It gets harder to make general gift recommendations as kids grow older and their tastes more defined. I’ll share some fun finds from my research for my own two school-aged kids, boy and girl, and for their their many cousins and friends. As with the preschool kids, I have categories Pretend, Create, Learn and Move – with the unavoidable additions of Electronics and Trendy Toys.
By the way – mini deal alert – the Melissa & Doug fruit and veg cutting food box (featured in the gifts for preschoolers post) is on sale at Amazon.com today for $10 (normally $15). A dozen or so other Melissa & Doug wooden toys are also on sale, including their wooden sushi set, which I think I might just have to buy. Melissa & Doug Wooden Sushi at Amazon.com, $10 today.
Pretend School Set – This kit has a dry erase board, map, grade book, hall passes, clock, bell and all kinds of other teacher supplies in a convenient tri-fold case for easy set up and clean up. My daughter is going to love this set. Learning Resources also sells replacement supplies, which is nice. Learning Resources Pretend and Play School Set, $26.
Spy Watch and Spy Motion Alarm – The idea of spy gear for kids is awesome; unfortunately the actual toys are usually fairly lame. But do spark fun creative play – just don’t be disappointed when they don’t always function properly. Even though the display doesn’t work right, our crew has had fun with the spy watch as a fun prop. And kids love setting traps for parents with the motion detector (and yes, this does get annoying – but it’s worth it for their laughter). Wild Planet Spy Gear Ultimate Spy Watch at Amazon.com, $10. Spy Motion Alarm at Amazon.com, $7.
Periscope – Now this is good old fashioned spy gear, as well as a great science lesson in optics. Kids will love peeping around corners or peeking up from a low hiding place with this periscope. Mirrors are shatterproof. Comes in red and green, but I think this neutral green makes for less conspicuous spy gear. Cstar DM-5 Periscope with Shatter-Proof Mirrors and Wide Angle Field of View (Green), $20.
Pocket Scope – This pocket scope is both a telescope (8x) and microscope (30x). I’ve found that preschoolers have trouble doing the one-eye thing, but this should be good for grade schoolers. I’m going to try it for my third grader this Christmas, who loves fun he can slip into a pocket and bring to school. Hopefully it can survive the inevitable trip through the wash. Pocket Scope (GeoVision Precision Optics), $13.
Make Your Own Hardbound Book – A kit for kids to write and illustrate their own hardbound book. They create the pages, “about the author” page and cover, then you send it in to have typeset and bound. You can order extras for grandparents or friends. My kids will love this – I can’t believe I didn’t discover it sooner. IlluStory Make Your Own Story Kit, $20.
Kids Cooking Set – My kids love to help in the kitchen, and I love helping them learn such an essential life skill. This kids apron and cooking tool set will be a hit with any aspiring chef. There’s also one for younger kids and a less expensive one for baking. Paula Deen has also put out a handy set of kid-sized tools for baking and a box for convenient storage. Playful Chef Deluxe Cooking Kit, Ages 6+ 1 kit, $39. Playful Chef Baking Set for 5 Years and Older, $20. Paula Deen 19-Piece Kids Baking Set, $22.
Williams-Sonoma Kid’s Cookbooks – Great picture-filled kid’s cookbooks to pair with the cooking tools. I am going to put out a couple of posts on books for kids, but I had to include these here since they are such a natural fit with the cooking kits. Wiliams-Sonoma The Kid’s Cookbook at Amazon.com, $14. Williams Sonoma Kids Baking at Amazon.com, $14.
Friendship Bracelet Kit – I’ve been buying these for birthday presents recently, and my daughter is getting one of her own for Christmas. Very fun for kids to design and create something they can wear. I’m having flashbacks to grade school – I’m hoping I’ll remember enough to be able to help. There are bigger kits out there, but this is a good starter set and price point. Alex Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit, $10.
Kapla Blocks and Citiblocs – Your budding builder will love these. Perfectly balanced planks of smooth unfinished wood that can be made into amazing architectural masterpieces. Costco also had an big set of these available this fall at a very good price – you could also look to see if they’re still in stock. These are a cheaper version of the wonderful but expensive Kapla blocks. Instruction book included. Citiblocs Original Wooden Building Block Set (200 Pieces) at Amazon.com, $29.
Legos and Snap Circuits Jr – I figured no one here would need me to point out the ultimate creative toy – LEGOS. Also any Lego-holic will have specific ideas on sets they want (I think this house is cool). Hard core Lego builders may ready to branch into the exciting world of electronics. I first found these super cool Snap Circuits for a friend’s birthday this summer, and they definitely fall into the category of toys I’d like to play with. Kids can build their own own AM radio, burglar alarm, doorbell and electronic games. Cleverly done; no tools necessary. LEGO Creator House (5891), $43. Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 at Amazon.com, $20.
Musical Instruments – Grade school is the perfect age for kids to get into musical instruments, and there are many small inexpensive ones they can play with at home. In my stocking stuffer post I have links to some fun, good-quality ones at great prices: flutophone, harmonica, slide whistle and kazoo. I’ll spare you the repeat, but anyone who missed the post can check out the selection here.
Melissa & Doug Magic Set and Instant Appearing Magic Wand – My third grader is an entertainer and a jokester, and I think this year he has enough dexterity to master some magic tricks. This set gets excellent reviews for quality and value. I also picked up an “instant appearing” magic wand for him – I think that means it’s telescoping, but I’ll let you know. In any case, people seem to like it, and I know he’ll like the showman aspect of a magic wand. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magic Set at Amazon.com, $24. Instant Appearing 18 Inch Magic Wand at Amazon.com, $2 plus $2 shipping.
