Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!
Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

Gift Ideas for Kids

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 4, 2013. To find a more comprehensive list of gift ideas and interesting online stores to shop in, see my post Gift Ideas for Home Educators.

Kids love getting toys for Christmas, but after seven years of Christmases and birthdays, I have watched the toys pile up, so I’m not looking forward to adding new toys. This year I’m going to try to convince my boys to donate some of their older toys to charity. (That hasn’t gone so well in the past, so wish me luck.)

All play is good. I’m a huge advocate of giving children plenty of time for free, unstructured play because this is when the learning really happens. The best kind of play is when children have to use their imaginations, so I tend to favor toys that don’t have a lot of bells and whistles.

My seven and four-year-old boys love toy animals and dinosaurs. We have two boxes of those, and they also love blocks, Legos, and pretend food. My four-year-old is a little chef.

Not all of our friends love the toy animals, but Legos seem to be a big hit with all the seven-year-old boys, and our friends, both girls and boys, love to dress up in old costumes for their make-believe, though my boys have never cared for that. You never know what a child is going to get into.

Now that my house is brimming with toy animals, trucks, cars and you-name-it-we-have-it, I would prefer for my boys to receive presents that give them activities to do or add to the projects they are already doing. Last year, my son was interested in rockets, so that’s what he asked for. We gave him a set of small U.S. toy rockets, and it spurred weeks of learning about the U.S. space missions.

With that said, I’ve put together a list of gift ideas that offer alternatives to your throw-in-the-box-after-a-few-days toys.

  • Magazine Subscriptions – Big Backyard (ages 4-7), Ranger Rick (ages 7-14), National Geographic Little Kids and National Geographic Kids are just a few of the awesome kids’ magazines out there.
  • Art Supplies – I’m not talking about Crayola. Quality art supplies are expensive, and they make a great gift. For example, you can find different kinds of paint, brushes, and quality paper at craft and art specialty stores. We especially love our watercolor pencils.
  • Kid’s Space – Children need a good amount of space to play and create. If you’re a grandparent looking for a unique gift, offer to buy your grandchildren a kid’s size table or maybe some new shelves to hold all their artwork.
  • Posters and Maps – My sons love posters. We have everything from snake and dinosaur posters to monster truck posters. Not all of them are on the walls, but the boys will pull them out and study them sometimes.  Check out for some beautiful, nature posters.
  • Games – Anything goes here. My son’s current favorites are Sum Swamp (great game for math practice) and Busy Town Eye Found It! Trouble Board Game is a family favorite.
  • Equipment – Microscopes, science kits, terrariums, building supplies, magic kits…there are all kinds of things you can buy that will get the children thinking and creating.

Here are some of my favorite websites to peruse on the web:

  • – Some grad students at UGA told me they buy their equipment from this site. I checked it out, and there are all kinds of games, puzzles, posters and other things for kids on the site too.
  • – Beautiful site with items that provide creative and educational activities for kids.
  • – Educational Science Kits and Toys
  • – Waldorf Toys – You can spend lots of time perusing this site.
  • – Some of the coolest blocks I’ve ever seen.

What are some of your kids’ favorite gifts to receive?