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A Gift List Full of What We Use and Love

Inside: Gifts for little kids, gifts for big kids, and gifts for the whole family based on what we use and love and have given as gifts, too.

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This is a not a normal gift guide. And I'm aware of what a gift guide should look like (as I worked on producing gift guides for a decade as an editor for Real Simple and Redbook magazines.) The gift guides we all know are roundups of products that are the newest, latest, shiniest of wish-you-could-have-its for every person in your life.

This is not that kind of a gift guide.

When there's so much uncertainty (and 2020 is the year of not knowing big things), making fast, sure decisions feels awesome. I just ticked off two important people on my list with one cool idea (see my gifts for the whole family, if you want a peek). Done and done. One less thing on the to-do list.

And that got me thinking...

What if you had a list of special things, toys the kids go back to and use and use and love. Not just at age 3, but still going back to into the school years. Would you like to shop some of our favorite finds?

Not new and shiny.

More like tried and true.

When I work with parents on a potty training issue, sometimes I see an obvious shift in energy, a sense of relief, when there's a clear plan to make it happen.

That's why I wanted to take the time to pull together this not-your-average gift guide. Gifts that have been a hit. I hope it helps with your holiday planning!

gift guide of our favorite things

To be clear, I think everyone should do this year's gift giving season however works for your family. I've had seasons of homemade-only gifts (one year we made beeswax shell candles using shells we found at the winter beach rental where we were living.) And those homemade candles were as big a hit as a storebought gift (plus the kids and I had a great time making them.)

Whatever feels right for you and your family, my only gift advice is try not to delay on the decision-making. As I've learned from working with Jamie, find something that feels good enough and then move on. Staying trapped in indecision only adds to the layers of stress we're all feeling as parents these days.

And because I had a lot of help from my kids on choosing the toys and creating this gift guide, I had them share their reasons for why they love the kid gift ideas below.

Let's start with gifts for little kids!

gift guide for toddlers and preschoolers

Gifts for Little Kids

*These ideas are meant for toddlers and little kids, but my school-age kids still use these toys, so we've gotten years of use with these ideas.

Eeboo Memory Match Game

What the kids said:

"It has really good illustrations and it's really fun to try to get your favorite ice cream."

"I like mixing it up and seeing what ice cream is under and trying to get the most matches."

My note: this game is so well-loved that the box is falling apart!

Ramp Racer Track

What the kids said: "It's really fun to see all the cars go down, but it doesn't work with other cars because they need to be able to flip over."

"I like hearing and seeing the cars go down."

Wood spinning tops

What the kids said:

"I really like seeing the tops spin around. I like to pretend that they're dancing."

"I like to see them spin around, and I pretend that they're ice-skating and they can even drop and spin. I stand up, flick the top, it goes down and it still spins."

My note: I get hooked into playing with tops, too. We also found some flip-top wood spinning tops from a local shop, Starry Eyes, that flip-over when they spin. Super fun to watch!

Small reindeer

What the kids said:

"I like to play with the animals and I have so many that I made 10 different sports teams out of them."

"I really like the animals because they have so much detail that they look like the real thing."

My note: We have a whole basket of small animals, like this reindeer. It's a collection that's slowly grown over the years with one or two given at each holiday. They're some of our most-used toys that the kids play together or on their own.

Crayon Holder

What the kids said:

"I love my crayon holder because now I can hold all my crayons when I go somewhere. And it looks really colorful when I put them in rainbow order."

"I like the crayon holder because when you go places, you can pack them in the crayon holder without putting them in a big bag. It's less likely to lose them."

Superhero Cape

What the kids said:

"It's really fun to play with superhero capes because you can become a superhero with any power and you can do anything."

"It's fun to play with a superhero cape because you can go downstairs and pretend you're a superhero with the other person someone who needs help."

Next up, gifts for bigger kids (meaning school-age kids).

gifts big kids

Gifts for Bigger Kids

Botanist Kit

What the kids said:

"The botanist kit is very interesting because it helps you look at things that are very small with the magnifying glass (like ladybugs). It has cool little boxes that you can store stuff in (I put rocks and other things in nature). And I really like the flower press because in the spring and summer I can preserve flowers and turn them into cool nature pictures."

