large wrapped gift box with red bow on top, illustrating a list of birthday gift ideas for childrenNow that my daughter is in preschool and has started to make new friends, the birthday party invites are pouring in. I loved birthday parties as a kid, and I’m thrilled for her to start experiencing them.

But the dilemma is: What to do for all the birthday gifts? Many times I don’t know the parents or child well enough to decipher their specific taste. Are they the “all organic” types? Will they be irritated if we bring more “stuff” into their house for them to trip over? While I’m not always sure what to bring, there are a few things I try to avoid: anything that is very messy, very loud (save the drum set for the grandparent gift), or a living thing (just say no to goldfish — the parents have enough to take care of already).

Most of us will attend many birthday parties this year, which can be an expensive undertaking. Even when the invite says “no gifts,” I still find it difficult to show up empty handed (plus, I really enjoy wrapping and giving gifts). In the spirit of this debacle, here is a list of birthday gift ideas for young children that are inexpensive, useful, and won’t drive the parents completely insane.

1. Books

Encouraging reading is something everyone can embrace, and you can make it more fun by doing a “book exchange” party. In lieu of gifts, everyone brings a wrapped book and the kids pick numbers to choose one. Everyone goes home with something, and it’s extra clutter a parent can live with.

2. Creative kit

The dollar store is great for putting together an affordable craft-themed gift filled with crayons, markers, stickers, construction paper, glue, and clay. Or, print out an age-appropriate craft idea with the corresponding supplies. This becomes a stress reliever for the parents the next time a rainy day comes along.

3. Bubbles and balloons

Simple to us, bubbles and balloons are amazing to a preschooler. Pick up a balloon or two and attach it to a bottle of bubbles. Your child can help pick out which colors, and it will only cost you a few bucks.

4. Homemade treats

It’s fun to share family recipes, and kids always love extra dessert options. Toss in a little kid’s apron and chef’s hat with a kid-friendly recipe idea to extend the shelf life of the gift.

5. Seasonal fun

Seeds and gardening tools in spring, pumpkin and carving kit in the fall, cookie baking basket around the holidays, or a s’mores kit filled with Hershey bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers for summer — the possibilities are endless for simple items that embrace the fun of the season.

6. Gift certificates or tickets

Passes to the zoo, aquarium, museum, or a gift certificate for the family to get ice cream makes you a hero long after all the birthday buzz has died down.

7. Science kit

For the kids who are a little older, a science kit complete with an experiment book, rock salt, food coloring, and many other discovery items is a great way to encourage learning. There are many fun ideas on Pinterest with links to free printables.

8. Nature lover’s gift

Promote both outside time and creativity with a paintable birdhouse kit. You can find several inexpensive options around $10-15 on Amazon that come with paint and brushes. Add a bird book, a small bag of seed, and kid binoculars, and let the bird-watching fun begin!

9. Movie night

Put together a box of popcorn and candy for a family movie night. You can even purchase an Amazon Prime Video gift card to provide a movie of his or her choice.

10. Parent gift

This is an especially good idea for a 1-year-old birthday party, since the child isn’t expecting anything. Try scratch-off lotto tickets, a gift certificate for pizza, or a “babysitting certificate” so the parents can get a much-needed night out — all inexpensive options that reward the parents for surviving year one. (And coffee and wine are, of course, always welcomed!)

Above all, it really doesn’t matter what you paid for the gift. The most important thing to the birthday boy or girl is to enjoy a fun-filled day with a whole crew of friends (and, of course, lots of birthday cake)!

Megan is a mom of two daughters (2012, 2014) and lives with her family in Stoneham, MA. Her interest in writing began as a child and developed throughout her study of Journalism at St. Bonaventure University, where she graduated in 2003. Megan's love for New England began in 2006 when she moved from her hometown of Syracuse, NY to pursue her masters degree in Marketing Communications at Emerson College. Boston holds a special place in her heart as the city where she met and married her husband, started a family and has planted roots. In her professional career, Megan focuses on positive youth development, community outreach and mental health awareness. Loves: Family, friends, dogs, being a mom of girls, reading, Netflix, holidays, the ocean, fall in New England. Could do Without: Winter, snow (besides at Christmas), being late, traffic.


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