Elmo, Barbie, Minnie, Woody… each of these beloved characters are huge hits in the “big box” toy stores every year. Your kids love them, but that could be because they don’t have a choice. The mainstream toys and characters are everywhere they look.
This Christmas, tap into your non-conformist side by giving kids gifts that stand out. When it comes to unique gifts, you’ll find that the possibilities are endless. Below is a gift guide that lists just a few out of hundreds of ideas. The items are reasonably priced and most can be ordered online, so convenience and practicality are still attainable, for gifts that will be more than memorable.
In 2013, the personalization trend skyrocketed. For whatever reason, we love seeing our name on our possessions. Just about anything can be personalized; here are some suggestions for fun personalized items for kids.
Crayon Aprons – Your little artist will appreciate having her tools at her fingertips with a cute and comfy Doodlebugz apron that comes with slots for crayons, a pad of paper, and her name embroidered on the waistline. Available for girls and boys, $20-$35, at princesslinens.com.
Placemats/plates – Sarah + Abraham, based just down the road in Naperville, Illinois, makes dinnertime fun with modern-designed personalized plates and placemats for just $20-$25. Personalized lunch boxes, art prints, paper pads (think teacher gifts!), chore charts and more are also available. sarahandabraham.com.
Books – Kids love books, especially when he or she is the main character! One of many book personalization companies is I See Me, which offers books for boys and girls of all ages, Christmas-related or not. $29.95. iseeme.com.
Your kids can have fun and learn a little something while they’re at it. Here are some ways to boost brainpower and still delight your little ones.
Little Master Books – Introduce your toddler to classic literature with Jennifer Adams’ Little Master board book series, which features baby lit versions of Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet and Moby Dick, among others. $8.99. amazon.com.
Language DVDs – Buongiorno! Kids from 6 months to 6 years can have fun learning a new language with the EarlyLingo DVD sets, which uses animation and playful learning techniques to teach Italian, Spanish, French, German, Chinese or English. Single DVDs are $19.99; a box set of 6 is $99.99. earlylingo.com.
Photography Tutorial – If your child has a penchant for photography, help them learn their craft with the instructional book Click! Click! Click! Photography for Children. $12.75. amazon.com.
The following toys encourage and enhance creativity, using music and make-believe to help kids cultivate their imaginations and expand their minds.
Musical Instruments – Your toddler could be a Mozart in the making, so start him out young with the kid-sized instruments by Land of Nod, which range from guitar and piano to the less traditional accordion and finger cymbals. $3.95-$199. landofnod.com.
Puppet Show – Also from Land of Nod (which hosts a plethora of toys for imaginative play) comes the Off-Broadway Puppet Theater, a fabric “stage” that hangs in the doorway for kids to put on their own puppet show. $39. landofnod.com.
Support local merchants and your kids’ imagination at the same time this year. Below are just two of many local business owners whose inventory rallies that of the big box shops.
Handmade Clothing and Toys – Crown Point-based after8handmade makes a variety of clothing, toys and accessories in cute, trendy patterns. For the girls on your list try the “kidfinity” scarves, dresses, and chapstick holder keychains. The boys will get a kick out of the superhero capes/masks, monster stuffed animals and canvas wallets. (Order now; availability may be limited closer to Christmas.) Find after8handmade on Facebook or at craft shows at Crete Church (Dec. 7) and Clark Middle School (Dec. 14).
Quirky Toys – Alice’s Garden Toy Boutique in Chesterton carries old-school toys like the Miss Weather Colorform Dress-up Set and Shrinky Dinks, along with new, one-of-a-kind items like wooden kitchen sets, rocking horses and board games you’ve never heard of. Visit Alice’s Garden Toy Boutique at 206 S. Calumet Ave., Suite B, in Chesterton.
For Andrew Johnson, a master model builder for Legoland Discovery Center in Chicago, the goal for any event is to transform Legoland and make the center as immersive as possible.
“We want to ooze Lego,” Johnson said. Johnson, who is in charge of ordering bricks, maintaining the brick models and brainstorming for events, has been working on Halloween preparations for weeks.
The center’s annual Brick-Or-Treat event begins October 5 and runs through Halloween.
Some Lego models highlighted during the event include a four-foot-wide pumpkin, as well as large-scale werewolves, ghosts, skeletons and mummies. Johnson is also making as many 8-inch by 8-inch spiders as possible out of the iconic bricks.
The center’s miniature land, which is a scaled-down version of Chicago, will feature spiders, monster fighters and zombies.
“My favorite is the little glow-in-the-dark ghosts,” he said.
Visitors will be able to participate in a spider scavenger hunt, for which Johnson has been building as many spiders as possible.
“The goal is always to build as much Lego content into the event as possible,” he said. “I love it when the kids can touch the models and participate in fun activities.”
There also will be a “Brick or Treat,” where kids can visit four stations and receive four Lego pieces, which fit together to create a black cat after the pieces are collected.
“They get to take it home with them, and they really love that,” he said. “It’s fun, because a lot of kids come dressed up and there’s always something to look at and talk about.”
For Johnson, the best part of preparing for Halloween is decorating the miniature land for the holiday.
“I love the small scenes, and adding things in. It’s really fun and organic, and it turns out really well,” he said. “I love interacting with the Legos and making it come alive.”