Free-Range Gifts (an Oxymoron)? Your Ideas Needed!

Folks — You’ll enjoy this post, “A Terrible Mother’s Holiday Guide to Dangerous Gifts,” by Katrina Fernandez, which begins:

… I am terrible mother, with little regard for my son’s safety. I let him play outside after dark, armed with nothing more than a flashlight. For birthdays and Christmas, I buy him things like knives and duct tape. He is routinely left unsupervised in the yard.

Sounds Free-Range to me! Anyway, she endorses other gifts, including freeze-dried food and a subscription to Popular Mechanics. I’d add to that list “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” by Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler, as well as…well, that’s where you come in. My ideas are painfully obvious: Balls. A bike. Two free afternoons a week. There’s a reason my husband does the gift shopping in this family.

So please feel free to suggest fun, Free-Range gift ideas. And of course for parents, there’s always the Free-Range Kids book that started it all!   Here it is, just $12.70.

Self-promotion over. Take it from here! – L.

The gift that keeps on giving.

For kid gifts, stick with the basics. (Get it? Stick?)

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74 Responses to Free-Range Gifts (an Oxymoron)? Your Ideas Needed!

  1. Brooks November 26, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    My Facebook post this morning:

    This morning, I was again reminded how incredibly ridiculous the concept of “car pool” is. I wish schools would require that any kid who lives less than 2 miles away should walk or ride their bikes unless there is a compelling reason not to. The safety arguments against this are bogus. If it were a priority, we would see that our busy streets could be crossed and there were proper facilities to park bikes. Last week, while in Germany and Belgium, it was refreshing to see kids younger than my 8 year old, hopping on the trains, subways and busses, and of course walking and riding their bikes to school. Sometimes in groups, often alone, never in fear. If that happened here, parents would be in jail. We Americans crazy sometimes.

  2. Mrs. Hancock November 26, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    My five year old regularly asks for his own archery set. I hand him a ball of string and a pair of scissors and tell him to make his own and then go out in the field (which is away from the road and viewable from the house) and play. I find (at least in my own kids) that they don’t need much: a card board box, various sized balls, string, sidewalk chalk, and above all, space away from adults for an hour or two (well, occasionally checked on, they are 3 and 5 years of age), and they do very well for themselves.

  3. Wendy November 26, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    We once gave my son’s friend a collection of ropes, hooks, and pulleys to use to lift things to his tree house.

    Real tools, box full of wood scraps, books of building projects.

  4. Kim November 26, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Gift certificate to a store, community activities, or restaraunt they can get to on their own.

  5. Kari November 26, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    I’m a mom who is passionate about getting kids outdoors. For us being outside is not just an activity but also a lifestyle and it starts when your kids are young. We started right in the beginning when both of my kids started napping outdoors in their prams. And it continued as they left the prams for their first snowsuits. Now I see my kids for playing outside all year round in all kinds of weather.
    I’m considered to be a Free Range parent by many people.

    But, I am a militantly over protective parent about two things.
    1.) My kids are dressed for the weather.
    2.) They wear safety reflectors to help them be visible in rainy and dark conditions.
    So my best gifts are safety reflectors and great outdoor clothing for kids. You can get safety reflectors here

  6. Irina November 26, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    For my seventh birthday I got not only tools but also nails and screws and assorted pieces of wood. Later I heard that my father had gone to the building site up the road and asked the builders for any scraps of wood and leftover nails that they might otherwise be throwing away!

  7. Rachel November 26, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    1. Spending money for the older kids to use when they are roaming around by themselves. This gives them freedom to see movies, go out for pizza, or whatever else they want to do with their friends.

    2. For kids who are curious about how things work: electronics that no longer work, a hammer and screw driver.

  8. KB November 26, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    Books in the following genre have been hits at our house:
    Dangerous Science (and all things Spangler)
    Mini Implements of Mass Destruction (or something like that)
    the golden books of anything creepy or crawly with a headlamp/magnifying glass and some vials for collection(and, some form of camera).

  9. Megan November 26, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    When my sons were small (like 2), my mom gave him a real, weighted plastic camping mallet and tent pegs. It isn’t totally free-range at that age – they need supervision not to bash each other with the hammer, but they LOVE pounding the pegs into the mud-pie area in the yard.

