Children are rarely impressed by a gift card, so tracking down an actual present is essential. Here are some staff-tested favorites guaranteed to impress the most discerning kids on your list.
Birds of North America print
Satisfy the taxonomist in your heart with this splendid wall art by Pop Chart. The artists have rendered every North American avians species, native and introduced, in glorious color on a 34-by-26-inch print. With drawn-to-scale illustrations and species names, this print is both decorative and educational for bird lovers of all shapes and sizes. (Pop Chart, $37)
—Lindsey Botts, editorial coordinator
Museum ABC by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
At its best, media for kids is cute, clever, and fun — but it’s rarely transcendent. After a long stretch of reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear (cute!), Happy Hippo, Angry Duck (clever!), and Click, Clack, Moo (fun!), I am thrilled when my daughter reaches for Museum ABC.
It’s a traditional alphabet book, each page with a different letter (A is for apple, B is for boat), but instead of cuddly animals or quirky characters as illustrations, the images for each letter come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.
The apples on the “A is for apple” page are thumbnails of paintings by Paul Cezanne, Roy Lichtenstein, the American artist Brian Connelly, and a piece of ancient Greek pottery. It’s a wonderful opportunity to begin exposing your kids to great art — and a chance for parents to weave some beauty into their days. (Met, $17)
—Eleanor Barkhorn, deputy managing editor
Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car
Living in a small New York City apartment with a baby, I am super selective about the toys we allow in our living space. We aim for small, foldable toys that can disappear at the end of the night, and so I nearly had a cow when my sister brought over the Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Crawl Around Car.
She promised it would be worth the space it takes up — and it is! My son Joseph goes bananas for it, and so do all of our neighbors’ kids. The car sings and has all sorts of knobs to push, pull, and spin. It’s the perfect gift for babies 6 months and up since it incentivizes them to move around and crawl. ($52)
—Chavie Lieber, senior reporter, The Goods
Membership to a local museum
“Buy experiences, not stuff” is gospel for grown-ups these days, but it has barely trickled down to kidworld. Kidworld is filled with stuff — endless clothes, strollers, car seats, high chairs, changing tables, and on and on. And then on top of all those necessities, of course, are the toys. So many toys. With every birthday and holiday season, there are more of them. It doesn’t have to be that way!
Experiential-oriented gifts can be great for kids, and one of the best options here is a membership to a local museum. More and more museums have rooms and exhibits meant for kids, and I’ve found that even young children enjoy the main parts of museums as well. Another benefit to local museum membership: Museums are great places for kids to run around and explore on those days that are too rainy, too hot, or too cold for the playground. (American Alliance of Museums, prices vary)
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley
I don’t have any kids, but many of my friends do. And in 2018, my friends who are raising young sons are spending a lot of time thinking about how to raise sons who are kind and thoughtful in a culture where “toxic masculinity” has become an everyday term. So I was thrilled when I recently discovered illustrator Keith Negley’s Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too), which is a perfect gift for young boys.
The book takes a look at superheroes and other stereotypically “tough” men and explores how even the toughest of men have emotions. It’s a great way to start a conversation about emotions and feelings, and it has now become my go-to gift for boys. ($13)
—Nisha Chittal, engagement editor
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
On the other hand, I also love buying books for my friends’ daughters that will encourage them to dream big, aim high, and think beyond princesses and fairy tales. In a culture where young girls are constantly exposed to all things pink, girly, and princessy, Rosie Revere, Engineer is a refreshing little book about a girl who loves to solve problems and build things. I love that its message to young girls is one of creativity, perseverance, and empowerment, and that it’s a departure from damsel-in-distress tales. ($14)
Squigz starter set
This bucket of silicone suction building toys was a birthday present that has stood the test of time. They were an instant hit and are still in regular rotation three years later. Success! (Walmart, $25)
—Susannah Locke, special projects editor
Full disclosure: I added these magnetic building tiles to Vox’s gift guide two years ago, when my daughter was closing in on 18 months old and already obsessed; now, at almost three and a half, she’s an expert MagnaTile engineer, and we’ve expanded our set multiple times.
They’re technically aimed at kids 3 and up, but they’re sturdy and well-made, so as long as you supervise younger kids (because magnets), they’re great for burgeoning builders of any age. Our whole family loves to play with them, parents and grandparents included. (Walmart, $119, smaller sets start at $21)
—Jen Trolio, culture editor
Micro Kickboard scooter (and Nutcase helmet)
There’s a simple reason scooters are a playground classic: They’re super fun to zoom around on, and kids as young as 18 months can get the hang of them. I love the Micro Kickboard brand, which offers a vast array of models for a wide range of ages and skill levels. They glide really smoothly and come in a bunch of great colors.
And because many of the brand’s styles are adjustable, they can “grow” with their owner, so they last a long time. Once my daughter got comfortable on hers, we jettisoned the stroller in favor of letting her scoot for all short neighborhood trips. Just don’t forget a helmet! (Nutcase ones are great.) (Scooter, $90; helmets from $50)
If your kids are as obsessed with lizards as mine, they’ll love the herpetologist take on this classic game. If they’re not, you can get the same concept with fish, farm animals, dinosaurs, birds, flowers, cats, bugs, horses... ($15)
—Kate Dailey, managing editor, operations