Twenty Real-Life Tools for Gifts

As I was writing the post of our Top Twenty Toys, I realized 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.

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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.  Last year 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.  Ladybug and Honeybee know how to knit, but I need to help them 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, but I recently found one online and ordered it. 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.

9.  Techy Toys

My guys love techy things, and often ask for them for gifts.  One handy gift Rusty got last year was an Eye-fi.  It is a special memory card that automatically uploads photos directly to our computer.  I love that.  A new version of Photoshop is also on his wish list.   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 bathroom 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 over a year ago and it has made my school days so much easier. We love it.

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.

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?

Don’t tell my kids, but they are getting some of the things on this list for Christmas.

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

Have a great weekend everyone; we’re going to decorate our gingerbread house!


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. kristine
    December 11, 2010

    This is a wonderful post! We have a son who is 8 and never really played with toys much. Wonderful items to consider!

  2. Shonni
    December 11, 2010

    What a great post…you gave me some wonderful ideas!!! Thank you for doing this.

  3. Lisa H.
    December 11, 2010

    It cracks me up how much we think alike…. We've given all but 4 of these same types of gifts….I'll have to think if I have anything to add……

  4. Joelle Holland
    December 11, 2010

    Wonderful, wonderful ideas. Since my household is mostly girls and we all enjoy cooking I have loved over the years finding kitchen gadgets to use as stocking stuffers. Practical and fun. Ikea has great low cost items.

  5. Joelle Holland
    December 11, 2010

    I need to add a postscript to my last comment. Lisa, you are such a thoughtful gift giver–no wonder you have such a wealth of wonderful gift ideas. I still enjoy pulling out the cloth Christmas napkins you made for each of us years ago. In fact, tonight I've lined a tray with a red and white star patterned one to hold two cups of tea and a plate of red velvet cheesecake to enjoy with my husband.

  6. Emily
    December 11, 2010

    For my 22nd birthday this year, my college roommate took me out to a three-course tea at a local creperie. We spent all afternoon talking in two cozy arm chairs by a fireplace, getting delicious things brought to us on trays- and best of all, we had the whole afternoon just to be together and away from the world catching up! It was a wonderful present, maybe one of your girls would enjoy 🙂 Especially if their "love language" is quality time- do you know that book?

  7. Emily
    December 11, 2010

    And my mom got me a sewing machine for graduation and it's an awesome gift!!

  8. Christi
    December 11, 2010

    This list is an awesome reminder! I found myself remembering all the fun "tools," my brothers and I received as presents and still do. My parents have given all of these types of gifts over the years. My personal favorite is flashlights!! I plan on carrying on the tradition with my future child/children!!

  9. Melissa
    December 11, 2010

    This list is so helpful, I need to bookmark it for birthdays throughout the year.

    Thank you!

  10. charity
    December 11, 2010

    one thing we give often as gifts to littles is small quilts, maybe just because we have seamstresses in the family, but they become companions to play. I would also add, though harder to come by than it used to be, large rolls of newsprint, great for mural art, drawing lifesize self portraits, happy birthday banners, etc. as my girl got older, i gave them binders and supplies to make their own scrap books, or photo albums, mostly so they would be encouraged to organize and store all their special things….also for kids older than 7, we have given crochet hooks and yarn, it is easier than knitting, and they can happily stitch up scarves, or doll blankets with little supervision. living in a place that was hot, before we came to CO, we gave littles buckets and paintbrushes, they would happily paint with water anything that was outside

    1. charity
      December 11, 2010

      i had to smile when i saw your cleaning supplies suggestion, i didn't think to mention it, but my 2 asked for a broom for christmas, and couldn't have been happier christmas morning, and still uses it daily. also, for your equipment list for the outdoorsy…fishing gear gets alot of use here. happy gifting~

  11. Laura
    December 12, 2010

    We too have given lots of these gifts. Fred also started the traditon of a fun family gift since I always chose "boring" gifts like books. We have done everything from a family cruise to buying a Wii. As our children are all teens and young adults, choosing a family gift is nearly impossible…also only one lives at home now during the school year! So, we have now turned to family experiences involving only the five of us. Last year we went to a play and we are still debating what to do this year. Any suggestions?

  12. cher
    December 12, 2010

    Canned food….this might sound odd, but my kids all love getting some of their favorite foods….the kind that I rarely buy or the kind that they always have to share and don't get their fill of….my eight year old loves Cars and is getting two cans of Campbells Cars soup all for himself (he'll probably want to eat them for breakfast Christmas morning!) Another loves canned mandarine oranges, but always has to share what I open-usually in a fruit salad, so he's getting a large can all for himself. We've also done sugared cereal which is a rare treat in our house, a favorite soda or candy bar, or a jar of Nutella with their name on it.

  13. Hannah G
    December 17, 2010

    This is a terrific list. Thanks! And I agree with cher about the food. One of my fondest childhood memories was Christmas morning at my grandmother's house. She was a mother of nine, and consequently the grandmother to 40+ grandkids, so you can imagine how tight her Christmas budget was on her modest income. But Christmas morning, she'd have little brown paper lunch sacks with our names on them lined up in neat rows on the hearth, and every year the contents were the same, even through my high school years: A little single-serving box of sugary cereal (the kind my mother would never buy—probably just to make Christmas that much more special!) that we were allowed to eat BEFORE our big Christmas breakfast, a pack of Wrigley's gum (I'd always trade for Big Red), a little note pad, and a fancy pen or pencil. But the cereal and the gum were always a huge hit, and to this day, whenever I see those cases of mini cereal boxes at Costco, it reminds me of Christmas morning with Grandma.


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