Buying presents for kids shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it is. They’re kids! They love toys! That’s what makes being a kid so much fun. But if you’re a parent, godparent, auntie, uncle, grandparent, or really just anyone who has ever bought a present for a kid only to ask them what they think of it about a week later, you know all too well the frustration of spending countless hours (and plenty of cash) trying to make that special kid in your life happy, only to see it all go to waste. So do you give up? Of course not. The secret to finding the right toy for the kid who tells the best knock-knock jokes in the neighborhood isn’t really that hard to figure out. It comes down to personality. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these toys that are tailor-made for kids based on their interests—with a healthy dose of science to back up the benefits of fostering your favorite kid’s love of athletics, music, art, and more.
For the Growing Athlete
They haven’t seen a ball they weren’t itching to kick, and they’ve been running since the moment they got up on two feet. The studies show that activity is good for kids, but it’s even better if they learn to love playing different types of sports, in part because they’re more likely to stick with exercise as they grow up. Fuel their passion for sports with toys that offer them a variety of options, from biking to stomping to everything in between.
1. Go extreme.
They may not be X-Games ready, but their toy box will be. Not only does their Playmobil figure come with a skateboard, mountain bike, and rollerblades for some seriously adventurous pretend play, but the set is packed in a carrying case for fun on the go.
2. Put a lid on it.
Is a bike helmet a toy or a toy accessory? It turns out it can be both! This kid-sized helmet will keep their noggins safe while they’re rolling around the block on their favorite wheels. When they get home, they can settle on the couch with a set of markers and re-decorate, because this helmet doubles as a dry erase board!
3. Get in the swing of things.
It swings. It spins. And it lets them do both at the same time, plus the super spinner swing is rated for 200+ pounds, so little kids can invite a friend (or two) along for the ride! The only disadvantage to this rad swing, which can be hung from most trees, is it will be that much harder to get them come inside after playtime. But at least you’ll know exactly where they are in the yard!
4. Bounce around.
Save money—and a trip to the local playland—with a blow-up bounce center they can use any time they’re feeling like Tigger. Made for kids from age 3 to 6, this play gym can also be filled with toy balls for an at-home ball pit adventure.
5. Add a few steps.
Romper Stompers were a big hit a few decades ago, but this generation has their own version, and they’re a whole lot more fun. Enter the bucket stilt that helps kids pretend they’ve got giant monster feet! The neon green “feet” can support kids up to 110 pounds as they practice balance and get a chance to learn what life is like when you’re just a little bit taller.
For the Next Steve Jobs
They’re always tinkering, and they figured out how to make Siri do their bidding by the time they were 2. What could possibly keep your future engineer engaged for more than five minutes? Play! The science is solid on this one: The more time kids spend playing when they’re young, the bigger brain boost they’re getting. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have found that all that time kids spend pretending helps them develop cognitive skills that they can use as they grow up…and turn all that tinkering into a possible career. From bath time to slime time, here are a few STEM toys to give your little scientist a serious boost in brain power.
6. Rain on the parade.
Bath time is playtime when you’re a kid, but it can be learning time too. Give your future meteorologist some weather fun. Fill the cloud with water, and you can make it rain…or stop the rain showers with your finger. Introducing little ones to the cycle of water may not inspire weather person dreams, but it should help them get a handle on water conservation.
7. Head down to Main Street.
Architectural design and structural engineering meet kids right where they are with Wonderhood, a toy brand that pairs every toy set with an activity journal that serves up design and building challenges for kids to solve. Curious kids from age 4 to 8 can design and build their own Main Street, including an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a candy store.
8. Let them rule the room.
Designed for elementary schoolers, this kit gives kids the tools they need to build some high-tech inventions to keep pesky little brothers and sisters far away from their stuff. While they’re developing STEM skills, they’re also inventing ways to guard their piggy banks and that super secret diary.
9. Get in gear.
Head back to the bathroom and cue the lesson in hydroelectricity. The pipes in this toy can be used together or separately, with mechanisms that will do all sorts of gymnastics when the water flows through them, showing off the secrets behind the energy produced by water. The spinning gears suction to bathroom walls, so there’s no need to worry about things spinning out of control (and a deluge in your bathroom!).
10. It’s slime time.
Psssst, come closer. Don’t let the kids hear, but making slime isn’t just fun. It can be an educational scientific adventure too. This kit lets kids in on the secret of making their slime glow in the dark and other cool slimy facts, thanks to a National Geographic educational packet that guides them through the process.
For the Animal-Lover
Pets can help kids feel less stressed, help them develop empathy, and even help their health. Of course, if you’ve got a kid who loves animals, you know their bedroom would be a zoo if you’d let them have their way. But there are only so many animals you can adopt. Good thing you can indulge your future veterinarian’s love of all things furry and feathered with some new toys that might ward off the begging for yet another kitty or puppy (or bird or lizard!), at least for a little while.
11. Build a friend.
Tiny hands will make quick work out of turning these block sets into a cat, dog, and baby bird. Combining a basic engineering education with creations that make for fun imaginative play, this animal DUPLO set comes with small “food” blocks so your little one can practice feeding their “pets.” The blocks work with other DUPLOs as well, so they can integrate their animals into other play.
