22 Great Kids’ Gifts Under $20



Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas, or something else, no one can deny ’tis the season for giving! With five sons in our house (and five birthdays between October 10th and January 4th) it can seem like money is flying out the windows this time of year.

We have made a conscious effort to keep our purchases to a minimum while at the same time trying to choose gifts that aren’t junk. It sounds like an uphill battle, but it really just takes a little bit of planning. We have a pretty solid bias in favour of constructive play things, so this list is pretty short of electronic beepy things. (This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I can’t STAND being ignored because of something that isn’t sentient! Or it may have something to do with the fact that I feel a little stabby when I have to listen to the same BeepbeepBLOOP over and over and over. You choose. Either way, the result is the same.)

Since I’ve already done all the footwork, I thought I’d share some of the great finds we’ve discovered and why everyone in our family loves them. Each of these has been road-tested in our high-stress laboratory on site (translation: by five boys of various ages and their friends in our living room) and received the approval of all the kids AND we the parents.


Rory’s Story Cubes: This game is a tiny package with a huge amount of fun included. The box is slightly larger than a pack of playing card and holds 6 dice that have pictures on them. The player rolls the dice and makes a story about the pictures that surface. The beauty of this is that the kids can play solo or with as many brothers or friends he can muster. This gets a special mention for being under $8!

Rory’s Story Cubes Add Ons: Even cooler, there are two add-on sets “Actions” and “Voyages” which each have nine additional cubes. You can buy all three sets in one fell swoop for under $20.

Make and Break: This is another game that accommodates as few as one or as many players as you have handy. There are sturdy wooden blocks, a timer, and cards with patterns of varying difficulty levels that you need to replicate. It’s insanely fun for all ages! Of all the board and other games we own, this one gets the most play by far.

Qwirkle: My kids love this game. It consists of 108 tiles that come in a certain number of colours and patterns. You line them up strategically to form a grid, accrue points, advance and win. Loads of fun. Loads of strategy. It’s way cool.

Spot It: This is another awesome game. Cards are dealt to between 2 and 8 players. Players have to find what the similar characteristic is between the cards. The first person to find it wins that round. There is always only one similarity between the cards. It’s fast paced, competitive, brain-expanding, and wicked fun.

Triominos: Our love of this game goes back to my own childhood. My dad had a set that he kept tucked away in his office (which was in our home). If we were really good and promised to take good care of it, we got to play it. If we were really lucky, Dad would play with us. My kids love this game as much as I always did, too. Wonder of wonders, it’s a quiet game. It encourages quiet play, and in a house with five boys, I try to do that as much as possible!


Nerf N-Strike Blaster: This one-shot Nerf blaster is the one that most of my boys owned as their first Nerf gun. It shoots far (up to 75 feet!), has a light beam trigger (Laser like lights! Woohoo!), and has a tactical rail where you can add on accessories. It’s a fantastic entry-level Nerf gun. (My advice: Add eye protection to eliminate any worry!)

Stomp Rockets: Man. If I had a dollar for every hour my kids have spent playing with these, I’d be rich. I’d say they’re best suited to a child who has good leg strength (and understands just how much trouble they’ll be in if they try to launch it indoors, say, near the wood stove or delicate vase. Also? Got boys? Put that delicate vase in storage until they move out. That advice was free of charge for you and hard won by me.)

Darice 80-Piece Art Kit: This is my almost-8-year-old’s most treasured possession. He received one for Christmas last year and has guarded it from marauding brothers, scandalous chihuahuas, and thoughtless parents. Two of his older brothers take private art classes and this makes him feel like he’s in on something big. This is a surefire hit for any kidlets you have with an artistic bent.

Measuring Tape: I am not even kidding. My kids love to measure things. They even invented a game where they see who can extend the tape longest without it buckling. I’m telling you, if your kids are bored, have ’em talk to mine. It won’t last.

Lego Bricks and More Brick Box: There are only 232 pieces in this set, but there are some fun versatile pieces and the box is worth it’s weight in gold as a great storage solution for Legos. It has the added bonus of being of such a size that you can store smaller creations in it.

Lego Creator Thunder Wings 3-in-1 Kit: This cool windswept wing fighter plane kit can also be built as a futuristic car or a robot. Any Lego kit that is under $20 is a bargain!

Lego Creator Construction Hauler 3-in-1 Kit: This awesome construction hauler kit can be rebuilt into a cherry picker or off-road transporter with a dune buggy. SCORE!

