids can ask Alexa to tell them a bedtime story or a knock-knock joke, play them music or audiobooks, and even play games with them.
Pair it with an Echo Glow, a smart lamp that helps preschoolers through bedtime and wake-up routines with timers and color-changing lights.
According to multiple studies, including a meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Psychology, music aids language development and even helps improve early literacy skills. Therefore, it’s crucial to include music in little ones’ lives.
4. Musical Instruments
Let them explore sound patterns to their heart’s content with a set of musical instruments. The Ohuhu musical instrument set comes with a wide variety of musical instruments, including maracas, bells, castanets, a rattle drum, a tambourine, a double sound tube, a triangle, and a xylophone – all packed into an easily portable backpack.
5. An Electronic Musical Toy
The B. Symphony musical orchestra toy by B. Toys introduces your child to the classics with 15 songs and 13 musical instruments. The repositionable instruments let kids experiment with different sounds.
The Fisher-Price Think & Learn Rocktopus encourages similar musical creativity in the form of a fun octopus friend. It comes with musical cartridges kids can insert to make different instrument sounds. They can also tap keys and drums to play a total of 15 musical instruments in five musical styles. It features three play modes: music, math, and games.
6. A Karaoke Machine
Help kids channel their inner Elsa or Anna with a Frozen 2 karaoke machine. Sing along with the preprogrammed songs or connect an MP3 device to stream your own playlist. While little ones belt their hearts out, lights flash on the boombox to make them feel like a real rock star.
Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM)
As early as infancy, kids can start working on STEM skills through sensory exploration involving things like bins of pasta or Cheerios. But once kids enter preschool, more advanced learning – like the kind involved in coding toys and science kits – becomes possible.
7. A Play-Doh Set
Play-Doh is beloved by preschoolers everywhere. There’s something about squishing your fingers into the soft, pliable dough that’s just plain fun. A homemade edible play dough recipe, like the homemade peanut butter play dough from Little Bins, Little Hands, is an excellent lesson in chemistry – teaching kids how ingredients come together to make something new. But once they’re no longer likely to put it in their mouths, they can explore the world of “real” Play-Doh.
The Play-Doh Classic Fun Factory play set comes with eight tubs of Play-Doh plus shape plates and a trimming knife to keep kids creating. Or introduce them to a variety of interesting textures with the Play-Doh Compound Corner variety pack. More than just basic dough, this set crackles, oozes, and stretches with a combination of slime, cloud, stretch, foam, and Krackle dough.
8. A Beginner Coding Toy
Believe it or not, preschool isn’t too early to start acquiring some basic coding skills. Plus, getting a toy to do precisely what you tell it is pretty darn cool. On the Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar, kids connect segments that direct the caterpillar to move forward, backward, left, or right. Each segment lights up as the action happens, and a motorized head segment completes the toy with lights, sounds, and blinking eyes.
A tangram is a two-dimensional puzzle made by cutting a rectangle into seven geometric shapes. Children can arrange the shapes to make big squares and triangles or more complex patterns, like animal shapes. Just like blocks, tangrams teach kids about spatial relationships. The Montessori tangram set from Gemem comes with 155 colorful wooden pattern blocks kids can arrange into an infinite array of animals, bugs, flowers, and vehicles – pretty much anything they can dream up.
For a simpler puzzle that teaches the same basic skills, go with the Melissa & Doug beginner wooden pattern blocks set. It adds ovals and circles to the mix along with the usual triangles, squares, and rectangles. And the colorful design templates make it easier for some preschoolers to learn before moving on to more advanced tangrams.
10. A STEM-Centric Subscription Box
For a gift that represents all the letters in STEM, go for an Amazon STEM Club subscription. Each month, kids receive expert-selected toys — like terrariums and automobile engineering kits – for play and exploration related to science, technology, engineering, or math.
The Koala Crate from Kiwi Co. is a subscription option for preschoolers that delivers more than just toys. Kids get a themed box every month with enough materials for two or three STEM and art projects, plus a magazine, online tutorials, and an activity guide for parents.
