Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours
A customer browses gift wrapping supplies in Louisville. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours

Who can blame parents for craving a break? In this strangest of years, they’ve served as teachers, playmates, and quarantine enforcers. They’ve been deprived of vacations, date nights, and just plain private time. 

When you’re shopping for kids this holiday season, keep those hard-working parents front of mind—especially if you are one. Look for toys, games, and activities that do double duty, keeping children happily occupied for extended stretches of time, with minimal mess and little to no adult supervision required. 

Here are 16 ideas to get you going, for a range of ages. They’re intentionally light on screen time, with just a few worthy and educational exceptions.

Ages 2 to 4

Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours

Asweets Baby Activity Walker 
Hit a trifecta with this activity center on wheels—good for kids as young as nine months but with features that will hold their attention well into toddlerhood. It has numbered flaps, a shape sorter, bead maze, mirror, and abacus, which help kids practice counting and fine motor skills—all while giving you a few minutes of peace. Plus, the Scandi-esque design coordinates with grownup decor, so your living room will feel a little less like a pint-sized yard sale. $99,

Sago Mini Box
Subscription boxes are nothing new, but here’s one that even preschoolers can do on their own. Each Sago set includes three themed paper activities for 3- to 5-year-olds—such as making a finger-puppet theater, gnome home, or paper airplanes—plus a mini figurine. The packaging is purposeful, too, transforming into stages, construction machines, and other toys. (Because let’s face it, the box is always the most fun, anyway.) From $19 a month, with a three-month minimum,

The Nugget
What looks like a soft foam couch is actually the cult toy of the year: Its base, cushions, and triangular pillows can be taken apart and reconfigured into climbing structures, forts, reading nooks, and even a makeshift slide. It comes in 15 colors, with fabric covers that can be taken off for easy laundering. It may take an actual lottery to get one, though. Covid-19 production delays have resulted in months-long backorders, but Nugget is making holiday season orders available to the lucky winners of a weekly drawing. $229,

Janod Reverso Kitchen
Mid-century colors and curves make this play kitchen easy on adult eyes and especially “real” to kids. It packs in lots of opportunities for make-believe, with a kitchen on one side, a washing machine and shelves on the other, and just enough lights and sounds to be exciting—but not annoying. $231,

Ages 5 to 7

Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours

This clever, intuitive device gives your kids access to songs and stories without the need for screens. Children place a compatible character, or Tonie, on top of the padded box to start playing a mini-album; they can skip forward and back with taps and tilts, and carry it from room to room. The Toniebox comes in six colors and has dozens of options for tales and tunes, from classics to modern favorites such as Frozen, Finding Nemo, and the Gruffalo. $100 for the Toniebox, $15 for each hand-painted Tonie,

Gardenuity My First Garden Kit
Getting grade-schoolers into the dirt doesn’t just keep them out of your hair—it’s been shown to reduce stress and improve their problem-solving skills. The My First Garden Kit makes it easy, with a reusable grow bag, pre-measured compost and nutrients, a mister, and plants or seeds. It’s also compact enough to fit on a balcony or patio. $72,

This toy may not look like much at first glance. But Clixo’s flexible plastic shapes with magnetic connectors can quickly become addictive, in a good way. They’re fidgety and fun, and their freeform shapes let you build anything from crowns to airplanes to elaborate geometric objects. They’re also super easy to clean up and take up almost no storage space. From $30,

Ultimate Fort Builder
Forts are fun—until you actually want to use your sofa. Lakeshore Learning’s building kit includes dozens of sturdy plastic poles and connectors that kids can configure in countless ways, topping off their creations with sheets or blankets. If they somehow run out of ideas, a guide offers step-by-step instructions for making castles, igloos, and more. $50,

Ages 8 to 10

Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours

Toybox 3D Printer
What’s better than a toy? A toy that makes toys. This compact 3D printer was designed specifically for children, who can print from a library of more than 2,000 toys, including working padlocks and tiny replicas of the Taj Mahal. It takes anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to make the objects out of biodegradable polymer—a process that’s mesmerizing for kids and grownups alike. From $299,

iRobot Root rt0
Don’t be put off by its pedigree. The company behind Roomba, the game-changing robot vacuum cleaner, has also created a winning educational toy. Released in July, the Root rt0 teaches kids how to code a disk-shaped robot via an app so that it can drive, draw, or perform a wide array of simple tasks—no parental involvement required. Three different learning levels include graphical drag-and-drop to more advanced text-based coding, and they all facilitate a library of fun activities. Younger kids will love the paper costumes—including unicorn and pirate—that they can color and place on the robot for an additional flourish. $129,

Bakery Bling Designer Cookie Kits
Let your kids make Instagram-worthy treats—without having to supervise the oven or touch the stand mixer. Bakery Bling’s kits come with pre-baked, nut-free cookies, icing, trademark glittery sugar, and other decorations for making picture-perfect desserts. There are seasonal kits (snow globe, Hanukkah, Christmas tree), perennial favorites such as unicorns and fire trucks, and a few quirky picks—llama RV, anyone? $13,

Kid Made Modern Craft Classes 
Elevate your kids’ arts and crafts game without having to spend a weekend re-learning how to braid friendship bracelets. Kid Made Modern, long a source of stylish art kits, now offers live online classes with professional art teachers. Choose among one-off sessions or multiday workshops, all conducted on Zoom with a maximum of 12 students. Each class includes a KMM kit for creating watercolors, holiday ornaments, jewelry gifts, or (yes) friendship bracelets. From $50 per class,

Ages 11 to 13

Gifts to Keep Your Children Entertained (and Off Your Back) for Hours

The One Smart Keyboard Pro Essential
Though it’s no replacement for real-life piano lessons, the One digital keyboard and app can definitely make practice more fun. Link the piano to a tablet or phone, and musically-inclined kids can learn new songs from games, videos, and interactive sheet music—which highlights the notes on the screen and keyboard as they go. The new version, the Pro Essential, has a full 88 keys vs. the previous model’s 66. $650,

Lego Spike Prime
Lego’s newest teaching toy was designed mainly for educational settings—but for many families, that’s now synonymous with, um, being at home. The Spike Prime set combines regular Lego bricks with sensors, motors, a Bluetooth hub, and a proprietary coding app, thereby allowing them to turn simple blocks into complex machines. Kids work their way through online challenges that intertwine creativity, ingenuity, and STEM skills. One of them cleverly invites kids to create a claw grabber—and then use it to clean up their mess. $330,

Crafter’s Box
This subscription box is designed for grownups but perfectly suitable for tween-aged makers. Each month brings high-quality supplies for making a different (non-cheesy) craft project, such as a brass mobile or macramé hanging, by following an online video. If an upcoming craft isn’t quite your style, you can always pause the subscription or swap it for something more appealing. $65 a month,

It’s not just pretty to look at. This brightly colored wood backgammon set from New York’s Museum of Modern Art can help kids learn math, resilience, and flexibility. Plus, isn’t it about time they knew how to play something that’s fun for you, too? $96,

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