A non-parent's holiday guide to picking out offbeat children's gifts

November 8 |

I love everything to do with gifting: giving them, receiving them, scheming them, you name it. Since I have a kid, a lot of my non-parent friends and family members will often ask me what kind of fun, kind of weird, somewhat non-traditional gifts they should give their nephews, nieces, and family friends and I've decided I should just compile a list to make it easy on everyone.

I built this list with non-parents in mind, so here goes:

Baby stuff that isn't plastic

Zoo Jeep Pull Toy ($30), Moover Baby Truck Natural ($90), Dream Journey ($38), Rainbow Curve Blocks Set ($23), Magical Sound Flute ($13).

Oompa Toys is one of my all-time favorite websites for baby toys. You can shop by category (blocks, arts and crafts, music, and so on), age (they cover newborn to 9ish), theme (architecture, ocean, etc.), and brand. Everything is wooden and typically sources from organic materials, which means your plastic-shunning parent friends will love the all-natural materials, and you get to look like an awesome and informed friend. Win-win.

Plush organs: unusual yet delightful toddler-friendly gifts

Giant Microbes Platelet ($9), DNA Molecule Plush ($30), Giant Microbes – Stem Cell ($9), Giant Microbes Nerve Cell ($10), Giant Microbes Skin Cell ($9).

I'm going to take you to the next level and introduce you to a few toddler-friendly things that aren't your average toy for a two-year-old.

I discovered plush organs a while ago when I was looking for a great holiday gift for my son's hematologist (answer: this super cute platelet), when I discovered the wide, fantastic world of weird stuffed animals. These are totally cool for toddlers because they can be toted around anywhere. Each organ is a potential funny conversation piece ("Excuse me, is your son playing with a blue testicle that kind of looks like Elvis?" Why yes, he is.), and you'll probably get a few chuckles from the parents in your lives. Or at least, you would if you gave these to my kid.

For little nerds

Third Hand Adjustable Parts Holder with Magnification ($8), The Amazing Desktop Dinosaur Plant ($8), Instant Snow ($4-12), FrankensteinLabs Einstein's Brain Desk Lamp ($99), Edge Robotic Arm Kit ($50).

Nerdy kids are my favorite kind of kids, so if you've got a mad scientist between 8 and 13 in your life, get pumped. I'm all about those cats! I'm particularly infatuated with the FrankensteinLabs Einstein's Brain Desk Lamp because OMG: that's incredible. Can you imagine growing up with that in your bedroom? Epic.

Books

When in doubt, buy BOOKS. Offbeat Families has a TON of pages of archives filled with different recommendations based on what you might need. There are books about LGBT adoptive families, books that feature children with disabilities, and more. Here are a few that I really love, divided up by age:

Babies

The Very Hungry Zombie: A Parody ($15) and Kids Star Wars ABC Book ($13).

Babies don't really care what you read to them as long as you're doing it, and I'll go ahead and tell you that many a parent has appreciated a baby's book with a fun twist.

Toddlers + Preschoolers

City Dog, Country Frog ($14), Tumford the Terrible ($13), C. R. Mudgeon ($14), A Dog Is a Dog ($11), My Mama Earth ($15).

I have to avoid the temptation to make this book section all about Star Wars, but need to mention Darth Vader and Son and Star Wars: Vader's Little Princess just in case you missed hearing about them. There are, after all, many toddler and preschooler-friendly books out there (and if you're looking for good reads for elementary aged kiddos, we have a great list right here. Fair warning: City Dog, Country Frog will make everyone cry.

Tweens + Teens

The Fault in Our Stars ($11), Eleanor & Park ($11), The Beginning of Everything ($14), It's Kind of a Funny Story ($9), Dash & Lily's Book of Dares ($8).

I love, love, love Young Adult Fiction. I love it so much I still read it regularly! I knew I'd love Eleanor & Park as soon as I saw the cover.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: quite a few gift ideas for the kiddos in your life. It's not exhaustive by any means — what awesome gifts have you given in the past to kids?

  1. THANK YOU, STEPHANIE!!! Megan-simple kids shopping! ;)

    7 agree
  2. I AM a parent and love love love these gift ideas!!

    2 agree
    • I got my husband a knot tying book and some rope for Christmas one year and he loved it too!

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  3. <3 Eleanor & Park–It's AMAZING.

    I bought my 12 year old nephew a book on knot tying that came with a few pieces of rope last Christmas, he seemed doubtful initially, but once he got started, he LOVED it.

    3 agree
    • It is so so so so so so SO good. SO.

      1 agrees
  4. So awesome!

