40+ Gifts & Toys that Will Actually Keep Kids Busy

“I love giving my kids stuff that they play with for 5 seconds and then never touch again,” said no parent ever.

While the cliche is true – what kids really want most from you is your time, sometimes, you might want a little somethin’ somethin’ to keep them busy (so they don’t keep YOU busy!). So, here are some gift ideas, especially geared for the 12 and under crowd – these are all products we have currently or have played with in the past and love.

  • Legos – Do I even need to mention this one? This is the ULTIMATE toy that keeps on giving. We have thus far avoided the kits in our house because I want my kids to use their imaginations to create things (and I’ve heard that sometimes the kits create more stuff to clutter our house). Pieces are tiny and are best suited for slightly older kiddos, but can last for YEARS!
  • Dress-ups – Buy these for sale after Halloween, or snag some thrifted ones elsewhere. I just bought my kid’s these super hero capes, since they love playing super heros! This is a gift that will provide hours of entertainment!
  • Bubbles – What kid doesn’t love bubbles? Buy small bubble containers so kids can hold their own (and only spill a small amount at a time). Refill with the monster container, or DIY your own bubble liquid with recipes online. Amp up your fun with a bubble gun and watch the bubbles and time fly!
  • Water Beads – Gift these to the kids who loooove sensory (I’m looking at you, toddlers). Soak them beforehand so they’re ready to play with! Have your kids play with them outside, if possible (or, just be prepared to sweep these bouncy little things). Throw them in a big bowl and add a whisk and measuring cups for a good bit of fun… You might even find it to be therapeutic!
  • A Vacation – Why not throw your budget at a vacation (even a small one!) instead of other birthday or holiday expenses? The memories will be well worth it!
  • Kinetic Sand – Have you played with this stuff? It is so therapeutic. Unlike regular sand, the texture is soft and, well, just awesome. You can buy it or make your own! Throw in a couple of muffin liners, measuring spoons, or molds and you’ve got yourself at least an hour to yourself. Oh, yes. Totally worth the sweep up afterward! Oh, and, PS – this stuff never dries out, so be prepared to store it!
  • Seeds & Plants – Kids will love the opportunity to take care of something all on their own!
  • Sports Equipment – If your child plays a sport, gift them some new sports equipment and pass on old or outgrown gear. For some kids, a ball and some cones would be a win! (Get it? Win. Like sports? Nevermind)
  • A Clock – This may be one of those “practical” gifts, but you have to have some of these, right? Stick with an analog for kids who need to learn to tell time. Go with an alarm only for kids who need to be up and going at a specific time. (We avoid alarm clocks because ours are too young to handle responsibly and have sometimes set the alarm for the middle of the night!) I have heard good things about the sleep/wake clock for littles though, and this may be well worth your time as well.
  • Play Doh – Of course, our dear old friend. Favorite play-doh accessories include wiggly eyes (hilarious!), toothpicks, pipe cleaners, rolling pins, cookie cutters, etc! Make your own, or go easy with the premade stuff. Get a good, tight container to store and just add warm water and knead the dough again when it gets too dry! (But, wear an apron if you do this since the colors tend to bleed at first).
  • Megablocks – I will say these have never failed me over the last 7 years. Even my big kids will get down and play with these! Invest in a bunch so you can build big. I think kids really like how quickly they can create a substantial something with the size of these! The trains and kits make fun additions as well!
  • Puzzles – Play some music and get your thinking caps on. Get wood ones for the littles or bigger ones for the big kids! Work together or solo. You are never too old for a good puzzle! Store them in ziplock bags to minimize the space they take up afterward. Or, swap puzzles with a friend if you’re a do-it-once type of a puzzler.
  • A Soft Blanket – A blanket, as we all know, can be more than a sleeping accessory. Blankets bake great rucksacks, picnic blankets, forts, or even hammocks when strung up on a climbing dome! Give them a blanket that you don’t mind them dragging around and they’ll be sure to have hours of fun.
