What is the phrase you hear most during the holiday season?
If you’re a parent I can guarantee that: “What can I get for the kids for presents this year?” is at top of your list.
No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, loved ones are eager to give presents to little ones, but compiling the gift list can be incredibly hard for toddlers and babies. Often they don't have concrete ideas of what they would like and they are happier playing with the wrapping paper and boxes than what’s inside them. And all of the flashy, techy toys that are so appealing to well-meaning relatives, while deeply appreciated, are also great at giving parents a headache and are often broken by February. We also live in a time where many kids (and their parents) are already overwhelmed by their toy collections.
As a new parent, my go-to response to this question was the terribly annoying, and very unhelpful, “That is so generous, but they don’t need anything!” I quickly learned that this would not keep loved ones from spending their hard-earned money and we would end up with well-intentioned gifts that didn’t fit with our parenting goals. So I decided I needed to bite the bullet and make a gift list. I set up an Amazon Wishlist (super easy!) for each child, which is so lovely and convenient, and added items that fit into one of four categories:
1. Items that encourage creative, independent play
Independent play is amazing for child development (post on this coming soon!) and for parents’ well being. And, giving gifts that let parents sit and drink coffee while the kids play happily on their own is also a gift to parents!
Passive toys (toys that don’t DO anything)
Open ended toys (toys with no set purpose)
Examples: Blocks (these are cool too!), play silks, balls, stacking cups, metal bowls, wooden bowl, non-battery operated toys (dolls, stuffed animals, wooden or plastic figures), kitchen/cooking/food items.
2. Items that encourage independence
Anyone who has been with a toddler for more than five minutes knows that they are very into doing things “MYSELF”. And you likely also know how frustrating this can be for everyone involved. Luckily, there are options to help you give your toddler more autonomy and independence, and save your sanity. Montessori school supply sites are a great place to find items that support independence.
Examples: small pitcher for pouring water, learning tower for helping with cooking and dishwashing (my handy father built ours), smocks (because: laundry.), child-sized furniture, toy storage that is easy for toddlers to get out and clean up (we like wicker baskets easily found in thrift shops).
3. Items that support optimal development
As parents, we all want what's best for our kids. We want them to grow up to be happy, healthy, and to learn and grow well. For toddlers, the best thing you can do for this is to offer them lots of time for free, self-initiated play. This means play that they are driving and you are just “letting” happen. Outside of that, there are a few other things that can help kids develop emotionally, physically, and cognitively.
Books, books, and more books! Choose them consciously, thinking about diversity of characters and storylines and stereotypes.
4. Items that are consumable or experience-based
For the kids who truly have everything, consumable gifts (or gifts that get used up and are then gone) and experience gifts are a wonderful option. Here are some ideas
Memberships (zoos, science centers, children’s museums, indoor play/activity centers, nature preserves)
Art supplies (stickers, glue, glitter, paper, paint, etc)
Time such as a “date” alone with the giver (this can be an especially wonderful gift for parents to give an older child coping with a new sibling- a trip to the movies, a park, the library, a museum, or a favorite restaurant are all wonderful options).
I hope this list is helpful! One last thing, as always, BALANCE is a key part of how we try to approach the holidays. A good way to keep gifts balanced is to remember the four gift rule: Want, need, wear, read. More here and here.
*Note: This post contains affiliate links. I have only linked to items that my kids love and use daily!