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So, you’re at a loss when it comes to gift ideas for children.

You’ve just been invited to a friend’s child’s birthday party. You have no idea what a 1 year old could possibly need, and even less idea what the 12 year olds are classing as ‘hip’ these days.

Alternatively, you’re a close relative and know that the child has pretty much everything they need to survive, plus some.

Either way, you don’t know what kids like, or you know that they don’t need more stuff. Not to mention, you don’t want to buy any of that cheaply-made, easily broken, often cast-aside-after-10-minutes plastic crap

But where does that leave you? What can you buy that is meaningful and won’t end up as clutter? And what does a 1 year old want anyway? Or a 12 year old?

It turns out you have quite a few options, and not all of them involve parting with money (woohoo!).

The greatest gift you can give a child is time (and attention). They remember the things you did together, how you made them laugh, and the forts you built. They remember the sense of wonder and adventure they had when you stimulated their imagination.

And I’m not just speaking to the parents, here. Do you remember that friend of your parents’ who came around a few times and was so much fun? Be that person.

Don’t look for “gift ideas for children” online. That won’t help – Google doesn’t know the child. It won’t come back with anything nearly specific enough.

Ask the kid or their parents what they like and what interests them. Then, think of something you can give them that satisfies that interest.

If the parents are unhelpful, use this list. But don’t just pick a random one, either. Use it as a basis for asking the parents more targeted questions.

Most of what I’ve listed is easily personalised, so I encourage you to do just that.

1. Ethical clothing. But only if they need it and you know their size. Try to buy locally made, with natural materials.

2. Shares or cryptocurrency. Pick a company that pays good dividends and that is (preferably) a company that operates in an environmentally-friendly way. This gift could work for a 1 year old (just hold the shares until they’re 18). A 12 year old would also benefit – teach them how to view the value, when dividends are declared and paid, and watch it until they’re 18. A financial education is so important!

3. Seeds for flowers or a food they like. Good for kids 2 or 3 and up. You can help them plant them, water them, and celebrate when they germinate. Vegetables are a great choice because you not only get to watch them grow, but they can be harvested too, and then cooked! Talk about excitement and learning all in one… There’s a good range here.

4. A photo shoot. Good for any age. It’s nice to be able to look back and see some really nice photos of you as a kid. You might have hated it at the time, but you know you appreciate them now.

5. A book. Make sure it’s either age appropriate and in line with their interests, although books they can “grow” into are good too, and can provide a challenge for avid readers. Try to give new life to well-looked after second hand books, like old editions of titles by Enid Blyton. She’s probably my favourite children’s author.

6. Downloadable audio. This can be almost anything audible. Songs by their favourite band, be it The Wiggles or the Spice Girls. An audiobook at their listening level. Childrens’ podcasts. These can be great for car trips, quiet time, or for when they JUST HATE THE WHOLE FAMILY SHUT UP DAD YOU’RE SO EMBARRASSING!

7. Wooden lego or wooden blocks. This type of product is perfect for exercising the imagination. They’re what the industry calls open-ended toys, which means they can have more than one interpretation and use. They can be built into a castle, or a person, a tree, even a ship. It’s up to the child’s imagination and is important for mental development. These guys have a wide range of both open-ended and more specific wooden toys. I haven’t bought from them but they have some pretty neat looking stuff. 

8. Create a treasure hunt adventure. This one requires a bit more work but will be super appreciated. You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you like. Write clues and leave them in secret places, or create a treasure map. How you do it is up to you. At the other end you could have a treat waiting, or their best friend, or anything else they might be looking forward to.

9. Experiences. This means literally anything the child will find exciting or fun. Pay for a day at a theme park, or a ride on a horse, or in a race car. Something to get the adrenaline going and that they will remember for a long time. Get some inspiration here.



10. Eco-friendly pencils or crayons. Better for the younger ones, although I always delighted in a new set whatever my age. Especially good for burgeoning artists. Buy some here.

11. Record a video for them. You could be reading their favourite book, singing a song, reciting a poem you made for them, or acting out a play. This can be played for entertainment when they’re little, and remain a keepsake (in digital form) for the rest of their lives.

12. Movie tickets. Pretty self-explanatory, although they’re better received when there’s something at the cinema they’re particularly keen to see.

13. Make their favourite food. Who doesn’t get excited about their favourite food? This will change as they age, of course, so check with the parents coming up to the date to make sure you’ve got it right.

14. Hire a performer. There are a tonne of options, such as a clown or a fairy princess. For traditional holidays like Christmas and Easter, the most obvious choices would be the Easter Bunny and Santa. Or, the holiday armadillo… Look around and choose the one that will seem the most magical to the child.

15. A game to play with the family. I don’t know about you, but my family played a lot of games while I was growing up. I have a lot of great memories surrounding these games. They’re also effective teachers, developing skills such as strategising, maths (adding up scores, mostly), spelling, and even financial skills (Monopoly, anyone?). They also boost general comprehension. I love the range by Planet Finska!

16. Hire a jumping castle. I don’t think there’s a child (or child at heart!) out there who would say no to a jumping castle. They can be surprisingly cheap for day-hire and can provide hours of fun and memories. No kid will forget the person who made the jumping castle happen.

17. A day trip to somewhere they’re interested in. For example, if they’re into boats, go to the harbour and look at them. Maybe you’ll find a friendly fisherman who’ll let you tour his boat.

18. Paint their face for them. It’s pretty simple and easy to do, and kids love it. It’s a fun sensory activity, and they get to pretend to be someone completely different. Until they accidentally scratch that itch and go from cute, playful clown to Pennywise.

19. Play dress-ups. Providing the dress ups is all well and good, but for them to really get value from it, you need to dress up too. 

20. Make play dough. There are simple recipes for homemade Play Doh that anyone can make. Or you could try slime, or even kinetic sand. Hours of fun! Not to mention they’re more open-ended toys.

21. Money to spend how they like. A lot of kids get an allowance or “pocket money” these days, but they might have to save it. Giving them even a few dollars to spend on WHATEVER they want could be super exciting for them.

22. Gift skills. Or at least, practise. Spend the time to teach them how to do something they want to be able to do. It might be as simple as holding their legs so that they can learn to balance for a hand-stand. Whatever they want to be able to do, help them!

23. Make them a cake. Or buy one from a local independent store or designer. We all remember looking through the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book, wishing that Mum would make one. Need I say more?

That’s about it! Unless you need to buy for a grown-up too – I have a post for that right here.

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Image credit: Douglas J S Moreira on Unsplash

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