featured image kid gift guide

I’m always on the lookout for the best toys/games/activities for my kids that won’t end up in the declutter-and-donate pile weeks after buying. I shared a few of our main loves a while ago on a Snapshot Saturday but with another gift-giving holiday season approaching, I decided to ask my kids what they love best right now and share them with you. So consider this a stand-in replacement for the usual Snapshot Saturdays I post every now and then.

Great gift recommendations are worth their weight in gold! Here are the ones my boys were very quick to recommend and get my 100% stamp of approval.

{Nothing sponsored, just simply our favorite recommendations to share. Feel free to shop around online, the Amazon links are affiliate if I’ve bought the item there, but many of these products are available elsewhere also.}

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1. Origami, Baby! This origami book is simple for kids and although it isn’t in color and there aren’t any bells and whistles, my boys have had so much fun folding and folding and folding (everyone from my 6-year old to my 9-year old). We also have this one, it’s a bit pricier but comes with some pretty origami paper. And I’m not going to lie, I have as much fun as the kids origami-ing.

2. Battleship. I know this game is, like, so 1980’s but whenever my 8- and 9-year old are missing, I can usually count on finding them in the loft, each of them squashed into a beanbag chair, involved in a cutthroat game of battleship. The only downfall are the tiny pieces we have to keep out of Cam’s way.

3. Snap Circuits. My 9-year old is obssessed with these and when he pulls them out, the little vultures (i.e. brothers) gather. Just yesterday he wired his own radio and went around the house beebopping to the static radio music playing from the snap circuit set sitting on his shoulder like an old school boombox. We can thank grandma for this set during last year’s Christmas. It’s still getting played with a ton a year later.

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4. Double Shot B-ball Hoop. The dinging of this basketball hoop runs nonstop when my boys are home. Santa brought it two years ago for all the boys and it has provided hours and hours of fun for them. In fact, they’ve gotten so good at it, they love to challenge any adult that comes to our house. “Care to play a game of double shot?” And then they proceed to decimate that adult’s ego.

5. Ticket to Ride. Another favorite game, it’s actually one Brian and I had long before we had kids. The boys just discovered it buried in the depths of our game closet and my 8- and 9-year old are constantly requesting this as their “extra” activity (each boy has a specific night of the week they get to stay up 20-30 minutes “extra” to do something one-on-one with me or Brian).

6. Snowball Maker. We have several of these thanks to a work party from several years ago and the boys still dig them out of the garage and pile up thousands of snowballs in order to stage the most epic snowball fight of all time. Every afternoon after school. If you live in a snowy climate, these are kind of a no-brainer.

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7. Slide. My older boys would be embarrassed if they knew I was publicly outing them for playing with this slide just as much as their younger siblings. It resides in our messy basement and provides so much fun. Admittedly, the big boys are using it more for matchbox car catapults and obstacle courses, but overall, it’s a winner. Plus, even little Cam who is 19 months can safely climb up the back and slide down. Which she does about 86 times in a row before breakfast every morning. The slide folds up for better (but not super slim) storage which is a bonus.

8. Marble Run. Although this does require a bit of parental help to set up especially with younger kids, it’s a mesmerizing toy that occupies my younger set (4-7 years old, I’d say) for long periods of time.

9. Felt Playhouse. This one is a bit out of the box since it’s isn’t available on Amazon but if you have the hankering, the best thing I ever did was make a felt playhouse (that slides over a square card table) a couple years ago for Christmas. Except, at that time I didn’t think it was the best thing because I’m pretty sure if my memory serves correctly, I pulled at least three all-nighters to finish this baby. I keep it stored away so it doesn’t become just another toy, and it is all the more exciting when we dig it out and set it up. I’m talking day after day of fun before it’s folded up and put away again. I got the initial idea from here and modified it to fit what I wanted on a playhouse.

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10. Marshmallow Shooters. No words needed really except for Epic Mini Marshmallow Fights.

11. Dangerous Book for Boys. This is a constant resource for my two older boys. I am always finding them hunkered down over this book together trying to figure out the best way to make a treehouse, shoot a rubberband, or just research why girls have cooties (I’m not sure that is actually in there but if you know, my boys would love to get the 411 on that highly valuable info). It’s a fabulous book that has provided them hours of collaboration on the best way to live life as a boy (and from what I hear, there is a version for girls, too).

