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Holiday gift guide 2016

7 December 2016

For all the online fun kids have these days – videos, Snapchat filters, YouTube channels, online gaming – it’s amusing to note that the hottest toy this year was the half-empty disposable water bottle. Water bottle flipping, a YouTube-inspired sensation, became such an obsessive craze it was covered in the New York Times. For parents, the soundtrack to the year was the repeated THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…occasionally interjected with a triumphant cheer when the flipped bottle finally stuck a Simone Biles-worthy landing.

Practical though it may be, the kids probably wouldn’t appreciate a case of Deer Park Spring Water bottles for Christmas (apparently they are the best for flipping). But I think it would be a funny stocking stuffer.

My kids have aged out of the intense toy years – hallelujah – but as always I’m here to share the ideas I have for this holiday season, mostly for school-aged kids and up. If you are looking for gift ideas for toddlers and preschool-aged kids, please check out my gift ideas from previous years, which have a ton of ideas for younger children.

Razor Ripstik

ripstik ripster

A wiggly skateboard that’s self-propelled by body motion, the Ripstik is an obsession for my 4th grader and his friends. Part skateboard, part snowboard, the Ripstik is really fun for kids and adults alike, and an added plus is the accompanying development of balance, focus and core strength. The Ripstik Ripster ($40) is the smaller version; the Ripstik ($50) is the larger one. Both are rated ages 8 and up, but the smaller one is easier for kids.

Folding gym mat

folding gym mat blue

My little gymnast got this folding gym mat (2’x6′ mat; $32) for her birthday, and she’s played with it every day since. It’s portable enough to carry around the house, but big enough to keep an active 8-year-old happy with cartwheels and handstands.

Foamnasium wedge


For active toddlers and preschoolers, the Foamnasium wedge ($35 at Wayfair; it’s more expensive on Amazon) is a great indoor toy for the winter. Kids can tumble on it, walk on it, use it for fort building or simply lounge on it.

Pusheen the Cat


Pusheen the tubby gray cat has grown out of webcomic fandom to become a mainstream character. Gund makes a variety of adorable Pusheen plush (9.5″ for around $18) – Pusheen with cookie, Pusheen with ice cream, Pusheen with birthday hat – and there’s a million other too-cute accessories, including a pencil case and wry book.

Hamper Hoops


Hamper Hoops ($15) gets surprisingly good reviews for both fun and utility: kids score a basketball hoop over their bedroom/closet door and take subversive joy of throwing clothes into it. Parents get dirty laundry off the floor and into a handy bag below the hoop (the kids need to empty the bag into a real hamper as it gets filled). You can get a foam ball ($7) for extra shooting practice so the kids don’t start tossing in clean clothes once they run out of dirty laundry.

LED gloves

led gloves

For bigger kids, these battery-powered LED gloves ($10) make a fun stocking stuffer. After the Christmas morning frenzy, the kids can entertain each other in a dark basement or closet while adults relax in the morning wreckage.

Travel Spirograph


For the hours in transit during holiday season, I’m hoping this travel version of the classic Spirograph ($7), along with a set of colored ballpoint pens ($7), will help the kids pass the time creatively.

Perler bead craft

perler beads

For the crafty kid, this Perler bead set ($9) provides hours of creative play. Kids used colored beads on a peg board to make pictures, which can then be fused together with a hot iron. Simple, imaginative fun for long winter days indoors. A Perler pattern pad ($5), with picture patterns, is a great add-on.

Magic color ornament craft

scratch ornament craft

My mother-in-law and I keep threatening to give up on stockings for the 13 grandkids, but every year guilt lures us back in. I ordered a pack of these magic color scratch ornaments (24 in the pack; normally $7 on sale for $5), which will be a fun craft, tree decoration and keepsake from this Christmas. Santa hats are in the mix too, as well as Christmas tattoos ($6 for 72).

Electronic device cases

duck iphone case

It’s always fun for the kids to slip a new case onto their electronic devices. I’d love to get someone this silicone duck case ($10), with feet sticking out to wrap earbuds neatly around, and which, with the protruding duckbill, also serve as a stand to prop up the device for handsfree viewing.

My teen son likes his iPod touch case, a simple silicone cover that looks like a classic Nintendo Gameboy ($6).


My daughter has this composition-book case ($16) for her Kindle Paperwhite, and it makes me smile every time I see it. It also makes great camouflage, looking to the casual eye like a $1 notebook instead of a $100 e-reader. In addition to the classic black and white, the case also comes in bright red, blue and green, just like real composition books.



I’ve been researching trampolines as a family gift for Christmas. Skywalker trampolines are known as an excellent value – at least a couple of my friends swear by the 15-foot trampoline ($330), which comes with or without a basketball hoop, and there’s a 12-foot version ($249) as well. Zupapa ($400-500) is another brand that gets high marks for its value and extra-strong German engineering.

Slouchy beanie

It’s been a couple of years since I gave everyone Neff beanies for Christmas, so at the rate headwear disappears, it seems like time for another round. I love these chunky unisex slouchy beanies ($7-11) that come in a wide range of colors from neutral to bright, with a pompom or without. They also come in school colors for high school and college-age kids.

Leather wrap puka bracelet

leather wrap puka bracelet

My superfly friend Justine sent me this gift idea from Hawaii, a leather wrap bracelet with a gold Hawaiian puka shell ($17 on Etsy). Really cute, and you can be sure your friend/sibling/mom/cool-dad won’t have one already.

Cards Against Humanity


After 15 years of parental good behavior, I’m up for some good old inappropriate hilarity. I want to try Cards Against Humanity ($25), a “A party game for horrible people” invented by former Highland Park High School friends reuniting one New Years Eve. For adults only, the game is a twisted version of Apples to Apples crossed with Mad Libs, and definitely NSFW. We’ve had little people around since the game was introduced in 2011, but our extended family now has older teens and 20-somethings that I think might find themselves more red-faced than grandma, who having raised four lively kids has heard it all. I can’t wait to be offended.

More gift ideas from the archives

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