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Christmas Cheer Toys

Thought-Provoking Gifts For Young Kids? 458

An anonymous reader writes "Societal norms and my sibling's procreative endeavors have put me in the position of having to buy gifts twice a year for young children. What makes them happy are unremarkable bits of plastic. They already have innumerable unremarkable bits of plastic (from their parents and grandparents). My preference would be to get them gifts that challenge them to think creatively (or at least to think), which they'll be able to pick up and enjoy even after they outgrow their train/truck/homemaking fetishes. Beyond the Rubik's Cube, what thinky toys from your childhood are still in production? What new thinky toys have you discovered that work for the 5–10 age range?"
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Thought-Provoking Gifts For Young Kids?

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  • How about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal ( 1427207 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:33PM (#34293672)
    How about books? I know it's not the latest high tech doodad but I would of loved to have gotten more books as a child.
    • Re:How about (Score:5, Interesting)

      by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:19PM (#34294058)

      My 4yr old nephew loves books. In part because it means with spent time with him, at first it was to read to him; but last time I was tired and had him"read" it to me, I was marvelously funny to get his vaguely relevant ad-lib intermixed with lines he remembered verbatim. I'll do that again !

      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        They really do have quite incredible memories for stuff they are interested in. My oldest daughter is really into Big Bang Theory and she gets my youngest (5yo) to act out scenes from it. He can recite all the "sing soft kitty to me" scenes word for word, which he'd do over and over again while falling asleep :)

    • Re:How about (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:24PM (#34294094)

      Seconded for books. Don't forget legos as well! Don't just buy the theme sets, buy the sets with tons of blocks and random pieces so they can get creative. I probably spent more time with my legos than anything else.

      As for books, some recommendations appropriate for the double-digit ages:

      • Where The Red Fern Grows
      • The Giver
      • Call of the Wild
      • Animorphs/Goosebumps series
      • Anything by Roald Dahl
      • Harry Potter series
      • Gemini Game (if they're techy sort of kids, really good story!)
      • Anything by Jerry Spinelli (Crash, Maniac McGee, There's A Girl In My Hammerlock

      You could probably pick up a few months (or years, depending on how fast they read) worth of good children's books on Amazon for less than the price of a game console. Plus books aren't laden with any of that silly DRM nonsense!

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        Well if you're ever going to take your kid on a plane in the US, then My First Cavity Search (http://boingboing.net/2010/11/11/tsas-new-book-for-ki.html) is good for all ages!
      • Also, they're a bit dated, but I remember the old Tom Swift [wikipedia.org] series fondly.

        According to that Wikipedia page, they've released some more modern versions.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by evanism ( 600676 )
        The kids may like them, but the writing style of the Harry potter books is horrendous. Pick any page and it makes me despair.
    • Re:How about (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:35PM (#34294172)

      Books are great, and young kids are quite happy to read the same book over and over again but as they get older they'll tend to read it once or twice and move on. It might sound corny but maybe you could take the kid(s) to the library once a month/fortnight/weekend/whatever if they live close enough to you and your schedule allows it? A bit hard if you live hours away but spending time with an attentive adult is the next best thing to cheap plastic crap :)

      My bike, books, lego, and computer are the only material things I can really remember spending a lot of time on as a kid. We got RC cars (which need charging all the time), motorbikes (which need fuel and adult supervision), and all sorts of other things but those 4 are the ones I really remember and that were always there and ready for me to play with (except maybe the computer... stupid computer hogging siblings!)

  • Capsela (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:34PM (#34293674)
  • C=3P (Score:4, Informative)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:34PM (#34293684) Homepage Journal

    Paper, pencil, paintbrushes.

    • Re:C=3P or box (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:14PM (#34293994)

      Or, for really young kids, buy something really cool and BIG for yourself and give the kids the box. They will have more fun making that into a fort/dollhouse than all the paints and paper in the world.

      Parents today often use writing/drawing as calm down methods, and the kids start looking at it as punishment. But at least these are creative devices, rather than passive entertainment devices. Kids bore quickly. Let them build the fort, then draw the fort.

      Nothing with batteries.

