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How to Buy Toys for Other People’s Kids

When buying kids’ gifts for birthday parties or other celebrations we can be easily enticed by toys that aren’t necessarily what you would want in your home for your child. I try to keep in mind that no kid really benefits from a ton of toys and that every parent will appreciate a quality gift in the long run. Here are some ideas to keep the fun in that special present, with a forward-thinking, minimalist spin.

Breathe new life into those great toys that your gift-receiver probably already enjoys.

You know those tried and true toys? The baby doll, stuffed animal, dollhouse, farm set, kitchen set, tent or playhouse, art easel, or bin of dress-up clothes all make my favorites list. We often avoid these as gifts for other children, because we assume they already have these gems or their price may be outside of our gifting budget. We can still add to these favorites by giving add-on items that make an old toy new again. Try…

  • Fresh art supplies for an easel
  • Snazzy props to liven up that dress-up bin
  • Overstuffed pillows in fun fabrics to soften up the floor of a favorite tent or playhouse
  • Care items for dolls or stuffed animals, like a diaper changing set or a homemade vet kit, like this one.

Create a literature lover.

Although I absolutely love children’s books, I still try to choose them thoughtfully and to create special book sets from two books or a book and a related toy. For a recent gift, we gave a set of books including the classic “The Princess and the Pea” and the modern version “The Princess and The Packet of Frozen Peas.” For a little unicorn lover, we gave a whimsical unicorn tale with a plush unicorn castle. For ideas of where to start for your next gift, go with…

  • The classics
  • The theme of the birthday party
  • Kid favorites (like rocket ships, fairies, trains, and animals)
  • A known area of interest. (This is great for the kid known for that shark-obsession!)

Think outside the toy box.

For children you may not know that well it may be safer to steer clear of toys.
For younger kids, think about some of the great independence builders, like…

For older kids, think experiences, like trips to…

  • Favorite arcades or local indoor play areas
  • Museums
  • Shows
  • Pottery painting shops
  • Local kid hotspots

Tell us what you think.  What are your favorite kid gifts that you’ve given? What about the best gift your child has received?

Thanks to Kim for all of these great tips – I’ll definitely be using the book + theme toy trick soon! Kim is leaving us for a bit in preparation for welcoming a new baby soon.  We wish her family all the best and truly thank her for all the wonderful info. she’s shared here on MPMK!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Breanna November 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

My daughter is 8 and she received a plain white tee and some Crayola Fabric Markers for her last birthday so she could decorate her own shirt. It was a huge hit! We’ve done this for a couple of her friends, and they always love it! And it’s cheap too (under $10) :)


Sally from Little Hiccups November 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm

My daughter and I did a similar idea a few years back. My daughter is quite good at drawing and her little friends always loved getting pictures from her. I screen printed one of her drawings (just black outlines) onto t-shirts and wrapped them up with a set of fabric crayons. Her friends loved receiving their special t-shirts and had lots of fun colouring them in. You can see them here :)


Sally from Little Hiccups November 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Oops… I mustn’t have clicked submit as my message disappeared!

My daughter and I did a similar thing a few years back for her friends. I screen printed one of my daughter’s drawings (black outlines only) onto t-shirts and we wrapped them up with fabric crayons for her friends to colour. Her friends loved their special t-shirts and once they were coloured they were all one of a kind. You can see them here:
I’ve been thinking of doing something similar with pillow cases, cushion covers, tote bags…


Carla November 28, 2012 at 10:45 am

What a great list! And I love the gift of experience, brilliant!


Emily November 28, 2012 at 10:48 am

Great list! It’s true, sometimes we get sucked into buying gifts that we wouldn’t for our own kids. For my daughter’s 5th birthday, I included a note with the invitation saying that if guests wanted to bring something, the birthday girl would love art supplies. This was great! We got new construction paper, markers, stickers, and colouring books. I also love seeing books as gifts. One of my friends gave flower bulbs as a gift – I thought that this was a really sweet idea!


