Buying gifts for children can be fun – the choice is endless and everything looks so cute! What can be tricky though is finding gifts that will be used more than once, and that can stand the test of time (and toddler usage!).
Here, we bring you our gift guide for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. All of our suggestions have been tried and tested by our own children!
1. Push-along trolley with blocks
Given to us before our eldest was even born, this has served us well over the last 2+ years. We are big fans of toys with multiple uses and this is a perfect example. It has been used as an aid for early walking, a shopping trolley, a pushchair for teddies and dolls, a ride-on… and that’s just the trolley. The blocks have been used to spell names, for a pregnancy announcement, for building towers and knocking them over, for chewing on… the list goes on! There are lots of different ones out there to suit all budgets.
This is a gift that can be used from newborn right up to preschoolers and beyond! The can be used as part of a sensory box for babies – think tickling those baby hands! Then from 6 months onwards, they are great as part of a treasure basket, once they are sitting up and grabbing. Then from age one, water painting is a safe way to get children mark-making without the worry of them eating the paint! Let them paint the outside of the house or paving stones with a larger brush – our biggest girl loves doing this! We love painting here – we do it nearly every day and it is so good for developing those mark-making skills.
3. Stacking Cups
These little things have been in our toy box since our eldest was about a month old and they have so many uses: stack them up and knock them over (great for tracking in young babies); use them in the bath to sprinkle water, practise pouring and filling, rinsing shampoo off little heads; use them for colour-sorting; emergency glue pots; bang them together to make music; have a tea party… there are many more things you could use them for! These were from Ikea and cost just £2.
4. Play Tents
What we love most about tents is that they have so many different possibilities – they come in all shapes, sizes and styles and can be used from birth to 3 and beyond. It could be a sensory tent with twinkly lights for babies or a musical tent where you play and listen to different instruments! Ours is currently a quiet spot for stories with teddies but we’ve had tea parties in it and used it in role play activities, where it has become a house or a shop. The price range of these things vary massively but you can pick one up fairly cheaply or, if you are feeling creative, there are lots of guides online on how to make one if you have the skills!
5. Magnetic Drawing Board
These are something that can be picked up and put down, as we all know children love to flit between toys. They are brilliant for anything from early mark-making to sketching. The beauty of them is that they can be wiped clean and used again and again. Great portable toys, which can be used in the car, on holiday, sat on the potty, or wherever takes your little one’s fancy! Water-based ones are just as good too.
6. Toy Tills
We have had ours for a couple of years now and it’s definitely a toy that gets used again and again. We’ve had ours in a cafe, a shop, a hairdressers, a train station – the list goes on! Using the till during role play is a fantastic way to introduce number to your little ones. Keep it simple and use it on its own with some food and shopping bags for young toddlers or extend it for older children and use it alongside paper and a pen or some coins. You can pick one up fairly cheap – ours is from Ikea but Grandma got an amazing one in a charity shop!
Books are always a good buy in our house. We have lots from charity shops but love receiving them as gifts, as that makes them extra specially. More specifically though, we’re talking about ‘touchy-feely’ books. It wasn’t until we had them all piled up that we realised ours are all Usborne Books. There are lots of others available but speaking from experience, our children love these. From early on, babies love the bold colours and clear definition; when they’re a bit older, they love to feel the different textures and materials; and even older, there’s lots to talk about and new words to learn.
8. Toy Animals
We know these can be expensive to buy new. We have been very lucky to have been given a lot by our neighbour but we have also picked up a few from charity shops – we can’t walk past one without taking a look! We use our animals daily. We’ve had them in the bath, the paddling pool, small world activities, frozen in ice, in the bottom of our bag for emergency bored toddler/baby situations! Great for sorting, ordering, role play, animal songs, family groupings, even different countries with older children – so many uses! It’s worth investing in a few and then adding to your collection through eBay/charity shops.
