10 Unusual gifts for kids

10 Unusual gifts for kids | Modern Mrs Darcy

The best gifts for the kids in your life may never appear in the Target ads or the aisles of Toys R Us, because oftentimes they aren’t made just for kids and aren’t marketed as gifts.

So get your mind out of the toy aisle. To find unusual–but appropriate–gifts for the kids in your life, the #1 rule is to follow their interests.

Start by asking yourself what they’re really into. (And don’t get stuck trying to find a “kids” version of the cool adult stuff: usually, the grown-up version is more fun, works better, and costs exactly the same.)

Here are some untraditional gifts we’ve given–or are thinking of giving–to our own kids for Christmas: 

10 unusual gifts for kids: coffee table books | Modern Mrs Darcy

1. Coffee table books. Kids love these giant books with gorgeous, full-size photos, but because they’re not marketed to kids it might never occur to you to give one to a child.

Last year we gave Sarah (then 7) Young House Love; this year she’s got her eye on Remodelista. For our ten-year-old, we’re debating between Transit Maps of the World, Beautiful Lego, and Robert Ballard’s Titanic. None of these are “kids’ books,” but they’re perfect for our kids.

2. Kitchen gear. Forget the kids’ baking sets (unless it’s an apron you’re after). Get your child the good stuff: it costs the same and works a lot better. Sarah wants her own set of colorful mixing bowls. Maybe your little chef wants a waffle iron, an ice cream maker, a pizza stone? Get the real thing. (It doesn’t have to be new.)

design sponge fabric-covered typewriter

3. Typewriter. Sarah wants a vintage typewriter. Not a gorgeous, expensive antique, just a functional one so she can type her books. I’m on board. I might even cover it with fabric for her like I saw on Design Sponge (or maybe we’ll wait to do it together?)

Unusual gifts for kids: Great finds on Etsy | Modern Mrs Darcy

4. All that stuff on Etsy you’re swooning over. Your kids are swooning over half of it, too. My girls would love the Design Mom literary quote prints or this customized Anne of Green Gables moleskine. My boys would love this subway map of this Empire State Building wall art. (Jack is getting this awesome poster which joins his love of baseball and LEGOs.)

5. Swimwear. Fun and practical, swimwear hits the stores in December. Buy it now while you have the best selection of styles and sizes, and the idea of a swimsuit is novel to your kids. (These are my favorite.)

louisville slugger

6. City pride. Try a t-shirt, poster, or memento from your own city or a favorite destination.

7. Can’t buy it? Make your own. Sarah’s soy allergy makes it hard to find chocolate she can eat. (So sad, right?) We’re putting together a make-your-own chocolate kit with cocoa butter, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla, mixing bowls and spoons, and cute little molds–and the promise to make treats together.

8. Go simple. Hammer, nails, wood. Cheap, easy, delightful.

10 Unusual gifts for kids | Modern Mrs Darcy

9. Picnic set, beach bag, fort-in-a-box. Yes, you can buy prepackaged sets, but you know your child best: put together your own bag and toss in what they would like. I’d do pretty paper plates, cloth napkins, and snacks for the picnic set, cute sunnies and a new swimsuit for the beach bag, and blankets, clamps, and a flashlight for the fort kit. Have fun with it!

10 unusual gifts for kids | Modern Mrs Darcy

10. Let them experience it for themselves. Give tickets (sports/museum/circus), classes (art/sewing/juggling), a promise of a one-on-one adventure. The experiences can be weird, and that’s okay. Customize it for your kid.

What would you add to this list?

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For more unconventional ideas, check out 39 stocking stuffers that will actually be appreciated, don’t feel like a waste of money, and won’t be broken/destroyed/forgotten by New Years.


  1. hyan says

    I love these ideas! I would add nice pens or art supplies to the list. Some of the best gifts I got as a child were blank books for writing and drawing and a set of nice watercolor pencils.

    Also, when I was in elementary school my mom always had a stash of nice sketchbooks and prang watercolors in a closet. If I got invited to a birthday party, I wrapped up a pack of watercolors and a sketchbook for the gift. I thought it was a bit “uncool” at the time compared to some of the toys my friends brought for gifts, but I didn’t really mind, and I think it’s a great idea now!