12. Clean things up.
Bath time is a lot more fun with an animal friend. This little dolphin is awfully hungry, and it’s your kiddo’s job to feed them their favorite treat…soap! (Not to mention the little critter doubles as a bath time friend and a sponge to get them squeaky clean.) Packed with a bath book, the gift set gives kids an excuse to hang out in the tub and get good and soapy.
13. Give them their wings.
Butterflies offer kids a fascinating look at how some animals develop—from little caterpillar to cocoon to beautiful butterfly. Give them a taste of what it’s like to go through their own metamorphosis with these printed butterfly wings with tie-on straps. Glitter, paint, and more are packaged in the kit, so they can decorate their wings their way. Then you strap them on (they’re sized to fit kids 3 and up) and let them “fly.”
14. Let them wash the dog.
Er, let’s clear this up right away. Your bathroom will be safe from suds even after the kids get done cleaning behind Fido’s ears…at least if Fido is the dog in the Soggy Doggy board game. A mini shower and a mini dog that actually shakes like the real thing makes for plenty of good, old-fashioned—dare we say clean?—fun for kids age 4 and up.
15. Bring out the blocks.
Toddlers can take off on an adventure under the sea without ever leaving their playroom, thanks to this wooden block set. Handcrafted in the United States and printed using non-toxic, mouth-safe inks, each block features a letter of the alphabet and a close-up of a sea creature with a name that begins with the corresponding letter. They’ll learn building skills, improve their fine motor skills, and brush up on all the critters they could find if they were diving in the ocean. Best of all, they (and you) can stay dry the whole time!
For the Budding Artist
So, their finger paintings scream Frida Kahlo, and when you clean out their pockets before you throw those tiny jeans in the washing machine, their collections are worthy of a MOMA exhibit. Art has been shown to help kids with everything from developing better social skills to learning to regulate their own emotions. And of course there are fine motor skills, math basics, and even language being developed while they scribble and doodle. It’s time to foster the artist within.
16. Bring on the action.
Remember Fashion Plates? They’re baaaaack, but there’s a twist! Kids can illustrate their own comic books with the help of Action Plates, the drawing playset that gives them the tools it takes to create their own superheroes.
17. Open the can.
And open up their adventures! A can full of craft supplies, from air-dry clay to google eyes, feathers, pipe cleaners, felt, pom poms, popsicle sticks, scissors, and more lets your little artist loose to find themselves. With more than 100 craft components, this can of fun lets them create whatever it is they want to create. No rules, only their imagination ruling the day.
18. Roll out the fun.
A fresh sheet of paper is like a new day: There are no mistakes yet! Grab their crayons, markers, or paints, and roll out a pristine white piece of paper for them to begin their adventures. The roller can be re-loaded with fresh paper rolls so they’ll never run out of canvas for their masterpieces. You can rip off a sheet when they’re done or allow the kids to color the entire long stretch of bond paper, then mount the dispenser on the wall and load a colorful, decorated roll for some homemade wall art.
19. Make mealtime playtime.
Whether they’re out to eat with the family or sitting around the dining room table waiting for dinner to come out of the oven, color-your-own placemats give little artists space to doodle and dream. Designed to be washed and re-used, these placemats can be stowed in the car for on-the-go eating or slipped in the cabinet for at-home use.
20. String it up.
Unicorns may not be real, but there’s plenty of magic in creativity, and making their own unicorn out of string art will work kids’ concentration and motor skills. Not to mention they get a pretty darn cool piece of art to hang on their walls when they’re done. Aimed at kids 10 and up, this kit comes with everything they need to string up their own mythical creature, plus extra string, nails, and everything else they need to create a bonus heart craft.
For the Mini Musician
Quick! What’s your favorite child’s favorite song? Most kids have one, even if it’s one they made up themselves. (And honestly, those are often the best!) The more kids are exposed to music the better, scientists say. It helps with their auditory processing, helps them develop their brains, and a whole lot more. So why wouldn’t you indulge that love at playtime?
21. Snap to it.
It’s Memory for musical kids! The faces of these cards feature musical notes, putting players’ memories to the test along with their recognition of their music. Designed for kids age 7 and up, it can be played alone or with a friend, making it a perfect game for only children or kids who are on the go.
22. Let the dogs out.
Imagine if Elvis could have played a dog-shaped guitar when he told the world that you ain’t nothing but a hound dog? Kids don’t have to imagine it, thanks to this canine contraption. Pre-programmed with 20 sing-along favorites (plus musical buttons and guitar strings so they can strum along), the guitar will have them howling with delight.
23. Make bath time music time.
Get them started on their shower singing early with a music set created for bath time. Including a water xylophone, two mallets, water drum and water flutes, and seven waterproof song sheets, this rhythmic toy set is designed for kids 3 years and up to get into the groove while they’re splashing around.
24. Do it up “Big” style.
If you can remember Tom Hanks dancing on the giant piano in Big, you had some pretty great childhood moments. Share them with your favorite kiddo in the form of their very own dancing piano! Lay out the playmat on the floor, and they’ve got 24 keys to hit with their toys to make up brand new songs or play some of their favorites. “Chopsticks” is a must!