Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part Three - Kids!

One thing that I've loved about this series of posts is that each of the lists are so unique. I gave each writer the same basic outline - 10 or so items, reasonably priced - and then stepped aside and everyone involved came up with such different, fun lists - not just the gift suggestions themselves, too, but the way their individual voices come through. Something that I wanted to say is that - since it was asked yesterday in the comments - no one was remunerated in any way for any of these lists and so what you're reading was written just for fun. (However, if anyone wants to get me that fox tote bag down the page, I would CHEERFULLY accept it.)

Today's lists are especially fun - Kimberly's list consists of well-thought out suggestions for hard-to-shop-for little boys, Megan's list has kids' music suggestions that won't drive YOU nuts, and Gretchen's list is not entirely for children but rather has gifts that are evocative of childhood past and gone. I hope you find all three lists interesting and helpful. - Beck 

Kimberly - Little Boy Gifts From Girly-Girl Moms
I am a girly girl. I like makeup, and played with Barbies. I have one sister, who is even more of a girly girl than I am. We had some building blocks, and cars, and my parents were fairly progressive about gendered toys (it was the 70s, after all) but we were, and are, still girly girls.

Therefore, of course, because God has a sense of humor, I had two boys. So, I have put quite a bit of thought into toys for my kids. I wanted them to play with something OTHER than just cars and trucks and trains (though we have an enormous number of those, also). They are still really little, my oldest is just 5 and my little guy is not quite 3, but they still need well-rounded play time. There are three basic types of toys my boys need: physical, mental, and imaginative.

Physical toys: My boys are very physical. They are incapable of just sitting and watching a video. They will watch it, WHILE they are rolling around on the ground "wrestling." They need an outlet, especially when the weather is inhospitable.

Pounding toys are especially useful when the kids are 2-5 years old. A nice old-fashioned bench one is great. But there are some really nice plastic ones that are well-made, like the "Hammer away" on page 8 of this Discovery Toys catalog.

Trikes/Bikes/scooters are also useful, even inside. My boys received a Radio Flyer ride on Scoot-about when my first was about 18 months old. This lived in the house until this summer. Great exercise, and it IS furniture friendly. Then, when my first was two, his grandparents gave him this Fisher-Price convertible tricycle. It was good for what it was, but now that my second is almost three, he wants to really ride it outside, and it isn't grippy enough to pedal on anything but the flatest of surfaces. Stick with ones with true rubber wheels, not plastic wheels. Also, our experience is that the "retro" steel bikes, which look solid and nostalgic, are not quite as hardy as some of the newer metal and plastic ones.

Outside tools: My boys have gotten a lot of use out of these mini-tools.

My parents live in the country and the boys each have a set down at their house so they can "help" Grampa do yard work. And we have a set here. Keeps them occupied nicely when we are trying to get things done outside.

Mentally stimulating toys: I have bright kids, who like to be challenged. They like to watch television and play on the computer, too, but what parent wants their kids watching hours of tv a day? Not me. *Ahem*

Puzzles: My little boy, especially LOVES puzzles. Any kind, but these "four in a box" wooden puzzles are especially nice. And you don't have to buy the "name brand" ones. I found another set at the craft store for just $5.00. They are portable, and not so messy, and he does them over and over, and then breaks them up and puts them back in their little compartments. My bigger boy enjoys the floor puzzles that are as big as he is. He received this dinosaur puzzle as a gift for his fourth birthday and it still gets great use. Word of caution, I think the more expensive floor puzzles are worth the price. I have purchased two much cheaper ones and they are so thin that the pieces don't hold together well, which is REALLY frustrating for the boys.

For a puzzle that is more flexible, a friend gave us a Mighty Minds set a couple years ago. When the boys are little, they just play with the colored pieces. As they get older, they really enjoy trying to figure out the shapes. Practical tip: put the little pieces in a plastic baggie for storage.

