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Life has been anything but normal lately, so it’s perfectly understandable if some people aren’t entirely focused on the holidays yet. (Spoiler alert: They’re almost here.) Even in the best of times, procrastination over gift shopping is a perennial hazard—which is why the sound of panic buttons being pushed is loudest around December 23. This is less of a problem when buying for kids, since they’re hardly shy about letting you know what they want, but too often that means something like the latest Xbox or PlayStation. If the prospect of watching your child zombie out to Halo or Call of Duty doesn’t thrill you, consider another interactive option that will actually spark their creativity: art supplies. There are tons out there, in all mediums, specifically tailored to children of varying ages. To find something great for your kid, check in our recommendations below.
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An instant film camera
Digital photography supposedly killed off traditional cameras, but much like vinyl records in the MP3 era, analog film remains with us, especially in instant camera form. One such product is Fujifilm’s Instax SQ1 camera, and its simplicity makes it a great holiday item for kids. Available in three colors—Chalk White, Glacier Blue, and Terracotta Orange—the SQ1 measures just 5.2 by 4.7 by 2.3 inches. It’s attractive, with rounded edges and a ribbed grip on one side that makes it easy to hold with one hand. The SQ1 produces 2.4-inch square prints from a slot on top, and a small mirror on the front allows you to frame selfies. It turns on and off with a twist of the lens ring and features an automatic flash. This set comes complete with case and starter film pack, making it the perfect gift for the budding shutterbug in your house.
Purchase: Fujifilm Instax Square SQ1 Instant Film Camera with Case and Film Kit, $144.89 on B&H Photo Video
A drawing tablet
Wacom is an industry leader when it comes to digital drawing tablets, and the Intuos is the kid-friendly cousin to its larger, professional products. Delivering high performance at a reasonable price, the Intuos is 7.8 by 6.3 inches overall with an active drawing area measuring 6 by 3.7 inches. It comes with a tablet pen that offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Like many Wacoms, the Intuos has to be connected to a computer in order for you to see what you’re doing, but it’s Bluetooth enabled, offering easy wireless connectivity. The Intuos comes with software included and is compatible with Mac, PC, Chromebook, and Android devices. It will make a welcome addition under the Christmas tree for aspiring artists age 12 and up.
Purchase: Wacom Intuos Wireless Drawing Tablet, $199.95 on Amazon
A set of kitchen tools
Once confined to little girls playing with Easy-Bake Ovens, cooking for kids has become a pursuit for all genders, with actual recipes producing decent food. And as Julia Child could have told you, knife skills are essential. That’s where the Little Kitchen Helper Knife Set comes in. The set, which teaches kids to safely, chop, slice, dice, and peel, includes a kid-adapted chef’s knife and a peeler. Both have a ring-shaped grip for small fingers, and the knife has a kid-friendly blade that’s shorter and rounder at the tip than the adult variety. You also get a curved guard that protects the hand holding food on the chopping board. It’s a great way to engage your kid in family meals—beyond just complaining about them!
Purchase: Little Kitchen Helper Knife Set, $49.00 on Uncommon Goods
A circuitry learning set
Are you looking for just the right present for that kid with an interest in computer science? Then look no further than SmartLab Toys’ circuitry set, which promises hours of educational fun for ages 8 and up. Kids can construct fantastic gadgets and games out of a 48-piece array of parts that include microprocessor, speaker, battery pack, light sensor, tricolor LED array, tilt switch, variable resistor, 2 pushbuttons, 6 modular boards, and 31 jumper wires in 4 lengths. A 48-page manual takes kids step-by-step through builds of 50 different projects while teaching them the ins and outs of electronic engineering. Whether kids are working by themselves or with family members, Smart Circuits will help them develop tech savviness from the inside out.
