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Toddler in a yellow sweater receives wrapped gift from fatherly figure

UNPLUGGED: Thinking Outside the (gift)BOX for Young Children


As a parent, the saying "something they want, something they need and something to read" struck a chord with me early on. I crave the simplicity. I need the structure. And taking time to intentionally select three gifts for each child could not only be managed but greatly enjoyed. Here are some of the no-tech gifts given in our home that I would re-gift time and time again.


Blocks are a treasure in a child's toy chest. They are open-ended and timeless. They lend themselves to turn-taking and cooperative building. They serve as a platform for imitation and creation.

Block related gift ideas:

Pretend Play

Children are far more masterful than many adults in dramatic play and pretending to be something they are not. Early on we teach our children to make animal sounds, paired with facial expressions and movements - we crawl on the floor with a toddler, meowing and purring. Each "character" that they become opens up a new world of language, fosters critical thinking skills and gives us the opportunity to say to that child "I love who you are no matter what". There are simple ways to encourage a child to engage in dramatic play. 

Pretend-play related gift ideas:

Arts and Sensory

Finding a spot in your home for art and sensory play is well worth a few minutes of rearranging and shuffling. It can be messy. It can leave stains. So think about how and where to create a space that works for you as well as your child. This is an area of play where the process is far more important than the product - allowing a child the freedom to fingerprint with reckless abandon is valuable and beautiful. 

Art/Sensory related gift ideas (in addition to paper, markers, crayons, paint, etc...):

  • Playdoh
  • Plastic tub filled with rice (toss in a set of toy animals and some cups for scooping)
  • Colored buckets and paintbrushes - pretend to paint the whole house or head outside and fill the buckets with water on brick or pavement
  • Chalk
  • Stickers
  • Muffin tins and pompoms (add some tongs for older children)
  • Paint with water books
  • Magna Doodle
  • Fill a lazy susan with individual cups/containers full of age-appropriate supplies: markers, paint brushes, crayons, glue/scissors
  • Ask a relative to gift your child a local art class (this type of "experience" gift is unbeatable) such as offerings at the Lawrence Arts Center


Books are a necessity. I am yet to have found a situation that a book could not support or enhance. They provide opportunities for joint attention, sharing the experience with a caregiver through touch, voice and exploration. They are a way to calm and soothe a child using repetition and rhyme. Books are my favorite way to keep my children entertained and engaged - from road trips to passing the time at an appointment, the answer is always "books". 

Book related gift ideas:

Gifting should be personal. It should be meaningful. It is a chance for us to uplift another and enrich their world. It truly is about quality over quantity and not just in terms of cost. Find ways to bestow upon your child high-quality, no-tech gifts that hold their value in their purpose, their level of engagement and their ability to ignite creativity and curiosity. 

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