Nat & Holly November 28, 2012 at 11:21 am

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Sally from Little Hiccups November 28, 2012 at 1:17 pm

My favourite thing at the moment is to give gift subscriptions and memberships.
My kids love Okido magazine so we plan on giving gift subscriptions to a few of their friends. For their older cousins we’ll be giving subscriptions to Anorak magazine. Both are full of fun activities, stories and projects and they’re pretty entertaining for us grown ups too 😉

Craft activity subscriptions like Kiwi Crate are a nice idea too. I also like Little Passports which is a fun way for kids to learn about geography. Each month kids receive a package from a different country with activities and stickers etc.

Kids love receiving something in the mail and a gift subscription keeps on giving throughout the year so the excitement lasts longer than just their birthday or Christmas.

Membership to a local kids’ museum, zoo, play cafe or favourite amusement park make good presents too. Annual memberships can be pricey so tickets for a single visit are a good idea too. Young children don’t always understand the impact of this type of gift straight away so I usually try to include something little for them with the tickets/membership pack. When I gave my brother and his family tickets to a zoo I included some Schleich animal figures for my nephew to play with straight away. I made sure to choose animals that he would see at the zoo and included information about them (which I downloaded from the Schleich website).


Molly Makes Do November 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Magazine subscriptions! Highlights, Cricket, even more adult magazines like National Geographic (which does have a kids version) for older children. Puzzle and brain teaser magazines are great fun too. My almost train obsessed 2 year old is a big fan of “Classic Trains” magazine already!


Debbye November 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I love to give and get gift subscriptions, such as for a magazine, or Kiwi Crate or Bluum, or Green Craft Kids. :)


Jamie November 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I was going to suggest magazine subscriptions, as well. Also, I love to give kids cookie cutters, so they will have their own set when they leave home. You can give a roll of refrigerator dough, icing, and sprinkles, too!


hannahmatrimony November 29, 2012 at 5:10 am

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Trisha @ Inspiration Laboratories November 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

This is the best gift giving advice I’ve read. :)


Krystle November 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm

We love doing theme gifts- my favorite is toy + water color book set or article of clothing. I think my favorite gifts to give though, are things that my daughter loves! I already know they are a hit, and it can be helpful to other parents because they may not have thought about it or thought their kid was ready yet. We’ve received tons of gifts that I think, “is she really old enough for this??” and it turns out to be something she totally takes to.
We’ve also decided to skip getting birthday cards, and spend the extra $5 on the gift. Amazingly enough, gift bags come with tags on them! LOL!


RKBC November 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm

I like to give useful gifts. Here are my faves. You absolutely cannot go wrong with:
a.) Hanna Andersson pajamas (shop the sales)
b.) Personalized plates from Sarah and Abraham
c.) Hooded towels/beach towels from Pottery Barn kids (personalized if it’s a really close friend)

And yes, art supplies are always a winner!


A Day in May Design December 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm

These are all really fantastic ideas. I especially like the idea of giving older kids an experience instead of something in a box – creating long-lasting memories is a great way to go!


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Bright Light Pillow December 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm

All these ideas seem like a safe bet when you don’t know the kids that well. Thanks for sharing.


Marnie January 5, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Wonderful, Kim. Thank you for this post! :-)


CassandraMarie February 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm

As a kid, some of the best gifts I’ve gotten were similar to those listed. One year, I wanted a detective themed party (mainly because I’d browsed the family fun magazine, and it looked awesome– I didn’t have a big detective fixation). One of the moms put together a detective kit with a magnifying glass, and “fingerprint dust” and a stamp pad and grid for fingerprints, files, and other detective type goodies. It was great for imaginative play. I also loved getting the pre-boxed jewelry or other craft kits– I was very artistic, and was thrilled to have new supplies to make new things.

As an adult, one of the best kids gifts I’ve given was for a family that really didn’t want toys with a billion parts since her kids already had a hard time keeping track of things. The little girl was going to be three, so we got her a chef dress up set with a girly apron and matching chef’s hat, miniature pot holders, and one or two plastic spatulas. According to her mother, she wears it EVERY time she cooks, to this day (and it’s been a year).


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