Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our 20 Favorite Kids' Gifts of 2015

A few people have been asking me if I have ideas for good presents for kids.

Why, yes. Yes, I do have ideas for good presents for kids!

At least, I know what my kids' favorite gifts were THIS year. So that's what this list is made of. These aren't things that my kids want, but things that they already play with, that they love, and that I happen to like a whole lot, too:

We set our aerial silks rig up almost exactly a year ago (I remember because it was Nutcracker weekend!), and it is easily the most played-with thing in our house, and a heavily-used piece of furniture, as well. It's fabulous for gross motor activity indoors, and visiting friends always enjoy it, as well. Currently, I have our silks rigged as a hammock, and the kids read in it, rest in it, fight in it, do tricks on it, and use it as a swing.

Embellishing the plain dresses are fun, but the major bonus to this kit is the Barbie dressmaker's dummy! You know how much Syd is into fashion design, and with my scrap fabric bin, a hot glue gun, and all the random buttons, ribbons, and other pretties that she can scrounge, she designs an unending number of Barbie dresses. Pro tip: Give the kid sticky-back Velcro to use for her closures.

Still on the Wish List: Can you imagine the wonders we could create with an American Girl doll dressmaker's dummy? Or a MY LITTLE PONY dummy?!?

Do your kids still like coloring books? My kids still LOVE coloring books! It's not something that they do every day at home, mind you, but if we're traveling, I pack some, and I can guarantee that they'll color happily the entire time we're away. I, personally, like the abstract design ones or, for the kids, the educational ones from Dover, but Syd likes anything and Will especially likes dragons and monsters.

Still on the Wish List: Always more coloring books!

This is technically Matt's present, but every month when the mystery box arrives, he, Will, and I all sit around on our bed all evening and read every single comic.

Still on the Wish List: They've now got a ComicBoxer just for kids!

I originally started buying this brand when I first wanted face paint for the kids. I wanted a professional brand that they could do anything that they wanted with, and they've done some pretty incredible things! Every now and then they'll run out of a color in one of their palettes and I'll replace it, or I'll surprise them with a new palette for a gift--it was the pastels last Christmas, because I knew that Syd, in particular would like that one.

Still on the Wish List: More colors!

We bought a 10-gallon fish tank in the spring to house two very pampered bettas (with a barrier in between). They're lovely, the children love them, and I'm currently researching how to DIY a fish tank aquaponics system.

We've had Geomag sets for years and years, but building on the kids' stash is always good for a present. Syd, especially, loves Geomags, so one Christmas she received the pink and purple set, and last Christmas she received her first set of Geomag PRO.

Still on the Wish List: Now they've got a glow-in-the-dark set!

This was the kids' big Christmas present last year--all the Kapla blocks that they could ever want! There's nothing quite like having a bounty of a great building supply to support all of your adventures. In fact, this year I've been gradually repurposing some of their older and less-nice building blocks, since the Kapla blocks are the ones that get constantly played with.

Still on the Wish List: Kapla and KEVA, which are interchangeable, also make little sets to inspire kids to different kinds of creations. I especially like the idea of this Contraptions set, since I don't think I've ever seen the kids try marble runs with these blocks.

A WORKING LEGO train set: how seriously COOL is that?!? The coolest thing is that of course you can use your stash LEGOs, so you can actually make any kind of train that you want. You can also buy extra tracks, so that there's no limit to how much you can expand your set.

Will received this kit for her birthday from her grandmother, and both kids LOVE it. It's got all the supplies and the instructions to build a bunch of little LEGO machines, and you can, of course, use the same pieces to build even more machines using your overall LEGO stash.

Still on the Wish List: I just realized that there's a second kit, LEGO Chain Reactions! Gasp!

We don't own this, but this is what the kids use at Robotics Club, and Will, in particular, has learned to do some absolutely amazing things with it. Also? She now talks like a programmer!

Still on the Wish List: A set of our own!

We don't use these as our everyday scribbling notebooks, because they're too pricey for that (and notebooks are too easy to DIY!), but a nice little notebook makes an excellent stocking stuffer, and is a great encouragement to a kid to start a sketchbook, or a little travel or nature journal.

We've owned Prismacolor colored pencils and markers for many years, and I periodically replace the worn-down and dried-out ones. These are the kids go-to art supplies for EVERYTHING, from coloring books to their own artwork. They're super pricey, so I encourage them to keep them nice (easier said than done, but easier now than when the kids were six), and I have sets of the bog-standard Crayola markers and pencils to take with us when we're out and about.

I've mentioned before that our primary puzzle policy is thrift store-only, but we do have a very few sets of puzzles that we like to work over and over. I've found that simple landscapes or animal portraits don't have a lot of repeat interest to the kids, but there always seems to be something new to talk about when we work the world puzzle that we've had for a few years, or the PTOE puzzle that we got last Christmas.

