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What We Have And Love Or REALLY Want To Get For Our Kids This Year


If you are like me right now you are chanting “I will not bring more garbage into my house, I will not bring more garbage into my house” followed quickly by, “I will not spoil my kids this year. I will not spoil my kids this year. I will not spoil my kids this year”. While I can’t control grandparents (can’t I?) I can control what we buy and bring into our home. I will be intentional. I will not buy them stuff they don’t need, won’t play with, or will just turn into a landfill. I PROMISE (I’m lecturing myself in hopes of prevention). Also, we won’t buy A LOT. We made that mistake two years ago and it was the most disgusting ‘present exhaustion’ where they would yell ‘NEXT PRESENT!’ Rip it open, react, then impatiently wait for their turn again and we realized that we are officially terrible parents. No, that will not happen this year. NO WAY.

So this list is a bunch of stuff that I’ve either given them in the past and they’ve loved or I’m considering giving them this year (and hopefully they’ll love and use for years). More discussion about parenting during Christmas at the end for those of you interested 🙂 Let’s dive in.

1. Meri Meri Cape & Wand Iridescent Sequin | 2. Kitty Stuffed Animal Adoption Set | 3. Superhero Smartphone Movie Kit | 4. Tiger Tribe Beat The Clock Stopwatch Set | 5. Jetpack Backpack | 6. Kids Code Electronic Piggy Banks 

1. Meri Meri Cape & Wand Iridescent Sequin: We do a lot of dress up here (like a lot) and Birdie doesn’t tire of wearing anything sequin or princess-y. A cape is a small addition to this very fun activity. Not every present can be educational, but I know she’ll love this one.
2. Kitty Stuffed Animal Adoption Set: While you don’t need this kit, our kids LOVED to adopt pets and take care of them. Since we got real pups they don’t really do this, but if you are staving off the pet conversation for a while I can say that your kids would love this.
3. Superhero Smartphone Movie Kit: Brian wants to “make movies” with the kids for home school and wants us to get this set up for them – it’s a stop motion film setup for a superhero movie. So cute!
4. Tiger Tribe Beat The Clock Stopwatch Set: We bought this “stopwatch challenge” game last year – and it devoured HOURS. It’s fun physical challenges around your house, timed (you could also just use your watch and imagination).
5. Jetpack Backpack: Charlie’s favorite backpack that was a HUGE hit. Cutest kid’s bag ever.
6. Kids Code Electronic Piggy Banks: I had no idea these would hit last year but they did and they STILL use them all the time with their chore money. It’s an ATM piggy bank and I think because there is a pin number, etc, it just feels so grown up.

1. Walking Dino Kit | 2. PicassoTiles 60 Piece Set 60pcs Magnet Building Tiles | 3. Natural Log Wooden Toy Building Blocks | 4. Beetle – Giant Lady | 5. Color Puzzle | 6. Big Wood-Like Blocks

1. Walking Dino Kit: These dinosaurs are robotic!! You build it, and then you can move it. I’m very tempted to get Charlie this.
2. PicassoTiles 60 Piece Set 60pcs Magnet Building Tiles: If you have a preschooler under 5 and you don’t have magnet tiles, you are missing out. They will play with these for hours and for years.
3. Natural Log Wooden Toy Building Blocks: Our kids are a little too old for blocks, but these are epic (and pretty wooden sculptures).
4. Beetle – Giant Lady: This is a paper bug that you make and can put in your room!! We don’t need it but it is just so pretty and cool.
5. Color Puzzle: For the 2 to 3-year-old who loves puzzles, this one is so cute (and could be art afterward?)
6. Big Wood-Like Blocks: We invested in these blocks when Charlie was 1 year old and they have played consistently with them for years. YEARS. They are foam (and look like wood) and big. Now that they are older they use them to play ‘the floor is lava’ and step all over them.

1. Augmented Reality Interactive Globe For Kids | 2. Fractions Learning Kit | 3. Montessori Anatomy Vest

1. Augmented Reality Interactive Globe For Kids: I want to get this, but Brian is afraid they’ll get over it fast. It’s an education app that gives them a lot of info on each region. I know my kids will like it if it’s good.
2. Fractions Learning Kit: I like any Montessori anything. This fraction kit might not be their favorite toy, but I love how hands-on and visual it is to teach fractions.
3. Montessori Anatomy Vest: How cool is this??? They are super into organs and the human body and one of them could wear it while the other has to place everything. It’s pretty expensive (all handmade) and Brian thinks it’s weird but I’m super into it.

1. Little Talk – Conversation Card Deck | 2. Electricity Experiment Kit | 3. Magic of Science Experiment Kit

1. Little Talk – Conversation Card Deck: Everyone is talking about this conversational prompting game. Of course, you could just do it on your own, but I know from experience that when it’s packaged and looks like a game they engage with it more.
2. Electricity Experiment Kit: Charlie is super into science kits and Brian did the research that this is a great one.
3. Magic of Science Experiment Kit: We’ve got some magic lovers over here. We have a kit they use, but I like that this is more educational and makes it more science-oriented.