9. Stacking Rings
We’ve had these since our eldest was born. It would be easy to dismiss this as something that looks cute on a shelf, but we’ve loved it from day one. Young babies love the colours, as they grow older, they’ll delight in banging the parts together, using them as teethers and piling them up to knock over; even older, they’ll be able to develop their physical skills in putting the rings onto the pole, and they can develop their vocabulary relating to colour, shape, size. This really mustn’t be underestimated, it’s great!
10. Tea Sets
We don’t think we have a full set – we have bits and pieces from different sets that we have bought or been passed down by family, but it doesn’t matter – we love them! From when your baby can sit, a tea set is a great gift. It doesn’t need to be wooden and pretty. In fact, plastic is best, as you can chuck them in the bath or paddling pool! Our girls love playing in water and whenever we’ve added a teapot and some cups into the mix, they will happily play for ages. We’ve even used them with rice for a messy tea party! Great for role play and teddy bears’ picnics! You could use your tea set with coloured water or even real teabags to further engage your little one.
Whether you buy it or make it, the stuff is so versatile! Use it to develop the muscles in your little ones’ hands ready for writing. You can make buns; create funny faces; cut shapes; talk about size, shape, number, colour; even start to make intricate models of your favourite animals; use tools to change the texture and practise cutting; make imprints of toys and create a matching puzzle; use it as connecting material to build towers with straws; add crafty bit like pipe cleaners, googly eyes, buttons, feathers to develop those fine motor skills even further… the possibilities are endless and if you get a good collection going with lots of different colours, you can use it for any theme you fancy.
12. Wheeled Vehicles
A fantastic gift from when your child is sitting, right up until primary school age and beyond. These can be used on a play mat like ours or you could draw a road on large paper or washi tape on tiled/wooden floors. Great for small world activities, or dip the wheels in paint to make tracks on paper. We usually have a couple at the bottom of our bag to entertain the girls whilst we’re out. Great for estimating with older ones, using questions like ‘Which vehicle do you think will go the furthest? And why?’ Also fantastic for learning about forces when your child is a little older. The movements little ones make when playing with wheeled vehicles is really great for developing muscles that will help when it comes to writing further down the line. We’ve bought our wheeled vehicles from eBay, Aldi, some have been gifts and some from charity shops. An affordable gift that can be used for many years!
13. Building Blocks
We have a combination of Duplo, Megablocks and wooden blocks. They can be built into towers, houses, castle, shops; stacked up and knocked over; repurposed as food in the play kitchen; used to develop language about colours, numbers and shapes… so many possibilities. EJ was given her first set of Duplo at age 15 months when her little sister was born and after some practise, she mastered clicking them together, which she found really satisfying. After being given some sets as gifts, we bought some bundles on eBay and scoured the charity shops to build up a great collection.
14. Musical Instruments
A great gift from newborn upwards! Ring a bell or tap a triangle for tiny babies and watch them try to follow the sound. Once your little one is sitting up, bang a drum along to their favourite nursery rhymes, teaching them sounds and the meaning of words as you do! As your child grows, allow them to hit/bang/shake along to music and begin to develop a sense of rhythm. Most children love music so by giving them something to make their own with, you are on to a winner! Our instruments have been gifts or from charity shops. You can quite easily make your own instruments using things from around the house, you don’t need to spend a penny!
These are fantastic for role play – they give children the opportunity to act like Mummy and Daddy and learn really important lessons in looking after other human beings. They can give them a wash, dress them (developing those fine motor skills again!), feed them, give them kisses and cuddles, put them to bed… in doing this, they’re learning that it’s not just them in the universe and sometimes we need to think about others too! EJ was given her first one at 15 months (Christmas last year) and since then has gone through phases of ignoring them and being obsessed. We’re currently in the latter phase! The little one has started getting interested too at 11.5 months.
