2009 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids

In our seventh installment of Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide we’re discussing gifts for children.

I’m coming to find that creating a Guide for kids is more difficult than expected. The things we want for our son now are very different than the things he’ll want when he can pen his own letter to Santa Claus. My husband and I want practical things for him that will help us cover the expenses of raising a child — diapers, a new crib, and baby gates. By the time he’s in elementary school, however, I’m sure that he’ll want toys, gadgets, and even more toys! I can’t even fathom what will be on his list when he’s in high school.

So, instead of breaking it down by age, I’m just going to give an over-arching theme and one or two examples that might work with the category. Parents with jr. high and high school children should feel more than welcome to add ideas to the comments section as I feel that I’m not doing this age group much justice in my themes.

  • Experiences. We’ve written about these types of gifts in the past, but they’re certainly worth mentioning again. Zoo memberships, movie passes, event tickets, etc., are great gifts for the giver and receiver to both enjoy. If Aunt Jane buys a pool pass for little Billy, then the two of them can swim together on summer afternoons — or go to the zoo together or see movies or whatever the experience.
  • Gifts with storage solutions. I’ve become a big fan of gifts that come with storage or gifts that are storage. Toy bins with a new toy, video game storage console with a new game, a puzzle rack with a new puzzle, or a block set with a block box, like the one below, are examples that would work for younger kids.
    Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks
  • Vacations. Technically, this is a subset of Experiences, but I thought it warranted its own line item. Growing up, I took a vacation each summer with my grandmother. I’ll never forget riding the train with her across the country or going on road trips to crazy roadside attractions. My cousins also have fond memories of flying to see her and spending two weeks playing on the farm without their parents. Showing children the world can be a rewarding experience for everyone.
  • What the child wants. Sneaking a peak at a child’s letter to Santa Claus before it is sent in the mail can be a good way to learn what a child plans to play with in the next few months. It’s not clutter if the object is used and loved.
  • Hints from mom and dad. If parents have created wishlists for their children (especially new parents with young children), it’s extremely kind to buy from that list. Great thought and care usually go into creating these lists, and buying from them can help the parents to provide for their child. It’s not very creative, but it is incredibly generous. If mom and dad are running on such little sleep that they can’t find the energy to create a list, pick up the phone and ask.

Please add your ideas to the comments. Also, don’t forget to check out our Unclutterer’s 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide Index Page for a listing of all the articles as we publish them.

19 Comments for “2009 Gift Giving Guide: Gifts for kids”

  1. posted by WilliamB on

    For years I’ve asked my siblings what their kids might like as gifts. As a result, for years I’ve been the relative who gives the coolest gifts. Works for us.

  2. posted by [email protected] Frugal Girl on

    I would add that if you are going to buy a toy, you want to look for a toy that is not a unitasker. My children have gotten tons of use out of their Duplos, which are awesome multi-use toys. Duplos ROCK.

    As far as storage solutions go, I find that having relatively large bins or drawers works better than having stuff like the block storage box pictured above. The odds of my kids putting the blocks back into the box the way it’s pictured are about nil. lol It’s like the difference between a shoe rack and a shoe bin…the shoe bin is more likely to used properly by kids than a rack.

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to make a gift list for my kids (to send to my mother-in-law). Must do that today.

  3. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Kristen — Ha! So true! The image just shows how the blocks arrive, but that is not how I assume most kids put them back. It’s just a container for the blocks to be dumped into after play, to contain them from being all over the play-area floor. The blocks would be chaotic, but in a single container.

  4. posted by Barbara [email protected] on

    If you have teens, sometimes gift cards for stores they like are a good way to go. My teens like what they like and it has gotten harder for me to figure out what that is as they have gotten older. Gift cards teach money management at the same time. Oh, and iTunes cards if they enjoy music, won’t add to household clutter.

  5. posted by Andrea on

    In the “experiences” category would be tuition to a class or program (dance, music, art, gym, soccer, etc.) It gets expensive trying to offer your child different opportunities to express themselves!

  6. posted by CJ on

    My brothers & I had that block set as kids and *loved* it. I think we actually took it as a challenge to put them all back in the box without having any sticking over the top.

  7. posted by nicole 86 on

    I think about crafts material : paper, glue, brush, pencils, canvas …. origami shapes, ….
    A small and simple camera is a lot of fun
    Puppets are great to play with or to create.

  8. posted by Sandi on

    Younger kids like “The Book of Me” where you use a three ring binder (slide their picture in the front) and put captioned sheets inside. I titled individual sheets things like “My favorite animal” and “My favorite color” and “My favorite activity” etc. I cut out different pictures of animals, crayons, kids jumping, and as many pictures of the kid themself into page protector sheets so they could pick from them if they wanted, or they could draw out on the pages if they chose. I also included markers, glue sticks, glitter (I know, so messy!!!), and other things to decorate “their” book. They loved them!

  9. posted by Peg Bracken Fan on

    Music! Helps a lot with car trips. For reading-age kids, maybe make a book of the lyrics at readable size so that they can sing along.

    Babies love to look at themselves–a mirror that can be hung (securely) at their height is great.

    There are also photo albums made specifically for babies–with soft edges and pages that won’t get damaged if they’re chewed on. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....tterer-20/

  10. posted by Leann on

    Am I the only person who gets frustrated trying to buy for the child who has EVERYTHING? I liked, appreciated and enjoyed the gifts I received when I was young because they didn’t get lost in the pile of junk I already owned. Seriously, what more do these kids need?

