Our 8th Annual Holiday Gift Guide
By Sandy Kauten
My own kids (boys, ages seven and 13) were the primary guinea pigs this year, and we also looped in friends’ kids, nieces and nephews of all ages.
Engineering some STEM fun
My seven-year-old was most excited about trying OSMO’s Creative Starter Kit. The kit includes three games that encourage drawing, creativity and problem solving. Kids draw their own creations on the Creative Board that magically (through a camera mirror) become part of the story on the screen. (Additional kits & apps also available from Playosmo.com, Amazon.com, Target, Best Buy)
The KIBO robotkit, from KinderLab Robotics is a unique robot toy that engages kids ages four to seven to create, design, decorate and bring their own robot to life! Kids plan a coding sequence using the programmable wooden building blocks, scan their sequence with KIBO, press its button and watch their creation go! Be prepared to explore this robot’s features alongside your kiddo to get it started. Once they’ve got the hang of it, the KIBO is a sturdy toy and will provide hours of entertainment. (Available on Amazon)
Building toys are a favorite in our house. LEGOs are a staple, and both Brackitz and Plus-Plus were a hit. With Brackitz planks and connecting hubs, it’s easy to connect pieces anywhere, at any angle. No barriers. No limitations. The inventions and simple machines kids can make are durable and portable. Plus-Plus comes in one shape with endless possibilities and hours of fun. Each piece easily connects to the next. Both toys require focus, creativity and imagination. (Available at brackitz.com and plus-plus.us)
The E-Blox Circuit Blox Lights N’ Motion kit was a big “wow” for our kid reviewer. Once we followed the directions (not always a strong suit when stuff comes right out of the box!), thanks to a super basic motor, we were able to build and create shapes that lit up and even spun around. Even a simple tower takes on a new vibe when its flashing and spinning. (Available at myeblox.com)
Add a little physics to the mix with a Stomp Rocket. The Stomp Rocket X-Treme has a pair of rockets that will soar up to 400 feet. Change the angle, the force of the stomp and the position of the rockets and watch the way it changes the trajectory. Can you stomp and then catch the rocket before it hits the ground? The Stomp Rocket is 100% kid-powered and easy for the under 10 crowd to set up. (Available at Target)
If your kid is an adventurer and explorer and would rather be outside, we found several great gift ideas.
My kids are just getting into fishing and one of the most clever ideas we saw was the GoFish Cam. This wireless underwater HD video camera sits on your fishing line and reveals all the underwater action. We loved it to check out the underwater environment and can’t wait to grab and share images of the fish we catch with friends and family. (Available at gofishcam.com)
One benefit to the early winter sunsets? More time to play with the Starlux while lighting up the backyard. The engaging glow-in-the-dark games motivate kids to put aside their screens and interact with each other in real life, in real time and in the great outdoors. We tried both Capture the Flag and Glow Battle (a light-up, sword-fighting game) at a slumber party and the kids had a ball. (Available at starluxgames.com)
While we may be a couple of months away from peak camping season, we’re Oregonians! Two campsite gift ideas to enhance winter camping activities will also take you into spring and summer. Morrison Outdoors’ Little Mo Baby Sleeping Bags are the first 20- and 40-degree sleeping bags designed for babies and toddlers age 6-24 months. Our toddler toy tester loves cruising the neighborhood in his stroller, all warm and snuggled in his Little Mo. (Available at MorrisonOutdoors.com or REI)
Bring along the Motorola Talkabout T600 H20 two-way radios for outdoor adventures when out of cell phone range. Two-way radios are important for communication and safety… and there’s nothing like an endless game of CB radio catch phrases with your kids. These two-way radios are more than just fun — get NOAA weather updates and alerts in this completely waterproof model that even floats so there’s no need to worry if it accidentally falls off the boat when dad is fishing. (Available at Target, Walmart and Best Buy)
And what kid doesn’t love lounging in a hammock? The Tentsile T-Mini Hammock is a perfect portable two-person number. It’s lightweight and compact, ideal for families. If you don’t have an adventure planned just yet, you’ll soon be planning time to lounge in the garden or the park on a sunny day. (Available at tentsile.com)
Getting outside doesn’t have to be a grand adventure. The Razor electric scooters and mini bikes keep my kids outside until the street lights come on. The E-Punk Electric Mini Bike is our favorite gift idea this year. Super compact and totally portable, it doesn’t go too fast and is a ton of fun. Pair it with the Razor Turbo A Electric Scooter for double the fun. (Available at razor.com and Target)
Fun for the Wee Ones
For the wee ones on your gift list, we have some irresistibly cute ideas.