16. Sensory Scarves
A great gift from newborn upwards! We’ve played peekaboo with our babies and our nearly 3 year old still plays with them today. We use them as headscarves for pirates or for colour-sorting mats now. These are lovely for sensory play for babies – put them over their faces and the world changes colour! Hide toys underneath for slightly older babies or put them in an old tissue box and let them pull them out. A great multi-use gift that will keep being pulled out of the toy box again and again. Ours are from Amazon but if you’re feeling creative, you could make some of your own using different materials.
17. Fancy Dress Clothes
These are fantastic for encouraging role play and helping children to become more independent in dressing themselves. You don’t need to buy expensive branded fancy clothes either – a big selection of hats, bags, sunglasses, furs and fabrics is plenty to get you started!
18. Water Play Toys
You can start collecting these from when your little one arrives and we can guarantee they will still get use out of them years down the line! The types of toys we’re talking about are watering cans, buckets, spray bottles, pipettes, syringes, jugs… You can begin by playing in the bath with your little ones. They are such a great way to get them to enjoy the water. Watering cans are obviously great for getting them out in the garden, looking after the plants, once they are up and walking, but also encouraging them to let you put water on their head! Most children love playing with water and they don’t care where they do it. If you don’t have a garden, let them play in the bath or at the sink. If you do have some outside space, get outside and let them play! A few simple water toys can really enhance their experience and the learning opportunities are literally endless!
You can never have too many in our eyes – start collecting from newborn and they will get used again and again. They’re great for developing eye tracking in young babies during tummy time – turn the lights off and roll some light-up balls around in front of them. Older babies love holding them and carrying them around, there are lots of textured balls and ones that make a noise when you shake them, or try clear ones with things inside. As children get older, they love practising throwing and catching and big, brightly-coloured footballs and rugby balls are perfect for this. All this play encourages gross motor skill development and hand-eye coordination, as well as cooperation and turn-taking.
Our two year olds can’t get enough of them and will do the same ones over and over. TK Maxx has some really great ones at reasonable prices, we have also borrowed some from grandparents and got some really good ones from charity shops. They are great! They come in a box to store them in, don’t require batteries, requires a bit of quiet time and fantastic for putting in the back of the car if you are going away. They are also so good for their development – developing hand-eye coordination, attention, concentration and thinking skills, such as matching and problem-solving and they’re brilliant for their fine motor skills. Puzzles can also help to develop language, as children begin to follow instructions when supported by an adult. One of the first things EI says when the baby is napping is ‘Shall we do a puzzle Mummy?’ – great for giving little ones some screen-free time.
21. Trikes, Bikes and Scooters
We have a lot of love for our wooden trike – it was given to EJ for her first birthday and has been a permanent fixture in our living room ever since. They are great for developing children’s physical skills – climbing on and off, moving their legs in tandem, steering, climbing on to reach things (!), developing friendships through sharing and turn-taking… as children become more confident, they can start to develop different physical skills when using a scooter or balance bike – all great practise for riding a push bike in future! These things last for years and through lots of children so are great for gifts that last.
22. Craft Materials
As you can see from lots of our activities, craft materials are always good to have to hand when the weather is rubbish. We tend to use a mixture of recycled bits and pieces and things we pick up in pound shops and Home Bargains! Best not to have too much of an agenda with young children and just let them go for it! If someone asks us what the girls would like for a birthday or Christmas, we usually say craft materials! They’re not too expensive and we know they’ll get used! Great for developing artistic skills, obviously fantastic for fine motor skills and just a lovely peaceful activity where they get to explore colour, texture, shape…
23. Play Kitchens
These are so great for role play, as young children love to copy adults and learn so much from watching us. These kitchens give them the opportunity to practise setting up for tea, making drinks, washing their hands, cooking food, running a cafe, feeding their babies, cutting food… the list goes on! What’s great too is that there are kitchens available to suit everyone’s budget.
24. Mark-Making Materials
We’re talking pencils, pens, crayons, chalk… basically anything your child can make marks with! We make marks every single day and have done since our eldest was about 11 months old. Let them scribble, let them use your grown-up pens, let them draw on receipts, on chalk boards, on the ground outside, in the bath! Just let them go for it!