Gift Ideas for Preschoolers

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Good gift ideas for 4.5 and 2 year old boys

Nov 2010

In this world of too much stuff, I want to give only one Christmas gift to each of my grandsons. I'm looking for suggestions of interesting gifts that they would enjoy. Miles will be 5 in January, and Bradley will be 2 in March. They live in Colorado, if that makes a difference. I could spend up to $75 on each. Thanks! Jennie

Your budget is HUGE for that age group: For the soon-to-be 5 year old: (get more than one set). My kids LOVE these.
Also, legos, Playmobil sets, a marble run, and the game, Hyperdash.
Toddler/kid trampoline (we had one with music that our kids loved).
Scooters. For the toddler, a three-wheeled scooter is great. The older one could get a razor.
A ball tent
Anything pirate, knights and castles, or Star Wars.
Tangoes Jr.

I'd steer clear of video games or even hand held ones for this age group. Even the Leapster games. Give them things to build, knock down, hit, jump on, etc. anonamon

Hi - as the mom of 3 boys (albeit older now) I have a few ideas for you - although as always checking with the parents first is a good idea. Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks. My boys played with this for years. It is not cheap but can be added to and there are very charming stories too. So you could get them a joint gift of a starter set and some books. (This has lots of other ''Thomas stuff'' but we just didn't buy it.) Wooden blocks are also good for hours of fun, Kapla blocks are great; they are all one size but can be stacked in endless ways.

Another things my boys loved were ''I Spy'' books. These big but slender books have photographs of zillions of objects and the goal is to find the ones listed at the bottom. Hours and hours were spent with these. 3 boy mom

Fat Brain Toys Twig Building Block Set would be great for the 4.5 y.o. but the 2. y.o. could play with it too. The peices are big and stable enough for small hands, with so many possible combinations. There are many different ways to play with this set, which is very architectural and colorful. When we leave our set on the coffee table we find adults can't resist it either. The results are surprisingly beautiful.

If you want to go the more conventional route, the 2 y.o. will probably love Thomas the Train set, and the 4.5 y.o. will probably love a superhero theme gift. mama of boys

Snow play toys? Sleds? shovels? sliding disk? Good books always, always. Trucks. Building blocks. Legos. Brain Quest, if mom and dad have time to work with them on it (Q's and A's that are fun to answer, almost like a puzzle, but they can't do it themselves till they read-- and they are age-specific)

HIGHLY recommend the cardboard ''bricks'' for endless play. They come in all sizes (buy alot of the largest size) and can be used to make walls to knock down safely, forts, castles, and whatever else you want (some sets come with specialized shapes but I prefer the basic box shapes). I've ordered them through Amazon and had them sent to my grandsons (my mom bought them for us 3 kids in the 1960's and I bought them for my own sons, so this is a third generation tried and true gift that they will play with for years). Another option are the bouncy balls that have handles - kids sit on them and jump around - they come in different sizes for different aged kids(its an outside toy though). If cooking is part of the family tradition, a toy kitchen is also a nice gift. If you want to give separate gifts, the 4.5 year old is old enough for a scooter or probably would love a selection of large dinosaur toys. For the 2 year old, I'd recommend either a toy car large enough to self-pedal OR some chunky ''first'' toy cars/trucks/airplanes that can be used for imaginative play. Of course, BOOKS are always welcome at this age - and the classics are classics for a reason! Karen H.

My mother gave subscriptions to Dr. Seuss books to my son (starting around age 1), and we LOVED them -- he was joyful every time one arrived, and insisted we read it immediately, usually many times. Now that he's 9 and reading chapter books, she sends him subscriptions to Ranger Rick and the Lego club. It's a little bit of ''stuff'', but one that gives all year long (for a grandma that lives hundreds of miles away, that's a really good thing), and one that helps to reinforce the importance of reading. The other thing she sends is a savings bond. My son knows that he is getting them, and that it's money for college -- and this really makes him happy. I love both of these kinds of things in my little house Karen

Magnatiles would be a great choice. The translucent ones are better than the opaque ones. Our kids played with them every day for at least a month, and then at least once a week after that for a year so far now. You can buy one big set (for both kids) for about $120. Check the reviews on Amazon - parents and kids really love them. Pamela

Indoor play tents (great for winter); Rody horse. We got my daughter a Rody horse when she was about 2, and at 6, she still loves it! The 4.5-year-old might be old enough for a hop ball. Berkeley parent

I have a suggestion for a gift for your older grandson. My daughter got a set of Magformers for her fourth birthday and still loves it as a 6 year old. What I find especially encouraging is that her 3 year old brother plays with them too. The magnets are completely inside the plastic frames, so there is no safety issue and the design possibilities are pretty impressive. The sets range from basic under $20 to about $75. The basic is definitely not enough, but could start a collection. magformers fan

I have two boys who are 7 and almost 4 and these have been the toys they've played w/the most over the years:

Wooden unit blocks. We have the Melissa and Doug brand, about $60 for a box. Got them when my older son was 2, and they still get these out and play w/them every week. Wooden train set--Brio or Thomas brand. Lots of options here in a variety of price ranges.

