Subtracting the Stress: Holiday Gifts for Kids

The holidays are here, and getting the perfect age-appropriate gift for a friend or family member while staying on budget can be a struggle. Enter our holiday gift guide with affordable prices for all ages, thanks to our friend Betsy Griffin, mathematician-on-a mission and founder of Griffin Math. Based in Brooklyn, Griffin Math leads hands-on and interactive math lessons primarily on subjects left out of school textbooks.  Because the focus is on enrichment, as opposed to acceleration, children of all math abilities and interests learn something new and find something to get excited about.( Seeing as Betsy spends a lot of time with kids old and young she tends to have a good handle on what they like; she’s put together her short list of  low-key brain-enriching gifts for high-key holiday happiness. Check them out, then shop the link down at the bottom!

Reams of Joy

My all-time favorite gift right now is a ream of white computer paper (BOSQ suggests this one here) Seems plain enough, but kids LOVE the idea of unfettered access to paper for drawing, cutting, folding into airplanes, etc. (my kid’s reaction: 500 sheets, all for ME?!). And parents like the idea that their printer paper is safe (for a while, at least).

Accessorize with age-appropriate add-ons:

  • Crayons
  • Pencils
  • Dot markers
  • Pastels
  • A stapler
  • A hole punch
  • A ruler
  • A compass
  • Tape

Just be kind enough to avoid sharpies, glitter and stamps. (Unless actually you hate the parents, then go for it.)

But for more traditional gift ideas, see below. When in doubt, go up. Big kid toys may not be appropriate yet, but they’re cool and will be appropriate soon enough. A too-babyish toy is disappointing and won’t ever get used. I have three kids (8, 6 and 3) so I tend to stock up when I see a good price. That way I have them on hand when I am inevitably rushing out the door to a birthday party or holiday event.

For Kids 0-3 years old: Hatch & Catch

taffy turtle

While developmentally this age range is expansive and thus it may seem impossible to find a gift that everyone can use, trust me on this one.  we bring Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Taffy Turtle Catch and Hatch Pool Game With 10 Turtles and 10 Eggs to a public pool we get mobbed by kids of all ages. You can even go older (up to eight years old or so) since these are supposed to be used as diving toys. My youngest takes the turtles in and out of the eggs, while my oldest dives for the turtles. The other ten months of the year we use them in the tub, which is the reason I think this is a little kid toy. The only caveat is that little kids may not be able to open the eggs by themselves. And for those parents who need academic toys, this is great for sorting, matching, colors, counting, etc.

Preschool (3-5 years old): Superhero Showdown

Kids this age love pretend play, so for this age group my go-to gift is figurines. I tend to stay away from the Fisher Price Little People, as they aren't as interactive and are a little babyish. I prefer Imaginext and Playskool or even Duplo people. Three to four-year-old boys tend to be into superheros, and by five or six they move into Star Wars, while girls this age prefer princesses.

Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Superman and Wonder Woman are my current favorites, and they work for boys and girls (there were three Wonder Women between the ages of three and four at a Halloween party I attended, so this is definitely on trend). Don't worry about duplicates or wasting money on anything other than the figurines┖─making homes for the figurines is part of the fun.

Second Grade: Pizza Express

You can't go wrong with LEGOs. They have all sorts of fancy makes if you know what the child prefers, but I tend to go with Lego City. I’ve given this set to boys and girls─it comes with tiny Lego pizzas and two figurines (one male and one female), plus a delivery bike. What could be bad about that?

Third-Fifth Grade: Shrinking Jewelry & DIY Cars

I’m sure this is prime Barbie age if you want to go that route, but I tend to go with arts and crafts. They get used up so there is always a need for more. Shrinky Dinks are back and make a nice, easy, parent-friendly activity that kids love. This set uses them for jewelry. You may want to include a few more glue dots, necklace cords, etc. to supplement what’s in the kit. If you plan to get this for multiple kids, it’s worth buying the extra supplies, to keep them with your gift stash and divvy them up as you dole them out.

Boys this age tend to SAY they are over LEGOs and it’s too babyish, but they often spend hours with them anyway. So you can try LEGO Technic, which is sort of like LEGO 2.0. This kit is a DIY car that really moves, so it’s still cool for older kids who pretend they are over LEGOs but still enjoy them. Alternatively, the toys listed below for older boys could also work well for this age.

Sixth Grade and Up: Fun in the Sun, Soaring the Skies  

Kids this age are hard to please. Gift certificates or cash will likely be well-received. But if you want to get a gift, here are some fun ideas that should work.

For girls, two words: glitter sunscreen. Whether you buy the scented or mineral-based kind, it’s a perfect gift because it’s fun, frivolous, and not too expensive. I don't have a favorite, but I’ve used this brand before in a different scent and the kids all loved it. I‘ve also given it as a host gift when we stayed with a family. Amazon has a mineral-based brand too, if you prefer.

For boys, an easy gift is an Aerobie Frisbee. They get lost all the time, so you can never have too many. Sometimes, I gift a volleyball because it's the one ball people are least likely to already own.

Or you can get Stomp Rockets. It’s hard to go wrong with them. This kind throws a little competition into the mix.

Adults: Gaming the System

Some of the ideas above would work as a host gift for a parent or grandparent, but this game is a great gift as well, and it’s great for holiday gatherings. It says it is recommended for ages 14 and above, but it’s played in teams, so as long as you have at least three people who can read, you can play (although ideally all of the players should be decent readers). No need to get cute─the original version is plenty of fun. We played with three adults, a teenager, and three kids who were eight years old or younger, and everyone had a blast.




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