Holiday Gift Guide: Gifts for Kids, Big and Little

December 12, 2019 Updated: January 31, 2020
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Oh, they’re so excited! The countdown is on. The joy of giving to children this time of year brings out the kid in all of us.

But how do you choose the best gifts for the young ones in your life? You may think it’s about scoring the latest toy craze or splurging on the newest digital device. Toy crazes tend to fade fast, though, and digital devices often do more harm than good.

The best gifts are those that take into consideration the interests of the individual child. Very young children benefit most from well-made, simple playthings that encourage their active imagination, innate curiosity, and that are good, old-fashioned fun. Big kids need their budding interests stoked—like adding kindling to a campfire. Tools and resources that will help them dive deep into what’s sparked that light inside have the potential to benefit them for a lifetime.

So, rather than just stocking up on plastic, made-in-China toys that will all too soon find their way to the “donate” pile, and rather than giving devices that encourage escape from the real world and addiction to a digital one—here are some gifts that will enhance the lives of the children you’re giving to this season and make their holiday magical.

For Little Ones

Stuffed Animals 

Play is the important work of children, and stuffed animals often become the stars of the many stories their imaginations bring to life. What child doesn’t love their special stuffies?

While stuffed animals are easy to come by, well-made ones require some digging. Look for those that aren’t made in China, for starters. The brand Aurora has many options like the 10.5-inch Coco Bear ($12). If a special, more lifelike stuffed animal is what you’re looking for, check out the incredible offerings of Hansa, like the 24-inch Nordic Reindeer ($139.90), the Grey and White Kitten ($37.95), or countless others.

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Aurora’s Coco Bear. (Courtesy of Aurora)
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Nordic Reindeer by Hansa. (Courtesy of Hansa)

Baby Dolls 

Little mommies love to dress up and take care of their very own beautiful baby. It’s lovely to watch young girls who are naturally drawn to this type of play. The search for a high-quality baby doll that isn’t made in China may be the most challenging search of all. However, the beauty and craftsmanship of the dolls you can find are worth the effort.

Llorens dolls are all made in Spain. They have a number of lovely options in various skin tones and ethnicities, all very lifelike; some can take a bath and some even cry. This isn’t your typical toy-store doll—what a special gift it would be to a little one in your life.

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Llorens doll. (Courtesy of Lloren)

Blocks

Blocks are truly the building, well, blocks of play. The youngest of children can benefit from simply handling blocks, and their play will advance with these simple toys as they grow.

Long after their motor skills are developed enough to construct a balanced tower, children will continue to turn their blocks into a bridge on their train set or a wall for their doll’s room, and on and on. The possibilities are endless.

Given all that, there are a lot of blocks on the market. Here are some brands that offer high-quality options: Uncle Goose, Haba, Grimm’s, and of course, Lego.

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Haba blocks. (Courtesy of Haba)
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Blocks by Uncle Goose. (Courtesy of Uncle Goose)

Pretend Play

Pretend play is an essential part of child development. Some toys become staple tools in such play and make excellent holiday gifts.

A dollhouse is an invitation for imaginative play and creativity. The Playmobil Deluxe Dollhouse ($119.99) is a great option. Made in Germany, Playmobil products stand the test of time and incorporate building skills as well as imaginative play into all of their sets. If wooden toys are what you’re looking for, PlanToys offers a number of dollhouse options, including the simple Slide N Go Dollhouse ($160), which would make a perfect starter home for little ones.

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Playmobil Deluxe Dollhouse. (Courtesy of Playmobil)
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Dollhouse from PlanToys. (Courtesy of PlanToys)

Trains

Soon into their play, it comes time for kids to create their very own world, complete with roadways, buildings, scenery, and train lines. Vermont’s Maple Landmark offers a variety of well-made wooden train track sets and accessories that are sized to fit the most popular wooden train characters. The track combinations are endless, and kids will enjoy watching their trains maneuver through their creations.

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Maple Landmark offers a variety of well-made wooden train track sets and accessories. (Courtesy of Maple Landmark)

For Big Kids

Lessons

As kids get older, they tend to show interests, to varying degrees, in specific subjects. Perhaps it’s astronomy, oil painting, football, percussion, gardening, sewing, or woodworking. The greatest gift you can give them is an encouragement in those sorts of pursuits.

Gifting lessons is one way to do that. If you’re not an expert in their field of interest, outsource the learning to someone who is, and encourage them along the way. They’ll surely appreciate that you noticed and saw them for who they are. Experiences are (almost) always better than things.

Tools & Gear

Another way to encourage the budding interests and curiosities of bigger kids is to give them the tools and gear they need to do what they want to do. Give an artist art supplies, a scientist lab tools, a sports player sports equipment. They’ll use and appreciate gifts like this, and who knows how far in life such a gesture may take them.

Journal & Pens

As kids get older, they tend to have big ideas. For the pensive type, it’s helpful to get those thoughts down on paper. A journal with quality paper like the Leuchtturm1917 series ($19.95), along with some colorful pens like the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner set (20 for $22).

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A Leuchtturm notebook, along with some colorful pens from Staedtler, make a great gift for the pensive type. (Courtesy of Leuchtturm1917/Courtesy of Staedtler)

Gift Cards

Some people think that gift cards are impersonal, but everybody loves to receive gift cards. Choose cards from stores that match a big kid’s interest to give them an extra resource to keep pursuing something they’re passionate about.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza