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Artful Just-In-Case Gifts to Keep around the House for Creative Birthday Gift Ideas

Artful Just-In-Case Gifts to Keep around the House for Creative Birthday Gift Ideas

I’m in elementary school and opening the hallway closet in my childhood home, which can mean only one thing—it’s time for a birthday party! The hallway closet is a magical place, stuffed to the brim with colorful wrapping paper, bows of all colors, gift bags, and the most glorious bounty of them all: a neatly stacked pile of white boxes, each holding a miniature porcelain doll.

handmade crayons
Kids can never have too many crayons | Image courtesy Etsy seller BeeLovelyBotanicals

The dolls are presents waiting to be selected, wrapped, and given as a gift to one of my friends on their birthday. Every year my mom would stock up, buying ten or so of the dolls for celebrations, choosing a different colored dress each year so none of my friends would ever be disappointed by a repeat.

When I was a kid, dolls were de rigueur, but these days I try to keep more stimulating, creative gifts on hand for kids; I’m always excited when my children are given toys that require active participation. When they give out presents and birthday gifts, I want to make sure what they’re gifting is interactive and inspirational. I also like to keep gender-neutral toys that aren’t blue or pink on hand so I can give them to any kiddo regardless of their gender expression—and don’t have to stock up on two colors of every item.

Now that I have my own gift closet full of artistically-stimulating toys, when celebrations come knocking, my kids and I just swing open the door and pluck out a present that is sure to encourage creativity and personal expression, no frantic trip to the store required.

Choosing Gifts That Inspire Expression

For kids, toys are tools. When my daughter was a baby, you could just see the wheels spinning in her mind every time she lifted her favorite popsicle rattle and tried to put it in her mouth. Her first toys taught her the basics, from motor skills to spatial reasoning. Older now, she and her brother both use toys to express themselves, whether that means inventing new worlds in their head while they play with action figures or laying their imaginations out on paper with the help of some paint.

ice cream rattles
Rattles instrumental in baby’s development | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheFoxintheAttic

I was forever breaking crayons and running out of my favorite colors of paint when I was growing up, so when I got a present that refreshed my art supplies, I was ecstatic. I loved opening a present and finding a colorful array of crayons or colored pencils inside—and I can still remember the fresh, soothing scent of a brand new pad of drawing paper just waiting to be filled with color. It didn’t matter if it was something I already had, either, because I knew I would need a replacement sooner or later. And having a plethora of art supplies in the house means your kids can make their own gifts for other people as well.

I was also quite musical as a kid and loved getting new cassettes to play in my boombox (I know, that ages me…). My sister and I used to belt out Annie for hours on end, much to my parents’ chagrin. And, I got pretty good at the theme from Titanic on my elementary school band recorder before upgrading to the clarinet. Both physical art and music helped me work through my emotions growing up; as a shy, introverted kid who got nervous about parties, having these outlets helped me to express myself in a way I wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing through talking and social interaction alone.

Whether it’s sketching, singing, or making 3D versions of their favorite Minecraft designs, all kids have some sort of artsy outlet that lets them express their imaginations and inner selves. Keep a few of these toys in your gift closet so you always have last-minute presents that nurture hobbies and help little ones explore their most authentic selves:

For Miniature Monets

Ages 3-5

  • Finger paints, for a hands-on experience that promotes sensory development and imaginative expression
  • Play dough, for squishy sculpting fun
  • Coloring books, to help build motor and spatial skills
play dough for kids
Kids can sculpt or squish to their hearts’ content | Image courtesy Etsy seller BeeUtifullyOrganic

Ages 5-8

  • Pads of drawing and construction paper, blank slates for creative expression
  • Crayons (because what kid doesn’t always need more?)
  • Art supplies with a twist, like scented markers, glitter stamp pads, and watercolor pencils
  • Modeling clay, so they can bring their imaginations into the third dimension

Ages 8-12

  • How-To drawing and painting books, so they can start to hone their craft
  • Acrylic paints and small canvases, to upgrade their art
  • Professional-level drawing pencils and erasers, so they can keep their art supplies separate from school supplies


For Mozarts in the Making

recorders for kids music
Recorders are the perfect first instrument | Image courtesy Amazon