      • Boxes are indeed awesome. I remember when I was ten my family moved to a different state and I took many of the moving boxes and connected them end to end to create a huge labyrinth fort in the basement. The best part of which was a huge refrigerator box that I spent most of my time in, even used to sleep in that all the time. My cat liked it too.
  • Lego (Score:5, Informative)

    by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:35PM (#34293692)

    unremarkable bits of plastic... I had Lego when I was a kid too, and it was great - helped my imagination in a constructive way - no use thinking about spaceships unless you could put one together from little blocks.

    Today, we have Lego mindstorm - robot lego with software controllers. For something that was enjoyable and improving back then, and enjoyable and improving now is pretty cool.

    • Re:Lego (Score:5, Funny)

      by jo7hs2 ( 884069 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:39PM (#34293724) Homepage
      Absolutely! As long as you don't step on one, they are the best toys in the world.
    • Re:Lego (Score:4, Informative)

      by winterphoenix ( 1246434 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:39PM (#34293730)
      On top of Lego, K'NEX are pretty amazing pieces of construction material. As a kid, I started training with the basic sets, then got into the "master" sets. There's nothing more amazing for a child to do than to build a structure that is twice as tall as them. They are a bit expensive, but looking back they were worth every penny to me.
      • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:29PM (#34294126)

        On top of Lego, K'NEX are pretty amazing pieces of construction material. As a kid, I started training with the basic sets, then got into the "master" sets.

        I bought myself a K'NEX set called "The big ball factory," and some other sets of spare parts. My computer geek / engineer colleagues came over one night for a few to many beers. Everyone had a plan one how to improve the damn thing. There were four folks working in parallel on different sections at once, and showed no intention of stopping, and lost all track of time . . . just like what happens when you do hard core coding.

        My girlfriend quipped to the other girlfriends, that if the beer didn't run out, she would have to chase them all out with a broom. Most of the girlfriends found the behavior "cute", especially since with every improvement, one of the guys would run to his girlfriend, and say, "Look, Romy, at that thing that I just built!"

        When the folks were leaving, one of the chicks said, "I'm glad that these toys are in your apartment, and not in mine."

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *


      Although one thing I've noticed is a serious reliance on "specialty parts". Now that spaceship comes in a kit with a special cockpit, wing, and landing gear piece..

      The mindstorm stuff looks really cool though. I _really_ would have had a blast with something like that as a kid.

      • Re:Lego (Score:4, Informative)

        by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:34PM (#34294166) Homepage Journal


        Although one thing I've noticed is a serious reliance on "specialty parts". Now that spaceship comes in a kit with a special cockpit, wing, and landing gear piece..

        The mindstorm stuff looks really cool though. I _really_ would have had a blast with something like that as a kid.

        Lego is shifting away from those specialty parts, partly because of the limited building possibilities and partly because their exploding unique part count was increasing their costs. It's cheaper to produce fewer unique parts.

        I'm happy to say that my kids have pretty much lost interest in the pre-designed kits. We recently stumbled over a big plastic bin full of thousands of assorted generic lego parts at a garage sale and they immediately pooled their money to buy it.

    • by pspahn ( 1175617 )
      I used to disassemble my unremarkable bits of plastic and build new "toys" out of the pieces. It's not about getting them something that fits the bill, but rather giving them whatever and letting them enjoy it how they like. My mom freaked out when she found that I had completely dismantled my Verbot only days after getting it for Xmas, but whatever, it was interesting and the toy was kind of lame as intended anyway.
    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      unremarkable bits of plastic... I had Lego when I was a kid too, and it was great - helped my imagination in a constructive way - no use thinking about spaceships unless you could put one together from little blocks.

      Or tinker toys, Lincoln logs, or Erector sets.

      For older kids, a computer in parts. Gotta build it to use it.


      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Faerunner ( 1077423 )

        Seconding Lincoln Logs. I loved my lincoln logs set. If you can, get one of the older sets that didn't have as many specialized plastic bits - these days the sets have flags, horses, people, etc that detract from the number of actual wooden logs in one set and restrict the building possibilities. I used to spend hours with my set.

        Also good were strategic board games (especially stuff like Risk, Checkers, Chess, chinese checkers, Mastermind, and Hi-Q [educationa...ggames.com]. We also had a pair of Soma cubes [mathematis...teleien.de] (like 3d Tetris!) with a

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Or, to make sure you get the usual Slashdot news approval: LEGO Mindstorms controlled by Arduino!