12. Busytown Game. Board games for younger kids are hard to find. I mean, how many versions of Chutes and Ladders and Candyland can we fit in the game closet? Conversely, I’m morally against any game that makes noise louder than my own children (Lucky Ducks, I’m talking to you!). Anyway, this Busytown game is straight up awesome. It’s clever and different and encourages us to work together instead of cut each other’s throats to win. We play it as a family all the time – fun enough for all of us but simple enough for the littles to get right in there and play, too.

Ok, now it’s your turn…leave any of your own great recommendations in the comments!

65 Responses to Mel’s Mini Gift Guide: The Best Toys/Activities for Kids

  1. Katie P says:

    Do you suggest getting Origami paper to go with the book? it doesn’t look like it comes with any paper. Thanks! putting the final touches on purchase with your help!

  2. Lisa Len says:

    Great list! My kids are getting older, but my son (11) will still play Ticket to Ride. He also loved the Stomp Rocket. We went through several over the years. All the kids from the neighborhood would play. My daughter (14) and I will play City Square Off, and the boys always want to jump in as well!

  3. Meghan says:

    My husband and I love Ticket to Ride. Thanks for putting together the list. We will have to give Busytown a try.

  4. Sarah Wimmer says:

    Because everything you say is pretty much fact, I took your advise on the gift giving. Between grandparents, aunts/uncles and my husband and I our boys (4 of them) are now busying themselves with 5 of these items. You were right on with these, they are fun fun fun!! Thanks for taking the time to come up with a gift giving list ON TOP of creating recipes my family loves!!

  5. Heidi says:

    I’m going through old emails and found this post. Thank you for a great list! Snap Circuits is awesome, my little 6 year-old would warn us about creating a short circuit!
    I also love Magformers, we tried them at a hands-on children’s museum and later bought them for birthdays, they are awesome for building and I love that my smaller glisten can’t swallow the magnets!

  6. Mary says:

    A few years ago after Halloween I bought a bunch of dress-up accessories on clearance and gave my 3-year-old daughter a dress-up box for Christmas. My kids pull it out all the time, especially when friends are over, and they’ll play for hours! It’s a little annoying to clean up afterwards, but since they play with it so long I don’t mind too much. This same daughter loves crafts, and one year her grandmother put together a craft box for her, full of stickers, pipe cleaners, different kinds of paper, glitter glue, etc. It is the first thing she gets out every.single.day. after school.

    Games are also big around our house. I second Uno and Guess who. My 2 year old loves Zingo, and my 5 year old likes Yahtzee. Board games are great because I can enjoy them too!

  7. Laura says:

    We love that Busytown game!! Especially love that even the littlest can play along and not get in the way! You should check out Zoobs…. my boys all love them and aren’t dangerous for the wee babes. My kids build with them for hours!

  8. Ali says:

    Great list!! Thanks for sharing. Our family’s favorite are magnatiles. They are pricey, but are played with almost daily. I also loved the “extra” time with with Mom and Dad at night. I do that with my oldest, but think my five year old would love it too.

  9. Bridget says:

    Perfect timing! Thanks for the ideas. My four year old daughter loves games right now. Her favorite is the Disney Princess Cupcake Game. We also love ARGH! It is a pirate card game. My two year old is catching on and soon will be able to play too.

  10. Andreya says:

    Love this list! Great ideas. Our kids love their stockings each year which include; character band-aids, character toothbrush and toothpaste and bubble bath!

  11. Sierra says:

    I just have to say, I love you Mel. I think you’re straight up awesome.

  12. Linnae says:

    I appreciate this list! One of our best gifts to the kids has been a small cd player/boombox that they can work all by themselves. They love listening to books on CD and music. Our public library has a decent selection of audio books for kids, from picture books up through chapter books. Also, Grandma finds “kid music” and stories on CD at garage sales and sends them our way. Literally hours and hours of entertainment. I think it cost $30.

  13. Michelle says:

    The rainbow loom is a great gift……its only about 15.00 and my 10 yr old son loves making the rubber band bracelets

  14. Ann J says:

    Thanks for these great suggestions! I trust your cooking so much, your gift suggestions are sure to be a hit to with the little boys in my house!

  15. Suzanne says:

    These ideas (and comments) were super helpful in shopping for our “angel tree” children! I feel like I am buying toys that have been tested and are widely enjoyed- so a higher chance that they’ll have a fun Christmas, and have toys that will last, as well as educational. Score!! Thank you!

