This post has been updated for 2021.
So as a kid, sure I had stuff, but honestly most of the memories I can pull up with the ol’ brain box are of me, my sister, and a few cousins using the backyard hose to fill a dirt pit with water — and that’s literally what we did all summer. So I’m looking at this gift guide for kids who make their own adventures and I’m thinking, “How can I beat a dirt pit full of water?”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized, I’m not trying to beat it. I’m trying to make it BETTER. So here’s a bunch of cool stuff I found that I hope encourages kids to get out, get their hands dirty, and make their own adventures whether it’s in the backyard, in the kitchen or in their dreams.
Spoiler alert: this is all the stuff I would have (or did) love when I was a kid. Also spoiler alert: there’s a lot of books.
Choose Your Own Adventure:
Gift Guide For Kids
And, hey — when you’re done perusing all this adventurous fun, head over to our 2022 holiday gift idea hub for more seriously cool gift ideas for all your loved ones (or whoever).
Table Of Contents
Dream A Little Bigger | Ologie & Journals
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The Genuine and Most Authentic Ology Books: OKAY. I’m trying to contain my excitement — but guys, I freakin’ loved these books when I was little. Y’know how kids have their thing? Like some kids are really into dragons, or knights, or space, or World War II. These books are super-cool AND interactive. I had like four or five (Wizardology, Pirateology, Dragonology, for sure) and remember spending hours looking through them and pulling out all the little notes and pictures tucked away in the pages. They have envelopes with maps, notes, written histories and secrets.
And when I was kind of done with the book, I’d empty out all the scraps of paper and maps and use them to dream up adventures with my friends.
7. Wreck This Box: If there’s one thing I think kids need to learn, it’s that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to experiment and get a little weird — they shouldn’t be afraid to mess up. Keeping a journal shouldn’t feel like pressure, and I think trying to stay consistent can be hard. That’s where Wreck This Journal comes in. Sometimes short prompts, sometimes longer, this journal is amazingly fun and wild. AND THERE’S A BOX SET. It’s controlled chaos and urges the owner to stick with it. Keri Smith knows what’s up. I think the back of the book Mess explains it all, so if you’ll indulge me in a long quote…
“Your whole life you’ve been taught to avoid making a mess: Try to keep everything under control, color inside the lines, make it perfect, and at all costs, avoid contact with things that stain.
This book asks you to do the opposite of what you have been taught. Think of it as your own personal rumpus room. A place to let loose, to trash, to spew, to do the things you are not allowed to do in the ‘real world’. It’s time to make a mess.
Three rules to keep in mind:
1. Do not try to make something beautiful.
2. Do not think too much. (There is no ‘wrong’.)
3. Continue under all circumstances.”
8. Finish This Book: Don’t mind me, I’m just going to add a ton of Keri Smith to this guide. Finish This Book is a bit different from Wreck This Journal. The owner is tasked with completing the story, piecing together bits of information and solving puzzles to find the answer to a mystery. From what I read it’s a bit more involved than Wreck This Journal but fun for kids all the same.
9. Wreck This Journal Everywhere: A nice little travel-size version of Wreck This Journal with new prompts specifically for when the reader is on the go.
May The Dice Be With You | Dungeons & Dragons Gifts
Listen, if there’s one thing I’ll 100% recommend to literally anyone it’s to play at least one or two sessions of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s….it’s just awesome. And the resurgence of popularity is so exciting! This is definitely for older kids (at least being dungeon master is) but with some reading, they can get into a game pretty fast. I included the Dungeon Master’s Guide (for running and writing your own campaigns), the Player’s Handbook (for making characters and learning how to play), and the Monster Manual (good for dungeon masters, but this info is also scattered around online as well).
10. Double Color Resin Dice Set: These are just 9 of the billion options for dice out there right now. They’re much lighter than the metal ones, roll great, don’t hurt tables, and they come in duos of color options. I’d say a basic resin set of dice is a good intro set for new players.
11. Solid Metal Dice Set: My parents got me a metal dice set a few years ago, and I gotta say that when the tension is running high and it’s a life or death situation, having these thunk against the table is so cool. Fair warning they don’t roll the best and they may dent your tables if they’re not being tossed on a mat, but they’re so pretty and the weight is amazing.
12. Hero Forge Mini: Have a kiddo that is already pretty deep into Dungeons and Dragons? If they’re involved in a pretty dedicated campaign with some friends, or they just keep telling you about their character, it might be cool to get them a gift card to Hero Forge. They can custom make their own character as a miniature (and when I say custom, I mean custom…Hero Forge is wild) and have it made and sent to them, ready to play or be painted.
13. The Monster Manual: A compendium of monsters, their stats, and everything a DM would need to know.
14. The Player’s Handbook: This is the big one in my opinion! It’s how players make their characters. It has all the spells and how they work, and talks about how to actually play a session. This is mostly what I use when I run games.
15. Dungeon Master Guide: I will say this isn’t necessary for your kiddo to be able to write and run their own DnD campaign, but it’s a nice guide to have for a new DM.
16, 17, 18. DnD Adventure Notebooks: Okay, so these notebooks were picked with Dungeons and Dragons in mind. They’re nice to have for players to keep track of information, they’re almost necessary for dungeon masters to run the campaigns, and if nothing else…they’re just neat. These books are lined for writing, but also include hex and square grids for sketching out maps or player positions. For number 18, I wanted something rugged and leather-bound. The paper in this one is unlined, so it’s much more free-form in how it’s filled. It also comes in different sizes and clasps.
Promoted To Sous Chef | Fun Kitchen Gifts
Adventure doesn’t have to be about swashbuckling pirates and Nerf wars. I think a great place to experiment is in the kitchen (with enough time and patience). And I’m not talking about baking soda volcanoes.