  11. posted by Jack on

    For smaller kids, gift cards to a restaurant like McDonalds or a favorite, parent-approved snack. That way mom and dad don’t say, “Oh, we don’t have money for that.” Its a consumable gift and (typically) doesn’t involve additional clutter.

    As a parent with my own LEGO collection, I have to agree with DUPLO blocks as gift. My kids have a huge bin and they incorporate them in their pretend-play, making fishing poles, light-sabers, and anything else they can think of.

    BTW, those wood blocks will only ever fit back in that container the way they were shipped. Simply dumping them back in will not work. Ever.

  12. posted by PJ Doland on

    We actually own that block set. There is about an inch of foam at the bottom of the wooden box, which you just throw out. And since the blocks are all based on standard unit sizes, they’re very easy to arrange back into the box when you’re done using them.

  13. posted by Sarah on

    Magazine subscriptions are great for kids. Things like National Geographic for Kids or Sports Illustrated for Kids. Children love getting mail, it comes throughout the year, and it gets children to read. Additionally, parents can recycle the magazines after they’ve been read.

    One other point: Gifts of experiences, vacations, and magazine subscriptions are great, but remember that kids really enjoy opening up an actual gift (especially if they are young). So, also buy a small (and inexpensive) gift related to the experience so that kids have something to open. When I got my nephew a subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids, I wrapped up a baseball. If you’re going on a vacation to Disney World, wrap up a Disney coloring book or something like that.

  14. posted by prairiegal on

    Sandi – I love your idea. I especially like the idea of it as a keepsake to look back on when the kid is older.

  15. posted by Amanda on

    I love the “experience” idea! I have two small kids who have more than enough. I am struggling to keep it all stored and rotated in and out. The great thing about the experience gift is that it makes Christmas last longer. The experience can take place prior to Christmas or even into the next year. The kids will still get toys on Christmas day from someone and they won’t feel like they don’t have “stuff” to open.
    Some ideas my kids (and I) have loved:
    -bubble bath soap
    -IMAX trip with my friend – even educational
    -a trip to a fun/favorite restaurant
    -a special trip to a near by park

    The thing that makes the experience idea fun for the younger kids like mine is just the special one on one attention they get. They will have those memories forever. I also love the subscription idea. I usually ask for books because my kids use them over and over and they are educational but that is even getting out of control here. At least with a magazine, you can recycle them.

  16. posted by glamazon79 on

    For the junior high/high school set – what my mother and I used to do (after many years of terrible gifts in both directions) was buy each other outfits. I would let her know my favorite store of the moment, and she would go pick something out that she thought I’d like, and I’d do the same for her.

    The results were usually pretty funny, but we had something to open other than just a gift card and after the holiday we could return it all for what we really wanted (on sale by that point).

    The key is to be open about what you’re trying to do – you want help in narrowing down the store at least, but you want to try and match their taste for the actual gift. Oh, and to be really careful about gift receipts.

  17. posted by hkw on

    Let me second Sarah’s comment about magazine subscriptions. There are great ones like Wild Animal Baby available for even the youngest kids — the grandparents started us last year when our son was 2. He loves getting something new to read every couple of weeks, and we get to talk about the person who sent them. Plus there are a lot of great activities inside. And when we’re done, we can cut them up for collages, pass them on or get rid of them.

  18. posted by Mike on

    LEGO/Duplo is an absolute slam dunk of a gift for most children of the appropriate age range. As soon as each of those things clears the chokeability threshold by virtue of my daughters growing older, they will be welcomed with relish into my home. (My older toddler has Duplos, but we’re going to put them aside when our newborn starts crawling, just until she’s a bit bigger.) LEGO and such are the very essence of learning-but-fun spatial/coordination toys, so effective they make Montessori look bad by comparison. I don’t care how much those Danes keep jacking up the prices. It’s worth it. I wish I had kept mine from childhood from the late 1970s… probably worth a fortune on eBay today.

    As overexposed as they are, it’s hard to beat video games as a gift for people of any age. And, plastic guitars aside, MOST video game experiences are either low on clutter or lend well to a wide range of storage solutions. I own five consoles, but you’d never know it to look around our house. The X360 is in the entertainment rack and the controllers and such are all in drawers (out of sight but easy to access). It serves as our Netflix player as well, so naturally it’s going to stay where it is.

    My older consoles are in a mobile “game rack” that I made out of a microwave cart. It has back to back small LCD TVs on top, has wheels, and it can sit in the middle of a room and be played from both sides. There is a power strip fastened to it, so only one cord and plug to manage when you move the whole thing. It’s fantastic for parties and such. And it was surprisingly cheap. Because broadcast TV is digital now, 4:3 LCD HDTVs that don’t have ATSC tuners are available in the $60-120 range from blowout liquidators online. Used older consoles are DIRT cheap — I bought a 2001 Xbox with 20 games and a bunch of controllers at a garage sale for $36. I think the total I’ve spent for a Gamecube with half a dozen games bought here and there has been $60 or so. That’s bang for your buck and it gets a lot of mileage with children.

  19. posted by vivian on

    When I say that my husband and I have everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Aside from a few (very) small gifts, we agreed among all of us (friends and family) that we wouldn’t do this anymore – the after Christmas debt load was insane. When the kids were small, I restricted the amount to $20 for each gift and was able to find wonderful things. Now we take the money we would have spent and donate it to an inner city school for their annual Christmas dinner. It’s much more satisfying.

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