1. Crazy Forts | 2. Peaceable Kingdom Race to the Treasure! | 3. Peaceable Kingdom/ Gnomes at Night | 4. Outfoxed! | 5. Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game | 6. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza

1. Crazy Forts: We bought a family fort making kit 3 years ago for Christmas and it did get some heavy play but it was also pretty expensive and cumbersome. This one is cheaper and looks easier to put together for the kids to do alone (we still have ours and aren’t replacing it but I would buy this one instead if I needed one).
2. Peaceable Kingdom Race to the Treasure!: Collaborative games!! A lot of you recommended this one and it was on a lot of ‘best gifts’ list so we are getting it. I feel no guilt about adding to our family game inventory – we play A LOT.
3. Peaceable Kingdom/ Gnomes at Night: Another game you guys recommended. Not sure if we need both?
4. Outfoxed!: The current favorite game at our house (but we play A LOT thus my need to buy either #2 or #3).
5. Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game: So many of you recommended this Gravity Maze and we showed it to our kids and they both really want it so it’s going to be one of their main presents (for those who love marble run or magnatiles but are a little bit older).
6. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza: People are talking a lot about this game and we are excited to try.

1. Kid’s Classic Banjo | 2. Loog Guitar | 3. Kid’s Classic Drum Set

1. Kid’s Classic Banjo Isn’t this the cutest, banjo ever?
2. Loog Guitar: This is the guitar with bought Charlie last year that he loves (but rarely plays)
3. Kid’s Classic Drum Set: The cutest drum set that I’ll never allow. Now I’m not convinced that Brian and I are ready for any of these (we thought we could teach piano and guitar ourselves and we didn’t) but maybe this is the year we try.

1. Emma, the Sperm Whale | 2. DIY Sewing Kit “Make Your Monster” | 3. Ty Beanie Boos PIXY | 4. Handmade Crochet Stuffed Bunny | 5. Gilles le Koala | 6. Crochet Solar System Toys

1. Emma, the Sperm Whale: This stuffy is more for you/their room than them. I have the sloth and alligator version in their room in LA and they are SO GOOD. They aren’t cozy, but they’re handmade, whimsical, and huge.
2. DIY Sewing Kit “Make Your Monster”: Birdie wants a lot of sewing and knitting kits so this ‘make your own monster’ kit is on our list (you could also just use scraps of fabric).
3. Ty Beanie Boos PIXY: For stuffies that they LOVE and get OBSESSED with, get these Ty big-eyed ones. Not sure why (so many moms know what I’m talking about). They are always a huge hit (and a good stocking stuffer).
4. Handmade Crochet Stuffed Bunny: I found these sweet handmade rabbits on Etsy and thought they would be such a cute gift for a little one.
5. Gilles le Koala: Goodee has such a great and weird kids stuffies (we have this in LA).
6. Crochet Solar System Toys: How cute is this stuffed handmade solar planet collection?? Maybe it’s better for a classroom (and we are homeschooling) but it’s just so cute.

1. Mono Mama | 2. Handmade Keepsake Doll | 3. Pirate Paper Doll

1. Mono Mama: Another stuffie we have that looks GREAT in their room.
2. Handmade Keepsake Doll: This doll is selling out fast, but if you are lacking diverse representation in your home (we were), this doll is awesome.
3. Pirate Paper Doll: Grab this articulated pirate puppet for your pirate obsessed little one.

1. Ask Magazine Subscription | 2. Children’s Favorites with Mickey And Pals | 3. Kids National Geographic Subscription | 4. Lego Magazine Subscription | 5. Honest History Magazine Subscription| 6. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Now those magazines 1, 3, 4, and 5 – are all subscription-based. We have found that those (as well as Kiwi Crates) are an awesome monthly surprise. Our kids get so excited when they arrive and we usually dive in and read and do all the activities. I’m especially excited about ‘Honest History’.

Brian upgraded his record player recently, so we put his old one up in the attic with some vintage Disney, a Christmas Carol Story, and music records with it. They will play up there and listen to records for much longer than we could have imagined (sometimes 2 hours will go by). So we are getting them more records for their collection. You could also just have an MP3 player or Alexa but there is something sweet about them going so analog.

1. Household Recycling Toy Kits | 2. Young Engineers Set | 3. Bavarian Toy Crossbows

1. Household Recycling Toy Kits: This kit helps you take all that recycled stuff you’ve been saving and turn it into motorized robots and cars!! This is definitely something we want to get for all of us to do.
2. Young Engineers Set: This is an awesome engineers kit that assembles into a dinosaur.
3. Bavarian Toy Crossbows: Charlie is BEGGING for this suction cup crossbow, from Santa (he saw me pinning it for the GG a while ago so sadly I’m the one that exposed him to this!). Of course I’m on the fence, but we have been watching a lot of Alone (a survivalist show where they have to hunt their own food) and just avoiding these types of ‘games’ forever seems, well, dumb and impossible.

