Finding gifts for kids can be tricky. Seemingly all the "cool" ones cost upwards of $50, and when you are buying for your kids, your nieces, and nephews, your kids' friends, your friends' kids, and more, it can add up to some serious moolah. Here are some suggestions of gifts costing under $15 that will most likely be appreciated by all the recipients (and their parents).
Quick plug: Seattle has a veritable buffet of awesome toy and book stores with educational and fun toys and books for all ages. Talk to the owners or sales staff and tell them what your budget is. They will surely have some great suggestions that didn't make this list.
Tamagotchi, $14.99 (Target or eToys.com): This is one toy I have yet to find at a neighborhood retailer, but since it was first released in 1997, it has a decidedly retro feel (think Pac Man), and thus is cool enough to warrant a trip to a megastore. A Tamagotchi is a small electronic game that has a little character your child raises after it hatches. It has a very basic screen and graphics (think old Atari). The owner is responsible for the life of the Tamagotchi. And like a real child, it lets you know when it needs to eat, sleep, and play. The owner even gets to virtually clean up its poop. (The idea of which is gross enough to keep the kids interested.) Because navigating the menu can have a steep learning curve, I recommend this toy for no less than a 5-year old. If there are two kids in the family, they can even grow their own Tamagotchis into adulthood, mate them, and make babies. Our neighbors did this, which was all great fun until I called their mom "Grandma" – she was not amused. I found this to be a great value for my daughter and her friends and really quite engaging.
A classic book, $6.95-$14.99 (at your neighborhood bookstore!): Never underestimate the lure of a truly great book. Titles such as Treasure Island, A Wrinkle in Time, The Night Before Christmas (illustrated by the late Ted Rand of Mercer Island), Ender's Game (for teenagers), and The Secret Garden are all fine choices.
Doodles to Go, $12.95 (MoMA Store online or your neighborhood bookstore): This is a classic book that is sturdy enough to travel. It teaches how to draw the basic shapes of everyday items and animals. There are also a variety of great how-to-draw-animals books at most bookstores.
Automoblox Minis, splurge at $8.00 each (Tottini Children's Store in Seattle or sensoryedge.com): These are beautifully made and designed cars that families will keep forever. The reason I consider these a splurge is because they come apart and the pieces are interchangeable to make new car designs– and to appreciate that great feature, a kid really needs to have more than one.
Free to Be You and Me, CD $10.99/book $10.36 (Amazon or your neighborhood book/toy store): This great book and album (remember those?) were released in the 1970s by Marlo Thomas. This book and CD is full of great songs, stories, and poems that touch on gender equality, individuality, and acceptance of oneself and others. I love reading my own tattered copy to my kids. The sketches really get them thinking, and they actually laugh out loud. They also want me to sing the accompanying songs, and I am amazed at how many I can remember from my youth. They will be getting a copy of the CD for Christmas this year, which should be easier on their ears.
Jar of Marbles, $12.95 (your neighborhood toy store or RestorationHardware.com): I know that some folks will call me crazy, but good old-fashioned marbles get a lot of play at my house. I have learned that they roll down ramps made from couch cushions, race car tracks, and even socks (?). They make great noises in cans. Even the patterned rug is a great staging area (one kid has to hit the other kid's marble off the green or purple flower – different points for different flowers). Just make sure a gift of marbles goes to houses with no toddlers.
Great Card Game by Ceacos, $9.99-$11.99 (Izilla Toys in Seattle or eToys.com): Ceacos has a great collection of card games that come in nice sturdy boxes so that the cards don't get lost. Their games are all somewhat educational, and the rules can be adapted to appeal to all age levels.
Travel Watercolor Kit, $12.00 (Tottini in Seattle): This set is great for budding artists. It's compact enough at 3 inches by 6 inches to easily fit in a pocket or backpack.
Moon Jar, $6.95 (Moon Jar HQ in Seattle or MoonJar.com): This is essentially a piggy bank with a conscience. These sturdy cardboard banks have three sections marked Spend, Save, and Share. There are instructions on how to talk about money with a child and a passbook to record deposits and withdrawals. Add a few dollars to this gift to distribute as the recipient sees fit.
Snowball or Brick Maker, $7.95-$8.96 (Land of Nod store or landofnod.com): These quirky toys will be tons of fun in the snow this winter. There is a Sno-baller that boasts perfect 3-inch snowballs or a snow brick maker for structures. Maybe parents can use the Sno-baller as a melon baller the rest of the year – could be handy.