Ages 3-5

  • Egg shakers, so they can learn to keep a rhythm
  • Tambourines, to jingle and jangle along with their favorite songs

Ages 5-8

  • Drumsticks, so they can turn any surface into their own personal instrument
  • A recorder and song book, so they can learn how to play
  • A harmonica, so they can let out their blues

Ages 8-12

  • Earbuds, so they can listen to their favorite tunes on their personal music players
  • Gift certificates to purchase their favorite songs and ringtones online
  • Bluetooth speakers, so they can listen to music even on the go

A Birthday Present Gift Swap

While my mom preferred to buy one gift item in bulk and give it to all of our friends over the course of the year, I like to have a wider variety on hand to give to my kids’ friends so that even last-minute presents can feel personal. But I’ve never wanted to have to spend a lot of time picking out a variety of gifts, so for the past couple of years my friends and I have taken turns hosting gift swap parties where the gifts are presents for other people, usually our kids and their friends.

flutter dance toys
Fluttering dance ribbons encourage movement | Image courtesy Etsy seller MamaMayI

Everyone has a different idea about what it means to be creative, which makes throwing a just-in-case gift swap party such a great way to add variety to your stockpile of presents. I might hear creative and think “art supplies,” but a friend might think, “Ribbon dancer! Finger puppets! Puzzles!” Even if your group has a lot in common, it’s surprising to see the different ways in which everyone’s minds work!

To throw a gift swap that will help my friends and I add variety to our present stashes, I tell everyone invited to bring enough of one gift for each person in attendance. To make sure that things don’t get too confusing, we track everything on an online gift exchange website, which helps us all stay on the same page. I always set a price limit since people can get carried away when they’re shopping for kids! I find $10 per item works for most people, and also give recipients a theme, like “gifts to inspire creativity.”

At the party, each person gives one of their gifts to everyone in attendance, and receives one gift from each person in return. At the end of the party, everyone goes home with a new batch of creatively inspired presents to stash away until a special occasion arises. It’s so much more fun than wandering cluelessly through the aisles of a store on your own!

These days, whether it’s a pack of crayons and a pad of construction paper, or a tambourine and set of bells, I feel great knowing that the gifts my kids give to their friends are going to help them express their imaginations and emotions through art. Even the sportiest and most science-minded kids need an outlet for their creative energy, and stocking up on gifts that will encourage their self-expression is the perfect way to make sure that your last-minute gifts are more than just toys, instead tools that will help them develop into well-rounded human beings.

Get more inspiring gift ideas for creative kids on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, don’t forget to check out our gift guides.

The Elf Week Whippersnapper Round-up

The Elf Week Whippersnapper Round-up

This is the morning! If there’s ever a time for your angelic little snow bunny to unleash their inner “Naughty Kid” it’s today. Believe you we, they will take full advantage of this allowance! Billy hasn’t given up his slingshot all year for nothing…

When bouncing off the walls like a bonbon in a Piñata, children can make it difficult for a parent to keep the Spirit of the Season. So today’s Elf Week challenge is devoted to taming the tots during the Holidays. We call it the Whippersnapper Round-up!

Now, we know your little Sugar Plum is perfectly well-behaved, even on a day like today. But we suggest you take a look at these “Elf Help” articles anyway… For future reference!

The Elfster Guide to First-Class Teacher Gifts

Elfster Recommends: For the Kids!

Green Santa: Eco-friendly Toys for Eco-friendly Kids

Now, for the highlights of the Whippersnapper Round-up…

Current Standings

Elf Ed currently has an air-tight grip on the lead, having dominated the infamous “Pass the Tyke” test. He managed to toss 98 youngsters across Santa’s lap in less than a minute with not one parental complaint! Ed says this gift is both an art and a science, but attributes his stamina to a daily dose of extra-caffeinated cocoa.

When a “Perfect Little Peach” has gone sour, someone’s got to tell the parents. The Naughty-List Notification is a challenge designed to test an elf’s diplomacy and tact. While it’s only human to want to scream from the rooftops that your neighbor’s kid is a punk with a bad haircut, we elves are held to slightly higher standards. Elf Julie handled herself with poise and pride in this event, being invited to dinner by the parents of this year’s top offenders. Since she’s already won pot roast out of it, we thought it only fair to award her a Second Place ribbon for her efforts.

Elf Adrian, who finished in Third today, had a somewhat disappointing performance at the Kiddy-Table-Trial. Seated with ten members of the North Pole’s “Most Naughty” list, Adrian lasted a mere 12.2 seconds before suffering an almost complete nervous breakdown. He declined to comment about the incident, but was last seen heading for the eggnog bar…

Only one more day of Elf Week fun… Tomorrow’s Grand Finale: The Glitter Gala!

Photo credits: Angie m photography , izik
The Elfster Guide to First-Class Teacher Gifts

The Elfster Guide to First-Class Teacher Gifts

Gifts for the TeacherWe elves are no strangers to tall pointy hats, but we’re no “dunces” when it comes to holiday teacher appreciation, either! We know that a great gift can ensure “pet” status for even the rowdiest of rough-housers, but it can also be surprisingly difficult to choose an appropriate, yet personal way to thank the instructor.

Luckily, the answer to this holiday brain-teaser might be as close as your refrigerator door! That’s right, your child’s latest report card can serve as an excellent jumping-off point for selecting a primo present for the teacher. Today, we’re giving you a few examples of how to decipher those cryptic comments, turning them into A+ gift ideas!  All it takes is a little reading between the lines…

Social Studies: “I applaud Aiden’s budding interest in archeology. But unfortunately, his most prolific excavation thus far has been of his own nose.”

This is desperate cry for help. While there is no known cure for childhood nose-picking, the best you can do is try to help your son’s instructor encourage sanitary practices. These humorous tissue box covers are a good-natured and practical way to address the issue.

Math: “You’ll be proud to know we’ve renamed that particular corner of the room after your daughter, Liz…”

If your child’s desk has indefinitely been moved to the time-out chair, some act of contrition may be expected. A play on words is a light-hearted option for gifting in this case. With many space-saving desk accessories tailored to fit in corners, now your teacher can conveniently keep her school supplies out of sight and mind as well…  And they’ll stay there until they’re sorry!

History: “Jason’s motor skills, though enviable, make naptime an ordeal to rival Bull Run.”

Taking time to recharge after a long day of child-wrangling isn’t always easy. But with this stylish docking station from Pottery Barn, at least Teacher’s phone and electronics will have the luxury of a painless power boost. It won’t fix Jason’s faulty “sleep mode”, but it’ll make a great gift all the same.

Physical Education: “In all my years as Substitute P.E. Coach, I have never met a child with more enthusiasm for the art of square dance than your son, Wesley… The kid’s a prodigy.”

Country music might not be your genre of choice, but that’s no reason to stifle the gift of the dance in your little two-stepper. By now, he’s doubtlessly mastered all of the tracks on the “Square Dance: Unplugged” CD, so it’s probably about time the coach move on to something more advanced. As a subtle hint, you can bet that Billboard’s Greatest Country Christmas Hits will hit just the right chord. You can even buy Wesley a copy for practice!

Grammar: “Let’s just say, Bella is a little too fond of words you won’t find on the school-sanctioned vocab list.”

We know. You have no idea where she gets it from. But Bella’s penchant for choice words needs some attention and acknowledgement. You simply can’t be there to censor everything she says in the classroom. That’s why we love this Desk Gong featured on Amazon. The small-yet-mighty ornament impressively commands respect with just a flick of the wrist, while also adding a decorative touch to the workspace… We swear!

Science: “Missy’s mid-term exams have led me to seriously consider buying stock in permanent markers.”

Seeing a lot of red pen on your child’s schoolwork this year? You might be hesitant to gift the teacher with another fancy writing instrument. But we say if you splurge on this ultra-limited edition Montegrappa for Ferrari Sterling Lacquer Red Ballpoint Pen, Teach will definitely think twice before ever using it! Now, we’re not suggesting anything, but with this gift, Missy’s grades might just improve dramatically…

These tips should give you a head start on finding the perfect teacher gift.  We hope you were taking notes! This material might just pop-up on the Elf Week Whippersnapper Roundup (wink, wink)!

Photo credits: D’Arcy Norman, , Pottery Barn