1. 5-Star Little Climber | 2. Balance Bike | 3. Magni Classic Racer | 4. Archery Wooden Set | 5. Indoor Snowball Fight | 6. Build A Snowman Kit

1. 5-Star Little Climber: For those with toddlers (grand-toddlers) I love these Montessori style jungle gyms for how flexible they are AND pretty. There are a lot on Etsy to choose from and might make a winter inside a bit more fun.
2. Balance Bike: The cutest little strider for a cute little 2 to 3-year-old.
3. Magni Classic Racer: I’ve found that ride-on toys get about 5 minutes of use a month, but this one sure is cute.
4. Archery Wooden Set: For the more traditional ‘bow and arrow’ type with cute felt tips. Hot Tip: If you have two kids, buy two…
5. Indoor Snowball Fight: A family favorite of ours FOR YEARS. These indoor snowballs are weightless, seriously so you can chuck them at each other HARD and not hurt. Sadly our pups chewed up most of these, so we might need to get a new set because it’s a great weekly physical indoor activity that is very fun for grownups as well.
6. Build A Snowman Kit: We make a lot of snowmen up here and while I prefer the kids having to scavenge for all the “ingredients”, this kit would make a great gift for a family with a snowy climate.

1. Gingham Coat | 2. Leather Boots | 3. Wash-Off Nail Polish Set

1. Gingham Coat: Birdie’s new coat is SO CUTE on her, and would make a great holiday coat (and year-round). Size down, her’s is a bit big (got a 5-6).
2. Leather Boots: These are new cute boots for her as well that have such a sweet English school vibe (there are zippers on the side, don’t worry).
3. Wash-Off Nail Polish Set: The cutest nail polish that washes off. I usually buy one color and put it in their stockings (charlie likes the blue and green).

1. Inflatable Snow Tube | 2. Inflatable Snowmobile Sled | 3. Inflatable Toboggan

We are a sledding family (it snows a lot up here and we have amazing sledding hills near our house). I’m debating between these three but they are all so cute!!! Bu-bye plastic cheap sleds that break!

1. Yoto Player – Kids Audio Player | 2. Bluetooth 5.0 MP3 | 3. Crosley Voyager Bluetooth Record Player

1. Yoto Player – Kids Audio Player: Brian bought this for the kids a few months ago – it’s a storytelling machine, with different cards that have different stories. Our kids go in phases, sometimes they LOVE it and some stories they skip. We also like that it has a nightime clock on it.
2. Bluetooth 5.0 MP3: I’m not sure if Birdie is ready but Charlie has reached the ‘I want to listen to music by myself with headphones’ phase. This one is only $20 but will be his first bit of tech, which I know he’ll love.
3. Crosley Voyager Bluetooth Record Player: This is the record player that we have in the play attic and they can easily navigate it (I’m sure there are more affordable ones but I can vouch for this one).

1. The Story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Biography Book for New Readers | 2. Antiracist Baby Board Book | 3. How To Spot An Artist | 4. Oh So Kind!

1. The Story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Biography Book for New Readers: Charlie and I recently read this book cover to cover on the hammock and it’s really digestible for kids. What I love about it is that at the end there are questions for them to help their comprehension and retention. It’s definitely more on the educational side (and we have the Obama and MLK versions, too) but for an early ready it is GREAT (especially for home school).
2. Antiracist Baby Board Book: I ordered this when it first came out thinking that it was more for kids, and its a full baby board book but GREAT for any baby 🙂
3. How To Spot An Artist: My friend, The Jealous Curator, just launched this book and it’s so cute and fun to support a friend. Birdie loves it because she is an artist.
4. Oh So Kind!: Joy’s series is also sweet and I’m so proud of her for using her time and design skills to put such a great series into the world.

1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg Short Sleeve Trailblazer Tee | 2. DP Tee Obama White | 3. Rosa Parks Trailblazer T-Shirt

I want all of these FOR ME. The Obama one comes as RBG version as well (and as a baby onesie) and there are many others in the series like 1 and 3. So awesome. Great for prompting conversation, learning, supporting these designers, and representing.

1. Really RAD Robots MiBRO | 2. Montessori Toddler Busy Board | 3. Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! 

1. Really RAD Robots MiBRO: This cute robot can be programmed to do a lot of fun things via remote. I’m going to read more reviews, but it seems so much fun (can even go pick things up and bring them back).
2. Montessori Toddler Busy Board: Hey toddler parents – these busy boards are expensive, but awesome. They will engage with them for a long time and are great for their motor skills. You can definitely make this yourself, but if you don’t want to take the time there are a lot on Etsy (great gift for a new mom with a baby since they are splurgy).
3. Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow!: Best restaurant activity ever. These ‘Water Wows’ initially look like garbage, but they are reusable (they disappear once they dry) and they don’t require pens that dry out (just these little water pens that are easy to refill and store in the front). STOCKING STUFFER ALERT.

1. Wood Carousel Music Box | 2. Sailing Ship Kite Large Ghost Ship | 3. Green Toys Submarine 

1. Wood Carousel Music Box: I audibly gasped when I saw this handmade custom music box. I’m going to have our kids each pick out one, and personalize with their name and year. They are splurgy but handmade, so sweet, a great collectible, and supports a small maker.
2. Sailing Ship Kite Large Ghost Ship: This kite makes the best corner hanging sculpture. We had a green one in Charlie’s first nursery and have this white one in their current room. Big impact for how affordable it is.
3. Green Toys Submarine: This seems dumb to include but we’ve had this bath toy for years because it’s the best to rinse their hair with. They played with it when they were 1,2,3,4 years old and now it’s just our tool. But it’s a good one.

