Skip the gimmicky toys. Get kids these beautiful, durable gifts

I tested these toys on my toddler. Each gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up!

Skip the gimmicky toys. Get kids these beautiful, durable gifts

Every year around the holidays, the toy industrial complex comes up with a couple of gimmicky new toys. Brands throw millions of dollars into advertising their respective toys in the hope of generating some a viral hit that parents will clamor to buy on behalf of Santa.


This year, I have vowed not to get sucked into this marketing frenzy, like I do every year. Toys-of-the-year are always a disappointment. Take Tickle-Me Elmo, the terrifying red stuffed character that convulsed with haunting laughter. Or last year’s most popular toy, the Fingerling, a monkey that clung to your finger and farted on command. These toys often have one trick that will make a kid laugh, but they will get cast aside after a few hours, filling Goodwill donation bins in the months to come.

There’s a better way. Skip the junky, plastic, disposable toys, and invest in things they’ll actually use. Here, I bring you a list of presents that kids will enjoy for years. They’re all products that came out this year, and are useful, durable, and most importantly, a hit with kids. I’ve tested them all on my own toddler, who gives each an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Clothes They’ll Love and Wear

Princess Awesome Dresses (With Pockets)

[Photo: Princess Awesome]

There’s a well-documented dearth of pockets in women’s clothes, and in girls’ clothes, they are practically nonexistent. Princess Awesome is here to save the day. The brand makes a range of girls’ clothes full of patterns relating to science, including dinosaurs, trains, planes, sharks, and math. It sends a message to girls that empowerment doesn’t mean abandoning femininity. You can have your girly, twirly skirt, but also love traditionally masculine things like fire engines. Importantly, every dress in the collection has usable pockets. My favorite holiday dress contains the entire solar system, with Pluto hiding in the pocket, and it’s appropriately glittery.

Cubcoats: The Toy That Morphs Into A Hoodie

[Photo: Cubcoats]

It’s a simple, ingenious idea: A stuffed animal that morphs into a hoodie, and can just as quickly be turned back into a toy. Kids love the fun–and magic–of transforming a Cubcoat, but it’s also incredibly practical. This time of year, you can’t have too many layers. And a cute toy stuffed cat or tiger is a great thing to keep in the car or stroller, and can instantly turn into a warm layer when the weather gets cold.


Sesame Street Bombas Socks

[Photo: Bombas]

Why are kids’ socks so poorly made? I’ve purchased so many that lose their elasticity or develop holes after a few wears. Here are some Sesame Street socks that will make you and your child happy. Bombas has devoted years to engineering the perfect socks, and it shows. These socks are thick, they cling to the foot in all the right places (the ankle and in front of the toes), and they’re durable. The brand didn’t go over the top with the Sesame Street characters, but decided to go subtle instead. There’s a stray cookie on the blue Cookie Monster socks, and a pink dot on a blue background suggestive of Grover’s nose.

Pom-Pom Hat and Mittens

[Photo: Primary]

It’s freezing, and your kid’s head is cold. But it’s always a chore to get them to wear their hat and mittens, and then, inevitably, they lose them. You need comfortable, affordable winter accessories that your kid will actually want to wear. has heard you. It has just launched $15 hats and mittens that are machine washable, lined with cosy sherpa fabric, and designed to stay on your kid’s head thanks to an elasticized fabric. The most important thing here is the pom-pom. Parents rave that their kids actually want to wear this set, sometimes even around the house.

The Best Books

I Walk With Vanessa

[Image: Schwartz & Wade]

This book is about a little girl who moves to a new neighborhood. She feels scared, has no one to sit with at recess, and walks home alone. But the story unfolds without words, but through a series highly detailed drawings by the French husband-and-wife illustrator team, jointly known as Kerascoët. The beauty of the book is that you can ask your child to “read” it to you, even before they have learned their alphabet. They can talk you through what is happening on each page, which can feel empowering to them. And the story itself is beautiful: It’s about how even children can do little acts of kindness that can transform another person’s life.


I Look Up To Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg Board Books

[Images: Random House]

At a time when women’s rights are under attack, you can’t go wrong introducing little boys and girls to inspiring role models. The good news is that there’s a new board book series devoted to amazing women, created for children between the ages of two and three. The first two books in the series are about Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Okay, there’s only so much you can communicate to a drooling toddler about female empowerment and social justice. But these books introduce some valuable concepts, like how important it is to work hard and be healthy.

Wee Hee Hee

[Image: Clarkson Potter]

Most kids love telling jokes. They instinctively laugh when they hear other people laughing, even when they don’t fully understand the nuances. Wee Hee Hee is specifically designed to introduce kids to the concept of humor, with a set of incredibly corny–but simple–jokes, and a lot of beautiful graphic art. (“Where do snowmen keep their money? In snowbanks!”) I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t love this book. My 2-year-old memorized every single joke in the book, and is now working on her comic timing.

For The Mini Foodie

Omie Lunch Box

[Photo: Omie]

Lunch is always a bit of a struggle. You need to make something healthy that your kid will actually eat, so she’s not super grumpy on the car ride home. But since kids–just like adults–are influenced by how the food is presented, OmieBox is a smart way to make lunch more fun. The lunchbox comes in assorted color combinations, and contains several bento-box-like sections. But the real genius of the box is that it has a small insulated section that will keep food warm while the rest of the box stays cool. So you can give your child hot pasta, with a side of cold blackberries. It’s easier for you, but from my experience, kids also love the fun and surprise of unboxing their lunch every day.


East Fork’s Kiddo Meal Set

[Photo: East Fork]

If you have a toddler, your kitchen is probably full of plastic plates and cups. Sure, they make sense because you never know when your kids will reject the broccoli you have served them by throwing their bowl on the floor. But when your children are old enough to understand that certain things are breakable, you may want to introduce them to proper ceramic dinnerware. East Fork’s kids’ meal set is solid and well made, so they will survive a bit of mealtime rough-and-tumble, but of course, they will break if a real plate-throwing tantrum ensues. In a way, that’s the point. The set allows kids to feel like they are civilized members of the family.

Rifle Paper Company Apron

[Photo: Rifle Paper Company]

Most kids love “helping” out in the kitchen, which mostly means making meal prep a little messier for you. But it’s all for a good cause. Studies show that kids who are allowed to participate in household chores and cooking eventually learn domestic skills faster than their peers, and become contributing members of the household. To encourage their culinary adventures, why not give your children beautiful, well-made aprons, by Hedley & Bennett, a company that serves some of the best chefs in the world? The design on this apron is created by Anna Bond, the designer best known for her whimsical floral design. There’s even a matching pattern for adults, in case you want to twin.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts