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Oregon Family Magazine

Drum Roll Please....

12/01/2020 09:21AM ● By Kelli Matthews
The holidays are coming at us fast. While our in-person celebrations may look different, gift-giving can be a way to make things feel a little more normal. 

This year, for our 9th annual gift guide, we found creative and imaginative gifts for kids. From toddlers to teens, our intrepid reviewers played games, sampled snacks, made art and went on imaginary adventures.

Our review crew this year: 

  • Braxton, 14, is on the top end of our “kids” gift guide but weighed in on the games and snacks (and would reluctantly admit he enjoyed playing alongside the toddlers).
  • Xander, 8, is in the sweet spot of still finding the train sets fun but also being old enough to play games and make art. 
  • Eleanor, 5, is my niece and new to our reviewing crew and provides the girl voice in our squad. 
  • Zane, 2, my nephew, wants to move and groove and also loves to play with his big cousin, Braxton.
  • Levi, 1, another nephew, doesn’t have much to say, but actions speak louder than words. The two little boys are the toddler caucus this year. 

For the Toddlers

The pre-school set is the easiest to buy for. Everything is amazing! Even so, these ideas are sure to delight and keep your young ones entertained for at least a few minutes. 

SmartMax My First Animal Train. 

Trains! The first of two is the SmartMax My First Animal Train for ages 1 - 5. It’s magnetic, and each of the two halves of the engine, coaches and animal passengers connect with magnets. If you have other SmartMax sets, they’re compatible with this one. Amazon, Target. $35

Brio Smart Tech Sound Action Tunnel Travel Set

Brio wooden toy train sets are classic! This 37-piece set ups the ante with the battery-powered Record & Play Engine to respond to the tunnel accessories. With the corresponding app, you can change the lights, control the speed and direction and create a fun interactive experience. I’ll admit to being charmed by this set, right along with my toddler reviewers. Even the eight-year-old loved all the custom options. Smaller sets are also available. Elephant’s Trunk, Amazon, Target. $180

Haba Little Friends Camper Vacation 

Road trips and camping adventures build family memories. This playset gives young kids the accessories to recreate and imagine their own adventures. The Little Friends set has a little blue jeep that actually pulls the camper. The set comes with two chairs, a detachable awning and a boy figure. This set can be part of the Little Friends world. Elephant’s Trunk, Amazon, Target. $50 

Hopping Shark 

This friendly shark from iPlay iLearn is covered with soft, removable/washable plush fabric. Easy to use- just inflate with the included hand pump and off you go! The shark is small, so it’s best for the 2 - 3-year-old range. Zane, our two-year-old reviewer, had a ton of fun. Amazon. $25. 

Slumberkins 

The super-soft snuggler from Slumberkins comes with small board books that help little ones understand and manage their emotions. Our five-year-old reviewer, Eleanor, loves unicorns. The Rainbow Unicorn Snuggler comes with a book about authenticity and staying true to oneself. It’s a charming message, and the beautiful snuggler is a perfect nighttime companion. 

https://slumberkins.com/ $45+ 

Mr. Blue My Dancing & Singing Bird

If you want to elicit giggles and squeals from your toddler, Mr. Blue is your bird. This adorable dancing bird will come to life in response to noises or movement (like getting tossed across the room). The bird scoots along the floor, coos and chirps sweetly and is also soft and snuggly. Amazon. $20. 

STEM Fun

There's always a fine line between a gift that's "too" educational and feels like school and something that your kids find fun and exciting but - surprise! - kids still learn something. I think these four ideas are more the latter. 

Mel Science 

The Mel Science subscription boxes for chemistry or physics have awesome experiments for would-be scientists. We've been a subscriber for about six months. I've been so impressed by the contents of each box. Each month has a theme and enough "ingredients" to do at least two of each experiment. This is serious science with real lab equipment but accessible for tweens and teens. MEL also has a kids box for ages 5 - 10. melscience.com $34.90/mo

OSMO Coding 

Transform your tablet into a hands-on coding adventure. Designed for ages 5–10, Coding Starter Kit builds coding skills in progression with 3 hands-on learning games. Watch your child learn to code as they connect colorful blocks of code in the physical world to chart the adventure on their screen. Amazon, Target $80+ 

Scoot - Hands-Free Hover Drone Duo Set 

I'm a terrible drone pilot, but these cuties are controlled not with a remote control but with your hand. So easy and fun! You can even pass the drone from person to person. The high-tech sensors detect obstacles and have a lightweight, crushproof shell, so they're safe indoors. Amazon $60 

Clixo Building 

This creative building toy is part origami and part building block. The pieces are magnetic and can be built anywhere - even on the go. It's intuitive and straightforward and can really be made into anything. And when playtime is done, the pieces snap together and are even dishwasher safe. www.myclixo.com $30+ 

Arts & Crafts

Art instruction may be limited during remote learning and these two subscriptions and gift ideas are an easy way to add a little creativity and art back into your kids' lives.

Guide Dots

This drawing how-to curriculum uses strategically placed dots to guide the young artist (as young as 4) through creating their own masterpieces. The starter kit includes a light pad and high-quality art supplies. Each art project has a series of videos to walk the kiddo through the project step by step with the delightful and encouraging Ms. Cinder as the guide. Each project takes 45 - 60 minutes as you walk through the videos, so my reviewer's attention ebbed and flowed and needed some nudging. But we ended up with a project he's so proud of. https://guide-dots.com/ $15 - $30

Orange Art Box 

A second subscription art box with several projects that kids and families can create together - or that kids can do on their own, giving you a break. The box comes with plenty of supplies and clear instructions. We enjoyed the crafts together as a family. https://orangeartbox.com/ $28 - $38. 

Marmals 

The Marmals defy category, but this clever new toy's creative approach gives it an arts and crafts spot. The Marmal is an engaging "fidget" toy with interchangeable magnetic parts. Creator Jeff Lawber (Portland, Ore.-based!) calls the Marmals "your new imaginary friends." Each one comes as a blank slate that can be customized with the included markers or with paint, pencil or any other media. The Marmal can be a wonderful little character in your kid's imaginary adventures. https://www.marmals.com/. $25. 

Techie Cool

Years ago, when we started this gift guide, it was primarily focused on tech toys for kids, so this category always has a soft spot for this reviewer. 

Cinemood 

CINEMOOD is the world’s first absolutely noiseless, 3” ultralight standalone projector that converts any surface into a 12-foot magic cinema. The projector comes preloaded with kid-friendly entertainment — movies, games, e-books and bedtime stories - that can be projected on any flat surface inside or outside the home. No plugin and no wifi required. 

The projector on its own has decent sound quality, especially if you’re in a smaller room, and you can also connect external speakers or headphones. Amazon. $399.

Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) Sit & Play

It looks like mom’s iPad, but it’s a more focused, virtual preschool jumpstart for toddlers. The tablet comes preloaded with content, and kids play in short 15-min intervals. The parent app gives you total control and helps track your kid’s progress. Our young toddler tester loves AILA, and his mom has been impressed with his focus on the content. Animalisland.us, Amazon. $199

Octobo 

If we were rating this year’s guide by cute factor, the Octobo plush robot would be pretty high on the scale. There’s a pocket for a small device screen (a large phone or small tablet). When activated, Octobo comes to life, interacting with kids through guided storybooks and educational apps. Octobo gives emotional feedback, conveying empathy and cooperation.

Octobo will give your child innovative learning, while giving emotional feedback to your child. Octobo focuses on teachings emotions like empathy and cooperation. thinker-tinker.com, Amazon. $199. 

Family Game Night

We love board games in our house. ThinkFun and Ravensburger send us their latest and greatest to review for the Oregon Family Magazine holiday gift guide every year.

