Festivities & Celebrations

Anne Glamore’s Guide to Gifts: Boy Toys

I can’t think of anyone more qualified than I am to give advice on what to give boys for gifts. These suggestions cover a range of ages up to eleven, which is as far as I’ve had to deal with. I’ve added some wrapping and psychology tips, too.


There are some household objects that adults take for granted, but that are extremely entertaining to boys. My boys are obsessed with flashlights, big and small. The kind that come with a lanyard you can hang around your neck are the best, because then the boys don’t lose them while they’re hunting for Osama in the azaleas. Porter also wore a headlamp for the better part of a year, and had a great time looking under the bed and in dark corners for stray items that most of us would characterize as trash but that he
collected as treasure.

Give them as presents for the kids, but the parents will remember you appreciatively. Flashlights come in handy around the house for obvious reasons, and the headlamp was useful when Drew and I took the stitches out of Porter’s head. (Remember the time he split it open while trying to get a better look at the ant farm, and when he fell the ant farm broke and the ants ran through the blood for their lives? No? You missed an exciting afternoon.)

Key chains are also popular. You can get them with characters or designs, but why not go ahead and get something functional while you’re at it? The Accutire MS-4650 Key Chain Digital Tire Gauge with Flashlight combines a key chain with a flashlight and a tire gauge. I’ll be ordering this for Porter, my handyman. For months he begged me to teach him how to check the pressure in my tires.

“This is so very fun,” he sighed blissfully once he had mastered the technique.

Now he is in charge of making sure the air pressure in my tires is correct, but he has stolen my tire gauge. A key chain/flashlight/tire gauge? All in one? This will send him into
paroxysms of pleasure.

Our boys go camping, too. Look at this Columbia CL9750 Key Chain Compass Thermometer— marked way down. Fun! Of course, you’ll have to tell your child to quit announcing the temperature and direction every minute, and advise him that you want to know these statistics on the hour and half-hour only, and then you will both be mighty satisfied with this gift.

You know what else is satisfying? An Electric Pencil Sharpener. Just ask Drew– there is nothing better than a really sharp pencil. Hint: Pencils make great stocking stuffers. Better Hint: Don’t forget to emphasize that the pencil sharpener is not for crayons. Also that the sharpener should be emptied over the trashcan. Just trying to keep your holidays happy.

Boys also like safes. Go ahead and get a real safe that opens with a key instead of a code. They usually come with two keys, and you can confiscate one before you ever wrap the present. Finn uses his safe as a night table, and last time I looked he was storing his most precious baseball cards and a pair of swim goggles in it. That doesn’t mean he won’t be trying to hide some doobie there in a couple of years. You can be damn sure I know where the spare key is. If his adolescence is anything like his pre-teenhood, I may need a little toke myself.

Is there something of yours that your children keep stealing? Perhaps you should give them one and tell them to keep their grimy paws off yours. For example, years ago my mother gave Bill a fancy down pillow. All my boys coveted it when they snuggled in the bed with us. Last year Macy’s had a kick-ass sale on down pillows, and I bought them each one. Three thumbs up!

Don’t underestimate the amusement quotient of a good jumprope. Boys will jump rope because they know that athletes do it as part of their training. But the rope will also be used as a harness for a pretend horse, a lasso, a finish line, and hundreds of other things. Hint: Before purchasing a jumprope, grab one end and get a fellow shopper to grab the other. Pull like hell. If it breaks, it was not sturdy enough for the kind of stress your boys were going to put on it.

Another gift idea is one I call Woodworker’s Paradise. Collect scraps of wood. Drill some holes in some of them. Gather screws. Buy your children age appropriate screwdrivers. Let the boys sit around and screw. Hint: Older children can play with hammers and nails. Remember the safety goggles. (Safety goggles also double as spy glasses and an underwater mask for the bathtub.) Make sure the Woodworker’s Paradise is not behind the minivan before you back up or it quickly turns into a living hell.


