The Ten Things I’m Glad My Kids Got for Christmas

by | Nov 26, 2014 | Christmas, December, Liturgical Living, Parenting, Parenting Advice | 27 comments

I’ve already written about how we are planning a more simple and a more toy-free Christmas than we’ve had in the past. Not because we are AGAINST toys but because we have reached the natural conclusion of a few years of more mindful toy-buying, more discerning toy-keeping, and the fact that we have a LOT of kids.
We’re kind of set in the toy department.
But maybe you’re not. Maybe your family Christmas traditions are just starting. Maybe you’re trying to build a toy collection your kids will love and you won’t hate. I’ve spent a couple of years now really trying to pay attention to which toys are working in our family, which are being neglected, and which are causing unhappiness and disarray. We’ve done clean out after clean out (and are due for another). And, for our family of four boys and three girls aged one to twelve, these are the toys that are consistently loved and played with, year after year, kid after kid.
I’ve had a lot of toy-buying regrets over the years, but these are the things we all enjoy.
Maybe your kids will like them too.
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No duh, right? But GOOD books. They don’t all have to be great literature, but they have to have something to love about them. They have to be smart, or touching, or funny, or beautiful.
We are going to do the Wrap Up Books for Advent thing this year, for the first time. So I’ve just ordered a new book for each of the kids . . .
Jack (12)
Last year he got:
Betty (10)
And our favorite read aloud chapter books for Advent.


We have a big trunk of dress up clothes, for boys and girls. We’ve got saint robes, and princess dresses, and animal costumes, and superhero capes, and Hulk Foam Fists

My aunt, who doesn’t have kids herself, but picks the best presents EVER, gave these fists to Jack ten years ago, and they are still going strong, thousands of punches later.

My little kids love the dress up box, and it’s always really popular with visiting kids as well.

Pro tip: My kids are only allowed to put dress up clothes on over the top of their existing clothes. That keeps them from ending up mostly naked and with NO IDEA where their clothes are when we need to leave for the dentist — right now.


We have a lot of board games, and we try to make a point of having a family game night at least every month, hopefully more often.

Our favorites for the whole family but especially little kids are:

Hisss Card Game: This game is so simple, but really fun. Two year olds to adults can enjoy it.
Chutes and Ladders: Consequences! We have an older version with stuff like skating on thin ice and pulling a cat’s tail. I’m hoping those are still in this new version.
Candy Land: Pro Tip . . . Put the picture cards in the deck in order from worst to best to avoid kids getting sent back to the beginning and therefore making the game take FOREVER.

Our favorites for the whole family but especially grade schoolers are:

Clue The Classic Edition: The kids get super into this game, and take their detective work really seriously.
Apples to Apples Party Box – The Game of Crazy Combinations (Family Edition)
: This is the version we have, and our kids eight and up enjoy it. But I did have to take out a whole bunch of cards that were people my kids didn’t know, or were just wildly inappropriate. Apparently there is a Junior Edition, and a Bible Edition that are aimed at younger audiences, but it was easy enough to tidy up the regular version.

Our favorites for the whole family but especially middle schoolers are:

Monopoly – The Classic Edition: Math practice + fun + cutthroat landlording

Risk Game
: This game takes a LONG time, like Monopoly, and it’s complex. But once everyone figures it out, it’s pretty cool.
Stratego Original Game
: It’s like minesweeper, but in board game form.


I love art supplies and craft kits that the kids can do by themselves.

In the past, I’ve given the kids a selection of things like sketch pads, oil pastels, pipe cleaners, glitter glue, googly eyes, etc, whatever is age appropriate. Or packaged craft kits. My kids are old enough and understand our family rules enough that they can be trusted to have access to arts and crafts supplies unsupervised, during nap time for little kids.

But THIS year, my kids are getting Kiwi Crate, a monthly subscription service that delivers a box of arts and crafts to the house each month. And I don’t have to organize any of it. Yay!