1. Leanne Ford Motorcycle Ride On | 2. Gray Striped Baby Swing | 3. Wild Baby Elephant Stuffed Animal

1. Leanne Ford Motorcycle Ride On: I would NOT be upset if this wood motorcycle was next to the tree with a big bow on it Christmas morning. We don’t need it (and we still have that adorable Monroe Workshop rocking horse that gets 10 minutes of use a week), but Leanne Ford, you are SO GOOD.
2. Gray Striped Baby Swing: The cutest infant swing I ever did see. It would work so well here at the mountain house, if only I had an infant.
3. Wild Baby Elephant Stuffed Animal: This stuffy is special because you put it in the microwave and it stays slightly warm for a LONG time. My mom got Birdie one for her birthday and she loves it. We could all use one of these right now, so comforting (and weighted, too).

So that’s what I pinned for kids this year. It’s just so hard to know what they’ll love and use! Our kids mostly just love legos/building things and markers/art so we have to control our desire to shake things up or buy the latest thing that seems “fun”. Last year we TOTALLY blew it. Charlie wanted ‘battle bots‘ (on Brian’s prompting) and Birdie said she wanted a baby and stroller so I latched on to that and got her this one from PB kids. They were both from Santa and their big gifts. The Battle Bots got a decent amount of use the first week but it was SO LOUD AND ANNOYING AND AGRESSIVE, SO MANY PARTS all over the place and he hasn’t touched it in months and months. I recently packed it in a box hoping to rotate it back in later, but it feels like a waste. Birdie changed the baby “Butterfly’s” diaper a few times, adorably fed her with a bottle, tucked her in a few nights in a row which was obviously painfully cute, but then she got bored and abandoned her child. Recently as I was purging I asked if we could give it (with carriage, diaper bag, the works – perfect condition) to our 2-year-old neighbor daughter and she happily said yes, and you know how rarely that happens so she clearly was over it.

Any advice on this would just be lovely. They are at an age where I feel like we really need to set up how we do this. Are they old enough to start using their chore money to buy us presents? Grandparents? Should put together a toy exchange or have them save to buy toys for underserved kids? Make presents for friends/family? What are your present traditions? How do you guys prevent the overconsumption? The accrual of garbage? And also we are SO close to Charlie asking us point blank about Santa and I’m refusing to lie…. EEEEEKKKKKK

This is my last personal gift guide, y’all (well, besides some more thoughtful ones in a few weeks). Hopefully, it helped you find some things you feel good about in time for the sales this week and weekend. We’ll have a big Black Friday roundup with a lot of our best home and fashion picks from our guides on huge sales. I’m hoping to be done with all of mine by Sunday so that box can be checked and we can get to our month of baking, ornament making, and watching SO MANY HOLIDAY MOVIES. Expect a holiday movie review post in your future. 🙂

For ALL of the gift guides head HERE!

Opener Image Credit: Photo by Tessa Neustadt | From: Decorating For The Holidays – Family Friendly Style

Fin Mark


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The musical instruments you show are very pretty, but might not sound that great. If you want to go musical I suggest getting real instruments rather than musical toys. Things like bongos and ukuleles don’t have to be expensive. Kids like real things and they are less likely to be outgrown.

deals with love, art, friendly, race, and so many other social issues. You need to watch this show to


Agreed. Get a real instrument.

I have and love a Kala brand ukulele and it’s purple! They have several lines that are colorful and inexpensive. I just checked and some of the Sopranos are going for about $55 right now.

This page should get you to options for kids.

My partner saw how much I loved my purple ukulele that when he stumbled on a “kids” ukulele in blue he bought it. It doesn’t stay in tune very well and doesn’t have as good sound. But at least now we both have ukes to play at our library’s (moved online due to the pandemic) ukulele strum and singalong every month. 🙂


Loog guitars are legit guitars. They have 3 strings instead of 6 to make the fret narrow enough for kids but intended to be real instruments to teach real playing. We love ours!


Agreed! My husband & I are musicians, and we’ve had fun introducing age-appropriate real instruments to our kids for years. So much better than even the high-quality toy instruments. Our favorites for toddler/preschool are wood egg shakers (like Nino), Auris Glockenspiels (kid-sized real brass xylophones), and Remo drums of all sizes. There are lots of awesome small instruments to explore in the percussion section of any music store. Check out thunder tubes (aka spring drums) for astonishing spaceship sounds.


We love our Remo floor tom! Highly recommend!


Our kids went to the public arts elementary school here in Portland and every kid learns how to play the ukelele at school. They’re affordable and the kids love playing! I vote for a ukelele.


What I remember most from my childhood was the summer trips my parents took us on. Every year we went to a different city and did everything that city had to offer. One year, we went on a 2-month trip around the US. When I was in college, my parents took me to Europe. These are the most long-lasting gifts you can give your children and the ones they will never forget.


Totally agree. We have stopped buying material gifts for our small relatives and friends (except books). The thing they seem to love and remember most is when we put aside some time to spend with them. So we always try to gift them a voucher for an activity we can do together. As a bonus it gives their parents a break!


Yes! These are the types of presents that I wish I had received more of as a kid. Zoo memberships, tickets to the aquarium, handmade things, a book of vouchers for activities with the kids like cooking, watching a movie, etc. In my experience they do truly value more if we make time for them to do something. I also gifted my niece a book about Yosemite and included a camping reservation for her and her parents with a pair of kids binoculars to watch birds. She was over the moon!