And lets not forget, books, books, and more books. The "Scholastic" books aren't great quality, but they do have a breadth of interests and are good for ideas if you aren't familiar with what is out there. I have been blessed with a mother-in-law who has taught little kids all her life, and she is our book-giver. And one thing I have learned from her, don't overlook "other" titles from famous writers. Robert McCloskey wrote more than just "Make Way for Ducklings" (my boys particularly enjoy his "Lentil"). Same for Virginia Lee Burton and Margaret Wise Brown, to name just two.

Imaginative play: My boys have great imaginations. They are spurred by books and videos and animals and cars and rescue heroes. They love to play dress-up and I take the opportunity post-Halloween to purchase some costumes at super cheap prices, and not-so cheap prices. And for the non-sewer DIY-ers among us, all you need is a "superhero" cape and a pair of swim goggles. Take your kids to the fire station and get one of those fireman hats. Easy peasy.

Don't overlook some of the girly stuff. My 2 1/2 yo is super excited with a $5.00 plastic pink and purple tea set that his dad got him from the big box store one day. Let's start training boys how to be polite and pour tea and learn manners in a fun way. It works!

Blocks are probably the oldest form of imaginative play. They don't need to be fancy, though they can be. They should be safe for the age group. If you have a teething or mouthy kid around, a nice hardwood set with sanded edges will be better than paper blocks. The stone ones are very nice, but I am not about to get those for my kids until the youngest is out of the throwing stage. I hate plastic ones, and my kids don't seem to enjoy those much.

Last, but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't say something about building/play sets. In addition to the erector-type sets (K'nex, etc.) there are both Playmobil and Legos. People say that you should pick one or the other as you will have little tiny pieces around and they might as well be the same kind. My kids have never really been into the plastic connecting blocks that are for little kids, Duplo and Mega Blocks and the like. (Waste of money, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.) My husband played with both Legos and Playmobil and liked both. The Playmobil sets have more play value because they don't have to be built, again and again and little kids don't get frustrated by not being able to put them together. We started off the boys with inherited Playmobil sets, and have selectively added one or two. They are expensive, but the nice thing is that they really are interchangeable. The set that my husband had in the 1970s is completely integrated into the modern ones.

(We have policemen on our Noah's ark, frequently, and you should SEE a monkey flying in a rescue helicopter. It is quite a sight.) They last FOREVER, if you can keep the pieces together. They are NOT for the littlest of kids, as the pieces are super tiny, but my little boy has been playing with them for a year and mostly not ingesting pieces. Hint for keeping all the tiny pieces in one place. Add one of these IKEA boxes in with the set, and train your kids to keep all the pieces in THAT box. Even my messy kids do it, mostly. Saves mom's sanity.

There you go. Surely one of these gift ideas will be perfect for your little boy.

(Kimberly - Former lawyer, current genealogy nerd, new dog owner (Basset! and Rottie! and retriever! All mixed!), blogs (sometimes) about her two little boys and assorted other trivia at

Megan - Music For Kids That Won't Drive Parents Out Of Their Minds
I fully realize music is one of the most subjective, personal areas to tackle here, but I'll do my best to offer some quality kids' music suggestions that won't drive the majority of you insane. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Ahem.

Some disclaimers before I begin. We are Christians and hold to a reformed, biblical worldview. This does not mean we only listen to Christian music, as you will see in the list below. (Though we do listen to some, as you will also see in the list below.) We appreciate good music. I hope this list reflects that for you.

Picture 15

They Might Be Giants: Here Come The 123s
We also have Here Come the ABCs and Here Comes Science. Of the three, the 123s is by far *my* favorite. The science one has some iffy stuff on it, so know that before getting it, should you choose to do so. The 123s is super awesome, all the way.

Coal Train Railroad - Well done jazz for the younger set. I think my girls have *just* about aged out of this, but it's so well done, I will hang on to my copy for a long time. In fact, I bought a pack of five of these when it first came out and gave it out as baby shower gifts. It's awesome. They are just now coming out with a second one, Coal Train Railroad Swings. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm sure it's just as good.

Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George (Jack Johnson) - Hey, it's Jack Johnson on every track. What's not to love? Personal favorites: Upside Down, People Watching, We're Going To Be Friends, well, pretty much all of them.

Slugs & Bugs & Under Where - The CD you see above is their second regular kids album. They also have a Christmas album (and I'm giving away 3 copies of it over here!) - Funny stuff, kids like it, doesn't drive me nuts.

Country Goes Raffi - I fully realize I'm going to be entering serious eye-rolling territory with this one. After all, Raffi? Country? Together? But I'm telling you, it works. YOU may not appreciate The Bowling Song very much, but your kids might. *wink* And the surprise favorite is the sweetest little lullaby, Blessed Be, sung by Alison Krauss. Trust me. It's worth it just for that one song alone. Well, that and The Bowling Song.
Picture 7
Phineas & Ferb Soundtrack - Okay, I don't have personal experience with this entire album myself, but I have thought on more than one occasion that the songs they do on the show are pretty clever. It just never occurred to me to buy the CD. I bet my girls would love this. So...guess what's going on my "to buy for Christmas" list?

Elizabeth Mitchell: Sunny Day - Oh my word. Don't walk, RUN and get an album by Elizabeth Mitchell right now. So well done, my word! How have I not heard of her before now? I just scrolled through several song samples on iTunes and I really really want to get one of these albums soon.

Phil Joel: Deliberate Kids - We found this in 2007 and really liked it a ton. Phil Joel, of Newsboys fame, put together this collection of decent songs on theology for kids. So, yes, it's Christian, but it's good Christian (as in, the art aspect has not been sacrificed for the message here.)

Seeds Family Worship - The title of this CD implies it's also Christian. Seeds Family Worship has several CDs of scripture set to music and again, the key here is that it's really well done.
Picture 11
The Jellydots: Hey You Kids! - Oh wow, where have I been? This is another new recommendation to me and it's fantastic. I'm trying to figure out who to compare it to and I'm having a bit of trouble deciding who they remind me of, but I did just pop this on my Amazon wish list. We've been missing out

(Megan and her family of six recently moved from the Midwest to the Pseudo Southwest. She's been hobbling along at the Half-Pint House since *gasp* 2003.)

Gretchen - Nostalgia-Inspired Gifts

Set of 10 1950s Children's Metal Tin Plates, $26. Children love play cooking and play eating. I love the variety of designs. They’d make a great gift for someone who decorates with quirky plates, too. It’s an instant collection.

Fabric Children’s Board Game Motif 2012 Calendar, $18/yard. The print on this fabric is a work of art. Buy a yard and make your own wall hanging, calendar pillow, or mat it and invent a game. The colors and adorable animals are so charming, you won’t want 2012 to end. Bring on the end of the world! There’s no way 2013 could top it.

2012 Tea Towel Fabric Calendar , $18/yard. For most of my early childhood, my mom received a tea towel calendar every Christmas. She hung them in our kitchen using a dowel. When the year came to a close, the calendar would become a towel we’d use to dry dishes. Take that, 1978! This fabric calendar has great muted colors and a fun head-turning design.

 Clear Retro Christmas Bubble Lights with Silver Glitter, $19.99 for a set of 7. When I was in high school, my best friend had the best everything. Best frozen treats, best TV channels, best car, and the best Christmas tree. They had old fashioned bubbling Christmas lights and I couldn’t get enough of them. I vowed someday to own a string. They’ll take your tree back to the 1940s---or at least the 1980s.

Enstrom's Almond Toffee, $19.95/pound. I would be forever barred from my hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, if I didn’t advise people to buy and eat huge amounts of Enstrom’s. As anyone from there will tell you, it’s World Famous. My opinion? It’s a much-deserved reputation. This toffee is buttery, smooth, brittle but not teeth-shattering. The chocolate coating is rich and in the perfect ratio. They ship anywhere in the world. Check out their peppermint bark, too.