Playmobil--sets of play figures, vehicles, etc. Has small pieces so may not be appropriate yet w/the younger boy. Playmobil 1 2 3 is for younger children (under 3) and is also cool.

Legos--Duplo (the bigger ones) when they were younger, regular Legos now. Again, a variety of options in a variety of price ranges, and if kids are into Legos you can never have too many!

Kapla blocks--tho' actually Kapla is not sold in the US anymore, but there's another brand called Citiblocks which are the same. Sets range in price and again, you can never have too many.

Bruder vehicles. The fire truck and recycling truck are particularly good. And they also have some that are appropriate for younger children (like 2) and are still cool for older kids.

What I like about all of the above toys is how creatively kids can play w/them and how they can continue to play w/them (in different ways) as they get older. Also all of these toys are high quality, well made and will last. If you're local, you can find them at stores like 5 Little Monkeys in Albany or The Ark on 4th Street. toy lover

We just got our 4y-old daughter translucent ''Magna Tiles'' (Amazon or any local store has the same prices) and she adores building with them. They are not cheap and I read a lot of reviews. The translucent ones seem more fun as you can see inside the structures and I will get a bigger pack soon as we want to build more. The tiles stick together in any arrangement and while you are not able to pick up your creation, they are fun to play with at any age (even a 2y-old can do it and not get hurt). Later on this toy may help visualize geometry lessons. Great educational toy. tanja

Gifts to make my boys, 1, 3, 5, feel special

May 2009

I remember a handful of times when I was a child, my mother would get me something that made me feel like a princess -- a lacy skirt, sparkly clips, pretty shoes. I was not a girly girl, but something about those items just spoke to me. Even now, when I see something that reminds me of those things, I briefly flash back to how special I felt.

I have 3 sons (almost 1, 3, 5). What is the equivalent to do for them? I mean, I can get them presents they like, but nothing I think they are going to look back on in 30 years and think of how special these things made them feel. Thoughts? Ideas? Anon

My husband very fondly remembers being taken out of school by his dashing mom who would appear at the classroom door in her ski clothes on random winter days and unapologetically wisk him off to the slopes for the afternoon. He also says that travel to special places made him feel great. Maybe with boys it's more what you do than what you give... clueless mama and wife

What a sweet question! I know just what you mean. My son is 8 now, but I recall a couple of gifts I have given him that really stood out. For the 1-y-o, it's a little young for a memorable gift. But a toy Bertie the Bus was the thing. At 3, my son was really into heroes. I made him a purple velvet cape, which he wore for about a year (and boy didn't I feel special walking with my own super hero!). At 5, my husband gave our son a few real tools--a hammer and a screw driver--sized for small hands, and his own small tool box to keep them in. Along with it came lots of attention, and the knowledge that he was growing up. Also, for safety's sake, the tool box was kept with dad's and only gotten out when dad was around. me

I have two boys and I have found that ''events'' as gifts can really be special for boys. A special outing with just mom, one on one, to something like a play, amusement park, train ride to a nearby city for lunch, camping trip, doesn't even need to be something fancy or expensive to be a wonderful experience. Then chose a special souvenir for them to remember it by.

Another thing I am doing for my boys is something I read about in a parenting magazine and thought was a really neat idea. I bought a journal for each of them after they were born. Every couple months I write in them, little notes about whatever comes to mind...memories I want to share, milestones they've reached, feelings, thoughts, etc. I will give these to them as a high school (or college?) graduation gift. Kind of like a baby book, but with a bit more narrative! Love My Boys

Not sure how you feel about this... but my boy was all about the weapons. A great big silver and be-jewelled sword was the thing for him. I refused to do toy guns, but he still talks about one vacation where my husband bought him a plastic gun at the dollar store. Oh yeah - and the giant supersoaker he got for potty-training - that was bigger than he was at the time. In fact he still loves that, and he's ten. anon

When I was a child, my father would every once in awhile wake me up and get me dressed and ready to go to school... and then he'd tell me that today was International Heather Day and we'd go off on some kind of adventure together. The most memorable for me was going to Japantown, where he took me out to a Japanese lunch and bought me the most beautiful kimono outfit, complete with the shoes! It was amazing. I also did this with my own son a few times and he loved it. We'd go to the zoo, take the ferry somewhere, or just go to a fancy restaurant (read that: Spenger's or a sushi place) have ''grown up'' lunch together. Even though we no longer are skipping school, my son comes by and picks ME up for a lunch in Napa or to go to Tilden park, just the two of us! So now it's kind of a family tradition, and is as rewarding for me now as it was for him when he was a little guy. -- Anon

How much are you spending on gifts for 3-5 year olds?

