Great Last Minute Gift Ideas – For young Children

by Meghan Fowler

If you’re like me, you don’t have any great love of wandering the aisles of [insert miscellaneous big box store name here] on a Saturday evening in December. You might walk out of the store with an armload of so-so presents that fulfill the “bought my kids something” requirement, but a few months later, these same presents are collecting dust under your child’s bed, or worse, have already broken and wound up in a landfill somewhere. My guess is that what you really want is to buy presents that will add life to your home, that will enrich your kids, and that will get used often and over the long haul. You want the kinds of gifts that foster relationship; joint activities that encourage thinking, fun, conversation, problem solving, collaboration, and so on. And you also want the kinds of gifts that encourage independent play so that they can learn confidence and new skills and the art of being alone and making fun happen. And honestly, if you’re sometimes tired and needing a minute of alone-time yourself, a good open-ended toy can be just the ticket.

Maybe you’re thinking, “my kid gets bored too quickly!” Here’s the thing: If independent play is going to work, you need to get toys that allow for open-ended play, and even more importantly, you actually have to be willing to let your kid get bored sometimes. You can’t always swoop in with a rescue plan when the near-inevitable boredom bug catches.

Friends, boredom is the gateway to creativity!!

It’s the gateway we all must walk through in order to discover our own ability to self-entertain. In this day-and-age it’s particularly hard for us to foist the burden of short-term boredom on our kids because a) they can be annoying when they’re bored, and b) often us adults resist boredom by instantly picking up our phones (putting up my hand here! Guilty! 🙋🏼😟), so we default to curbing their boredom quickly too. After all, boredom is now instantly fixable with media or an adult’s intervention. But being instantly gratified ALL THE TIME isn’t good for anyone. Trust me. We need to learn to be thoughtful, to create space for creativity and ideas, to hear our own thoughts – and our kids need this too!!

(*Dr. Kim John Payne discusses the necessity of allowing for boredom in order to make way for creativity in much more detail in his excellent book, “Simplicity Parenting,” so definitely pick that up if you want to explore this idea more! It’s a great book, whether you intend to adopt all the “Simplicity Parenting” methods or not.)

Ask my family and friends: I have bordered on obsessed when it comes to the research I put into toys and books. I don’t want clutter, I don’t want junk, I want the best! Even then, I find my house too full and with too many cluttery, random items (I see another purge on the horizon!), but I really do try. And I think the following is a good GREAT list of last-minute presents for young children (ages 3-6). Lucky for me, I have been able to draw on some excellent resources in my “get only the best things!” quest: My friend Brenda is equally fanatical about this, as is my big sister, so they’ve contributed really fantastic ideas over the years. That, plus loads of amazon reviews, other blog posts, and the impromptu Facebook polls I’ve done for past Christmases have aided me massively in narrowing down to the best gifts (or at least the ones best suited to us!).

So without further ado, here’s a solid list of toys that I like and my kids like. These are gifts that encourage creativity, thought, and imagination. Again, keep in mind that my kids are 4 and 6, so these are toys we have had success with up until these ages.

I will link to items that I have a ready source for. Others you might have to actually go out to a real, physical store to buy 😬!!

Building and Creating gifts

  • Lego – lego is almost always a win. I won’t even go on about it because I know you know that lego is 👍👍👍. It’s cheapest at costco and walmart, in my experience.
  • Fort Kitpeople, this is a great kit!

There are lots of different fort-building kits out there, but I think this one is the best. It is not cheap, but it’s also not cheaply-made. It is durable, and there are so many (endless!) options for how they can be used. At age 5 my son started being able to build somewhat sensible looking things/structures with this by himself. If you have a benevolent grandparent that wants gift ideas, this is a good one. My parents got this for our kids as a group gift. We love it! My in-laws bought the next gift as a group gift for our kids, and it, too, has been fabulous:

