Holiday shopping for kids is never an easy task, but this year, the desire to procure the perfect present is stronger than ever. Between remote learning, quarantining, and other disruptions, it's been a year of "No" for so many — all we want is to give these children something to scream "Yes!" about.
Whether you're shopping for a baby who won't stop putting things in their mouth, a rambunctious toddler who simply can't comprehend the art of sitting still, an adventurous kid who'd be psyched to unwrap anything on wheels, or a quiet tween who spends all their time crafting in their room, there's at least one thing here for every interest and age. Prepare yourself: You're about to make the lucky coder, crafter, dreamer, architect, musician, scientist, athlete, caretaker, artist — you name it — in your life so, so happy.
Babies don't need much, it's true, but that never stopped anyone from overdoing it in the gifting department. These eye-catching finds are designed to stimulate the minds of infants who are really just getting used to their newfangled senses. They’ll love teething on a silicone car from the Museum of Modern Art shop; feeling the textures and hearing the soothing crinkle of the Jellycats sea creature themed fabric book; watching and listening to the lights and sounds of the push light-up guitar from Gund. And that Oli & Carol zebra bracelet isn’t just a high-contrast accessory — it’s a teether, too. Brilliant.
Why, hello, ridiculously adorable popper, aptly named Escar-Gloooooow. A bop or a push makes the little balls within the clear "shell" dance while the snail lights up and scoots forward. You're guaranteed some major smiles with this one.
Ah, the period when infants transition into toddlerhood and mental leaps abound. The toys we've chosen here will help little ones practice their fine motor skills and underscore the whole cause-and-effect thing they're so enthralled by. Push the sticks into the Le Toy Van cloud and try to catch them as they hop into the air. Watch the cars glide from the top to the bottom of the Plan Toys ramp, falling through discreet holes along the way. The Aila tablet comes pre-loaded with a preschool curriculum to introduce toddlers to colors, the ABCs, and more, all while encouraging them to sit up. And Fisher-Price's Rollin’ Rovee will sing, dance, and play catch with them (so that you don't have to).
This 360-degree ocean-themed activity center has a lot going on — in a good way. There are infinite knobs to be turned, beads to be wiggled, sea creatures to twirl, and clams to clack. All of these will encourage tots who are just finding their "sea legs" to stand, while the horizontal surface offers additional support.
At this age, investing in toys that will encourage endless hours of imaginative play — like the foldable Melissa & Doug dollhouse that keeps small accessories contained or the Haba doorway puppet theater that folds away like a bedsheet — is where it’s at. A collapsible climbing triangle from Wiwiurka is one way to keep young kids active, especially indoors. The magnetic Making Faces set from Moon Picnic is perfect for travel and also can be used as a tool to teach children about the range of emotions and how to express their own. And who wouldn't love having their very own Step2 unicorn roller coaster to ride whenever they please?
Kidkraft’s Alexa 2-in-1 kitchen is one way to make kids feel like an adult. They can scan and purchase the ingredients they will need to create specific dishes; Alexa plays the role of cash register and cooking instructor, and like moms and dads, she’s not shy about telling your child when they’ve made a mistake. Basically, when you buy this gift, you’re buying a present not only for a child but for the parents, too. You’ll need an Amazon Echo Dot ($50, not included) to get all the benefits Alexa has to offer, but it’s fun for kids even without the extra techy feature.
Children are a bit more independent at this age and many are already technologically savvy. In the world of interactive toys, the FurReal Moodwings Baby Dragon is a bundle of unpredictable moods and will keep kids on their toes. The newest Baby Alive toy can eat, pee, and cry like previous generations, but this one literally “grows” into a toddler. Unlike most other “aging” toys, this one can be reset to baby mode again and again. For more analog options, the Kiko+ & gg toy telephone is the perfect prop for so many pretend scenarios, and the Plan Toys car motor is a great way to introduce curious minds to the inner workings of an automobile. For the creatives, painting with pompoms just may become their new favorite hobby.
If a real puppy is out of the picture, this might be the next best thing. Squeakee is an interactive toy shaped like a balloon animal dog that barks, sits, shakes, and more on command. You can “deflate” and “reinflate” it, as well as feed it until it has an accident (number one) or lets out a toot. Even when not in play mode, kids will have a Jeff Koons-esque sculpture to display in their room.
Perhaps your gift recipient is on the track to become the next Marie Curie or Steve Jobs. Maybe arts and crafts has been their passion since their first finger-painting session in diapers, or they’re already schooling you on how to use your new device. Here’s an array of smile-inducing gifts for curious, imaginative minds, including an alien-themed chemistry set from Learning Resources’ award-winning Beaker Creatures line; a build-your-own computer kit courtesy of Kano; L.O.L. Surprise’s 95-piece winter-themed dollhouse; and a toy archery set with felt-tipped arrows from Tangerine Toys. There’s even a dancing dog from the new toy line Pet Starz that will repeat everything it hears.
Artist-turned-entrepreneur Yelitsa Jean-Charles was inspired to create Zoe, the first doll of the Healthy Roots Dolls brand, after her own childhood experience: She loved dolls but never had one that looked like her because they didn’t exist. At 18 inches tall, Zoe is sized perfectly for playing and toting around. Kids will love that they get to use actual hair products to braid, style, and wash her hair to their heart’s content without damaging her natural curls.
There’s a secret to shopping for this tricky age: Don’t be too hard on yourself. If we’re being totally honest, they’re probably holding their breath for some cold, hard cash, but they're not too old to play with toys: Mandelorian fans will fall for Hasbro’s animatronic “The Child” toy, which coos like a baby in your arms, or Mattel’s remote-controlled baby Yoda that can glide around the house. We also found a light-up basketball from Tangle that glows like a gilded orb; the latest Harry Potter LEGO set; and a pottery painting subscription box (you can also opt to just buy them one at a time), the proceeds of which go toward art therapy sessions for pediatric hospital patients.
There are cool video games, and then there are cool and innovative video games. With Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Live Circuit, physical toys and racetrack props communicate with the actual Mario Kart game on a Nintendo Switch and mirror each other. Whatever Mario and Luigi do on-screen, they do in real life, too.
This year, we've compiled a whole section of gifts that adults and kids alike can experience and enjoy together, because this winter is likely to mean more togetherness than ever. An affordable, quality projector from Vankyo (highly rated on Amazon) will make movie nights more exciting. To force some bonding moments, a scratch-off Adventure Challenge book will do the trick. And these new games will make family game nights a win: Hands Full! is a cross between Bop-It and Twister, while Upsidedown Challenge is guaranteed to make people laugh until it hurts. Seriously, you try pouring a glass of water while wearing these disorienting glasses.
For families of brick-building enthusiasts (this particular piece is 1,220 pieces), this cute dog puzzle is the kind of project that can be proudly displayed afterward. If Frenchies aren’t their thing, there are other dog breeds to choose from (corgi, dachshund, golden retriever, or Yorkshire terrier), as well as an orange tabby for feline lovers.