Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

Ask The Readers: Unique Gift Ideas for Toddlers

Today’s question is from Ariel:

We have three children ages 3, 2, and 1. We also have extended family that enjoys giving abundantly (a.k.a spoiling!) at Christmas. My husband and I want to encourage our children to live lives of giving and “living on less”, but we don’t want without take the gift-giving opportunity away from our family. Practically speaking though, we have way too many toys.

Besides clothing, books for homeschooling, and art supplies, are there any unique gifts or gift ideas I can suggest to family members?

Do you have a question you’d like to ask Money Saving Mom® readers? Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Susan says:

    I agree with Carrie’s post above. I think we need to teach our children to be gracious receivers as well as gracious givers.

    When anyone in my extended family asks for gift ideas for my child for Christmas or her birthday, I will happily respond with suggestions. But I wouldn’t dream of asking them for something specific unless they inquired. Some people truly love to give their grandchildren toys at Christmas, and by refusing them, or making requests as to what gifts you want, reduces their joy.

    I don’t donate or regift anything from our family right away. I don’t necessarily keep these items forever — children outgrow toys soon enough after all, at which time it’s totally fine to get rid of them. But I don’t immediately get rid of something was given to my child in love.

    I can understand the author wanting to avoid more toys, but if you occasionally purge the toy collection, it won’t build up. If you expect that your child will receive a lot of new toys from grandparents or other relatives at Christmas, how about making room for them by getting rid of older toys that your children no longer play with? You never know what a young child will end up just loving — maybe they will really like that new toy from Grandma. Over the years, my daughter has received many toys as gifts. Most got minimal attention (including many that I myself bought), but some were worth their weight in gold because she got much play out of them.

  • Michelle says:

    One of my favorite gifts is a family membership to a Family Museum. Most have reciprical museums in other states as well so if you go on a trip you can use it there, possibly. It is great when it is too hot or cold for the park, but you need to get out of the house!

  • Christie says:

    A lot of great ideas are given here. I just wanted to throw in my perspective. If your family just really, really wants to buy toys, just put some things away for a while and pull them out as they get bored throughout the year. It really is such a short time where kids even want toys when you think about it. Soon enough they will be teenagers and everything they want will be $200+. Enjoy it while they’re little.

  • Becka says:

    Some grandparents I know have a tradition of giving each grandchild a piece from a very nice nativity set each year for Christmas. When they are ready to establish their own homes they have a complete set. If space is an issue perhaps the grandparents could keep the pieces in their home and give them to the child when they are ready to leave the nest.

  • Kim T. says:

    family memberships are great – to the zoo, aquarium, science center, etc.
    lessons – swimming, ballet, tumbling, music together
    sponsoring a child in another country through world vision in your child’s name
    coin collection books
    gift certificate to a pet store to buy supplies for a pet throughout the year

  • Laura says:

    Magazine subscriptions? Highlights has a new magazine coming out soon for toddlers, Babybug and Wild Animal Baby would be appropriate. Maybe Ranger Rick or Your Big Backyard? It wouldn’t be clutter and would be fun mail to receive.

  • Adrienne says:

    We ask the Grandparents for passes to the Zoo, Aquarium or other places we can frequent throughout the year. It is a great way to make more family memories without costing more. It is the best gift we get each year.

  • Lauren says:

    A fun thing would be for the grandparents to rent a vaction house or cabin for a couple of nights instead of giving gifts to any of the family, and enjoy some quality time with the granchildren. I also wanted to second some of the earlier thoughts and say, “Count your Blessings!” I know many families who would be thrilled for their kids to receive ANY gift from extended family or grandparents. They struggle with feeling unloved and the hurt of seeing their kids going without even a token gift. You really do have a “happy problem!”

  • Lisa Murphree says:

    magazines make wonderful gifts for children.

  • Suzy I says:

    Experience gifts are awesome and they don’t take up any space! Zoo memberships, tickets to the circus or disney on ice, a trip to the aquarium, art museum, build a bear (ok that results in a toy…), zoo, music lessons, a month of gymnastics, a horse back ride, etc…. Whatever splurge trips or events you wish you could do throughout the year but seem cost prohibitive, those are good ideas for gifts!

  • L says:

    This is such a hard question and I have read through everyone’s replies. I do give a list of needs and suggestions for my 3 yr old twins, but my MIL does not want to stick to it and wants to give “fun” toys and gifts etc. I have fought it for the last 3 years and give up, it does bother me but I can’t change her. I also don’t totally want to pull back my giving because I waited a long time for these children and want the fun of giving gifts as well. I have gotten a mix of very practical (shoes, clothes) and fun gifts for this year. I guess I agree with the purging, and still continuing to ask for experiences, $ for banks, and practical items mixed with fun.