Arts & Crafts
Most preschoolers love to paint, color, and draw. Though the average preschooler would be thrilled by a set of crayons and coloring books, take it up a notch with some more complex art tools.
11. A Scratch Art Set
Scratch art is guaranteed to fascinate little ones as they scrape the paper with their hand-drawn designs to reveal a rainbow of colors. The Melissa & Doug Deluxe Combo scratch art set includes 16 scratch art sheets, two stylus tools, and three frames – plenty to get them started exploring this medium.
12. An Art Easel
They’ll feel just like a real artist with their own easel. The all-in-one kids art easel from Hape includes a dry-erase board, chalkboard, and paper roll so kids can explore art with a variety of mediums.
Fine Motor Skills
At the preschool stage, kids are still learning to use the fine muscles in their hands to do things like hold a pencil, crayons, or a paintbrush. And many of them haven’t yet learned to tie their shoes or manipulate buttons. So any toy that helps develop these skills is both useful and fun.
13. A Building Set
For preschoolers ready to graduate from Duplos, the next step is Lego Juniors, designed for ages 4 and up. If your little one is a superhero fan, check out the Lego Juniors Spider-Man vs. Scorpion Street Showdown set.
For a sciencey twist on building sets, get them a magnetic tiles building set. These are a staple of preschools everywhere because they teach cause and effect and hand-eye coordination. Plus, magnets are a whole lot of fun.
14. A Skills Board or Skills Doll
A stuffed animal, doll, or board with zippers, buttons, snaps, and laces teaches preschoolers how to dress themselves. The Melissa & Doug basic skills board enhances their manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination and teaches them necessary dressing skills.
Sports & Outdoors
Preschoolers are more capable than toddlers but don’t have the coordination and dexterity of older children. Toys like tricycles and sports sets help them develop these skills.
15. A Tricycle or Balance Bike
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most kids are ready for a tricycle by age 3. Tricycles help preschoolers develop the coordination involved in learning to pedal before graduating to a bike. One that’s low to the ground with a wide base – like the Barbie Tough Trike or Harley-Davidson Tough Trike from Fisher-Price – prevent injuries caused by accidental tipping.
Some parents and bicycling experts say tricycles don’t teach the balance and steering skills necessary for riding a bike. In fact, Chris Cassidy, communications director for the San Francisco Bicycling Coalition, told NBC News training wheels are a thing of the past. Instead, they argue in favor of a balance bike, which is a two-wheeled bike powered by pushing rather than foot pedals. Strider, the original creator, makes the highest-rated balance bikes.
16. An Indoor Trampoline
Kids are full of energy. An indoor minitrampoline allows them to expend some of it while working on gross motor and coordination skills. The Little Tikes 3-foot trampoline lets them bounce while holding a handlebar, so they stay safe from injury. The Skywalker Trampolines minitrampoline comes with an enclosure net that frees them to jump as high as they like.
17. A Sports Set: T-Ball, Golf, Basketball, or Soccer
A set of equipment for their favorite sport is another fun gift that helps kids master hand-eye coordination. A T-ball miniset lets preschoolers practice their swing while teaching their brains to make connections between their eyes and arms. Likewise, a golf set helps them master the art of connecting club to ball.
Or forgo the swinging instruments altogether and help preschoolers develop hand-eye coordination and foot-eye coordination. A Little Tikes basketball set keeps them active on snowy and rainy days while they’re stuck inside. And when they’re able to make it outdoors, they can have a blast kicking a kid-friendly learning soccer ball into portable pop-up soccer nets.
Your toddler was too young for family game night. But your preschooler is old enough to introduce them to the concepts of rolling dice, matching cards, and taking turns with some basic beginner games.
18. A Board Game
Simple, straightforward games like Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land lay the foundation for later gameplay and enhance social skills by teaching preschoolers how to follow rules and take turns. And the ThinkFun Zingo bingo game has received critical acclaim for helping develop early reading skills.
