It is pretty common knowledge that the best gifts for kids are often the boxes that they come in!

For sure, nothing beats a pillow fort, laser tag with flashlights in the living room, a round of silly chins or hands through.  I do love toy-free play that gets imagination soaring…

That said, sometimes you do need good stuff for your kids inside those fun-to-play-in boxes too. I never tire of seeking out quality toys, or tools for play, that can spark discussion, tickle curiosity and make time meaningful with your kids.

Since Christmas is a mere week away and freezing winter (break!) is closing in, I’m sharing some of the stuff I like to use at home!  These are particularly games that engage kids on a thinking-level.   (None of these are sponsored links, just sharing what I like!). Bonus, keeping some of these games on-hand solves the problem of suddenly needing birthday party gifts too!

These all offer a welcome reprieve from screen-time and they really work the brain.  If you are looking for gifts for more active play, check out my post on playground toys!

Why These Make Great Gifts

  • They inspire bonding and spark conversation.
  • You can find out what your child already knows and what they don’t know yet (I’m often surprised by both!).
  • Through play and dialogue you can teach them some new things in an organic (non-didactic way).
  • The tools are fairly compact and can be stashed in your carry-on or plunked in the backseat for car trips.
  • There are various levels of these games so depending on your child’s age, you can find the right fit.
  • Often kids can do this as a solo activity (hallelughla!)
  • You can enlist grandparents and babysitters to play, since there is no set-up or mess it makes for an easy ask!
  • All these come in at under $15 which make them just about the right price-point for a birthday gifts, or a stocking stuffer too!

Brain Quest

These compact cards reveal the answers to fantastic questions! Kids get to test their knowledge, learn new stuff  and you get to engage with them in some academics that is on grade-level but totally pleasurable too!

Professor Noggin

These decks feature various themes that captivate kids imaginations from the 50 States to Dinosaurs, there’s something for every passion!  The different levels of cards make them customizable for your child’s age, and the included dice keep it in the realm of game, rather than quiz!

Usborne Lift the Flap Books

I love this super engaging series from Usborne, the British powerhouse of play!  The act of lifting the flap in order to peek at a hidden creature or glean a fun fact keeps little fingers engaged.  Pre-readers will enjoy the vibrant illustrations and themes like colors and shapes while grade-school kids get sophisticated topics like “Computers and Coding” or Times Tables”  be it or the answer to a question.


Benjamin’s Mystery Deck

In this nifty deck of cards you get to know Benjamin and help him solve…mysteries! Each card contains a story and harkens back to those “One Minute Mysteries”. The answer is written on the card, but backwards, so kids get to use the included mirror to reveal it!  Benjamin is in great company with other kids detectives likes of Harriet the Spy and Nate the Great. Each of the cards is well-written and engaging enough to be its own short story, and solving the mysteries makes for a great car trip activity or post-dinner family game!

Enjoy playing with these and let me know what gifts you love!

Thanks for watching and reading.


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