Holiday Gifts for Kids (That Won’t Break the Bank or Undermine Your Values)

If there’s one place on the holiday list that people will often make exceptions, it’s for the kids. Many grandparents (ahem) simply don’t understand the concept of “cutting back” when it comes to their grandbabies. These gifts for kids encourage creativity and playfulness.

Be sure to consider giving gifts of experience for memorable Christmas or Hanukah giving.

christmas gifts for kids, nicely wrapped and held by child's hands

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Choosing the best gifts for kids

If you’ll manage to stick with all homemade gifts for your kiddos, I applaud you. If you’re able to convince the grandparents to stick with something simple, hooray! But if you find yourself trying to figure out how to give your children a fun gift that suits your greener, more minimalist style, here are some ideas.

These gifts for kids will endure the test of time, holding up to hours of play.

wooden slingshot


My kids spent hours trying to master the skill of a slingshot — they loved the challenge and nobody lost an eye. This one is made of beechwood and leather.

horseshoes on green grass


Made in the USA, this set of horseshoes is a perfect gift for a family who loves to play games. Play the official way, in teams of two, or let the kids make up their own rules. Ages 8 and up; $80



No batteries required for this fun toy. Originally used by Australian Aborigines for hunting, boomerangs have been confounding and occupying children of all ages for years. Ages 6 and up; $12

toy fire truck
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Recycled vehicles

Yes, it’s plastic, but this fire truck (as well as the other options from Green Toys) is made from recycled milk cartons. In America. And it comes packaged in recycled corrugated boxes with no plastic or twist ties. Ages: 12 months and up; $22.

book: organic artist for kids


There are so many great books for kids and young adults I couldn’t begin to list them all here. But if you’ve got a reader on your list — or want to inspire a reader — books can’t be beat. I’m loving the looks of this book full of DIY art supplies for kids! Need some ideas for picture books? Here are ten of my family’s all time favorites.

rainbow colored play silks on a wooden deck - perfect gifts for kids

Montessori-style Christmas gifts for kids

These “play silks” come in a rainbow of colors. Preschoolers love to twirl and spin with the flowing fabric, and I know from experience that they come up with lots of other creative activities to use these for. This is one of those gifts for kids that will be used over and over again. Ages: 2 and up; $18.

metal tavern puzzle

Metal tavern puzzles

If you’re shopping for a teen, a difficult-too solve puzzle like this one will provide an uplugged challenge. Ages 10 and up; $22.

kids garden shovel

Real garden gear

There is nothing—nothing—more fun to a child than digging holes. This set includes real garden gear for kids; they’re not toys. They’re just sized for smaller people. My kids each had small shovels and loved having their own. And what better way to get kids involved in gardening?? Choose from a shovel, hoe, or rake. Ages: 4 and up; $15.


Musical instruments make perfect gifts for kids

An ‘ukulele is the perfect size for a child who’s showing an interest in learning to play music. My son started playing when he was about 12. The ‘ukulele is so much more manageable than a full sized guitar. This is a decent instrument to start with — not a toy, but not super expensive. If this is just what your kiddo has been looking for, be sure to search Live ‘Ukulele for lessons and tips to get started! Ages 4 and up; $54.

settlers of catan board game - great gifts for kids

Board games for kids

Older kids and teens will enjoy The Settlers of Catan, a “board” game that can be set up differently each time you play. Players collect resources to build roads, settlements, and cities. Pieces are made of wood and the board hexes are sturdy paperboard. This is one of our go-to games and is a great gift to give an entire family. Ages: 10 and up; $38.

Gift card games to your favorite kids

Another of our go-to games, Set is a card game that requires critical thinking and deduction skills. Adults and kids can easily play together — and don’t be surprised if you’re bested by the younger generation. We’ve owned this one for years. We’ve gotten so much use out of it that I’ll forgive the fact that the cards come in a plastic box. Ages 6 and up; $12.

brio train set - great gifts for kids

Train sets

Here is what I like about Brio train sets: They are wooden. They can be expanded upon with new pieces and parts, making gift giving for the next several years a no-brainer. And kids will get hours of use out of these things. Hours and hours. (We still have ours packed away for way-in-the-future grandchildren.) I consider this one of the best gifts for kids if you’ve got family members who like to add to sets for special events — there are lots of small trains to be added, as well as track extensions. Ages 2 and up; $50.

Originally published in November 2013; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

3 comments… add one
  • Toni Dec 4, 2020 @ 9:05

    We have our Brio trains tucked away as well…for way, way in the future grands. We also still have the child sized garden tools, since my youngest is now 19 you can tell those hold up well. I was also thinking a doorway puppet theatre, you could use an appropriate sized tension rod or two, some fabric and puppets, either handcrafted at home or purchased. One none toy item my kids used for hours was a card table. Card tables can be used so many ways, a fort frame, puzzle area, art table, my kids played “vet office” with stuffed animals and a clipboard (lol!). Honestly now that they are adults I look back and realize the card tables were one of the most enduring play items that they had.

  • Linda Dec 9, 2017 @ 14:34

    Where can I find the Settlers of Cataan?

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