Lego Green Building Plate: Do not even laugh. My kids use this single $5 piece more than almost any other piece in their vast Lego collection and who gets to use it has even been the subject of numerous fights.

Bushnell Powerview Binoculars: These are for all. the. kids. My older boys love them, my littler boys love them. These compact, foldable, binoculars come with a handy neck strap and carrying case.  The boys love to take these out on nature walks, stand in the dining room and stare at deer or hawks out in the yard, and all sorts of other adventurous things. These aren’t some cruddy, plastic, toy binoculars, either. They’re good. My husband regularly borrows the boys’ so he can check out the size of the buck in the back yard.



The Dangerous Book for Boys: Here’s another total time hoover for my kids. The guys have spent hours upon hours reading this book. That’s not all, though, they’ve done projects from it, taught themselves semaphore and morse code, learned to juggle and build a lean-to, and countless other amazing things from this book alone. I can’t recommend this highly enough. Have boys? Give them this book. Seriously.

Stuntology: This one should come with a warning. My little sister is a librarian and knows how to buy books that kids absolutely devour. The warning? Simply this. Give it to them along with a lecture about how you to pull pranks ethically. Otherwise, you might end up with a paper bag of flour or a wet towel plopping down on your head from a not-at-all-suspiciously-propped-open door. EXPERIENCE. Also? My sister’s 6-week old baby boy just may be getting this for Christmas in 8 years or so. Not that I hold a grudge…

How to Survive in the Woods: This book is a personal favourite of my 13 year old. He spends hours upon hours studying this book- WHILE in the woods. He knows -theoretically- how to survive a bear attack, why to stay away from deer in rut, how to make a fire pit, how to identify poisonous plants, ford a stream or a river, survive when stranded outside in inclement weather, build a fire, and all sorts of other handy things that fire a 13 year old’s imagination. If you have an outdoorsy kid, you simply can’t do better than this book.

: Do you have a dog lover extraordinaire among the little ones for whom you’re gift shopping? This book is new and ever-so-slightly breaking the rules. We grabbed it for my newly 10 year old for Christmas. He saw many of the photos on the site of the photographer who snapped these high-speed shots of hysterically adorable dogs shaking their heads. You wouldn’t think something so cute could look so very silly, but the proof is in the pages! The reason this is a rule breaker is it hasn’t made it to his hands yet, but judging by the reaction he had looking over the website, this one is going to be a huge home run for my boy who often says he wishes he was a dog.


Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster: This is probably some of the best money I have EVER spent on my children. Every single boy has learned to play basic chess from it, and some of the boys are quite good. They play their dad (not me) because their dad loves chess strategy (and I love cookies.) It gives their daddy and I an inordinate amount of pride to hear them talk chess strategy and name gambits. SERIOUSLY- my kids can talk chess moves like I talk recipes. The best part of the whole thing is the way the game is constructed, none of them has ever felt like learning it was a chore. They LOVE it. They BEG to play it. $20 gives you all three levels of the game.



My Neighbor Totoro: First of all, this movie isn’t just a favourite of my boys, but is a favourite of our entire family. It was the first Miyazaki film we ever saw and it completely and utterly pulled us into the realm of mega-Miyazaki fans. It is the beautiful story of sisters -ages 10 and 4- who move into an old-fashioned country home with their professor dad while their mom is in the hospital. In the enormous forest near their home, the girls discover a giant forest spirit (who looks like a cuddly bunny) named Totoro. Unlike many films ‘made for children’, this movie isn’t sappy or dumb. The children in the move aren’t brash, super-sweet, or any of the other extremes usually portrayed. They’re real kids in a fantastic adventure. It has beautifully quiet moments and my kids were absolutely enthralled when they saw it the first time and every time since. We all love this movie. In fact, we love it so much that I’m hand-making gifts inspired by the film for each of my kids and I know they’ll flip for them!

Spirited Away: Speaking of Miyazaki… Spirited Away is one of his best. In this story, Chihiro (a young girl) is trapped in a weird world of traditional Japanese spirits and needs to become braver and more plucky than she has ever been before in order to save herself and her parents. Again, Miyazaki uses quiet as a dramatic device and manages to produce a film that keeps both kids and adults completely riveted. The animation is lush and the story is wonderful.


  1. Amy says

    Our house has been on the market for a while, but we are looking forward to a new house in a new city. I would definitely save the gift card to get something for the new house!

  2. Nikki H. says

    Definitely use it for gifts & maybe something tiny for myself :) We celebrate Christmas & then we have 3 birthdays one after another right after. So this time of the year is pretty pricey for us & this would be a big help :)

  3. says

    What to do what to do? Well I would put some of the money towards Christmas gifts. I would buy myself something (or something’s) for the kitchen.

