Shopping for kids (even and sometimes especially your own) can be challenging because you want them to love it, but you also want to practice eco-friendliness and wouldn’t it be great it if was intellectually stimulating, too? It’s natural for adults to want to help kids have fun and learn at the same time, and that can certainly be possible, but the simple truth is that sheer play alone can be a great learning tool for kids. So stop worrying that a fun toy is “only” going to be fun because first of all there’s nothing wrong with that, and secondly there’s no telling what the young recipient is really getting out of it.
Before shopping, assess what you know about the child and her parents (such as preferences about origins of toys, thoughts on controversial toys like guns, and the like). If you know the child well, they’re probably not shying about sharing what they like, what they want and their hobbies or passions. Another temptation is to get caught up in the fun of toy shopping and getting something you like as opposed to what the kid likes. If they love Barbie, a groan-inducing trending toy or video games (and their parents are okay with these), then that’s a great starting point. However, if you need a little more direction, here are 10 ideas to get you started.
1. A bike
Yes, it’s a classic child’s “toy” and can be expensive, but there are bikes for nearly every budget and if the recipient doesn’t already have one, they certainly don’t need a professional one. However, it’s the perfect choice for gift givers who just can’t give up on encouraging physical activity, and every child deserves a bike. It’s great for fitness, incredibly fun, and it’s a skill that’s best learned as a child. There was a time when it seemed every kid had a bike, and that’s a revival that needs to happen.
2. MakerBot Replicator 2
This 3-D printer lets kids make copies of a number of things, kind of like that episode of The Big Bang Theory when the guys decided to make action figures of themselves, but without costing thousands of dollars. Kids can design their own toy via free software such as Google’s SketchUp or download a number of ready-made designs. The world of 3-D printing has become a reality, with pros in Japan offering the staple make your own action figures and NASA using them to print rocket parts, so why shouldn’t kids get in on the fun, too?
3. LEGO Minecraft
Minecraft is one of those games that withstood the test of time and all generations can’t get enough of. If LEGO strikes the fancy of kids on your shopping list, check out LEGO Minecraft which is just what it sounds like: A Minecraft game that you can build and destroy yourself. While this company is a favorite of many kids, going the Minecraft route lets younger kids get in on the fun and sidesteps some more controversial possibilities (such as war-focused LEGO kits) while keeping in the cool factor.
4. Twistz Bandz Rainbow Loom
There were snap bracelets and friendship bracelets, but the hottest thing for this crop of a generation is the Twistz Bandz, which sold out during the holiday season and kids still haven’t had enough of this craze. It’s a make your own bracelet kit and everyone wants them from Girl Scouts to high school seniors. Not only do they require your own handiwork, but they come in endless colors and are latex-free. One kit makes 24 bracelets, but the up and coming designer can get a “fix” with a refill kit.
5. Hot Wheels Car Maker Playset
It’s one thing to collect Hot Wheels and a totally different one to be able to build your own. All kids love these hot rods, but wouldn’t it be better if that classic Mustang was pink, or that Trans Am had a red firebird instead of the classic yellow (or maybe a dinosaur instead). It only takes minutes to make your own creation with this easy to use set, and it comes with a car maker, three sticker sheets, and one proto shotz was stick so the up and coming car designer is in full control of their custom ride.
Yes, it’s that Simon, the classic memory game but with a few updates to ensure it’s securely in 2014 and not just a novel throwback piece. All the basics are still there, and the game is the same, but it now has a digital screen and new special effects. Plus, the batteries are included so that’s one less thing to worry about. If you want to share a favorite childhood game with the kids in your life, you may have forgotten how addictive Simon can be but don’t worry, you’ll remember soon (especially since Simon helps with the whole memory thing).
7. Old Hollywood Barbie
Barbie has been facing a lot of media attention lately, but there’s something about this classic Mattel doll that never goes out of style. However, if you’re worried about her sometimes skimpy clothes, there are plenty of special Barbies available that are a nod to Hollywood’s golden era, complete with more stunning and modesty ensembles.
8. Elf on a shelf
This is a classic winter holiday game and toy, but you can’t wait until the end of December to give this to the kids. It’s something every home should have, and giving it to a child during a non-holiday season is a great way to get them thinking about Santa early. Plus, they’ll need to have this toy as soon as Thanksgiving is over, so it’s a perfect gift any time of year.
9. A classic Disney on Blu-Ray
With Frozen winning Academy Awards and seemingly endless new animated movies rolling out non-stop, it’s easy to forget about the classics. That’s a mistake. Introduce the child in your life to your own favorite Disney classics, made better on Blu-Ray. Check with parents to see if the child has seen it first.
10. An experience day with you
By far the best gifts are making memories, and a day of exploration, play or simple bonding is a great gift. Go to the zoo, the library, a new spot for lunch or spend the day drawing together. Tangible gifts are great things, but they’re no replacement for building a relationship and sharing time together.
Of course, sharing time together while playing with fun toys is a win-win scenario. Be sure to check out our deals on toys and games if you’re looking to spend time with your kids while engaging in a fun activity.