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We all know the annual drill: Your kid writes a wish list of the presents she just HAS to receive this holiday season. It’s 101 lines long and includes everything she’s spotted at the toy store all year (plus all the items her, ahem, spoiled friend received for her birthday last month). Sure, maybe one or two of those items will find their way into your home, but chances are you want to avoid caving into her desire for one more jewelry-making kit, the full-size drum kit, or the Elsa costume you’ve been resisting for years now. Instead, you want to choose something more unique. Or less loud. Or something more creative. The gifts in this guide will fit all those requirements. There are challenging mind-benders for your favorite game fanatic, make-it-yourself craft kits for budding artists, beautiful sweets for your sweetie, enchantingly illustrated paper-dolls for your costume-obsessed kid, counting blocks for little learners, and so much more. We’ve found loads of gifts that are organic or eco-friendly and made by small artisans or little-known companies. The gifts are mostly aimed at school-aged children but we haven’t forgotten toddlers, babies, and even soon-to-be babies and their parents. Most of the gifts are under $50 and there are even quite a few that are under $20. Whatever the price, each gift is something special that you won’t find at every big-box store. So forget about trying to shop from her wish list and give these picks a try instead. We guarantee smiles all around this holiday season.
Wool Felt Night Sky Mobile
Why not teach them to reach for the stars when they’re still in the crib? This sweet mobile will please parents and baby alike.
To buy: $44; rhbabyandchild.com
The next Buzz Aldrin or Mae Jemison will blast off to school thanks to this stellar backpack. This junior jetpack is a cool gift for any kid.
To buy: $50; museumstore.sfmoma.org
Yeti Tracker Snowshoe Package
Amuse your kids with these stabilizing snowshoes that leave Sasquatch-sized footprints in their wake. The quirky set also includes aluminum poles and a bag to stow away the shoes when it’s time to head inside.
To buy: $60; llbean.com
This Book Is a Planetarium
Flip between six interactive, pop-up gadgets (like a perpetual calendar and an amplifying speaker) to learn about the science behind each. Place your phone’s flashlight in the planetarium to project constellations on the ceiling.
To buy: $25; modcloth.com
Know a mom with a handbag obsession? Gift her little one this all-natural, stylish teether and get a giggle out of her mom.
To buy: $26; roseandrex.com
UncommonGoods Balloon Dog Nightlight
Bring a little bit of life—and light!—to your toddler’s bedroom with this playful nighttime accessory modeled after magician balloon animals. All it takes is a little squeeze of the hind legs to illuminate this precious pup (available in blue and green). There’s no need to worry about wasting energy—the light shuts off automatically after 30 minutes. And when it’s not in use, it still looks cute mixed in with other accents on a nightstand or bookshelf. You can even consider it as a sculptural objet to give to your (adult) Jeff Koons-loving pal.
To buy: $25; uncommongoods.com
Dove + Dovelet Titan Teether
“Chic” and “chewable” don’t often go hand in hand, but this beautifully crafted baby toy delivers on both. Made of eco-friendly maple wood and BPA-free silicone, this chunky beaded bracelet is a safe, natural teether for little ones. The sleek, Danish design—smooth spheres, subdued tones, faceted pieces—keeps it from becoming an eyesore when worn on the wrist. (On the contrary: It blends right in with baby’s boho blouse and leggings.) Available in black or white, and surprisingly simple to clean: Wash this pretty teething toy in warm, soapy water and let it air dry thoroughly.
To buy: $25; designlifekids.com
Garnet Hill Knight Cap
Imagine how easy it will be to get your stubborn little one to wear a winter hat on the way to school if it means he or she gets to “dress up” as a stately knight in shining armor? This warm, crocheted woolen hat has a fun fringe detail on top. On the bottom, a movable “shield” comes down in front to protect the face from freezing weather. Adds loads of personality to the ordinary puffy coat—and sparks imaginary play on the playground. This seller offers the hat in six styles, including a dragon version.
To buy: $48; garnethill.com
Have a child or tween obsessed with outer space? Each one of these handmade lollipops looks like a miniature planet ready to be licked away into oblivion. These candies are too far-out to be relegated to hiding inside a gift box. Tuck one under the ribbons on each of her gifts or stick a few in her Christmas stocking. Each set includes the sun and nine planets (yes, Pluto is once again a planet in this set). Each different planetary body comes in its own gourmet flavor—marshmallow for the sun, cotton candy for Earth, and key lime for Jupiter.
To buy: $30; uncommongoods.com
The Mug With a Hoop
You’ve taught the good habits—napkin on the lap, please and thank you, and definitely no eating with your hands. But it’s OK to bend the rules every once in a while. So, go ahead and let them play with their food just this one time. Mini marshmallows or crisp oyster crackers become the ball in a pool of hot chocolate or in a warm bowl of tomato soup. Give one to every kid in the family—they will love a little friendly competition over bacon and eggs to see who can rack up the most points.