  • Magnatiles – these are an investment up front, but I think they’re totally worthwhile. Mine are in use regularly, and when the kids’ friends are over, they often get absorbed in building with them too! I believe we got the 100 pack for $125, but that was 2 years ago.
  • Jenga – not kidding. My kids haven’t taken to playing proper Jenga much, but they do love using the blocks as building blocks, roads, projectiles (this is ill-advised).
  • Tools
    • Gardening tools – We don’t have this set, but I just stumbled upon it and it looks good!! We got ourselves a small trowel and garden rake from Superstore and the kids love it. But it could just as easily have been grown-up size. Give them their own trowel and gardening season will be more entertaining to say the least. And by the time they are 4 or 5 they might actually start being more helpful than destructive.
    • Snow shovel – I like the plastic unibody ones from Walmart. I can’t recall the brand but it may be Garant.
    • Tool Kit – my pal knew I was looking for one and found a CRAZY AMAZING one at our local MCC. My son is bonkers about it. And yes, we let him use the saw. With strict stipulations and a constantly-spoken disclaimer that if he cuts himself it will suck. This one by Grip looks pretty good to me. And I just learned that IKEA sells a good kid’s tool kit, too!
  • Marble Run – after lots of research, I settled on this one and have been very happy with it. You can get higher quality ones that are much smaller, but they don’t seem to be that much better; certainly not enough to warrant the extra cost. This kit is more than adequate – and does not feel cheaply made to me. My kids have been using it for a year and nothing has broken yet, which is saying something! And it’s the perfect size – you can construct quite the involved marble-run without running out of pieces. *BONUS* the pieces can easily be fashioned into a makeshift wand or sword! You can buy the same thing more cheaply through Amazon.com, too, but then it will probably be a “late” gift and not just a “last-minute” one.
  • Craft Supplies –A good start is a HUGE box of markers, and a few sketch pads. With any luck, in no time your kids will be drawing portraits of you that are this flattering!
    • We like these Markers
    • And these Sketch Pads – these look good. I’ve found the best and cheapest sketch pads at Dollarama and Winners. Ikea sells a fantastic stack of coloured paper, too, which I enjoy. I mean, my kids enjoy it (ok, I hoard it in a drawer in my office and they can’t take it without permission because it’s *very special.*)

Imagination and Make-believe

  • Dress Up Clothes – ideally, try to collect these throughout the year – grab Halloween sale items or re-use costumes, collect thrift store items, etc. – but a few last minute additions could include
    • Super-hero capes
    • princess dresses
    • crown and wand
    • lab coat
  • Doll House (and – optional – Ikea Dollhouse Furniture)
  • Dolls – these fit the ikea doll house perfectly
  • Play Silks – we have a Sarah’s silk (ordered in the states) and it’s useful as a cape, a dress, a blanket, or pretend water, among other things.
  • Cash Register – this one looks good. We actually don’t own it YET but a little elf told me that we may be getting one for Christmas.

Reading and Learning and Other Fun Brain-Boosters

  • Books. I’m planning to dedicate an entire post (or it may even end up as a series!) to BEST BOOKS. But here are a few ideas for last-minute presents.
    • Lullaby for a Little One – this book has such beautiful art and is a precious and comforting bedtime read. Best suited to 2-4 year olds.
    • Hop on Pop, Go Dog Go, Ten Apples Up On Top, The Cat in the Hat, The King’s Stilts – just to name a few. You really can’t go wrong buying books from the Dr. Seuss Beginner books collection.
    • Tyrannosaurus Drip – I love this book. The illustrations are so fantastic!!!
    • Llama Llama Red Pajama
    • Bear Snores On – this one has become a classic in our house. Get the hardcover!
    • Chronicles of Narnia – never too early to buy these! Even though, as I’ve discovered, it can be too early to read them. I had to do some live-editing while reading one of these to Ethan last year, but he still loved it. And he will be ready for more this year (age 6) I think!
  • Musical Instruments
  • Kumon Activity Maze books – these are good for stocking stuffers. Well made, good mazes.
  • Roger Priddy Activity books
  • High Five or Chirp Magazine subscriptions – my preference is for “High Five,” but my sister prefers “Chirp.” And we are both equally reputable. Ok, she’s a Dr., so technically she is…..😑  It’s so special for my kids to get mail of their very own! These are both good preschool magazine choices.
  • LeapFrog LeapReader Pen – (I don’t own this but wish I did!) My present co-researcher-buddy, Brenda, says her boys love this. It works with LeapReader and Tag books, which you buy separately.

Board Games

Experience Gifts

  • A zoo pass
  • A museum or science center pass
  • A home-made “voucher”
    • for a date to a place you know they would LOVE. Marcus took Ethan out to Winnipeg’s Revolving Restaurant (a restaurant at the top of a building that slowly spins) as a present.
    • to play/do something special. My brother’s birthday gift to Ethan last year was a date making robots together.
  • Lessons or sports – skating, music, soccer… you name it!
  • Sports gear – we bought a trampoline for Christmas once. And things like bikes or skates or scooters are all fair game, too. Get those kids outside! Get them moving! Get all the sillies out!!

A vote for Second Hand

Something to keep in mind as you shop is – as my sis-in-law helpfully reminded me today – little kids don’t care if their presents are second hand. So try and source your stuff on Kijiji or Craig’s List if you can. Or at your local second hand stores. It’s easier on your wallet and our precious environment to buy 2nd hand!! And when you buy new, try to care for it in such a way that you can give it away or re-sell it when you’re finished with it. Generating a sharing and re-using culture in your family can be done easily this way, and goodness knows we need to learn to be more judicious with STUFF for so many good reasons, not least for the sake of the planet!

So there you have it. Gift ideas for your little people.

Do you have any ideas for items that could make this list even better? Drop me a line or comment below 👇

And please don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Thanks friends!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all stress-free shopping and smart-useful-intentional gifts!

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