Gifts for my 3.5-year-old
Dr. Drill and Fill
Okay, this was definitely not my first choice, but my daughter has talked about "dentist pwaydough stuff" for weeks. I think it will be a huge mess and she'll probably fight over it with her sister, but... I am a big proponent of encouraging kids to do arts and crafts. Using her hands to draw, paint and sculpt is not only great for the development of her motor skills, but it's a great way for her to be creative and use her imagination.
Art supplies make great gifts. If you have an older child, consider making an art caddy that is loaded and ready for them to grab whenever the creative urge strikes. Include things like classic crayons (or beeswax crayons if you're looking for a more natural alternative), blank paper, colored pencils, finger=paints, stamps, stencils, etc.
Just Like Home Coffee Maker
Some of the best toys to promote imaginative play are play kitchens, play food and accessories. Both boys and girls like to imitate real-life and these types of toys offer hours of play. My girls already have a play kitchen that their grandparents got them a couple of years ago and there are always things to add to it. Thing 1 found a coffee maker at Toys R Us that she would really like to have so that she can "make toffee like Dad!" I will probably always prefer wooden toys over plastic, but wooden coffee makers just don't quite look like the real thing. This one sounds like it's brewing coffee and has a red light come on in the bottom that makes it look hot. I'm sure my husband and I will be served a lot of coffee in the next few months.
Imaginarium Wooden Block Set
Our girls already have a small set of Plan Toys wooden blocks, but when both of them are playing with blocks, there just don't seem to be enough. So, we got Thing 1 another larger set to add to the existing small one. Wooden blocks have been around for YEARS and are a classic toy because they are open-ended. Blocks don't have to be played with one way. They can be buildings, houses, towers, castles, instruments, people, buses, food... you get the idea. Kids of all ages like to play with them and if you get a good set, you can probably keep it for your grandchildren.
Gifts for my 2-year old
Going with the kitchen theme, we got our 2-year old some more play food that I'm sure both of the girls will love. All of these were purchased at Michael's at 80% off on Thanksgiving Day (woo!) and though we already own some plastic play food, I thought it would be nice to upgrade to some wooden and felt food. This food is more life-like and larger than the small plastic pieces. Plus, the cookie and fruit sets allow the girls to actually slice and cut pieces, just like they see Mom and Dad doing in the kitchen.
Other Great Gifts
Figurines. My youngest got the Rapunzel set for her 2nd birthday and there has not been a day go by that both of the kids don't play with them. One of their grandparents is getting them a couple more sets for Christmas and I'm sure they're going to be a hit. They role play with these and spend a lot of time creating their own stories.
"Quiet Time" Toys. My oldest stopped taking naps shortly after she turned two, so we began having "quiet time" during the day. Sometimes she plays computer games, but we also have several Melissa and Doug toys that are great quiet activities. Both of the girls play with them every other day or so. My youngest may not be able to do everything correctly, but she still likes them.
Dress-Up Clothes. The jolly ol' elf is bringing our girls a TON of new dress-up clothes this year as their big gift. I helped Santa hit up a lot of Halloween clearance racks and came out with some good stuff (including that dinosaur, above). My husband wasn't thrilled with this gift idea at first because he thought I wanted to fill their room with dresses, high heels and jewelry. However, most of the costumes I got were career costumes or animals (horse, dinosaur, bumblebee). Costumes thrill kids of all ages and there are an endless amount of hours to be spent imagining and pretending.
Of course, there are thousands of other toys out there that kids will love. It's hard to narrow it down to a few presents at Christmas! Just pay attention to what toys seem to keep your kids' interest day after day.
It's easy to stress out about getting your kids everything they want or getting the "perfect" gift. But kids are kids. They will enjoy Christmas no matter what you get them. As my husband said, let's save the stress for the teenage years when our kids will probably want something worth hundreds of dollars that all their friends are getting too. Yeah... I think I'll enjoy the ease of shopping for my 2- and 3-year-olds.