What are some creative gifts for kids?
June 18, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I end up in these situations where I need to buy a gift for a kid in the extended family, but the idea of just buying regular toys always seems lame. I like being a creative gift-giver. Can you give me some ideas for unique gifts for kids that would go over well?

We're budgeting like under $20 here.

I suppose the catalyst for this question is that rubber band video on the blue. Those kids were rocking out. Seems like $20 worth of rubber bands would be great fun. When the initial fun of flinging them everywhere runs out, make a rubber band ball. I've given $20 worth of sale-priced silly putty before and that worked out. $20 of packing boxes might work. Etc.

These examples obviously utilize quantity, but I'm not really focused on giving in bulk. So far that's the creative take on it that seems to work for me. I also don't want to be annoying with these gifts and I know a room full of silly putty is not really too awesome for everyone (just most).

I suppose the real question here is: given the perspective of adulthood and your memories of those things that were actually fun for you as a kid, how can you maximize $20 to give kids a bit of material enjoyment?
posted by dosterm to Shopping (28 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on the kids, of course, but my favorite gifts were ones that allowed me to make things:

A variety box of beads was hours of trinket-making fun;

Grow your own crystal sets were cheap and yielded tangible results.

Construct and paint a bird house? Then we got to watch for birds!

This window art kit was hours and hours of fun; when we got done tracing the patterns, we just created our own.

Maybe irrelevant considering the high tech toys we have now, but Yakbaks cracked us up for days when we were back in elementary school :)
posted by mschief at 7:45 AM on June 18, 2013

Bubble wrap.
Large cardboard boxes.
Coloured felt and scissors (kid friendly scissors, of course)
Sea Monkeys.
Those terracotta things that you grow bean sprouts out of the top of to simulate hair.
Plaster mould sets.
Stamp making sets.
posted by h00py at 7:46 AM on June 18, 2013

I LOVED it when people gave me the materials so I could make things or experiment with things. So along that tack...

Blank sheets of sticker paper and some colored pencils.

Shrinky dink paper and some colored pencils.

Embroidery thread in cool colors and some how-tos on friendship bracelets.

Invisible jewelry cord and assorted seed beads.

A few lengths of different kinds of rope (go to Home Depot, they have snip-your-own buckets) and a book on knot tying.

Magnets and a jar of iron filings.

Build-your-own silly straw.

A deck of cards.
posted by phunniemee at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2013

Headlamps for playing ghost tag
nail polish and spray on hair colour
$20 worth of craft supply at dollar store
water guns
magnifying glass, jar for catching bugs, book to ID bugs
seedlings to grow
safe for hiding treasure
posted by crazycanuck at 7:50 AM on June 18, 2013

New sets of crayons, markers, pencils, paints or pastels and a pad are always a hit and can easily fit within your price range.

My eight year old, loves yakbaks or similar toys, as mschief linked to. He would also be thrilled to get a bunch of office supplies - tape - scotch, masking, packing, etc... paper clips, rubber bands, pens, hole punch, brads - to play office with or just construct things with materials mined from the recycle bin.
posted by Talullah at 7:54 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing materials for arts and crafts.

My children (6 and 9) have both loved recent gifts of an old-school diary with a LOCK (locks and keys are just mind-blowing to them) and the used typewriter I found at a garage sale. Old school office tools from garage sales/thrifting (typewriter, adding machine, Dymo label maker) have generated hours of fun...but that may just be my gang.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:57 AM on June 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anyone who gives my kid $20 worth of rubber bands had better be able to show them how to make the rubber band ball, because otherwise, it's stuff for me to pick up. Same with beads, iron filings, and anything else small and messy. Frankly, if the kid isn't into crafts, buy Legos or Playmobile or whatever they do like.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:59 AM on June 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not a specific suggestion, but try browsing the American Science & Surplus website. When I lived in Chicago this was my go-to place for kid (and certain awesome adults') gifts.