19. A Puzzle Set
Puzzles are a lot of fun, and preschoolers gain confidence as they figure them out. The Melissa & Doug Mermaid Fantasea wooden jigsaw puzzle has a colorful design that captures preschoolers’ attention. Or get them a boxed set of puzzles featuring their favorite characters, like the PJ Masks.
20. Card Games
Simple matching and counting games reinforce the cognitive skills preschoolers are beginning to master. A set of card games like Go Fish, Memory, and Old Maid can keep your little one entertained for hours.
It’s tempting to buy only educational toys for kids. But imaginative play is crucial for children. It unleashes their creativity and helps them develop critical emotional and social skills through role-playing. Dr. Laurel Bongiorno, the director of Champlain College graduate program in early childhood education, writes that play is a primary method of learning.
21. A Play Set for Fictional Role-Play
Role-play lets kids interact in their own imaginative worlds, enhancing their understanding of social roles.
At the Nickelodeon Paw Patrol Mighty Pups Lookout Tower, Chase is “on the case” as he and the Paw Patrol gang keep an eye on Adventure Bay from this 2-1/2-foot tower. Whenever someone’s in need of rescue, they’re ready to respond with the included exclusive vehicle, which features lights and sounds.
Or journey to Arendelle with the gigantic 5-foot Arendelle Castle, which comes with 14 cool accessories for decorating seven different rooms. The press of a button sets off a northern lights-inspired light show. And it’s large enough to hold full-size dolls, like the Singing Elsa doll, which belts out “Into the Unknown” from the newly released “Frozen 2.”
22. A Play Set for Real-Life Role-Play
While toys for fictional role-play allow kids’ imaginations to soar into magical and untold realms, “real-life” play sets – like kitchens, food trucks, grocery stores, and doctors offices – let kids try on roles from their everyday lives. Playacting as Mom, Dad, or a store clerk helps kids figure out the social roles of people they interact with.
The Melissa & Doug Get Well Doctor wooden activity center lets kids pretend to be doctors as they see patients through a check-in center, waiting room, and exam room. The play set includes a blood pressure monitor, X-rays to display, a scale, an eye chart, a clock with movable hands, a sink, a credit card reader, and file slots in addition to interchangeable artwork, a seat in the waiting area, and a patient bed in the exam room.
Gift Ideas for Younger Elementary School Kids – Ages 5-7
Crafts, building materials, bikes, and fun science kits are among the top toys for this age group. Younger elementary school kids are noticeably better at fine motor skills than preschoolers. So the best toys help them build objects, create things, and draw detailed pictures.
Language & Literacy Skills
Kids’ reading abilities vary widely in this age range. Typically, kindergarteners are just beginning to read, while second-graders might be mastering developmentally appropriate novels.
23. Early Reader Books
Regardless of their reading level, the best book gifts are those that speak to kids’ interests. So if you have a kindergartner who’s an avid watcher of the Disney Junior channel, a box set of pre-level 1 books featuring their favorite characters is sure to get your kid reading.
24. Chapter Books
Chapter books suit most first- and second-graders. A box set of “The Never Girls” by Kiki Thorpe, a series about four best friends whisked off to Neverland, will delight Disney fans. Dog lovers will drool over the “Dog Man: The Supa Epic Collection” by Dav Pilkey, the creator of “Captain Underpants.”
Dr. Robert Cutietta, an expert in musical education writing for PBS, says kids are ready for formal music lessons by the age of 5. He references a growing body of research that’s found a window of opportunity for exposing kids to music. From birth to age 9, kids’ cognitive capacities for processing and understanding music are at their prime, making this an ideal age to introduce a musical instrument. Cutietta recommends two popular instruments he says are ideal for this age.
25. A Guitar
A kid-size guitar lets them feel like a real musician with just a few inexpensive music lessons. The Janod Confetti guitar features a fun design and is the perfect size for little arms and fingers. Or go with a more classic child-size acoustic guitar complete with a waterproof bag, picks, a sturdy nylon-and-leather strap, a cleaning wipe, a clip tuner, and a capo to help them quickly switch musical keys. For bigger kids, a full-size electric guitar like Fender’s American Professional II Telecaster is a better long-term choice — one they’ll happily grow into over the years.