    Another brand to watch for is Melissa and Doug. They make some awesome toys. I got my friends' toddler a wooden shape puzzle with instruments (they are both musicians) and they make noises when you put the shape in the right hole. When you get them all in, it plays Old McDonald, if I remember correctly. But, importantly, you can remove the battery.

    Craft supplies are also really awesome. The older sister of that toddler loves doing crafts so I go through my supplies every so often and gift her beads, paper, stickers, foam, etc. While some of the kits are super cute (I bought her a "paint your own ceramic purse" kit before), often you can give just as much joy with a random assortment so they can come up with their own ideas.

    I've sewed little plushies, painted items for imaginative play. Costume bits are also awesome. Who doesn't love a cape?!

    6 agree
  5. In addition to Melissa & Doug, PLAN Toys (http://www.plantoys.com/) and Hape Toys (http://www.hapetoys.com/) are also really awesome. PLAN's dancing alligator pull toy, and Hape's 'pound & tap bench' (ie a xylophone with one of those pound the ball things through the hole overtop) are both very popular with my toddler.

    0 agree
  6. Yes!
    This is so perfectly timely. I have 7 nieces and nephews ranging from four months to ten years.
    I used to have a firm no buying for kids under 3 policy (established when my brother had 6 kids). But my favorite brother had a kid and, at just shy of 1, he's too cute not to buy cute toys for.

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  7. Yessssss thank you, I have no idea what kids like or want or wtf any particular age group is like. Telling me to shop for a 10 year old boy is like telling me to shop for a Zoiloip from planet Arguull who enjoys playing Farrfittik on weekends.

    (Also, just cause I know you guys are fans of RSS readers and stuff I thought I'd mention… the "related post" pull outs that are in the middle of posts recently display very oddly in Feedly- they just merge into the article as if they are part of it. Kinda confusing.)

    2 agree
  8. I used to work at a small, independent toy store, and I want to encourage you to shop in your community and support your local small business owner, if possible. Independent toy stores are generally staffed by people who are friendly, knowledgeable, and more than happy to help you find a toy for a kid — even if all you know is the age/gender/level of geekiness, etc. Helping people find gifts was my favorite part of my job!

    16 agree
  9. Woah!!!
    X just HAS to have The Very Hungry Zombie added to his bookshelf very soon

    1 agrees
  10. I love your recommendations, especially for books! For your Tween/Teen section on books, though, I'd actually say that those books are all YA and may not be quite what a tween is ready for yet. There are definitely tweens out there who can handle the material in the books you've suggested, but I'd probably recommend other titles for tween friends. Your local library might have recommendations, or if you're interested in some awesome new kids/tween lit, you might check out The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, Jinx by Sage Blackwood, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, or A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff.

    2 agree
  11. These are great suggestions for littles and bigs. I find the 6-10 age range the hardest to shop for. Too big for "toys" too little to really appreciate gift cards and the like. Some hits for that age range in our house have been:

    -Those gigantic cardboard houses that you can color. They're like $20 and you can buy them at CVS or other drugstores.
    -Gingerbread house kits
    -A globe
    -A pad of really nice coloring paper (like an artist watercoloring pad)
    -Rush Hour – it's a kind of "brain game" where you set up cars on a grid and then have to move them off. Fun for kids and adults
    -Uno – a classic, but still really fun to play
    -Qwerkle – kind of like scrabble with colors and shapes
    -Mancala – my kids both loved this game when they were around 6 or so

    Happy shopping!

    2 agree
    • Love these game suggestions! I got my cousin (nearly 10 then) Apples to Apples for Christmas last year and it was a big hit with the whole family.

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    • Yes Yes Yes to the coloring paper.

      I have an 8 and a 10 year old (3rd/4th grade), and we go through art supplies like nobody's business (though they have informed me that they are "too old" for crayons.) And thicker paper stands up better to their … vigorous … drawing styles. As do "grown up" coloring pencils, which have more pigment and give more satisfying colors.

      On the book front, they are nutty for Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath series, the "Squish" series, and almost anything in the half-novel-half-graphic-novel genre both occupy. (Dragonbreath sneaks a lot of actual science in while staying really really funny; I think of it as 7-12 range.)

      0 agree
  12. So I love some of this stuff and would like to buy it but I'm in the UK and don't want to pay customs and shipping fees from the US – is there any way I can support the site and buy from an English site? (like Amazon.co.uk)?

    0 agree
    • This is an oft-asked question, and the answer is … I think if you click this link and make your purchase, the Empire will receive a small cut thanks to Skimlinks: http://amazon.co.uk

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  13. This list is great for big kids too, I bought the Parts Holder/Magnifying glass thing for my 22 year old boyfriend. It's really cool!

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    • TRUTH: I would totally buy some of this for my 28-year-old husband.

      0 agree

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