26 nostalgia filled toys for Christmas

Christmas shopping stress? Put your feet up and click away with this list of traditional and fun kids’ toys that are reminiscent of your childhood—starting at just $1.

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Most parents know that the true essence of Christmas isn’t about shopping or how many presents you can wedge under the tree. But if you have kids, you probably still want to buy those little angels a few fun items to celebrate the giving season. Even if you’re willing to brave the Christmas-crazed crowds, with so many new toys stuffing the shelves (and crowding your inbox), choosing just one or two can get really tricky … and wind up giving you a Santa-sized headache.

MORE TO READ: Why I perpetuate the Santa ‘lie.’

To help take the stress out of Christmas shopping for you, this list will help you find the perfect present—one that is durable, fad-free, brings something positive to our children and families, and preferably comes without a wire, or needing batteries! No easy feat, but all we needed to do was look to the toys of yesteryear finding the winning classics that will be a sure hit this year, and in years to come. The best part is all these toys can be bought from the comfort of your own sofa—just click on the link—leaving you time to reflect on the true spirit of Advent. Added bonus: they might bring back a few cherished childhood memories of your own.

Outdoor pursuits

Hoola hoop

Go back to basics with this simple circle. It gets your kids outdoors (or indoors if you have the space on a rainy day) and will seriously give them some exercise. We suggest the Snap Together Detachable hoola hoop from Liberty Imports, which is extra portable and takes up almost no space when you take it apart ($8, Amazon). Plus little ones will enjoy snapping the brightly colored pieces together like a puzzle. Ages: 6 years+

Why we love it: What a sense of achievement keeping the hoop up (note: a little harder for adults!), it’s active, inexpensive, and can even get the other neighborhood kids and parents involved too—ever think of doing a charity hoolathon?

Slip n slide

Kids love water, that’s for sure! On hot days if your backyard is big enough, lay out the slide, turn on the sprinkler and slide away. We particularly love this double-rider version that comes with boogie boards for slip n slide family races! ($41, Amazon). Ages: 5–12 years

Why we love it: Well, how many dads can resist getting in on the action? Family fun at its best.

Sidewalk chalk

Cheap and cheerful sidewalk chalk has entertained kids for decades. Kids can draw out a hopscotch or decorate the yard, and with a good rainfall (or hose) they can start all over! We love this glitter version from Crayola to help bring some festive sparkle to our yards ($5, Amazon) or if you have lots of little ones try POOF’s 60-pack of easy to wash off chalk ($13, Amazon). Ages: 4–10 years

Why we love it: Gets kids creative, outside, and playing with neighbors: perfect!

Radio Flyer Wagon

This beauty harks back to the 1920s and has been a regular hit ever since. Made from sturdy materials this ride-on toy is perfect for pulling along little ones, or as kids get older, dolls, dogs, or a mound of mud! The classic frame you know and love is still available ($70, Amazon), but over time the traditional toy has evolved, too. Some models, like the Radio Flyer All-Terrain Pathfinder can sit up to two kids, and feature bottle holders and safety belts, but run a higher price tag ($130, Amazon). Ages: 18 months–3 years as a ride-on

Why we love it: Practical yes, but what better way for siblings to discover their neighborhood together than by taking along their wagon full of treasures.

Craft-filled

Finger paint

Gathering all artists in the house. Picasso so said all children are born artists, so help get that creativity flowing with some messy but fun finger paint. We liked the finger paint kit from Crayola with its art tools, craft paper and squeezable tubes that help contain the mess ($9, Amazon) Ages: 12 months+

Why we love it: Those little finger prints that stand out on drawings offer a little keepsake to treasure forever. And your kids will love getting their fingers messy!

Play Doh

Prepare yourselves for hours of fun and creativity, originating in the 1950s, Play Doh can keep kids, and parents, occupied for hours. Only downside is it does need a little clearing up after. This Play Doh fun tub is great to start kids off, full of cutters, stamps and five tins of dough ($12, Amazon). Ages: 3 years+

Why we love it: For its creativity, feel and smell!

Etch a sketch

A classic for mini da Vincis, there’s nothing more satisfying than drawing an image from just twisting your hands. And can you remember that little shake to clear the screen to start all over? Bliss. Opt for the original with a bit of retro chic direct from the 1960s ($33, Amazon). Ages: 3 years+

Why we love it: No paper wastage, no pencil sharpenings and perfect for long journeys;

Shrinky dinks

For the craft-loving kids out there Shrinky Dinks adds a touch of magic to artwork. After creating a design on special paper and a quick trip to the oven (warning: requires adult supervision), these little designs can be turned into jewellery or little trinkets. There are lots of character-specific options available; from Star Wars to Ninja Turtles, but we loved this more basic set that comes with accessories for jewelry or key chains ($7, Amazon). Ages 7 years+

Why we love it: Great for making personalized homemade gifts.

