I can hardly believe this is my third go at a holiday gift guide. Every year, the process becomes overwhelming and every year I vow to simplify.
But here’s the problem: it can’t be simplified.
And that’s because you can’t buy your way into my gift guide. Every single product that comes through our front doors is carefully reviewed and judged using the kind of criteria that’s important to parents and kids. Is it well-priced (or if it’s expensive, will it offer good price-per-use)? Is it easy to get out of the box and set up? Are batteries included? Does it have long-term like-ability and play-ability? Is it multidimensional or offer more than one play or learning experience? Is it high quality and durable?
Obviously, every product isn’t going to answer all of those questions, but they need to answer more than just one.
All said and done, this process takes months; and this year, at least 25 per cent of the products we tested failed to make it into the gift guide for one reason or another. That means everything you see here has the official Mommy Gearest stamp of approval.
My third-annual holiday gift guide is divided into two distinct sections: stuff for them, and stuff for you. The order in which gift ideas appear means nothing (you think I’ve got time for that?). I hope my gift guide helps you navigate what’s easily available in major retail stores and the most popular online shopping portals. I didn’t include one-offs, independent or handmade brands this year because they’re often harder to find or take a long time to ship.
Because shopping shouldn’t be a chore — especially holiday shopping! It should be fun. And so should the stuff you’re buying.
So, let’s do this:
Are you ready?
There are more than 28 different gift-giving ideas for every kid on your list this year. From babies to tweens, you'll find something they're sure to love.
Babies love to grasp things and love anything that lights up and makes noise. They're also at the stage where toys with cause and effect are perfect for all the different things of which their rapidly growing brains are trying to make sense.
The Giraffalaff ticks all of these boxes. Teaching colours and shapes will probably come with its fair share of wee giggles as Baby shakes the Giraffalaff wand and presses its buttons. We loved how just moving this toy from side to side creates different sounds up and down a scale.
With a price point of only about $10-15, this would make such a great donated item if you have a local church with families in need, a toy mountain at your mall or if you're close enough to Toronto to drop off a new toy for the CHUM Christmas Wish Campaign.
A sibling journey through music that will captivate your little listeners.
Dani is easy to listen to, and does a great job of storytelling through each of the 14 songs. You can preview the songs (or buy the digital album) on iTunes. We love the harmonies on "Magic Wish" and the jazzy feel of "Mrs. Blue."
If you've never heard of B.Toys, then the first thing I want you to do is read one of my first-ever toy reviews (the Symphony in B. Orchestra), because two years later and that is still one of the best toys we've ever had. And ALL of the toys from B.Toys are like that. They all have serious staying power and are of remarkable quality.
And the Baa-Baa-Barn is no different. We loved all of the nifty little surprises, like the bat that "flies" out of the rooftop, the little blue gopher (?) that pops out of the hay or the bunny that peeks out from under a door. Some of the animals, when placed inside of the barn, sing and there's a super-convenient carry handle to tote it all over the house.
Oh, and batteries are included!
Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Lost Missions -- Your Star Wars fanatic will love getting 13 new episodes and two hours of bonus features (including a short documentary about The Clone Wars series) all on one Blu-ray DVD.
FROZEN Sing-Along Edition -- I feel like Disney heard me when I wrote in my initial FROZEN DVD review that "the option for karaoke-style singsongs [were] missing." Thank you, Disney. Thank you. This completes me. I'm pretty excited to load the digital version on to Miss Q's iPod Touch for our upcoming visit to Orlando; watch out, Air Canada…we may be looking for a mic.
Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition -- you know what's going to happen if you don't buy this immediately, right? Disney's going to do that thing they do and make it virtually impossible to find for the next decade. So if you want to add to your growing collection of classics, get it before it's gone (and always go the Blu-ray + DVD + digital copy route if you're like us and want to have a DVD for the house, another for the car and the digital for air travel).
Fancy Nancy Bountiful Box of Books
We were first introduced to Fancy Nancy thanks to the library. Miss Q brought one home after visiting the library with my mom. And, boy, did we have a good time reading about Fancy Nancy's adventure and all the fancy words she so easily described to my three year old.
So when I saw this six-pack starter set at Cosctco a few weeks ago, I snapped it up to put under the tree. (At $12.99 for six hardcover books, that's a killer deal.)
