Looking for Christmas gift ideas for kids that will actually get played with? Things that will be put to good use rather than adding more toy clutter for you to have to nag your kids about? This post is full of inspiration for Christmas gifts that will be fun, meaningful, and will not contribute more useless junk to your home!
This article was originally posted in December 2013 and updated October 2022.
The other day, I spent an hour and a half helping my child with hoarder tendencies to clean his room. It was about as much fun as filing our taxes or having a cavity filled, and as I came downstairs (with a large trash bag in hand), I vowed that this just might be the year that the boys don’t get any presents for Christmas. When I told this to my husband, he chuckled and felt vindicated for his frustration over said child’s room the other night. (At the time, I didn’t know why he was so frustrated. Now I do.)
Anyway, we started brainstorming some ideas for gifts that won’t make our toy clutter problem any worse than it already is. The kids honestly don’t own a ton of toys, but when you have 7 people living in one house, you have to keep life simple or the mess takes over!
Here are some ideas that we came up with.
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Tip #1: Limit the number of gifts. This sounds so obvious, but it’s easy to buy more than is needed in the excitement of the season. Kids really don’t need a lot of gifts to have a fun Christmas. In fact, too many gifts can be overwhelming, especially for toddlers and preschoolers.
Another tip that I’ve seen is to limit the gifts to four: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.
Tip #2: Give consumable gifts. Giving and receiving gifts is a lot of fun! We want to encourage our kids to be givers, and we have a tradition of exchanging sibling gifts each year on Christmas Eve. However, it’s very helpful in the clutter department if at least some of the gifts given are things like art supplies or edible treats.
Here are some ideas for gifts to give that are consumable.
- Drawing paper or a sketch book
- A notebook or journal
- Gel pens – These are fun for both drawing and coloring, especially with detailed coloring books
- A craft kit
- Notecards and stamps for sending mail
- Tape – never underestimate the joy of owning one’s own roll of Scotch tape, with no one telling you to stop wasting!
- Rubber bands – the boys find endless uses for these!
- Duct tape – for crafting with
- Fun pencils
- Play dough
- Favorite snacks, especially things that are not normally purchased
- Hot chocolate mix
- Gift card for a restaurant or book store – a $5 or $10 gift card to Sonic or something similar is fun!
- Parachute cord and supplies for making bracelets
- Bubble bath or shower gel
Tip #3: Ideas for experience gifts.
Experiences create memories rather than clutter and mess! Why not give the gift of a fun experience that you would not normally spend money on?
- A musical instrument and/or music lessons
- A month of karate or gymnastics or swimming lessons (indoors for this time of year, of course!)
- A coupon for a “date night” with just that child and one or both parents – dinner out, etc.
- A horseback trail ride
- Movie tickets
- Tickets to a sporting event
- For the family – a family pass to the zoo or local museum
- Symphony tickets or tickets to a play
Tip #4: Ideas for gifts that are not toys.
- Tool set – We have found very reasonably priced tool boxes and tools at Walmart or Home Depot. Kids love having their own screwdrivers, small hammer, measuring tape, pliers, etc.
- Flashlights – these are always a hit!
- A Camera – we bought Gresham the entry-level Canon DSLR (the T6, but the current model is the T7) for Christmas when he was 11. It has turned into a whole amazing hobby for him, complete with a state fair ribbon last fall for winning third place in the photography contest! Watch for deals around Black Friday.
- Clothes – If they have been wanting an item that you haven’t bought because it isn’t a need, it might make a fun gift. My kids love to receive hoodies, cool socks, etc.
- Books – how-to-draw books, a kids cookbook, etc.
- Wall calendar
- Accessories – hats, gloves, wallet, etc.
Tip #5: Open-ended toys that encourage creative play.
Well chosen, open-ended toys can be worth the expense (and the clean-up!). We really like toys that are parts of a larger set such as wooden trains, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, etc.
“Random toys,” especially battery powered ones that only do one thing, are likely to be abandoned in the toy box.
Beware of the law of diminishing returns! This is a term from economics that means that when you already have a lot of something, adding more does not increase your happiness. The examples that comes to mind are Hot Wheels cars or dinosaur toys or stuffed animals. The boys already have so many of these things that adding more makes them happy for a day or two, and then the new toy is forgotten in the clutter of our toy room.
But at the same time, some toys may seem like they’re not very fun because you don’t own enough to make it fun. This is true for toys like wooden blocks or lincoln logs. You need enough blocks to build what you want to make, or they really aren’t that fun. If you’re like us and have 3 or more kids playing with the blocks, you might need more than one set.
That being said, here are some of our favorite toys:
- Snap Circuits – We own this set and Aidan loves them! He has spent hours with this set. The directions are easy to follow, and Aidan has built working lights, various alarms, and other electrical projects. He got his Snap Circuits at age 9. The box says 8 and up, but younger kids would enjoy them with adult help.
- Keva planks are a great building toy for older kids (ages 8+). Aidan has the Keva Contraptions set, and it comes with 200 planks, two balls, and an instruction book. He has built some amazing things with these blocks!
- Safari Toob Animals. I don’t fully understand it, but these are Gresham’s very favorite toys! He and Owen have spent hours playing with their toob animals. They play with them inside and outside, in the dirt, in the sand, etc. If we are learning about animals in science, they have to go and get that toob animal to hold while we read! These are great toys, especially for kids who love imaginative play.
- LEGO – Of course we have to mention Legos! We could probably get rid of most of our other toys and just stay busy with Legos! The Classic tubs are a great way to go if you’re just getting started.
- Nerf. You really can’t go wrong with Nerf guns. Aidan recently bought the N-Strike Jolt Blaster, which is small, inexpensive, and amazingly powerful! We also like the Firestrike Blaster. We also have the Nerf Dude Perfect frisbee, and the boys really like it. It flies well, and it’s soft and easy to catch.
- The Animal Book from DK is a fabulous gift for an animal lover! Gresham received this book for his 7th birthday, and he loves to read it. The pictures are amazing, and he loves learning facts about animals.
- Playmobil and Playmobil 123 (for toddlers) Playmobil is something that the boys come back to again and again, and it suits a wide range of ages. Jonathan loves all of the police sets and there are many other themes such a city life, castle, zoo, and more.
- When Aidan was 10, we gave him The Boys’ Book of Adventure for Christmas, and he LOVED it. He carried it around for days. The book covers silly stuff that you would never need to know such as, “How to repair a spacecraft” and “How to join a band of gorillas.” However, there are some useful things in the book as well, such as how to make a hammock and how to find your way out of a maze (corn maze, perhaps?). Aidan loved it all, both the useful and the absurd. Apparently, you never know when you might need to know this stuff, and boys like to be prepared. 🙂
Whew! Congratulations if you made it to the end of this! And please, leave a comment with your suggestions. What ideas do you have for gifts that won’t turn into toy clutter?
Also, be sure to check out my Advent Jesse Tree devotions to download and print!