Twenty Real-Life Tools for Gifts – 2011

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In addition to our our Top Twenty Toys, there is another category of favorite gifts worth mentioning. Many times rather than buying our children toys, we give them useful tools.  These aren’t necessarily tools in the sense of hammers and screwdrivers, although we’ve given those too, but something that can be used to accomplish a task or purpose.

Here are some of our favorites:

1.  Apron and Cookbook/Recipe Notebook

On Honeybee and Ladybug’s 11th birthdays, they each received an apron and a Recipe Notebook that had page protectors and dividers for the basic types of recipes:  Breads, Soups, Salads and Sides, Main Dishes, and Desserts.  I put copies of simple family favorites in each section.  They have loved this gift and continue to regularly add recipes.  It cost nearly nothing to make and has given them a sense of satisfaction as they learn to cook.  We have also given cookbooks, especially to Sweet Pea who loves to cook.

Other fun things are cake decorating tools and special baking pans.  Mimi was the french bread making champ at our house for years and a friend gave her these nice pans.

2.  Backpacking/Camping Equipment

When Russ and the boys first got involved in Boy Scouts, we began giving equipment for Christmas and birthday gifts.  After a few years they had most of what they wanted, which makes Russ sad because he would rather shop for gear like this than for anything else.  If Russ were home, he could recommend all kinds of great gifts, but I’m not qualified.  I can say, we’ve given backpacking stoves, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, hiking boots, backpacking dishes and cookware, wool socks, and more.

3. Toolbox

We’ve given a toolbox for the car with tools necessary for quick repairs, a toolbox with general tools, and even a toolbox with a small hammer, level, and picture hanging supplies. A friend gave me a picture hanging tool kit for my birthday one year, and I have used it many times. I also have a small hammer that I keep in the laundry room; it’s the little things that make me happy.

4.  Small Table and Chairs, Toddler Chairs

When Sweet Pea and Mimi were little we took grandparent money and bought a small table with two chairs.  We still use it today! We have also used gift money to buy new bedding and decorative items for bedrooms.  Two years ago we gave Eby and Little Man toddler chairs from IKEA and they’ve been great.  We can fit the boys around the corners of the table and their chairs don’t take up unnecessary space.  Space gets tight when we have all fourteen of us around the table.

5. Knitting Needles and Yarn

I love to knit, and in a former life I never left the house without a project tucked in my bag.  In fact, I put “knit a hat” on my 50 Points of Joy list and just might pull it off over Christmas break.  All of my girls know how to knit, but I need to help the younger ones learn to follow a pattern and create things they will love.  I have a particular love for a book called Sunny’s Mittens that is now out of print. It is the story of a grandmother teaching her granddaughter to knit mittens and hats and is a wonderful teaching book. I had a copy that disappeared, and I’m still trying to find another copy. If you ever see it at a used bookstore or yard sale, buy it!

6.  Sewing Machine

Along the same lines is a sewing machine.  I’m not much of a sewer, but I have done a little quilting, made lots of curtains, and years ago I made simple clothes.  Our sewing machine died a couple of years ago and my girls have been pleading for a new one.  I know they would enjoy creating things for their dolls and with a little bit of help, for themselves.  I also suspect that Honeybee might be willing to mend things. I’ve been watching the deals on Amazon for sewing machines like this one.

7. Sports Equipment

A trampoline, basketball hoop, soccer goals, lacrosse equipment, running clothes, have all made their way into our home (or yard) as gifts.

8.  Musical Instruments

We love to encourage musical knowledge and ability, so we’re always happy to assist our kids in buying an instrument, or give them music and other accessories they need. In our home we currently have a piano, cello, viola, violins in various sizes, three acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, and various drums we brought home from Ethiopia. I also got a killer deal on a classroom set of children’s instruments years ago that has been lots of noisy fun.  Every once in awhile I’m tempted to buy a lap harp, and I have a weird desire to own an autoharp like the one my elementary school music teacher had.

Our next purchase is going to be a cajon which will primarily be used by the older boys, but Eby has a strong desire to drum and I know this will satisfy some of his sensory needs.  Besides, the kid has serious rhythm and this is a far better option for us than a drum kit! We’re still doing research on cajons, and haven’t ordered one yet, but hope to soon.  Anybody have a used one sitting around?

9.  Techy Toys

My guys love techy things, and often ask for them for gifts.  One handy gift Rusty got a couple of years ago was an Eye-fi.  It is a memory card that automatically uploads photos directly to our computer.  I love that.  A new version of Photoshop was also on his wish list – until we got it for him for school.   We’ve given small cameras, tripods, digital photo frames (to grandparents), and lots of iPod earbuds (I like the colorful ones so each child can have their own).

10.  Art and Craft Supplies

Art and Craft supplies are great consumable gifts if you are trying to keep clutter at bay.  I wrote about these on my Top Twenty Toys list, but also would like to add a wood burner, calligraphy set, and  scrapbooking supplies.  Once you head into the world of scrapbooking, the options are endless.  My kids also love having an easel.

11.  Magazine Subscriptions

Kids love getting mail! At various times our children have had subscriptions to Ladybug, Spider, Muse, Our Big Backyard, American Girl, Money, Kids National Geographic, and others.  We have also enjoyed Family Fun magazine, which is a great bargain.

12. Gardening Tools and Supplies

We bought two great sets of kid-sized, real gardening tools when our oldest kids were elementary age, and we still have many of them.  We also have given gardening gloves, hand tools, watering cans, and seeds.

