best gifts for kids and families 2013: teachmama’s picks

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I’m always surprised when the holiday catalogs roll around at how many new toys hit the shelves each year. kids and family gift guide

It’s a wonder that any of us are able to make decisions when there is so much to choose from.

I am truly thankful, though, that I have the opportunity to try out some of these great toys throughout the year and actually get a insider’s look at some of the cool things on the market. It really helps me make decisions for my own kiddos, and from your feedback, it has helped you make decisions for yours.  Yay!

So here’s the official teachmama Gift Guide for Kids & Family 2013. My Maddy is 9, Owen is 8, and Cora is 6 years old.

It’s full of items we love and have used in the past few years as well as items that are on our list for this season.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • teachmama’s Gift Guide for Kids & Family 2013: these are just some of our faves and some ideas for more creative and thoughtful gifts this holiday season.

I’ve used affiliate links throughout which means that you’re linking directly to the products I’m talking about and if you choose to buy them using my link, a teeny, tiny little cut will go back to (Thanks for using them!)

 teachmama gift guide game players


Gift picks for gamey game player: This year we’re still playing many of our faves from last year’s Gift Guide, but we’re loving. . .

  • Laser Maze: (for ages 8+, by ThinkFun)  Think Rush Hour times 100. Laser Maze is a logic game with mirrors, lasers, and mazes. It’s about plowing your way through a series of challenge cards, trying to set the stage for the laser to get from point a to point b. Not easy. But totally fun.
  • Spot-It: (for ages 7+, by Blue Orange Games)  Cora and her buddies who were 5 and up played this game at the pool all. Summer. Long. Actually, all of the kids played this game while waiting for swim meets, on cloudy days, or pretty much any time they needed a break from swimming. This matching game requires sharp eyes and quick reflexes, and up to 8 people can play at a time, so it’s great for groups.  Go old school Spot-It, or try Spot-It Junior Animals, Spot-It ABC, Spot-It Major League Baseball, Spot-It Educational Sets, & more.
  •  Yahtzee: (for ages 8+, by Hasbro) We love it. Absolutely love this dice game of luck, computation, and strategy. A real hit of the pool this summer, Owen got this for his birthday in August, and it’s still a fave.  Huge thanks to my friend Heather, who got us all hooked.
  • Connect Four: (for ages 6+, by Hasbro) An oldie but goodie. We have been on a major Connect Four kick over here. We even busted it out for a double family game night a few weeks back, and I’m not lying when I say that Owen almost beat everyone in the house. Go, O!
  • Chess: (for ages 5+) Chess. Our chess board is old, broken, and missing a pawn, so we’ve been using a mouse from Feed the Kitty.  Along with How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, by Murray Chandler and  this combo is going to go over big this holiday!
  • Solitare Chess: (for ages 8+, by ThinkFun) Totally cannot believe I never knew this existed until only recently. Definitely on the list for my up and coming chess players, and hopefully by the end of 2014, we’ll all have some serious chess skeeeelz.

 teachmama gift guide crafty crafters

Gift picks for crafty crafters: sticking, twisting, looming, creating

  • Fashion Fun Stencils (for ages 3+, from Melissa & Doug) Cora has had her eye on this for months now. I think it’s the perfect crafty, unplugged toy for my fashion-forward first grader.
  • Pulsar Bounce Balls (for ages 6+, from The Orb Factory)  These are so cool for kids who love to make things their own.  This set allows kids to make their own bouncy balls–some even with lights inside!
  • Original Spirograph (for ages 8+, from Kahootz) I loved these! I totally remember having these as a kid, and I am 110% positive that Maddy will love them. It’s the same basic toy that we had–drawing loops and designs like never before–but updated and more awesome.
  • DoodleArt (for ages 5+, from PlaSmartToys) Perfect for long lazy weekends, snow days, or chilling out after school, DoodleArt posters are a family fave. We have the Butterfly DoodleArt, but Cora just may find Fairies or Flowers under her Christmas tree this year.

 teachmama gift picks explorers

Gift picks for movers, thinkers, explorers: working those fine motor, gross motor, and thinking skeelz

  • Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine (for ages 6-9 years, from Goldie Blox) Definitely top of my list for Cora, these fabulous sets combine reading and engineering and encourage girls to think, predict, and love STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).  I am all for it.
  • RingStix (for 6+ years, by RingStix-System Enterprises) A totally new spin on the ole game of catch, this outside game uses sticks and rings and is a lot of fun to play. Owen loves it.
  • LEGO Friends (for ages 6-12 years, by LEGO) Maddy and Cora love these. So I’m hoping that Santa adds a set to his sleigh for each of them, maybe the pool set or Olivia’s house.
  • Remote Controlled Helicopter (for ages 8+, from Syma) Out of the blue, Maddy has asked for this. What kid doesn’t love remote-controlled toys? This one is indoor and it’s mini. Very cool.
  • Nano V2 Helix 180 (for ages 3+, from Innovation First) The O-Man loves his Hex Bugs, and this set takes those little climbing critters to a whole new level.
  • Rollerblades (for ages 5+, from Roller Derby) Maddy started the roller trend over here last year, when she asked for rollerblades for Christmas. Cora asked for roller skates for her birthday. Owen? He has been begging Maddy and Cora to use theirs all year long.  He needs his own, and bam–we’re a roller family.
  • Air Stream Machine (for ages 8+, from Thames & Kosmos) Maddy and Owen spent an afternoon constructing a hovercraft that actually worked with batteries and sailed around our bathtub. They loved it so much they put another similar set on the top of their wish lists this year. And because of the serious payoff that’s involved in reading, following directions, and learning about physics along the way.

Thinking about the Tub Experiments or Optical Illusion Set for Cora (for ages 5-7 years) and the Fingerprinting Kit, Remote Control Set, or Gyrobot (ages 8+) for Maddy and Owen.


teachmama gift guide singers dancers dreamers

 Gift picks for singers, dancers, dreamers: pretend play rocks the house, any day of the year

  • Karaoke Machine: If you’re going to do it, invest in a decent one. This karaoke machine by Singing Machine works with CDs, iPods, or the radio which is included on the device. Two microphones and a 7″ screen make this one a keeper.
  • Outdoor Basketball Hoop & Basketball: Basic, I know, but last year, we shopped around on local listserves and garage sales and forums and finally found a used hoop, in great shape.  My kids have played all year long.


gift picks for digital kids

Gift picks for tech-savvy digital kids: plug ’em in and let ’em play

  • Club Penguin Membership (ages 6+, from Club Penguin)  You can purchase gift memberships in almost any duration, from one month to twelve months, and the way my kids have jumped into their first online gaming experience is a testament to the fact that time online
  • Skylanders Swap Force (ages 7+, from Activision) This is Owen’s big ask this year; he’s been a Skylanders fan for quite some time now, and he has already memorized all of the Swap Force guys. He’s ready.  Here’s to hoping that they add some new Skylanders books to the mix now, too!
  • Intel All-in-One PC with Touch Screen (from HP) As part of the Intel AIO Blogger group, I have been so grateful to have the opportunity to use this device.  My kids love it. It’s user-friendly, small and sleek with a screen that can fold and hide away in seconds. It’s crazy cool, and if you are looking for a desktop, this is the real deal.
  • eBooks, eBooks, eBooks!  There are several on the market, and it’s best to find one that really works for you and your family’s needs.  I’m loving BookBoard which is a monthly subscription service that includes 400+ ‘unlockable’ books for kids and can be given as a gift.  Or go with the free Scholastic eBook app, Storia, where you download the app and then buy books separately from the website.  Both have great interfaces, fab selection, and serious perks–it’s a matter of preference for what works for your family.


teachmama stocking stuffer

Best gift picks for stocking stuffers:  anything small and crafty, anything mini and sweet

  • Squinkie Zinkies (ages 4+, from Squinkies) These are so tiny you need a tweezers to play with them. Maddy and Cora? Adore them. And I like them because I can barely see them and they don’t hurt if I step on them.
  • On the GO! Sets (for ages 3+, from Melissa & Doug) Love these sets because they’re small enough to fit in a purse or diaper bag and they’re full of enough activities to keep kids busy during long, unexpected waits–just about anywhere.
  • Glitzi Globes (for ages 5+, from Glitzi Globes) Teeny little snow globes that kids first make and then can wear as jewelry. Bam. My girls? Love them.
  • The Trash Pack (for ages 5+, from Moose Toys) Think: Garbage Pail Kids meets Squinkies. I know. I know. But Owen is so into them. He organizes them, keeps track of them, analyzes them, and laughs at their potty names. Whatever. One or two won’t hurt. Right?
  • Smarty Pants Sets (for ages 4- 10+, from Melissa & Doug) We love the Smarty Pants Sets. Tons of questions and challenges for every level, from preschool through fifth grade.
  • Math Dice: or Math Dice, Jr (for ages 8+ or 6+ by ThinkFun) small game, great for on-the-go and super-sneaky math fun.


Even MORE Gift Guide Inspiration:


fyi: Affiliate links are included in this post. 

We did receive some of these products from companies to try, but the large majority were purchased (or will be purchased!) by our family on our own dime.  I do work with some of the companies above, but I also work with a ton more that I didn’t mention.  As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experiences as a parent and educator. I’m sharing the best of the best here–our faves.





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