  16. Jackie Gonzales says:

    I just bought the Origami book and Snap Circuits Jr. for my son…they are going to keep him plenty busy this cold, cold winter 🙂 He’ll love both!

  17. Marcie says:

    If your kids love building toys, I highly suggest Zoobs! We got them from Amazon and my boys will literally spend hours building with these! Worth the price!!

  18. Becky Mendoza says:

    Melanie! These are GREAT ideas! I already bought FOUR of them off amazon just now. Circuits, Boys book, Ticket to Ride and Origami. Awesome ideas, great post! Thanks!!!

  19. Rebecca Roe Hale says:

    Thank you so much for the idea of extra time! We try to do ‘dates’ with each kid but that just doesn’t happen often enough. I’ve been looking for a way to give each child individual attention. You and your husband are geniuses!

  20. Leigh Anne says:

    I love lists like this! Things that are kid approved in real life…….that’s so very helpful! I am pinning this for future reference. Thanks Mel!

  21. Shan says:

    As a mom of 3 1/2 🙂 boys ages 3, 5, 7… your list is invaluable! Right now we have been loving Legos, playmobil, UNO, Sequence for Kids, Guess Who, Trouble, and more…..I recommend this set, it’s fun to build the road with them. The cars do require batteries that can go quickly, but it’s fun to pull out and play with every so often: http://tinyurl.com/l67ok5h. And my boys love this and all it’s accessories, batteries are not essential: http://tinyurl.com/q89b842. And then there are these that are just so cool, like Jami mentioned, though it looks like the price keeps fluctuating: http://tinyurl.com/q6z6kxo.
    So what is everyone’s experience with hot wheels? Something like this: http://tinyurl.com/ojweyy9. Is it a battery sucker? I’m wondering what else to do with the 500 hot wheels cars we already have….

  22. Jackie says:

    Great picks! I have all boys (ages 2-9) and we have and LOVE almost every one of the things you recommended.

  23. Jaqui says:

    Oh Mel, you’re a dream come true! Thanks for posting this great list!

  24. Alicia says:

    My kids have been way into making those bandaloom bracelets. So many fun color designs they can do!!!

  25. Jenn says:

    As I am typing this my 7 year old and 2 1/2 year old are playing with an old set of wooden blocks…and they’ve been at it for like 2 hours! Go figure.
    They also love white boards and building forts. I’m looking into a racetrack for hotwheels this year – my little guy is big into cars.

  26. karen says:

    TICKET TO RIDE is awesome!!!! I can’t say enough good things about it. My 7, 10, and 12 year olds (and all their friends) love it. My husband and I love it too. The games take about 30-45 minutes and are fun. Definitely get this game if you enjoy a good game!

  27. Rachel says:

    Giant White Board…all ages use in a million different ways! We have had ours now for 8 years and hands down the best “toy” we’ve every gotten the kiddos!

  28. netty says:

    My kids love the Rainbow Loom. Look it up, hours of fun! Thanks for all the ideas.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    My husband and I LOVE Ticket to Ride! We got an expansion last year for Christmas that has a map of India and some funky, fun new rules that are awesome. It also has a map of Switzerland on the other side and isn’t very expensive because it just comes with a board and route cards. You use your trains and color cards from a version you already have (US or Europe). If you’re looking for something fun to get your husband, I highly recommend it.

    I’m also a huge fan of the new plasma cars that are so popular. That’s what santa’s bringing to our house this year. They’re a pretty good deal on amazon. My daughter’s only 2 1/2 but she rides them all the time at friends’ houses and loves it because there’s no pedals you have to worry about being able to reach. Thanks for the ideas!

  30. sound beacher says:

    A great toy with hours of play for all ages is foam blocks. They are safe and quite when they fall.

  31. Jodi says:

    I have 4 boys as well (didn’t try for that girl 😉 ) who are 13, 11, 9 ,7. We have 6 of the items you suggest and everything gets played with except the basketball hoop. There was always some malfunction in the scoring so after about 1 year they lost interest. The one toy not on here that gets far more playtime that anything else are LEGOS. Last year I just went to eBay and bid on a few 500 + piece collections of mostly random pieces as my kids have a hard time taking apart all of the ships and what not they build from a set. They have had a great time using their imagination and building all sorts of things, well mostly different flying things 🙂

  32. Julie says:

    And this is why I love you Mel. I have three boys, 5, 3, and 5 months and we live in a snowy climate so indoor play ideas is important. We love the Busytown Mysteries game plus as a former teacher there are so many literacy skills you are practicing by playing this game. Toys we love/fight over include the Magnatiles, we need to buy more, and the big cardboard blocks. My boys also love a good car mat. Some others toys that they come back to our those Toob toys that have little sets such as spacemen, jungle, farm, etc. They can use them with playdough or their blocks or a sensory bin. They are easy to rotate for something new to play with. Another toy to rotate in when kids get bored is this race track.
    My boys still need help setting it up but they love playing with it and it stores easy.
    Thanks for the ideas!