Although we've read many of the Fancy Nancy books, these will be the first ones that Miss Q has owned. She'll be so delighted that we don't have to give them back!
After The K Man received his first I See Me! book, he was hooked. Is there anything cooler than for a kid to see his name, friends' names and personal details like a favourite colour all bound together in a book that seems like it was created solely for him or her?
Nope. It's magical to watch your kid explore page after page. And the personalized Night Before Christmas book is awesome, with a photo of your child and dedication from you at the beginning to your hometown's name cleverly integrated into the illustrations. Your child becomes part of this classic holiday story, and I'm sure it'll become a tradition to read this together every Christmas Eve.
If The Night Before Christmas is too narrow a window for your child's reading pleasure, and you happen to have a princess on your hands like we do, this new personalized princess book should satisfy both requirements.
Provide the company with your child's name, favourite colour, friends' names, home town and a few other details (like what she'd call her horse if she had one), and VOILA! You have a story fit for a princess. Your princess.
From LEGO Friends to specialty characters like LEGO Ninjago and Mixels, giving the gift of LEGO always wins.
We love that LEGO offers sets geared toward specific age brackets, and that no matter what your budget you can always find something suitable. But the best part about LEGO is that you don't need batteries, there's no screen time involved and your kids become little engineers in the process. Pretend play and fine motor skill development are inevitable when LEGO's involved.
So I was pretty excited to see miniature versions of Lalaloopsy characters called "Tinies" (and there are hundreds to collect…lucky you!). The cute castle with a flap down back offers a really portable toy or one that's just right for small spaces. If you live in a condo and can't fit a massive Barbie Dreamhouse into your child's bedroom, I promise the Lalaloopsy Tinies will fit just about anywhere.
Expect hours of imaginative play out of this…but don't say I didn't warn you: stepping on them in the middle of the night may be cause for a few choice words.
Already have a Little People farm, castle or train and want to add a new element to revive your child's interest and imagination?
Little People introduces new "Friends" from time to time and they're the perfect addition to play sets you may already have. And since they're usually only about $10 for a pack of two, they work well for kids' Secret Santa exchanges.
I adore everything from Lunchbox Love. Now that The K Man's reading is starting to really improve, I'm going to be adding these to his lunches from time to time -- just to remind my little guy that I'm always thinking about him.
In this Christmas edition, there are three volumes and each is filled with all of the loveliness you've come to expect. Encouraging words, gratitude, trivia and even cute notes for Santa are included.
In what is best described as Scrabble on crack, Bananagrams is an everyone-play-at-once-and-spell-like-the-devil whirlwind of a game.
There are 144 tiles inside a banana-shaped pouch that's incredibly compact (ideal for holiday travel), and although the suggested age range is 8+, beginning readers and spellers in the 4 to 7 age group can also enjoy a slower-paced version with a little help from a grownup.
Side note: Why the French version is $3 less is beyond me. But there you have it.
There are a lot of things your baby doesn't need, but a play mat isn't one of them.
These activity areas provide heaps of opportunities for babies to discover shapes, colours, sounds and textures; offers the best possible outcome when attempting the oft-dreaded tummy time; and saves your floors from drool (and, more likely, baby puke).
This adorable mat is shaped like an apple and has little ribbons, patches of fuzzy fabric and toys that dangle from above to keep Baby mesmerized for what may seem like hours -- but in reality is probably about 12 minutes.
And then came Minecraft.
I don't get it. At all.
But my kids are CRAZY-NUTSO for this game, and I figure building things could lead to a lucrative career in construction or architecture, so I let them play on.
The K Man picked up this book at his school book fair and went crazy for it, showing me all of the different ways you can build, well, anything. Of course I told him he couldn't have it and then bought it behind his back.
In a case of warmth meets brilliance, these elbow-height mitts and gloves are basically guaranteed not to slip off or expose fragile skin to the elements.
Available across Canada, the USA and the UK, these are the perfect all-day skiwear kind of protection. It's important to note that your kid's probably going to need help gearing up when you've got mitts and gloves like these involved; these go on BEFORE a jacket, and there are few little ones who can manage a zipper with covered fingers!