My keys to success: we can all play, it doesn't take longer to set up the game than it does to play it, and it's quickly understandable.

I like games that you can make more complicated as you learn more tricks, but you should be able to set up and go without having to study the directions intently.

Some strategy games also require you to be devious and "mean" to your teammates to win. That's fine for groups of friends, but causes drama at our house. I try to avoid games like that. Our three favorites this year were Mystic Market, Chicken War and Strike!.

Mystic Market 

This commodity buying and selling game is easy to pick-up and fast-paced. The concept is that you're buying and selling magic potions with the values continually shifting. Amazon, Eugene Toy & Hobby. $20.

Chicken War 

What could be more entertaining than building a chicken army? Chicken War is a deduction game for 2 to 4 players. Each of the 81 Chicken Tiles features a unique combination of 4 different characteristics. You choose a leader and then recruit an army that shares that leader's characteristics. If you think you know who your opponent's leader is, you can lob an egg and try to be the last chicken standing. Amazon. $20

Strike 

A classic family-friendly dice game, Strike was easy to learn and a blast for everyone in our house. The game is easy: Roll. Match. Win! The last player left with dice wins. That's it. Games are fast, so you can even set up as a best-of tournament series. Amazon, Target. $20. 

Two bonus games to consider…  

Back to the Future: Dice Through Time Board Game

My family enjoys cooperative games (Ravensburger's Horrified is a favorite) and we love Back to the Future, so this was a no brainer. It's a little more complicated to set up and learn than the previous three games, but the game's attention to detail from the movie make it a ton of fun. Target exclusive. $28

Moon Spinner 

Sometimes, you just want to play solo and the Moon Spinner is a classic brainteaser. Your goal is to scramble the various colored sections and then figure out how to rotate them back to their starting positions. The way the circles interact with each other makes this an addictive challenge. ThinkFun.com, Amazon, $13

Head Outside

We’re in Oregon, so we know there’s no bad weather, only the wrong gear. Outfit your kids with the right equipment!

Lone Cone Boots 

Designed in Boise, Idaho, Lone Cone Boots keep kids dry and comfortable and let them express a little of their personality. The boots come in dozens of great patterns and are certified to be free of harmful chemicals like BPA, cadmium, phthalates and lead. As we head into the winter months, Lone Cone Boots can easily keep up with your little adventurer. LoneCone.com, Amazon. $14 - $35

Shred Dog Element Kids’ Insulator (aka Puffy Jacket) 

With a great pair of Lone Cone Boots and a Shred Dog jacket, your kiddo is set to enjoy the colder months. We like this jacket for its everyday style, water-repelling tactic and light insulation. It can be worn as a standalone or layered with a hardshell for a day on the mountain. Right now, it’s also half-price. shreddog.com. $60. 

Refuel with Snacks

After a day outside, it’s time to refuel with some snacks. 

Snack Riot 

This snack box was a huge hit. Each comes with nine different brands to discover with duplicates of each snack. The brands all have a “healthy snacking” approach to their goodies. Snack boxes like this are a practical and easy way to try new brands and they make a great gift, too. I love that it’s mom-founded, so you can be sure the snacks are yummy (what’s the good of having snacks no one will eat?) and practical. snackriot.com $38/month

Universal Yums 

This has been one of our favorite snack boxes — each month, you get a new box from a new country. My kids have been fascinated by the differences in textures and flavors. Universal Yumms sends a unique variety of sweet and salty snacks with a 12+ page booklet with trivia, recipes, and other surprises from the country of origin. universalyums.com $15 - $35 (three sizes)

Gym N Eat Crickets 

The idea of eating roasted crickets got lots of giggles and silliness from the reviewers, but wait! They actually liked them! Farm-raised crickets are a sustainable, protein-rich snack. Crickets are absolutely unique and memorable — an excellent way to expose friends and family to entomophagy (eating of insects). Did you know that insects take a fraction of the food, water, and land to raise the same amount of protein as traditional sources? We liked the smokey BBQ and fiesta flavors best. https://www.gymneatcrickets.com/ $16 - $50 

Something Special

Our last two special gift ideas defy category but will delight your kids. 

