If your kids are like mine, they’ve compiled an arm-length list of toys, books, gadgets and gizmos they want this holiday season. Most of it is stuff they’ve seen on TV or in one of the many mail order toy magazines my post person has crammed into our mailbox every day since September. Many of the items on their lists are either cheap junk that looks cool but will ultimately end up in pieces at the bottom of the waste bin or flashy toys that will be played with twice and left in the corner to collect dust. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough. As a result, I am staging a lame-toy intervention.
Truth be told, kids don’t really know what’s out there. Most of the time they are simply bewitched into thinking they want something by the glitz and glamour of glossy catalog spreads and flashy commercials they see between shows. Advertisers and marketing specialists think they know what kids want, but who really knows your kid the best? The parents.
This year I’ve decided to really hone in on my children’s interests and personalities and choose gifts for them that will peak their interest beyond New Year’s Day. Will I still give in and buy some of the crap from their list? Sure, I’m not a total humbug, but I will sneak in at least a few items I’m sure they’ll love and didn’t even know they wanted.
As part of the intervention, I scoured the Internet and toy Top 10 lists looking for well-constructed, quality gifts for children of various ages and interests. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how many compelling and creative alternatives there are for the uninspiring junk I normally buy. In fact, there’s so much good stuff out there that selecting what to include in this article became a daunting task.
Below is the fruit of my labor. I’ve broken it down into eight interest-related categories: Musicians, gamers, artists, rowdies, fashionistas, bookworms, brainiacs and hobbyists. Your child may fit into one or more categories or none at all. This is not intended to be a one-shop stop for parents (although it could be) but rather a sampling of gift ideas to show you there is a light at the end of the junk-toy tunnel.
- The Sing-A-Ma-Jigs by Mattel
These cute, award-winning toys give Tickle Me Elmo a run for his money. Each Sing-A-Ma-Jig has its own look and song. This particular one sings “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” while some of its equally musical counterparts sing other children’s classics like “Bingo” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” Don’t ask me how, but these little critters are also capable of harmonizing with one another. Sorry, Elmo, but these things may have you beat.
- Kid’s Mini Electric Guitar with Amplifier Combo in red by Barcelona
Great for budding rock stars ages 4 to 10. Goes perfectly with a year of guitar lessons, compliments of Santa — or Grandma. Amplifier included. Ear plugs for parents sold separately.
- MKS-SS1 SingStand Home Karaoke System by Memorex
This is sure to unleash your child’s inner rock star. Kids can plug in any MP3 player and sing along to their favorite tunes. Comes with a microphone, echo effect and two built-in speakers. Additional ports allow kids to plug in a musical instrument or an extra microphone if you feel a duet coming on. Suitable for crooners ages 5 and up.
- ION Audio Discover Drums MKII Tabletop Electronic Drums by Ion
Children love drums. Parents hate the racket. It’s a problem…or is it? This kid magnet can be used with headphones to limit those noise-induced migraines. Drummers can follow one of the 49 light patterns to practice rhythm and timing. Because it can run on batteries, this drum set can also come in handy to keep kids entertained on long road trips.
- LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet in green by LeapFrog
The newest innovation from LeapFrog comes with a built-in camera, video recorder and 2GB of memory. LeapFrog offers a library of 100+ cartridges and apps for this device. Bound to be a hit with kids age 4 through 9, and moms and dads will be happy not to have sticky fingers handling their iPad.
- Mario Kart 7 by Nintendo
This highly anticipated race car video game in the Mario Kart series hits shelves December 4. It is guaranteed to be one of the most requested items this season by children with a Nintendo DS in their hot little hands. Amazon is taking pre-orders. This game is rated E for everyone. Don’t miss out!
- Just Dance 3 by UBI Soft
Popular with kids, tweens, teens and adults alike, this highly addictive dance game is back with its third installment. The newest version includes Dance Crew, Smart Shuffle, Flash Mob and Dance Mash-up modes. Tracks include Top 40 hits like Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” and The Black Eyed Peas favorite, “Pump It,” along with some old-school tunes like Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and Bananarama’s “Venus.” Available now for Nintendo Wii and XBox 360. Available for PlayStation 3 Dec. 6. Recommended for kids 10 and over. UBI also offers a version for tikes under 10 titled Just Dance Kids.
- Karaoke Revolution Glee: Volume 3 by Konami
Get your Gleek on with the newest version of the popular karaoke game. Sing along with 35 songs from Glee: Season 2 including stand-outs from your favorite episodes including “Britney/Brittany,” “Auditions,” and “The Rocky Horror Glee Show.” Available for Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 Nov. 22. Rated T for Teen.
- Colored Pencils Set and Matching Sketch Book: Princess by eeBoo
Every budding artist needs the proper tools. This colored pencil set by eeBoo is one of the cutest out there. The matching sketch book is just as sweet.
- My Giant Busy Box by Alex Toys
Tired of hearing your kids whine about being bored? Need a solution before you turn into Mommy or Daddy Dearest? This box of busy should do the trick. Cover your kitchen table with newspaper and let them have at it. The kit includes 16 different projects that will entertain one kid or a small group, making it perfect for a play date. Recommended for little ones ages 36 months to 5 years.
- Crayola Color Wonder Sound Studio by Crayola
Art and sound team up for this interactive toy. Kids can choose from 60 sound effects to add to their coloring page. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
- Deluxe Standing Easel by Melissa & Doug
Your little Picasso will be drawn — pun intended — to this Amazon bestseller. Includes chalkboard, dry-erase board, a locking paper roll holder, a child-safe paper cutter, four clips and a plastic tray to hold paint. What parents will love: easel folds flat to store under a bed and is height adjustable to accommodate both younger and older children. Great for preschoolers and up.