  10. Christine Hancock November 26, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    My kids also frequently ask me for real tools. It’s really tempting to give in. However, my five year old likes to hammer nails into any tree and wood surface he can find, so this may need to wait another year or two if it could be a truly free-range gift.

  11. Ann in L.A. November 26, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Cooking lessons–you could do these yourself or send them to a school–but a real one, that actually lets kids use knives, ovens, stoves, etc. Our 11 year old decided a while back to bake a cake (without telling anyone). He did a great job and got over his fear of using the oven. Since then he’s taken to using knives, the stove, and baking other desserts too.

    The sooner your kids learn to cook, the sooner you won’t have to!!

  12. Matt Silvia November 26, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    A good compass and knowledge of how to use it. A treasure map is awesome icing on the cake, but it might mean having to use the compass yourself first!

  13. Christine Hancock November 26, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    I just thought of something really great as a free range gift! Get the grandpas to tell their stories and record them. You can either give the recordings, or transcribe them into a book for the kids. My father was a borderline delinquent and got in lots of trouble with his imaginative pranks (very entertaining),and my father-in-law worked with his family building churches all over the US. Both served in the military, and while they never saw combat, they still managed to get some memorable adventures and learn some amazing soldier stories (of varying levels of truthfulness). I also have a step-father that tells amazing stories and write music who would also make a fantastic contribution to the “Grandpa Book”.

  14. M.H. November 26, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    My 5 year old son has asked for aluminum foil for Christmas. He loves playing with that stuff. And yes, he will be getting several rolls.

    My kids (ages 4 and 5) also love rope, pipe cleaners, string, Popsicle sticks and tape.

    Both of my kids already own their own real tool kits. My older son got one last Christmas, shortly before his 5th birthday. My younger son was given his tool kit for his 4th birthday. They also have a lot of scrap wood. We do not yet give them free reign over nails or screws because they have not yet shown us that they can use them without leaving them all over the floor. We do let them use nails with supervision. They are always so thrilled when we ask them to go and get a screw driver to tighten a door handle screw, or some other real job around the house.

    We will get both boys a pocket knife sometime within the next few year, but not quite yet.

    My 5 year old loves camping and wanted a plastic pretend camping set that he found in a catalog. I am putting together a real camping set for him instead. It will contain a backpack, rope, flashlight, binoculars, compass, whistle, camping pots and pans (metal), and a strange little “camp stove” that I found for a dollar at a thrift shop. I’m not sure if it really is a camp stove, or a fondu pot holder, but either way I didn’t want to give him a real camp stove and I am sure he will have fun with it. Both boys already have sleeping bags, and their grandmother is getting them a play tent, but one that is big enough for them to lay down in. We own a real tent that I won’t let them play with.

    I will post again if I think of anything else.

  15. Heike Larson November 26, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    For Small Hands is a great catalogue of Montessori-inspired, practical life activities. Real tools for real kids: saws, drills, rakes, knives, oven mittens, and much more:

    Every free-range parent of children under the age of nine or so needs to check out this web site! With the right tools, young children can do so much real work, and gain the confidence that only comes from being capable and independent!

  16. Eileen November 26, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Pallets are great. This past summer I built benches out of them for around our firepit by cutting them in half. I just piled 3 halves on top of each other to make the benches, didn’t secure them to each other or anything.
    The unexpected bonus was that my 6yo and 4yo could manhandle a half-pallet all by themselves and over the summer they regularly took my benches apart to add on to their play fort and build various things with, including a store, house, school. 🙂
    For the winter, sleds, snowboards, other winter sports gear. There’s a small ski hill around the corner from us, and I regularly see kids hauling their snowboards over there after school or on weekends to play once it opens for the winter. There are lots of small outdoor rinks here too for skating. 🙂

  17. Papilio November 26, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    “For kid gifts, stick with the basics. (Get it? Stick?)”
    The little kid in you is not anywhere near dead, is she? 😀

    I agree with you on the bike, but I’d say it has to be a practical one, with mudguards, coatguards, full chain case, attached lights (dynamo is more practical than batteries) and a bikerack to carry stuff. And a kit to fix the tire in case of a puncture.
    I’m also with Kari; I think kids need the appropiate coats et cetera to be able to stay outside in rain or snow.

  18. Phil November 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.


    Head Lamp

  19. SKL November 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    My kids are getting archery equipment. I haven’t really decided on too much else, other than about 100 paperback books.