Some people have given us gifts that we never would have thought of ourselves, but that have withstood the tests of time, pounding, submersion, and overall abuse. Aunt Lulu gave Porter Snap Circuits for his birthday. It teaches children about electricity without the danger of letting them practice on your outlets. The kit has instructions for putting the parts together. Do it one way, and you can make the fan twirl. Rework it, and the light bulb will turn on. Porter has spent hours with it and wants the more complicated version for Christmas. He’ll be getting it.

Aunt Lulu also gets credit for Window Art. Drew is my little artist, and he spent ages outlining designs and words, painting them, and letting them dry. The designs peel off and stick to the window. Genius.


I would never have dreamed of getting the boys clothing for Christmas, but one year Aunt Su got Finn a Life Is Good sweatshirt. I have to pry it off his body to wash it. The brand makes hats, shirts, stickers and so forth. I foresee more of these in our future.

Let’s face it, banks shaped like a piggy are cute, but they are sadly out of date. Fortunately, your child can learn for himself how hard it is to keep track of his damn ATM card with the ATM Savings Bank. It beeps, has a code and uses a card. When your child takes it in the bathtub with him you’ll be glad it’s made out of cheap plastic so you can hammer it open and rescue the millions inside.

atmwall If you find some sticky velcro spots lying around the house, like Porter did, you can attach the ATM bank to the wall.

There’s nothing to prevent you from assembling your own craft kit that provides hours of entertainment. I did it, and I hate doing crafts. Get a storage cart like this


and fill it with art supplies that you know you can tolerate. For me that meant tons of paper, coloring and activity books, scissors, including those scrapbook scissors that make fancy cuts, washable markers, crayons, stickers, pipecleaners, bags of little puff ball things to glue on masterpieces, feathers, chalk and mini blackboards, clipboards, sidewalk chalk, tissue paper and washable glue. I got most of this at Hobby Lobby or Michaels.

Hint: You may be able to tolerate glitter but I cannot. You’re already going to have to deal with some of it that comes home on the macaroni holiday ornament from school, but I try to keep our glitter exposure to an absolute minimum. Stamps look cute, but kids end up stamping your walls, which is not. Smart parents put about two-thirds of this stuff into the container, and then stick something new in there every month or so as if the craft fairy had popped by for a visit.

glitter When I saw this I immediately established the glitter rule. Then I drank a gin and tonic, got out the vacuum and sent the boys outside to

Better Hint: Establish strict guidelines as to where the crafty items can and cannot be taken lest the craft fairy remove them from the premises entirely. Like I said, you won’t get these tips anywhere else.


It should be no surprise that boys like things that move. Planes, trains, automobiles– you can’t really go wrong with a plastic one, a toy one, a book about one, a remote control one, or a movie about one. Here are some of the longer lasting items around our house.

If you’re wondering whether your child will really use the train set, the answer is yes. For years. Plus it’s the gift you can keep on giving– every holiday you can add some track or a new train.

Train psychology: Some trains run on batteries. Save those for special occasions, like the night that your child turns eighteen months old and the pacifier fairy comes and takes all those damn pacis he’s been hoarding like heroin and leaves a cool train.

Hint: If you buy the train table, then your child won’t be easily amused when you go to Barnes & Noble where they have a complete train set up on a table. Let them build theirs on the floor at home and be wowed by the table at the bookstore so you can get a little peace and quiet.

Boys like to build things. You can never have too many Legoes. I must be raising some future architects (please, God!)
lego lego2

because they are wild for the LEGO Ultimate House Building Set.

The company makes smaller items like tractors and motorcycles, too. They’re affordable (watch for sales at Target) and square, so they’re easy to wrap.

Another line made by Lego that’s popular is Bionicles.

I don’t know if you can tell, but the container is oval, so they are hell to gift wrap. Stick them in a gift bag with a sheet of fluffed out tissue paper.