While we don't suggest testing your kiddo's artistic skills on tile and grout (at least we didn't in our house!), these bath crayons from Munchkin really do come right off of the bathtub. And they're super fun!
Practise printing, draw simple math equations and teach your kids about how primary colours make up so many others when mixed together. All while they're being bathed.
At just $5.99, it's a great stocking stuffer or add-on to a bath-themed gift.
Did you read my review of the Nintendo 3DS console? If so, you know that it's a fan favourite 'round these parts.
What I like about the 2DS, however, is that you never have to worry about a younger player accidentally flipping it to 3D mode, which is terrible for their developing eyes. And it's design seems to be easier for little hands to hold and navigate. Not to mention that it's $70-80 cheaper than the 3DS XL.
The 3DS games still work on the 2DS, mind you. Just sans three-dimensional visuals. For the budding gamer, games like Kirby Triple Deluxe, FROZEN: Olaf's Quest and Disney Magical World are a great way to introduce safe content that's easy to learn to use and play.
Every once in a while, a product comes along that I really wish we'd had when our kids were babies. And the Neckerchew is one of them. The K Man would have, literally, gobbled this up. I used to change that kid's bib at least 10 times a day because he would chew and drool all over it.
With its clever little silicone tip and double-thick fabric, this is one multitasking bib. It's also got two different snaps for sizing, because we all know that the chewing doesn't stop when they're six months old.
OK, off you go to check out all the funky designs available!
Let's be honest: most of you reading this have already seen your kids make ammunition out of Play-Doh and launch it across the room, right?
This just makes it official. Create and catapult doh-balls at an actual target -- one that has a mouth that opens and closes, creating great opportunities to develop better hand-eye co-ordination.
Could this game go off the rails and land you with a few colourful doh-balls in your hair? Sure. But that's fun, too. At least for the kids.
I'm not gonna lie--keeping track of the scores is one of the reasons I don't play Scrabble very often.
The classic board game is now paired with an electronic unit that keeps score for up to four players. It's even got a timer if you're particularly competitive and want to fire up the speed of the game. We love that the whole family can play (well, those who can spell, anyway), but it's also a great board game for grownups. With wine, obviously.
The only downside, really, is that batteries aren't included.
If you're in the midst of Skylanders-mania like we are, you know that the new Trap Team Starter Kit is out and probably going on the wish list.
I'll let you in on a secret with this one: we haven't actually done real-world testing yet. This is The K Man's "big" Christmas gift (and, yes, we paid for it ourselves!). The one he's been asking for since Activision announced Trap Team. But I'm feeling pretty confident that it's going to be as thrilling as Swap Force was. My biggest complaint is that we have to buy a new Portal of Power for the Trap Team characters to work (but at least all of my son's other Skylanders will work on the new one).
To make this gift extra Skylanders-ific, we nabbed a Trap Team guide book from Costco. This provides game tips and hints and is a fun way to teach numbers in the hundreds and thousands as you read how much different powers cost in coins.
The best, best, best, best, BEST card game for really little kids. I featured UNO in a Mattel games roundup piece recently and I stand behind every word.
This is the perfect size and price for any stocking, and such a fun way to connect with your kids.
Learning numbers, colours and patterns is just the cherry on top.
Got a Super Mario Bros. nut in 'da house? Then these cool character-inspired Spinbrush electric toothbrushes have to go in your kid's stocking.
Remember: the easiest rule to follow when it comes to replacing a toothbrush is using holidays as your guide. So get rid of whatever used-up bristles are kicking around your kids' bathroom and grab a new one. We find the Oral B and Arm & Hammer kids' toothbrushes last longest and inspire the most hassle-free brushing in our house.
When I had the opportunity to write about the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Puppy’s Smart Stages Train, I was honestly a bit shocked that my nearly 4- and 6.5-year-old children were so darn excited about a toy train intended for 18 to 36 month olds. But they were when it first appeared at our house, and they still play with it all these weeks later.
I knew after seeing them with it that it had to go into this year's gift guide. So don't let the age guide fool you on the one -- because even a newly sitting six month old will find this toy oodles of fun. And with three stages of play (controlled by YOU), you can always ensure it's developmentally appropriate.