    They asked for a kindle and an iphone. Ha ha. Right.

  20. SKL November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Kids regularly walk or ride their bikes to school in my area. Unfortunately my kids can’t, because their school is 5 miles away.

  21. Jenny Islander November 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Swim goggles with a nose guard, so they can spend more time being seals in the water and less time snorting and blowing.

    Since I live in a climate that produces foul weather on short notice at any time of the year . . . fancy rain boots that are big enough to accommodate wool socks in their favorite colors.

    A small kitchen knife and the promise of time spent teaching its uses.

    Frying pans, saucepans, etc, in sizes they can manage, and an apron.

  22. Frau_Mahlzahn November 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Actually, duct tape is a wonderful idea, that wasn’t on my list yet, ;-).

    My son and I both possess throwing knives and have a blast when we go for walks in the wood, ;-). I consider it a very good toy, as it teaches a kid precision, ;-).

    Also a waveboard is a perfect present — first, it teaches Balance, and secondly it’s a wonderful and fast means to get around the neighborhood.

    So long,

  23. Emmanuelle Works November 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    We’re getting them a new playground. Classic sturdy metal bars with all the trimmings, and a new zipline – always a favorite but the teen broke it by accident. And Trapeze lessons.

  24. lollipoplover November 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    We love the book “50 Dangerous Things”! My son is getting a woodworking bench this year for Christmas and various tools (mostly handcarving). His favorite gift received was a fishing rod and nets.

    My daughter (11) wants a sewing machine (we got her a used one)and a bigger crossbow. Our youngest daughter still loves dolls and art supplies of all kinds. Anything that is not entwined in plastic.

  25. pentamom November 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    There is nothing oxymoronic about Free Range gifts. It irks me that the question is even raised. Free Range does not mean feral, it does not mean parents are not benefactors or guides or teachers or even authorities.

  26. jenni November 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Just this past weekend, my son received an awesome free-range gift from my brother and sister-in-law for his fourth birthday. I had told them how much he is enjoying creating contraptions and booby traps from assorted toys and household objects, and they gave him a “contraption kit” — s-hooks, a pulley, a rope, carabiners, bungie cords, etc. Details and pictures here:

  27. Elisabeth November 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Hi Leonore, thanks for your blog, you have no idea how many parents I’ve told to read it so they understand that I’m not the only one to let my kids bike to school alone (in a perfectly safe neighborhood, except for some traffic). This year, bike lights will be in the stockings so my kids can get to and from their friends on their own even after dark. We also tie pedestrian reflectors (I happen to be the manufacturer of them, to every gift our kids take to birthday parties. We live next to a high school and see how the kids, dressed in all black, cross the street at random spots on dark winter mornings. Luckily, we have very observant drivers here… Fun reflectors make great stocking stuffers and small gifts for kids and parents of any age!

  28. lollipoplover November 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    A few more ideas:

    slingshot (best used with acorns and tin cans)

    box trap (our son has relocated several groundhogs and racoons for our neighbors)

    big hunk of air-dry clay for hand pottery projects


  29. Gary November 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm #|/pc/104795280/c/104774580/sc/104444280/Cammenga174-27-Phosphorescent-Compass/1415044.uts?destination=%2Fcatalog%2Fbrowse%2Fmaps-compasses%2F_%2FN-1100738%2FNs-CATEGORY_SEQ_104444280%3FWTz_l%3DSBC%253BMMcat104795280%253Bcat104774580&WTz_l=SBC%3BMMcat104795280%3Bcat104774580%3Bcat104444280

  30. Andrew November 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    You’ll shoot your eye out kid.

  31. Jennifer November 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    A great big box is always a hit. Brought home 3 big boxes from the food bank last week. When I tols my grls what I brought them, they actulaay squeeled with delight. Wish I could post a picture of what they look like now.

  32. CLamb November 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Be sure to check local laws before acting on some of these suggestions. Here in N.J. air rifles are considered firearms. A possessor of a slingshot is presumed to be guilty of having it for an unlawful purpose.

  33. Becky November 26, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Camp. I can tell you the best present my parents ever gave me, was 2 weeks out of the year away from them.

  34. Doug D November 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    A sewing machine and fabric, or other power tools and the appropriate materials to use them on. Let kids build their own toys.