Isabelle Grace Jewelry Girls ID Necklace 

Your little girl may be looking for ways to express her style. Isabelle Grace Jewelry is a perfect way to do that. The ID necklace has her name, a heart or star and you can also add a birthstone charm to make it extra special. My niece has been asking to wear her mom’s jewelry and this will be a unique piece to start a collection. Hint: Isabelle Grace has beautiful big girl jewelry, too. https://www.isabellegracejewelry.com/ $65. 

Felt Letter board from Birdy Boutique

Letter boards of all sorts are all the rage. Give your kids their own to personalize their space with this adorable felt version. The board is a felt board and it comes with 130 letters, numbers and characters. The Birdy Boutique is a women and veteran-owned business with all sorts of cute and creative designs https://birdyboutique.com/ $15. 

We hope our guide gives you some fresh gift ideas for the kids in your life. Stay safe and healthy this season!

Moms Gift Guide

This year’s holiday gift guide for Mom has beauty, baubles and tasty treats, along with a few other delights. Feel free to cut this out, highlight your faves and drop hints indiscriminately to friends and family.

Feel Good 

The easiest form of self-care is to take good care of yourself. At-home facials, face and body oil and sugar scrubs can make you feel your best. Add some candles and meditative puzzle building and you’ll be blissed out.

Mizz Bloom Organics products smell and feel lovely. They’re certified organic, vegan and cruelty-free. I tried the Paradiso Perfecting Mask, Nourish Face Oil, Ritual Hyaluronic Serum and Glow Body Oil. The pineapple and papaya mask and the oils (both face and body) made my skin feel hydrated and nourished. And yes, they all smell wonderful. www.mizzbloom.com 

On the topic of body oils, Evereden’s body oil soothes skin. The Evereden line has products for both moms and babies and while my babies are no longer babies, a good body oil is perfect winter skin care for any one. The Golden Belly Serum includes Marula (protective antioxidant), Rosehip (soothing and healing) and Centella (repairing). www.ever-eden.com

If you or your teen has trouble skin, I highly recommend the Banish line of products. The Pumpkin Enzyme Mask is my all-time favorite. This year, my teen tried the Banish Fighter Gel. It did a remarkable job clearing his skin without feeling tight or dry. The gel can also be used to heal flaky skin and even eczema. www.banish.com 

Before oils and lotions, start with a luxurious bath and exfoliating body polish. Level Naturals Body Polish comes in eight natural scents. I tried the Vanilla + Charcoal and the Jasmine + Rose. The scent is light and the polish exfoliates and leaves your skin soft. The “discovery set” includes the body polish, soap, Epsom salt bath bomb and a roller ball fragrance. www.levelnaturals.com 

From a small company in Alabama, Concrete Fleur is a whipped body cream with Argan oil and a sophisticated scent that’s floral but not overbearing. You’ll smell orange, bergamot, grapefruit, jasmine and rose, along with vanilla and warm musk. It feels as good as it smells! www.concretefleur.com 

A sore back, an aching shoulder or a “charlie horse” in a calf? Say good-bye to aches and pains with Hemp Theory’s pain reliever cream. The cream is applied straight to the site of the ache and ingredients ensure quick pain relief thanks to the way the hemp oil is delivered. www.amazon.com

We have four people, with four different heads of hair in our household. I was eager to try Green Ablution’s shampoo and conditioner bars. They’re low waste (no plastic!) and smell so good. Shampoo and conditioner bars are an excellent solution for travel (someday) or kids’ use (my kids loved this product). My advice is to make sure you have soap dishes or containers to keep the bars in. The shampoo bar, in particular, is soft when wet. https://www.greenablutions.com/.