We have — and use — a Hockey Goal Set , boxing gloves, and a basketball hoop. But the MOST popular thing in our sports equipment collection right now is . . . a Playground Ball

My kids use sidewalk chalk to draw a foursquare court in the cul-de-sac, or they play in the segments of our driveway. Four square is awesome.

But ANYTHING that keeps them occupied and outside gets a thumbs up from me.


Speaking of that, we’ve also had great success with a tree house, and a playhouse, and a Trampoline. My parents almost always give the kids a group gift of something big for the backyard every year. And whatever it is always makes the kids excited to go outside, and you can’t put a price on that. But we ARE starting to run out of room.


My girls love dolls. Betty has, and takes excellent care of, two American Girl dolls, that have been gifts. Anita still loves baby dolls. And even Lulu, at only one, adores baby dolls.

This is the Boy Baby Doll Anita got for Christmas the year Frankie was born. It’s from France, and smells like baby powder and is anatomically correct.

Update 2023: The doll that was originally linked above isn’t available anymore, but you can find a similar one here!

We have a couple of strollers, we have some extra outfits, we’ve got some food. But I try to avoid having lots of furniture and accessories for our dolls. We need the room inside our house for furniture and accessories for our kids.


My girls throw the cutest tea parties. And sometimes I let them use real tea and everything, and sometimes even cookies. And that makes the boys willing to attend. They are not that interested in the idea of tea parties, but they are very interested in the actual tea and cookies of tea parties.

Plus, I really think a breakable tea set is an excellent way to learn about consequences and responsibility.


Rolling things are very popular with both boys and girls at my house. We’ve had wooden train sets, and Hot Wheels tracks, and a driving rug and all have been enjoyed immensely. We ended up passing along the train set, because it took up a lot of room. And the Hot Wheels tracks are really fun for a while, but don’t last very well for us. The rug lived outside for a while, and then dissolved.Our favorite vehicle set right now is the Richard Scarry Busytown Deluxe Town Hall Playset that Frankie got for Christmas from my sister last year.

Frankie, as you may have heard, is cranky. He was particularly cranky last Christmas morning. Then he opened this present, and we didn’t hear from him again the rest of the day. Busy Town saved Christmas.

10. Legos

LEGO Bricks. They are expensive and very tempting for little kids to try to eat. They get everywhere and it hurts a LOT when you step on them.

But they are overall the most popular toy with all kids of all age groups in my house. Frankie can build with Duplo blocks, and Lulu loves banging them together.

The older kids love to get and build kits, but then they just throw all the pieces from all the sets together and come up with their own creations, and those are always WAY better.

The only issue we’ve had with Legos, is that little kids tend to smash up creations that bigger kids are working on. That is obviously super frustrating. But we don’t ever let big kids shut little kids out of the playroom. We always say that people are more important than things. So if you can’t play with that thing around these people, then you need to not play with that thing right now. So, mostly they play with Legos up on the dining room table or during nap time.

But SOMETIMES they’ll sit there making towers for Frankie and Lulu to smash, and that’s fun for everyone.

This is how I attempt to keep them organized.


And that’s that. Those are all our favorites. Almost everything else in this house could go and the kids might not even notice. Or at least that’s my hypothesis, we’ll see if I’m right.

I’m sure your favorites are a little different than ours.

What is a Christmas present you are glad to have given your kids? Or that someone else gave them?


We’re off today with our little birthday girl Lulu and all the rest on our Thanksgiving camping adventure, so I will have only limited internet access until next Monday.

But once we’re back in town, I’ll recap her lovely (small) little birthday party, and she has some of her favorite things to give away to some lucky readers!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, and a peaceful start to Advent.


  1. me

    A lovely Christmas book is "Brigid's Cloak" – about a saint too!

  2. Amanda

    Happy birthday Lulu! Thanks for the great list. Grandparents always want to give more things.

  3. Camilla

    Perfect list! Ours is exactly the same for 7 kids, but I would add: 1. Building blocks (we have a huge vintage set that can build the Tower of Babel and bury the kid it falls on), 2. Musical instruments, as the kids have gotten older (electric full-size piano, electric drum set, guitar, violin), 3) For the babes, nesting toys (cups, bowls, buckets, dolls), 4. "How-to-Draw" books–we use every day in school to illustrate our lessons, especially Bible and Science, 5) Weapons–my boys will fight with nerf swords and toy light sabers for hours–kinda counts as dress-up), 6) Stuffed animals (max 5 per child) with clothes (such as Build-a-Bear–when my daughter outgrew dolls, and I had four boys in a row, we replaced the dolls with this. The boys love their Woody, Buzz, Vader, and superhero outfits for them), 7) pattern blocks–we have design contests and challenges, or sometimes work together to "use them all"–and the boys build mini-forts and play a game to roll marbles and knock them down, 8) mini-toy basket, with wooden tops, a sliding "15" puzzle, a light up, hand-held microscope, a mini wooden prism kaledescope, yo-yo, "Spot It", Uno, Farkle,etc.), 9. Puzzles, we keep the number at about 12 wooden from 12-48 pcs.,and rotate through a few others, 10) One bin of small plastic animals–lions, tigers, bears, deer, wolves, cheetahs, panthers, snakes, caterpillars, birds, cows,horses,–the kids sort them, have "battles", build zoos–this toy has stood the test of time since my first, who is now 20), 11) a marble track, 12) A good basic playdough set with molds, rollers, cookie cutters, and a press-machine, I replace the dough about once a year 13) an electronics kit, 14) a magnet kit with an experiment booklet, and 15) one gaming system (Wii) and one hand-held system (iPod)–easy to add a game or app as a gift, 16) 1 play kitchen with food–they outgrow at about age six, but I still have 4 age 6 and under who cook, set up feasts and picnics, and make any grown people around pretend to eat their plastic gourmet masterpieces–instead of a tea set. My girl, who is 15, has a "real" tea set and a pub table with 2 stools in her room–gets used a LOT for real, to entertain friends,do school work, invite a little brother for tea or hot chocolate and cookies). We have not changed or added to these toys for years–just update/swap out. Now darn… I wrote my own blog post on your blog. Sorry. But I know it is helpful to share good gift ideas nearing Christmas! ,

    • Kendra

      This is a GREAT list. If I wasn't running out the door right this second for our trip, I'd have to make this at LEAST a fifteen item list now. A bunch of these are favorites of ours' too, I can't believe I forgot play dough, and drawing books and weapons!

  4. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    YES! to the dress up clothes. And when my daughter was in her dress up years, I made it a point to scour the stores immediately after Halloween to pick up very low cost costumes to give her at Christmas.

    • Camilla

      Yes! And some quick stitching to take up the shoulders and waist transforms 80's prom dresses from the thrift store into gorgeous floor-length princess gowns. As well as shawls, aprons, hats, and prairie skirts!

  5. Theresa

    Good list . . . BUT chutes and ladders just takes SOOOO long with my kids and I have never liked Candy Land. A perfect substitute for Candy Land is the Berenstain Bears Learn to Share Game. Same concept, but with values. And a cool tree house slide for the dice. Awesome.

    Another one that we play with your little kids is the Richard Scarry Busy Town Eye Found It game. I really enjoy this one and I secretly try to suggest it when the kids are picking out a game.

    • Kendra

      We have that Richard Scarry game, and my kids play it, but I never have. I'll have to give it a try!

  6. Lizzie

    When you do the book wrap up for your kids do you let them choose when they unwrap it? Or do you agree on a day for each child to help make up the 24 days? Or do you go from youngest to oldest? I'm trying to figure out how the wrap up will work for us, and at the same time trying not to spend too much building up our Christmas book selection. I've bought a few so far, and will wrap up our current selection (which has 3-4 good ones) along with them.

    It's hard for me to remind myself that I have years of gift giving ahead of me and to pace myself!