(For a more specific suggestion: how about an ant farm? I flippin' LOVED mine when I was a kid, and I believe they still sell for under $20 ...)
posted by DingoMutt at 8:13 AM on June 18, 2013

My favorite gift as a kid (just before kindergarten) was a hat, a hammer and a screwdriver. My grandfather asked me what I wanted and those things were it. Wrapped together, they were the hit of my Christmas, ahead of even my first bicycle.
posted by txmon at 8:24 AM on June 18, 2013

Bare Books These were well received by my nieces. I got a variety of sizes of blank books, and they love writing and illustrating their own real books. It is also a great way to save their creative projects without having tons of "clutter" type stuff for the long term.
posted by maxg94 at 8:26 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the grain.

I LOVED playing with rubber bands and boxes and collecting things from outside. But for me, the fun of a rubber band ball was that I found individual rubber bands, and attached each one to a little ball I made and over the course of years, I made a base ball size ball. But if you handed me a bag of rubber bands, I don't think it would have ever meant the same thing to me.

I was also a kid that went nuts collecting and analyzing things from outside. I grabbed jars and started putting insects in them. Or putting material that I thought would decompose, added water, and threw it in a jar (I read about compost...). Anyway, none of those things happened because someone handed me jars - I think most kids have access to a jar, box, rubber band, and it is serendipity of the moment.

... given the perspective of adulthood and your memories of those things that were actually fun for you as a kid, how can you maximize $20 to give kids a bit of material enjoyment?

I still remember something that I really enjoyed for many years and did not realize that it was a gift from an older person until I was an adult.

A magazine subscription written for children. The one that I had was world (National Geographic), but I suspect that it is out of print now....on their website, though, they have other ones for $15.

Anywho, the magazine gave steps as to how to do art projects. So one year, I decided to make a paper mache mask based on an article I read.

There are articles and animals and other parts of the worlds, and those were the things that interested me or really piqued my interest to go read more or explore outside (could I find that bug?)

But every month, something will appear in the mailbox with the child's name on it, and inside will be new things that child can lean about and if inspired, try out.
posted by Wolfster at 8:31 AM on June 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Reading material! Books you loved as a kid, even used. My aunt gave me a huge paper grocery sack of fantasy novels when I was 11 and turned me into a life long SF geek. Used magazines are also great.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:35 AM on June 18, 2013

Response by poster: Good stuff guys, keep it coming. Let it be said that I am sympatico to parents who don't want a bunch of crap to pick up / cart around / store. Looking for a good balance of fun and non-annoying. I got annoying gifts locked down, no challenge there.
posted by dosterm at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2013

Anything with a key - like a money box or something like that. (Probably not just a combo lock because they like to put those in strange places and lose the key).

Art supplies are always awesome.

Dress up stuff.

Experiences are always good too - an afternoon at the kid's museum or something like that. Even maybe getting tour of a cool place like a TV station or restaurant.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, this not exactly a box of rubber bands style toy, but my kid (who is nine) IS IN LOVE with Snap Circuits electronics kits. Some of the large kits are pretty expensive, but the smaller ones, like the DIY FM radio and the Electromagnetism kit are well under $20 at Amazon, and the 100 Projects Kit is only just above $20. You can also occasionally find the smaller kits at Radio Shack.

All of the kits are designed to be repeatedly disassembled and reassembled and are compatible with one another, which means you can start out with a small kit like the radio kit and keep building on from there; you can use the speaker from the radio to create a voice recorder with playback, or a game with sound, etc. It also means that there's no real need to worry about whether a kid already has some of the parts, because extra parts = cooler and more complex projects (like LEGOs, but with MOAR SCIENCE).

I have bought these kits for a few my son's friends aged 7-10 or so, and they have consistently been a hit.
posted by BlueJae at 9:19 AM on June 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Fort building kit. A couple of sheets, rope, clothes pins. Maybe a flashlight.
posted by missriss89 at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2013

One of the most memorable gifts I received as a child was a small, red toolbox. My aunt gave one to each of her nieces and nephews. We could stash our things in it and it was light enough to carry around - we were old enough to keep track of the key, but lock & key would be optional, depending on the age.

