10 Unusual gifts for kids

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

4. All that stuff on Etsy you’re swooning over. Your kids are swooning over half of it, too. My girls would love these literary quote prints or this customized Anne of Green Gables moleskine. My boys would love this subway map or 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.

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. 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 100 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.

unusual gifts for kids


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  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!

    • We’ve done art and sketchbooks in the past. This year we switched things up and bought our 9YO daughter some blank comic books for her birthday — sketchbooks with the panels outlined — and that has been an enormous hit!

      I do the nice watercolors/sketchbooks for an easy gift, too! For younger kids, I give an ink pad and one of Ed Emberley’s Fingerprint Drawing books, which are only about $5, I think.

  2. Jamie 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. Ana 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Cat Trevena 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. 'Becca 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. Breanne 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. Tuija 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.

    • Brenda says:

      There is a book dealer named BasBleu based in Hudson Ohio. One year we bought my grandson who is a great reader, a book a month gift for Xmas. If I remember, I suggested a mystery category. He was thrilled to receive a new book each month. They are a wonderful company.(BasBleu means blue stocking)

  14. Andrea A says:

    One of the best gifts we ever got our daughters was an office in a cart. We bought a 3-drawer Iris cart and filled it with office supplies- stapler, post-its, While You Were Out pads, pens and cup, paperclips, file folders, a cordless phone, even an Open/Close sign. They loved playing office with “real” stuff.

  15. Cat G says:

    Great list! My kids would like most of these and stores like Big Lots and Follies bargain Outlet are filled with coffee table books and the like. I would add camping equipment, flashlights with a printout of flashlight game instructions, fun calculators, and grown up art supplies. Last year, we gave our artsy 8yo oil pastels to go with her paper and other art supplies.

  16. erin says:

    Last year, our 10 year old said that she wanted (and, please don’t swoon when you read this), “a mountain of books”. This was almost too easy, so upon some reflection, I decided to merge her other love of foreign places with her love of books. I scourged used book stores for books written by authors in other countries, or stories which take place in less-than-typical locations. She got her ‘mountain of books’, along with a wall decal of a world map, so that she could see where all of these places were.
    Some of the books I included were:
    The Breadwinner
    Banner in the sky
    a book about Mozart’s sister
    It was so fun to put together, cost very little, AND brought her much joy.

  17. Gwen says:

    my daughter’s are learning to sew, so I am including a doll clothes pattern with a gift card to the local craft store for them to purchase the fabric/notions.

  18. andrea says:

    I LOVE the typewriter suggestion. I salvaged mu mother’s old one when I saw she placed it on the curb. The kids’ loved it. However, the ribbon is out of ink. Any idea where I can find typewriter ribbon in today’s world?

    And, I love the idea of a chocolate making kit for your daughter. I bet the authentic version will taste better too.

    • Anne says:

      At the time we were researching getting a vintage typewriter for our daughter, I discovered all kinds of blogs, sites, and businesses dedicated to old typewriters. I remember there are ribbon sources out there—I just don’t remember what they are!

  19. Liz E says:

    One of the best things I ever got my kids was a big box of shirt cardboard from the dry cleaners. White on one side and inspiration for so many things (quidditch brooms, recreation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, paper dolls, etc.)

  20. KR says:

    Great list. My girls are 10 and 13. Some past favorites were a cake decorating class at the local Michaels, interesting fabric remnants wrapped in a bow for my budding stylist (we had the best dressed dolls in the neighborhood) and a “princess bag” which was a $15 beaded clutch from TJ Maxx.

  21. Julie says:

    I absolutely love this list, along with the added suggestions I’ve seen in the comments! I’m wondering if anyone can recommend ideas for babies? He will be born in December so I’m trying to think of things that will be useful once he starts sitting up, crawling, and so on.

  22. Terry says:

    The big Christmas gift for my granddaughers, 4 and 5, is a giant box of art supplies. One of the things we included was a package of 10 8×10 stretched canvases for them to paint. They weren’t terribly expensive (especially with a 40% off coupon) and I think the girls will be entranced with the fact that it means that their art is “real” – like they see in the museum (which they love).

  23. LiviaRose says:

    My mom bought my younger sisters ice skate necklaces and ice skating necklaces one year. Two of them received skates (not all same year), and I think Mom got them lessons again, it was such a hit.

    One of my younger sisters got a typewriter for one Christmas (to match her Kit doll and typewriter; she kind of looks like Kit). We wanted one as close to the 30’s one as we could get. I think the one we found one at an antique mall is from the 40’s. We were able to get the paper and ink online I believe.

    I’ve gotten a couple pieces bookish jewelry from Etsy for my siblings (A Marauders Map locket for example). The shop AOS designs has lovely Disney jewelry; I bought a pearl cage necklace that was Cinderella’s coach (I didn’t get a pearl for it, but you can buy them from the shop, too).

    And even though they are teens now, I’ve still gotten them Adventures in Odyssey for gifts for the last several years.

  24. Pam says:

    At about 10 we give the kids a toolbox, full size hammer and nails. Each year we add a new tool – screwdriver sets, pliers, etc so that by the time they go to college/leave the house, they have a complete toolkit.

    • Kim says:

      Great idea! My sister (60) made a toolkit for me (54) this past year while she was my breast cancer caregiver. I (and my helpers) use it all the time now that I am better.

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