Skip the plastic, but don’t scrimp on the fun! We’ve consulted our holiday gift gurus to once again bring you the best of safe, well-made toys that encourage “unplugged” creative play; beautiful, satisfying toys your kids will reach for time and again.
Infants and their parents
Haba toys — Made in Germany, wooden Haba toys are safe, colorful, and sturdy and will capture your baby’s attention. $25 and up (Merry Go Round, Bellevue; Teaching Toys and Books, Tacoma)
Bunnies by the Bay — This Anacortes-based company makes incredibly soft toys and blankets for infants, including the Littlebit’s Snuggle Me blankie-and-buddy-bunny combo. $52 (Teaching Toys and Books, Tacoma)
Books for parents: 73 Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep by Ann Treistman, Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld, Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five by Lisa Guernsey. (All For Kids, Seattle)
Toddlers to kindergarteners
Uncle Goose blocks — Made in Michigan by a family-owned company, these classic wooden blocks are award winning and safe for children. Many designs and languages are available, including Spanish, Braille and sign language. $25-$35 (Izilla Toys, Seattle)
Brio train set — Perfect if you are looking for a safe, classic train set. The tunnels, drawbridges and cranes with real pulleys help build imaginations and fine motor skills. $39-$400 (Clover Toys, Ballard)
Chalet dollhouses by Plan Toys — Charming wooden dollhouses for about $120. Also by Plan Toys, winner of the 2007 Eco-Friendly Toy Company Award: a fire engine with an extendable ladder, rescue gear and two firefighters. $50 (Urban Kids Play )
Books: Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon, Larry Gets Lost in Seattle by John Skewes, In Aunt Giraffe’s Green Garden by Jack Prelutsky, Zelda and Ivy: One Christmas by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog: A Folktale from Great Britain by Margaret Read MacDonald. (Lilypad Books)
Craft kits — Sarah Furstenberg, mother of two and owner of Clover Toys, says, “Quality craft kits can give your kids a lifelong hobby and skill.” She likes the Harrisville kits for knitting, weaving and crocheting, which include beautiful wool and easy instructions. $14-$50 (Clover Toys)
Science kits — Rhode Island-based Thames and Kosmos makes fun science kits for children, including Physics Discovery ($26) and Dinosaur Expedition ($12). (Urban Kids Play)
Fun Ride Zip Line — Your kids will be swamped with play dates when you get them this 35- or 70-foot zip line for your back yard. $50-$100 (Teaching Toys and Books)
Early readers: Searching for Sasquatch by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: School Days by Erica Silverman and Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise by Kate DiCamillo. (All For Kids)
Tweens and Teens
Give a future memory: Create a gift certificate for an adventure or class that you and your tween or teen would enjoy together. Consider taking a kayaking trip with the Northwest Outdoor Center or a rock-climbing class at the indoor rock-climbing gym Stone Gardens next to the Ballard Locks, or learn to surf with your daughter or son at Surf Sisters on the beautiful beaches near Tofino, B.C.
Tweens: Extras by Scott Westerfeld, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by local author Sherman Alexie and The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. (All For Kids)
Teens: Local author Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush for Kids and Teens and Book Crush Journal, Extras by Scott Westerfeld, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron and Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner. (All for Kids)
Unplugged play: Bellevue-based Simply Fun offers a variety of great games, puzzles and charming puppets, ideal for creative, “unplugged” play. Shop for its products on its Web site, where you can also purchase a Pickles puppet to be donated to a child receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital.
Classic games: The family that plays together, stays together. Uncles Games in Crossroads Shopping Center and Redmond Town Center offer a wide variety of games from beautifully made chess sets, classic family board games, imported game sets and jigsaw puzzles. You’ll find the staff here is very friendly and helpful with selecting age- and interest-appropriate games.
Service: Consider giving a gift of your family’s time this holiday season. Several local service organizations offer opportunities to serve others as a family unit and rediscover the true holiday spirit. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission has many ideas. Jewish Family Services also offers ideas on volunteering as a family or group. Or go to volunteermatch.org to search by your ZIP code for specific service opportunities for your family this holiday season — and all year around.
Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun by Bobbi Conner and Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield. (Lilypad Books)
Originally published in the December, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.