  4. says

    I’m another mom with too many birthday dates around the holidays. We follow the same guidelines for gifts (no junk, please), but it’s hard sometimes to choose thoughtful things. I’d use this for my Christmas shopping, for sure. Thanks for the giveaway!

  5. Molly Flasche says

    I tend to do the majority of my holiday shopping on Amazon. I’ve got 5 birthdays in the months before and after Christmas, so I’m on the site a LOT. A gift card would be great – and enable me to surprise my husband – he’s the most important birthday right after the holidays. (Gift card = not on the credit card bill!)

  6. Brittany says

    We are heading “home” to the United States for Christmas from Honduras. It would make our trip & our Christmas shopping so much easier and fun!

  7. beth says

    would use this to spoil my nieces and nephews… books, of course, are a favorite gift. and i’d probably get a few gadgets for the kitchen, as a joint gift for hubby and me.

  8. Debbie says

    I too have many birthdays in the family around the holidays. I would use it to buy gifts for the family and to buy me a decent chef’s knife. I love to cook but not having the proper tools really slows things down. I now use steak knives to cut everything.

  9. Lia M. says

    Yaaah! New winter clothes for me and the kid, and some specialty ingredients to make some special holiday foods, for sure. 😀 BAAAKLAVAAAA.

  10. Ari Yoder says

    I’d buy several of the gifts for kids you listed above. (Thanks for that – my 4 sons are all grown, and I never quite know what to get the grandkids in that age range.) I’d buy some cookbooks I’ve been dreaming of owning. I’d get a warm scarf, hat and socks for three homeless people who hang out near my building. Oh, what fun it would be!

  11. Liz says

    I would spend it on my remaining gifts (especially a wall-hanging of The 1931 Histomap that I’m giving to my wonderful boyfriend). I’d probably also give myself a fun thing or two, like a foodmill. I’ve always wanted one, but never seem to have the (very reasonable amount of) cash on me when I actually see one!

    Also, just a thought. Why don’t you get all the boys their own Lego green plate? I’m sure the $25 you’d spend would repay itself many times over in smiles :)

    • says

      True, Liz… I know it’d only be $20 to get four more, but I have this stubborn streak, and the harder they fight over something, the more I’m convinced they need to learn to share it. 😀 I’ve always been very incorrigible. 😀

      That Histomap sounds awesome, and I can personally speak to the handiness of a food mill!

  12. Pat says

    I’ve been out of work for a bit, so half would go to replenish some household necessities, the rest would be gifts, and I’d keep $50 for something completely frivolous for me — because it’s been a while :)

  13. Jackie says

    I’d definitely use this for Christmas shopping for my family, but also for my two best girlfriends, who have been especially lovely and supportive this year!

  14. Amy says

    Christmas and Bday presents. We have 6 Bdays between December and February. Totoro is hands down my favorite family movie!

  15. Meghan says

    It’d be the one year where the holidays mean that I can give everyone what they need and want, and my daughter wouldn’t worry about if Santa (who she knows is me) could afford her presents.

  16. AmyG says

    I would be able to give gifts to my Mom, brother\sister-in-law and neices\nephews as well as an unexpected special gift for my husband and daughter.

  17. elle says

    I would use it to buy my boys’ Christmas presents. I have 5 boys too and you had some great ideas that I haven’t heard of before! I might spend a little on me too!

  18. Sarah S. says

    I would use it to buys gifts for my kids and family and maybe a couple of eBooks for myself. I love all your Lego suggestions. My 5 year old son is just entering the Lego stage and the green Lego slab is genius. I think he’s getting that whether he asks for it or not!

  19. Katrina says

    I would definitely use some of it to buy some sweet things for my new niece, who is due to be born on Christmas Eve!

  20. Karen Doyle says

    I love Amazon! I would use some of the money for Christmas, but I also use Amazon for homeschooling books and supplies, so most would be used for this.

  21. Lizzyd says

    Thanks for these great ideas. I am a new stepmom and completely baffled by my 9 year-old stepson… Glad to hear there are boys out there who don’t find themselves bored! I bet mine would love some of the same things!

  22. wenders says

    Love the give-away. What I would do with it? Perhaps – another Studio Gibli movie called “From Up On Poppy Hill” Whole family LOVES that movie. Well done. Also, love that we already have some of the items that you’ve listed. Yes, they are winners! – Story Cubes, Spot-It!, Lego 3-in-1. Would also recommend Bananagrams. And for the young transformer lovers – the Rescue-Bots. My kid’s favorite is Bumble Bee. Transforming them is simple and fun. Another wish-list item would be piano music for my kids. And….a shaved us machine.

