Giving them real tools — rather than simplified kid versions — starts them on a path to developing lifelong skills, especially when paired with a class, book, or lesson. I opted for a real sewing machine for my daughter. It was pricier, but she still uses it a year later and now takes a textile arts class after school.
These types of gifts not only see a kid through their teenage years (and beyond) but can also help them build resilience and confidence as they learn, struggle, and ultimately master a skill or subject area.
“The more they’re tinkering and experimenting, the more they’re pushing their own development and advancing their own thinking,” said Hilary Conklin, an associate professor at DePaul University’s College of Education.
Many children who end up going into STEM careers first develop their interests in science and engineering at around age 8, according to Tamara Moore, an associate professor in engineering education at Purdue University.
”Imagining being a scientist or engineer all comes around that age, so you want to capture their imagination then,” she said. Toys that encourage kids to experiment, build, and think critically and logically (such as the ones found in our guides to the best electronics kits for beginners, as well as the learning and STEM toys we love) can be a fun way to develop programming and engineering skills they can use in the future.
Remember gifts that bring friends and family together
Board games are having a bit of a renaissance moment, with smart strategy games drawing both adults and kids to the table (and, often intentionally, away from their individual screens). If your idea of a children’s board game is a mind-numbing round of Candyland, know that there’s a whole crop of new options that are more thoughtful, challenging, and engaging than the typical “roll and move” games you probably remember from childhood. Many of these games encourage players to work together to win rather than knock out opponents. Others evolve over time so it’s never the same game twice.
“I’m a big fan of cooperative games that give the opportunity to explore and work together,” said Brian Mayer, a library technology and gaming specialist in New York. We worked with Mayer to help narrow down the testing pool for our guide to board games for kids.