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Top 10 Best Gifts for Kids 2015

Updated on February 10, 2015

Gifts for Boys and Girls, One to Eighteen Years Old

Do you need a little advice about what to get that special kid on your gift list this year?

Whether you’re gift shopping for a boy or girl, toddler, teen or in between, kids are not the easiest demographic group to buy gifts for, especially if they are in an age group you haven't seen or dealt with for a while. Clearly, no one gift will suit all kids in this huge, varied group.

It helps to investigate what the kid himself or herself is interested in: also to investigate what is appropriate and has worked before for that age.

General Principles: How to Give to Kids

We're familiar with the cycle where the advertising tells kids what they want, the kids repeat this information to us, we spend hecka money on that specified thing and wrap it up, and a year later the thing is in the trash or in storage or wherever things go. It makes you feel like you have nothing to offer but an open wallet.

But that's just a side effect of the way our economy is organized; that's not how life really is. Try these principles to avoid the cycle of trying to meet needs with "stuff."

Offer intangibles. Give your time and companionship.

Offer experiences. Offer a glimpse of what's out there in the world.

Offer something customized or targeted. Bring the child something he or shee is looking for but can't exactly describe yet, because kids don't have the detailed knowledge adults do about what's available and what it might be called.

Hands-on museums are great experiences because they let kids play with someone else's toys!
Hands-on museums are great experiences because they let kids play with someone else's toys! | Source

Experiences are Better Than Things

Here are some experiences you can give--and if you can be along on the trip, so much better, because you will watch the kids enjoying themselves, and find out more about what really interests them.

  • A trip to a museum; or a membership card so the family can go more than once. If your city has a children's or "hands-on" museum, even babies will find something to enjoy there; most ages will love a children’s or “hands-on” science or nature museum, and older kids will find something to enjoy at almost any museum. Museums let you give them the chance to play with someone else's toys instead of buying them toys.
  • A visit or membership card to a zoo. Most zoos now have something to offer to children of every age.
  • A coupon for a camping trip. Children still in diapers (age three and below) or those who charge at random into the bushes (generally twelve to eighteen months) are more work, but if someone is along to tend them, even small children greatly benefit from this strange experience.
  • An outing to an ice-cream parlor: all ages get to order what they want, eat it, and watch the other people.
  • A ride on a little train, a merry-go-round, a horse, or a ferry; this seems particular interesting to ages three through five.
  • A hike. But be aware that unlike adults, kids don’t want to labor all day for the sake of their health. A hike that smaller kids will enjoy will be rather brief—just enough to experience a “trail” rather than a “road” for a few minutes. It will be free from horrid extremes of heat, cold, sun, or rain, and it will lead to some easily describable destination: a pond, a beach, a bridge, a berry patch or orchard, a small hilltop, an interpretive display, an abandoned house, a mockup Indian or settler village, or a meadow with a guaranteed picnic.
  • Older kids (teenagers) will appreciate a gift certificate for a meal out with friends. At some age this may become more fun than a party where kids bring gifts.

Giant spinning toy in San Francisco's Exploratorium hands-on museum
Giant spinning toy in San Francisco's Exploratorium hands-on museum | Source

Give a Targeted, Customized Gift: One They May Not Know They Want

Kids are different. Kids are often looking for something in life, something they want more than other people do. The best gifts help them along on a quest they themselves have chosen.

To make this technique work, the idea behind the gift has to have come from the child, and the child must have already communicated this interest in some way. Some kids are so sensitive to unspoken pressure that they may silently reject a gift that they think orders them down one path or another. A kid who already wants to draw, or who is already interested in an art school, will appreciate an adult class in watercolor painting; one who only perceives that someone else thinks they ought to be an artist, won't.

But give observation a try to see if you can find out what your child really likes to do. Then, based on those choices, here are some examples:

For a child who likes to dress up and playact, get multipurpose props or costume items: hats, cloaks, boots, strings of beads, shawls, scraps of fake fur or leather, or rubber swords or “lightsabers.”

For a child who is always saying “put together" or "fix," get building materials like blocks or LEGOs; pieces of interesting "machinery" to put together like Gearopolis or the various marble run kits; or pieces of toy train track (make sure it's all the same kind of track).

For a child who draws on walls and furniture and homework, get art supplies that are not too permanent or too toxic for their age.

For a child who is always talking about making things, get a kit to make things: rubber-band jewelry, rubber monsters, cupcakes, decorated T-shirts.

For a child who is already a movie or TV critic, and tells you how shows and movies ought to be put together, get movie tickets, or a week of drama camp.

For a child who says they are going to be a computer game designer, get a week of summer camp in game design. These can be pricey, but even more fun than a $500 Nerf gun!

For a child who says they are going to be a Major League shortstop, get a week of baseball clinic camp.

For a child who says they are going to be a naturalist, mountain-climber, or paleontologist, arrange a week or two of summer camp in or next to a big park or wilderness.

For a child who says they are going to be a cartoonist or game designer, get them a trip to Comic-Con, Alternate Press Expo, or WonderCon, and go with them!