I love to see that the wodden rocking horse we saw in your mountain house decoration post is with you/Charlie for years!
My boys of 6 still play occasionally with the green toy submarine, especially in a pool. Highly recommended.


My kids are grown and out of college. Some years we really spoiled them at Christmas and some years we didn’t. I don’t think it much matters if you occasionally overdo it on the presents at Christmas — just don’t spoil them rotten on the other 364 days of the year.

For my two, the gifts they loved and used the most were Playmobil (my son played for hours and hours with a Playmobil garbage truck- ha!), Legos, Keva planks, marble maze sets, American Girl dolls, dress-up clothes, and, for some reason, plastic food and a fake cash register that they used to play “restaurant.” Good times.


The plastic food gets SO MUCH PLAY. Also, someone crochet a pie ‘crust’ and ‘top’ and some apple ‘slices’ for my daughter when she was 3, and that thing is possibly the most played-with toy in the house.


Keva planks are fun for everyone! My daughter and nephew also loved the play food and puppets. Somehow puppets were better than dolls or stuffed animals. I think because they could move the mouths to make them “eat”.


We have never done Santa. My husband did not grow up with Santa and I did but found the whole thing very confusing. Don’t do what my parents did, which was to insist that Santa was real year after year. This got very embarrassing and frustrating by sixth grade. I think if they had just told me when I asked at age 5 it would have been fine. So we tell our kids that Santa is a fun game people play at Christmas. They feel like they are in on the joke so they don’t spoil it for other kids. Christmas is really about Jesus for our family, so we light advent candles at dinner all month and sing O Come O Come Emmanuel and read advent stories. They love anything involving candles. We do stockings on Christmas with small toys and candy and cool socks, things like that. We do a few presents each, but not loads. Maybe 3-4 each. My mother in law gives all of the grandkids $100 every Christmas. They are supposed to spend or save half and give half to the charity of their choice and then write her a letter explaining what they did.… Read more »


I didn’t grow up with presents from Santa either. My brother and I were raised by our Grandma who grew up during the Depression and she was like – “Santa? No, I get all the credit for these gifts!” Which, honestly, I love. We opened all our presents on Christmas Eve with cousins at Grandma’s house (our house) and the next morning was just about eating leftovers, staying in jammies, and playing with your presents. It was the best! Never missed out on the whole Santa thing. My wife had Santa presents from her parents and is shocked we never fell for it!


I love the idea of giving them money to give to charity! Might have to steal that one.


Hey just a heads up — you don’t need to buy a balance bike. You can convert their regular bikes.
All 4 of my kids learned to ride their bikes without training wheels between the ages of 3 & 4, simply by removing the training wheels & pedals off their regular bikes. Only took a few days (except for 1 daughter who does not like to be pressured into doing anything), and then we put the pedals back on. Best of all I didn’t have to do the dreaded push-and-run-alongside with them.
No need to buy expensive short-termed balance bikes!


Emily, when I saw the topic, I was a bit *sigh*, but waded in anyway.
You did such a great job! It’s nit piles of plastic garbage!

A neighbour has two boys the same ages as Bear n Birdie and a large rwo car garage that only has one car in it, ever, because they have sooooo much plastic garbage in it!
“Human use, population, and technology have reached that certain stage where
mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.”
His Holiness the Dalai

Lurve anything Montessori…so good and engaging and makes ’em think!
I love that Charlie gets to wear the wash off nail polish too.

The “Is Santa real???” question… I suggest taking Charlie aside with just one parent (so it’s not big time serious) and saying “What do you think? … Why do you think that?” and engage with his thinking and where he’s at to gauge if it’s time.
Kids ask this a LOT before they ever really know the game’s up, so don’t jump the gun. Especially with this crazy year, you might get another 2 years of Santa for Charlie to enjoy and you n Brian to adore. xx

Emily J

inflatable sleds are so dangerous! kids break limbs on them all the time. trust this Canadian.


Great post and always love your ideas! My son is the same age as Charlie and they seem to share the same interests–I HIGHLY recommend checking out Snap Circuits. They can put together pieces that create a circuit that produces some cool noise or fan or flying saucer, etc. There are so many different things they can build and it’s all super self-contained (hooray for things with few pieces). It’s awesome even for a parent to see what build (and see how circuits work).


I was coming here to make the same comment! Snap Circuits are amazing. The Junior set is a great entry point to see if they’ll be loved.


Just my two cents, I really love and try to add to toy “collections” and build on sets we already have: playmobil (!!!) and LEGO are great examples of this, as well as play kitchen stuff, American girl stuff, calico critter sets (you and Birdie will LOVE these if she doesn’t already have)… So when you say you already know what they love (ie LEGO), I think you’re on the right track. 🙂 I have never regretted building on to what we’ve already got.

Also, we encourage the kids to pick out a gift for each other. This is a great, simple, low pressure way to get them thinking about blessing someone else right under their own roof (and perpetuates the “she’s your best friend!” line that we emphasize amongst siblings :)).


I really like your idea of kids choosing a hift for each other! 👍

I always wanted to buy gifts for my (many much older) siblings, but my allowance was small and even saving half really was a pittance, so I could only make gifts.


