25 of the Best Birthday Gifts for Kids and Our Gifting Philosophy

I sometimes feel guilty for my girls’ lack of ‘stuff’. Now let me say right off the bat, they have plenty. A playhouse tent, a tiny retro kitchen, and art supplies to last the millenium. But even still, I get comments from guests and well-meaning family members about the toys – or lack thereof – in our playroom. Apparently, I’ve unintentionally made our family the minimalist sort.

It just makes sense to me to have fewer things – fewer toys means less to clean up, more room for imaginary play, and in my particular case, less fighting over who gets to play with the Anna doll. Studies have even shown that kids play longer and more cooperatively with fewer things – by a LOT.

But I also realize that stuff is a part of having kids. Playtime is so good for them, they learn to share and play together, how to role play, and be creative. We are lucky to have lots of family and friends who want to shower our girls with time, attention, and gifts on Christmas, birthdays, and random Tuesday afternoons. Today I thought I’d share with you a bit of our parenting philosophy regarding gifts to help you keep your house calm and clutter free, your kids entertained and unspoiled, and still celebrate holidays and milestones as a family.

Gift experiences
I love giving experiences as gifts for adults – a massage, a pedicure, a ticket to a show – and this works just as well for kids. In the past, we’ve brought Eva to the aquarium for a Christmas gift. She’s also gone to Disney on Ice and the new Aladdin movie (her first movie in a theater!) with family members as gifts. We usually let them open an envelope with details of the adventure, and the anticipation is almost as fun as the event itself.
If that’s not really your thing, giving a gift that will make memories is another way to gift an experience. On Eva’s second birthday, one of her cousins gave her a kit to make giant bubbles. She had so much fun all summer long, and we used it all during her birthday party, too. I have a lot of gifts in the guide that provide hours of fun together.

Gift practically
Listen, anything new is fun for kids, so even the most practical of gifts are exciting. A table and chairs for them to play tea party on or draw, a sleeping bag, and even a helmet will make little kids pumped. I say we all capitalize on this – I’m calling it the Make-Toothbrushes-In-Christmas-Stockings-Normal-Again campaign. No more of this frilly gifting – give what they’ll use and they’ll be happy as a clam.

Gift something that travels well
There’s a special place in Heaven for relatives who give gifts that will keep my children quiet and entertained on an airplane. Fun new coloring books, no-mess craft supplies, a doodle board, and mini puzzles are all winners. Whenever my kids open one of these gifts, I tuck them away the night after the party and bring them back out before a trip so they are still novel and new.

Make the birthday party the gift
I got this idea from a mom who I really admire. She has six kids and they have a family rule that the birthday party is the gift from mom and dad. I think it’s so important to not spoil our kids, to remind them that mom and dad put a lot of time (and $$$) into parties, and that it really is a gift to the special kiddo. We opted to do this for Eva’s birthday this year and she was perfectly content not opening a gift from us.

Now – on to the gift recommendations! Sometimes, you need a real toy gift. These cover all of the tips I mentioned before: gifts for travel, practical things they will love, and ones that make memories together. We have lots of these ourselves and use them all the time. They really are the best of the best – and won’t become playroom junk by the end of the week.

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The Aerobie Flying Disk flies better and farther than a normal frisbee and is easy to little hands to use. Great summer gift for vacations or summer birthdays, or to stash in an Easter basket.

Let me espouse my love for this Butterfly Kit again. I featured it in my Easter basket gift guide, but it makes a great gift all spring and summer long. Raise your own caterpillars and watch them metamorphosize into butterflies before releasing into the wild.

This Mini Caboodle Case is what my 9-year-old dreams were made of – just add butterfly clips, tiny nail polish, and glitter body spray. This one has a retro vibe and would be perfect for the hair-accessory obsessed girl or a craft supply stash.

Set of 3 Walkie Talkies is one of those old-school toys that got tossed by the wayside – but needs to be revived. So fun for pretend play, road trips, and outside. This set of three is a great sibling gift.

This Deluxe Root Viewer is such a fun hands-on learning activity for kids. Imagine a crossover between an old-school ant farm and a little vegetable garden. Your kids can plant seeds and watch them grow above ground and below.

A Kids Sleeping Bag is a practical gift that kids would have so much fun with. Pretending to camp inside or actually going on a camp-out, it will see a lot of use.