Are you wary of putting nail polish on your little girl? Then you've got to check out SUNCOAT GIRL -- organic, water-based peelable nail colour. These cute kits come with two different colours, a glittery mineral eye shadow that's more glitter than shadow, an all-natural lip balm (which Miss Q and I both like) and these fab little nail decals.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…the polish totally peels off. No remover needed. But the real story here are the nail decals. We've tried other brands before and they usually fall off in a day or two. But not these bad boys! Miss Q's stayed put for nearly a week. That's definitely a record.
And considering many high-quality nail polishes alone cost the $15.99 that this whole set costs, I'm calling this bargain central.
I admit it: I loathe stuffed animals. We received way too many of them when The K Man was born and they take up So.Much.Space. So if you feel compelled to give a stuffy this holiday season, at least give one that does something.
This bright lion features a mirror on the sole of one foot, music on the other, crinkly bits and patterns galore at which to gaze longingly. It's an all-in-one plush toy and activity centre, and big. But not so big that you'll mind toting him here, there and everywhere if he becomes your little one's next obsession.
OMG, OMG, OMG! One of my favourite discoveries of 2014 has been Curiosity Box. Created by a Canadian educator, these subscription activity and craft boxes arrive each month addressed to your child and contain an array of surprise fun.
As my kids' second month's box arrived, I caught their reaction on video:
From the makers of those delightful KINDER* SURPRISE eggs that you know and love (or smuggle if you're in the U.S.), comes the KINDER Maxi egg. It's basically a gigantico version that's at least half a foot tall.
And what do you get inside a massive chocolate egg? A way bigger toy! Last year -- before I ever worked on the brand and was already a big fan -- we bought each of our kids one for the top of their stockings. Inside was a makeshift pool (pond?) and four little sailboats that all floated inside of the pool. It was so much more complex and held my kids' interest for even longer than the usual SURPRISE as a result.
Of course, and sorry to break it to you, it does mean you need to help eat some chocolate.
*Full disclosure: KINDER is my client, and I'm thrilled to help promote a brand that my family adores -- even though I'm in no way obligated to do so.
You know it's going to happen. At least half of the gifts your kid gets that requires batteries will NOT come with batteries. Save yourself the headache (that's a direct result of Christmas-morning-and-the-stores-are-closed whining), and just have them at the ready.
Do it already. You will thank me for this.
Now it's your turn.
Need. Want. Fine line, right?
I hope that in the following slides, I'll help you find something for that hard-to-buy-for person. Or for you.
Move over, DAVID'S TEA, there's a new mug in town. (And I happen to be drinking from it as I type this.)
Featuring beautiful designs like this tree motif, and an elegant shape, the KATI tea brewing cup is double-walled to ensure tea stays hot on the inside but your palms stay comfortable on the outside. Ideal for loose-leaf teas, the strainer is easy to clean. However, for those of you diehard handle-holders, you should know this is handle-less.
What do you get when you take celeb mom Cheryl Hickey and pair her with pharmacy giant Rexall? The OURS by Cheryl Hickey lineup of family- and skin-friendly products that don't contain many of the icky ingredients from which you should really stay away all with price tags that'll make you do a double-take.
My personal fave out of the entire line is the Anything Balm. Rub it on cracked heels, chapped lips, dry elbows and windburned cheeks -- and just try not sharing it with your kids! If you can manage to find the lip balm, snap it up! It functions exactly the same way but it's wrapped up in a much more convenient size when you're out and about.
Crystal wine glasses. Made in Italy. That are dishwasher safe. With titanium-reinforced stems. And cost $25 a pair? You're not dreaming.
I'm -- how you say -- particular about the kind of glass into which my wine goes. Because I have a relatively pricey palate and if you expect me to believe that good red wine tastes the same inside of every vessel, I'm calling you a liar straight to your face.
These glasses are pretty fab, especially when you consider how inexpensive they are. I've been using and washing ours (in the dishwasher; top rack) regularly for months and they look gorgeous and make the perfect accompaniment to even the finest wines.
I can't begin to tell you how much we love our DECK wireless speaker from Motorola*.