26. A Keyboard
Before springing for a piano, make sure the kid on your list is committed to the instrument with a less expensive Casio keyboard. The beginner bundle includes a 44-key keyboard specially sized for little fingers, a comprehensive learning course designed for children, and stickers for labeling keys to make learning to play easier.
Once kids have mastered reading and numbers, it opens them up to a whole new world of STEM-based experiences. They’re now capable of playing with chemistry, more advanced coding, and even robotics.
27. A Slime-Making Kit
Making slime is chemistry in action. It involves combining ingredients to form long-chain polymers – the molecules that hold together the gooey ooze. Plus, there’s something about slime kids can’t resist. So get your budding scientist a make-your-own-slime kit like the Make Your Own Galaxy Slimygloop or the Nickelodeon SuperSlime Studio kits.
28. A Coding Kit
Kano coding kits let kids learn to code while imagining themselves as their favorite characters. With the Kano Harry Potter coding kit, kids can use a computer or tablet and a few easy-to-follow instructions to wave a magic wand to see instant effects on screen, like making feathers float, pumpkins grow, and goblets multiply.
Or they can wield the power of the Force and a sensor they build themselves to swing lightsabers, force-push Stormtroopers, and pilot X-wings with the Kano Star Wars: the Force coding kit.
29. A Robot
Take coding to the next level by giving kids their own robot. The Thames and Kosmos Kids First coding kit takes them through lessons on coding and model building. Likewise, the Botzees coding kit lets kids build robots and control them through an app or built-in motion sensors. Even better, this kit is designed for little minds and hands as young as 4 if a little brother or sister wants to join in on the fun.
30. An Augmented Reality Game or Toy
Today’s technology combines both physical and digital play. Augmented reality brings toys and games to life through smartphones, tablets, or computers. The game Shifu Plugo Count uses stories and puzzles with an iOS, Android, or Amazon Fire OS device to guide kids through a series of math challenges.
The Merge Cube lets kids use augmented reality to dig up a dinosaur, hold the galaxy in their hands, or build a Minecraft world. Though marketed to teachers as a tool for engaging students with their lesson plans, it’s also a super-cool toy filled with both gameplay and educational opportunities. And it can be paired with a VR headset for additional fun.
31. A Creator Subscription Box
A subscription to a monthly science kit keeps the gift – and the learning – going all year. Mel Kids delivers a monthly box full of science projects like bottle rockets and hydraulic lifts supplemented with augmented reality, comic books, and games. Kiwi Co. delivers a range of creative, scientific, and tinkering projects every month with its classic Kiwi Crate.
Arts & Crafts
At this age, kids move from drawing and coloring to full-on crafting and making. Let them exercise their creative muscles with a variety of maker kits and design tools.
32. A Craft Supply Kit
Unleash your child’s creativity with the Kid Made Modern Arts and Crafts Library. It contains over 1,000 crafting supplies, including different types of beads, several pipe cleaner shapes, decorative elements like googly eyes and pom-poms, and multiple types of fabric along with craft tools like safety scissors and glue — enough to create just about anything they can imagine.
For more structured crafts, subscribe them to the We Craft Box, a monthly box of craft projects that contains all the supplies needed to make two to three craft projects with two children. Each month has a new theme connected to a story. For example, a past box featured the theme “Out of This World” and included a UFO craft, Silly Putty, and glow-in-the-dark paint to make a photo backdrop.
33. A Jewelry Kit
Kids are proud to wear accessories they made themselves. The Just My Style Personalized Jewelry Studio comes with 14 strands of multicolored thread and plastic cord and 600 beads and charms for kids to make friendship bracelets. The easy-to-follow guidebook teaches them 11 different weaving and braiding techniques for making one-of-a-kind bracelets.
If they’d prefer a more versatile accessory they can wear or attach to almost anything, get them the Puffy Charm Palooza craft kit. With this kit, they can add their own handmade charms to bracelets, necklaces, pins, shoelaces, and backpacks or make pencil toppers.
