If the preschooler on your gift list already has the big ticket items that most kids twice their age only dream of − iPhones, luxury two-seater ride-on cars or even a big screen TV − take heart. There are wonderful alternatives for the toddler who already has too much stuff.
They emphasize creativity and bonding rather than money spent, and each is designed to keep the kid active but unplugged.
Here are five of our favorite gifts for the little one that can’t fit another toy in their room:
A picture manual for cooking together: “Fresh Made Simple” is a thoughtful picture book you can both read to the child at night and use picture by picture for simple cooking projects like veggie cream cheese or cashew butter. The pickiest eater will enjoy examining the colorful drawings while the mechanical tot will like the step-by-step drawings that serve as "recipes." Use it as a planner for several sessions with you and the toddler of your choice (use it for one-on-one time with your toddler since this doesn't make a great group gift). Write each session down on the calendar, so the book becomes the basis of bonding time, which is a swell gift in and of itself.
The ability to recharge: If the toddler in question is already relying on batteries for toys and remotes, a wonderful habit to encourage is rechargeable batteries. A related gift idea: a battery recharger that comes with a selection of AA and AAA rechargeable batteries, most affordable at a box store or shopping club. Most little 3- or 4-year-old homebodies also like to be independent but still do something valuable, and with an adult's supervision, they're usually able to take over charging up the family batteries. These utilitarian gifts aren't sentimental but they are alluring to the toddler: Power is power, after all.
Something squirmy: A kid with lots of expensive gadgets may not be getting enough outdoor time. If you're not too squeamish, consider helping her or him with, ah, a worm farm. You can find instructions on lots of earth-friendly sites.
Just make sure the soil you use isn't toxic in any way, and that you as the gift giver plan to do the bulk of the work with the tot. You can wrap the ingredients or perform a few of the steps ahead of time. In mere weeks, you'll have lots of nice squirmy worms ready for transplanting to the garden. And if you don't have a garden, now is a great time to introduce Junior to the wonders of the community garden, where you can donate the worms on an ongoing basis.
A class act together: If you just won't be comfortable without reaching a certain dollar amount on a toddler's gift, consider selecting one of the many toddler-adult classes available at numerous museums, zoos, nature centers and aquariums. You can either set a date to go with the child yourself or sponsor the kid and the parent. This is one of those gifts where you need to reach an agreement with the child's parent first. But it's a great way to finally follow through on an offer of an outing with a squirmy toddler that will delight you, the child and the parent who gets some free time out of the deal.
A mixtape from your era: For the kid who revels in stories about "when you were little," this is a gift that is ultrapersonal and very fun. Sure, it's a direct ripoff of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but putting together a selection of songs you think the child would enjoy, in whatever format you both can grasp, is a great bonding tool and perfect for future rides in the car. You can start with an hour-long mix following online instructions. Be sure to include songs you liked when you were little (think "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night, Raffi tunes, Madonna's "Material Girl"). If you're a grandparent, remember back to what the child's parent used to dance to and if the lyrics are okay, load up the tunes.