    • The thing that stinks about lego these days are all the damned themed sets. Kids put them together and then don't want to take them apart or mix the pieces with other sets. They were better for kids when you could only buy them by the bucket full.
      • LEGO has sets since '59, when they were still using wooden pieces.

        A kid who truly likes LEGO will always take them apart when they need pieces. If they don't, then they don't really like to play LEGO, you just forced them to build the toy they actually want to play with.

  • The classics (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:36PM (#34293698)

    Don't know about modern stuff (which I know is what you asked about) and may not be within the age range (I really have a hard time envisioning age) but the classics like meccano and K'nex (if you don't like picking up billions of mini nuts and bolts) were great.

    Looking back, I learnt a lot about structure (triangles, width to height ratios etc) and gear ratios just as a side effect of messing around.

    I can't be the only one who as a kid one day realized that if you hook a small gear to a large drive gear.. the small gear turns faster! Then tried to make a massive tower of alternating large/small gears.. only to discover that when you get to the top.. you have a fast spinning gear that can barely drive the weight of it's own axle.

    Nor the only one who tried to make a crane, only to realize that the second you attach a load, the whole thing crumbles .. seems pretty simple as an adult .. but learning that as much force is applied to the structure as the load was pretty neat at that age.

    AND of course, eventually everyone builds a crossbow .. those elastics that came with K'nex were pretty damn sturdy.. making something that could punch a hole in a piece of paper from across the room wasn't too difficult. Then trying to come up with a trigger mechanism was great fun.. and more lessons on the whole force/structure thing.

    Aside from "mechanical" toys.. there are also electrical.

    Not sure of the age range, but when I was a kid my dad made me what was basically a board with a power source, some lights, switches, and some other odds and ends. It had contacts (bolts) and a bunch of alligator clips for connecting the stuff. I had a lot of fun playing with it, and I've seen commercial versions of this now.. so might be a good idea. Also rates high on the "learning without realizing" category.

  • If "unremarkable bits of plastic" make the children happy, what's the problem with getting them unremarkable bits of plastic and making them happy?

    Not everything is about you, hipster. Try being the "fun uncle" instead of the "odd uncle who's always trying to make them into something they're not."

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by lbalbalba ( 526209 )
      > Try being the "fun uncle" instead of the "odd uncle who's always trying to make them into something they're not."
      Word. :P
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Making them into something they're not is what most parent do. Most of us call that : raising children.

      Edit : Captcha was hopeful...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Ignorance is bliss. Give them the greatest gift of all: a TV and a basic cable subscription!

    • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

      But, at the same time, it's worth it to learn what kind of stuff they actually like. My oldest nephew loves the geeky stuff I've given him over the years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's pretty harsh, where's the attitude coming from?
      I think he's looking for something better than plastic wallmart toys from china.

    • by Eponymous Bastard ( 1143615 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:54PM (#34293864)

      Growing up is about "turning into something you're not". Otherwise you'd stay a child forever.

      While the submitter does seem like a troll with his "unremarkable bits of plastic" thing, he does have a point that if everyone is giving them the same thing then (a) they are all trying to turn them into the same thing they are not (e.g. gun wielding/fire truck driving men) and (b) the children haven't had a chance to see if they even like anything else.

      It's a risk thing too. You can give them the same thing as everyone else and they will thank you. Or you can give them a Rubik cube, a set of Lego, or something else and there's about even odds that they'll play with it for a day and forget about it, or they might start playing with it and you'll hear from their parents months later that they didn't drop it ever since.

      These are children you're talking about. Give them a great big expensive toy and they'll end up playing with the box for hours instead.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, because nobody should try to mold anyone else, especially not CHILDREN! Oh, Heavens No!

      We can cut off their foreskins, but don't try to take away their TVs!

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:52PM (#34294276)

      Try being the "fun uncle" instead of the "odd uncle who's always trying to make them into something they're not."

      I did that "fun uncle" thing, and showed my nephew what you could make out of ammonia and iodine crystals (nitrogen triiodide, NI3) and postassium percholrate, aluminum powder and sulfur.

      How did that story end? He is applying to grad school to get his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He got an 800 on his math GRE, so things look good.