34. A Pottery Kit
The Cool Maker Pottery Studio lets kids sculpt, design, and paint their own custom creations. It includes everything they need to do six projects, including clay, paint, sculpting tools, a pottery wheel, and instructions. Projects include a jewelry holder, a pencil holder, and a smartphone speaker.
35. A Spin Art Station
Encourage kids to create unique designs with the Crayola Spin and Spiral Art Station. The kit includes two side-by-side stations – one for creating spiral art and one for spin art. Additionally, it comes with three spiro gears, six markers, three ink bottles, and 15 paper discs.
36. A Mess-Free Art Tablet
As much as every parent wants to encourage creativity, no one likes to clean up glitter. In comes Crayola’s innovative solution, which contains art projects in an enclosed case. Kids draw with glue on paper, then place their paper inside the Crayola Sprinkle Arts Shaker and shake. The glitter stays inside the case, where tubes collect it so you can use it again.
The Crayola Ultimate Light Board drawing tablet is another innovation for mess-free art. Kids use the included washable FX markers to trace designs or draw their own. When they finish drawing, three light modes make their art glow.
37. A Digital Animator
Turn their iPad or Kindle Fire tablet into an animation studio with the Osmo Creative Kit. Using the Monster app, kids can draw designs on the included creative board. Then an animated friend “pulls” their drawings into his world, where they come to life.
Or they can use the Masterpiece app to learn basic drawing skills, from simple lines to intricate designs. The included reflector projects lines for kids to follow while they draw on paper. At the same time, it scans the table to see what kids are creating. Their works in progress transfer to the tablet screen automatically.
For creative opportunities beyond simply drawing, the StikBot Zanimation Studio lets kids make stop-motion animation with the figures and green screen.
Sports & Outdoors
By kindergarten, kids have developed enough motor skills to master activities requiring some coordination, like playing catch or riding a bike.
38. A Training Bike
Since the invention of bikes, they’ve been the traditional Christmas wish of kids everywhere. Make your kid’s Christmas dream come true with a fun beginner bike featuring their favorite character, like the Huffy Spiderman bike or Disney Princess Bike.
39. A Go-Kart
Go-karts are a fun alternative to the usual bikes and trikes. The Hauck Lightning pedal go-kart features an innovative design that lets the driver control the speed with pedaling, so they go as fast or slow as they like. It also boasts smooth, sharp steering. And if your little one is a Batman fan, Hauck also makes a super-cool Batmobile version.
Games teach essential social skills, like cooperative play, taking turns, following rules, and winning – or losing – graciously.
40. A Trendy Card Game
Kids at this age really start to become interested in and swayed by trends. If they’re hooked on Pokemon Go, they’ll love the Pokemon Shining Legends Elite Trainer Box collectible cards. It contains some of the rarest and shiniest cards to help them build up their collection.
41. A Complex Board Game
Elementary-age kids are capable of more complex thought – including strategy and reasoning – than preschoolers. So they’ll appreciate a board game that includes more significant challenges than merely spinning a wheel. With 60 challenges that involve critical thinking and planning to help the aliens snatch cows and return to Mars, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers is a super-fun game for this age.
Kids at this age can handle toys that involve more skill and coordination, like remote control cars or aim-and-shoot bows and arrows.
42. A Rampaging Dinosaur
The Fisher-Price Imaginext Jurassic World Walking Indoraptor takes imaginative play to the next level with a sensor-controlled dinosaur that chases an escaping ATV wherever your child directs it. Or activate its walking mode with a turn of the power pad. And for more frightening fun, the indoraptor roars at the push of a button. The play set includes the dinosaur, an ATV vehicle, and one action figure.
43. A Surprise Toy
Any child obsessed with L.O.L. Surprise will be thrilled with this super-size box of L.O.L. dolls and surprises. It contains 14 exclusive dolls, including two L.O.L. Surprise O.M.G. Fashion dolls. Kids follow the instructional “maze” on the box to individually unwrap all the surprise pieces. Even more than its smaller cousins – the L.O.L. globes – this set is an ultimate unboxing experience.