  • shannon says:

    Lots of comments and not sure what others have shared
    I love the consumable gifts…..swimming or gymnastics lessons, passes to zoo, museum or other local attractions that kids love.
    Maybe a grandma loves to bake and she invents the cookie of the club month, where she brings them a dozen cookies once a month (maybe hard for young kids to ‘get it’ but older ones sure will)
    Certificates to favorite restaurants….
    So many fun consumable options…..

  • Christina says:

    This is not a gift idea, but you could help keep the toys under control by having your kids pick one toy to give away for every toy they receive. Then they would learn about giving to those in need, plus their toys wouldn’t multiply.

  • Melissa says:

    I think that setting up a College Fund (in Texas it’s Called 529 Plan) I’m not sure where you live but I can assure you that your state offers something similar. You are able to use if for your child when they reach of age and if they do not plan on going to college then you can hold on to it and transfer it to a grandchild. I wish I had done something like this when mine were little. Another idea is a Roth IRA account you can contribute annually to “under their name” or a Universal Life Insurance Policy that they can “cash” out at the age of 18 to use for college.

    I have one in college graduating in May and one entering college in August—it’s expensive—very expensive. You do not want to take out loans—cash is KING!!!

  • Christy says:

    My boys are 3, 2, and 6 months. My in-laws do zoo membership, and my parents contribute to their 529 for birthdays.
    Last year for Christmas, my parents gathered huge boxes from an appliance store and made a giant fort in their living room! The boys had a fantastic time playing during our stay (they’re out of town), made great memories, and we didn’t add to our toy clutter at home. Great gift!

  • Suzanne says:

    I just wrote a summary of some of our favorite “brain-stretching and body movin'” gift ideas. I try to be purposeful in the games/toys that we give and ask grandparents to give to our boys. Hope it’s helpful!

  • Heather says:

    When my sister was living overseas, she didn’t want to pay for lots of shipping for a present and wanted something that kept on giving. She got my then 2 year old a subscription to Ranger Rick Jr. It has wonderful, large pictures of animals and short stories that held her attention. My daughter was so excited to get her own mail each month! We enjoyed that for several years and now are taking some time off. Any magazine subscription for kids, Highlights, Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., Ranger Rick, etc. are a fun gift for young ones and easy to give to little ones far away. 🙂

  • Karin says:

    My brother asked, for his 3 yr old, a basic cash register toy with money, fake credit cards, etc. They’re trying to teach their 3 yr old how money works, isn’t unlimited, etc.

  • Karin says:

    Let me add, I don’t think it’s rude at all to suggest gifts. If family have specific things they really want to give that’s fine. But I know plenty of families that send out “We’ve had many people ask us what Jane and Joe may want for the Holidays, here a few suggestions:c

    This works well if the child has given a santa type list

    My sister is law does a great job of this, shell suggest a few ideas you my parents, to her parents, to us, and to her sister. BUT she doesn’t give everyone the same list (so both sets of grandparents or aunts/uncles aren’t all working off the same list. She suggested the cash register idea to me (with a few others as options), BUT suggested different things to her sister. Works our marvelously.

  • Katie says:

    I always ask for the next size up in shoes for my girls. Shoes are so expensive for toddlers! Especially when they outgrow them so fast!

  • Debrah says:

    One idea I haven’t seen mentioned yet is cooking or cleaning things for the kids. It may sound crazy to some, and not all grandparents will go for it, but getting each child a set of real cooking tools and a child’s cookbook is an open invitation for a lot of fun in the kitchen, even for boys. (Mollie Katzen makes a great cookbook with recipes in pictures for the kids to “read” themselves.) for the younger ones think mixing bowl, wooden spoons, toaster tongs,and veggie scrubber. For the oldest you can get plastic lettuce knives (they can’t get really hurt with them), spreaders, measuring cups and spoons, and maybe a baking tray. You could also get or make a chef’s hat to go with them. They might also enjoy some “felt food” so they can pretend play even when they aren’t actually cooking. As to the cleaning stuff, dust cloths, empty squirt bottle (kids can safely use a vinegar solution), glass cleaning cloth, scrub brush, small pail, etc. (if you have girls with long hair include a bandana to keep it out of the way!). My boys clean both their room and the bathroom, and while I had to supervise while they were smaller, they really enjoyed parts of it. Spraying the cleaning solution and wiping up after were the favorite parts.

    Another idea might be magazine subscriptions. There are some great ones for little ones.

  • Kari says:

    I didn’t read all the comments so I don’t know if these have been suggested or not but we love to get gifts the whole family can use together. How about a season pass to your local zoo, aquarium, children’s museum or theme park? These gifts literally give all year long and if you are homeschooling passes to the zoo, aquarium and children’s museum double as being able to be used for school too! Also fun are family nights out, ie: a night out for pizza and then a kid friendly movie, a night spent at a local hotel (think staycation style!), bowling and then ice cream sundaes, etc. Ask your family members to help you create memories with your family instead of just giving your children things that will make messes and will probably be broken in a couple of months! Have a Merry Christmas!!

