Favourite Things: I Give Up…A Gift-Guide for Kids

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade. I think I have to admit this is a gift guide? Here are some ideas for youngsters – or the young at heart – based on things our family has received and loved.

We tend towards minimalism, so I like to avoid as many “extra” toys as possible. If it’s still around a year after Christmas, this means it found a real place in our lives.

In general, for our household, most gifts involve: sports, games, art, or being cozy. And LEGO. LEGO deserves its own category.

  1. MOVIE TICKETS | Whether this is actual tickets to see something in a theatre or vouchers for a family movie night at home with special snacks (one of the kids favourite things to do), movies are a fun experience-based gift.
  2. SPARKA SOFT BALL | I have a 7-year-old that lives and breathes for soccer. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say it is almost always on his mind. One of our most-used toys is the IKEA Sparka ball. It’s soft and squishy. It doesn’t hurt if it hits you in the face, but it still rolls pretty well. We have a long enclosed hallway and play soccer here every day. This ball is the only one we let the kids use in the house. *Update: we went to IKEA last weekend and bought 2 more and the kids were elated.
  3. CLEAR CANISTERS | This is a bit of an odd one, but it is a great way to display small toys. We have an assortment of glass canisters and vases (some from the DollarStore and a few salvaged from an abandoned cabin, oddly enough) for Abby to display random marbles, figurines, beads, excess Perler beads, and other colourful stuff that is hard to contain. If I had younger kids I’d opt for plastic!
  4. UNO | I’m not much of a games person, and I’ve cycled my fair share of them out the door to more receptive homes (I’m looking at you Hungry Hungry Hippos). But there are a few games I really enjoy playing. My favourite – UNO. We played hundreds of games of UNO during the first COVID lockdown. Other palatable games: Sorry, Aggravation, Mastermind, and Skip-bo. Shhhh, don’t tell, but a particular girl in our household is getting Codenames under the tree this year, which I also find fun.
  5. BOOKS | I wrote about this earlier in the week, but I tend to be a minimalist in the book department. We are constantly surrounded by books thanks to our weekly treks to the local library, but I’m hesitant to have too many overstaying their welcome. But they do make great gifts. We source most books second-hand, but this year I splurged ($12) and bought a new copy of the first Mysterious Benedict Society Book. Other hits include Harry Potter, the Boxcar Children and lots of the classics like The Wizard of Oz, Heidi, Roald Dahl books, and the Anne of Green Gables series.
  6. CUSTOM CALENDAR | For years I have created a custom calendar for Abby. I go back through our photos and pull the best from each month (e.g. for her birthday month on the calendar I will have pictures from her birthday a year earlier). I always opt for the largest size I can get, and take the time to add in relevant special events (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays). She loves to cross off each day, add her own to-dos, and we keep these in her special “treasures” bin once the year is over since they’re great snapshots – literally (with the pictures) and figuratively (all her handwritten notes) – of years gone by.
  7. PILLOW DESK | This is another item that gets used daily. For reading, writing, or drawing in bed + as a base for the laptop when the kids have sleepovers and we let them watch a movie in bed. *Update: just bought Levi one at a thrift store for Christmas.
  8. LEGO | I don’t know what to say here. It’s LEGO. It’s amazing. The kids love it. I love it (unless I step on a piece in the middle of the night and then I hate it). It’s classic. Find it new. Find it second hand. Just find it. I suppose there are some kids that don’t like LEGO, but I honestly can’t think of any in my kids social circle! It’s a magnet during playdates. There is going to be LEGO under our tree this year, as there always is!
  9. PLAIN WHITE PAPER | Neither child is too fond of colouring, but they both love to create their own works of art. Honestly, a reem of white paper is just the best thing (much cheaper than sketch pads). They use it respectfully (not wastefully), and if they want to store finished work in a binder we just use a 3-hole punch. I haven’t done this yet (I just store a package in my closet to dole out), but I think if I wrapped up a giant pack of printer paper and put it under the tree they would be giddy. *Update: We bought a 3-hole punch at a thrift store so the kids don’t need to use mine in the office – I think they’ll be thrilled to find this under the tree. Sometimes it makes sense to have multiples!
  10. MARKERS | See #9. They both love art. A nice set of markers is a great find. I’ve made the mistake of getting a huge set of markers which = too many choices. Less is more. I actually really like the markers from IKEA and try to have an extra set or two stashed away for when my kids run out or to add to a birthday party gift we might need to source at the last minute.
  11. ROBES | I didn’t have my first robe until I was a teenager, but both kids are die-hard robe fans. Warm, cozy, and a great way to protect school clothes at the breakfast table.
  12. A DESK | Because the kids love to draw and write, having their own desk is a great boost to supporting this passion. Levi actually got his first desk last weekend (our main birthday gift; we got another MICKE from IKEA – it’s $99 and Abby has the same one and has loved it for years). I’m excited to find fewer markers scattered over his bed.