  33. Susannah says:

    I highly recommend this game for young kids – Fish Stix.

    We love playing this as a family and it has grown with my kids. They’re now 9 and 11 and still love to play it! It’s fun for parents, too!

  34. Kara says:

    The all time favorite toys in our house were Playmobile. We have about every collection – cowboys, soldiers, knights, police and construction. My 4 boys really enjoyed them and we have a huge collection that I will save for the grand kids. Great for creative play and ages 4 to 11.

  35. Andrea says:

    My boys are in high school now, but when they were little they loved Snap Circuits too. Another great toy that they played with a lot was Kapla blocks. They are slim wooden blocks that have remarkable balance and allow them to build amazing things. We had a glow in the dark marble run that they really enjoyed. Miss those days!!

  36. Beth W. says:

    Thank you for the WONDERFUL ideas. I added most of them to my wish list on Amazon. Thank you thank you thank you.

  37. Katie Slade says:

    Thanks for the awesome ideas. We just got a game called blokus that we all love. My 4 year old can even play it.

  38. GAShel says:

    Thanks Mel…my “baby” is 16 this year and past playhouses (sigh) but I can’t wait to make the felt playhouse to keep at my house when my future grand kids come to visit! For those wondering about girl gifts I would add that many girls (like mine) enjoy lots of the same things the boys do: the marble run, legos, building sets, etc. As much as I’d have loved to do crafty things with my girl, she just wasn’t interested, but at 12 I was all about hooking rugs, doing simple needlepoint and embroidery, etc, Knitting is HOT right now…and some of my daughters friends make the neatest hats and scarves to give as gifts. Just some thoughts… Oh…and as for favorite toys in our house? The Fischer Price Loving Family dollhouse and accessories. I’ve packaged them away for posterity, too!

  39. Signe says:

    No ideas here, but can I just say that I LOVE that your boys each have a night of the week with one-on-one time with a parent? That is such a great idea!! Totally making a mental note of that for when we have more kiddos.

  40. SaKay says:

    Thanks for the info. I went to Amazon and read description and reviews of Dangerous Book for Boys and ordered it for my 10 yr old grandson! Also ordered Daring Book for Girls for his twin sister. I had never heard of these books before – thanks again.

  41. Amy says:

    Oh, Mel, how I love you!! I wish we could be friends in real life!

  42. Lexie says:

    Great ideas! I’ve got two little guys who would think some of those are the best. I’ve also got two girls and they have the girls version of that book and it is awesome! They love it and I am pretty certain it does cover cooties 🙂

  43. Lisa says:

    This list makes me long for little ones again – Christmas was so fun, and I enjoyed it as much as they did. Now, at 19 and 21 the only requests are cash and gift cards, yawn.
    But two favourites come to mind which made for a lot of creative play.

    My daughter was all Barbie, all the time (we still have a ton of stuff, including vehicles, houses, furnishings, not to mention the boxes of dolls and clothes). She and her friends would have bungie jumping Barbies (tied together w elastic bands and tossed over the deck) and rock climbing Barbies (up the fireplace), and literally spend an entire weekend with their multiple vehicles on an adventure all through the house and yard. She even shaved her Barbie’s head to have Chemo Barbie when she was going through treatment herself. Say what you will about Barbie, but she provided endless play around here.

    My son and nephew were both wild about the Thomas the Tank and Brio train sets – they can get expensive but can be added on to as gifts for years (great for the grandparents).

    Now I just have to wait for the next generation to come along so I can have some fun again (and maybe some baking, too!)

  44. Erin says:

    Quadrilla marble runs have been in our family for 5 years now. It was a gift for my now 9-year-old son and we still add to it every year. It is wooden and not plastic 🙂

  45. Stacey says:

    Just have to second what a great toy Snap Circuits are. And also how annoying Lucky Ducks is even when its just sitting on a shelf.