- Nerf Vortex Praxis by Hasbro
Get ready for rapid fire! Just hearing the word Nerf makes most kids’ pulse race. And although this type of toy makes moms everywhere a little nervous, it is bound to show up on many a wish list this season. Echos of “Take that thing outside!” will be heard across the nation come Christmas morning. Recommended for thrill seekers ages 8 and up.
- Razor Spark DLX Scooter by Razor
Sparks are going to fly, literally. This version of the popular Razor adds pyrotechnics to its design, Kiss style. Every time your kid puts a foot on the aircraft-grade aluminum scooter, a trail of sparks shoot out. It’ll make your thrill seeker feel like he’s riding a rocket down the block. The spark bar is detachable if you need a day without the fireworks. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Don’t forget a helmet!
Younger kids will enjoy a pared-down spark-less version of the scooter.
- Fashion Design and Illustration Studio Set by Project Runway
Fashionistas ages 7 to 15 will find everything they need to build their very own fashion portfolio. The hit-show-inspired set includes a fashion model sketch pad, shoe sketch pad, handbag sketch pad, 12 colored pencils, 8 double tipped markers, tracing and news print pad, swatch cards and a design guide. Make Heidi Klum proud, kids!
- Designer Doodles: Over 100 Designs to Complete and Create [Paperback] by Nellie Ryan (Illustrator)
This 128-page, big-kid coloring book allows budding clothing and accessory designers to build confidence in their skills by finishing sketches provided by the illustrator. Perfect for that long car trip or a rainy day. Recommended for doodlers ages 8 and up.
- Fashion Headbands by Creativity for Kids
Girly-girl alert! If your daughter fancies Fancy Nancy, she will go bananas over this super fashionable gift. The set contains 10 satin headbands, rhinestones, flowers, feathers, yards of ribbon and a butterfly. Great for snazzy girls ages 5 to 9.
- Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
The sixth installment in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series finds main character Greg Heffley trapped inside his house with his family over Christmas break after a snowstorm shuts down the town. As usual, Heffley finds himself in one precarious situation after another. Fans will not be disappointed. Readers will laugh their way through the holiday break. Recommended for readers 8 and up.
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This illustration-laden masterpiece and winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal will spark your reader’s imagination. In the author’s own words, the book is “not a exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” The story follows the adventures of orphan Hugo, who lives in the walls of a Paris train station.
The book is the perfect prelude to Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, “Hugo,” which debuted in theaters Nov. 23.
- Dork Diaries Box Set: Dork Diaries; Dork Diaries 2; Dork Diaries 3 by Rachel Renee Russell
Reads like a diary/comic book, complete with lined paper and black-and-white illustrations. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” fans will most likely find these books enjoyable. The boxed set includes the first three installments and chronicles the struggles of Nikki J. Maxwell as she navigates her way through middle school. Recommended for readers 8 and up.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This classic Christmas tale should be included in every young reader’s collection. Perfect for your kindergartner. /li>
- Tell Me A Story – Fairy Tale Mix-Up by eeboo
While it’s not a book, this interactive game promotes literacy and stimulates the imagination. It comes with 36 oversized cards featuring thought-provoking illustrations of common fairytale characters. Each player uses a card to tell a piece of the story. Other themes are also available. Ideal for the pre-reader ages 36 months to 5 years.
- Snap Circuits SC-300 by Elenco
Young, engineering-minded kids will delight in this educational toy. Your little brainiac can construct up to 305 different electronic projects including a radio, doorbell and burglar alarm. The kit comes with 60 color-coded, snap-together pieces and an easy-to-follow instruction booklet. Recommended for kids ages 9 and up.
- Scientific Explorer’s Mind Blowing Science Kit for Young Scientists by Scientific Explorer
This award-winning kit will ignite the scientific flame in your child. Includes a variety of experiments such as a color-changing volcano and a sunset in a test tube. Warning: Projects can be messy and need parental supervision. Recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8.
- The Everything Kids’ Science Experiments Book: Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You! by Tom Robinson
This book, written by a high school science teacher, answers your child’s most intriguing science questions that you have no idea how to answer, such as “Why do toilets always flush in the same direction?” and “What’s inside a coin?” Includes sections on biology, chemistry, physics, planets and the human body, along with instructions on how to perform simple science experiments with items found around your house.
- Syma S107/S107G R/C Helicopter in blue by Syma
This remote-control helicopter recently sat at No. 3 on the Amazon Bestselling Toys List. Available in various colors. Recommended for joystick operators ages 14 and up.
- Air Swimmer Flying Fish – Shark – Extreme Model (Radio Control) by Animal Planet
This radio-controlled flying shark balloon will have your kids (and pets) running for cover. It’s easy to control and can be operated by children as young as 3 years old. The only downside to this toy is that the balloon needs to be filled with helium before you can take it for a spin.
- Hexbug Nano Habitat Set by Innovation First Labs, Inc.
What do you get when you cross an insect with a robot? A Hexbug, of course. This best-selling kit comes with all the pieces your child will need to build that bug a home. The best part? The creatures can’t escape and lie in waiting under your sheets.
- Kid-Tough Digital Camera in pink by Fisher Price
Touted as virtually indestructible, this camera could be the perfect toy for your little butterfingers. (Hey, we get it! It’s hard to hold onto stuff with those teeny tiny hands!) Kids can take up photography with this handy-dandy digital camera as early as 3 years old. Features include a memory that stores more than 1,000 pictures, 0.3 mega pixel imager and a 4x digital zoom. Little photographers can add special effects to their photos with downloadable software. It also comes in blue.