  • CEREAL | My kids both love cereal, but I try to steer clear of the super sugary varities. At Christmas they each get one box of whatever sugary delight they want to try. Think Lucky Charms (no one was a fan, but they wanted to try it!) and Tim Horton’s Timbits. This year they’ll find Reese’s Puffs and Fruit Loops under the tree!
  • SLEDS | This is location specific, but some seasonal activity equipment is a great option. We go through sleds at an alarming rate, so a new sled or saucer is a great Christmas gift.
  • BALLS | Soccer, basketball, volleyball. It never seems like we can have too many balls.
  • NOTEBOOKS | Abby is at an age where she loves notebooks and there are always about 30 floating around her room being used for various writing projects. My favourite designation: our notebook for writing notes back-and-forth to each other, which hangs out on her bookshelf when it’s not in circulation. We don’t do it as often as we used to, but it’s so fun to come upstairs in an evening and find this notebook on my pillow with a note about her day (and usually asking when we can schedule a playdate with a friend). It’s also a great way to discuss hard topics, re-affirm love after a tough day of parenting, or share exciting news!
  • HOTEL ADVENTURE | Our kids LOVE to overnight in the hotel. If you shop sales, it can be very afforable. Plus, my logic includes the fact we always make sure to find a hotel with a pool (worth at least $40) + Continental breakfast (worth $40+), and we make a movie night in the hotel room (another $40+).
  • LETTER-WRITING KIT | Years ago someone gifted Abby with a letter-writing kit. Inside a small tote they included an address book (with some addresses already entered for family members), stamps, pre-labeled envelopes, stock thank-you cards (where you just had to fill in relevant information), and nice note paper. She still stores all her letter gear in here, and I think it’s a great idea!
  • AUDIOBOOKS | Our kids LOVE audiobooks. We have an old Android phone we use to download audiobooks; mostly free from Hoopla/Libby, but I have friends that have bought their children special audiobooks “for keeps.”
  • GIFT CARDS | Perhaps too obvious, but I think that a gift card (with thoughtful intent) can be a great idea for kids. For example, a few years ago someone gifted Abby a $15 card to McDonalds along with a note promising to take her there to spend it. They went and it made for a very special memory. This year we’re gifting Abby a voucher to a local coffee shop so she can take (and pay for) an outing with one of her friends. Whether it’s for the movies, Amazon, a local toy store, or a restaurant – the sky is the limit with gift cards!

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given to a pint-sized person in your life? Any special gifts you remember from your own childhood?

7 thoughts on “Favourite Things: I Give Up…A Gift-Guide for Kids”

  1. I think my daughters would love a pillow desk too, somehow they prefer to study one weird places (floor, bed, sofa) than desk. hahah…. I also like the idea of hotel staycation, what a wonderful idea.
    oh… and cereal, I’ve officially announced in the family that we won’t ever buy cereal again given the blood sugar reaction to a seemingly healthy kind. the girls were sad and frustrated but I said you can eat it when we travel. So maybe a Santa gift of cereal would be a great idea!

  2. I loved Lego as a kid. We also received a dolls playhouse entirely made by my dad. It had lights and lights switches , a doorbell and even a shower with real water (that caused water damage) . It was a great gift. We also received ice skates, skies and books. Always books. And always a family game. Since I only gift books for Christmas ti all my godchildren I can’t give any more ideas.

    1. Those all sound so fun – especially the doll playhouse! That sounds a lot more luxurious than the plastic version I had! I imagine it was a real labour of love to build that for you.

      I always got books from one of my grandmothers and loved that.

  3. We are also minimalists here so do not get many gifts for our kids. But one that stands out as something that has been loved and used is the train table we got our oldest when he was almost 2. He was a bit young for it, but he uses it more and more every year and now the baby loves standing/leaning against the table – he feels like part of the action! I got the train table 2nd hand off facebook marketplace so didn’t spend much on it, and they gave us all their train tracks and such. So it’s an economical gift, too!

    I remember being very excited about the gifts under the tree but I don’t have super strong memories of what I actually got!

    1. We’ve never gotten into the trains here, but it sounds like a fabulous idea and my kids did always gravitate towards the train table they had set up at our local library.
      I just stopped for a minute to try to figure out why we never got a train table and then it all fell into place: when my kids were the right age for this, we were living in a teeny apartment!!
      I have four distinct gift memories: an alarm clock (it’s a long story and my memory is a bit ironic and funny), a doll (I named her Christmas, how original), skate guards, and a bottle of baby powder. What a weird assortment of things that stand out but each has a distinct story behind it, especially the baby powder!

  4. I would like to come hang out with your family, please. You listed the only games I like – Uno, Skip-Bo, Sorry, Mastermind (I didn’t think anyone else knew of that!). I dislike nearly all games but those I would play. πŸ™‚ And, the books! I need to look up that other series for which you bought the first book. It sounds like it might be one I’d enjoy despite my lack of kids with whom I can read it.

    Thanks for giving in and sharing. πŸ™‚

    1. Ha! I love it! I am definitely NOT a games person (I was as a kid, but even then, I never enjoyed long strategy games).
      The Mysterious Benedict Society is great; I’ll admit I stopped after the second book, but even as a standalone, I’d definitely recommend the first book for readers of any age.

      Mastermind just strikes me as a simpler/faster version of Battleship? But I hadn’t heard of it either until after I was married (and we inherited my husband’s childhood copy of the game).

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