Tips for the Lego Owner: Keep in mind that trying to save each individual Lego is futile. Count on replenishing them each year. Lots of them end up in the vacuum, the septic tank, and the trash. Train your children to at least clear them from the path between their doorway and the bed, so you don’t step on sharp blocks in the middle of the night and accidentally teach your kids a bunch of cuss words.

See Figure 1: Cleaning Out The Closet (below)

Another popular toy at our house is K’nex.
They are like plastic Tinker Toys, and Porter has built all sorts of whirligigs out of them. Again: disposable, replenish.

Figure 1: Cleaning Out the Closet


The red and black object in the far right of the dust pan is a chunk of Lego destined for the garbage. The spiral things below the card and spent shotgun shells are pieces of K’nex, also history.


Long-time readers will know that I am cranky about media, and severely limit my boys’ television and computer time. Thus, we have no Gameboys, Playcubes and boxes that you line up at three in the morning wearing a bullet-proof vest to purchase. However, I am also a realist, and there are occasions when a couple wants to lock the door and make googly eyes without interference from the small fry.

We relied heavily on several videos (now they’re probably DVDs) to accomplish this when the boys were younger. Spirit of Mickey is clips of classic, non-violent Mickey Mouse, and best of all, it’s 83 minutes long.

The boys’ grandmother gave them the Beginner’s Bible video series years ago, and I was astounded at how much they enjoyed them. They still watch them occasionally, especially when there’s a video that corresponds to a story they’ve learned in Sunday School. Each movie tells a different story, such as Noah and the Ark, Jesus and His Miracles, The Story of Easter, and so forth. If this series is compatible with your way of thinking, I would highly recommend it. CAVEAT: Please be warned that Kathy Lee Gifford sings the cloying theme song on each video. It’s hard to listen to and even harder to get out of your head once overheard.

By far the most popular video in our collection was There Goes a Fire Truck which features the entertaining Fireman Dave. My boys watched this video thousands of times and laughed uproariously each time, either because they are easily amused or because Fireman Dave is just that damn funny. Watch out though– this is an extremely short video, so if you want to make googly eyes and your boys insist on watching this, you should teach them how to rewind, or plan on a quickie.

As the kids get older, there are some videos you just plain need. These include Shrek and Shrek 2 so your children can learn to appreciate Eddie Murphy, School of Rock so your kids will love Jack Black and Stevie Nicks. If you have twins, even boys, The Parent Trap(either with the pre-boob Lindsay Lohan or the wonderful original version with Hayley Mills) is hysterical. Watching your not-even-remotely-identical twins try to change places after seeing the film is hilarious.

I don’t have much more to say on this topic other than, “Go play outside and I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”


My recommendation here is to keep in mind the motto “If they see it, they will screw with it.”

All parents know this intuitively; that is why we baby proof the house and hide the knives. But this absolute truth can also be used to your advantage, and it’s the perfect way to cultivate music appreciation.

For example, when Finn was small we bought what looked like a drum set for midgets.

He pounded on it happily, and then became interested in real drums. Real drums are expensive, so we bought him a set at the pawn shop and started him on lessons to see if he was really interested. He’s well into his third year of lessons, so we’re springing for a real set of drums for his birthday.

We’ve done the same thing with guitars. First we had the Pretend Guitar, which both Drew and Porter screwed around with. Later, when Porter started asking for a real guitar, I found one on sale that came with an instructional DVD. He watched it, and apparently picked up a few tips. He’s been taking lessons for six months and is progressing well. His teacher is worried about him, however, because last week he asked to learn to play Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around” which can be a downer of a song if you’re not in the mood for lyrics that sound like Revelations.

We used the same strategy for piano, by purchasing a keyboard. Drew is now taking piano keyboard lessons, so the three of them may be the next Hanson. We should only be so lucky.