44. Superhero Battle Gear
Kids become their favorite Avenger with Nerf Avengers Endgame Assembler Gear. These ultimate pretend-play battle sets allow kids to connect pieces to assemble their gear into different combinations. This lets them blast soft and safe Nerf darts in a multitude of different ways as they pretend to fight for the fate of the universe.
45. A Barbie Play Set
The Barbie Dream House has come a long way since Mattel released it in 1962. The modern version features three stories, eight rooms, a working elevator, a pool with a slide, and a carport. Plus, realistic lights and sounds – like a sizzling frying pan, whistling tea kettle, flushing toilet, and light-up oven – level-up the fun. And dual-use rooms – like a couch that transforms into bunk beds, a rotating fireplace that converts a den into a home office, and a double-sided fridge with an outdoor food stand on the back – increase the opportunities for pretend play.
Also on kids’ wish lists are the Barbie Malibu House and the Barbie Dreamplane play set. While smaller than the Dream House, the Malibu House has an impressive two floors, six rooms, and over 25 accessories. The plane features seats that recline and more than 15 play pieces, including luggage, a puppy travel companion, and a rolling food and beverage cart complete with snacks.
46. An Interactive Toy
Kids love surprise toys – like those of the Hatchimals and L.O.L Surprise toy lines – because of the mystery and joy of the unboxing experience. Equally beloved are interactive toys that respond to kids’ voices and movements, like FurReals.
The Dreamworks Dragons Hatching Toothless combines the best of both worlds. Kids get to train and interact with a baby Toothless from birth. While he’s in the egg, he growls if they rock it and taps back when they tap it. To help him break out of his shell, they shake it. After he’s born, they can train him to fly and make a plasma blast just like the “real” Toothless from the “How to Train Your Dragon” films.
Gift Ideas for Older Kids – Ages 8-10
At this age, kids are developing their social identities. They’re also becoming more independent, dexterous, and sophisticated in their problem-solving. Imaginative play more actively involves friends and may stretch over days or weeks. They’re ready for middle-grade novels, games with complex rules, and more elaborate fantasy play.
Language & Literacy Skills
By age 8, kids are more confident readers, ready to explore new worlds through middle-grade fiction and graphic novels. As with younger readers, the key to keeping them reading is helping them find books and series that hook their attention.
47. Middle-Grade Fiction
Though your 8-year-old seems far from entering middle school, middle-grade (MG) fiction is written for 8- to 12-year-olds. In my experience as an educator, fantasy stories seem to hook this age group more than any other genre.
Two decades after the first book hit stores, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series is still capturing new fans. Even better, the series starts in MG territory and gradually advances to YA, or young adult. This makes it an excellent series for advancing reading skills. Spring for a box set of the complete “Harry Potter” series or go with a stunning and collectible illustrated edition of each book.
Adam Gidwitz’s “The Unicorn Rescue Society” is another great series for early to middle readers. The series sends children on fantastical adventures to save mythical creatures.
And with the movie set for release in 2020, kids are sure to find interest in Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl” books. This novel series features an “evil” boy genius protagonist who gets embroiled with the secret world of fairies.
And for kids who’d appreciate more realistic fiction, you can’t go wrong with a classic. “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is about the bond between a boy and his dogs. For a less emotional read, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E. L. Konigsburg is about a brother and sister who run away from home – and straight into a mystery that makes headlines.
48. Graphic Novels
Graphic novels are excellent for reluctant readers, who find these illustrated stories more accessible than traditional fiction. They’re also an art form in their own right – one that’s gaining more critical attention and acclaim.
The New York Times bestselling “Amulet” series by Kazu Kibuishi is a story about children drawn into a mysterious and magical world after a creature kidnaps their mother.
Another bestselling series is “The Last Kids on Earth” by Max Brallier, which features protagonists who must deal with the after-effects of a monster apocalypse.
Kids less into fantasy will love the new “The Baby-Sitters Club” series of graphic novels, adapted by cartoonist Gale Galligan, based on the novels by Ann M. Martin that follow a group of friends on their adventures in babysitting.
