December 06, 2010

Top 8 gifts for playful children

In this day and age, there are a million and one gadgets to keep your kids entertained indoors. Most of them require batteries. And most of them will put a substantial dent in your wallet.

During these lean economic times, it's time to rewind. Here are some holiday gift ideas -- all for less than 25 bucks -- that come with no operating instructions. That's because your kids must use their imaginations to figure out how to play with them.

WARNING: These toys require your children to venture outside. The outdoors presents many hazards, including the temptation to run and possibly fall down; potential interactions with neighbors; lack of temperature control; and stain-causing substances like dirt, mud, and grass.


With this plastic disc, your kids can work gravity to their advantage and then put some color in their cheeks as they trudge uphill in anticipation of future thrills. Warning: Before purchasing this item, please check to ensure that sledding is legal in your area. Many regions have banned sledding because the activity teaches children about acceptable levels of risk, an element of life that some of us would prefer to believe no longer exists in modern American society.


Jump Rope

Now used more commonly by adult fitness buffs, the jump rope offers children hours of entertainment and exertion, not to mention a chance to hone their singing skills. Hazards include endless repetition of jump rope jingles around the dinner table.



Bouncy Ball

Whether it’s a small "Spaldeen" or a big rubber ball, bouncy balls can be thrown, kicked, hit with a stick, and, yes, bounced. Children can use them to play classic games or to devise their own. Warning: Bouncy balls must be kept under strict supervision at all times. If left unattended, they may slip into gutters, dart out into traffic, or fly through neighbors' windows.


Sidewalk Chalk

Bring out your child’s inner artist and beautify your neighborhood with this array of colored chalk. Chalk may also be used to draw those old-fashioned games like hopscotch, four-square, and Tic Tac Toe. Warning: Sidewalk chalk is best used on the sidewalk, which as you may know, is commonly located next to a street.



This flying saucer is arguably more popular on college campuses than on playgrounds, but the earlier your child starts honing her skills, the better chance she stands of becoming the next Ultimate Frisbee champion. Hazards of tossing a Frisbee include interception by neighborhood dogs.




Even before Mary Poppins, the prospect of kite-flying has prompted children and parents alike to break out into song. Windy fields beckon these feisty flyers, who relish soaring, swooping, and snarling themselves in trees. Warning: Particularly spirited kites have been known to fight with one another, leading to kite flying bans in some public parks.


Hula Hoop

Mastering the delicate art of hula hooping gives your children a chance to show off at birthday parties, picnics, and family celebrations. For the less coordinated among us, thrills can still be found in rolling, twirling, and jumping through these plastic circles of fun.




Despite our advances in toy technology, it is debatable whether anything can surpass the stick. Available in all shapes and sizes, the stick magically transforms into a sword, wand, baseball bat, dog toy, cane, or even a light saber. Best of all, should it break, Mother Nature will replace it for free.



BONUS: Cardboard Box

Wrap all your gifts in big boxes and your children will delight in climbing inside them, crawling under them, and fashioning their own magical kingdoms. Warning: Children may enjoy the boxes more than your gifts.

What did we miss? Please share your favorite classic toys for hearty outdoor fun.