Cat’s Cradle and Chinese Jump Rope – Remember these games, one for hands, one for feet? Both were big when I was a kid, though I can barely remember how to play. Leave it to Klutz to teach us all over again. I love the ingenuity that creates so much entertainment out of string. Klutz Cat’s Cradle Book Kit at Amazon.com, $10. Klutz Chinese Jump Rope at Amazon.com, $10.
Face Painting – We first purchased face paints before my daughter’s birthday party a few years ago, and they’ve been a huge hit in the household. We had a fantastic babysitter in California who is an amazing artist and enjoyed painting the kids’ faces (arms, legs, etc), and letting them paint hers. But now that the kids are older and good artists themselves, they also enjoy painting each other. It’s a great activity for a playdate or a kids party. Klutz Face Painting, $10.
Cootie Catchers (aka paper fortune tellers) – Another fun activity for school aged kids is making paper fortune tellers, which are also called cootie catchers (so grade school!). This book is going to make for some good Christmas fun at Grandma’s. For some reason these books don’t show on the Amazon search, so be sure to use these links to get them at these prices. Klutz Cootie Catcher Book, $10.
Explorabook – Yet another cool book by Klutz, a science book and activity in one, developed in partnership with the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Book has a variety of activities and includes the necessary materials – magnet, mirror, agar gel, etc. This looks more interesting than a lot of the science kits out there. Explorabook: A Kid’s Science Museum in a Book at Amazon.com, $15.
Encyclopedia of Immaturity – These are activity books geared toward boys and the boy in all of us. Filled with activities – some silly, some gross – that will keep kids and their parents laughing. Great indoor amusement for long winter days. I might have to get both for my son, as volume two looks almost more fun than the first. Klutz Encyclopedia of Immaturity Volume 1 at Amazon.com, $14. Klutz Encyclopedia of Immaturity: Volume 2, $14.
Hula Hoop and Jump Rope – I love these old fashioned outdoor toys, and so do kids. My niece is an incredible hula hoop expert. My daughter, her buddy, takes solace in the jump rope. I already featured this solid cotton jump rope by Plan Toys in my stocking stuffer post, but I figured it was worth mentioning again. Because it is cheap and large, the hula hoop isn’t worth ordering online. This original hula hoop by Wham-O should cost around $4 in a local store. Green Toys jump rope at Amazon.com, under $9.
Style Savvy Game for Nintendo DS – Boys have plenty of input from peers when it comes to electronics and games, but video games aren’t as big a topic for girls. One game I can recommend for girls on the handheld Nintendo DS is Style Savvy, in which you run a clothing boutique. As the owner, you have to think about budget, inventory, marketing (through window displays), seasons and trends. Customers come in looking for help finding a garment or outfit, and you need to assess their look and budget to make recommendations you think they will like. The game is very girly, fun and amusing, but there’s a significant amount of analysis and strategy that goes into managing the store as well. Style Savvy at Amazon.com, $30.
Just Dance for Wii – I already raved about this game (and I really don’t like electronic games) in my deal alert post. If you have kids and a Wii system, you need to have this game. Hilarious fun for the whole family – laughs and a workout all at once. Particularly wonderful in these indoor winter months. The original game came out last fall, and the new version was released a few weeks ago. Just Dance 2 at Amazon.com, $40. Just Dance at Amazon.com, $30.
Mp3 Player – A few years ago I got the hourglass-shaped Sansa Shaker mp3 player for all my kids. They were hands-down the best gifts of all time. Kids love music, and mine each had their own selection of songs on their music players, which had a built-in speaker. So they would each take turns playing DJ, selecting their favorite songs and dancing around. For travel, we would take headphones so they could listen to music in the car or on airplanes. Unfortunately Sandisk discontinued the model, a fact that I continue to mourn on every gift-giving opportunity, as every kid I know would love one. There are still a few available online, but they sell for $60-70 (I think retail price was $40, and when I bought them they were $20-25). Anyway, if any of my Silicon Valley friends have any pull at Sandisk, please let them know they could make a killing on these if they marketed them to kids and parents. In the meantime, Amazon.com has a Hannah Montana mp3 player for $20 that would be great for a girl. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a built-in speaker, which to me is the killer feature of the Sansa Shaker, along with its kid-friendly durability. Disney Mix Stick Hannah Montana Mp3 Player, $20.
TRENDY TOYS (not really my forte)
Beyblades – I’d never heard of these until my son’s birthday recently. Now I’m seeing them everywhere. They’re metal and plastic tops that come in different shapes and configurations. Kids use the tops to battle each other – preferably in one of these plastic battle arenas so they don’t dent wood floors. Prices range from $7-10 for a single top (more for electronic ones that make sound effects), and you’ll find them at Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, etc.
Squinkies – These are like something you’d get out of a gumball machine – little baby/girl/boy/animal figures. But they’re popular among grade school girls, who collect and trade them. They are going in the girl cousin stockings this year. They should cost $10-11, but the prices are variable on Amazon.com right now: Squinkies Bubble Pack at Amazon.com, $15. I purchased mine at Target yesterday, and I also saw some at Walmart. You can check online at Target.com to make sure they’re in stock at your local store before you go.
Silly Bandz – These have become ubiquitous and are definitely on their way out, but I probably should have mentioned them in the stocking stuffer post, since they are such a convenient size for stockings. I did see this very cute Hello Kitty pack yesterday at Target for $5 and picked it up for my girls. They’re also at Amazon.com – Hello Kitty Silly Bandz at Amazon.com, $7.