The Glamore Band Through The Years:
drums wguitar hanson wannabe wgauitar hansonbest


The trick with boys is to make them think they’re goofing off when actually they are reading. Some good gift ideas include subscriptions to Sports Illustrated for Kids, Highlights, or other magazines. Older kids will enjoy The Indispensable Calvin And Hobbes and the younger ones will laugh at Shel Silverstein and his crazy poems, like the one about the babysitter who thinks she’s supposed to sit on the baby. I’m also a fan of Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies by Art Spiegelman. Your child believes he’s enjoying a fancy comic book instead of fantastic stories by a former New Yorker cartoonist.

Do you have a dog? If so, The Night I Followed the Dog is the perfect book for your family. It divulges a secret: your dog is out partying while your child is asleep. On second thought, this might be good for a family who refuses to get a dog, too. You can simply explain, “But honey, we don’t have any nightclubs around here, and Spot would be very lonely at night.”

Don’t forget the always good-for-a-giggle Mad Libsand Mad Libs Junior. They’re still classic.


I’d be interested in knowing what Santa puts in your stockings. At our house, Santa leaves toothbrushes and toothpaste, some gag gifts like mini rubber chickens or Silly String, and some candy. That’s also a good place to replenish your playing cards and UNO. When I was growing up, Santa left underwear, stamps and apples. Whee.


The sign that your children have received truly awesome gifts is that they hang around so long that the kids start combining them to make even more fantastic creations such as the one currently in our basement. To me it looks like train set + paper and scissors and tons of scotch tape from art chest but Drew explained this as, “This is a village covered in purple germs that made everyone die because they didn’t get their children vaccinated, and now there is no one around to run the train. The thing in the top right corner is a magic carpet that Porter made to go find some new people but I don’t think it’s going to work.”


Of course I’d love to hear your ideas or feedback. If you have any, please comment!

Other bloggers are doing gift guides. The always hysterical Miss Doxie has many inexpensive ideas for those who need to buy gifts like bath bubbles and such. Go visit her site– she’s got much more than that; it’s just that I’m up to my neck in Legos and can’t do it justice.

Dave Barry’s guide has allegedly useless gifts, but I think the Marie Antoinette doll is a definite possibility for our house. And I have personal experience with two of the other gifts he recommends. The tee-pee doesn’t work, but the motorized cooler rocks just as much as you think it does.

There are suggestions for lawyers on ReidMyBlog! but I think other nerds would enjoy the motivational poster as well.

Mighty Goods exists to find cool things we can’t live without.

Happy shopping….


  • Peeved Michelle

    At my house, Santa stuffs the stockings with things he finds at Cost Plus World Market. Stock favorites include mini summer sausage, mini crackers, Reindeer Noses (red hots), a kazoo, all manner of tiny puzzles and bouncy things, gummy sushi, weird Japanese candy, chocolate coins, and any odd little thing that is cool. Oh, and a favorite in the past has been a little Christmas cake, which is really two stacked Oreos covered in chocolate and then decorated like a cake, but Santa has been unable to find those at Cost Plus this year.

  • Kendra

    One comment about the jump rope- in our house we had a rule-you can play in a tree or you can play with a rope but you can’t play in a tree with a rope. My son Begged me to show him how to tie a noose- never did. Legos? Don’t get rid of em, My 20 year old and her boyfriend have been spotted in our living room with the Legos. Set them out as bait and see who can keep their hands off of them. As for this year, 4th grade daughter wants a hand held vibrator from Homedics she keeps seeing in the stores. Anne, what do I say to her? And you thought boys were tough.

  • Kelly

    Great list! I think even my girls will love a few of these items. And I will for sure be getting them The Parent Trap (with Hayley Mills, thank you very much).

    My favorite site for buying toys for boys is thinkgeek.com. Lots of stuff for grown-up boys, but I think there’s plenty to amuse and divert the younger kind, too.

  • Lauren

    Great timing–I drew my 11 year old cousin’s name (a boy) for Christmas, so I’m on the look out. Several of your ideas are perfect, and I got ideas for other people too. Thanks!