  46. Jen says:

    Great list! Thanks for sharing! The 500 pro circuits is 1/2 off on Amazon RIGHT NOW! Grab it while you can!

  47. Laura says:

    Great list! We have girls in the 5-8 year range, so i’ll add a couple ideas for that group. They love the game “guess who,” and there is a book called ‘designer doodles’ where they can create and color outfits – they filled it up in no time. I may buy that one again, they liked it so much.

  48. Melanie S. says:

    Thanks for the awesome list! I have one son amidst 5 gifts. I always am wondering what to get him. You have provided some great ideas! And to Nancy L., a previous poster, my daughters have loved the Klutz Shrink Art jewelry book. It might be a fun thing for your niece. http://www.amazon.com/Shrink-Jewelry-Klutz-Karen-Phillips/dp/1591744377/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1385220092&sr=8-2&keywords=klutz+jewelry HTH!

  49. Kelley says:

    Your lists are always awesome. My newborn daughter “gave” her brother Marble Run when we brought her home from the hospital. It really helped to dispel and jealousy AND keep him occupied while I was tied up with a new baby!

  50. Tami says:

    Does the Marshmallow Shooter really work? Does it work well? Looks like fun.

  51. Jami says:

    Love this list! Thanks! In our house, the top toy for the last year is hands down Magformers. I was hesitant to buy these at first because of the price but they are worth every penny! My 10 year old all the way down to my 3 year old play with these constantly. I am buying more for Christmas so there is less fighting :).

  52. Teresa R. says:

    Wonderful gift ideas for children! My kiddies are grown but I have nieces and nephews who would love some of these toys. ( no grandchildren yet). One of my favorite toys has to be Legos. Besides the numerous sets I’ve bought over the years, I picked up tons of Legos at yard sales. Also, monopoly jr and are you smarter than a fifth grader board games. For preschoolers I like alphabet train, but I don’t know if it’s even available these days. Oh, we also loved badminton for outside fun.

  53. Nancy L. says:

    I really appreciate the suggestions for the boys (my nephew is 10), but I have a 12 year old niece and don’t have a clue about what girls this age like. Hope someone can help me!

  54. Sheila H. says:

    I am always looking for great games and I will buy the Busytown one. We love Animal upon Animal and Socken zocken if you need another idea. Can my 6 year olds do the Snap Circuit?

  55. Sheila says:

    Thank you for these gift ideas. I too am so discouraged when what I thought was a good idea ends up being ignored, and as you stated placed in the donate pile not many week later. I was so encouraged to read about the slide. I buy for a 16 month old girl (hardest to buy for) and a 4 year old boy. The 16 month old is getting a slide and the 4 year old is getting a pop up tent with many tunnels to crawl through. I may spend a lot of time getting your recipes right but “no felt tent for me”. I have marked the Busytown Game and the Dangerous Book for Boys to further look into. Love, love, love Snapshot Saturdays!

  56. Great list, Mel! I just now purchased the Snap Circuits (your link goes to the BattleShip game) and the snow ball maker! 😀

  57. Megan Lang says:

    Great list of ideas! I love your felt house idea; we use the pop-up tents that are easy-storage, but create great hideouts.
    I think our best investment so far has been the play kitchen. Both of my son (4) and daughter (>2) love pretending to make dinner and drink tea. We had a tea party just yesterday. It never seems to get old.

  58. Camille says:

    Wow. Great list! I have 6 kids under 8 and you’ve nailed it. Some of the things you suggested we have and love just as much as you…but you’ve added some I’ve never heard of. One that we love is magna tiles. Cannot say enough abt them. Continues to b one of their fav after 3 years. We now have 3 100 piece sets and they r used daily. Don’t be scared of the price. Def worth every penny.

  59. Cyndi says:

    Thanks for the great ideas! My two boys are men now, but I am an aunt and do get stumped on what to buy. One more great game to recommend is Monopoly Junior. It is much faster than regular monopoly and is great for kids to count money. I had a lot of fun with my kids and nephews with this one.

  60. Rebecca says:

    These are great!

    We love Educational Insights Designs Drill, Catan Jr, and Zoomtool’s Crazy Bubble kit.

  61. Shannon says:

    For younger girls…snap and style dolls. They are easy enough for young kids to change the dolls’ clothes all by themselves!

  62. katie w says:

    awesome awesome! I have 4 boys (6 months to almost 7) and this is a huge help! thanks!

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