Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas Presents That Last

If there's one thing about being a parent I've really struggled to get used to it's that kids come with a lot of stuff. They say it gets easier as they get older, but - as I step on yet another piece of Lego (I do love the stuff but I look forward to feeling carpet under my feet rather than dismembered mini figure heads sometime in the future) - I'm not so sure. My kids' stuff seems to take up more and more space, with football kits jostling for space with a variety of wind instruments, random bits from party bags accumulating on the kitchen counter and toy boxes over flowing with the aforementioned construction bricks. 

But you can't really tell the kids you're not buying them Christmas presents, can you? (even though it's very tempting when you quiz them on what they want and you can see that they really don't have a clue.) Rather than submitting to more costly, space-consuming toys with a limited shelf life, there are some things to give this Christmas that have appeal beyond the holidays, which don't create too much unnecessary clutter in your home - here are some of my suggestions*

Subscription to First News 

A weekly newspaper for children aged 7-14, First News offers high quality, age appropriate content and the added benefit of getting something new to look at each Friday. Although many schools get this paper, I'm not sure how many kids actually get to see a copy. This is a great gift for grandparents to buy - they'll like knowing they're giving a non-techy gift with purpose.

For the wildlife lover in your family, a subscription to National Geographic Kids is a great alternative.

Animation software

I'll be upfront and say I work for a major UK animation company but I'm really not getting commission to advertise their animation product! However, I couldn't not give it a mention as doing a little bit of animation with your child is really rather good fun. Not being the most patient of people, I had assumed the slow, meticulous nature of animating would test both mine and the kids boredom thresholds, but in actual fact there's something really appealing about working on a project that requires slowing down a gear.

It's also surprisingly easy to pick up the basics of animation, meaning your child will be animating themselves or their Lego characters in no time. 

Check out the Animate It! software here.

Classic Lego packs

Don't fret over that expensive Millennium Falcon ending up in bits by 31st December. My boys have always preferred to go 'freestyle' with their Lego creations so I'd recommend buying a big box of Classic Lego so they can enjoy a less prescriptive construction experience. You'll be amazed at what they come up with. Our boys have discovered some pretty out there tutorials on YouTube, resulting in the most imaginative projects, from recreations of football stadiums to M&M dispensers (yes, really)

You can also buy from the online 'Pick a Brick' shop if you'd like to supplement your box with some more unusual pieces.

Classic games

I'm talking Scrabble, Boggle, Battleships. Proper old school games that you can enjoy playing as an adult too (though never - NEVER - embark on a game of Monopoly with a child under will drive you bonkers.) We also recently discovered Uno - I'm not sure why it took us so long - and we played it pretty much constantly when we were on holiday in the summer as neither myself or the other half can ever remember the rules to standard card games. Uno is bloody brilliant. If you don't already have it, buy it as a stocking filler - it will be the best £6 (or thereabouts)you'll ever spend. 

A grown up sketch book and watercolour pencils
A good one for older kids - what's not to love about wrenching them away from their tablets to do something creative that doesn't involve lots of paint and mess. Derwent ink pencils are good and there are plenty of options for high quality sketching pads. 

For some lovely illustrative inspiration, take a look at the '20 Ways to Draw' books by Julia Kuo. There are some lovely guides for animal lovers, showing you how to draw everything from whimsical cats to funky frogs, while your young fashionistas will like trying their hand at sketching shoes, sneakers and dresses.

Walkie Talkies

Lots of LOLs to be had with these but you need to buy proper ones, not character branded kids ones that are utterly useless. Visit your local Maplin store for a good selection. We have the Binatone ones and they do the job - use them on days out, car journey convoys, round the house...a surprisingly enduring bit of kit that only involves the addition of batteries, a god send if you're technically-challenged like me. 

A simple puzzle

Those 3D ones are all well and good, but they don't stay together for long and will end up in pieces around your child's room eventually. They're also quite fiddly so you'll end up doing most of the work on them when your child's fingers tire of pushing tiny bits of puzzle into tiny slots. Having 'helped' create a Tower Bridge, Old Trafford stadium and various other global landmarks, I can vouch for the fact that they do try your patience somewhat.

So how about sticking with a nice traditional 'normal' jigsaw? A big one that you can do together on a cold winter afternoon, or perhaps a postcode puzzle that features your home, and which you can then stick to a piece of card and pop in a frame (we did this and it takes pride of place in eldest son's room)


A no-brainer, really. One thing you can never have too many of. I've selected some of our favourites over the years here, but there's always something new on the horizon. 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher is a very pertinent take on the traditional nativity story, while I'll be buying my 7 year David Walliam's latest book, 'Grandpa's Great Escape'

Eldest son is hooked on the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz, while you can't go wrong with the latest edition of the Guinness Book of Records for all your weird and wonderful trivia needs. I've also been reading good things about 'A Boy Called Christmas' by Matt Haigh, an interesting take on the Santa Claus story, and will be adding this to their stockings.

Theatre tickets

I'm a big believer in giving experiences, especially if other family members are really struggling to find a suitable gift. A cinema card or theatre tickets make a great present, especially for older children who understand the concept of delayed gratification a bit better. We received tickets for War Horse last year, which gave us a treat to look forward to in dreary January. This year I'm dropping hints about taking my 11 year old to Goodnight Mr Tom, coming to the Theatre Royal Bath in April.

*Please note that my suggestions have boys in mind, but are not exclusively for the male children in your house.


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