      He lives on another continent than I, but the last time I visited for Christmas, he gave me a book titled, "Backyard Ballistics."

      I never got the chance to show him how folks at Princeton's eating clubs peppered other eating clubs with water ballons launched from funnelators (giant sling-shots, made with surgical tubing). Some folks that I don't know, and don't know me planned to launch a few at George Bush, Senior, when he visited the campus in 1984. Those folks that I didn't know changed their minds, when Secret Service folks showed up on the rooftops of the eating club.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Wolvey ( 918106 )
      If watching tv all day and eating ice cream makes them happy, then what's wrong with that? Ianap (I am not a parent) but i'm glad my mom taught me to appreciate vegetables and gave me legos for christmas.
  • LEGO!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:38PM (#34293714) Homepage

    I actually still like the little plastic blocks. I think that's what started or at least cultivated many an engineer's interest in the trade. Just get them a box with mixed blocks and they'll keep it for their kids when they grow up. My parents gave me 1 small kit when I was young (back when they had less custom blocks - the newer series are actually going back to those roots it seems) and then whenever I got some cash or gifts for good report cards I would expand until by 16 years old I got a whole city that took up the whole attic.

  • when he was six, my son loved the plastic Erector Sets. just had to show him how to build one thing, then he could understand the diagrams to build other things, and before long was making his own creations. Not like the razor-sharp metal erector sets of my youth (which I had at about 9 or 10), on which I'd occasionally cut myself open!

  • 150 in one (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:39PM (#34293726) Journal

    Perhaps I'm atypical, but I absolutely loved my "150 in one" electronic kit. Here is a pic [flickr.com] of the exact same kit I had when I was 8. I built every project, and came up to plenty of my own little circuits. I don't know what the modern equivalent is nowadays - perhaps heavier on the digital / logic side?

    • There is a pretty cool software that emulates electronic circuits which a friend wrote: http://sol.gfxile.net/atanua/ [gfxile.net] .. not sure if it has been featured here but it definitely should... great to experiment and is getting really evolved, and it's free as in be^M^M pepsi.

      Also, I think you could extend the lego playground to use spaghetti and glue to build bridges and see if they support the load of the lego cars perhaps. Simple and easy and don't requite much funds to try out...Paper mache etc could also be

    • by spauldo ( 118058 )

      I had one similar to that, although not the same model.

      I got tons of use out of it. I wouldn't recommend it for children under eight or nine, though.

      Last time I went to Radio Shack, I looked for one of these, but nowdays they've thrown out the springs and wires and you have some kind of snap together thing. I can't imagine those having the same flexibility as the spring type ones.

    • Yes! I had the same kit. Many happy hours :)

    • Re:150 in one (Score:4, Interesting)

      by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:41PM (#34294206)
      Why not skip the chintzy plastic toy stage and just get them a nice, easy solderless breadboard and actual components? Maybe a cheap-y fluke knockoff and a simple controllable DC source? Heck, I woulda loved to have gotten real electronics gadgets when I was little, instead of those crappy erector sets with their crummy plastic gears that always stripped.
    • Agreed with this. It's not forcing anyone into anything and it's pretty fun. Make sure it can make a radio and a radio transmitter.


    • Re:150 in one (Score:4, Informative)

      by MarkRose ( 820682 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @08:07PM (#34294374) Homepage
      I'm 28 and I still have mine, literally 2 feet from me. Along with a few others I picked up as a kid. They were by far my favourite toys, next to Lego. I can't get rid of them, even though I haven't built anything in years. Though my favourite of the kits was the 200-in-one model [amazon.com] that had a few NAND gates. Building latch circuits and binary decoders was fun! I was never into the analog stuff as much... my brain hated anything imprecise.
    • I had the exact same board when I was younger. I loved it, though I admit that I didn't learn very much from it. I just had fun doing the projects and changing some of the wires around to see what would happen. I think I was a little -too- young at the time to really get much more than that out of it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:43PM (#34293766)

    Thought-Provoking? Check.
    Unremarkable bit of plastic? Check.
    They'll be able to pick up and enjoy even after they outgrow their train/truck/homemaking fetishes? Check.
    Won't have to pick out gifts twice a year after this? Check.