  2. says

    Great ideas – thank you for sharing! (Especially the make-your-own chocolate.)

    The only things I think I’d add are:
    1. Subscriptions – to a magazine, comic book, book club where they mail you books bi-monthly or quarterly, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always loved the idea of Christmas gifts that aren’t confined to December.

    2. Gift cards – especially to places that won’t get used up immediately, like Amazon or a favorite coffee or treat shoppe. If you have a kindle and can get books for 99 cents, even a modest sum of $10 or $15 can go a long way, and having a gift card is an awesome excuse to go out on a random day and get hot chocolate or a fancy cookie – the kind of little dates that make big memories! :)

  3. D says

    A couple years ago I found a book called Indognito at Walmart for $1. It’s been a family favorite for YEARS! (cute dogs in costumes–who can resist?) My littlest also loves Anne Geddes books–she’s three and loves babies.

    Great list, Anne.

  4. says

    These are fantastic ideas! My boys LOVE Titanic, so I’m sending the link to that Ballard book to their grandparents, who still need ideas! Also, a tip for #2–if you do have future bakers who might like a pizza stone, you can use unglazed terra cotta tiles from a hardware store for much cheaper . (Or the terra cotta plates you put under a flower pot to catch water.)

  5. says

    We have always done coffee table books for our kids. Barnes and Nobles always has a great selection in their clearance section for $10-$15. They are beautiful books and our kids have learned so much through pursuing them.

  6. Shelly says

    Thank you for these suggestions! I have to get my 12 year old just a few more things, and I had no idea what to get her. I almost slapped myself in the head when I read your suggestion about kitchen stuff. My daughter loves to bake, do kitchen experiments, and make homemade playdough, so some mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, and various kitchen utensils will be perfect!

  7. says

    LOVE this list! I’m bookmarking it for Easter and birthdays, since I’ve mostly solidified everything I’m buying for my daughter for Christmas. She would love that picnic thing, though…maybe I can bump something off the list to make room for that one…

  8. says

    We are getting our three-year-old a huge dry erase board to adhere to the back of our kitchen counter with command strips. It will be at her level, and it will provide her a go-to drawing space within view of me during school time. She’s obsessed with markers!

    I agree with the cooking set, too. We got a set of pots and pans for my sous chef last year, and he loved it.

  9. says

    Love this list!! I want that typewriter, smiled at the Anne quote, and chuckled that your youngest is naked-ish in that pic :). I have been wondering if (hoping that!) getting him to church–dressed–is easier in the winter months :).

  10. says

    I absolutely love this list – the gifts are much more thoughtful and will be enjoyed for muh longer than most toys. I would add a bespoke piece of art, based around your child’s passions, and personalised with their name. Take a look at my site for some examples: http://www.cattrevena.com. Enjoy!

  11. says

    Great ideas!! My son has a favorite coffee-table book about the renovation of 4 New York City landmarks. I happened to find it on clearance the Christmas before our trip to NYC when he was 6, and it helped him get excited about the trip.

    One of my favorite gifts as a child was a box full of stacks of paper rectangles of many sizes and colors and textures. They were the ends that a print shop had trimmed off of projects, and my mom bought the whole box for something like $2. Years of crafts, birthday cards, and small drawings! I regifted some of the paper by decorating it to make pretty shopping-list paper for my grandmothers.

  12. says

    I would be more then happy to unwrap all of these! I like how you emphasized to know your children and to step out of the toy aisle. Yes and amen! The picnic in a basket is fantastic as is that typewriter.
    I’ll be keeping this list for future reference for my girls and for ourselves. =)

  13. says

    I remember getting nice stationery when I was a child: matching sets of letter paper and envelopes. (Well, school-age, like 9-12, so I could write.) We’d be exchanging letters and cards with friends, even though we saw each other at school every day. Handwritten letters and cards are great :)

    Another thing that comes to mind: something for gardening. Make a “Grow your own pretty flowers” kit or, instead of flowers, something else that either works in your garden or you can grow in a flower pot indoors. My son loves to nurture little plants.


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