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At the holidays, everyone with a child in their lives wants to be the person who gives said child the gift that knocks it out of the park. Fortunately, we’ve figured out a way for you to be that person this year: Take a look at Slate’s most tried-and-true kid gift recommendations. These bestsellers are guaranteed to bring smiles.
Mom and Dad Are Fighting host Elizabeth Newcamp stands by this mini muffin tin game: “[It] offers so many variations and options, from sorting muffins by color to practicing to count. The included tweezers help hone kids’ fine motor skills as they place the colored muffins into different cups in the tin. It’s great for free play, too.”
Kids who like building, stacking, imaginary play—really any kind of play!—will get endless enjoyment from Magna-Tiles. In her gift guide last year, beloved former Care and Feeding columnist Nicole Cliffe recommended them, noting, “You need to give them Magna-Tiles. I do not make the rules. ‘$50 for 32 magnet blocks?!’ you will say. Trust me that they will love them.” They’re well worth the investment, given that they’re one of the few toys kids will play with year after year after year. (This is especially true once they have north of 100 tiles. That sounds crazy, but the building fun takes off exponentially once a child has more than a single pack.)
For the kid obsessed with machines, Gabriel Roth recommended Klutz Lego Chain Reactions Craft Kit: “Slightly older mechanophiles will get a kick out of this simple kit containing Lego pieces, balls, string, ramps, and step-by-step instructions for building 10 gizmos, starting with simple ramps and levers and showing how they can be assembled into satisfying Rube Goldberg contraptions.”
A great gift idea for kids who need to fill some downtime or travel time over the holidays is activity books. As we wrote in our roundup for the best items to keep kids occupied, “Usborne makes fantastic activity books for kids of all ages—from books filled with simple word searches and easy mazes for pre-K and kindergartners to harder logic games for elementary and middle schoolers.” Scratch art pads offer similar diversion. They all make great stocking stuffers or surprise goodies to whip out on a boring road trip.
If your child loves art, but you hate the cleanup: “Paint by Sticker is a much less messy version of paint by numbers. These sticker books come in a variety of themes from more advanced and educational masterpieces and music icons to easier zoo animals,” said Newcamp.
Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer sang the praises of tangrams, noting, “Older, puzzle-minded kids can dive into a geometry challenge with a plain wooden tangram of seven pieces and a book of silhouettes, attempting to recreate the images by manipulating the shapes.”
You can’t go wrong with books. If your child is reluctant to take on a meaty classic, consider Anne of Green Gables, which has these two selling points: First, kid-lit superstars Grace Lin and Tui T. Sutherland recommended it in our children’s summer reading roundup as one of the books that most shaped them. “It gave me a beautiful philosophy of cheerful perseverance that I attempt to incorporate daily in my life,” wrote Lin. “It gave me a heroine who didn’t let others or her circumstances decide her worthiness.” Second, upon completion of the novel, you can snuggle up and watch together the fantastic, new Anne With an E series based on the book. It’s a wonderful book to read aloud to your child, too.
Teens are notoriously tough to buy for, so how about this year opting for something you can enjoy together? Bonnie J. Rough recommended TableTopics to Go in her piece for how parents can stay close to their teens, noting that the card deck offers a “casual and relaxed way to keep conversation flowing. … These open-ended questions quickly get both kids and grown-ups sharing—and nobody can accuse you of prying.”
Alternately, consider gifting a fun cookbook with some cookware or bakeware. “For many teenagers, the kitchen offers a way to make a valuable contribution that doesn’t feel like work,” wrote Rough. “The best cookbooks for teenagers offer solid, skill-building challenges that don’t underestimate teenagers’ abilities.” She recommended MasterChef Junior Cookbook and The Baking Cookbook for Teens.
The right game can provide hours of fun. Taco Cat Goat Cheese was a runaway hit when Cliffe recommended it during the holidays last year: “This game is the only card-based game I like, and it will transform gatherings,” she wrote.
“Labyrinth is an eternally popular board game. … By design, it’s different with every play, so it’s a game that has a long lifespan of enjoyment,” said Bauer. “It will also sharpen elementary schoolers’ strategy and planning skills as they decide how best to modify the maze to their own advantage or to hinder their opponents.”
Codenames is great for that kid who has everything or even as a group present for an entire family. “The unfortunate truth about ‘family games’ is that many of them are sheer tedium for the adults in the family. (Ahem, Clue.),” wrote former Slatester Ruth Graham. “That’s what makes the family party game Codenames so amazing. Board-game snobs and newbies love it; 8-year-olds and grandparents love it; word-puzzle people and strategy buffs love it. I really, really love it. You will, too.”
Game aficionado Jessica Waldock recommended Dragonwood for older kids who enjoy role-playing games. In fact, it’s her own daughter’s choice for family game night: “My daughter brings Dragonwood to the table every single time. She absolutely loves it.” Waldock noted that she herself loves it “because it appeals to a very wide range of ages and people.”