We've enjoyed it for two summers and it's just one amazing little speaker with big, crisp sound. We actually had this and a BOSE wireless speaker at the same time, and after comparing them, we returned the BOSE. The DECK was less expensive and didn't sacrifice quality. I also worried less about a few splashes from our pool. You can either plug in an MP3 device or wirelessly connect your tunes via Bluetooth. It also lets you and up to four guests battle it out DJ-style thanks to Heist Mode! Take over the playlist by synching all five smartphones to one DECK. (Trust me, it's awesome.)
Just be sure to charge your DECK overnight. The battery is actually quite good but you do NOT want to forget to turn off the speaker and go to bed only to have it creepily announce that it needs some juice. It's pretty alarming and has woken us out of a dead sleep on a couple of occasions.
*Motorola is a client of the firm where I spend my daytime hours; however, we only represent smartphones (not speakers!). And besides, I wouldn't include it if it wasn't really awesome.
You know what's great about the philosophy line? The packaging. It's clean and contemporary -- and gender-neutral. It's also well-priced, sitting somewhere between drugstore skin-care lines and those über-luxe brands like La Mer. OK, it's way, way, WAY cheaper than La Mer!
I have pretty sensitive skin and I've only ever reacted negatively to one philosophy product (the microdelivery triple-acid brightening peel); the rest work very gently -- even the deep exfoliating ones, which you'd think would be just as harsh on my skin as the peel. But, nope. Everything else is gentle enough to prevent me from next-day Lobster Face.
From the Land of Why Didn't Someone Think of This Sooner, I bring you the Picture Keeper. Think of it as an external hard drive to back up the kajillions of photos you take but never get around to printing. You know, the ones you'd be DEVASTATED to lose because you never, ever print the damn things.
Plug it in. That's it. No software, no passwords, no fees. It won't even save the duplicates. Because it's, like, totally smart. When it's full, plug in a new one. (Or, you know, print your pictures and start all over again.)
We strongly recommend that if you have a DSLR that you get the PK Pro version. My Nikon D3300 takes shots that end up as 20 megapixel JPGs; they're huge files. While the Picture Keeper site claims that the PK Pro holds up to 250,000 images, that's using about 4MP as their guide. With DSLR-quality images, you're looking at more like 14,000 photos backed up.
WIN a PK 16 here! (Open to residents of Canada and the USA)
Project Life + Stampin' Up
You know that person who always wants to be a scrapbooker but isn't actually crafty in the least? Please introduce said person to Project Life by Stampin' Up -- basically, scrapbooking for dummies.
Project Life's partnership with Stampin' Up will get you from zero to killer scrapbook in about $100. Start with a binder, and add pages and embellish with various accessories. Now don't get me wrong…you still need time and effort, but if you're missing the artiste gene, this is going to suit you much better than a blank page.
I'm going to cheat for just a second here. Because you can't buy this in a store. But stay with me if you're planning to gift an iPad to your parents this year.
Should your parents be very tech-savvy or you're a Mac expert with boundless patience, this probably isn't for you. But if you have parents who just can't seem to "get" technology or only know how to read and send emails, giving them an iPad is nice but not exactly practical unless you plan to spend some time showing them how to navigate it properly.
Let Andrew, a certified Apple nerd, step in to guide them. He specializes in iPad training for boomers, zoomers and seniors -- and he's good. He's gotten Big B and I out of a couple of Apple jams (not actual apple jam, to be clear) and showed us features on our now four-year-old iPad that we never knew existed. He can work with your parents in person or via Skype or Face Time (trusting they know how those work) so don't worry if they're not in the GTA. And for you? A holiday special: 25 per cent of a package of four iPad lessons. Toss them in with the iPad and you're giving the gift of technology and knowledge. BOOM.
It's 18 months old, but I still get emails about my original ZCLIP Le Mans money clip review. And the answer is, yes, my husband still loves it.
But if you're not in the market for a $150 money clip, then you'll be glad to hear about ZCLIP's newest member of the family: the Sonoma. Instead of carbon fibre, the clip is carbon steel, but it otherwise looks just like its Le Mans brother. And for less than half the price, you also shouldn't be surprised to hear that it doesn't come with a second wallet like the Le Mans. (But the good news is that the wallet it does come with is the one Big B prefers.)
If you're ordering from Canada, you need to place your order here so it's shipped from ZCLIP's Canadian distribution centre.