June 2007

The last advice I see on BPN about this is from 2002, so I'm looking for an update. How much are people spending for birthday party gifts for 3-5 year olds? Also, would you spend more for a gift because the party is extravagant, even if the child is not a particularly close friend? Thanks.

$10-15. Not more for extravagant parties - that's the party-planner's decision, not yours. -Am I cheap?

Hi. Being a single mom of limited income, I decided several years ago that my maximum for birthday presents is $20. Currently my kids are 3 and 10, and that price max works for both. My kids can pick one present under $20 or several that add up to $20. It's ok to go over a couple dollars (tax, etc.), but you can find plenty of very nice presents at reasonable costs. There is a kids' store on College near the BART station (name escapes me) that has great presents under $20 and will wrap for free. Also Michaels Arts & Crafts has so many wonderful things. Good luck! Natascha

I usually aim to spend about $20, maybe slightly more if it's someone we're particularly close to. I definitely don't let how much the parents are spending on the party influence what I spend. Not into the competition

Hi, You didn't say this, but I sense that you (and I) are trying very hard not to get caught up in current trends which seem to require that children have extravagant birthday parties, complete with extravagant gifts. Just like in ''the good ol' days'' I find that today's children would have more fun with a good-sized cardboard box than with a $100 toy.

When I shop for birthday gifts, unless the child is a very good friend, I limit the amount to $12. Not only is it more wallet friendly (especially in those months when we seem to have a party every weekend) but it forces me/my daughter to think creatively about the gift. I have her help me (after all, these are HER friends), and it gives me chances to teach her about how to shop for someone else, how to shop creatively/stay on a budget, and how to leave a store and be OK that she didn't get anything. If my daughter insists on an item that is over- budget, she has to kick in the difference from her allowance. You would think that would automatically cause her to go for an cheaper item, but not so. It DOES make her give more thought to her choice, but she is just a likely to go for it as to choose something else. Though my daughter is 8 now, we started introducing and building on these ideas when she was in the age range of your post (3-5).

Another thing I do is allow my daughter to decline invitations. I think that is just as important a part of a social life as how to behave at the party. Not to mention that a birthday party declined is very nice on the wallet. I hope this has been helpful and not TMI! Jen

I spend something between $6 and $12 dependent on what I would like to give, maybe a bit more if the kid is a good friend of the family (like $15-20). I personally don't care how extravagant the party is, that's up to those parents to decide, I still earn the same amount of money. Same for parents who consistently put us to shame with their gifts - it really doesn't make me any richer so I have my limits for giving to them. I know some people who are financially not well off, and who get really creative with their gifts, and I actually appreciate it better because they've put so much thought into it. I'm curious to see how I do on average :) mom of 2

$10 if it's just a party you were invited to because everyone was invited. $10 - $20 if it's someone your kid plays with regualarly (if I like the kid and the parents) $25 $35 reserved for the two very best friends of my son. Selected Giver

I don't spend more than $20 for that age. But I also find that it really doesn't matter because cheaper gifts can be just as popular as more expensive ones. My daughter was given a Mr. Potato Head toy (a plastic bucket with about 50 parts) when she turned 2 and it was (and still is) one of her faves. It was $10 at Target. A

We spend $10-$15 on children's birthday gifts- it is within our budget and allows plenty of choices with books/toys/art supplies etc. We would not spend more based on the extravagance of the party. The gifts my children have received have been within that price range as well, with the exception of some close friends who have a bigger budget and really love to gift others. We determine actual gift value by appropriateness- a gift the birthday boy or girl will enjoy based on age and personal interest. :) Sharon

We usually spend up to $ 15.00, and it does not matter whether the party is extravagant or not. We may spend a little more for something unique for a close friend. We try to steer away from ''plasticky'' toys and usually have our kids make their own art cards. Kasia

We spend about $10-20, usually on the lower end. We try to honor the ''no gifts please'' and ''please donate to ...'' requests, but sometimes we already bought the gift specifically for the child. jp

I spend around $10-15 per gift, maybe more if the recipient is a close friend of my child. Partygoer

We spend around $10 for birthday gifts for our daughters' friends, ages 2-9. This is the same amount we have spent since the oldest was a baby. Sometimes we go up to $15 if we need to for the perfect thing. Sometimes a little more for a close friend, esp. one who has given something special in the past. We never take the extravagance of the party into account in selecting a gift. (BTW, my daughter just attended a bday party for an 8 yr old where the most coveted gift was papers, pens, and stickers put together in a ''homemade craft kit'' so I know that the cost of a gift does not determine its value to the recipient.) --it really is the thought that counts

I have typically spent between $10-25 for birthday presents for kids that age. I might spend in the higher range for a child that is closer friends with my child and especially if I know that they really want that particular toy/item. I do not base what I spend on how ''extravagent'' the party might be... I spend what I feel I can afford. Anonymous

We spend about $20 on a gift, more (up to $30) if it is a very close friend. And a big No on whether you need to spend more for an extravagant party. You are a *guest* not a customer or audience member.

