My daughter is still at the age where she gets invited to birthday parties along with her entire class. Some kids have started to break off into smaller parties with close friends, but we still throw her invite-the-whole-class parties, and I know other families do, too. But if you have kids who still get invited to whole-class birthday parties with their school friends, it’s hard to know a lot about each and every kid in a class of 20+ students. You might know what your child’s closest friends would like for their birthday, but if you don’t know the kids (or the families) that well, you might find yourself (like I frequently have) rolling into Target the day before the party and guessing.
Sometimes those gifts might fall along gender lines, sometimes they might feel a little generic, or sometimes they might just be whatever popular kids’ TV show or movie has the most interesting and affordable plastic toy on the shelf. I’ve started planning ahead to try and avoid cluttering up other families’ homes with toys that might not hold up well, or only give a few minutes of entertainment before kids move on to the next shiny. I try to always keep a handful of good toy, books, and gadgets on hand for birthday parties, so I can just pick from a vetted pile and be ready to go.
If you’re looking for some ideas for your kid’s next class birthday party, or maybe don’t know the interests of your younger kids’ friends, we’ve got you covered.
Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set
Give the gift of science! The Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set is under $20 and comes with 12 sturdy pieces of plastic lab equipment built for small hands (it’s ages 3+), plus 10 cards with different experiments. We have the Primary Science Deluxe Lab Set, which is about $20 more and comes with more equipment and experiments, and we use it a lot. I love Learning Resources products, and the basic lab set is a great way to get young kids started experimenting. Upgrade to the Deluxe for a niece or nephew with a strong interest in learning more science.
Lego Duplo Birthday Party Set
Duplo is still such a classic toy for the under 5 crowd, and at just $12, their birthday set is tailor-made for a toddler or preschool birthday party. Especially if you don’t quite know the child well enough to pick something more specific, or if the kids are so young their interests are still emerging. We still find uses around the house for our Duplo blocks, which my five-year-old still likes to pull out sometimes, so these never go out of style.
I played with these flexible magnetic tiles at Toy Fair this year, and we’ve been trying out some sets at home. We love these. I do still love Magnatiles (which are also a great gift, but pricey), but WowWee’s Magnaflex has some more options. You can build bugs, little animals, accessories to wear. The colors are bright and poppy, and the sets are aged 4+. Some of the bigger sets can get pricey, but starter sets like the Magnaflex Animals are under $20 (currently $14 on Amazon).
Learning Resources Primary Science Big View Binoculars
I raved about these binoculars in a roundup of road trip essentials this spring, and we still use them constantly. They’re less than $7 on Amazon right now, and they are so sturdy. We’ve thrown them in luggage, taken them overseas, dragged them to the beach, to restaurants, on various trips in the car. They hold up like iron, and my daughter is always happy to reach for them when she’s run out of things to do and suddenly spots them and feels the inspiration. These are great on your wallet, but they’ll get so much use and wear from curious young kids.
The only thing my five-year-old daughter asked Santa for last Christmas (when she was still four) was a toy toolbox and tool table. Her Black and Decker toolbox is only $10 at Target, but availability seems limited. This B&D Junior Tool Set, without the box, has a drill and a few more fun pieces for $5 more. Both are pretty affordable, and those tools are one of her most played-with toys.
Learning Resources Time Tracker
This genius tool is as much of a gift for parents as it is for kids. It’s pricier than other gifts on this list at $30, but I think it makes a great family gift, too. Set separate timers for the red, yellow, and green lights to help kids who can’t yet tell time, or kids who get too distracted to check. I saw this for the first time at Toy Fair this past February, and we’ve been using one at our house to countdown to bedtime, and to let our daughter know when it’s time to leave the house for school or camp. When the red light blinks and starts beeping, that’s her fair warning that it’s time to clean up the toys and get ready to move on to the next thing. It’s saved us a few headaches and arguments over the “just a few more minutes” pleading.
Squigz from Fat Brain Toys
My husband picked up this Squigz starter set on a business trip to bring back for our five-year-old, and they are a great boredom buster. They don’t stick to every surface–our grainy kitchen table doesn’t work, but our smooth kitchen island does–but when they stick they’re a ton of fun. Easy suction cup pieces in bright colors make for great bridge-building and general silliness. They stick to my daughter’s forehead, too, but not to mine. This set is $25, but this set of minis is just under $20.
DC Super Hero Girls
We started buying this line of toys for my daughter as soon as they were announced last year, and with dolls, books, movies, and dress-up toys, there is a lot to choose from here when it comes to gift giving. Bumblebee is currently my daughter’s favorite of the heroes, and her favorite doll to play with (about $16). And a new graphic novel, Summer Olympus, just hit shelves last week. We all know Wonder Woman is tearing up the box office, so it’s a great time to give the gift of superhero girls.