  • karyn

    Glamore, I think I love you.

    My two are just 2 & 5, (and 21), but these are great ideas… some for the future, some apply now… I am so totally doing a post about this stuff. Good to know I’m not the only one who sticks the kids in front of a video while we make – what did you call it ? Googly eyes? Yeah.

  • Nicole

    Ahhh I can always read your blog for a good laugh. Amongst the great tips are hilarious little wisecracks. Love it! You’re too funny.

    Its so funny to see you write “Porter” on your blog! I’ve never met anyone else with a Porter (well, yours is older than mine, so I guess I’m the copy-cat, huh?). About the train set… I think I’ve ruined it. He’s 9months old and already has the set with the table. Ehhhh… well, I have an excuse… it was only $50. I couldn’t pass it up. Although, I should store it away and bring it out later and he’d never know he had it this young… hmm…

    Anyway, I just wanted to drop you a comment. I love to read your blog, and you have great parenting advice on here. Keep it coming! I hope your blog is up 10 or 15 years down the road… I’m sure I’ll need the good tips!

  • Sandra

    Everything you said is so true. I have an 8 year old boy, and he have (or are getting) most of what you suggest. Flashlights are huge! My sone has a large collection and will be getting a few more.
    Stockings stuffers are the small things that don’t warrant a full wrap – some toiletry type items, candy, small toys (the keychain and lanyard idea is great!) and movie gift certificates. THe hand knit socks are sometimes put i there as well…

  • MoMo

    Snap Circuits! What a great idea!!!
    Stockings- Fill with lots of rolls of scotch tape. It has many uses and is loved by little boys. We also put in sticky notes, mechanical pencils and lead, erasers, etc. Stuff you can really use- not just junk.
    Believe me don’t ever buy a “Barrel Full of Monkeys” unless you want to be stepping on and forevever picking up little red monkeys.

  • Emily

    The stamps were for your THANK YOU notes, of course. My parents delighted in giving us staples (what a surprise that stapler under the tree was when we opened it 20 minutes later!), socks, and the excellent and mysterious ‘rattlesnake eggs’. Look them up–I’m sure your boys will appreciate it.

  • lynn

    Trains, legos, trucks, k’nex, check, check, check!

    My almost-six-year-old boy is getting these (either now or for his birthday in February):




    and some sort of Matchbox mega truck shark catcher dinosaur box set that you can only find at Kohl’s (but which was half price!)

  • Krista

    Thank you VERY much for all your great ideas! I’ll have to save them for a few Christmases but I know that they will be coming in handy in a few years.

    As for our Christmas stockings, we also like gifties from Cost Plus World Market! The unusual little candies/snacks from around the world are so fun to give & get. Ordinary things like new socks and Sharpie pens also show up, but especially now that I’m older I appeciate them a lot more. We also use the stockings as an opportunity to give “weird” gifts that highlight our personalities. For example, a couple years ago my brother gave my husband a “porta potty in a bag”. Its supposed to be used for hunting or what have you…

    We say that stocking gits are from Santa and tree gifts are from each other, but it usually comes out who got what for whom. 🙂

  • Leeny

    World Market is a great idea for stocking stuffers for my stepkids! As far as regular gifts, my grandson is 18 months. My daughter told me to get him books, puzzles, toys, cars. It’s hard to find something I think he might play with for more than two minutes because his parents already have bought him any and all toys under the son for his age group!

  • Fiona

    What a gorgeous gift guide — and hilarious posting, as usual! Hopefully the Internet will still be around when the time comes to buy gifts for my little nephew and any boys I may pop out in future. Your tried-and-true suggestions will doubtless help many people for years to come.

    P.S. I actually squealed when I saw the Hanson CD cover — die-hard Hanson fan here. *sighs* And don’t give up hope! Your boys could yet take the world by storm some day.