Yup… bluddy dodgy fingers! Sorry… choosing a GIFT


I’m a bit scared of adding more of tge same. I did with duplo and train sets, and honestly these toys don’t get more use as before all the sets. I feel as if that could begin hoarding or becoming obsessed about one thing. Hobbies are good, but I don’t want my kids to ne materialistic, consumers, hoarders. I much prefer them to be creators, invemtors, etc. This is not a critique, just my internal dialog. I’d love some clarity or knowing when it’s too much from someone who knows a lot on the topic. Whatever the case, with every holiday, clutter accumulates. These days I put majority of toys away, and rotate or adk them to choose what they want, then we put it away before taking out a different toy.

S. Johnson

A few years ago we adopted the “ cat and the hat” Christmas.
Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read
It has worked really well for our family

S. Johnson

Oh and one gift from Santa in our Santa bag (pottery barn) Kids are older now, but it’s still fun


Great gift guide! I feel you with the deep desire not to go overboard. I have 4 kiddos and after a few years of well-meaning but overexuberant grandparents going wild with presents I finally laid down ground rules to preserve my sanity and everyone’s holiday enjoyment. Our current setup is that we (parents) do stockings, one Santa gift, a gift of something to read, and Christmas pajamas. I kindly but firmly requested that grandparents stick to two gifts per child. Our kids each gift one another a present and that’s why I LOVE this setup. With less presents overall, their gifts stand out much more and they get very excited to have their siblings open up what they selected. It makes for a very sweet Christmas morning 🙂 I am finding it harder than usual this year, though, not overcompensate for COVID-times with more gifts (ugh).


I don’t remember a specific moment when I learned that Santa wasn’t real, but I do remember that my brother & I had a lot of fun choosing stocking stuffers for the family. Getting to *be* Santa is fun, too.

We are almost there, so I’m thinking of how to do something like this: My kiddo lives Santa but I feel like she is also playing along with us at this point & will be ready to be Santa for others soon.


The link you posted is the same as what I saw on another blog and was trying to summarize in my comment somewhere below. Thanks for finding the link


Emily! This mom came up with an awesome idea for when it’s time 🙂

Gina Moore

I so feel you on all of this!!!! Mine are 2 and 4 and I honestly feel like every present we get turns to junk. Like there are buckets of small pieces and crap everywhere. I don’t get it!! It’s so hard to figure out what to get and also I want to find stuff they like to keep them busy!!! So thank you for writing your words. I get it. A lot of my mom friends feel this too. And same with the being at a point where we need to figure out how we do this Santa and Christmas gift giving (the 4 year old has a good memory!).


I think you might just be the hardest working blogger out there. Not only do you post daily, but sometimes more than once in a day!! Love the mix of home design and lifestyle topics you cover and the mix of higher end and affordable. Thank you for the kid gift suggestions. My kiddos are teens and older so I needed some good ideas for my 3 year old niece!


My kids are now 7, 9, and 11 and they still play with those Magnatiles! Great recommendation. For science/engineering gifts look into the Snap Circuit sets. My electrical engineer husband approves, and it keeps the kids busy with a great reward at the end.


Everything that has rstyle links didn’t work for me. Is it just me or is there any error with it?

it’s an error on their end, but it should be fixed within an hour or so! 🙂


Emily, I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but I feel like you and your kids would love Bravery Magazine! I follow it on Instagram and I don’t even have little children! Please check it out, because I wish I had little ones to give this magazine to!


FYI – the links for #2 and #3 science experiment kits are broken. The whole site seems to not work.


Honestly, I need to get that Montessori fractions set for myself!

Becca H

Love these ideas Emily! Yep, it seems as if none of the links I tried are working for me either.

there are a few server outages right now that we’ve heard about but they’re being worked on! things should be all back online soon 🙂

Brittany Corbucci

My two kids 3 and 8 LOVE the pikler triangle. When I got it, I was worried they wouldn’t use it, but they are on it EVERY DAY. I highly recommend getting a big/tall one!

Hey everyone! We are so sorry but our main affiliate company’s site is down making a ton of our links not usable:( They are working on it as fast as possible!! Please come check back<3


This is a minor point but one that doesn’t come up a lot: GO ALL IN on something. We have had Magnatiles for years. We started out by buying two sets. We only had one child at the time. With two sets, you can build something really big. Then, we added on some specialty pieces in stockings or Easter baskets over the years. Ditto, instead of buying individual lego sets, we hunted around on Craigs List and bought bins of legos so we could explore and make something that sprawled. Our kids have loads of books, art supplies, and carefully chosen open-ended toys. Go all in and let your kids make something BIG. They’re getting some additions to their marble run for Christmas and I’m at least as excited as they will be.


Thanks for this point. My boys play with magnatiles all the time and I’ve considered adding more but was resistant. But good point on building bigger or more elaborate things.


If you have a yard, check out this dome. My kids and their friends play on it all the time. Warning – you have to move it to now the lawn


For fraction fun, check out Fraction Fortress. It is plastic but the pieces lock together in a way that really helps with understanding and it’s fun to play with as a game as intended or just to explore with. Ours got a lot of time before we handed it down to another family who also loved it.


We just put clear Christmas lights in a clear plastic tub and flipped it over, my kids played with their magnet tiles on it in a dark room for hours!


