Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our Favorite Kids' Gifts of 2016

We're still playing with all of the things from my 2015 favorite kid gifts list (heck, we're still playing with a lot of the stuff that I could have put on a 2010 favorite gifts list, if I'd thought to make one back then!), but there have been a few new things that have come into our lives and stayed. Here are our 2016 favorites:

Solitary games have loomed large in Syd's life this year. After she pretty much took over Rush Hour at the local hands-on museum on every occasion that we've gone, I've kept my eye out for other Think Fun games, and we like them all. The best solitary games come with an entire deck full of different puzzles to solve, and for bonus points, you should be able to buy expansion decks.

Syd has long loved to bake and decorate treats, so this year I made a conscious decision to give her more tools to do it with. I started with her own hand mixer, measuring cups, and spatulas (all turquoise, because of course), and let her know that she has a budget, all for her, just to be used to buy the ingredients and decorations that she wants. She's abused this a couple of times, telling me that she needs to buy a certain candy for a project but actually just eating it, but for the most part she's on the up-and-up, and she has created some really cool treats this year. Candy sushi, anyone?

I recommend not just the basic baking and decorating supplies, but also a small number of well-curated "novelty" items. For instance, you'd think that the miniature cupcake maker would be a waste of counter space, but Syd uses that thing all. The. TIME. She also uses the waffle maker a lot, and I am continually contemplating buying her a special toaster that also cooks an egg and warms a piece of lunch meat, all to make you a lovely breakfast sandwich. So the novelty stuff can be well worth it, if it's something that the kid would be really into.

It's just about impossible to pry Will away from her books, but she and Syd both love both Perler beads and Sculpey. The fine-motor skills required to use these craft supplies make them very un-baby-ish, something highly prized with the tween set, and yet you can still make some simple things with them, as well as some really cool, really complicated stuff. Both kids will spend hours crafting with Perler beads or Sculpey, and Syd will sometimes spend days at it. They both enjoy Googling for Perler bead patterns, most of which are created by other random people, and they search YouTube for Sculpey video tutorials. We have all made some unbelievably nice stuff thanks to those videos! I have a super awesome tentacle pendant that I made myself, and I did have the best ever white Sculpey unicorn with a braided grey mane and tail, until Spots knocked her off of my card catalog. Sigh...

Syd first discovered this stuff on her California vacation, and she came home with a can that didn't leave her hands for weeks, I feel like. I'm not sure how additional colors have migrated to her domain, but she now also has the glow-in-the-dark putty and one of the hyper color ones. We're at the point now where I need to take an actual Thinking Putty inventory if I want to add to her collection for Christmas. She does leave them lying around sometimes, but the putties thankfully don't seem to dry out or stain our stuff, so yay.

So many great things happen as the kids grow. They can put on their own snowsuits, make themselves breakfast, and we can play games together that don't bore me to death! We've got plenty of four-player games, but I also really like two-player games that let me spend time with just one kid. It works especially well, because each kid has her own preferences: Will prefers Othello, Syd really loves SET. They both really love Laser Khet, although the first time they played it, they told me they didn't like it and there it sat on a shelf for a couple of months. But once I got it out, read the rules, and taught them how to play? They LOVE it. It is surprisingly like chess in the strategies that it requires, and predicting where that laser is going to bounce is a good way to internalize geometry. I'm secretly very competitive, though, so when Matt beats me, I get kind of pissed. He is too good at strategy games! It's not fair!

I can't believe that I haven't put Geomags on one of my gift lists before, because we are OBSESSED with them. They're quite pricey, but they're a toy that adults can play with just as happily as kids do, and you can create some really complicated structures with them, including entire perpetual motion machines that rely on the toys' magnetism. Seriously. Search YouTube. I don't add to the kids' collection every single holiday, but if I come across a ragingly good deal on a special set, I'll snap it up and save it for the next gift-giving occasion. Syd was super stoked to get the glittery pink set one birthday, and don't tell the kids, but they *may* find the pretty new Mechanics set under the tree this year...

So the adult coloring book craze is apparently for adults AND tweens! My two have always liked coloring books, but they're very much into the more detailed and sophisticated images in adult coloring books. We've become especially fond of the coloring books with literary tie-ins, perfect for coloring while listening to an audiobook. We now own coloring books for Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Sherlock, and since The Lord of the Rings is (still) our current family night-time read-aloud, that Tolkien coloring book especially gets a lot of play.

I've mostly nailed down what I'm buying the kids for Christmas this year (although I'm not posting that information, because my kids are snoopy!), but I still have a little more room in my budget to buy a couple more things for Will and Matt, my two hard-to-shop for family members. So if you have any suggestions about gifts for either a tween who only loves reading but never re-reads something so don't bother giving her a book, or a man whose only hobby is video games that I know nothing about, let me know!

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