  35. James November 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    My daughter still remembers “daddy night” when we would take apart the latest piece of electronics that died. As a result, my daughter was comfortable with tools. So when she was older, the burly guys showed up with the fridge that would not fit the doorway, my 5′ 2″ daughter said, “I can take off the door, I have tools.” Getting the door back on was harder, but the fridge was delivered.

  36. Havva November 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Expensive suggestion but if you have a family member that thinks a kid is deprived if they don’t get pricy electronics. May I suggest a rugged GPS unit. Geocaching is great fun, gets people out of the house exploring. You can even get units with built in walkie-talkies.

    On the far less expensive end. My daughter was completely thrilled recently to win a set of real cooking tools in child size. Wooden spoon, slotted spoon, spatula, potato masher, wisk, apron, oven mitt hot pad, potato masher, etc. She helped make the challah that will go into the stuffing this year. She is pretty proud of herself.

  37. CrazyCatLady November 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    Grandma is making mittens, and I will probably make fleece hats this year. I DO intend that they use them – every day! Year before last they got bows and arrows, last year box rivets. What I will NOT be getting is games for the Wii that their Aunt gave them.

  38. Emily November 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    CrazyCatLady–Not all Wii games are bad. There are lots of dance, sports, and fitness-related games, and then there’s Little Big Planet, where two (or more) players co-operate to achieve goals in each level, rather than racing/fighting/otherwise competing against one another. I’m not saying that any of your ideas are bad, and outdoor/creative play is good, but it’s surely going to rain at some point, and even the most imaginative kids get sick of reading/crafting/whatever at some point. Also, it might be disappointing for your kids to get a Wii for Christmas, but not actually be able to play with it. So, a good compromise would be to get them games that you approve of, if there are any.

    Anyway, my suggestion for a free-range gift is a sled if you live close to a decent sledding hill, a pair of ice skates if you live close to a decent outdoor (or indoor) skating rink, or a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis if you live someplace flat, or better yet, near a forest. My other suggestion is a set of art supplies, if you have a child who doesn’t like to play in the snow. However, I’d only give that gift if the child is actually going to be allowed to use it. I remember many, many childhood Christmases of receiving craft kits that were put away indefinitely “until an adult can supervise, because we don’t want you making a mess.” Often, that time never came.

  39. Elliot November 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    My brother and I spent HOURS building things out of cardboard, masking tape, and hot glue (we each had our own glue guns). We got boxes of scrap cardboard for Christmas a few times as kids, and it was awesome!

    My father got us both pocket knives and taught us to whittle on family camping trips (we were elementary-school aged), and taught me how to saw and use power tools when I was in third grade and wanted to build some things. My mother had us using real knives in the kitchen as preschoolers, and she usually had boxed cake mixes in the pantry that we were allowed to make on our own. We actually surprised them one year, making a cake for their anniversary without their knowledge, and then the cake mixes just sort of appeared in the pantry… 🙂

  40. lsl November 26, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    yarn, and a loom, crochet hooks or knitting needles, and time with an elderly neighbor to teach them, if the kids don’t already know how.
    a learn calligraphy kit.
    any how-to kit that comes with instructions & materials, really.

  41. Ann in L.A. November 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    You can get bank accounts designed for kids that come with debit cards. Parents can deposit an allowance and kids can keep track of their assets and spending.

    Drop them off at the mall and have them get themselves dinner and go to a movie.

  42. Cassandra Baer November 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    Last year my 9 year-old daughter got her own box of long matches for Christmas. Many nights she is in charge of building and starting the fire in the fireplace.

  43. Karen November 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    We bought our daughter a used sewing machine for her birthday. She got sewing SCISSORS and PINS too.

    I bought our son a roll of duct tape just because. He’s had a blast with it.

    Nerf guns, dart board, golf clubs, roller blades, scooters, woodworking set, beads, wire and needle-nose pliers to make jewelry….

  44. Stafir November 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm #


    Pens, pencils, crayons, a pallet of blank paper (I’d prefer without lines…but with lines can work just fine).

    A whittling knife and access to some good wood.

    Tools…no an actual tool-set. I still cherish a tiny set of tools (that I still use) I got from some relations (i dunno the exact relationship..but they were ‘great’ somethings). Just a simple 6 piece set of screwdrivers. But something fancier wouldn’t hurt.