Good STEM toys and science kits are difficult to find for the younger elementary set. But once kids enter the upper elementary grades, toys that are both fun and educational abound.
49. A “Magic Formula” Chemistry Set
Science kits developed for older children let them experiment with more sophisticated materials and ingredients. The SmartLab Toys Ultimate Secret Formula Lab lets kids indulge their inner mad scientist with 40 different experiments, while the Scientific Explorer Magic Science for Wizards Only kit is like taking a magical potions class. Kids get to explore kitchen science with the Edible Candy Food Science Chemistry Kit, which includes 40 delicious experiments that result in candy, chocolate, crystals, and jellies.
50. A Robotic Building Set
More complex robotic building sets allow older kids to continue developing their engineering and coding skills. The tin can robot kit lets kids get creative with “trash” by turning an aluminum can into a cute bug-eyed robot that walks and wobbles.
And with the Lego Boost Creative Toolbox robot-building set, kids use Legos to build a robot and additional models for it to interact with, like a cat and a guitar, which they control through an app on their smartphone or tablet.
51. An Earth or Space Exploration Set
Kids learn about earthquakes while engaging in destructive fun with the SmartLab Toys Aftershock Earthquake Lab. Or let them explore the universe with the Exploring Our Solar System STEM box, which includes activities that focus on journeying to the stars, including building a model electric space car.
52. A Forensics Kit
The Scientific Explorer Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit lets kids become forensic scientists as they explore clues like fingerprints and DNA to solve crimes.
Arts & Crafts
Kids at this age have well-developed dexterity. They’ve advanced beyond basic shapes and are interested in drawing more complex pictures and engaging in more adultlike crafts.
53. An Art Set
If your child is serious about art, give them their own set of coloring tools with a U.S. Art Supply 143-piece art set. It comes with pencils, crayons, oil pastels, watercolors, and a color-mixing wheel all contained in a convenient wooden carrying case.
54. A Comic Book Kit
Delight any child who loves to draw and create stories with My Comic Book Kit. Kids fill in the preformatted blank pages with their stories and art, then mail it off in the supplied envelope. They get it back in four to six weeks, transformed into a professionally bound comic.
55. A Cosmetic Arts Kit
For the kids beginning to explore their individuality with hair and makeup, the Alex Spa Hair Chalk Salon lets them turn their hair into a rainbow of colors with easily washable chalk.
Or encourage their self-expression with the Cra-Z-Art Shimmer ‘n Sparkle light-up eight-in-one nail design studio, which lets them decorate press-on nails with any variety of polish, pens, glitter, gems, stickers, stencils, and foil.
56. A Cooking Kit
Get your budding chef a Global Adventure Cooking Kit, which helps them discover new cuisines from around the world. Each kit includes spices, sauce mixes, and hard-to-find ingredients for making three meals.
For example, the Ethiopia kit includes doro wat (chicken stew) spices, misir wat (lentil stew) spices, and injera (Ethiopian flatbread) mix. Each kit also comes with a shopping list, fun facts about each country, a “passport” with the country’s sticker, a flag pin, an activity sheet with educational exercises, and a cooking tool.
In addition to the Ethiopian kit, featured regions include:
Sports & Outdoors
At this age, kids have developed enough sense of balance to master bike riding and acquired the social skills needed for group activities.
57. A Bike
If your child is ready to take off the training wheels, get them a real bike. RoyalBaby makes a fantastic line of kids bikes appropriate for riding around the neighborhood or off-roading on park trails. The RoyalBaby Freestyle kids bike includes safety features like an enclosed chain guard and nonslip pedals. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors, sports a water bottle holder – water bottle included – and a bell. You can even opt for training wheels if your child still needs them.
58. A Battle Activity Set
Encourage kids to get physical activity while having fun with a game set that lets them pretend to be a Jedi Knight. With the Lightsaber Academy Interactive Battling System, kids can play by themselves and train with Jedi masters to learn lightsaber moves using the free app. They score points and level up with Bluetooth technology that tracks their movements. Or they can connect two Lightsabers and play in battle mode.
