Granted, "must-have" is a pretty loose term. Look how much fun these kids are having in this fire hydrant runoff! The best things in life are free, et cetera. That said, buying gifts for kids is pretty fun! Like, generally much more fun than shopping for adults. The cool miniature versions of things! The total abandon with which they unwrap them! A good time is had by all.
So, the next time you find yourself shopping for any kid in your life (we suspect this will be sooner rather than later), we have you covered. Out of a truly bottomless sea of cool-looking stuff for kids, here are 10 of the very best and most foolproof options.
Gotta at least try to get them to journal, right? If nothing else, this one'll look cool on their desk.
It'd be pretty remiss not to include a bike on this list, we think, and at least one big-ticket, love-winning gift option. While the exact model depends on your child's age, height, and aesthetic preferences (stars? flowers? some sort of faux graffiti pattern? an elaborate combination of the three?), we like the user-friendly 13' Schwinn Stardust over at Ride Brooklyn, where they also have plenty of other options that'll suit basically any kid on your list.
$169.99, Ride Brooklyn
Everyone knows that no childhood is complete (or free from night terrors!) without some kind of cool nightlight. I submit that nothing is cooler than Cloud B's nightlight turtle, who serves the dual purposes of being super cuddly and lighting up the room with stars. The "Twinkles to Go" octopus is excellent, as well. Buy one of each, actually — one for the child in question, another for a deserving stoner in your life. Both will be pleased.
If there's one thing I know for sure about kids, it's that they tend to be fickle. It's not a bad thing, just sort of how it is. Meaning, then, that these "Peel & Place" decorations — removable, fabric wall stickers that can easily be moved around from day to day — are genius, and very worth the money. They also come in "Once Upon a Time" and "On the Farm" themes.
Sure, museum gift shops may sound like a dweeby place to buy presents, but actually, they're treasure troves. Best to stop by in person and see what's around, but if you're shopping online, it's pretty hard to argue with the Brooklyn Museum's 3-D dragon puzzle. He can spit red, wooden flames! What more do you want, kid?
You know what's fun, as a rule, for children? Mashing squishy things around, sometimes in order to make shapes. You know what's even more fun for adults? Paying less than $10 for a toy no small child doesn't enjoy. This stuff is also gluten free and made from essential oils, for the conscientious among you.
If at all possible, every kid should have the opportunity to play an instrument. It's good for their brain, in some way, but also, just incredibly fun and enriching. You could go the drum set, recorder, or teeny tiny keyboard route in your gifting, but maybe best to be sensitive to the preferences of a kid's actual parents when it comes to noise-making devices under their roof? In addition to excellent toys, Play Kids offers low-key, inexpensive classes for younger children in things like "mini keyboard," drumming, and something called "jitterbug jam." A very solid alternative.
Another thing I know about kids? They enjoy eating novelty versions of otherwise normal foods. Billion-dollar industries are built around this idea. The hot chocolate pops (pre-made so as to melt conveniently into a mug of hot milk) at Brooklyn Victory Garden are a delicious, local spin on this idea that everyone involved can feel good about. Great for a stocking stuffer around the holidays or a small, hey-this-is-just-a-normal-occasion-but-look-at-this-awesome-thing-I-brought-you kind of present.
Try to find something that is more fun or timeless for kids than a rocking horse, and I will silently point you back in the direction of the rocking horse. It's the perfect toy for every child! It's also sturdy, something that can be passed on to the eventual grandkids. Aww.
This one's a classic for a reason. Plus, if this works the way it should, it'll prime kids for a few years down the road, when you can give them a real record player. Definitely a used, inexpensive one, because they'll inevitably break it at some point, if memory serves. The point is, these are fun to play with, and can settle you into a comfortable niche of buying them records for every gift-giving occasion. Done.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.