Raising Richmond: 11 gifts any preschooler would love

(…that also have little-to-no chance of driving said preschooler’s parents insane.)

Now that we’ve bid adieu to November and the holiday season is officially upon us, my various inboxes1 constantly brim with messages from well-meaning loved ones all asking the same question…

“What does JR want for Christmas?”

JR is a four-year-old boy, so the honest answer to that question would be: “Everything. He wants All The Things. And Spider-Man.”

But I can’t say that because, given that JR is the only grandchild on both sides of our family, the odds that we would end up with the entire content of Toys ”R”Us under the tree are very, very good.

I also can’t say what I really want to say: “You know, Mom, it’s weird because just yesterday JR looked up at me and said, ‘I don’t need anything for Christmas. Can you just ask Grandma to pay for next month’s daycare?’” That would make me a jerk—a richer jerk,2 but a jerk nonetheless.

So gifts it is!

In years past, my husband and I offered little guidance to our families on what to get JR. Neither of us ever knows what to tell people when they ask what we want, so answering for our kid felt even weirder. Instead I’d usually just shrug and say, “I’m sure he’ll love whatever you give him.”

And he always did. In fact, I’m sure JR would still love anything anyone gives him.3 It’s just…well, let’s just say if I get woken from a dead sleep by a bleeping-blooping Pixar toy4 ONE MORE TIME, I’m going to start smashing stuff.

In an attempt to rein in the madness a bit this year, I’ve suggested that our family members keep the three following criteria in mind as they consider making purchases for our child?

  1. Can he play with it outside?
  2. Does it require him to use his brain?
  3. If 1 and 2 do not apply, is it at least quiet?

Chances are, if the gift in question meets one or more of those standards, we’ve got a winner.

— ∮∮∮ —

Now with all my yammering on about “criteria” and “standards,” I figure it only fair to offer up some preschooler gift suggestions—particularly for those of you now panicking over what to get the little ones in your life that 1) they’ll enjoy, and 2) won’t make their parents hate you.5 So here you go: 11 toys/items/games/what-have-yous currently boasting the preschooler and parent seal of approval in our house. Stick any of these under the tree, and you’ll be sitting pretty come Christmas morning.

1. Cherokee Heavyweight Jacket

You’re probably thinking, “What four-year-old wants a coat for Christmas? That’s just one step up from socks and underwear!” Well I’ve got four words for you: built in fingerless gloves. I don’t know why kids think this is awesome, but they do. Parents will also appreciate having one less outerwear item to track down.

2. Pillow Pet Dream Lite

When my mom mentioned buying this “As Seen on TV” product for my son, I’m sure the subsequent eye roll was actually audible on the other end of the phone. But, guys, I’m so stoked she did. You see, it’s a pillow and a light. The more technologically advanced cousin of your standard Pillow Pet, this little gem basically functions as a really big nightlight6 that “turns your child’s ceiling into a starry night sky.” JR loves how it slowly transitions through a series of colors; I love how it spares us the nightly battle of “Can you leave the door open a little bit? No a little bit more…a little bit more…no a lot more.”

3. The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That Book Series

I have a hard time watching the TV show because I have issues with Martin Short 7 who voices the behatted feline, but I will admit that these books are top notch. Each one thoroughly breaks down a specific scientific concept through clever rhymes and entertaining illustrations. You might find yourself learning a thing or two as well.

4. Moleskin Classic Large-Ruled Notebook

I realize some of you find it incredibly obnoxious that we gave child a Moleskin8 for his fourth birthday. But do you know what isn’t obnoxious? How JR will hang out in his room well past 7:30 just doodling away in it. He also calls the inner pocket his “Super Secret Agent Pouch” and tucks “Super Secret Notes” to himself in there. I die.

5. Ultimate Sticker Collection

JR got the Spider-Man edition of this wondrous book of stickers (1,000 of them!) for his birthday, and he cannot get enough. He brings it wherever he goes–in the car, to church, even to bed on occasion—just flipping through the pages over and over again, shouting the names of each character he sees. He’s even taken to adding the stickers to the scribble-scrabble in his Moleskin, creating incredibly (and adorably) complex scene and stories. We’ve got a budding collagist on our hands!

6. Lion Letters Rhyming Card Game

Each of the fifty-two cards includes a realistic photo representing the word printed on the card; each card has its own rhyming match. Use them to play matching games, memory games, or even Go Fish (currently a VERY popular game in our house). And consider how much use you’ll get out of these babies, at $4.95 per pack they are an absolute steal.

7. Dominoes

JR isn’t ready for a game of Chicken Foot or Mexican Train yet, but he loves the process of painstakingly constructing a line of dominoes stretching from one end of the room to the other…and masochistically knocking them all down. Because who doesn’t?

8. Little Tikes TotSports T-Ball Set

We’re not the most athletic of people, but we do realize the value of nurturing the development of our son’s hand-eye coordination—I mean, beyond video games. This very, very basic T-Ball set is great for little ones just learning to swing a bat. It’s also great for adults who aren’t exactly sure how to teach said little ones to swing said bat.9

9. Ranger Rick

A warning: it takes a while for the recipient of The Gift of Ranger Rick to realize its greatness. When my sister told JR she’d given him a year-long subscription to a magazine for his birthday last year, he just sort of blinked at her and then moved on to the next present. However, when that first edition showed up in the mail with his name on it, the kid lost his damn mind. And once he realized those pages were chock full of pictures and stories about bats! and dolphins! and SPIDERS?!?! Forget it; he was hooked.

10. For the Kids

Typically JR just listens to whatever music we’re into at the moment, but I do try to cater to his preschool tastes every now and then. This album from VH1’s Saves the Music offers a good compromise for everyone, with new and old kid songs performed by the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Cake,10 and Jeff Tweedy.

11. Melissa & Doug Animal Pattern Blocks Set

It kind of irks me that ol’ M & D don’t call a spade and spade and market these as what they really are: Baby’s First Tangrams! But I’ll forgive them because when we bring this out, I’m guaranteed a solid 45 minutes of me-time. Plus they help with JR’s spatial reasoning and understanding of geometric ideas, etc. etc. etc.

— ∮∮∮ —

Got any other kid-tested, parent-approved preschooler gift ideas to share? Leave them in the comments!

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Email and voice mail. These people are kind, generous, and determined. 
  2. If anyone reading this is feeling particularly generous, you can mail me a check to the RVANews office; they’ll make sure I get it. 
  3. After all, he does love his stuff. 
  4. I’m looking at you, Buzz Lightyear, with your sirens and shouting and inexcusable lack of an off switch. 
  5. They won’t really hate you. But they’ll remember you. And they’ll remember to give your future children the same bleepy-bloopy toys you gave their kids. 
  6. With an automatic shutoff! 
  7. Because of this…I just…I can’t even. 
  8. We also gave him fancy colored pencils. They are awesome, and I’m jealous. 
  9. That would be me. 
  10. Cake’s cover of Mahna Mahna is a complete delight. I should know; we’ve listened to it approximately 32,000 times. 
  • error

    Report an error

Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

There are 6 reader comments. Read them.