Or let them challenge their friends to a laser tag battle with the Nerf Laser Ops Pro AlphaPoint. More complex than your run-of-the-mill laser tag, Nerf designed the blasters with unlimited ammo, a quick reload button, and a switch to adjust between indoor and outdoor play. Plus, they can uplevel their game with the app, which allows them to access real-time battle intel to customize their blaster, track their performance, earn power-ups, and locate opponents. The set comes with an armband so they can wear and easily access a smartphone during play.
At this age, indoor games are much more sophisticated, challenging young minds to use strategy and reasoning and not merely spin a dial or roll dice.
59. A Quirky Board Game
The game Quarto requires the child to use strategy. Players stack up pieces according to their attributes to outwit their opponents. It’s an addictive game for adults and kids alike – perfect for family game night.
Or choose a game that combines strategy with role-playing, like the King of Tokyo board game. In a race to be the one and only king of Tokyo, players must roll the dice to battle other players and occupy the city. Even more fun, players can choose to be a monster, alien, or robot as they strategize to take over.
60. A Fast-Paced Card Game
Kids can learn about technology without turning on a computer with the Bits and Bytes Coding Game. Players use cards to issue commands and avoid obstacles just as they would in real programming.
Or go with Not Parent Approved, a kid-friendly card game similar to the hilarious Cards Against Humanity. One player chooses a fill-in-the-blank card and then reads it to the others. All other players look at their own sets of cards to select an “answer” they pass anonymously to the reader. The reader then chooses one as their favorite, and the person who contributed the card wins that round. Play then moves to the next reader.
Though kids are still very much into toys at this age, it’s also a time when they start to take a deeper interest in electronics. Entering into the imaginative realms of pretend play in this age range often includes the use of computers, video game systems, and smartphone apps.
61. A Racing Track
The Hot Wheels Colossal Crash track set includes two race cars and over 5 feet of track. The figure-eight design and high-speed boosters let kids race multiple cars for spectacular crashes. Plus, kids can manipulate levers to send cars through the ground-level track or into the air for aerial collisions.
Or opt for the Hot Wheels ID Smart Track Kit, which connects special tracks and cars to an app for augmented gameplay. When kids lay out their tracks, their designs “magically” appear in the app. And when they scan in their cars, they can use the app to track their cars’ progress, take on in-app challenges, and earn rewards like car upgrades.
62. Wizarding Tools
Aspiring wizards can prep for Hogwarts with the electronic Harry Potter Wizard Training Wand, which lets them practice their spells and receive real feedback. Kids can learn and master 11 different spells using the included training guide. Plus, separately purchased wands interact with each other, so your little one can duel other wizards.
And there isn’t a Harry Potter fan out there who wouldn’t squeal over an Invisibility Cloak. The cloak lets them vanish from view on camera and video screens using the downloadable app.
63. An iPod Touch
Although 10 is the average age kids receive their first smartphone, according to The New York Times, if you aren’t ready to go there, an iPod Touch is a nice compromise. The device allows kids to play music and games, send messages, watch videos, and download apps. It also comes in a bunch of colors to suit different tastes.
64. Their Own Game System
The hottest game system out there right now is the Nintendo Switch. It’s a universal kid favorite. The console dock lets you use the system with the TV, or you can slide out the handheld touchscreen for portable gameplay.
Although many adults find shopping for kids fun, it can also be tricky. If the child is not your own, it’s easy to stress over age-appropriateness and developmental readiness. Is it OK to buy a toy labeled for ages 6 and up if your nephew is 5 years old?
Every kid is different, so remember that age labels are safe guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. And kids may excel in some areas and lag behind in others. For example, my 4-year-old is relatively adept with small Lego pieces labeled for slightly older children. But he hasn’t yet mastered the social skills needed for taking turns on a board game.
Though we all want to see children’s faces light up when they unwrap our gift, a surprise gift isn’t always the best path. When in doubt, go straight to the source. It’s OK to ask their parents or even the child for ideas – just check with Mom or Dad to make sure they or someone else haven’t gotten the same gift.
What’s on your kids’ Christmas lists this year?