Still on the Wish List: Umm, this Tree of Life puzzle is kind of the coolest thing ever.

We own the big kit and a small radio kit, and even though the kids play with it regularly, I still don't think they've completed every single project from the large project book. They're versatile enough, though, that you can also create your own projects or just use them for free play.

Still on the Wish List: More Snap Circuits! I know Will would love this arcade one, but I think Syd would like the light one better.

This was in the kids' stockings last Christmas, and it's turned out to be a ridiculously versatile game to play with a wide variety of age ranges. It doesn't require reading or math skills, but instead visual discrimination and reaction time, so kids can easily find themselves in equal competition with the adults.

Tee Fury
I don't know if your kids are into any pop culture stuff, but my kids love to wear these clever fan pieces, many of them mash-ups of a couple of favorite aspects of the pop culture phenomenon. They read like inside jokes, which the kids find especially fun, I think. I often buy from their Grab Bag sales, and end up with surprise shirts from Doctor Who, Pokemon, and Disney films.

This is probably my favorite game to play with Will. The concept is really simple: each card has a thing on the front and a date on the back. You and the other players take turns placing cards on the timeline that you're creating, but until you've committed to your placement, you CAN'T LOOK AT THE DATE. Seriously, do you truly know when the telephone was invented? In relation to the automobile? The refrigerator? The radio? The watch? It's brilliant.

Still on the Wish List: Another cool thing is that you can combine sets. So we've got Inventions and Historical Events, but not Discoveries or Music and Cinema. And there's another version that uses animals, which Will would FREAK out about.

I bought the kids this for school several months ago, and it's come in handy for loads of random things, from Syd photographing crystal formations for the Science Fair, to Will collecting creek water to find the tiny critters in it, to just looking at every single thing that we come across way, way, way up close. The kids' favorite thing to do with it, however, is something that they can't do with our other favorite microscope, the Brock Magiscope: look at themselves! They look at their skin, sure, but also inside their mouths, up their noses, at the hair on their scalp, etc. It can be gross, but it's always fascinating!

We've got that big set, but there are a bunch of other smaller, themed sets, as well. They're a really different kind of building kit, as the pieces are based on the golden ratio, so you can build some incredibly complex constructions with them.

Still on the Wish List: I really want to buy the Molecular Mania set for our upcoming rocks and minerals unit.

You'll notice that there are no books on this list. That's because I'm planning an entire books-only post for later!


Tina said...

Ok, questions- Do you think it's necessary to take an aerial silks class before playing with the aerial silks?

Prismacolor pencils are on MY wish list this year. We have, maybe, five currently and I LOVE them. I would of course share them with the kid.

That ComicBoxer thing looks awesome!

We love the Timeline game. We only have one (not sure which one), but we have fun with it.

Great ideas! Emma really wants to go to Breyer Fest 2016, so I think her plan is to ask for money for that for her birthday and Christmas. A little tacky, but it's for something she really wants. We plan to get her a computer and the grands are getting her a digital camera (a point and shoot one), so we can stop having mini heart attacks when she runs off with our Cannon Rebel.

julie said...

I don't think you necessarily need to take a class, but you probably want to spend a lot of time watching good Youtube video tutorials, at leastloo. I'm not really coordinated, but I was able to learn a very few simple tricks to do just by watching. The kids, on the other hand, did seem to need that hands-on learning that they got in class in order to master their tricks.

Breyer Fest sounds AWESOME! I look forward to seeing what kind of point-and-shoot camera you settle on. The kids each have older models of point-and-shoots, but I'm not happy with either of them--not unhappy enough to buy new ones, but unhappy enough that I wish these sucky ones would break so that I could buy new ones!

Now that we're secretly in the Comments section, which my kids don't read, I can tell you my other Christmas ideas: a PC flight simulator game, a hammock, some Schleich toy dragons, and a real sword for Willow; My Little Pony toys and matching American Girl/kid pajamas for Syd; and Rubik's Cubes, yo-yos, Pokemon cards, and jump ropes for stocking stuffers. I SUPER want to buy them more LEGOs, as well, but I'm worried that I'm already planning to give them plenty of stuff.

Tina said...

Oh, those all sound fun! We don't typically go big for Christmas, and this year we really need to stick to just a few things. The less I have to organize and pack before we move, the better. We might try the "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read" gift giving route this year, but it feels a little like skimping. Then again, Emma's birthday is 4 days before Christmas, so we can always just spoil the heck out of her then! AND, Gramma might come out for a visit sometime soon until after Emma's birthday, so you KNOW there will be major spoilage from that sector as well.

Have the girls read the Guardian Heard books? The third book in the series doesn't come out till February, but I was thinking of trying to see if we could score an early copy for her birthday- not that I have any idea if that's possible.