We are trying to be more minimal, but it does feel good to see “a pile” of gifts under the tree so I started wrapping items we’d probably just buy and give them at other times of year. So…a new toothbrush, toothpaste, hair bands, a scrunchie, film for the little instax camera, scotch tape refills, glue sticks (last year each child got a fresh glue stick-super exciting) new helmet or gloves, etc. Not sure how this will work this year but in the past I wrapped up a note for a trip to a favorite museum. I was going to take them to the museum at some point in the next few months *anyway* but how fun to unwrap it! Again, of course I would get my kids a new bike helmet but if it’s something you’ve been meaning to get for a month or two it seems fun to incorporate it into Christmas. It makes you feel like you’re buying them “more” which is *fun* as a parent, but you’re not just overwhelming them with toys. Also, to make it look plentiful you can always use a big box! As far as Santa, we just skip it. Not to… Read more »


This is so wise – unwrapping the presents is SO MUCH MORE EXCITING than what’s actually in the presents. And you can totally get them things you would have bought them anyway. They don’t know. I don’t think it reduces the joy for the kids at all but it definitely reduces the amount of clutter and unnecessary stuff they don’t need or even enjoy.

Amanda McCullough

I always got everyone socks and last year got everyone gift cards and they complained they didn’t get the socks!!! Unwrapping IS the funnest part…..and I always try to get them useful things or books 🙂 too many toys already


Great list!! I love to find unique online stores too (like woonwinkel – so fun)! I don’t have kids but plenty of nieces/nephews to buy for.


We have a lot of family that buy presents for the kids so I usually suggest things to them on the kids’ list. And then try not for us to buy them many things. (We don’t fo Santa). The last few years I’ve gone with my 6 yr old to pick out presents from the dollar store for family members (or we’ll make something). But probably won’t do either this year.
My kids (3&6.5) got these Knex sets as gifts and play with them all the time.

My son will be 7 in December and was skeptical of Santa last year. He asked questions indicating that he clearly knew. One day earlier this year, he started asking questions again (it may have been around Easter). He kept tip-toeing around the topic. My husband asked him who he thought gave him presents and he said us. We told him the truth, explained why we do Santa (tradition/fun), and explained why he shouldn’t tell other kids. It wasn’t traumatic and he wasn’t upset. He already knew, and he still has full permission to enjoy all the usual Christmas traditions….we will still do “Santa” gifts. I think it impacted me more than my son….would it feel less special/fun? This is our first year and so far- it feels the same…except we don’t really talk about Santa. We’ll still do Elf on the Shelf, but my son is excited to part take in the fun….he can’t wait to put him in silly situations for us to find. 🙂 You got this! I look forward to the update!


My daughter figured out Santa in 3rd grade when we had the ‘binkie fairy’ come for her 2yo sister’s binkies. I’ll never forget the conversation where she said, mom is the binkie fairy real? And I said what do you think? And she said I think it’s you, then went through the list…tooth fairy…Easter bunny…Santa? Looking more crestfallen each time. And to each I said what do you think, and she clearly knew, and didn’t want to know. You have to meet them where they’re at…as sad as it was, I was so happy to see her budding critical thinking! And she still goes in and out of being a ‘believer’ 2 years later. But we also bond over making the magic for her little sister. Good luck – the bonus is that it’s nice to be able to take credit for all the gifts, just saying!!!

Jordan G

It’s such a valiant struggle every year, isn’t it? What a first world problem of course, but I have all the same emotions. My twins are 4 and I’m always trying to be strategic about what I buy them. This is the year I’m finally giving away our Foamnasium to a friend with a one-year old — that and the magnet tiles have been our biggest wins of their first 4 years of life. They have played with both of those for more than 3 years. I told my kids that Santa has a budget of $20. He has to bring toys to lots of kids and can’t afford to build expensive toys for everyone. I also told them I already sent Santa letters on their behalf so they can’t change their minds now. 🙂 As for this year, I’m trying to build off or replace things they already have and love. For example, we are huge into arts and crafts so I’m pretty sure their stocking stuffers will be art supplies to replace what’s running low. This is stuff I would buy anyway that I’m disguising as a gift. We burn through glitter gel pens, craft paint and craft… Read more »


Re the Santa discussion! My dad and his wife handled this SO WELL with my half brother (who is much younger than me). They decided they would never lie to him and pretend that Santa was real. But they didn’t want to take away the fun of Santa or cause issues with him telling other kids Santa wasn’t real. So when he was very little they taught him: “Santa is a special game that the whole world plays! People play it on TV, in movies, in books. The Santas at the store are playing it, and we play it too when we put out milk and cookies for Santa and the presents appear on Christmas morning! But the game of Santa is only fun when EVERYBODY pretends it’s real. So we mustn’t ever say that Santa isn’t real, we just play the game! It’s like a big secret that everybody in the whole world is in on.” He is 14 now and still “plays Santa” and gets a lot of fun out of it. Don’t know if this will work for your family but I thought it was such a clever and fun way to deal with Santa. Maybe you… Read more »


Have you asked the kids what they want? Sometimes kids want really weird stuff and it’s not toys or material things. Last year my little brother just wanted a compost bin for the backyard. He asked for it over and over again. Sooooo…that’s what he got? And almost a year later he still carries the food scraps out to it and checks on it constantly. And as a bonus my family is now composting. What a weirdo.


I LOVE this!
I want a big compost bin.
Nobody’s raking me seriously.