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Objection, m'lud! What use has a little girl for a Fleshlight? The OP didn't specify gender, after all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hooya ( 518216 )

      Really? A Fleshlight?

        - No more invitations to family gatherings? Check.

  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:45PM (#34293784) Journal

    Lego is always going to be the obvious suggestion in cases like this. Not the pre-packaged Star Wars/Transformers/whatever licenced stuff, but a plain old box of bricks.

    Alternatively, though this might seem a strange suggestion taken at face value, that old 1960s favorite Spirograph can be an interesting stepping stone into all kinds of clever thoughts about geometry/mathematics. Plus you get some pretty pictures out of it.

  • 5-10 year olds are often very creative with "unremarkable bits of plastic". (Lego, for instance, consists entirely of unremarkable bits of plastic, while Meccano is unremarkable bits of metal and plastic.) A Rubik's cube on the other hand, while certainly interesting and stimulating, isn't actually very creative at all. Even cars, dolls, and trains are played with creatively and imaginitively, as children make up and play stories around them, and often lay out cities using nothing more than dirty clothes
  • Marble tracks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mysteray ( 713473 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:47PM (#34293812) Homepage

    As said above, it's hard to go wrong with Legos.

    5-10 is a huge range to generalize about.

    On the lower end of the range, books are great. They're starting to read or reading more but probably haven't decided what kind of books they don't like yet. There are several modular marble track systems on the market, Some even integrate with the Duplo-sized bricks. Everybody enjoys these.

    The upper end of that range will want to choose their own gifts. Finding out if they're into Nintendo DS or another specific system can narrow the choices in a helpful way.

  • by joost ( 87285 )

    Your tone speaks volumes. If "unremarkable bits of plastic" are what makes your nieces and nephews happy, stop being a douche and get them unremarkable bits of plastic. If you prefer not to engage in the social interaction called gift-giving, tell the parents just that and stop doing it. Really, parents know pretty well what makes their kids happy -- and a happy kid is a learning kid. No one will be any better off having received educational toys against their will.

    That being said, Lego is bits of plastic a

  • Wood blocks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:48PM (#34293822)

    Seriously, right after Legos, a big heap of good old fashioned woods blocks were the best. Building towers, cities, etc is the best.

    Giant refrigerator sized cardboard boxes too.

    Get them a playhouse, and not a plastic one. Draw up plans, precut the pieces, and have them help you assemble it. Playhouses are a blank slate for childhood adventure to paint upon.

  • Capsela (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:56PM (#34293878)
    Capsela [ebay.com] is the best toy I ever saw that fits your requirements. It consisted of transparent plastic spherical modules with various gears you could connect to build vehicles and tools of various types. My younger brother played with his set for years and now he's a mechanical engineer who builds advanced composites for Ford. You can't buy it new anymore, but there's lots available on eBay.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 20, 2010 @06:59PM (#34293896)

    What about one of these?

  • The Dangerous Book (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    My new standby (although you can only really use it once per child) is a book. Two actually:

    The Dangerous Book for Boys
    The Daring Book for Girls

    Check em out on Amazon, actually really interesting stuff. The gist of it is it's all the stuff that a well rounded kid should learn as they grow up.

  • by CCTalbert ( 819490 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:00PM (#34293902)

    Some of the most fun I had as a child was when I had the raw materials to do something- and conversely often the biggest frustration was a lack of materials.

    Wood, rope, large cardboard boxes, tape, etc. Strangely rope seemed to always be in short supply. Hammer and nails. Much learning occurs when idle hands are armed with stuff :)

    And actually I think the best gift you can give is time. One of the best times I had with one of my young nephews was building a swing- just your simple board and two ropes off a tree limb swing. We discussed how big the seat needed to be- actually measured some assorted butts!, how big the rope needed to be, we measured and cut, learned about knots, tied the whole thing up, and it got a lot of use for years. The designing, acquiring materials, building, overall a simple but enjoyable project with an immediate return, and a template for many other projects.

    Later projects were a potato cannon, tree fort with crows nest, for-real play house (including wiring in outlets, windows, insulating, basically a small guest-house)... we spent an afternoon pulling cat5 to all the rooms in their house and putting in a router... soldered up a pong game and a couple other odd electronics kits. Next up may be firearms if I can get the parents to buy into that :)

    Time, encouragement, and patience are incredibly valuable and are remembered. Not easy if they're far away or too busy with all the distractions kids have these days. Maybe my entire comment is out of date in today's world. ?