Baby's First Sock Monkey, $20. For some reason, I associate sock monkeys with raucous Christmas mornings. That’s why, when thinking of my theme of nostalgia, I wanted to include a sock monkey. I found this adorable specimen. He’s perfect for young babies to grip and bite and talk to when they wake in the night.

The Animal's Merry Christmas by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by Richard Scarry, about $10. It wouldn’t be a nostalgic Christmas for our family if we didn’t read this darling book at least once. It’s a collection of stories about winter and the holiday season. I read it as a child. For some reason, the story that always stood out to me was “The Naughty Little Reindeer.” I wonder why? Scarry’s illustrations will never grow old or outdated.

Charley Harper Prints iPhone/Kindle/Gadget Skins, $14.95 and up. Charley Harper illustrations and art mix nature, geometry, bold motifs, and whimsy. He was at the top of his career in the mid-20th century, but his designs transcend. I love that you can take along his prints on your gadgety things. I truly love how unique they are.

 Think Inside the Fox Tote, $64.95. This fun tote would be perfect for a young lady who needs to carry many books. I was a young lady like that. When I found this bag, I fell in love with the fox, the colors, and what appears to be some quality construction.

Dahlia Cocktail Rings, $14-$16. These vintage-inspired rings are handmade and unique. The deep goldenrod colored dahlia ring caught my eye especially. The adjustable bands guarantee they will fit fingers without worry.

(Gretchen blogs at Lifenut, writes, and lives near Denver with her husband and eight kids. 8!)

That's it for today - make sure you come back tomorrow for the final list, full of great gift suggestions for spouses  - especially FEMALE spouses. - Beck


  1. Tea towel calendars! I had all but forgot about those. Thank you so much, Gretchen, for reminding me.

    As for kids music, we are FINALLY past that stage in my house but I'd give anything to hear Alison Krauss sing Raffi.

    Kimberly, your boys are well taken care of by their girly-girl mother. If you ever need a girlie fix, my daughter and her truck-loads of dolls will descend on you.

    Beck, thank you again for doing this. It has been a blast to participate in both as a writer and a reader.

  2. great gift ideas thanks!

    what's iffy on They Might be Giants Science album? I use the element song in my classes!

  3. What a fun list! I love it. That fox tote is CUTE. Holy crap, is it cute. Also, my kids love Playmobil and Lego, and one of the great things about that is that they really do last forever, and they can play with them in different ways as they age.

  4. moplans, I know that at least one of the songs on that cd makes me feel uncomfortable because I'm religious and it subtly groups some religious imagery in with things that aren't real. This isn't something that would bother every parent, but it's a worthwhile heads-up for people of faith who might want to listen to it first. Having said that, I LOVE the elements song!

  5. Playmobil! Lego! K'nex! Guaranteed to buy you enough silence on Christmas Day for mom and dad to enjoy a few cups of coffee. Great list, Kimberly.

    I'm not even going to wait till Christmas to buy that Phineas and Ferb cd. This is a sign that my headache has finally abated.

    If someone buys Beck that fox tote, please get one for me, too. THANKS! It's pretty.

  6. My comment just disappeared and I'm in a post-book-club wine stupor so I'm just going to go with "I love you guys - one of everything for me".

    *the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace*.... *Squirrels in my pants!*

  7. I need to be back to check this one out in more detail, too. Can't do it today. Gotta get to my DIL's house for Thanksgiving!


  8. First time I'm able to check in on this since it posted! But Beck covered what I needed to say. I really DO like most of the science album, but there is at least one song and maybe a couple of others that don't jive with my worldview. I don't have any problems listening to them with my kids so we can discuss them together, but they aren't songs I want them to have free reign with to listen to over and over and over. The song I'm talking about is My Brother the Ape.

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    Great review! I think the same! :) Ms. Alice