    Is your child electronically inclined? Get them electronic pieces to put together. They want a new computer? Buy them a case and components, its cheaper that way, and putting it together is a good experience for doing things themselves. Want to really have a good time with it..insist on them getting linux. Not because its ‘better’ than windows..but because they can mess around with linux and alter it…again good learning.

    Heck..put together a little ‘home lab’ remember the old chemistry sets they used to sell to kids? Make your own, put it together and let the kid experiment.

    Or if you want to give them another ‘gift that keeps on giving itself’. A home made 3d printer. Look up reprap (or better yet have your kid look it up), and let them build a cheap 3d printer.

    Yeah…I might have a thing for the more stay at home creative stuff, than the going outside and running around creative stuff. But its good to balance out :).

  45. Cyn November 26, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Our middle daughter has had her own bow and arrow for a couple of years now (she’s 15). She also goes fishing with her friends with no adults present . She has her own pole (she could poke somebody!) including a HOOK (eeek! ). Our oldest (boy) and youngest (girl) are about as rough-and-tumble as they can get… they have a lot of things that helicopter parents would disapprove of! 😀

  46. Cindy Horton November 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    How funny, I just posted some free range gift ideas for boys on my blog earlier today. Things like a military surplus canteen, a collapsible shovel, and *gasp* a Swiss Army knife! If you want to take a look:

  47. Goody November 26, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    Funny, I just bought the 9 year old a Swiss Army knife today (that was labeled, “must be 18 to purchase”, which to my mind is far too late.

    He’s likely getting a wood burning kit from the art store this year, because why bother having kids if you can’t get them to make you a nice jewelry box?

  48. fred schueler November 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    We gave the 18-month grandson permission to open the wood stove and look at, and exclaim about, the fire whenever he’s here.

  49. BL November 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    “Funny, I just bought the 9 year old a Swiss Army knife today (that was labeled, “must be 18 to purchase”, which to my mind is far too late.”

    I think I got my first pocket knife at the age of 8. I remember having it at the house we moved out of just before I turned 9.

    But of course “things were different then” (rolls eyes).

  50. J. Greene November 26, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    A dirt bike…

  51. Steve Cournoyer November 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

    I’d buy them 2 kinds of things: those I was denied as a child, and the ones I’d buy for myself now(within reason)

  52. Jenna K. November 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    My two older boys (10 and 9) are each getting a wallet and a watch. They already have a lot of free afternoons, now they can keep track of the time while they’re off on their adventures and maybe even take a little money with them to hit up a McDonald’s or something else while they’re out. It will be better than the homemade paper wallets they’ve been using.

  53. Reziac November 26, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Spending money? Not a cent. I had to either earn it (cutting other people’s lawns and babysitting) or wait for the crisp new $20 bill at Xmas, which had to last me all year.

    Reflective tape on my outdoor clothes? No way. We were taught that CARS CANNOT ALWAYS SEE US (in darkness or daylight), and even when they can, they can’t always stop in time — so we’d better watch out for ourselves.

  54. Emily November 27, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    Reziac–Just curious, what kind of things did you get for Christmas as a kid?

  55. Crystal November 27, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    We just moved to the UK this month and were quite dismayed to find that POCKET KNIVES are banned here. FOR EVERYONE. Sorry, son.

  56. Aimee November 27, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Hot glue gun for crafts!

  57. Ann in L.A. November 27, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    One note with hot glue guns. Our kid didn’t have the reflex to immediately wipe the hot glue off, when he got a big blob of it onto his skin. He burned the top of a finger so badly that when the skin fell off, we could see his bone. It’s now a nice scar, and he loves to tell the tale.

    Make sure you teach your kids to immediately wipe it off–clothes are far less important than skin!–and to get it in cold water fast.

  58. Dee November 27, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    I can only second what I’ve seen here. Duct tape is a perennial gift for my son. And 2 years ago I gave him a tool kit, which has been one of the most used gifts ever.

  59. Sunne November 27, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Oh my. This book looks great. The picture of the kid licking the battery is pretty funny.

  60. Emily November 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Ann in L.A.–They have low-temperature glue guns now, that melt the glue at a lower temperature, so if you get a bit of glue on your skin, it doesn’t burn. I have one that I bought from the dollar store, and it works great. 🙂

  61. Papilio November 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Happy birthday!

    @Crystal: Yeah, I told you the UK is following the wrong examples… Sorry to hear it’s actually true.

