When a present meets your child’s present—that is, where he or she is right now developmentally—the happy factor goes way up. For kids ages 5 to 12, these ideas will send you in the right direction:
1. Give the spark of a potential lifelong passion.
This is a prime age for a gift that builds on kids’ widening interests—or ignites a new fascination.
WHY IT’S GREAT: School-agers are curious and open to new ideas. And when something whets their interest, they like to go deep. They’re also developing a sense of who they are and how they see themselves.
What might spark now:
- A musical instrument. Guitars, keyboards, and drums (if you can bear it) top kids’ wish lists.
- Coding kick-offs. Two to try: Dash and Dot and Puzzlets.
- A weather station. My First Weather Station is a popular simple beginner model for budding meteorologists.
- A chess set. This is a great age to learn, and a special set might excite interest—like, say, this Star Wars version.
2. Give a sense of accomplishment.
All school-agers are natural “makers.” Consider gifts centered on making, building, tinkering, crafting, and creating.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Fantasy play doesn’t end in the preschool years. It progresses into highly creative activities where imaginations soar. On top of that, making things gives kids a deep sense of accomplishment and confidence as they acquire new skills.
Gifts like these fill that need perfectly:
- Forts and playhouses—that you build together. If you’re handy—or are up for learning as you go—giving the materials and plans for a project like this adds up to great together time while you build, followed by hours of kid fun and personal pride.
- Big-kid blocks. A 5-year-old or a 12-year-old can both glom onto maple Keva planks or colorful Magna-Tiles—and keep adding more, just as with the more familiar Legos. (Keva, for example, makes open-ended sets for “Contraptions,” “Structures,” a “Catapult,” and more.)
- Stories made real. Go beyond a simple pad of paper. Crayola’s Story By Me Hardcover book-making kit and Easy Animation Studio bring kid-authored tales to life.
3. Give something to read.
How about we all take a vow to include a book or two at every gift-giving opportunity?
WHY: Kids love to be read to long after they learn how—in fact, when they listen, they’re able to learn the words and concepts of books above their reading level. And the more kids read for pleasure on their own, the higher their reading scores and, surprisingly, math scores.
- A series to read aloud together. Time to shift into epic blockbusters you’ll both look forward to night after night. Some suggestions: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House set, or The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. And the perfect kick-off to a Harry Potter read-a-thon is the new, full-color illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
- Books about their current obsessions. It matters less what kids read than that they read something. Think about what yours loves outside of books—and you can probably find it in book form, too. Three examples:
- Humor. The best part about the drolly hilarious quiz format of Delia Ephron’s Do I Have to Say Hello?—an updated reissue of an old classic—is that, without actually giving any answers (they’re clear from the context), kids learn a thing or two about manners.
4. Give something that burns off energy.
Kids can’t ever have enough sporting equipment. They grow, old stuff breaks, and there are endless new activities to try. Hoverboards are having a moment, but they’re pricey and aimed at older kids. Maybe better: a kick scooter or a mountain bike. Or think outside the sporting goods store and give a class in a new-to-your-kid activity, like dance, racquetball, yoga, or martial arts (along with his or her first karate uniform and belt).
WHY IT’S GREAT: The more incentives we can give our kids to run around, the better for their hearts, growing muscles, brains, and ability to sleep well at night.
5. Give an amazing future experience.
Seed a special fund now that’s earmarked for something truly special a few years down the road, when your child hits a milestone year, like 16 or 18. Maybe it’s a trip to a special destination your child has only read about, like the jungle, space camp, the Galápagos Islands, Harry Potter’s United Kingdom, or Anne of Green Gables’ Prince Edward Island. Or a place of your child’s choosing. Add to it every year along with a small gift that relates. And then make it a bit more real each year. Post a map in your child’s bedroom, and use pins to show the potential destinations.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Two words: compound interest (both financial and excitement-wise). Feel free to assure grandparents it’s the no-shopping, no-packing, environmentally friendly gift that will add up to the best single present a child could ever get.