  • kassie

    This is brilliant.

    We love the “There Goes a…” (Fire truck, construction vehicle, blah blah) series. Dave is perfectly goofy.

    Flashlights: a perennial favorite. This year I’m going for the hand crank ones that require no batteries.

    As for stockings – they are all about buying mom & dad 5 extra minutes of sleep. Santa used to put them at the foot of our beds when we were kids. Our perennial gift was an orange at the very bottom.

  • Laura

    In our house Santa *is* the craft fairy. Stockings get filled with playdough (the little party sized ones), glitter glue pens (our solution to the glitter conundrum), sticker stars, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, new markers, glue sticks, little pom-poms, feathers and doo-dads from the clearance rack at Micheals or Hobby Lobby.

    Grown ups get a lovely selection of hotel soaps, shampoos, conditioners and lotions that we collect through the year (I travel a lot for work). May seem cheesy, but how often do you wish for a little hand lotion? Okay, maybe it *is* cheesy…

  • Melissa

    Well – it’s good to see that you’re still up and running! I love your stories and ideas.

    One thing that we always got in our stockings were thank you note cards. Some years they had cute sayings, other years they were personalized. My Mom would keep a list of who got what from whom and you better believe that we had to have a corresonding card within a week sent out to that person.

    Keep up the good work and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you and hubby get to retire young with all the money your boys will make as the next Hanson!!

  • Jen

    Great list Anne!

    And you totally have another Hanson fan reader! So excited that you mentioned the guys. (psst to everyone who reads this: they’ve got a song on iTunes right now called “Great Divide”…100% of the proceeds benefit the AIDS cause in Africa)

  • Jenny A.

    Well, having a girl (8) and a boy (11), I have seen the combination of many toy sets into something that you wouldn’t believe. We have a dollhouse populated by Bionicles and Polly Pockets. And a Littlest Pet Shop with the pets inside and also Lego mini figures. The stories are halarious they come up withBob the LPS dog is the owner of the pet hotel, but also the mayor of the town. Or the Bionicles are attacking the Polly Pocket friends as they are trying to put on their rock concert. I have come to think it’s normal! help!

    I also always got a fruit in the toe of my stocking—usually an apple. I suspect my Dad was in charge of the stockings. On Christmas Eve.

    Thanks for the list—-got me to thinking!

  • Elijah

    OMG! I love your site! I have a total of ZERO young boys to purchase gifts for (despite the fact that I am 38 years old and all my friends are also 38 years old–give or take 10 years–for some reason all of us are waiting for something –we’re not quite sure what–to happen before we have children) I still thoroughly enjoyed this blog entry! Go Hanson!!

    Best part is, I found your link through a comment made on Miss Doxie’s site…I just love that.

    Okay, before I get too mushy and sweet I’ll sign off. But know this…you’re officially bookmarked.

  • DCvt

    I think the guitar is a great idea, and you can find inexpensive ones for beginners that are great to learn on. Brands like first act have guitars especially designed for kids just getting started.

  • Earth Girl

    This brought back so many memories. Every year my sons (fraternal twins) got a flashlight in their stocking. Another excellent stocking gift are disposable cameras and the surprising thing about this gift was discovering their perspective on adults as we have lots of pictures of their relatives’ nostrils. Now they are 17 (and a half) and we are considering buying them (gasp) a car.

  • Ellyn

    You are not only brilliant but you’re my hero! My 9 year old cousin was very sick this winter and near death for several weeks before he recovered and returned home in time for the Christmas celebration. Having drawn his name in the family gift exchange I was desperate for a life changing present to encourage and entertain him. I followed your advice and found him a great headlamp from REI and a safe from a local hardware store. He adored them and spent all morning running back and forth between his room and his stash of cash in the safe. As I sighed with relief and smiled I sent this thought your way “Way to go Anne Glamore! You just made another little boy’s day!” Thanks for blessing me and my family with your wisdom and humor!