13. Travel Gear

The year we did our big American History road trip, we gave each of the kids (six back then) an LL Bean duffle in their own color with their initials monogrammed on it.  Since then Sunshine was born and our four children joined our family from Ethiopia, so we’ve been gradually giving them theirs.  They are very handy and much easier to store than suitcases.  We have also given our kids tote bags and toiletry kits.  With all of our trips to Seattle, I love knowing that the girls have a  kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. already packed and ready to go.

14. Headlamp, Reading Light, Flashlight

I just asked Samuel to name the one tool that has been his favorite gift.  His answer was a headlamp.  Our guys use these all the time for camping and backpacking, but also for feeding cows, or doing any chores in the dark.  Along the same lines, but not quite as adventuresome are reading lights and light wedges.  I keep one in my suitcase that we take to Seattle and another in my bedroom cupboard for reading when the rest of the room needs to be dark.  They also work well in the car and kids love them.  You can also never go wrong with a good flashlight.

15. Office Supplies

A stapler, jumbo paperclips, label maker, page protectors, scissors, a ream of paper, pens and pencils — what’s not to love? I bought a classroom electric pencil sharpener two years ago and it has made my school days so much easier. We love it and I’m glad to be rid of cheap mechanical pencils that easily break.  A child with a label maker can be a great assistant when it comes to organizing.

16. Stationery

Remember when we used to write real letters?  My girls like to send letters and there is nothing like a box of pretty stationary along with an address book and stamps to encourage them. I’ve also given my kids calendars.

17. Cleaning Tools

Little Man loves to use the Dustbuster, Eby does a decent job with his small broom, and I read a blog post about a little guy who had a blast with a Power Scrubber – I may have to get one for Eby. If you really want to make someone happy, get them a Shark Steam Mop. My floors are the cleanest they’ve ever been and Honeybee is particularly happy because she no longer has to use a bucket and mop for her Saturday chore.

18. Pocket Knife

We have a well-loved tradition of giving our children a nice pocket knife for their tenth birthday. Nobody has needed stitches yet — at least not from their pocket knives.

19. Education

How about giving the gift of a cooking  or photography class?  Maybe one of your kids would love guitar lessons.  I once gave Russ fly-fishing lessons for his birthday and he loved it. We are also enjoying our new bird feeder and I highly recommend having one. The kids pause throughout the day to watch the birds, look up information about birds, and sometimes sketch the birds they see.

20. Experience

A number of years ago my Mom took all of her children and grandchildren to see The Nutcracker in downtown Seattle.  It was a fabulous and memorable gift. How about a concert or dinner out at a special restaurant?

What tools have you given your children, or would like to give them?  What tools would you like to receive?

Oh, and two more things – binoculars and globes!  Now I must stop thinking of things to add.  No more.  Done.

Have a great day everyone!


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. AmyE
    December 7, 2011

    Love all of these … they are the kinds of gifts I love as well.


  2. Emily
    December 7, 2011

    Love this!! As quality time is definitely my love language (do you know anyone like that?) I love when people give me "dates" for presents. My best friend and I without planning it both did that last year- she got us a groupon to a wine tasting bar and I got us an afternoon tea. So fun.

    1. One Thankful Mom
      December 7, 2011

      Indeed I do know a few people like that 🙂 Those are both great gift ideas.

  3. Jeannette
    December 7, 2011

    We're giving our kids kung-fu lessons for Christmas.
    Is there a book you can recommend for teaching yourself how to knit? Or is that better done in a class/ from an individual? I can already crochet a little, but would like to learn knitting too.

    1. One Thankful Mom
      December 7, 2011

      Jeannette, kung-fu lessons sound great! You can definitely learn to knit from a book if you are good at learning that way. I learn best when I can see somebody knitting. I just checked YouTube and they have loads of videos, like this one: I also like the book: Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti, which I've added to this post. Thanks for asking!

  4. Emily
    December 7, 2011

    Although maybe you should wait a few years on the whole wine tasting thing. Depending on who you give it to. 🙂

  5. Hannah Tucker
    December 7, 2011

    This was wonderful to read through! I love how supplies always get the imagination going. :o)

    A few weeks ago, I saw this super cool map on Etsy:… It's custom made, so that the children can learn their neighborhood streets while they play.

    Another thing that I'd love to have someday in the future to use as a help in teaching my kids geography:… I suppose it would double as a prop for art lessons, too!

    1. One Thankful Mom
      December 7, 2011

      Love the map and the globe is nifty, too! Thanks for the links, Hannah.

  6. Laura
    December 7, 2011

    When our children were young, we started giving a family gift to them such as a Wii or a big game. As they got older, it became more difficult, especially since it was hard to find something that the two boys and one daughter would like. We started doing experience type things like mom did—everything from a family cruise to seeing a play. This year our family gift is going to VA for Drew's graduation from James Madison! Fred too was sad when we had all the camping gear they could possibly need!

  7. Mary Andrews
    December 7, 2011

    Lisa, you are absolutely amazing – but then you knew I always thought you were . Love you , Mom

  8. Emily
    December 8, 2011

    This list is awesome Lisa! I shop Amazon constantly. Spent quite a bit already this season. Is there a way to permenantly link my shopping to your account somehow? I loved so many of the ideas!

    1. One Thankful Mom
      December 8, 2011

      Thanks, Emily. I don't know if there is a way to link our accounts – but that is a really nice idea. I'll ask somebody with Amazon Associates – I know it would make it easier since you wouldn't have to do the extra step of coming to my blog. I appreciate you wanting to do it!

  9. Kim
    December 8, 2011

    Thanks for the great ideas! I love reading your blog. 🙂

    1. One Thankful Mom
      December 8, 2011

      Thanks, Kim!


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