Imitation play

Fisher Price Little People

For the little ones out there, the Little People range is perfect for tiny hands to manipulate these cute characters. Sturdy and colorful, whether you choose from the school bus or cute little house, this will keep your little ones occupied for hopefully enough time to have a coffee! There is a great range of toys imitating everyday life but as it’s Christmas who can resist this fantastic nativity scene for kids to act out the Christmas story? ($39, Amazon) But then there’s also this beautiful Noah’s Ark … decisions, decisions ($30, Amazon)! Ages: 12 months+

Why we love it: There’s nothing cuter than watching tiny tots acting out real life, from sending big brother off to school, to hopping on a plane for vacations.

Thomas the Tank Engine

Any toys from the Thomas the Tank Engine range will be a sure winner for any budding train drivers. Kids can spend hours enacting scenes from the popular book series by Rev. Wilbert Awdry. With a myriad choice of engines, tracks and accessories, we recommend this basic wooden figure of eight circuit that comes with a Thomas and cargo car to get you started ($37, Amazon). It’s slightly more expensive than the plastic options but will be a guaranteed heirloom for future generations. Ages 3 years+

Why we love it: Rev. Awdry always had a moral lesson for the mischievous Thomas to learn, let’s hope our kids pick up on it too!

My Little Pony

Made in pastel colors, these pretty little ponies look almost the same as they did in the 80s, but still have a sense of magic about them. Your child can take a trip into a magical kingdom of flying ponies and make-believe. We recommend the Nurse Red Heart Pony, whose role in the kingdom is to heal others. ($11, Amazon). Ages 3 years+

Why we love it: With their bright tresses that need grooming, they encourage kids to care for and love animals.

Baby Alive

Perfect for any child wanting to play parent. This Baby Alive Better Now Bailey doll ($25, Amazon) drinks and wets and comes with her very own diapers. This particular doll that will keep your little ones busy in caring for their little one as it comes with a baby medical kit. Ages: 3 years+

Why we love it: What’s not to love about a toy that encourages caring and nurturing?

Mr Potato Head

The toy is uncomplicated fun. Kids love to swap eyes and ears and stick a mustache in place of a nose. Although there are lots of fun options the original is the best, try picking up a standard Playskool Mr Potato Head ($8, Amazon) or include Mrs Potato Head ($20, Amazon) Ages: 2 years+

Why we love it: Its simplicity is its beauty, and it really captures the true meaning of what a toy should be, fun.

Doctor’s set

Get your kid a stethoscope and their dolls, family pet and younger siblings will never have so many health checks. The Fisher Price version is extra sweet as it comes in a soft bag that is easy for little ones to carry ($12, Amazon), although note that the costume needs to be bought separately ($17, Amazon). Ages: 3–6 years

Why we love it: Not only does it teach kids to care, it also is great as a means to take fear out of a doctor visit.

Playmobil

Another timeless toy that is made to last, and be added to, year after year. There are ranges available to suit every child’s interests, from the circus to farming, these little characters with their classic hairdos will keep kids occupied for hours. There is so much to choose from but to begin try the Take Along School House that lets little ones flex their teaching skills and packs up easily ($40, Amazon). Ages: 4 years+

Why we love it: Brilliant for when friends are over, watch the children roleplay anything from putting out fires to giving math lessons.

Lego

A firm favorite, Lego bricks can lead your young child’s imagination anywhere. A classic that can be built upon year after year, it’s great for children and adults alike. If you’ve suffered from painful Lego foot (yep, you know how it feels when you stand on a protruding little piece in the middle of the night … or day), never fear there are new Lego-safe slippers available soon. The basic kit is great to get you started ($28, Amazon) and comes in a nifty storage box, and we really recommend a Lego board ($6, Amazon) to build your architectural wonders. Ages: 4 years+ (note: be careful with small parts around younger children)

Why we love it: Construction in any sense is positive, help your child build communities and you may have a future architect on your hands. Also this is the one toy that allows you to indulge in your children’s latest passions—Star Wars Lego anyone?