To buy: $25; uncommongoods.com
In2Green Eco Baby Hat & Sock Set
As much as you love to kiss those little baby toes, now is the time of year to keep them snug and warm. These recycled cotton-polyester blend socks and coordinating hat sets are a cute and eco-friendly way to keep baby warm. The hats are made to fit newborns and up to six months old, but the socks will fit up to 18 months of age. The stretchy socks are great for year-round use, and the hats will keep baby cozy through spring. The sets come in seven machine-washable stripe and color options.
To buy: $25; in2green.com
Pottery Barn Kids Play Sushi Set
For all future Master Chef wannabes, an international play kitchen is a must. You can’t just produce a masterfully made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich or jelly bean-covered cake and expect to take top prize. Pshaw! For those who want to play sushi chef, imitate mom and dad, win future TV cooking shows, or just work on their motor skills, this realistic-looking BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free play set includes three soft and pliable pieces of sushi (two fish and one egg), one roll, a flexible bamboo mat, blunt wood “knife,” and a wood chopping board. Bring on the chopsticks!
To buy: $29; pbkids.com
Kiwi Crate Pinball Machine
This is a great non-electronic gift for mini gamers. The limited edition craft crate has everything your child needs to build a manual pinball machine. She will learn about angles, momentum, and patterns while she builds a fun game, and once it’s built she can continue to shift the parts around for endless variations. Since she has the ability to change around the parts, your child can also make the game easier or create more challenging courses to stump an older sibling (or mom and dad). This kit is best for children between five and eight years old.
To buy: $25; kiwico.com
DIY Excavator Toy
This set of 144 pieces lets your kid construct a cardboard replica of the monstrous machinery for display or for play. Add some flair by coloring in the parts.
To buy: $25; worldmarket.com
Organic Whale Baby Gown
New parents on your list? Or maybe you’re shopping for a first Christmas gift suitable for your own bundle of joy? This supersoft, 100 percent cotton and certified organic onesie, which is handmade in Peru, will make a real splash. Two buttons on the collar not only look handsome but also provide a little breathing room when the heat is cranking. Pair the outfit with a super soft security blanket or a plush stuffed animal, so they’ll have something to hold on to even when this adorable ensemble doesn’t fit anymore. Fits infants up to six months old.
To buy: $68; ourgreenhouse.com
Flashlight, by Lizi Boyd
Does he cry when you turn out the lights and leave the room…or maybe he sneaks into your room in the middle of the night because he can’t sleep? Consider this book as a subtle way to quell his fear of the dark. The pages of this family-friendly book are filled with engaging illustrations that highlight what can be seen in the dark of night—proving that nighttime doesn’t have to be all that scary. The smart, humorous 40-page book will quickly become the go-to choice for kids and parents alike. Suitable for ages two to five.
To buy: $13; barnesandnoble.com
Giant Coloring Page
Consider this the only time parents will condone coloring on the wall. The larger-than-life coloring page (it’s about six feet long and three feet wide!) is fun when taped to the wall, laid on top of a really large table, or simply spread out on the ground. No matter where she puts it, one thing is for sure: The giant coloring page will keep her and her friends busy for hours. You might want to gift an XL box of crayons along with it. The page is available in three different designs: Original, Atlas, and Paris.
To buy: $30; perfectlysmitten.com
Wipeout Dry-Erase Helmet
Are you sick of asking your child (and then dealing with the inevitable argument that ensues) to put on her helmet before taking a ride down the driveway? For the scooter kid or the nonstop biker, this dry-erase headgear awaits custom art and is a safe zone for graffiti. Each helmet comes with five non-toxic dry-erase markers in assorted neon colors and eight stencils to get them started. The helmets, which meet industry safety regulations, are available in six colors (black, white, neon green, neon pink, neon orange, and pink) and three sizes for children ages three to 11.
To buy: $18; walmart.com
The Little Prince Onesie
Adorned with the timeless classic’s 1943 first-edition cover illustration, this pre-softened cotton bodysuit would send any kid-lit lover (and his parents) straight to cloud nine. Pair the onesie with a copy of The Little Prince (don’t forget to write a message in the inside cover!) to help the little one’s family start building his library from a very young age. It’s never too early to start fostering a love of books. And who knows? Maybe this book will become his favorite—and they’ll only have you to thank for that. Plus, each sale comes with a book donation to a needy community.
To buy: $23; amazon.com
These interactive placemats are not only fun for the kids, but they’re also a gift for parents of little ones when mealtime behavior gets a bit sketchy. Pick up one for each child—you’ll be surprised how quiet the kids’ table becomes while the mini Picassos work on their latest masterpieces. Or, wipe clean and let them start all over again. Bonus: That crisp new tablecloth will have a better shot at staying clean when there’s a barrier between their full plates and the table. Pair the gift with colored chalk, so they can get started right away.
To buy: $10; crateandbarrel.com
Junior Chef Coat
When the toy kitchen is getting lots of play, stop pretending to eat that plastic sandwich or steak dinner and turn things up a notch with this authentic getup. Give your favorite kitchen assistant a crisp white coat, then get to work creating everything from breakfast to dessert together. Your little sous chef may just start wearing it during dinner prep every single night. As a bonus for you, it’ll keep his clothes a little cleaner while you’re both hard at work on dinner. Maybe you can even persuade your little one to do the dishes later!
To buy: $16; amazon.com