  62. anonymous this time November 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Our middle school age kids are part of what we call the “family economy,” and they earn money to put into their “home bank account” by doing work around the house. Our agreement is that if they can defer gratification to either their birthday or Christmas, the money in the account doubles, and that’s their gift. If they blow their wad on December 22, well, it’s a quiet Christmas.

  63. Puzzled November 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Tools would be a great present, and a great opportunity to spend time with your kids, teaching them how to make things they want to build. If your kids ask for a pre-fab treehouse, get them a toolbox and wood.

  64. Jenny Islander November 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I don’t know about the Wii, but our Xbox Kinex has a game called Kinex Party that shows you live footage of your living room with assorted images overlaid. You control the images with your movements. You can “dress up” in ridiculous outfits, create fireworks, build a castle and then become a giant dragon and smash it RARRR, etc. There’s also a whitewater rafting game that you can play by yourself or with a partner who helps you steer. This was our single Christmas present one year and it is the best cabin fever cure ever.

  65. Emily November 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Anonymous–Do your kids also get an allowance? Because, the “family economy/bank account” deal is a good idea, except, how do your kids buy Christmas and birthday gifts for others, without being penalized for “wanting instant gratification?”

  66. Jenny Islander November 27, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    For some kids, a cell phone is a free-range gift. My middle girl, 7 1/2, is hesitant to go to new places or meet new people without me along as her safety blanket. I taught her how to use the “dumb phone” we keep around for the kids, and now she happily goes for long walks. She used it once after I first gave it to her and again recently when she wanted a pickup from someplace pretty far away and I had to remind her that her dad had the car at work for the afternoon. Then she understood what “Don’t go really far, hon, because it’s November and it’s only going to get colder later in the day” meant, and she hasn’t done that again.

  67. Maribel November 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    Fishing pole and a tackle box. The kids love going to the canal. I do worry about alligators when there is a drought though!

  68. Rachel November 28, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    I commented on the Facebook post about sewing machines as well. Specifically the $70 one sold by IKEA, which is a small size, good for little hands, and relatively simple. (I don’t own it but I researched it before picking a grown-up machine for myself. My daughter may get it when she’s five or six though.)

    Another one, inspired my 3-year-old just now: A digital camera. Lay down some ground rules about not taking pictures of private parts and let them go. My 3-year-old just figured out how to take pictures with my camera and is taking pictures of her dollies, the cat, mommy, toys, etc. We have some pictures of my brother’s Lego projects from decades ago and they’re really neat. Going digital means not restricting them due to film/development costs.

    An apron might be a inexpensive alternative to a kitchen set. It’s symbolic that you’re trusting them to cook without adding more pots and pans (unless you actually need them.)

  69. Emily November 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Rachel–Did you get your three-year-old a special “tough” digital camera for kids, or a real one? Also, why would it even occur to a three-year-old to take pictures of private parts?

  70. LegalMist November 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    The duct tape in the photo would actually be a great gift… you can do soooo much with duct tape!

    When I was a teen, my 12 year old stepbrother asked for some rope for Christmas. I obliged. He loved it!

  71. Reader November 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    I second the yarn suggestion, especially if your kid already crochets/knits. When I started crocheting as a teen, I always had to use the cheapest acrylic I could find. If you get them a craft store card they’ll be able to “upgrade” to using real wool, which is soooo much nicer to work with!

  72. Natalie November 29, 2013 at 1:40 am #

  73. Meagan November 30, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    My son’s 3rd birthday isn’t until June, but his school does once a year orders of Montessori materials, so we already ordered his main birthday gift: a toolbox of REAL tools. Some will be removed until he’s a bit older (don’t think he’s quite coordinated enough for the hand drill yet and the saw strikes me as still a bit dangerous for a 3 year old) but the hammer, screw driver, tape measure and level will probably see a lot of use… Along with the included child sized safety goggles.

  74. Kim J. December 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    We were reading stories of Almonzo Wilder in Farmer Boy, and Almonzo was afraid he would get a switch in his stocking. My 6 year old was surprised—he would love a switch in his stocking. He was thinking a light switch—he was planning on taking it apart and seeing how it works, and then hooking it up to various projects.

    I think I know what I’m getting him for Christmas.