Purchase: SmartLab Toys Smart Circuits, $35.98 on Amazon
Gouache in primary colors
Made in Japan, Holbein gouaches are among the best that money can buy, producing colors that are deep and lightfast. These versatile, water-based pigments can mimic the look and feel of acrylic, watercolor, and oil paints, producing velvety matte surfaces when applied straight from the tube or creating diaphanous washes when diluted. Holbein’s Artists’ Primary Set is a good way to get young ones started, especially when it comes to learning how to blend colors. Included are the three pigments—magenta, yellow, and cyan—from which all other hues can be created, along with black and white to darken or lighten the results. (To help kids with the process, consider buying a color wheel that explains exactly which colors should be mingled to produce another.) A little bit of gouache goes a long way, which means these 15 ml tubes will last for months.
Purchase: Holbein Artists’ Gouache Set, 5 Primary Colors, $40.02 on Blick
An active stool for kids
The Swoppster is the kid-size version of Aeris’s ergonomic Swopper office stool, and it’s a great place for kids to park their keisters while channeling their inner Picasso. Like its bigger cousin, the Swoppster’s padded convex seat rests on top of a coiled spring support that allows the sitter to bend the stool forward, backward, and laterally, giving the body a dynamic range of support. This active experience discourages kids from fidgeting, like they do on static stools, helping them to concentrate on making their art. The Jarvis standing desk for kids pairs perfectly with the Swoppster, providing an adjustable work surface that can accommodate kids while seated or standing.
Purchase: Swoppster by Aeris, $242.25 (was $285.00) on Fully
A cardboard construction kit
It’s often said at holiday time that small children seem more interested in playing with the boxes their gifts came than the gifts themselves. Well, with this kit, kids ages 4 and up can take the cardboard from those boxes and fashion some neat creations. The set comes with kid-appropriate tools, such as a Safe-Saw for cutting pieces of cardboard, and plastic fasteners, called Scrus, for putting designs together with a Scru-Driver (natch). You get 36 regular and 12 extra-large Scrus, plus a mini tool that can perforate cardboard, among other uses. A tool carry-all is also included to keep everything in place. And yes, the whole thing comes in a box.
Purchase: Cardboard Tool Kit, $20.00 on Uncommon Goods
A classic design toy
A lot of baby boomers played with Colorforms during their duck-and-cover days at elementary school during the Cold War. First introduced in 1951, Colorforms consist of brightly hued, movable vinyl stickers in various geometric shapes that can be endlessly combined to create compositions on a black board. Colorforms’ design screams midcentury modernism, which is why they have retained their retro-cool vibe for 70 years, even earning a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame in in Rochester, New York. This particular set is a reissue of the 1970 edition and comes with 350 pieces, a five-page spiral-bound booklet, a design guide, and a 12-by-14-inch play board, all of which fit neatly inside an included storage box. Colorforms work on any hard, glossy surface, including windows.
Purchase: Retro Original Colorforms Set, $33.93 on Amazon
A plastic analog camera
While this inexpensive Holga medium-format camera can’t give analog film lovers the immediate gratification of instant print photography, it does have the virtue of using rolls of 120 film that are cheaper, and take more photos, than typical instant print packs. The Holga is also a throwback to an age when smartphones hadn’t yet diluted the impact of photos by making them ubiquitous. Since its debut in 1982, the Holga has become prized for producing lo-fi images with pronounced vignetting and field curvature effects—and you don’t need to be an expert to use one. Featuring plastic body construction, a glass lens, and an automatic flash, the point-and-shoot Holga has a 1/100-second shutter speed and aperture settings for sunny (f/11) and cloudy (f/8) conditions. It’s especially suitable for kids, a funky and fun gift that they’ll enjoy.
Purchase: Holga Medium-Format Film Camera with Built-in Flash, $70.00 on International Center for Photography
A complete sketching set
Does your kid draw all the time? If the answer is yes, the Derwent Sketching Wallet is the holiday gift you’ve been looking for. Measuring about 11 by 1.4 by 7 inches, the Sketching Wallet can be easily taken anywhere a kid might want to go, be it the zoo or museum or park or just around the house. The set contains six graphite pencils (2H, H, B, 2B, 4B, 6B), three tinted charcoal pencils, and two water-soluble sketching pencils (4B, 8B), plus a black charcoal pencil and one of Derwent’s deep-black Onyx-brand pencils. Also included are a sharpener and eraser and a spiral-bound, A5 sized (roughly 6 by 8 inches) sketching pad. It all stores away neatly in a stylish folder with Velcro closures.
