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.
EVERYDAY OBJECTS THAT APPEAL TO BOYS
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.
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.
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.
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.”
GIFTS TO ENHANCE YOUR CHILD’S MUSICAL GENIUS
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 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.”
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.