You can never have too many gift ideas, right? Here’s this year’s list of our favorite toys and games in my latest mini gift guide.


Last year I shared some of the toys and games that have been major home runs with my kids (here’s an older list with some great ideas in the comments) and this year I wanted to do the same since I love a good recommendation just like anyone else and figure you might, also. We stick to a three present guideline for the kids at Christmas (not counting the socks and undies they get in their stocking) so I’m always looking for gifts that pack a punch in terms of quality; if it’s still being played with six months later I’m often found giving myself not-so-subtle high fives for an awesome gift choice.

Just in case you might be doing some holiday shopping for children this time of year, here are our unofficial Top Holiday Picks for kids this year (each of these we’ve either bought or they’ve been gifted to us or we’ve played at someone’s house; none of the items are sponsored – meaning no one is paying me to talk about them; I’m gushing because I just love them, that’s all. FYI: There are some amazon affiliate links below for the items I’ve actually bought from there). As always, shop around for the best bargain!

1. This Allowance Game was given to us by my in-laws last year and the kids still love playing with it (miraculously, I don’t think we’ve lost any of the money, either). It’s educational and really fun plus whenever they complain about allowance (or lack of), I refer them to this game.

2. I’ve talked about our love for 4-square before and this ball is a key part to the experience. Plus, it doubles great as a dodgeball. My kids have repurposed it inside (the bonus room where throwing balls is allowed) for the winter. It’s bouncy. It’s a ball. It’s great.

3. We’ve put together about a million puzzles in the last decade and this map of the world puzzle (we also have the United States version which is fabulous) is our favorite. Challenging enough to keep Brian and I invested, it’s perfect for the kids, too. The pieces are super sturdy (none of that flimsy puzzle piece stuff that drives me insane) and what do you know? We learn awesome, new facts every time we put it together.


4. Our great friends in Minnesota, the Erickson’s, introduced my kids to 10 Days in Asia and the boys played it for hours (no kidding, hours!, instead of running around outside like they normally do; it was kind of weird) at their house. They’ve also played the United States version. This Christmas they are getting the 10 Days in Africa version which is equally as awesome. Highly, highly recommend any in this series of games.

5. My oldest son, in particular, loves to build things. Anything. He’ll hammer away at spare scrap pieces of wood in the garage for hours. He is a Webelos scout so maybe it goes along with the territory, but either way, this kit of wood is perfect for the kid who has grand woodworking dreams. The kit comes with laid out designs (birdhouse, train, etc) or they can go to town building whatever they want. Love, love this.

6. Ah, the Blue Trak. Another find via our buddies, the Erickson’s. This exciting car race track crosses age lines like no other. The little kids pull it out and before you know it, the older ones (er, even adults at times) are getting in on the action (how fast can a car truly race down this thing?). The stairs are a very popular spot but it can be played with and wrapped around just about anything. My sister’s kids have it, too, and swear by it’s awesomeness.


7. Our newest, favorite card game! Sleeping Queens is a clever little game that is great for the whole family. We played it at my friend Deb’s house and my boys were instant fans (and I admit, so was I)! The box says ages 8+ but all of our kids, ages 3 to 12 were playing intently. It gets great reviews and I can see why.

8. Needless to say, these very-not-sharp bow and arrow sets are popular at our house. My dad had them at our family reunion this summer (with a fun obstacle course shooting the arrows through holes in a tarp) and two of the boys have their own set now thanks to birthday gifts from grandparents. Their favorite thing to do is line up their stuffed animals and knock them down. That’s kind of how we roll around here (sorry if that offends anyone from the Stuffed Animal Protection Organizations) and much better than them aiming at each other’s heads.

9. For the longest time, my kids have been into Lego sets (still are, some of them) but my 9-year old is especially loving this Erector set he got for his birthday a while ago. It’s a step up from lego building – the designs and instructions are a bit more intricate than Legos (he sometimes needs help but can do a lot himself, too) and the parts are metal and durable. Wonderful for a child who loves to follow instructions and use screws and nuts and bolts to build things.


10. My friend (virtually; she’s been a long time reader here!), Rachel, sent me the greatest list of non-electronic toys and this Fastrack game was on there. I played something similar as a child and this newer one is fantastic! A smaller, finger version of air hockey. And let me tell you, it can get awfully competitive awfully fast. Be forewarned.

11. We’ve had Magformers for a couple of years now and they bear mentioning again. Although a bit pricier than other toys, they are played with daily in our house. Can’t say enough good things about them.

12. These pocket genius books are fabulous. We have the animal version, rocks, horses, sharks and one more (sorry I can’t remember which and am too lazy to search under beds to find it). They are the first things my kids grab for road trips and they are also constantly perusing them on the couch with each other. I’m amazed all the time at the random facts they spew at the dinner table – I used to question the authenticity of the crazy facts but quickly learned when they go straight for the pocket genius book that they are probably right and I am probably wrong (again).


13) My sister gave us an Lego advent calendar last year for Christmas and to say my boys went crazy over it is an understatement. We had to put an official schedule together for who got to open it each day so that no one got a black eye. I bought one several weeks ago for the kids again this year (shhh!); when I looked at the details to post about it, I noticed the price has almost doubled on amazon so I’m not linking there. I bought mine for $29 so look around online (it looks like it’s right around that price on the official Lego website).

14) Head lamps just make everything more fun: playing hide and seek in the dark, reading under the covers (when you supposed to be asleep), taking the garbage cans out the super long driveway in the evening, the list goes on and on. My boys love wearing their head lamps. They make great stocking stuffers and gifts for boys or girls!

15) Speaking of playing in the dark, this glow in the dark over-the-door basketball hoop has given the kids hours and hours of fun. Which has given me hours and hours of contentment, if you know what I mean. They play it with it daily; that’s the mark of a great toy.


16) If you have colorers in your life, you need to get your hands (or their hands, I mean) on these mystery mosaics books. Walker, my 9-year old, loves to draw and color and he will tell you these way-cooler-than-color-by-number books are totally rad. I have to agree. I love the designs that come out of them! There are several books in the series; they get progressively harder so browse around for the one that would fit your little artist the best.

17) Dotters, dotters, dotters. These fun little marker thingies have been part of our lives for several years (they last foooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr!). They are Cam’s specialty right now (she’s 2 1/2) but very, very often (ok, always) the boys join in on the fun. Another great gift for inspiring creativity in those kids!

18) Buying for kids in a chilly climate? I might have mentioned here before but we own a ridiculous amount of these Land’s End balaclavas (just say balaclava out loud a couple times and you’ll feel instantly happy) and they are warm, simple as a beanie to put on (no funky straps or buckles) and they wash up like a dream.

Feel free to share any of your own kid favorites in the comments!