I spend $15-20 on bday gifts. I don't think you should adjust up or down depending on the type of party. It's the birthday child's parents' choice what they want to do and a gift is not an admission price in my opinion. anon

I spend less than $10, though my kids have definitely gotten presents worth double that. anon

Preschooler Price Range

April 2002

My child will be attending his first preschool-wide birthday party, and I am wondering what the current norms are on price ranges for gifts. The archives show that the standard in 1996 was about $10-15. Has it changed much?

I usually find two or three smaller, less expensive gifts and wrap each one separately. The kids like opening several gifts wrapped in fun and interesting ways - while still being easy to open, of course! They may add up to around $15. I try not to spend more than $20 unless they are really close frends. I try to not attend parties for kids we really don't know well. This saves on funds and may reduce bad feelings when they aren't invited to my kid's parties. I really like it when presents aren't opened while the guests are still around. party-loving mom

Gift Ideas for 3 year old

Oct 1996

About birthday gifts for 3 year olds-- my daughter turned 3 this summer as did four friends. I finally settled on Playschool flashlights from Toys R Us for under $10 ($14 at Mr Mopps.) They turn white, red and green, & go off automatically after so much time has elapsed. One family even used theirs during the summer west coast power outage as it was the only flashlight in the house. Good for boys & girls. Also my friend got kites for her gifts--gets kids and parents together too. Tavie

At this age (and later, too) we usually give the birthday child either a jigsaw puzzle or a couple of books. If you look around you can find some good puzzles in the $5-$8 range, and a couple of picture books, soft cover, will be about the same. That way you don't get into issues over guns, barbie dolls, etc. Of course, if you know the kid personally yourself, and know they have a particular interest in collecting bugs or some such thing, then you can look for something along those lines. Dianna

To Karen - shopping for a 3 year old girl's B-day party - I often ask the parents when I RSVP to the party if their child has any particular interests (or aversions), and that prevents buying weapons or Barbie dolls for families that forbid that type of thing. Having a 7 year old and a 4 year old, I am now at the point where I let them choose the gift within a certain price range if they know the child and have an opinion. When in doubt - art supplies are always good - for 3 year olds, play dough or new crayons, a pack of construction paper, or that type of thing is always appreciated. ToysRUs actually has some good art sets with crayons, pencils, etc. for under $15. Price wise, I try to stay between $10 and $15 unless the child is a family friend. Hope this helps. It gets worse as they get older, as they get invited to more and more parties. I'm hoping with my older one to have a small slumber party this year and limit the number of kids and the expectation of a huge haul of toys. Good luck! Helen

I am a mother of a 5 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. I have been faced with many birthday gifts so far and have come up with the following suggestions.

The simplest way to chose a gift for a child is to ask the parents what the child likes. The parents are usually appreciative of your thoughtfulness and always have an idea or two. A general price range of $10 to $15 is safe, more than that is unnecessary. If you have a boy of the same age, ask yourself which toys does he like that a girl might like too. You would be surprised by how many things would work as a gift for both girls and boys. Sharon

How much to spend on 4-y-o's present?

Feb 1996

We've been invited to a birthady party for a four-year-old niece. We don't have any idea about what to get or what the going rate for birthday presents is, because we have just had a baby ourselves. Any advice?

I have a daughter whose fourth birthday is coming up soon, so I'm also interested in this subject. I'll throw in my comment on gifts, which is that I think they are generally in the range of $5-$10. I try to pick out gifts that are not very commercial. I'm not sure this makes me popular with the kids, but I hope it makes me popular with the parents. Some recent gifts I've picked out for children turning five are: binoculars (~$10), a science kit to grow seeds, a candle-making kit. Please let me know if anyone has any other suggestions.

This year will be the first party where we have not written on the invitation that children should not bring gifts. For parties up until age three we could get away with it, but now my daughter insists that a birthday party must include presents. I'm afraid that she'll get a lot of toys that I don't approve of, but I can't think of any way to avoid it. Beth

I agree with the message about keeping gifts at $5-10 and trying to come up with nonstandard stuff--especially nature-based and crafts. It's true that you always get gifts that you'd rather not have around the house. I've found that I can sometimes stash things in the closet immediately after the party and leave them there until they won't be missed if I donate them.


re the birthday gift ideas: we try to stick to $7.00 a birthday, and I am always a big proponent of books! can't have enough of them, regardless of age. Jo Anne