  • How about a game a bit more complicated than Monopoly? Start with games by Avalon Hill. [wizards.com]
  • Porn (Score:5, Funny)

    by VTI9600 ( 1143169 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @07:11PM (#34293984)

    Buy them porn...When I was a kid, I found it to be remarkably educational.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ask your siblings if there's a particular piece of furniture that the kids could use in their room(s), (coffee/play table, dresser, whatever), find a used one cheap, get a bunch of paint and decorative type stuff. Spend a day decorating it with them, and you're set. Hell, you could even attach Lego mats to a coffee table and tether some basic tools to it, if they're into that sort of thing. I tried something like this a few years back and it worked really well.

  • Surprised no one has mentioned the magnetic ball kits, they're "all the rage". I prefer Zen Magnets: http://www.zenmagnets.com/ (for the following reason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7Tka4NUmUo). Of course they're probably a choking hazard, depending on age of the children. Maybe other Slashdotters have more sense than I...

  • Give them Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Bible for Children that leaves the nasty stuff in as though it were moral, and various Norse and other myth books.

    At six I was already a strong atheist thanks to that combination on my bookshelf.

    Yay for atheist parents.

  • Try "Steve Spangler Science" http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/ [stevespanglerscience.com] (Shameless plug - my daughter works there) Honestly - we've had a lot of fun with their products.
  • Simple. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by leifb ( 451760 )

    Time and attention from interested, intelligent adults.

  • How about the 30-in-1/60-in-1/160-in-1 Electronic Project Lab? The 60-in-1 was what got me interested in electronics as a kid.
    Plus, if they like it, you can give them the next step up (the 200-in-1 or 300-in-1) for a gift later.

    I ended up with two of the 300-in-1s, and I still open up the boxes occasionally when scrounging for parts.
  • - a pocket knife,
    - a lighter and
    - a paperclip.

  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @08:13PM (#34294404) Homepage

    When I was a kid, my dad would often tell me that if I do well in school, he would pay for my college, and if I don't, he would buy me a giant shovel, the kind they use on the farm to move cow manure for my 18th birthday. He would also take me to my grandfather's farm every now and then, just so that I'd see those shovels getting used.

    I never got the shovel. I choose the path which implied a six figure income instead. So one could say that even though the shovel never materialized, it was pretty thought provoking.

  • http://unitednuclear.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=70_79&zenid=757ab93b0464ac4ea23f59c17bfbe540 [unitednuclear.com] Remember: The bigger the warning, the more fun it's going to be! Or you could buy the lil' rugrats a bunch of PVC pipe and some instructions on making a spud gun...
  • Not exclusively though, as a side to the usual physical toy gift(s), donate a couple bucks to a charity on their behalf. A long shot, but it just might help them appreciate what they've got, difficult as that can be for a kid living on planet affluence all their lives. (this coming from an old hippie)

  • Tool kit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by knarf ( 34928 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @08:53PM (#34294652) Homepage

    Get them a tool kit. One of those hand-held plastic trays with a hammer, a pair of screwdrivers (X and --), a jigsaw with some different blade types, two clamps of any small type, some sort of measuring device and - if you want to be extra fancy - a hand-operated drill. Add a bottle of wood glue and a box of smallish nails. A carpenters pencil comes in handy as well. My 5 yo daughter made a candle holder for her birthday, heart-shaped with nails at the edges to hold the candles after I told her I did something similar for Yule when I was 6. A little help here and there and before you know it they'll make their own 'toys' which are twice as much fun as those plastic bits mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Plywood, hardboard, those waste bits of wood you're left with after doing some construction all come in handy.

    I used to live next to a carpenter from birth 'till about 7. He had this barrel with leftovers in his backyard toolshop which I was free to pillage. I was lucky.

  • Legos (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cjcela ( 1539859 ) on Saturday November 20, 2010 @10:52PM (#34295278)
    Try Lego bricks. But not the fancy ones, just a whole bunch of the basic shapes. Or an Erector Set. These can only be beat by taking them to play outside.

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