Slate has relationships with various online retailers. If you buy something through our links, Slate may earn an affiliate commission. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change. All prices were up to date at the time of publication.
In search of the perfect gift? Read more of Slate’s holiday gift guides here.
My holiday season anxiety peaks just thinking about stuffing stockings for my kids. I’m already in a constant battle against useless junk—you know, the trinkets that come home from school holiday parties, in birthday party gift bags and accompany any meals made for children. These are the things of my nightmares.
I’m a homeschooling mom of three kids under 10, and unfortunately for me, I also have a problem with visual clutter. My skin crawls when things without a purpose are strewn about. (What is it about little trinkets that they are always strewn?) My affliction is made worse by our frequent moves, which have taught me to be tidy and organized—everything with a purpose, everything in a place!
So, each year, as trees are trimmed and candles are lit, I mount an epic battle to stuff the stockings with purpose. I look for items that fit my kids’ interest, will last, and will inspire and occupy them for at least a few weeks. I’ll spare you my failures, and I present you my list of stuffers that not only delight, but won’t end up under foot or lost in a bin.
For The Artist
Art supplies are small, have a variety of creative and academic uses, and any activity that is potentially messy is, of course, instantly fun. Kwick Stixs are solid tempera paint sticks that make painting less chaotic, but no less fun. You can paint with them on everything from paper to wood, so pair them with a few wood cutouts and let the kids create! If you are not ready to commit to paint in your stockings, check out the Kid Made Modern Giant Crazy Crayon.
For the Reader
This rechargeable reading light is a godsend. It’s powerful enough that it truly illuminates the page, and the three settings allow kids to customize brightness to fit their comfort level and surroundings. Best of all, they’re fantastic for introducing an independent element to kids’ nighttime routine: Kiss them good night, turn off the light, and allow them to read until drowsy. You’ll appreciate the extra alone time, and they’ll enjoy some quiet time before they decide it’s time for sleep.
For the Water Baby
Good bath toys must fit three criteria: They won’t spray water everywhere, they’re easy to clean, and they entertain. The Moluk Pui Rain Toy checks all the boxes, plus it looks like a cute little rain cloud. Fill it with water and let it rain down; cover the hole to make the rain magically stop. It delights babies and amazes toddlers while teaching physics and encouraging dexterity.
For the Teacher’s Pet
If your kid loves having the best school supplies, grab a Pop Pencil Pouch and fill it with OOLY Yummy, Yummy Scented Glitter Gel Pens, a few pencils and fun Mr. Pen Erasers. One side is an eraser, the other is a roller that picks up the rubbings. Plus, kids can mix and match the cute characters.
For the Naturalist
Every little scientist needs a pocket microscope. The Carson MicroBrite has a 60x-120x Magnification range and a bright LED light. It is designed to sit flat on top of small objects, so it’s easy for kids to use to look at everything from their nature finds to their own skin to the holiday wrapping paper. After the holidays, stash the MicroBrite in your car or diaper bag for an impromptu science lesson wherever life takes you. For the younger set, try a Jumbo Magnifying Glass for the same effect.
For the Road Biker
During these dark cold days, light up your winter bike rides with Wheel Brightz. These battery-powered micro LED lights install easily onto the front and rear wheels of your kid’s bicycle. Not only will your kids love the new look, it also makes their bikes easier to spot.
For the Math Whiz
MOBI (ages 6+) and MOBI KIDS (ages 4+) are numerical tile games that help kids gain confidence with their basic math skills by working to build math equations with tiles—like Scrabble, but with math. There are numerous ways to play, so it’s fun for the whole family and easy to tailor the game to any math and confidence level. MOBI comes in a cute little whale pouch, making it portable and perfect for stuffing a stocking—no wrapping required!
For the Foodie
You’re never too little to start using chopsticks! They engage kiddos of all ages at the table, and they’re fabulous for honing fine-motor skills. The Genuine Fred Munchtime Chopsticks are easy to use, BPA-free, training chopsticks.
For the Puzzle Master
If your kids need to stay entertained throughout a long car ride, flight, or while staying at grandma’s toy-free home, consider dropping Kanoodle or Kanoodle Jr. into their stockings. These 2D and 3D brain teasers are hands-on logic puzzles that the whole family will want in on. Kids may even be able to solve puzzles faster than adults, which is always amusing.
For the Little One Scared of the Dark
A cute night light can make the perfect midnight companion. Mubarek Sleep Night Lights provide soft light—enough for a diaper change or late-night story, but not bright enough to wake a sibling. They are portable, tap to turn on and recharge with a USB cable. Choose your favorite cute light up-character, like the Deer or the Kitty and let them poke out the top of the stocking for added excitement.