When your kid gets to a certain age, you find yourself going to a lot of kids parties at indoor gyms that resemble a prison yard for kindergarteners. And after the requisite pizza and cupcakes, it’s time for the gifts! Unfortunately, most 5-year-olds don’t subtly drop hints to their classmates about what they want to for their birthday. Fortunately, this guide has all the stuff (under $40) that will win the afternoon. You can keep the Thank You note.
These beautiful posters of maps and fantasy scenes are all drawn by different illustrators, printed on recycled paper with vegetable ink, and huge. At 63″ x 36″, all the kids at the party can learn coloring and wallpapering — how practical. If the parents are partial to their perfect paint job, grab the book of 20 smaller (14″ x 10″) coloring sheets. Don’t worry, they all piece together to form one giant poster when that kid changes his or her mind.
Pirasta Coloring Posters And Sheets ($20 And Up)
Darth Vader Voice Changer Helmet
Children are already tiny overlords, bending your will to their every demand through the power of the Dark Side … and Kylo Ren-level tantrums. There’s really nothing left but for them to look and sound the part. Button-activated sound effects will alert you to their presence, and an adjustable strap ensures they’ll be able to continue ruling the home as they grow.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader Voice Changer Helmet ($32)
Because bricks were already taken, ZOOB created cylindrical blocks with ball and socket ends that click or snap together to form all kinds of moving machines and creatures. If you really want to feel old, ask any kid at the party if they want to recreate the Zoobilee Zoo set out of ZOOBs. Man, the ’80s were weird.
ZOOB 250 Piece Set ($35)
CandyLab Toy Cars
These vintage-inspired, fast-rolling wooden cars are the Pinewood Derby racers your dad would have built you if he was even a slightly competent whittler. Instead of a poorly painted pine block, you’d have rode to victory on the wheels of the GT-10, BLU 74, or Stinger. Hell, even the Camper would’ve gone down that track faster. Assuming that kid’s father hasn’t sprung for the life-sized one yet, these cars are your ticket to the birthday party’s victory row.
Candylab Toy Cars ($25 And Up)
Each of Tiggly’s 3 sets — Shapes, Words, and Math — come with 4-5 toys and 3 apps. Kids tap the toys on the screen and funny cartoon animals, shapes, numbers, and letters teach them coordination, early math and literacy skills, and simply the ability to think and use their hands. There’s even a bilingual mode to teach your kid another language, so they can complain in Spanish about how much they wanted a Playstation instead of this.
Tiggly Shapes ($29) / Tiggly Words ($30) / Tiggly Math ($30)
Board games are killing it on Kickstarter right now, and this coding lesson disguised as a board game out-raised all of them. That tells you everything you need to know about how much people value teaching kids programming. Or how much they like turtles. Either way, the game teaches children as young as 4 the fundamentals of coding using cards, the third-most analog toy ever — just behind the stick and the ball.
Robot Turtles ($19)
Seedling Tote Bag
You shouldn’t have to donate to public broadcasting to get your hands on a stylish tote bag. Get the birthday kid one that they can make on their own with the included assortment of paints, glitter glue, fabrics, and ribbon. When they’re done, rather than adding another toy to the pile, they’ve got a place to store the pile.
Seedling Design Your Own Tote Bag ($40)
This Book Is A Planetarium
Kelli Anderson’s upcoming book that’s a camera is pretty damn cool. The book coming up after that pop-up is a 6-in-1 tool, a masterpiece of engineering, and just as literal a title. Contained within is a constellation projector, a musical instrument, a spiralgraph, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and a speaker. Neil deGrasse Tyson just invited himself over for bedtime.
This Book Is A Planetarium by Kelli Anderson ($40)
Chu’s First Day At School
“What will happen?” “Will they be nice?” “Will they like me?” Turns out a kid has the same first-day fears as a New York Times bestselling panda with a borderline offensive sneeze pun for a name. Chu quickly learns each of his animal classmates has a unique talent and everything will be fine, which should be reassuring to any kid, especially since their sneeze is unlikely to blow the roof off their school.
Chu’s First Day At School by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex ($12)
Automoblox (that’s “Automobile” + “Blocks” if it took you a minute to figure out the name, too) allows kids to customize their rides by mixing and matching modern design elements with old-school wood frames. Truly the ultimate toy car for the kid with neo-retro-chic parents. Available models include hot rods, police and fire vehicles, trucks, and even a sensible, minivan for dad.
Automoblox ($15 And Up)