19. MasterChef Junior Cooking Essentials Set: This is a pretty basic set of cookware, but I feel like it’d be nice to have for a kid interested in helping in the kitchen. Maybe a nice little responsibility moment: This is your stuff, you have to care for it. Plus, this keeps little hands off The Big Cookware and busy with The Little Cookware.
20. StarPack Nylon Kitchen Knife Set: These knives were featured over in a post by Emily back in May and fit perfectly in this guide. I wanted to find some knives that were safe for kids to use without parents having to hold their hands. With these, some distant hovering will suffice, and they’re a good way to teach kiddos knife skills without the threat of a super sharp blade.
21. Emmzoe “The Little Chef” Toddler Apron: These aprons are amazing because they come in themes. The designs are fun but still a bit mature (less cutesy more…fine artsy). They cover Sushi, Pastry, Barbecue, and Barista; a pretty broad but specialized range if you ask me. My personal favorite is the Sushi Chef pattern in the collage above.
22. Jenice House Kids Apron: I also found some more cutesy aprons but these hit the mark while still being “aesthetic”. They come in a range of colors and animal prints AND cover age ranges for sizing.
23. The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs: I’ve just gotten my interest in cooking back now that I have a REAL kitchen (bye-bye college kitchenette). I would trust America’s Test Kitchen with my actual life and found out they have a cookbook for younger kids! These recipes have been tested by kids and include step-by-step photos for tips and techniques. They define common words seen in cookbooks like mince, chop, zest, beat, whip, etc. Recipes are ranked by difficulty and display whether a knife or heat are required.
24. Prep: The Essential College Cookbook: Something I think I would have used like crazy in college. Simple recipes are so nice, especially when you have a billion hours of homework and classes. It makes it easier to plan cooking times and grocery lists. This book even includes recipes specifically for entertaining friends and teaches knife skills, measurement conversions, common cooking vocabulary, and more.
25. The Wizard’s Desserts Cookbook: I needed to include one recipe book that was inspired by pop culture. There are so many fun ones out there, but this one hooked me when it came to choosing one for kids. The inspiration for these recipes come from so many different books and movies including Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Dungeons and Dragons, and The Neverending Story.
Gettin’ Hands-On | Good Ol’ Fashioned Playtime Gifts
26. Personalized Wooden Keepsake Box: Is your kiddo bringing home cool rocks or weird little treasures? Do they have photos, notes or tickets they want to hold on to? A keepsake box could be a fun thing for them. Call it a treasure chest, a secret safe, whatever makes them happy and let them fill it with memories.
27. 4M Water Rocket Kit: I’m always kinda meh when it comes to science kits like these. For the most part, they seem like a one-and-done kind of thing. But my young cousins have always loved doing rocket launches, and the reviews of this kit are great. Sadly, the bottle won’t launch straight into space BUT it does get pretty high. It uses air pressure and water for take-off which means there are probably some really sweet slow-mo videos waiting to be made.
28. 101 Great Things To Do Before You Grow Up: This is the new version of an amazing book/binder thing I had when I was much younger. It contained different sections and themes for activities, ranging from making a potato clock to learning a basic magic card trick. I will admit the older one was cooler looking (here’s where you can buy used versions of that one), but this new one seems just as promising.
29. Tudoccy Garden Tools Set: This set isn’t made for kids specifically, but the tools are fun and bright. Plus it comes with those wild gloves with claws made for…I don’t really know. Raking? Digging? I don’t know but they look fun.
30. REXBETI Young Builder’s Tool Set: This was inspired by the same idea as the kitchen tools. When kids want to help it’s hard to just be like “yea, sure, here’s a hammer”. These tools are made for small hands and let the kiddos get in on helping build alongside mom or dad.
It’s Dangerous To Go Alone: Take This | Nerf Guns & Swords
This section might reveal more information about my childhood than even my own mom knows. Mom, if you’re reading this…maybe just skim. I know people have some meh feelings about Nerf guns and swords but honestly…I think they’re fun (and yea probably a bit dangerous without some eye protection).
31 and 32. Nerf Swords: I still remember summer vacations when all the kids in my extended family would get together at my grandmother’s house and pretend to be pirates or something. We didn’t have Nerf swords, so we used thin metal pipes from behind the garage. They made the cool sword clanging sounds we wanted, but also suuuper hurt if you got a good whack. That’s why I think these foam swords are a much better (and safer) investment if your kids are into knights or pirates.
33. Extra Darts (Soft Tip): If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you burn through Nerf darts when you’re running around with friends. Having handfuls shoved in your pockets lets the fun last a bit longer…until you have to clean up.
34, 35, 36, 37, 39. Nerf Guns Suggested by Raines: I will be honest, I know very little about Nerf guns besides the fact that they’re neat. It’s like Airsoft Lite. Personally, I’d set rules about these guys: Please don’t shoot them in the house. Aim below the shoulders. Pick up all the darts after…And I know rules only go so far. But I feel like these are so much better than my cousins and I hurling walnuts at each other all fall. I asked Raines for some help in picking out specific models, and he gave some great suggestions. We avoided anything that needed batteries and went for the simpler ones.
38. POKONBOY 2 Pack Face Masks: If they have to wear masks, you can at least be sure they’ll look cool. These aren’t the most heavy-duty masks, but they’ll get the job done for Nerf wars. The bottom of the masks are detachable if they prefer just goggles and they come in packs of two in separate colors for teams.
So there you have it. A bunch of things I hope can make the dirt pit a bit more fun, a bit more interesting, or a bit more educational in a roundabout way. All I can say is, feed those imaginations. They’re one of your kiddo’s greatest tools.
Your Resident Dungeon Master,
For the pinners: