My annual gift guide is in two parts this year. Kids first! Hope you find it useful.
Note that my kids are growing up – I’m now in the 3rd to 10th grade window – so if you’re looking for littler ones, please check out my gift ideas from previous years, which have tons of fun presents and stocking stuffers for younger children.
Fidgets are all the rage these days with kids, maybe because they are a school-sanctioned toy. Now that science suggests that children with attention issues may focus better in class if they can keep their hands occupied, all the kids want in. Stress balls are still around, but now there’s also putty, or homemade slime, or fidget spinners.
The Toroflux is in the fidget family, but it’s much cooler. It’s a sweet science toy, part Slinky, part magic trick. Made from one coiled thin, flat wire, it comes out of its bag looking like a loose stack of metal rings. But it immediately pops open into a springy, shimmery coil that you can roll up and down an arm, from one arm to another or pass it between friends. You can dance with it and do tricks with it. It’s mesmerizing. And when you’re done, it folds up into nothing again.
This isn’t a fidget for school – it’s way too much fun for that.
A cute local crafter named Wendy makes these adorable marshmallows in mini and giant size. She sells well-designed DIY sewing kits for kids at the annual Maker Faire and other art fairs. Mini marshmallow kits sell for $15, and the giant marshmallow sells for $40. Wendy uses high-quality materials, and her plushes are durable enough to withstand machine washing. My daughter sleeps with her giant marshmallow every night, and it doubles as both pillow and cozy friend.
I especially love Wendy’s DIY s’more ($25), a mini marshmallow with a draped hat of dark chocolate, sandwiched between two soft felt graham crackers.
Teen checking account
This is actually a fun way to give a cash gift to your impossible-to-buy-for teen. I think gift cards are the worst – captive money, easily lost – and the truth is, teens want to spend money in ways that are hard to gift for (online games, boba tea, wandering around with friends). Cash itself is also too easy to spend or lose.
Capital One’s online bank has a great teen checking account with a debit card and no monthly fees. Teens can use the app to keep track of their account balance and make mobile deposits (eg holiday check from grandparents). Parents get access to monitor the account and can set up text alerts as well. It’s a great way to start your teen on the road to financial understanding and responsibility.
For younger children there’s also a fee-free child savings account. Teens would benefit from one of these too, so the checking account would hold just a small amount of spending money, and any savings above that amount would be kept in a separate bucket. The two would be linked, but just having the savings separate is one step removed from temptation.
My friend sent her son to a sleepover once with these LED balloons, and the kids had so much fun batting them around in the dark. They light up beautifully and last for hours. A pack of 30 sells for around $13 on Amazon, and a few in each stocking will light up the holiday gathering.
Another fidgety toy, squishies come in cute puffy forms such as animals or food items – or both, like the catburger above. Made of a soft foam, they squish down into nothing, sighing out air, before slowly inflating back to normal size. They come in sizes from mini to large, and some are scented too. Don’t expect them to last – the quality is generally pretty poor – but they’re a novel item of the moment, and kids really do love them.
Another good one for stockings, this flexible-bristled brush is great for getting out tangles from fine hair. My curly use it in the shower to distribute conditioner through their long hair, and they also use to smooth out the knots in their dry hair. The wet brush is super gentle, and my girls won’t use anything else.
What is it about makeup and girls? I don’t wear any – I’m more scared of my chronic eczema than my bare aging face – but nevertheless my 9-year-old is entranced by it. I’m hoping a makeup kit gets the fascination out of her system before she gets to an age when she actually would wear it out of the house. And I’ll admit makeup is fun play for kids – like an artist’s palette for little faces.
Face paint is a great gift too, which I’ve recommended here in the past. But like everything else, my younger daughter blew through that phase much earlier on (since we had it from her older siblings) and is now onto makeup at age 9. You can shelter the first kid, but there’s no sheltering the fourth.
It’s not quite the rage that it was several months back, but slime-making is still a popular activity. My younger daughter had a pretty great cottage industry in slime peddling at school last year, fueled by gallons of Elmers Glue. If you have a crafty child, a slime kit might be a great holiday gift: glue, food coloring, Sta-Flo liquid starch, shaving cream (the foamy kind), body lotion and disposable containers with lids. Kids don’t need directions anymore – they already know how to find everything they need on YouTube.
Kids love to lounge, and loungers love snuggly blankets. I bought a few colorful fleece blankets for some nieces and nephews this year, grade school to college age, and I know I’ll see them crashed out on a couch, wrapped contentedly in their blankets, before Christmas Day is over.
I found some good ones at Kohl’s for $15, but you’ll find them everywhere from Walmart to fabric stores.
Whether it’s sports or gymnastics, dance or sleepovers, kids all have a lot of shoes, clothing and gear to haul around. Backpacks are stuffed with school books and binders, so it’s nice to have a lightweight drawstring sackpack for the extracurricular stuff. These Adidas sackpacks, selling for $15-20, have two outside pockets for water bottles and a zippered pocket for phones, wallets, etc. And they come in a wide variety of colors, so everyone can have their own distinctive bag.
Everyone wants a few holiday gifts to unwrap, but increasingly we try to shift the focus to experiences over stuff. It’s fun to think about day trips, concerts or activities in the coming months that can be given out at holiday time as gifts to look forward to.
For our 11-year-old’s last birthday, we made him a coupon book that included a favorite restaurant outing, a promise to organize a football game with friends, an afternoon of Pokemon hunting, a family game night, and a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with cousins in Ohio. In the months since, he’s had a lot of fun cashing in on his coupons, and we’ve enjoyed the time with him.
Still need more?
I have an adult edition coming out shortly! In the meantime,
More gift ideas from the archives
- Holiday gift guide 2016
- Holiday gift guide 2015
- Holiday gift ideas 2014
- Holiday stocking stuffers
- Ezy roller (and a few stocking stuffer ideas)
- Holiday gift ideas 2011 (part 2)
- Holiday gift ideas 2011 (part 1)
- Magna-Tiles: Greatest toy ever
- Gift ideas for school-aged kids
- Gift ideas for preschoolers