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The rush is on…holiday gift ideas

29 November 2010

Rolling out of Thanksgiving weekend, I thought we’d take a break from food this week to tackle holiday gifts. With four kids of my own, plus nine nieces and nephews, I’ve done a whole lot of gift buying for infants through teens, and the chinese grandma in me has to research the bejeezus out of every purchase to maximize quality and value. Thought I’d save you some effort and share some of my favorite finds.

I’m starting with stocking stuffers today. We’re a little stocking-crazy in our family, with all of us having stockings at our own homes, and then stockings again (knitted by my mother-in-law and her talented sister) at grandma and grandpa’s house. For the past few years I’ve taken over grandma’s stockings, which for 13 grandkids is a real project.

It’s a bad idea to take four kids shopping, especially if toys are involved, so I am a big Amazon.com shopper. It may be un-green to have packages shipped to my door, but all this stuff gets shipped from China anyway, whether it comes to my local store or makes a stop at an Amazon warehouse on its way to me. I am a huge fan of the Amazon Prime program – free 2-day shipping for $79 a year – which on the one hand is a lot of money, but is nothing compared with getting a babysitter for even a few hours of kid-free errand time. One Amazon prime membership can also be shared with up to four family members, which can make it a great deal.

For all Amazon.com prices below, assume that items are eligible for free shipping for orders of $25 or more unless stated otherwise.

Stocking stuffers

Head lamp – Of all the million stocking stuffers I’ve purchased, this has been the biggest hit. The kids found endless uses for them – exploring in the house, outside, bedtime fun. All the cousins used them until they broke (and they took a beating). Schylling head lamp at Land of Nod, $7 with free shipping.

Stacking top – This is a cool stack of five spinning tops, with a wind-up trigger. I love this kind of old-fashioned manually-powered fun. My kids always like tops, so I think this will be a hit. Spinning top at Amazon.com, $7.

Squeeze rocket – This is a really fun toy. Each packet has two squeeze bulbs and 10 rockets, so kids can play alone or with a friend. I love these for party favors as well, and they’re a huge hit with girls and boys. Retail price on these is $3, and you can buy them for that price from the manufacturer, but of course you’ll also have to pay shipping. Friends in the SF bay areamay be able to find them at party supply store Diddams. Squeeze rockets at Amazon.com sell for under $6 including shipping.

Hand pointers – My older daughter really loves to play school with her friends and cousins, and I know she is going to love using these at the blackboard. Hopefully she doesn’t use them to smack her younger siblings (more likely the other way around). I think these will look cute poking out of Christmas stockings. 12″ hand pointers at Amazon.com, set of 3 for under $11.

Uno card game – This is a classic card game, and particularly wonderful in my book because it doesn’t require a full deck to play. Ours is years old and no doubt missing cards, but it’s still perfectly playable. A fun game for mixed ages. Our three oldest (ages four to nine) love it. Uno card game at Amazon.com, around $6. Also easy to find at Walmart, Target and Toys R Us for around $5.

Cotton jump rope – It’s surprisingly rare to find a real cotton jump rope these days. My daughter loves jumping rope, and those cheap plastic “ropes” are too light to turn properly. This has the proper heft. Extra bonus that the plastic handles are made from recycled milk jugs, phthalate- and BPA-free. Handles also come in lavender and green. Green Toys jump rope at Amazon.com, under $9.

Rear-view spy glasses – These are cheap but fun. For $3, they don’t work perfectly, but the mirrored lenses do allow a peek behind. Just the idea of spy gear is enough to get my kids excited, and these glasses are perfect for undercover missions. Spy glasses at Land of Nod, $3 with free shipping.

Play silks – It seems like a lot to spend over $10 for a simple square of fabric, but these really are worth the investment. In our house they’ve been used as capes, skirts, dresses, shawls, sacks, ropes, tents, blankets and picnic blankets. We’ve had four for a few years now, and they still get used. Play silks at Amazon.com in select colors for around $12. You can also see a full array of colors at Magic Cabin, where silks are $10 before shipping.

Fake noses – Our family is full of jokesters, so it was no surprise that these noses made for good fun one Christmas. The kids all traded them around and took pictures. And of course everyone wanted the grownups to try them on too. We may have to dig up the photos for someone’s wedding slide show one day. Gnarly noses at Amazon.com, a set of 8 for $8.