Comic-Con 2012, San Diego, CA
Comic-Con 2012, San Diego, CA | Source

More Guidelines for Tangible Gifts

When getting things, make sure they're age-appropriate. For young children, make sure the gifts are safe enough for their age; for older children, make sure gifts are sophisticated enough to hold their attention. If you don’t have kids, read the label, look for reviews, or ask someone who knows.

Get multi-purpose things. Different “sets” or “kits” or “worlds” can leave you with parts that don't go with other "sets" or "worlds," or can't even be used without more parts from that "set" or "world." On the other hand, adaptable, multipurpose items like balls, pieces of material, big beads, little cars or dolls, blocks, and art materials can be used regardless of what else you have already bought. Duplos (for 3-4-year-olds) and Legos (for older kids) are the obvious exception to this "set" rule; although they don't snap together with most other kinds of block sets, they are extremely adaptable blocks.

Get something that can be handed down, just to be nice to the planet and to the parents. Many presents that have a lot of parts wil be swept up and thrown in the trash in less than a year; they will be too scattered, broken, and disorganized to even give to Goodwill. A stuffed toy, unless really small and special and durable, is likely to end up in a landfill.

Get something cheap enough that kids and parents won’t cry too much when they lose it. An iPad or a game device may be stolen on the first bus they ride or left behind at the first Little League ballpark they visit.

Stick with tried-and-true, especially with electronic devices. In general, don’t be an “early adopter” of anything electronic. Unless your kid is an expert and specifies what they want and why, don’t get the latest model of phone, game player, laptop, camera, amplifier, or electronic dolly. You may get a “wow” at Christmas, but then a letdown later when the device has bugs that need to be worked out, or doesn't offer scope for creativity. Dolls that eat, drink, eliminate, wiggle, and argue are soon abandoned. An electronic dumptruck that scoops up plastic balls all over the house may be fascinating for a day, but then get clogged with cat hair and stall out forever.

If you must buy part of a set, investigate the set. Get parts for that set and not a competing brand. If your four-year-old boy is a train freak, ask the parents what brand of track they are using and what parts they could use. If a child is collecting dolls or doll furniture, find out what size. If your grandchild plays video games, find out what platform she is using and what games he doesn’t already have.

A gift can make a boring experience better. If your kids have to experience something unpleasant, a gift an be a way to help them through it. For example, you can give books on tape for a long car trip, a bunch of movie CDs if they are home sick after an operation, a bunch of comic books if they have to wait around in a hospital, an old collection of buttons or postcards if they are stuck at grandma’s house without toys, or a promised dinner out when they are finished with finals.

Gift Tips for Certain Age Groups

If you don't have kids yourself, or you have forgotten what it's like, here is what I can remember about how different ages differ.

Gift Tips for Babies (First Birthday)

More likely than not, a one-year-old can't walk, puts everything in his/her mouth, and tears paper. So: no tricycles yet; nothing smaller than a thumb, or with parts smaller than a thumb; nothing toxic, sharp, or unsuitable to be put in the mouth (no crayons, play-doh, pointy jewelry); no paper books.

Don't be disappointed if the baby is more interested in the wrapping paper than the gift, or if the birthday boy or girl is exhausted and cries or falls asleep.

Gift Tips for Toddlers (2-4)

Most likely, they can't read more than a word or two, but they will be interested in any number of creative activities: throwing balls, making pictures, building with blocks or legos, dressing up, or pretending to cook or do other things grownups do.

They may lack the manual dexterity for the smallest fiddliest things; they may be able to take things apart but not put them together. Big beads are better than small. Duplos (double-sized LEGOs) may be better than the original LEGOs. Kids around the age of two are often fascinated by wooden or plastic picture puzzles with 6-12 pieces; they will put them together over and over again until they become routine.

At this age, and to some extent the one that follows, they definitely appreciate sparkle: simulated "treasure" is just as welcome as the real thing. Plastic "jewels" are as good as real ones; Hannukah geld (foil-wrapped chocolate money) is as good as gold.

Gift Tips for Kids (5-8)

Now they can read and write; they begin to have varied enthusiasms. Observe them to see if some enthusiasm (playacting, art, playing house, dressing up, music, nature, exploring, sports) is manifesting itself, and pitch a gift or gift experience to that interest.

Gift Tips for Tweens (9-12)

Beginning to care about what other kids are doing and thinking, that is, what is "cool"; able to play organized sports; definitely beginning to show a clue as to what they, personally, are going to try to do in life.

Gift Tips for Teens

Teens care very much about what other teens do and think. They are aware of value, as the world assigns it: the difference between high-end and imitation, between gold and gold-plated, between the latest model and that of 1995. But because their own special interests have become even more developed, you can still get them a good, cost-effective gift if you know a lot about them. Or, of course, you can get them a gift card or cash, which they will appreciate.

Share Your Wisdom

There you have it: all the general principles I know about gifts for kids. If you have given a best-ever gift to kids, tell us about it in the comments.


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