It may seem like it was just summer, but the gift-giving season is fast upon us. That means that parents have started the annual search for gifts for their children that please everyone — make your children happy, satisfy parental standards of appropriateness, and don’t break the bank.
I contacted my trustworthy group of friends who are parents to children ranging in ages from babies to high schoolers and beyond. I asked for suggestions of toys that were their children’s favorites, that always ranked high in the children’s and their friends’ estimation and earned top spot in the toy chest. Final criterion — they should cost less than $50.
Here they are, categorized by age:
This is the easiest age to make happy. One of my sons was content for years with Matchbox cars. I’d go to CVS, and for $20 buy a fleet of the little cars. He’d be over the moon!
This is the age that is sometimes as happy with the box and the ribbons as they are with the gift. And their excitement over every little thing is enchanting.
A perennial favorite in my house (and every house where I have given it as a gift) was play food. There are many different versions out there, but my favorite is this cutting food set:
The segments of the food are velcroed together, and can be easily cut apart with the wooden knife. Voilà, hours of fun!
In the same vein, play pots and pans and medical sets are always popular. This is the age when children are great imitators of adult behavior so child-sized baby strollers, toolkits, grocery carts, cash registers, etc. are always great gifts.
Brio trains, those classic wooden train sets that attach with magnets, have pleased children for decades. And it’s nice to have toys that are so aesthetically pleasing, with their strong lines and vivid primary colors.
Even though it comes in at a few dollars over $50, the Cozy Coupe deserves a mention. It is so sought after by the kids it’s a great way to emphasize lessons in sharing.
It’s also good to remember hand-me-downs are great gifts. A well-loved gift outgrown by neighbors will be as welcome to your little one as a new gift would be.
Elementary school age:
There are many great card games out there but Uno is always popular. It’s great for anytime, but especially well-suited for travel.
One of the best gifts my daughter ever got was a suitcase filled of dress up
clothes bought at a thrift store: scarves, hats, colorful shoes, purses, dresses and costumes. In fact, it’s all still in our basement.
Don’t forget to include plastic light sabers with the dress up!
This is also a great age for Lego and Playmobil.
Middle school and high school:
For lovers of board games, Settlers of Catan is a top seller. It’s not hard at all to grasp, and doesn’t take forever to play (Monopoly, I’m talking about you) and is great for a family game night.
Another good board game is Bohnanza, which teaches strategic thinking and deal-making.
After your kids have outgrown Uno, try Set. Also a card game, it is a fast paced game of patterns and visual perception. Suitable for middle and high schoolers, it’s also a favorite with a cousin who is a computer science professor and has his students play.
My son suggested older edition X-Box games, which are often under $50. At first I resisted, thinking that video games are just another kind of screen time. But then I thought about the evenings I have spent listening to my sons and their friends playing sports video games in the basement. They are having a great time, all crammed on the couch together, laughing and good-naturedly trash talking. It’s teenagers having a ball being teenagers.
There are hundreds of inexpensive gifts for children out there. This is a random sampling of gifts that have been user-tested and found excellent by children I know. I hope some of these will help you with your gift-buying this year and in the future.