Add Shanti Creations zero-waste candles for a little ambiance. Located in Queens, New York, the company produces natural coconut wax candles in mason jars for easy repurposing options. The 1.5 oz sampler set is a perfect stocking stuffer. https://www.shanticreationsnyc.com/ 

A little ambiance and a little puzzle-making sounds like a terrific winter weekend. Dowdle Folk Art Wooden Puzzles are stunning. The pieces are made of wood and when you complete the puzzle, you have a beautiful piece of art. You’ll find holiday designs and Oregon-specific designs to choose from. https://dowdlefolkart.com/

Of course, we know beauty comes from within, right? A great water bottle can make all the difference in keeping your skin, brain and body hydrated. If you love a challenge, the Hidrate Spark Steel water bottle is a “smart” water bottle that connects to an app, reminds you regularly to drink water and even lights up around the base when you meet your goal. If you prefer something more classic, the CopperH2O is beautiful. Recent studies have shown that copper is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-viral. www.hidratespark.com and www.copperh20.com.

Look Good 

You feel good, you smell good, you’re well-hydrated and… you’re still working and helping kids school from home, staring at screens all day.

Take care of your eyes with blue light glasses. Blue light glasses aren’t just a fashion statement; they really help with screen eye fatigue. Jins Eyewear has hundreds of styles and its website has an innovative virtual try-on tool to help you decide. I got a matching set with my third grader so we both can keep our eyes healthy in style. https://www.jins.com/, $60+

I flat-iron my hair just about every day and with shoulder-length hair, that can take a toll — and it has. Little did I know my (relatively) cheap flat iron was the culprit. Vibrastrait flat iron vibrates 7500 times per minute. This salon-quality tool “shuffles” hair without pulling or tugging. My hair looks and feels so much healthier, definitely worth the money. Amazon.

My favorite thing about writing this gift guide is finding the “diamonds.” This year, I found CoCo Crowns by Valencia Corraine and the Four Seasons Hoodie. I immediately loved the art and designs. Each of the four designs honors one of the founder’s best friends - her superheroes. https://cococrowns.com/. Use code OREGON for 25% off. 

Of course, a holiday list isn’t complete without some jewelry! The Ruxi Tirisi Leap Collection is a beautiful statement about embracing being uncomfortable, experimenting and trying new things. The Angel Wing Pendant is handcrafted from sterling silver with hand engraved lines reminiscent of bursts of light, enhancing the stone's brilliance. I just love this piece. https://ruxitirisi.com/, $173.

Tastes Good 

Beautiful food demands attention to presentation. If you’re a fan of sushi or noodles, chopsticks are everything. Beautiful Chopsticks has a curated and handpicked collection from artisans around the world. https://shop-chopsticks.com/, $12

Follow dinner with sweet treats and bubbly. Laumière Gourmet Fruits is a decadent looking and tasting experience. All the products are 100% natural, with no added preservatives, refined sugar, or additives. All collections are vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free and gluten-free. https://laumieregourmet.com/ $35+.

Stroopwafels seem all the rage lately, but if you’re looking for the most amazing of this delicious treat, check out Stroopies. The Stroopie Tin or the Stroopie Gift Box are a great way to sample all the flavors, but the dark chocolate salted caramel is my favorite. https://www.stroopies.com/ $8+

Enjoy a personal size mini Moscato d’Asti from Risata with your tasty treats. Sourced from Italy, it’s a sweet and bubbly beverage that you can find it at most major grocery stores and retailers. 

Suppose you’re looking for a local idea. In that case, Marche Provisions has a South Willamette Valley Food Trail Gift Box with flavors, scents and character of this bountiful part of the world. https://provisionsmarkethall.com/ $68.

Whew! So many ideas to help you feel good, look good and enjoy some taste good treats.