The Mouse Loves Pig Car Play Mat - Vroom Vroom Car Travel Toy is simply adorable. Their entire life, my kids have been captivated by playing with cars. This travel play mat has a tiny road, just about the width of a little lap, and small pockets for all the cars to easily fit. We love that the toys are made in the US from organic materials using fair labor. (Available at mouselovespig.com)
My four-year-old niece can’t get enough of taking care of baby dolls now that she has a little brother. Madame Alexander draws upon decades of dollmaking expertise, which makes these an instant classic. We chose the Splash and Play Mermaid — she is fully submersible and comes dressed in a mermaid swim set with a hooded towel ‘tail'. My niece was instantly in love with her new playmate. (Available at Amazon and Target)
Bouncing around is a toddler’s modus operandi. The Hopping Unicorn makes it a little more magical. Covered with soft, removable/washable plush fabric, it is easy to use — just inflate with the included hand pump and off your toddler goes! Great for balance, coordination — and fun! (Available on Amazon)
I’m not sure how anyone can resist a toy called Moosh Moosh. With an adorable line of super-soft plush creatures, these are ideal for kids of any age. We reviewed the flashlight version, one was a “mean” looking shark and the other a Corgi dog. You can also get big square unicorns, “piggy” banks and keychain size versions. Even better? Moosh Moosh was named Autism Live Top Sensory Toy/Gift Award 2019. (Available at moosh-moosh.com, Amazon or Michael’s)
Growing your imagination through play is so important. The award-winning My Little Farm is a beautifully simple toy and will provide acres of fun. It comes out of the box flat (and can be played that way) or magically (and easily) transforms into a reversible 3-dimensional playset. One side is a red barn and the other has both stables and pasture scenes. It has 32 soft, sticking felt pieces to put on both the inside and the outside. Every one of the pieces has a purpose and addresses early language concepts. (Available at smartfelttoys.com)
We wanted to start early talking about volunteerism and giving back in our family. Tying this to something even the littlest philanthropists can understand is a brilliant idea. The Sierra Club’s Adopt a Wild Animal program has been a popular gift-giving choice for years! You can choose from more than a dozen endangered and threatened animals — and their corresponding cuddly plushes — to symbolically adopt for a loved one. My second grader picked a bald eagle but also loved the sea otter. The Bald Eagle set came with a super soft plush and a booklet about the animal for us to read together. (Available at store.sierraclub.com; use code OFM15)
Is your kid more of a crafter?
The StoryBricks Letter Board takes a hot trend and makes it a kid (and teen) friendly version. There’s a huge selection of 285 StoryBrick letters, numbers and grammatical signs with a storage bag, two removal tools for easy letter changes and a collapsible easel for tabletop display. Plus, the board is LEGO compatible and features a magnetic backing — perfect for the side of the fridge. My kid’s first message was “I <3 Mom,” so I’m sold. (Available at creativeqt.com or Amazon).
One of my favorite things to do with the kids is working on craft projects. The We Craft box is a perfect mom-kid activity to do together. The box comes as a monthly kids craft kit delivered to the home for kids ages 3-9. Each box has a themed story, at least three coordinating crafts, easy to follow photo directions, includes all the pieces you need and there are enough materials for two kids to share. Psst! There’s also a grown-up version. (Available at WeCraftBox.com)
The Chalk of the Town t-shirts are an opportunity for your kids to express themselves in a creative, fun way! These T-shirts are ideal gifts for artists, fashionistas, wordsmiths and even sports fans. Decorate the blank slate with water-based chalk markers, wipe clean and start all over. (Available at Amazon or chalk-of-the-town.com)
We love to play board and card games in our family. We reviewed three, all from ThinkFun, this year had a lot of variety. For the preschoolers, Friends of a Feather is fun and entertaining. It’s perfect for preschoolers, who were totally engaged. The best part is everyone feels like a winner.
Invasion of the Cow Snatchers is a clever solitaire-style magnet logic game. Maneuver your way over and around farm obstacles while beaming up cows. With 60 puzzles, we found it was fun for everyone in the family.
We normally seek out the unusual and not-heard-of for this guide, but we couldn’t resist including the two recent expansions of Disney’s Villainous game - Wicked to the Core and Evil Comes Prepared. I’ve always loved the villains. Over the last few years, strategy card games have exploded in popularity. We loved these Villainous games because, while the characters and basic storylines are familiar, the gameplay lead to unexpected ends. (All games available at Target and ThinkFun.com)
If you have boys, you know they can be a little stinky. I’ve found my teen likes having his own products. The Prep U products aren’t heavily perfumed — they’re all-natural body wash, body spray and natural deodorant that are clean-smelling, chemical-free and effective. (Available on Amazon)
Like it or not, screens are part of our teens’ lives and thus, so are portable chargers. The HubPlus Universal Charger is great because you don’t have to track extra cords - it provides up to 4x extra battery life for devices and features built-in Apple Lightning and USB-C charging cords as well as built-in wall prongs on the back to directly recharge the unit. Perfect for keeping teens’ electronics charged-up. (Available on Amazon and at Best Buy)
Finding unique gifts you know your kids will love can be tricky. This guide shares some great ideas for kids of all ages, abilities and interests. We’re sure you’ll find something great!