  • Karen says:

    When my nieces and nephew were young, we would take them roller skating as their Christmas present. We usually did it the week after Christmas when some children are experiencing a let down after all the pre-Christmas excitement. I know you’re children are too young for this, but maybe you can suggest other activities. They get the gift of time and making of memories from the people who love them.

  • Julie says:

    One year I made “bubble magnets” which was very popular with the 2-year olds (who were done with putting things in their mouths). Also, I think Crystal posted something for making your own magnetic paper dolls. I think those would be a hit too.

  • Michelle says:

    What about an ice cream maker if your family enjoys frozen treats? It night not be something you’d splurge on yourself, I know I haven’t for our family, but the kids could enjoy it year round, and you could turn it in to a science lesson as well. 🙂

  • Mary Helen says:

    We like to ask for “services” – like dance lessons, music class, zoo membership, etc. That way the fun lasts all year long and so does the FUN…all without cluttering up the house! And it is usually money that you would be spending anyway, so it is nice for the parents, too 🙂

  • Carmen says:

    My little one will be turning two this weekend, so we have a couple of chances for family to give her presents in a matter of weeks. I suggested educational (non-electronic) toys. I know they’re pricey, but my daughter loves Tegu magnetic blocks. Other items I suggested: an apron and small rolling pin (she loves to “help” in the kitchen), a sleeping bag (something familiar to sleep in at Grandma’s house), bath crayons, a little chair. We personally love Veggie Tales in our house but only have a couple of DVDs so that was on the list too. I also added a fishing rod (no reel) as she will want to go fishing with the bigger kids next summer.

    • HaLee says:

      Listening station (CD player with cassette) and headphones. Books/stories on CD can be added for years to come. Cooking classes at a community center. The new fancy shoes your kids may want? (My twins are 5 and have been obsessed with the latest and greatest shoes since they could walk!) Digital camera with a gift card for picture prints at Costco or other local printing place. I have found that they love to take their own pictures, print, and make albums. So much to be learned in the process. (Theme albums, collection pictures, family pictures. They can then make album gifts for others, too.)

    • trisha says:

      cool looking plates/sippy cups.
      How about an ornament for the tree? I always get an ornament each year for each kid. They will be able to take these with them once they are out on their own. I personally try to find ones that the kids are into at their time of life. We have robots, trains, spiderman, barbie, polar express bell, etc. My kids absolutely love their tote of ornaments and get to put their special ones on by themselves. Makes putting up the tree extra special seeing them smile and hearing them talk about their ornaments.
      furniture etc they can use to store their toys in?
      Special snacks/drinks?
      How about a piggy bank?

  • A Christmas ornament with the year on it. My children are ages 7, 5, and 2. Each year they get a dated ornament for their Christmas tree. My kids love to look and display their ornaments year after year. We also get a family ornament for our big tree. It is a fun tradition we enjoy. Merry Christmas!

  • Andrea says:

    Not sure if this has been mentioned yet – One year we received a gift membership to a nearby Children’s Museum. It was wonderful!!! If we wanted to get out and not spend a dime we would run to the museum and hang out for hours. A couple times my husband would take the kids and I caught up on things around the house. It has been two years since and my kids still ask if we have been given another “museum gift.” 🙂

  • A membership to your local children’s museum is fun all year long, or a magazine subscription!

    • Amanda says:

      wow – there are so many good suggestions already – but something I did not see as I scanned through these is monthly boxes. I have just discovered these and I think they look like so much fun. They are a little costly, but if parents/grandparents are gonna spend that much anyway……The boxes come in the mail every month and have craft projects and supplies in them. I know you can probably do all of them yourself, but I know my kids love getting mail and this way its all right there for you 🙂

  • Robyn says:

    My in-laws are very reasonable; my mom tries to be reasonable but gets a little carried away. If it’s too much, sometimes I can suggest she keep some of the toys at her house for the kids to play with there.

    Other things you might consider are audiobooks (we have Beatrix Potter stories, Chronicles of Narnia, Hank the Cowdog, etc.), radio dramas (specifically, we like Adventures in Odyssey), and music (I’m planning to get some of the Wee Sing sets for our kids this year, and they love the Slugs & Bugs CDs and the “Teach Them The Faith” catechism set to music, and classical music in general). You might also consider good quality DVDs. For our family birthday present this year we bought a set of DVDs of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, because our sons love classical music. They’re a little over the kids’ heads for right now (ages 4 and 2), but they enjoy the concert part of the program and I’m sure we’ll watch the series several times as they get older and also use it as a foundational part of a homeschooling unit on music. I’m not real big on electronic entertainment for kids overall, but there’s some really good stuff out there if you look for it. I’ve also put a few classic musicals on my Amazon wish list, some of which we’d probably let the oldest watch with us (Music Man?).

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *