Practical (But Fun!) Non-Toy Birthday Gift Ideas for Toddlers

Practical (But Fun!) Birthday Gift Ideas for Toddlers (That Aren't Toys)

Two years in a row I resolve to have a low-key celebration for Mila’s birthday. Two years in a row I find myself frantically blowing up 70 balloons a few hours before 50+ of our “nearest and dearest” are due to arrive at our house.

As the cool kids say nowadays, I have “no chill.”

I make up for it, however, with my practical approach to birthday gifts – and all gifts in general, really. I mention it every year around Christmastime, but our family doesn’t “do gifts” in the traditional sense of the word – not for birthdays, not for Christmas, not for wedding anniversaries. Since having little ones, however, we’ve bent the rules ever-so-slightly on occasion. But we still prefer to give our children non-toy gifts for birthdays and no gifts for Christmas.

The reasons behind our decision are numerous, but I’m guessing if you’re reading this post then you don’t need an explanation or persuasion. I’m aware that I may change my mind as soon as tomorrow, but today this is the approach that’s working for our family.

I have a friend who gives each of her children three gifts for Christmas.

Why three?

“Jesus got three – why would you need more?,” she says, and I love that rationale.

Another friend has what she calls a “Hello, Goodbye” rule. If her child receives a new toy for her birthday, an old one is given away or donated. I love that idea of perfect balance, although I’m not quite organized enough to try it on an individual basis. I have more general systems in place for controlling toy overload – something I talk about in this post on my secrets for a clean and clutter-free home.

The point is to do what works for your family, and remember that it’s okay to change your mind if what you’re doing no longer works.

Today I am sharing my favorite non-toy gift ideas for toddlers – and whether you use this list for Christmas, a birthday, or another gift-centered holiday, each of these toy alternatives are (mostly) practical but still loads of fun.

  1. Sunglasses: Gift your little one an accessory or article of clothing that isn’t everyday wear. If not sunglasses, then maybe a tutu, or a piece of jewelry, or rain boots. Especially if you’re like me (very particular about the colors and style of clothes your child wears on the daily), an unexpected and fun item can delight them as much as a toy but be far more useful.
  2. Toy Box: I cannot stress enough the importance of teaching little ones to clean up their belongings, and what better way to start than with their toys? Besides, when the toy box is this cute, it’s hardly a chore – am I right? It’s worth a try!
  3. Coin Bank: Help your toddler begin learning the importance of budgeting and saving by giving them a piggy bank. Add a couple coins to help get them started.
  4. Swim Vest: Swim vests and floats are as practical as they are fun. Granted, the black and white number above caters more to my personal aesthetic, but there are plenty of themed ones your little one might like more.
  5. 3-D Moon Lamp: If your toddler is anything like mine, he or she is fascinated with the moon. A 3-D moon lamp is such a fun addition to their room – not to mention the practical aspect of using it as a nightlight.
  6. Rain Boots: I mentioned rain boots earlier; they’re a great way to get your little one excited about spending time in the nature. Pick a fun color or print, like glitter.
  7. Desk Clock: Not only will a clock help a child develop a sense of time, but it can also help increase independence. Knowing that they have 15 minutes to complete an activity, and it’s their responsibility to finish in time, can help foster a toddler’s confidence and independence.
  8. Table and Chair Set: Any child-sized furniture is a great gift because it fosters independence. I’ll talk more about this when I share our playroom tour soon.
  9. Umbrella: Are you noticing a pattern here? Basically, add your child’s favorite animal to any practical item, and you’re guaranteed a hit.
  10. Inflatable Pool: So while a pool can technically be considered a toy, I view it more as an activity – one that, unlike a toy, will occupy your little one’s attention for a long, long time.
  11. Pajama Set: Pair the pajamas with a new book or two, and you’ve just made bedtime so much sweeter. Per my suggestion, my mom recently gifted Mila a pillow for her birthday (among other gifts). Now, every time I put her to sleep, she reminds me that grandma gave her this pillow for her birthday. That memory quickly reminds her of other things that occurred on her birthday. Ultimately, she falls asleep dreaming of cake and candles and her friends. It’s the sweetest routine to witness – all because of a regular ol’ pillow.
  12. Indoor Swing: A swing allows for hours of creative play, and an indoor option is perfect year-round. If your toddler likes the playground, this gift is sure to be a hit.
  13. Reading Nook Canopy: Anything that makes their room a little more magical is guaranteed to be a hit, especially if you add in the bonding time of installing or assembling the gift.
  14. Educational Art Print: Again, I could write a separate blog post on room accessories as gifts. Artwork is fun – especially if it’s of something your child loves. Or you can take a more educational approach with a fun ABCs print or something similar. Etsy has millions of options, and you can choose from a physical print or a digital download.
  15. Organization Crate: Similarly to a toy box, an organization crate in the shape of a favorite animal is a great way to gift something practical but still fun. Take it a step further and load the crate with art supplies, or whatever hobby your little one is into.
  16. Fun Mug: Surely by now you’re catching on to the formula for gifting practical gifts that are still fun…
  17. Birdhouse Kit: If your little ones are old enough, kits – model cars or planes or dollhouses or birdhouses – can be a great gift. Not only do you get the end product but also the one-on-one time spent with mom or dad during assembly. If your child likes birds, for example, a birdhouse kit will encourage that interest and curiosity.
  18. Step Stool: A step stool may not sound like the most exciting gift in the world, but when you opt for a fun color or maybe even a little personalization, it’s a whole different story. Involve your little one in the assembly, and it’ll provide hours of bonding time. What’s more, children take great pride in helping parents with real, legitimate tasks.
  19. Chef Set: Dress-up clothes like aprons and chef hats and the like are wonderful avenues for imaginative play. They can actually prove to be quite useful in everyday life. An apron, for example, can come in handy when baking cookies together or during an arts and crafts project.
  20. Musical Instrument: Whether it’s small, like shaker eggs and maracas, or large, like a guitar or baby piano, the ability to create music is detrimental to child development. I’ll touch more on this topic when I share our playroom tour soon.
  21. Backpack: As with several of these ideas, a backpack is something your child likely already needs. Make it a special gift by opting for a fun one that resembles their favorite animal.
  22. Watering Can: Give your child his or her own gardening tools, or cleaning tools, or baking tools, or workshop tools. These “just like Mom and Dad’s” tools increase independence in children while allowing them to act out real-life scenarios.
  23. Musical Jewelry Box: What little girl doesn’t dream of storing her most prized possessions in a beautiful musical jewelry box? This one needs no explanation on the “practical but fun” front.
  24. Electric Toothbrush: Maybe my toddler is an exclusion, but her love for brushing her teeth is something else. I can only imagine her reaction if I added an electric toothbrush into the mix!

Tell me: What’s your approach to buying gifts for your little ones?


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