  • Cardboard Boxes – Save those boxes from all of your online shopping! Let the kids cut, bedazzle, color, and build. Sure to keep them busy for as long as you can stand them laying around your house… or yard!
  • Sidewalk Chalk – Fairweather essential, is it not? I buy the bulk box and bring out only a few pieces of chalk at a time to make it last longer. The best part is it gets washed off with sprinklers or rain and the chalk disintegrates on its own without needing to be cleaned up. Because let’s be honest, it’s just better that way.
  • Butcher Paper – Get a roll of butcher paper and pull out the crayons (or even paint if you’re brave!) and let the creativity fly. Try tracing each other and making giant life-size paper dolls.
  • Cook Books – Get a kid-friendly cookbook or some cake-mixes to give your petite or not-so-petit chef a chance at cooking. You might find this to be mutually beneficial when you have another cook in the house!
  • Magformers – I have asked for these for gifts for my kiddos and have purchased them at Costco around Christmastime. These are a lifesaver for any child who likes to build! (Pretty sure that means any child!) Build fun geometric shapes, towers, and other creations. Hours. Of. Fun. And, they’re durable enough to last for the hours of fun! Yes!
  • Lessons – You can give the gift of dance, horseback riding, swimming, you name it! Or, go online and give the gift of coding, sculpting, or whatever from an online class. Go with their passion and pair your gift with something they’ll need (e.g. dance shoes) and they’re sure to be thrilled!
  • Educational Television – We have really appreciated using specific shows as a part of our homeschool. While PBS kids has a lot of great options, look into other digital streaming platforms such as Curiosity Stream, Disney Plus, Living Scriptures. and others to see which ones have content that will support your family’s values and needs.
  • Play Equipment – If you have a yard, get a slide, a seesaw, a swingset, or, one of our favorites, a climbing dome! We love our dome because it is a fort and climber all in one. I even recently bought hammocks for them to hang on inside of the dome! The kids LOVE it. (Note that we went spendy and bought the tent, but if I did it again, I’d pass on the tent. The dome is fun enough on its own!)
  • Modeling Clay – I usually buy clay at the dollar store and IT NEVER DRIES! $1 for nine or so sticks of clay? Yes, please! This is another fun one to add toothpicks to. Kids can use clay as joints to create a toothpick and clay tower (or whatever else!).
  • Beads & Lanyard – Any 90’s kids out there? Who doesn’t love a good bead lizard or friendship bracelet? How about those woven keychains that were so snazzy back in the day (my husband says they’re “boondoggles”)? Guess what, kids still think they’re fun!
  • Slime – I haven’t delved into this too much myself, but, oh, there are so many slime possibilities out there. Buy ingredients for slime, or buy a specialty slime that smells (good or bad, you pick!). (Don’t forget your apron!)
  • Tumbling Mats – This would be great for older or younger kids (or even adults, for crying out loud!). Turn on a Youtube tumbling tutorial for inspiration and get those bodies moving! While we don’t have one yet, it’s on my list!
  • Watercolors & Paints – Gift a cheap or high-class watercolor or paint set. Watch for the Crayola sets at the back to school sales! Better yet, pair it with an online art class like this one! This will be a gift your budding artist can enjoy for hours to come.
  • Bouncing Toys – We have this funny, green, bouncing donkey, but I have heard that kids love the giant bouncing balls with the handles as well. I’ve also heard a lot of good things about the mini Jumparoo, which seems like a great investment! 3 words. Hours. Of. Entertainment.
  • Tickets & Vouchers – Gift the gift of bowling, mini-golf, the movies, swimming, or anything else! This gift is sure to be appreciated. And. Nothing. To. Store. (Yes!)
  • Sewing Kit – There are premade sewing kits for sale, but you can also make your own with what you have! Grab an old storage container and throw in some sheets of felt, fabric, buttons, embroidery needles, and thread, and you’ve got yourself a kit. Check out Pinterest for some easy and free patterns for your new sewer to try out. Older kids may enjoy making key chains, pillows, or decor for their rooms.
  • Duplo blocks – Just one more of this type of toy, but really, they are so great! I actually have had only a small set of these, but they are a fun middle ground between Legos and Megablocks.