Peg People

What the kids said:

"Peg people are really fun to play with because you can make towns and cities with them. Also I have baseball teams made up of peg people."

"Peg people are really cool because they come in all shapes and sizes so you can make different ages. And you can name them whatever you want."

Fortune Tellers

What the kids said:

"I like the fortune teller book because you can make fortune tellers and it has instructions to fold them and make them. I also like the fortune teller book because you can even make your own fortunes."

"It's fun to do it after it's folded and find out your fortune. Sometimes it even tells the right one!"

My note: I brought this book out when we had a friend over and the kids were making fortune tellers, and playing with them, for more than an hour!

Watercolor Pastels

What the kids said:

"Watercolor crayons are really cool because you can make really bold colors. And the crayons look like normal crayons but if you dunk them in water and draw with them on paper it makes really cool pictures."

"I like watercolor pastels because they look like paint mixed with crayon but they make cool pictures and you only need to dunk them in water and draw with them on paper."

My note: A friend of mine gifted us this set of watercolor pastels. They last a long time, and I've kept ours in the tin so I don't forget the brand (as I want to replace when they're gone.) Anytime the kids paint with these, the colors are so vivid. One of my favorite art supplies!

You and Me Fill-in-Together Books

What my kids said:

"I like how there are so many different activities and it's really fun to do it with mama. I especially like the secret code pages because I like writing messages in secret code."

My note: These books have been a gift for me, too! We do a couple pages here and there. Now I get special notes written to me in code. It's an easy, awesome way to connect with the kids.

Jump Rope

What the kids said:

"Jump ropes are fun to play with outside because you can try to do as many jumps as you can and it's funny if you fall over or do it for a long time."

"I also really like playing a game we made up where someone is pulling the jump rope and the other person has to try to grab the jump rope."

My note: I learned from Jamie that jumping is helpful for building healthy bones. So if you're a parent dealing with a dairy intolerance, as we are, (so you don't have the obvious go-tos with the calcium in dairy), this is another support on that end.

And finally, gifts for the whole family to appreciate. Including a gift I'm giving this year.

gifts for whole family

Poop Bingo

We own a couple of bingo games (there are so many creative bingo games out there now!), that are fun to pull out on a rainy day. Sure, I know a lot about poop, but sometimes I lose to my 7-year-old in Poop Bingo!

Pine Tree

My mom actually bought us a potted pine tree to decorate the kid coop for the holidays, and we're going to plant it in the spring. It was such a sweet idea as this is one tree we get to keep and watch grow through the years. Inspired by the book Night Tree, I love the idea of starting a tradition of decorating a tree outdoors with treats for the forest animals.

Personal Recipe Cutting Board

This is the gift I'm giving my brothers (no risk of spoiling, they don't read my blog!). As some of you know, I lost my dad this year to Covid-19. For this first Christmas without him, I wanted to find a gift that would keep a part of him alive for my brothers in their everyday life. I took recipes and words that he wrote and they will be engraved on personal cutting boards.


While we hole up for a long winter, I'm looking for more puzzles to add to our cabinet. This is one we own that has been a hit. Doesn't hurt to be thinking of rainbow popsicles when you're in the middle of a Maine winter!

Cinemood movie projector

I bought this projector thinking of all the summer movie nights where we could watch a movie out in the backyard, under the stars (you don't need wifi for it to work). The kids watched ET for the first time this way, it was so fun! Now that it looks like a different kind of winter with Covid-19, we may not have a classic movie theater experience, but we can create a new kind of movie night anywhere thanks to this little projector.

Picnic Blanket

I keep a blanket in the back of the car ready to experience anything outdoors...picnic meals, staying warm when the weather turns chilly, or laying out on the grass for an impromptu cloud watch with the kids. These Mexican blankets are the best for any situation.

We know 2020 will not be the usual holiday season. But that doesn't mean it needs to fall short on the merry and bright.

Beyond anything on a gift list, I'd be happy with us all staying healthy.

Wishing the same for you and your family.

Illustrations by Citrus and Mint Designs.


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