The Advice Smackdown Holiday Preschooler Gift Guide
You know what? Shopping for a preschool-aged child is easier than shopping for a baby. Because babies are ANNOYING. They are UNIMPRESSED with everything. With toys, books, probably even YOU. Every person who has dangled an expensive European rattle in front of a disinterested three-month-old knows what I’m talking about.
Once kids get a little older, it gets more interesting. They LIKE toys. They LIKE holidays and birthdays and are at least a teensy bit more likely to be equally as excited about the actual gift as the box and packaging. I mean, maybe. It’s still a crapshoot.
Much like this gift guide, which is again, little more than a humbling offering of my particular species of preschooler’s favorite toys and books. Your mileage is more than likely to vary. But if you’re desperately looking for some road-tested, three-year-old-and-up approved toys beyond the land of princesses and Thomas, read on.
Handmade Kenyan Galimoto, $9, Ten Thousand Villages
Over the summer we attended a local neighborhood festival, and Ten Thousand Villages was selling these delightfully simple toys for all of six bucks. We bought Noah one and watched as every other child within a mile radius proceeded to LOSE their EVER-LOVING MINDS over the little pedaling man. Within 10 minutes, there was a veritable army of brightly-colored galimotos running rampant around the town square and the store’s stock was completely sold out. Seriously, lightning in a bottle. Or, in this case, on a wire, I’ve since bought one for every child I know, ages two to eight, or so.
Transforming Wall-E, Amazon
I know WALL-E is practically a dinosaur in a world of movie tie-ins, but I’ve got one of those kids who is ALWAYS obsessed with things that no longer have any merchandise available in stores. (The Incredibles, anyone?) I’m generally a little leery of licensed character toys, simply because so many of them are so poorly made and inspire so little imagination. But Noah was so in love with Wall-E last Christmas that I shrugged and bought him this toy, assuming it would likely be in a dozen pieces by the end of the day. Wouldn’t you know, Wall-E is STILL intact and STILL a totally delightful toy, nearly a full year later. He collapses into a cube and pops back out, and well-designed enough to take quite a thrashing, with his arms and various parts capable of being reinserted once they’ve been — ahem — overloved and/or yanked out. Almost as if it was designed to be a TOY and PLAYED WITH instead of a collectors’ item. Also: no batteries or electronics give it a nice, semi-ironic touch for a robot toy.
FLARP, $2 or less, Amazon, Dollar Stores, Target, etc.
Looking to be The Coolest Aunt Ever this year? Need a totally non-educational, pointless stocking stuffer that’s still bound to be a ridiculous hit? Flarp, you guys. My sister has sent Noah containers of Flarp from across the country on a regular basis now and I swear, he now says “THANK YOU AUNTIE COLLEEN FOR DA FLARP” to a photo on my dresser pretty much every day. Yeah, it’s squishy and and sticky and gross and makes flatulence noises. WHICH MEANS IT IS AWESOME. It’s got a pretty short life, so buy a few jars — we toss it after about a day thanks to its tendency to pick up pet hair and floor lint like crazy — and be sure to include instructions on how to get it out of carpet. (DON’T let it dry out, but pick as much up as you can while it’s still sticky, then blot the rest with a cotton ball dipped in white vinegar.) But heh, this crap is the epitome of childhood. Plus fart sounds. So. Heh.
Mini Kick Scooter, $75, Amazon
Okay, so it’s a little more than our $6 wire-bike-man, but easily inspires similar Pied Piper reactions from children and other parents. This is just a great, GREAT scooter for little kids, with sturdy, easy steering and a nice solid, stable feel to it. My only quibble is that the back brake is definitely too difficult for kids in the younger age range to use, but that’s a pretty minor issue when you’re talking about a two-inches-off-the-ground kick scooter. (Although…don’t let it fool you. Noah can pick up a pretty decent amount of speed on this thing, so BUY A HELMET as a companion gift.) Available in orange, blue, pink and aqua.
PlanToys Eco Home, Amazon
So Noah wanted a dollhouse for his birthday. We had three potentials with this request: 1) GENDER NEUTRAL NON-BARBIE DREAMHOUSE, 2) I never really know whether Noah is actually asking for what he is asking for, or if he’s confused and really talking about, like, a book about a homeless doll, or something, 3) a need for it to NOT CLOSE, because Noah has a quirk about things being closed, as we learned with his Melissa & Doug Fold and Go Mini Castle, which he will NOT OPEN but insists on playing with through a small downstairs window. Plan Toys makes a number of dollhouses that fit the gender-neutral, open-floorplan requirement, so we opted for one of their smallest models just in case it was one of those things he lost interest in five minutes later. He loves it, and is now asking for a bigger model for Christmas so he can create a town. And we’ll probably buy it for him. Because WE ARE SUCKERS.
SCHOOL BUSES OMG OMG OMG, various prices, various everything.
We have a Little People bus. A Duplo bus. A metal die cast bus. A wooden bus. A remote-controlled bus. And yet, whenever people ask us what they should get Noah as a gift, we can only say MOAR SCHOOL BUSES OMG. He loves them all so much.
BOOKS OMG OMG OMG, various prices, various everything
Noah’s favorite books of 2009, in no particular order: Anything by Mo Willems (Knuffle Bunny Too and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, especially), anything by Ezra Jack Keats, anything involving Olivia (Ian Falconer), The Polar Express, Make Way for Ducklings, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
(And now, as promised, a couple toys that I must caution you against. Not so much because Noah doesn’t love them — I mean, he loves them. He loves MEASURING SPOONS. — I don’t love them. In fact, I hate them. HAAAAATE.)
Yo Gabba Gabba! Boom Box
Yeah, so Yo Gabba Gabba is one of those shows that CAN be super annoying, and then it kind of grows on you. And then you love it, in all its hopped up hipster glory. Be warned: THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN WITH THIS TOY. It is, without a doubt, the most annoying and obnoxious toy we have ever owned, and that is saying a lot. First we had to institute rules about what HOURS of the day Noah was allowed to play with it (not before 8 am and/or Mommy Had Her Coffee, plus baby brother naptime), and then eventually it happened to magically disappear one night and I don’t know what happened to it and that’s a lie and I’M SORRY NOAH, IT WAS REALLY, REALLY AWFUL AND DROVE ME TO DRINK.
The Polar Express Presented in 3-D
Look, I don’t much care for this movie to begin with. I think the animation is bizarre and uncanny and all the children are creepy and what the HELL is up with the ghost hobo on top of the train? But anyway. Noah loves it. It’s TRAINS + SANTA + TELEVISION. That’s enough for him. However, I completely draw the line at the 3D version of our DVD, which I watched once for 10 minutes before whipping the glasses off the first time one of those creepy dead-eyed children appeared onscreen, because NO LIE, it was worse than freaking Samara coming out of the TV at the end of The Ring, oh my lands.