  23. Charlotte Crist says

    I am a college student who has to pay my own way through school. I work two jobs averaging 50 hours a week, and I go to every class. I’m tired, and I don’t make enough to keep up with bills, so I end up living paycheck to paycheck. I’m going home for Christmas, and it’s the first time I will have been home since last Christmas. I would use the Amazon gift card to buy gifts for my family. I don’t want to go home empty handed, this would absolutely be a blessing.

  24. says

    I would save it until after the holidays so it doesn’t get lost in the rush. Then when it’s dark and cold with winter and there is little to look forward to, I would make reservations at one of those really nice restaurants that I can never afford. It would be such a luxery. :)

  25. Megan B says

    I’d probably spend part of it on upgrading and adding a few things to my kitchen as well as getting a gift or two for my taste-testers (my husband and little boy).

  26. Kayley Maybe says

    Would LOVE to spend this surprising the hubby this Christmas. Takes some of the fun away when he handles the credit card bills and knows what’s coming!

  27. Lisa says

    I can relate to the difficulty in surprising my hubby for Christmas, he hates to have money spent on him, so with the gift card I could do something special and its not on his tab! This is my hands down favorite blog, as I can relate to raising boys (we have three).

  28. Judy in CA says

    I haven’t been able to do Christmas for my family for the past few years, and it would be a dream come true, to be able to have Christmas at long last.

  29. says

    I’ve never clicked so many entries in my life. I just couldn’t resist. What a fun giveaway and an AWESOME list of things I’ve now added to my own Christmas list. Thanks for the gift ideas!!

  30. Diana says

    I love My Neighbor Totoro! My siblings and I loved loved watching that movie as kids (and as adults now). Glad to see it’s on your list!

  31. Jen says

    Not quite sure what I’d do with the money. I’d either use the money for Christmas gifts, or maybe for my kids’ trip to Rome.

    Jen in OK

  32. KatieW says

    Books for everyone! We’ve got some voracious readers and it would be so easy to send everyone something to expand their collection. Happy holidays all!

  33. Jenny says

    I’d put a chunk of the money towards a new cookware set. My poor old set of pots and pans are so beat-up… and (deteriorating) TEFLON! Need I say more? It would be my Christmas gift to myself. The remaining money would get socked away in the kids’ Hawaii Fund. Oh yes, there’s a Hawaii Fund. It’s the only way for a family of 6 to ever make it as a family. The kids are raising meat pigs currently in order to stash away the profits in their fund.

    • Jenny says

      Clearly I haven’t had my coffee yet this morning because one wouldn’t be able to STASH an amazon gift card and use it like cash! LOL! So scratch that. After buying cookware, I’d buy books. As many books as possible. We all love to read in my family and I’d love to finish off the series sets the kids have started. Sorry for the goof. 0-o

  34. Emily G says

    Better presents for my kids, and presents for a lot of other people I’d love to give to but can’t afford much. (And my crafting hands are tied up this year by baby twins!)

  35. says

    This gift card would cover the cost of gifts for my two children, seven in-laws, four nieces and nephews, and the two children we are “adopting” for Christmas. Fingers crossed!

  36. Julie M says

    I would like to have the extra to buy a gift for more people! I would up grade a few of my childrens presents and buy my hubby something super cool!

  37. Saint Tigerlily says

    Saw this and had to enter. I have a very healthy Amazon list right now…so I’d probably clear that out. Books, some Christmas gifts and other treats. :)

  38. Michelle says

    I will buy gifts for my husband, son, and family. also like to give back so will donate part of it too to help others have a nice holiday.

  39. Susan Johnson says

    Thanks for all the wonderful ideas for gifts for my 2 grandsons. I ordered several games and books and now I have a start to my Christmas list for them….thanks so much!

  40. Aaron Pratt says

    What a terrific site I stumbled into this evening as Christmas nears..lots of excellent gift ideas for my son, niece & nephew, affordably priced & descriptive reviews. Thanks for the effort it appears you dedicated to this endeavor. To further instill the best qualities in my boy, winning the Amazon gift card means I would allow my son to choose from a variety of toys, books, etc.. up to $250. We would then double the order and donate the second order to St. Jude’s Children’s Cancer Research Hospital. I’ve always been captivated by this organization’s commitment to find a cure and the positive atmosphere it maintains for families.


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