 

Going solo

Simon

OK, this does require batteries but it is so worth it. Great for reflexes and memory, just hit the right color sequence in order. It does get tougher so you might have to pick up the pace. There are more complex versions available, but we love the more classic Simon version for its simplicity and sturdiness ($22, Amazon). Ages: 7 years+

Why we love it: Can be played solo or with others, get grandparents involved too to keep their memory on top form.

Speak & spell

Highly portable this little spelling-exerciser will keep kids busy as they reach for perfection. And who doesn’t love that robotic voice as you spell out each word correctly? The price-tag on this is pretty hefty ($75, Amazon) but it does provide hours of very educational fun. Ages: 6–12 years

Why we love it: This will help boost your child’s spelling without them even realizing!

Rubik’s cube

Confession: I have never managed this! Those bright little squares can drive you slightly nuts or bring great satisfaction as you complete just one side. Available in different brands the standard Rubik’s cube is sturdy and cost-effective ($7, Amazon). Ages: 8 years+

Why we love it: Teaches perseverance and patience and maybe a little logic too.

Microscope

For curious kids with a scientific leaning, a microscope will satisfy their hungry minds. Whether a strand of hair, or an unfortunate dead bug, the little Einstein’s among us can investigate the finer details. Microscopes can be a little fiddly so for beginners we’d suggest a basic set ($25, Amazon). Ages: 7 years+

Why we love it: It’s always good to be inquisitive and want to learn more. And who knows, your child might find the vaccination to future superbugs.

Slinky

Who doesn’t love a slinky? Watching it snake down the stairs over and over again is perfect for a child stuck in the house on a rainy day. There are a few options out there, from rainbow to bright green, but the original metal version will probably be most long-lasting ($9, Amazon). Ages: 5 years+

Why we love it: Well, how satisfying is it flicking a slinky from one hand to another? Also climbing up and down the stairs keeps our little ones busy and fit!

Board games

Trivial pursuit

A perfect family game to hone your knowledge. As we like to keep things fair at For Her, we recommend the version with questions for children and adults ($32, Amazon), for the game to be played with the whole family. Ages: 8 years+

Why we love it: Well collecting those triangular pieces is very satisfying, but who there’s so much to love in a game where we can all learn something?

Scrabble

Express your literacy skills with classic scrabble. Great for kids from reading age up to have a go at finding words. Although there is nothing wrong with the original version the Junior scrabble is great to encourage young learners, and a big bonus is you can flip the board over for more advanced use ($15, Amazon). Ages: 5 years+

Why we love it: Spelling out small words can be just as rewarding as those longer ones: think of those triple bonus points!

Chutes and ladders

A basic board game that will have your kids giggling in no time. There’s fun in climbing up those ladders (particularly those long ones) but it’s also pretty good fun sliding down those chutes. Try opting for a sturdy board as we’re sure this will be a firm favorite! ($15, Amazon).

Why we love it: Teaches us a primary life lesson: when we fall we get back up!

Twister

Great for those with nimble limbs, Twister is beautiful in its simplicity. Play indoors or out, there’s nothing better than seeing your kids in fits of laughter as they all collapse on each other. There are some new electronic type versions but again, we’d stick to the more reliable classic ($19, Amazon).

Why we love it: Who thought stretch class could be so much fun?

Guaranteed fun on a budget

Bubble solution

Budget-winning bubble solution has saved most moms on more than one occasion with upset toddlers being transformed by a magic bubble wand. Nowadays there’s a whole plethora of devices and sizes to choose from, but a basic bottle in the bag is a must-have for any parent. At such a low price you can buy a tray, offer them to all the little ones in your family and have a bubble fest! ($11 for 24, Amazon). Ages: 3 years+, or younger children can join in with adult help.

Why we love it: Nothing beats the excitement of a child gazing up at those bubbles and trying to pop them all.

Books & more books

Pop-up books

Books are always a great gift to give at Christmas. But for younger kids why not offer a pop-up book that bring stories to life. With so many variations available your child will enjoy the beautiful artwork accompanying their favorite tale. There are also wonderful pop-up religious books for young readers, or small children, including parables, beginner’s Bibles, Christmas stories and more. We loved this book by Arnold Shapiro with its bright images and an amazing message that happens to be the title of the book God Loves You. ($1, Amazon) What a wonderful Christmas message! Ages: 18 months+

Why we love it: Grandparent-friendly, there’s nothing cozier than snuggling up on a cold winter’s afternoon to read a book or two.

 

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she'll ever be as stylish as the French.

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