Lego Brick Headz
For older kids, or particularly precocious puzzle-solvers, Lego’s new Brick Headz make really cool gifts. They’re ages 10+, but slightly younger kids who are avid Lego builders, or who have some parental help, might also love these. They have a range of pop culture characters (like this Batgirl I can’t get enough of), and the cute design is like Lego’s answer to Funko Pop!, but with an actual little 3D sculpture to build. Plus, they’re only $10 each. I raved about the Beauty and the Beast versions around Mother’s Day, and I still can’t get stop collecting them.
Lego Friends Olivia Creative Lab
GeekMom Cristen wrote such a fantastic piece a few years ago about her daughter discovering Lego Friends and getting over her initial distaste for a gendered line of Lego. My daughter was only one at the time, but it stayed with me as she grew up, started getting excited about building blocks, and almost immediately gravitated to Lego Friends when she began outgrowing Duplo. The Lego Friends show is a a standard at our house, and my daughter really loves connecting the stories of these characters with the playsets. A lot of the Friends kits are under $10, but they have great contained little themes that might appeal to any kid who likes the idea of building Lego with a story. We love the puppy kits, and this creative lab set, with a cool desk and little robots.
For summer birthday parties, Gazillion has a great range of bubble blowers and wands. We have a few of their toys that keep my five-year-old (and the dog) busy in the heat. We love the $20 Giant Gazillion Bubble Mill, which gives out a steady stream of nice, big bubbles and doesn’t blow through bubble solution too quickly.
And we also love the less expensive ($9 on Amazon) Gazillion Palm Bubble Juggler, which also makes nice, big bubbles. But since it’s handheld, it’s easier to run around chasing the bubbles for a lot of backyard fun.
My daughter received a few fairy garden kits for her last birthday, including this My Fairy Garden Magic Magical Cottage Playset. We had a great time building this one in the backyard once the weather warmed up, and she’s been keeping an eye on it to see if the flowers grow. For around $20, this is a lot of outside fun for young kids.
Screen-Free Books and Supplies
Asia Citro’s 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids is like a bible in my house. GeekMom Kelly and one of my local mom friends raved about all of the projects for keeping kids busy in the summer, and we’ve made good use out of our copy. I wrote about her project books last fall, after we spent a busy summer trying out loads of projects. The paperback book is $14, and if you wanted to you could throw in a few of the more affordable, staple supplies she uses in her projects. Corn starch, shaving cream, food coloring. It would be a great kit to keep kids busy. We also love her other two project books, The Curious Kid’s Science Book and A Little Bit of Dirt.
GeekMom Andrea turned me onto Lottie Dolls when my daughter was still an infant. Smaller than Barbies (although I’ve been coming around to Barbie lately after years of aversions), these dolls are based on the bodies of actual girls instead of grown women. They have a few boy dolls named Finn, too. The girls have great kid-appropriate themes to each doll, some of which are are very feminine (like the Snow Queen Lottie Doll, which my daugher adores), others that are less gender stereotyped, like Fossil Hunter Lottie or Robot Girl Lottie. The dolls are about $20 each, a little more if they come with a lot of accessories, but they’ve been a hit in our house for a few years now.
This show was an obsession in our house this time last summer. We all went as PJ Masks for Halloween, we had all the toys come Christmas, it was A Big Deal. Thankfully, the toys are a lot easier to find now than they were before the holidays, and there are a lot of affordable options in the line. Just Play introduced new toys this year at Toy Fair, and the 3″ Cat Boy, Owelette, and Gecko (pictured) figures that come with their own cars are only about $12 each. The smaller Catboy and Owelette cars pictured above, with immovable characters in the cars, are only about $8; a set of all 3 would be a great gift for a preschooler without going too overboard.
Manhattan Toy Company’s Groovy Girls and Boys
MTC’s Baby Stella is a fan-favorite around here, and the soft, happy, Groovy Girls and Groovy Boys dolls are a great transitional doll for young kids. I love that there’s a boy option in Logan ($15), although really, I wish a lot of these doll companies would offer a few more interesting options for boys. And I love the activities the girls can do. We have Groovy Girls Velvet, a special edition in her equestrian outfit (about $20), but many of the Groovy Girls are available on Amazon for under $15. We’re having a bit of a moment with the Ladybug Girl books around here (which I loved for years as a school librarian), so I think Groovy Girls Lacey Ladybug is probably not far from our Amazon cart, especially since she’s only about $13 right now.
Melissa and Doug Wooden Calendar
This wooden calendar is a fun way to teach young kids dates and seasons, and we love it around here. My daughter got one for a birthday present this year, and it hangs in our hallway so she can set it up each day (and sometimes declare snow in July). For $20, it’s fun and educational, which will make parents happy.
GeekMom received some of these items for review.