Now that my daughter is in preschool and has started to make new friends, the birthday party invites have started pouring in. I loved birthday parties as a kid, and I’m thrilled for her to start experiencing them, but the dilemma is: What to do for all the gifts? Many times I don’t know the parents or child well enough to decipher their specific taste. Are they the “all organic” types? Will they be irritated if we bring more “stuff” into their house for them to trip over? While I’m not always sure what to bring, there are a few things I try to avoid — anything that is very messy, very loud (save the drum set for the grandparent gift), or a living thing (just say no to goldfish — the parents have enough to take care of already).
Most of us will attend many birthday parties this year, which can be an expensive undertaking. Even when the invite says “no gifts,” I still find it difficult to show up empty handed (plus, I really enjoy wrapping and giving gifts). In the spirit of this birthday debacle, here is a list of gift ideas for young children that are inexpensive, useful, and won’t drive the parents completely insane.
Encouraging reading is something everyone can embrace, and you can make it more fun by doing a “book exchange” party. In lieu of gifts, everyone brings a wrapped book and the kids pick numbers to choose one. Everyone goes home with something, and it’s extra clutter a parent can live with.
2. Creative kit
The dollar store is great for putting together an affordable craft-themed gift filled with crayons, markers, stickers, construction paper, glue, and clay. Or, print out an age-appropriate craft idea with the corresponding supplies. This becomes a stress reliever for the parents the next time a rainy day comes along.
3. Bubbles and balloons
Simple to us, bubbles and balloons are amazing to a preschooler. Pick up a balloon or two and attach it to a bottle of bubbles. Your child can help pick out which colors, and it will only cost you a few bucks.
4. Homemade treats
It’s fun to share family recipes, and kids always love extra dessert options. Toss in a little kid’s apron and chef’s hat with a kid-friendly recipe idea to extend the shelf life of the gift.
5. Seasonal fun
Seeds and gardening tools in spring, pumpkin and carving kit in the fall, cookie baking basket around the holidays, or a s’mores kit filled with Hershey bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers for summer — the possibilities are endless for simple items that embrace the fun of the season.
6. Gift certificates or tickets
Passes to the zoo, aquarium, museum, or a gift certificate for the family to get ice cream makes you a hero long after all the birthday buzz has died down.
7. Science kit
For the kids who are a little older, a science kit complete with an experiment book, rock salt, food coloring, and many other discovery items is a great way to encourage learning. There are many fun ideas on Pinterest with links to free printables.
8. Nature lover’s gift
Promote both outside time and creativity with a paintable birdhouse kit. You can find several inexpensive options around $10-15 on Amazon that come with paint and brushes. Add a bird book, a small bag of seed, and kid binoculars, and let the bird-watching fun begin!
9. Movie night
Pair a kid’s DVD (look for sales throughout the year) with a box of popcorn and candy for a family movie night. You can also purchase a Red Box giftcard to provide a movie of his or her choice.
10. Parent gift
This is an especially good idea for a 1-year-old birthday party, since the child isn’t expecting anything. Try scratch-off lotto tickets, a gift certificate for pizza, or a “babysitting certificate” so the parents can get a much-needed night out — all inexpensive options that reward the parents for surviving year one. (And coffee and wine are, of course, always welcomed!)
Above all, it really doesn’t matter what you paid for the gift. The most important thing to the birthday boy or girl is to enjoy a fun-filled day with a whole crew of friends (and, of course, lots of birthday cake)!