Purchase: Derwent Sketching Wallet, $39.99 on Amazon
Drawing with sidewalk chalk is a great way for kids to play outdoors while letting their imaginations run free. Usually this chalk is a longer and thicker version of classroom chalk, but there are a number of novelty shapes on the market, including ones resembling eggs, gemstones, and even macarons. Designer Nikolas Bentel’s Moon Chalks are another entry in the novelty category, sporting Jetsonian designs that create unconventional marks when you push, pull, rotate and roll them on cement or asphalt. Moon Chalks come in three pastel colors—red, yellow, and blue—and three configurations: Cosmic Pollen, a ball covered in rounded nubs that leave a staccato line; Lunar Rake, which creates straight parallel lines; and Satellite Stack, a series of disks in a conical shape that produces wavy patterns. Nontoxic and a blast to use, Moon Chalks offer a spaced-out approach to a familiar childhood pastime.
Purchase: Moon Chalk by Nikolas Bentel, $12.00 each on Areaware
A model kit based on an ancient story
If your kids are interested in history and mythology, this build-it-yourself model of the famed Trojan Horse might be a perfect pick. Introduced to the world by Homer in his epic poem The Iliad, the Trojan Horse has become a symbol of deception: Nominally a gift to the Trojans by their enemies, the Greeks, the horse was a huge hollow sculpture on wheels that hid a troop of Hellenic soldiers. Falling for the ruse, the Trojans pulled the horse inside the walls of their fortified city—and then boom, game over. Featuring precision-cut wooden parts, this model measures 8.25 by 13 by 2 inches—not exactly monumental, but it will provide hours of educational fun and facts. The kit includes glue and a booklet of instructions.
Purchase: Build Your Own Trojan Horse Kit, $32.00 on Uncommon Goods
A cyanotype printing kit
Cyanotypes, aka blueprints, aka sun prints, are one of photography’s oldest techniques, dating back to the beginnings of the medium in the 1840s. The process begins with taking a piece of photosensitive cyanotype paper and putting it out in the sun with something laid on top of it. Sunlight hitting the exposed parts of the surface creates a chemical reaction that leaves a white image against a deep blue background once you rinse the paper with water. The simplicity of sun prints makes them ideal not only for kids ages 6 and up, but for adults as well. The kit contains a dozen 4-inch-square sheets of photosensitive paper plus an acrylic overlay and instructions; there’s also a larger size featuring 15 8-by-11-inch sheets. You can use an object, a photographic negative, a drawing on tracing paper, or just about anything else to create beautiful, ghostly compositions.
Purchase: SunPrint Paper Kit, $15.99 on Amazon
Monochrome modeling dough
Most modeling clay for kids comes in bright colors, but this particular product will put a noir spin on your child’s 3D creations. Included are containers of eco-dough in black, white, and gray; when mixed or molded together, they can produce a myriad of shades that will make anything kids concoct look like it came out of a Bogart movie. This will also teach them the importance of gray scales in color theory. Made in small batches out of all-natural nontoxic materials, Eco-dough is a fun way of introducing kids to the pleasures of sculpting sustainably.
Purchase: Eco-dough Gray Scale 3 Pack, $18.99 on Eco-Kids
A famous artist figurine
Treat your kids (ages 12 and up) to a literal hands-on encounter with art history through these PVC figurines of famous painters including Claude Monet, Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Leonardo da Vinci, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Vincent van Gogh. Measuring 5 inches tall, each item comes with a transparent pedestal, fun facts about the artist’s life, and miniature cutouts of their best-known works that can be displayed on a tiny easel. Each figure is customizable: Frida Kahlo sports a floral-scented headband and comes with two other accessories, a Surrealist heart and the artist’s pet parrot. Leonardo comes with book, feather, and a removable hat and glows in the dark, and there’s an unpainted version of van Gogh that can be colorized with acrylics. Fun and inspirational, these collectibles will make a great addition to your kid’s room.
Purchase: Art History Heroes Collection, $29.01 each on Amazon