  • A Bounce House – Now, I’ve been drooling a lot over these, but haven’t gotten one yet… But, the beauty of being able to blow up exercise magic for my kids is oh, so, appealing in the winter months! Then, to be able to deflate it and put it into storage? I’m sold!
  • A Subscription – Give your kid a year of reading and fun with a Highlights, The Friend magazine subscription. You can also gift a Kiwico subscription which was a huge hit at our house! To keep the clutter down, use up one magazine or box before recycling it for other crafts or getting rid of it. Let them keep their box creations for as long as they play with them. After that, it’s ok to let them mysteriously dissapear. (The fun is in the creation, anyway!)
  • Gear Toys – We found some great gear toys at Costco around Christmastime for a good price that my kids enjoy building with. This is another one of those toys that guarantee hours of fun and creativity! The Costco sets are best for older kids since the pieces can be challenging to put together. I have also been enticed by magnetic gears, but haven’t actually tried them myself.
  • Magnadoodle – These are still fun! My kids love trying out different magnets and shapes on the board. They also double as a learning tool for homeschool!
  • Hammocks or Swings – While great outside, hammocks can make awesome indoor toys as well! Hang a hook from the ceiling and switch out the swings and hammocks for some great exercise and sensory play.
  • Books- Gift the classics or an online book subscription-like Audible or Epic. Check with the child’s school or parents first to be sure you don’t give them something they already have. I went nuts with classic book sets from Costco, and Barnes & Noble has their hardback classics for $5 once in awhile, so don’t forget to check there too!
  • Rec Center Membership – This has the potential to be SO fun (and, again, nothing to store!). Still, be honest with yourself on whether you’ll be able to visit the center enough to make it worth it for your family. If so, knock yourself out! (I mean, just have a lot of fun, ok?)
  • Craft Supplies – Construction paper, scrapbook paper, scissors, stickers, the list goes on and on for consumable craft supplies! Go to the dollar store and find a bunch of raw materials that will suit your child’s fancy! The best part is that craft supplies are consumable which means you can use them up and be done with them (unlike other toys).
  • A Trampoline – Big, medium, small? They’re all GREAT! We have a tiny one for our kids inside and a big one in the yard. Both are so totally WORTH IT! We also invested in a ladder to make it easier for the littles to get on and off. Buy these just as the weather cools off to get a better price!
  • Science Kits – I am excited to buy my kids a butterfly kit, but I have also heard great things about rock tumblers, microscopes, and telescopes! Truly, the sky is the limit!
  • Water Wow Books – I bought these for road trips and church (they’d even be great for waiting in lines at amusement parks!). Kids 8 and under will find these fun! They are a little bit of money, but since they are reusable, I find them well worth it. You can also find these at Target.
  • Boogie Boards – Not the kind for water, but these are great for old and young kiddos! Find a way to attach your pen to the board with string, and it’ll be a toy you’ll be able to use for years to come!
  • Fun Passes – We had so much fun using our GetOut pass last year. We did a scavenger hunt, enjoyed an amusement park, had a blast at a trampoline park, and MORE! The best part? NOTHING TO STORE! You’re welcome.
  • The Nugget – Have you heard of these foam play couches? They are so fun! If you are willing to spend the money, the Nugget is a great find. If you want to DIY a cheap version, just buy a foam pad from the hardware store and sew up a giant pillowcase for it and you’ll have just as much fun for a fraction of the price!

To minimize the amount of added clutter from giving gifts, think about giving them accessories or additions to sets they already love. For example, if your child is obsessed with Legos, gift them some minifigs or other Lego accessories (or even one of those big lego mats from the dollar store!!!). If your child loves dressing up their dolls, go for some clothes. If you gift additions to what they already have, you probably won’t need to come up with additional storage and, with fewer toy categories, it makes it way easier to keep things tidy!

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