    • Kendra

      It's the first year we've done it, so I'm kind of winging it! I figure I'll wrap up the books we have, plus some from the library. I'll put dates on the outside, just to make sure saint books get opened on the correct day. And I was going to let the kids take turns opening. Starting with the youngest? Or with Bobby since his birthday is the 2nd? I'm not sure about that part yet. I think it's going to be fun.

    • Jennifer Byrne

      Kendra can you give an explanation on the "book wrap up"? Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Kendra

      The idea is just that you wrap up a book for each day of Advent. Organized people do them in advance and label them with the date so you get the right book for feast days and whatnot. And you have them in a cute basket or something. I run back to my room each evening and frantically wrap up that day's book.

  7. Elise

    Pinning for future reference. 🙂 Thanks, Kendra!

  8. Jenny

    I agree with every single item on that list. With seven children, even if they each only get two gifts that equals fourteen new items in the house that need to find a home for storage. I bought games this year and sports equipment and some jewelry for my older girls and books for everyone.

  9. Gina Fensterer

    I agree 100% with all of these. I'm just not as organized to say so, haha. I'll be coming back to this so I can remind myself and all our family. 😉

  10. Anna

    Great list Kendra! Most of our Christmas toys this year fall into one of these categories. One exception is a small broom set for the one year old (I don't really like him whipping around my full sized one) and one Schleich figure a piece for everyone's stocking. Our toy animal bin gets a lot of playtime.

    I think that playground ball would make a wonderful family gift. I may just need to get that.

  11. Heather

    I am in total agreement on all of these categories! My most well-received gift for a child was the year that I gave my 7 year old niece her own set of office supplies. I picked out the things that she enjoyed the most while visiting my office and she loved it! I agree about books with this caveat: my brother the NY attorney who doesn't have kids bought my 11 year old niece a set of classic books last Christmas – I'm talking Complete Works of Shakespeare and just about every classic you can think of. It was a fabulous presentation (I wrapped them) and she will enjoy them over the years I'm sure but her initial reaction was more of "what the heck?". I told her to ask for an Amazon gift card this year so she can pick out her own books. Have a great Thanksgiving! *hugs* Heather

  12. lissla lissar

    For a couple of years now the big present our kids have gotten is a Royal Ontario Museum membership. We also give them other gifts, but that's the big one. This year I'm hoping to add a Science Centre membership to it. It's something other family members can contribute to and it reduces the number of crappy toys we receive. My inlaws have started giving our kids a fun outing with them as their birthday present- a big outing, a movie or aquarium visit or different museum trip. It's a lovely thing.

    I'm hoping for there to be dolls, books, and lego for the bulk of the non-membership gifts this year. Oh, and I'm making my oldest (he's six) a Doctor Who/Calvin and Hobbes quilt with crossover fabric from Spoonflower.

  13. Autumn Hiner

    I wanted to suggest another game if your kids are fond of them. My husband's family has always enjoyed The aMAZEing Labyrinth. It is recommended for children 8 and older, but much younger kids really like to play with help, and I've only ever played it as an adult and it's one of my favorite board games.

  14. Dr Mom

    Awesome list! I think mine need that tampoline this year!

  15. Kemma

    Two of our best gifts have been the Cozy Coupe and our Hape play kitchen – I'd highly recommend both of them! We also love the Fisher Price Little People stuff 🙂

  16. Rachel Meyer

    Thank you for this! Our oldest is 2 so it's hard to predict what will have lasting value. Of course cars and trucks of every kind are essential. We want a little train set this year. Duplos are his very favorite thing. He will be getting a pretend grill. I like it but worry about space. He does fine "cooking" misc objects under the furniture! Puzzles and board games were always important when I was growing up. Right now we have lots of fine motor manipulation toys.

  17. Ann Marie @ Twice Lovely

    We are huge board/card game fanatics here as well. It's such great, quality (non-screen) family time. Everyone right down to the 4 year old likes Spot-It. Almost everyone can play and really enjoys Quirkle, and Ticket to Ride. 7 Wonders is great for the bigger kids, but actually my 7 year old likes to get in on it too, and she holds her own. Great list! I'm going to look into the Kiwi crates!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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