Family · kids


Kids. Weird little people with weird little interests amiright?!

Buying gifts for kids can be difficult. Before having children of my own I really struggled with what to buy nieces and nephews for birthdays and Christmases… and even now that I have three of my own I STILL struggle sometimes. Keeping that in mind I thought I would list out my top ten favorite gift ideas  (in no particular order) for children aged 5 and under in the hopes that it might help you with your gifting this holiday season! I’d like to think these are timeless and will be great ideas regardless of trends or the Disney character of the moment. I’ve made a point of listing some ideas for almost every budget, so whether you are pinching pennies or going extravagant this year you’ll be able to find a great gift option below. Just keep in mind that the links to products are links active as of October 2015. Over time they may become inactive.

Gift Guide

#1: Book/Toy Combos

While I think it’s important to encourage reading at any age, it’s especially important to help foster that love early on. Some of my favorite gifts that we have given and received are books along with a toy that compliment them. The best part about this gift is that there are an infinite array of options to choose from that will fit any age and budget. As an example, once we gifted a book in the Llama Llama series along with a little stuffed animal llama to cuddle for a younger child. And this year for my daughter’s third birthday she received the book Dragons Love Tacos along with a Melissa and Doug felt taco making set from her Aunt and Uncle that she is OBSESSED with.

#2: Outdoor Exploration Toys

Kids generally love being outside. Toys that take advantage of that love and encourage exploration and learning are a double whammy. Although many of these toys are often age rated for older kids there is PLENTY that would be appropriate for little guys. Some of my favorite examples are bug catching kits, butterfly gardens or butterfly nets, magnifying glasses, children’s binoculars and even small telescopes. For kiddos closer to 5 I also love the idea of building a bird or bat house together with them, installing it and then watching the animals move in!

#3 Outdoor Play

These toys focus on getting kids outside and moving! When purchasing an outdoor play toy you need to consider how much space they have available (don’t go buying a huge jungle gym for someone who lives in apartment, ok guys?!) as well as the age/physical ability of the child. For kiddos without a lot of dedicated outdoor space to call their own I suggest items that would be easy to use in common areas. Balls, kites, jump ropes, hula hoops and even scooters are great ideas. If you know you are gifting to someone with wide open space in a yard you can go bigger or more permanent with items like sandboxes, slides, and teeter totters (my 1 year old twins got this one and love it). If you have big $$$ to spend and really want to wow you could even consider a playhouse. My husband built one from scratch for our kiddos but you can buy OUT OF THIS WORLD playhouses from Little Cottage Company. We could never afford to do something like this but they really are quite incredible.

#4 Experiences

This one can be a little tricky. I say that because gifting an experience, say… admission to an aquarium for example, would be great for a very small child (they will enjoy the visit when they go without losing out on that feeling of opening a gift right on the spot) and for a much older child (a ten year old would be able to understand the experience to come and look forward to it) but I’m not so sure a 4-5 year old would really “get it”. They MIGHT be disappointed that they aren’t opening a doll or truck or whatever physical gift you can imagine right in the moment. This one is really a judgment call. That being said, if you know the child enough to know they would appreciate it experience gifts are AWESOME. They get to do something fun without another toy to clutter up the house (their parents will thank you). Admission to an aquarium, a prepaid dance class, membership to a zoo, a trip to an amusement park or even a homemade gift certificate good for a full day of fun and picnicking at a park… these can all work as great experience gifts.

#5 Dress Up

Who doesn’t love a little make believe?! You can help little ones stretch their imagination with dress up outfits. Saying “dress up” usually conjures up visuals of princess dresses (which are a big hit in our house) but there are a wealth of options out there to try! Doctor, astronaut, chef, superhero, cowboy, masks of all sorts… even animal costumes. The sky is the limit. Just keep in mind that you should check with the parents on sizing prior to purchasing an outfit.

#6 Bath Toys

Dirty kids gotta get clean! This category is especially good for the budget conscious and those buying gifts for babies and really young children. I like the idea of foam letters and numbers, bath crayons, a tug boat or you could try hooded towels from Ikea (the fact that this is called the “stanka” tickles me to no end) or this super cute owl hooded towel from Skip Hop.

#7 Puzzles

Our house is full of puzzlers. Good grief. Give my husband a puzzle and you may not see him again for several days depending on the difficulty. Our kids are no exception. You can find simple puzzles for babies as young as 12 months in the Melissa and Doug collection and Ravensburger (my favorite puzzle maker) has puzzles for kids of all ages! Here’s my suggestion if you buy a puzzle.. age up. If you are buying for a 3 year old, buy a puzzle rated for 4+. Sure, it MAY cause frustration if it’s “too hard” but a challenge is a good thing! I made the mistake of buying our 3 year old a puzzle rated for 3+ and I kid you not, she finished it in 5 minutes the first time, did it a second time in about 60 seconds and then just looked at me like I was stupid for giving her something so easy. Lesson learned.

#8 Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Big trucks and toy trains are beloved in my home by both the boys and the girlie. We pretty much give them something Brio related for every major occasion and it hasn’t let us down once. Since Brio train sets can get pricey, I recommend keeping an eye out for deals (we have found several discounted sets at a regional overstock store called Bargain Hunt) and we’ve also found some companies who make generic Brio compatible train tracks and trains. I also really like the products made by Green Toys . They make a fantastic array of nautical, aviation and automotive toys that kids of all ages seem to enjoy.

#9 Arts and Crafts

I love arts and crafts gifts! I’m no artist, but I still remember the joy I got when I would get something even as simple as a fresh box of crayons and a coloring book as a present. Art is a great way for littles who lack the capacity to express themselves verbally to express themselves in another way. Don’t believe me? Give an angry toddler a crayon and a blank piece of paper and watch them go to town. It’s simultaneously frightening and impressive. For young kids you could gift finger paints and smocks, crayons, or these super cool mess free marker sets from Crayola. As kids get a little older you might try something that takes advantage of their creative streak while giving them something they can show off like this headband making kit or this paint your own piggy bank kit.

#10 Money

I know, I know. You’re thinking this is an awful suggestion but hear me out on this. If you can think a little beyond the money itself I think it’s actually a great idea. For children under 3 you can purchase bonds or saving certificates for them for the express purpose of saving to use for their future educational funds. A child under 3 probably isn’t going to be bummed that they got money in savings vs. a new toy. For kids 3 and up I seriously encourage giving them a little cash to spend on what they want and opening a dialogue about fiscal responsibility. It’s almost never too young to start. Managing your money well is a life skill that many people my own age don’t even have… and it’s crippling. Empower the kids around you to take on this responsibility early. Even Dave Ramsey has products for kids as young as 3 like this savings bank and an array of books that teach the fundamentals of how to save, spend and give responsibly. There is the potential for you to positively impact the rest of a child’s life with one simple gift. How cool would that be?!

I hope that you found this guide helpful. Happy gifting!

*** And here’s an extra special cheat if you live in the Nashville area… JUST GO TO PHILLIPS TOY MART. Seriously, you will thank me. They have everything you could possibly imagine and the staff is top notch. By answering a few simple questions for them, they can point you in the direction of a great gift. I’ve done this several times and come up with some real winners!


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