I still have the toolbox and now keep my basic tools in it. I plan on giving one to my nieces and nephews once they're old enough to have treasures to stash.
posted by Juniper Toast at 9:42 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first thoughts were also an arts/crafts bin, science set (which you could also assemble, with stuff like a small magnifying glass, springs, food coloring, etc.), and a keepsake box or purse to stash treasures in. But also, little kids love stuff with their name on it. Especially something 3D, like a carving or a keychain.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:02 AM on June 18, 2013

How about a mostly complete collection of the 50 state quaters and a couple of dollar bills? Kids could have fun trading in the dollars at various stores for quaters looking for the missing states.
posted by MadMadam at 10:14 AM on June 18, 2013

The best magnets money can buy.
posted by duffell at 10:23 AM on June 18, 2013

Little girls (and boys, for that matter!) love tulle. You can buy several yards of it in different colors for under $1/yard at the fabric store. Get some $1 spools of ribbon. WHOLE SUMMER'S WORTH OF PRINCESS/WIZARD/DANCER/EXPLORER OUTFITS.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:28 AM on June 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

A Klutz Cat's Cradle book! I still remember how to do the Coffee Cup and the Eiffel Tower.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:15 PM on June 18, 2013

Seconding snapcircuits-the junior set was a huge hit with my 6 year old daughter.

Their own set of adult things is a big hit-six rolls of scotch tape :). Boxes o bandaids. Measuring cups and spoons and a sieve.

My favorite now to give or get is gift certs for experiences-open gym at the gymnastics place, rock climbing lesson, paint your own pottery place. It prolongs the birthday fun and doesn't give the parent one more thing to clean up.
posted by purenitrous at 12:21 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I bought my cousin's kid an easy origami book and a stack of origami paper. It's a hobby that can scale from simple to complicated, and if a kid hates it, they still have a pile of cool colored paper squares. Win win!
posted by JannaK at 3:00 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thirding Snap Circuits - boys and girls both love them. My 8 year old daughter and 5 year old son still play with ours constantly.


Insect Lore has a butterfly kit - a big net house and you send away for live caterpillars and hatch butterflies. they have other bugs too. It goes for 11.99 on their website right now and it was a fantastic project to do with no mess and no junk to pick up after. I've given it as gifts at least a dozen times.


The Perplexus Maze Ball is also a great 15-20$ gift - they make multiple skill levels. Kind of like a Rubik's Cube, very addicting.


I love the Find It game - it's like a self contained treasure hunt with little objects in a cylinder of beads. Good for ages 5-15 and under 20$


Any book with a lock and key is also big.
Magazine subscriptions, the gift that keeps on coming in the mail.
posted by mazienh at 5:54 PM on June 18, 2013

An LED headlamp.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:11 PM on June 18, 2013

Very functional and entertaining stilts can be made with less than $20 of lumber and screws.

A giant sheet of plastic from the hardware store and hose access for a slip and slide.

Plentiful lengths of rope and instructions for knots.

Invisible ink/ secret codes.

A bedsheet they can use to make a hammock, forts, to draw on, etc.

Generally, plans and the materials and supervision that are necessary to implement them will be fun vastly exceeding the value of the materials alone. In the winter, plans to build an igloo or diy ice rink, or giant blocks of ice to carve. In the summer, a tree house or zipline or go-cart or kites or a model hot air balloon or a catapult or a solar oven.

You can get dry ice at an ice cream store. It is always wonderful.

Seconding bubble wrap and boxes.
posted by steinwald at 7:25 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

oh! came back to add an electric toothbrush! those always need to be replaced and if the kid doesn't have an electric one they'll think it's neato.

Also a huge box of band-aids. My daughter would be in heaven to have some she could waste all day long!
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:40 PM on June 20, 2013

« Older How do I label customs forms when shipping...   |   First time photoshoot: how can I not look like a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.