Best Gifts for Kids: Think Outside the Toy Box

Transformers, Legos and Little Ponies are on the top of my kids’ Christmas lists and Santa will bring a few brand-name toys this year but I’m also seeking gifts that my kids haven’t thought of yet. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest toy marketing but here are some of what I think are the best gifts for kids to spark your imagination (and your child’s) to try something new.

Keep ‘Em Moving

Inside or out, it’s great to give toys that keep kids physically active.

Pulley Set

This Pulley Set will have my kids running up and down stairs and climbing trees before I know it. Not only will this keep them busy and teach them physics, I also think it could encourage cooperation between siblings (hope, hope) so they work together to make things move they way they want.

Inspiring movement and imagination, these Silky Bird Wings are beautifully made from fabric so there are no wire frames to get bent.

Zipfy Sled





The Zipfy sled looks super fun for kids and parents. It comes in a bunch of cool colors (but view each color when shopping, I noticed the red costs less).





Orange Unicycle 16 inch

A unicycle, really? Yes, really. After hearing that Seattle Public Schools now teach unicycle riding in PE and schools even have unicycle teams, I’m convinced it’s a great sport. Not only does it build strength and balance but it builds confidence and encourages kids to have fun and be unique as they cruise around on their unicycle (wearing a helmet, of course). An instruction guide is a good idea as well.

Playmobil Glier


Tested and approved by two of our favorite friends (rambunctious brothers, no less), this Playmobil glider is surprisingly sturdy and the throwing and chasing keeps them busy for quite a while.

Stomp Rocket



We’ve gone through more Stomp Rockets than I care to count. On one hand that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement (the rockets do get lost and pretty beaten up) but on the other hand, the reason we’ve gone through them is that they are hugely popular with my kids and every kid who comes to our house.




Keep ‘Em Creating

Whether it’s arts and crafts, building, or beating a drum, keeping their minds engaged and thinking creatively is priceless.

Fort Building Kit

Give them a structural frame for their next Fort Building Adventure. Endless possibilities for building and open-ended play.

Alphabet Stamps

I have to admit that I kind of want these Alphabet Stamps for myself… hopefully the kids will let me use them from time to time.








Steel Drum for Kids





Anything that makes noise is much-loved (at least by the children) in our household. Parents will appreciate that this Drum actually has a nice sound and it’s easy for the kids to learn songs with the color-coded design.


Keep ‘Em Learning: Geology

Kids love rocks. From the moment they’re big enough to grasp a rock in their hand (and inevitably pop it into their mouth), rocks are a beloved object.

Rock Tumbler

Rock Tumbler transforms ordinary looking rocks into shiny treasures. Combine it with a Loupe for magnification and a guide like Geology Rocks for even more hands-on fun.

Minerals Crystals Fossils set






A whole lot of learning is packed into this Young Scientists Kit. From growing various crystals and breaking open a geode to studying fossils and minerals, any budding scientist will love this set.


Keep ‘Em Learning: Maps, Globes, and Planets

Interactive Globe

Travel across the world from the comfort of your home with this talking Intelliglobe. A wireless reader delivers facts about the various continents, countries, bodies of water, landforms, and more. (An added benefit is that this globe can be plugged in so your batteries won’t constantly need to be replaced.)


Having a kid-friendly World Atlas on the coffee table is another easy way to encourage curiosity about the world. This one has wonderful illustrations and photographs.





Whether your child would like a lit-up solar system model, the moon, the earth, or a real rainbow in their room, the Uncle Milton brand of toys has interesting educational offerings.

Uncle Milton Moon In My Room






On a smaller scale, this Local Universe Marble Set is a good stocking stuffer. Convenient little rings are included to hold each planet.

Universe Marbles




Snap Circuits Green

Terms like “global warming” may not be on their radar but it won’t be long before this generation of kids is working on new technologies to save the planet. Get them thinking about alternative energy with toys like Snap Circuits Green Alternative Energy





…or a Wind Power Learning Kit.

Wind Power Learning Set







This super cool snap-together Transforming Solar Vehicle can be made into five different models.

Solar Transformer Vehicle
Sustainable Earth Lab





Recommended for ages 8 & up, Sustainable Earth Lab is organized into renewable energies, natural resource usage, climate change prevention, waste and water  management, and energy conservation to help kids understand real life issues facing our planet now.



Keep ‘Em Curious

Gifts that encourage kids to be curious and pay attention to the natural world and all things big and small will be appreciated for years to come.

Complete with a pair of Expedition Shoe Lights, a 4-in-1 Explorer Navigation Tool, a 3-in-1 Magnifier, 3 Activity Field Guides, and a little sack pack, this Outdoor Explorer’s Pack is a great find.


Optic Explorer Microscope and Telescope

 Young explorers can carry this 2-in-1 telescope/microscope in their pockets or backpacks for up-close viewing of bugs, birds, rocks, leaves and other treasures.





Keep It Real

For the sake of price and/or durability it sometimes makes sense to buy a kid-version of a gadget. However, if the quality is compromised then it makes no sense at all. Here is a mix of affordable “real” gear and some worthwhile kid-versions of grown-up “toys.”

Canon PowerShot

My Canon PowerShot Digital Camera is over 6 years old and even though the paint has rubbed off the edges and I’ve dropped it more times than I care to admit, it still takes decent photos and video. Now under $100 (as long as you’re OK with plain black), it’s an excellent kid’s first camera. From experience, I can tell you that toy cameras just aren’t worth it.


These affordable “real” binoculars have a shock-proof coating and would make any kid feel like you’re trusting them with an important piece of equipment. Pair it with a Field Guide and they’ll be set for adventure.


Instead of nagging them to wear a warm coat, give them (and yourself) the gift of their very own Weather Station. This one even shows a kid the best clothes for the temperature outside.


Keep A Gift Coming All Year

Getting surprises in the mail is always exciting. We like these magazines:

Little Passports

Little Passports is another subscription service but instead of just a magazine, your child receives postcards, travel updates, maps, photographs, and crafts from fictional Sam and Sofia on their exciting adventures around the USA and/or the world.  It’s a fantastic way for your child to learn about geography, history, culture, and language in a fun and memorable way.



If your children love arts and crafts but you don’t always share their enthusiasm or simply don’t have time to organize activities then a subscription like Kiwi Crate might be perfect for your family. An extra nice touch for those of us with two kids, for an additional $7.95 per month they’ll add enough materials for a sibling to share the crate.

Kiwi Crate Craft Kits

Please leave your comments to let us know what you think of the first ever Small Hands in the Big World Holiday Gift Guide. As always, thanks for reading.

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