Christmas is coming and we start to feel the pressure of having to find good gifts. The hunt is on to find the holy grail of gifts for children in our lives. Fun, tick; educational, tick; exciting and unique, tick - and something that's enjoyed for more than a minute - tick!
Kids can be picky and there's never any hiding the truth. If they don't like something, you're going to know about it! So finding gifts for kids that don't break the bank and hold their attention all year round can be hard going.
And even if you observe the latest advice, such as the Dream Toy List, which the Toy Retailers Association puts together, that advice comes with warnings. As I mention in The Guardian's version of the article, the products and brands you'll hear about most are often associated with celebrities, cinema releases and hefty marketing budgets. They might be popular now, but in a month or so...maybe not.
So how do you pick a gift that stands the test of time? Here's my 5-point plan for picking perfect presents for kids, as a teacher-turned-toy-hunter and mum in the know.
My five-point plan for picking perfect presents for kids
1. Start with their age
Choose gifts at the top limit of their age category. If they're five, it's best to go for gifts in a 5-7 year old category for example, rather than a 4-5 year old category. This will ensure you choose a gift that stretches your child but doesn't frustrate them.
Cue year-round interest as they explore the gift or toy, and thoroughly get to grips with it. Ideal choices are multi-level games and educational kits such as chemistry labs or creation or construction sets.
2. Think about their interests
You don't necessarily have to buy a gift directly associated with their interests, but knowing what they're into will help you find similar themes. Say they enjoy football, then they probably like being outside. That connects with gardening, hunting bugs, outdoor play tents and tunnels. Perhaps astronomy would catch their attention.
The same goes for cooking. Cooking for kids is about the activity - the mixing, measuring and making. Craft kits can be a good alternative and often encourage more independent play as most don't require an adult to monitor a hot oven!
3. Extend edible gifts into all-year-rounders
Edible gifts, though tantalising treats and popular at Christmas, have an extremely short shelf-life. If you'd like to extend the impact of your present, how about a chocolate lolly making kit? Crafty, educational, fun and something that can be done time and again.
4. Gifts for groups
Find something that appeals to the entire family or all siblings. That usually means it must be a game - amusing, fast paced and easy to do in pairs or more. If you've really young kids, older brothers and sisters or parents can help them out by working together.
The classics often work well. Charades and scavenger hunts can be self-made and are also available to buy, taking away all the hard work and delivering a ready-to-run remedy for boredom. And never underestimate how silly adults like to be given the excuse. Foam poppers remain popular in my household for parents and children alike.
5. Practical presents
Now these really do last. Something practical will be pulled out time and again. Think umbrellas, re-useable drinks bottles, backpacks, torches, hot water bottles or mobile phone holders. These sorts of gifts are hard to physically grow out of and if you get the theme right - again, the more grown up the better - they'll not be considered 'too young' either. My advice here is to go for bright colours under 8, more muted as they near 9 or 10 and head into their teens.