A Nature Explorer Kit is what outdoorsy kids dreams are made of. Binoculars, a magnifying glass, and flashlight are part of this kit complete with a cute tin carrying case.

A Giant Bubble Wand Set is so unexpected and fun. This one comes with multiple bubble wands that can be reused over and over. Pair it with this Giant Bubble Mix for hours and hours of outdoor play.

I love giving something like a Kids Lacrosse Set because it’s active, easy to play, and best of all, is stored outside. Anything to get kids more time in the fresh air and sunshine is the perfect gift in my book.

Super Gel Crayons are mess-free upgrade from regular crayons. It’s like the gel crayons we all used in elementary school but made way better – chunky, smooth, and bright and so fun to color with.

The Petit Collage Our World Floor Puzzle is so cute. We have it for our girls and have put it together dozens of times. Under $15 and free shipping makes it another perfect gift for a friends birthday party.

Radio Flyer Classic Balance Bike with Bell is such a classic gift. Amazing quality and timeless design. I realize my girls would love a sparkly blue Frozen-themed monstrosity laden with handlebar streamers, but this one will age better and can be handed down to younger siblings. A balance bike with thick tires helps a child learn to ride without training wheels, and bonus of all bonuses – it has a bell!

Step-by-Step Drawing People is such a handy and fun book to gift. Step-by-step instructions on how to draw fun little illustrations with lots of room to practice makes it great for kids almost any age.

STEM Gear Building Blocks Set is fun for hours. Our library has these and they are so popular with the kids. You can build towers or a board with gears that move the whole thing around like a clock.

The Boogie Board Scribble and Play Tablet is kind of genius. Think Etch-a-sketch meets iPad meets rainbow scratch off paper. Instead of giving your kids an iPad on the next flight, reduce tech-related melt downs by giving them one of these instead. Under $30, and they can doodle to their heart’s content.

How cute is this Classic Radio Flyer Helmet? Perfect to pair with the balance bike or gift to a kid who already has lots of fun, speedy (read: dangerous) toys.

We love the Ok to Wake Alarm Clock and credit it for teaching our daughter to sleep in and not get up at the crack of dawn. You can program the clock to glow when it’s okay for your little ones to get out of bed – it’s not a loud noise so it won’t wake up your child.

A Light Up Terrarium is a fun surprise for older kids who are bit too old for traditional arts and crafts. They can layer in rocks and soil, small plants, and make a mini ecosystem. The lid lights up for a great little nightlight or desk topper.

My First Big Book of Unicorns or My First Big Book of Dinosaurs are great coloring books to gift. These ones really are huge and will last for a while. Pair it with the next gift for the best little birthday present bundle.

Eva got Disney Princess Candyland from one of her aunts for her birthday this year and it’s quickly become a favorite. Our girls don’t really play the game right now, but they love the little princess dolls it comes with and use the cards as ‘tickets’. It’s a game that will grow with them for years.

We have an older version of this Play Kitchen Tool Set. It’s a great dupe for the Pottery Barn Kids set, but a fraction of the price. Despite it’s price, it’s high quality and has held up b

The KidKraft Retro Play Kitchen is one of the best investments we’ve made as far as toys go. It’s sturdy, cute, and so fun for kids. It’ll definitely be one of the things that gets passed down generations.

We love our KidKraft Farmhouse Table and Chairs so much. This five-piece set was our big Christmas gift to the girls and they were absolutely giddy. Now, they use it every day – to craft, color, play pretend. I opted for a table with four chairs so that friends would have a place to sit when visiting or down the road (and I mean way down the road) siblings could join.

Magnetic Tile Blocks are so addictive to play with. They can get really pricey, but this set of 100 tiles is a deal and makes a really great gift for a birthday boy or girl.

Have you ever seen a toddler in tiny headphones? If you haven’t you’re missing out – it’s the cutest. These ones are cushy and comfortable, fold up for travel, and are the perfect thing to use on long haul flights or car rides.

I hope this gives you some inspiration to gift to your kids more intentionally and maybe adopt some of these ideas for your own family. And for those circumstances in which you just gotta wrap up a sweet little present – snag one of these gifts (with free two-day shipping on Prime) – and you’re all set.

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