FYI – If you buy the Little Talk Deck via the website of the company that makes it,, you can get it for 30% off right now.


A lot of great suggestions on this list! We have an almost-four-year-old in a small NYC apartment, so we strive for minimalism and favor open-ended toys. One inexpensive thing my daughter really loves are playsilks–they can act as grass, water, sand, etc. for small-world play; capes, dresses, skirts, etc. for dress-up; draped over our pikler triangle to create a rainbow fort, and more. She’ll be getting a new one in her stocking this year! In an attempt to cut down on excess, we adhere to the “four gift” rule–something you want/need/wear/read–plus a gift and stocking from Santa. Unfortunately when combined with gifts from extended family (which we try hard to limit, to varying degrees of success), it still frankly feels a bit like overload. In our family the wear/read gifts are traditionally new Christmas pajamas and a new Christmas book, which we open on Christmas Eve to help cut down on Christmas morning gift fatigue. Last year when my daughter was nearly 3, we decided she was old enough to begin a gift donation tradition–we went to our favorite local toy store and picked out a selection of gifts together, then traipsed over to a nearby church that was collecting… Read more »


I said this on the IG post, but I’ll put it here, too. For school-aged kids, we’ve always taken a part of our Christmas budget for kid presents (which is not at all huge) and spent it on helping others. Their school has a list of items that families need and the kids pick things from that list to purchase for them. In Portland we also have an annual way to give to multiple charities in one, easy website and you get incentives for giving. This year we’re giving each kid $50 to donate to whichever local charities they want to through that site. They still get a couple gifts and stockings (candy, toothbrush, socks, an orange), but they understand that they want for little and it feels great to give to others instead. The first year they were a bit bummed, but each year since they are more and more excited about the giving part of the holiday instead of focused so much on what they get. They’ve also grown up having most of their books, clothes, etc. purchased at thrift stores, and now they’re old enough (middle school/high school) that they go thrifting on their own and/or… Read more »


Gosh I hear you with the gifts – I tried to guide my almost 4 year old this year. We wrote her letter to Santa and she asked for a ‘ballet girl outfit’ and ballet shoes. So I got a dress up version and some books and that’s it. Last year we got lots of little cheap things, which were nice but it made it feel like she got tons! So by the end it was that “next” idea. I feel the less they get the more they will appreciate what they do. It’s so hard to know what will have legs, what will be played with. Things they love in pals houses often work as they are a novelty. So loving all the advice in the comments. xxx


thanks so much for this…have been searching for gifts for nieces/nephews for weeks!


Hey Em I’ll buy that monroe rocking robot from you to free up some space for a new rocker! I’ve wanted one of those since my first but never got it. Now my second and my first would enjoy it! Also I’m in Portland and could do a no contact pickup.


What a great gift guide! We are with you and don’t lie about Santa, therefore our oldest asked about Santa when she was 4 and our youngest always knew. I’m okay with it because we value honesty over Santa. About kids buying gifts, we take them to a thrift store every year with a budget and let them buy gifts for the whole family. It’s the sweetest thing to watch them be painfully thoughtful as they pick gifts for each other and their parents. Thrift store keeps us from feeling the need to direct them at all- they have bought some hilarious and some super useful things too. Plus all three of them get one on one dates with us so they can get gifts for the opposite parent during a busy season.


Why are you on the fence about the crossbow? That sounds so fun! I was very young when my dad got me my first bow (and a Red Ryder BB gun!) and I have very fond memories of all the time I’ve spent shooting with him at our backyard target and at the range at our local park. And I’m still a good shot, which seems to surprise people coming from a petite woman 🙂 It might spark a lifelong love of archery and marksmanship! I’d recommend it for adults too. You can also visit an archery store where they will help you try out different types of bows to get a feel for what you are interested in. Archery is great – it has such a long history and you can do it with limited space, plus it’s a sport that you can still do even if you have limited mobility or just aren’t the type for intense endurance activities!


The 4 rules of our xmas:

Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear, and
Something to read.

Thanks to this article, which sounds like it really aligns with your struggles this year!

Tina Schrader

“We are officially terrible parents” and “abandoned her child”…so funny! I was cracking up so much reading this. 🙂 Great layout of ideas. Very helpful.


Some of my happiest memories from Christmas when I was little were all about buying presents for other people, starting at around Charlie and Birdie’s age! This probably works best with two kids, but one of my FAVORITE things was a shopping trip where we would split up, one with mom and one with dad, and pick out a present to give the other parent AND one to give to sibling (so you ultimately end up picking two presents from you > sibling, which honestly is more fun because kids’ toys are… way more fun!). It was such a special bonding moment to walk around the shopping center or mall talking to my mom about what I would want to get for my dad and what SHE thought would be a fun gift for my sister and then swap. Much harder to do this year without in-person shopping, but you could do a setup with two laptops in different room and a fun Christmas-y activity (hot chocolate? gingerbread houses?) before the “swap!” Keeping the secret was so fun, too and I remember feeling such joy at watching my sister open her presents from me, and have a very vivid memory… Read more »


Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is great – if the kids don’t like getting their hands slapped, have them wear oven mitts on the slapping hands. Post pandemic, this is a great one at restaurants while waiting for the food to get there. If they love it, there is also a Christmas themed version available from the manufacturer.

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