Fake mustaches – These are a one-time use gag (the adhesive wears off), but they are still very amusing. Amazing how much personality is in a tiny strip of hair. Stylish mustaches at Amazon.com, a set of 7 for $6.

Wikki Stix holiday favors – The kids love these colorful, waxy, bendable sticks, which make for great creative play. These mini holiday packs are only sold in a set of 50, so they’re probably better as a kids activity for school or a holiday party. But if you have enough friends or family to share them with, they would make a great stocking stuffer. Also great to keep kids occupied during holiday travel. Wikki Stix holiday favors at Amazon.com, 8 sticks and one activity sheet in each pack, set of 50 for $21.50. They also have a Chanukah version: Wikki Stix Chanukah Fun Favors at Amazon.com, set of 50 for $21.50.

Finger lights – My son got these at a science camp this summer, and the kids all loved them. I have to admit they are really cool. The kids use them around the house, in the car, reading in bed. Ours have lasted quite a while, but I have read reviews of people saying they don’t last or some don’t work from the start, so you might want to get a few extra just in case. Finger lights 4 pack at Amazon.com, for $4, or Finger lights 40 pack at Amazon.com, $10 plus $5.50 shipping.

Flutophone – These bring me back to grade school. Musical talent doesn’t run in our family, but I adore musical instruments anyway (though check back with me when we have four going at once after Christmas). Just be careful not to let the kids run around with them. Excellent quality Grover flutophone at Land of Nod for $4.95 with free shipping, or Grover flutophone in black at Amazon.com for around $5.

Harmonica – My friend Pete is an unbelievable harmonica player. I find it incredible that he can make such amazing music with an instrument that fits in his pocket. For older kids, this is a real harmonica for under $9: Hohner “Old Standby” Harmonica, Key of C at Amazon.com. Hohner also makes excellent colorful plastic harmonicas, which sell for around $2-3 if you can find them at a local store (I’ve seen them at Michael’s; also try Target or Walmart), or $2 at Amazon.com, plus $5 in shipping.

Metal kazoo – Okay, I may have gotten carried away on the musical theme here. But kazoos are fun. And this metal version is the real deal. I’m debating whether to pick one instrument for all kids, which seeems kind of silly, or get each a different one and have them fight over the favorite. In my fantasy world, they each play a separate instrument in beautiful harmony. Trophy Metal Kazoo at Amazon, $4.

Slide whistleI’m excited to play with this one. A slide whistle makes amusing sound effects you don’t get with other instruments. Apparently slide whistles (and their amusing sound effects) were featured in an episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants. This one may be too much fun to give to the kids. Grover-Trophy Slide Whistle at Amazon.com, $5 plus another $5 for shipping.

Marabou slap bracelets – How fun are these feathery finds? My daughters and their girl cousins will love them. They are sold in a set of 12, so if you can’t band together enough girls to give them to at Christmas, you can always use them as favors for a birthday party. Or for your own girls night out. Iridescent Pastel Marabou Slap Bracelets at Amazon.com, 12 for $10.

Metallic slap bracelets – Now here’s a slap bracelet that boys and girls can get into. Slap bracelets are such a funny concept, but the kids have loads of fun slapping them on and straightening them out again. Anything that keeps them from electronics is good by me. Plus the bling is in keeping with the shiny holiday spirit. Metallic Slap Bracelets at Amazon.com set of 12 for $6.

Classic Tangoes – I love tangram games. This one is compact enough to be a great stocking stuffer and travel game. This game is fun, imaginative and excellent for spatial reasoning. Kids intuitively grasp the concept of building images with shapes and can work on this game alone or with a friend. Kids who like puzzles will love this. Classic Tangoes at Amazon.com, under $9, plus $2.50 for shipping.

Smile slide puzzle – More math fun in the form of a compact puzzle and travel game. I think the kids will like the huge happy face, and I love the concentration and thinking that goes into this absorbing exercise. Simple, low tech entertainment (and cheap too). This is sold at Amazon in a set of 12, but you can probably find similar ones in a local party supply or novelty store. Smile Slide Puzzles at Amazon.com, set of 12 for $2, plus $5 shipping.

Gyro wheel – This is an old-time toy. Fun to play with and think about magnets and how it all works. Another great deal on a classic toy at Land of Nod. Gyro wheel at Land of Nod $3.95, free shipping.

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