Christmas Gift Guide: What My Kids Actually Play With

First off, let me address the elephant in the blog-o-sphere. This post’s title ends with a preposition. Ew. Slap me on my English-major wrist.

Moving on.

Before I had kids, buying a present for someone else’s kid was intimidating. Do I go by the age recommendation on the box? Is the little girl a pink/princess-loving girl? Or would she hate all things sparkly and want an action figure? Do all little boys like sports? (answer: no). Am I going to be the terrible, out-of-touch person giving the awful toy that makes the kid cry?

OK, maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Now, George is only (almost) 3, so I can’t really speak for older kids. However, if you have kids or grandkids on the youngish side of the spectrum, I think I can offer a few pointers. For Olivia, she’s pretty content chewing on the packaging. I can’t remember exactly, but I feel like George was past the “shove everything into my mouth” stage by his first birthday. I’m very much looking forward to that milestone for sweet Olivia.

And so, here’s a list of sure-fire hits (in my experience) for the 3ish-and-under set. I mostly prize toys that 1.) entertain my children independently (as in, Mama isn’t needed to be hands-on), 2.) don’t annoy the crap out of the parents, and 3.) have return power. If it’s going to take up valuable house space, it needs to earn its keep.


trioFisher-Price Classic Infant Trio Gift Set

George received this for his first Christmas (he was about a month old). While he didn’t haul his little newborn body over and start sorting shapes, I was amazed at how long these three toys held their appeal over the next two years. My husband and I both mastered “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the xylophone, and I tackled “Do Re Mi,” because, obviously, I’m a musical prodigy. I did make the semi-mistake of cutting the rope attaching the mallet to the xylophone because it was difficult to maneuver. We now have a weapon floating around, but it hasn’t caused too much damage. Now, Olivia is taking her turn with these toys. Can’t beat the classics!

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Baby George spent many moments mesmerized by his flashing turtle. (FYI–that’s a mirror. I did NOT have twins!)

Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Ocean Orchestra Musical Toy

My brilliant mother-in-law gave George this turtle very early on. It’s Baby Einstein brand so, of course, it’s nurturing to young minds as they grow into prodigies. My favorite part? It plays classical music. It doesn’t play “Old MacDonald” or some other brain-stabbing kid song ad nauseam. And for that, Baby Einstein brand, I am grateful. As the song plays, each button lights up whenever the corresponding instrument plays. The child can turn off the drum button, and every other instrument keeps playing. To be honest, the Hubs and I have both spent time “conducting” music.

pianoFisher-Price Kick and Play Piano

I have the best kitchen island ever, as it was built by a beloved family member (hi, Uncle Benny! I have the feeling when you offered to build me “something,” you meant a magazine rack, but I appreciate the much larger, much more complicated result!). It has a bottom shelf (rack?”””””’) with wooden slats. These slats allow for tiny, battery-powered pianos to be secured to Mama’s culinary workspace. I may have accidentally dropped a few chopped onions on toddlers’ heads… It’s the perfect place for this piano to be accessed by a wandering youngin’. This toy also plays non-traditional kid songs, which croon sweetly into Mama’s ears. The only downside? The cover isn’t removable, so it’s gotten pretty raunchy and stain-covered.

61OQ6-G33PL._SL1000_LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

This ABC set lives on the refrigerators of every toddler family I know. I didn’t cave for a long time since George had alphabet puzzles (and magnet letters) and picked up the alphabet at an early age. However, when I deduced he could use a new toy to occupy his free time (i.e. give Mama time away from occupying his free time), I thought it might be worth the buy. As it turns out, he dragged a stool over and sat in front of our dishwasher (our fridge isn’t magnetized on the front) for days. Olivia also enjoys pulling the letters off and tasting phonics. Bonus? You get to hear “The Wheels on the Bus” on repeat! Whoo!

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Olivia crawled over to show her chair some love while I was writing this post. Kismet!

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Chair

Is this post starting to feel like a Fisher-Price ad to anyone else? Sorry about that. In our house, we tolerate Fisher-Price and Baby Einstein voice acting and song choices, barely tolerate Leap Frog, and despise VTech. VTech must hate parents, but somehow discovered the key to annoying toys kids love. It’s a conspiracy of the worst kind.

George received this chair for his first birthday from a friend of mine (Hi, Liana!). To be honest, I’d never seen it before and didn’t have the highest of hopes that it would keep his attention. Well, I’m apparently a dumb-dumb with little to no child-toy relationship awareness, because this thing has been worth its weight in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It has three different levels. The first teaches numbers, shapes, and colors. The second teaches…something more complicated…and the third encourages imagination play. Both of my kiddos have spent hours sitting on, standing on, and playing with this chair. Basically, I love how little kids like to sit in it like they’re beer-gutted men watching a football game. You’re welcome for that imagery.

61nq0qk8lbl-_sl1500_.jpgFisher-Price Bright Beats Dance & Move BeatBo

Uh, I really didn’t make this list with Fisher-Price in mind, y’all. Maybe consider buying stock, because they apparently have a lock on the toy market? Maybe all of these toys emit some kind of high-pitched noise that only babies can hear and appreciate.

This toy was a no-brainer for last year’s Christmas list. It was on the top of, like, every list a few years ago. BeatBo dances, has a light-up, rainbow belly, and lets kids record their voices. This has inspired more dance parties in our house than anything else. Even Olivia understands the concept of recording her voice, which is just precious. We have BeatBo, but there’s now a whole family: BeatBo, BeatBelle, and BeatBowWow.

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The clearest picture I could get of (pantsless, ahem) George the day he got his trampoline.

Little Tykes 3-Foot Trampoline

Take this suggestion with a grain of salt. We bought this for George last Christmas, right after he turned 2. He’s not one of those wild, “all-boy” kind of boys, so he hasn’t broken his arm or catapulted his sister across the room with this thing (yet. Can Christians knock on wood?).

I love this thing because it’s a way for him to bounce his toddler energy out while in the A/C (Florida is abysmal in the summer). It has a handle (Olivia chewed a chunk out of the rubber covering), so that helps littles stay steady. It also doesn’t have metal springs, so I worry less about pinched fingers. It does take up valuable floor space, but since both kids climb all over it (or under it, in Olivia’s case), I’ve come to respect its utility.


Here are a few more generic gifts that are easy hits for my kids:

  1. Bubbles
  2. Sidewalk chalk
  3. Jack in the Box
  4. Ball (Don’t buy foam if younger siblings with teeth like to chew)
  5. Cardboard box
  6. Wooden blocks
  7. Stickers (for putting on clothes, furniture, floor, pets, little sisters)
  8. Rolls of toilet paper or tissue boxes (for small children who like to make a mess)
  9. Art supplies (washable paint, coloring books, crayons, etc.)
  10. Books (obviously. More on this in a future post!)

Got any tried-and-true kid gifts to share? Any thoughts on what to give kids who are older than 3? Mama could use some advice in the coming days!

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