What makes a perfect present? First, say parents, it needs to delight. Then, say experts, it should match the child’s age and developmental stage. And last, says everyone, it should be unique. Below, our guide to awesome gifts for the kids in your life.
1. Age 1
The big idea: A big plastic ball
Product picks: Go for a sturdy plastic that’s heavier than a beach ball but light enough for a new walker to pick up herself. Aim for a size about half her height.
Why experts like it: Picking it up, carrying it around, throwing it, and chasing it boosts gross motor skills.
Why parents like it: Fun to play with together or solo, indoors and out
Where to buy: Dollar or toy stores
Highlights’ tips: Go for a bright color like red with stars or polka dots for visual appeal that a toddler will appreciate.
2. Age 2
The big idea: Boxes
Product picks: A large appliance box can become a playhouse, tunnel, puppet theater, etc. Little boxes make nice beds for little dolls. Nesting boxes are fun for toddlers to fit together.
Why experts like it: Promotes exploration and open-ended play
Why parents like it: Easy to transform with a utility knife, masking tape, paint, etc. Provides homemade entertainment; recycles cardboard.
Where to buy: Save boxes from your own appliances, holiday packages, or e-shopping deliveries, or ask your local superstore when they unload demo models.
Highlights’ tips: Kids of any age can help decorate a box, so give them the art supplies while you do the cutting. Don’t forget the props: plastic pots for a homemade stove, wooden tracks for a train table, or stuffed animals for an indoor doghouse.
3. Age 3
The big idea: Goodies all in a favorite color
Product picks: Indulge your child’s favorite with a single-colored light bulb, glow stick, chalk, glitter glue, chenille sticks, sprinkles, socks, bandannas, balls, hair accessories, cars, blocks, and bath toys.
Why experts like it: Stating a preference for a favorite color is a sign that your child is observing and categorizing the world, an early critical-thinking skill.
Why parents like it: More equals more at this age, so a big box with a lot of inexpensive things wins points. Plus, kids can add to the collection over time.
Where to buy: Everywhere!
Highlights’ tips: Package it all up in a matching-colored box or bag from shipping, supplies, stationery, or container store.
4. Age 4
The big idea: Disguises and jokes
Product picks: Gag glasses, mustaches, noses, wigs, joke and riddle books
Why experts like it: Ages 4 to 5 is when kids begin to develop a sense of humor.
Why parents like it: Nothing is better than comic relief.
Where to buy: Online and brick-and-mortar costume shops
Highlights’ tips: Stock up ahead of time, especially when pop-up shops abound.
5. Age 4
The big idea: Dinosaurs
Product picks: Giant inflatable dinosaur balloons, plastic dino creatures, books about dinosaurs and dino clothes
Why experts like it: Builds on a fascinating topic for 4-year-olds
Why parents like it: Can’t overfeed this passion
Where to buy: Science and natural history museum gift shops, toy and bookstores, and online
Highlights’ tips: Pair dino toys with dino-themed sleepwear, socks, or underwear.
6. Age 5
The big idea: Child’s name
Product picks: Alphabet cookie cutters; personalized name puzzles; alphabet books, M & M’s printed with your child’s name; stickers or rubber stamps in multiple fonts for each letter
Why experts like it: Identifying their own name is often a first reading/writing step
Why parents like it: Promotes ownership, pride, and self-esteem
Where to buy: Shops selling personalized gifts, online
Highlights’ tips: Try shopping wedding sites; they’re set up to customize all kinds of stuff.
7. Ages 6–8
The big idea: Number play
Product picks: Lemonade stand; coin-counting machine; calculator; Monopoly
Why experts like it: This is when kids can begin to do simple computation with money.
Why parents like it: Money play gives opportunities to instill values around spending and saving.
Where to buy: Online; office-supply or toy stores
Highlights’ tips: Financial literacy for kids is a hot topic because educators recognize it as a necessary life skill. When you encourage it at home, there’s a bonus: early lessons in money management help kids with self-control.
8. Ages 9–11
The big idea: Baking kit
Product picks: Cake toppers, colored sugars, candy decor, molds, lollipop sticks, icing, icing writers, rolling pin, apron, measuring spoons and cups, cookie cutters, kids’ baking book, chilled cookie dough
Why experts like it: Measuring requires math skills, recipe following builds reading fluency, and decorating taps into artistic creativity.
Why parents like it: Easy way for kids to contribute to a family celebration. Great activity for playdates.
Where to buy: Kitchen and baking supplies shops
Highlights’ tips: Buy stuff first, then visit a hardware store and find a toolbox that will hold it all.
9. Age 9–11
The big idea: Obstacle courses
Product picks: Cones, tires, ropes, Hula Hoops, pillows, bolsters, large pieces of foam rubber, rope, etc.
Why experts like it: Age when kids love to push their physical limits and race each other
Why parents like it: Can be created indoors or out; gives kids physical outlet
Where to buy: Sports stores, yard sales, home-goods shops, bedding stores
Highlights’ tips: Combine obstacle courses with relay-race challenges like walking while balancing a Ping-Pong ball on a spoon.
10. Ages 11–12
Big Idea: Lava Lamp
Product picks: Look for a classic cone shape or a rocket ship for a young astronomer.
Why experts like it: Lava lamps provide visual stimulation and inspire science-based curiosity.
Why parents like it: Watching the slow movement of the orbs is relaxing and calming.
Where to buy: Online; big-box and lighting stores
Highlights' tip: Good gift for kids who consider night-lights babyish