Jessica Ballinger’s No-Screen Gift Guide

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As a homeschooling mom of six, I’ve navigated the world of STEAM toys extensively, discovering which ones truly stand the test of time and provide endless joy. Here are my top picks for this holiday season, each chosen with care and proven to be cherished by my own family. And please don’t feel pressure to get everything new— many of these things last forever and are often resold or can be found at thrift stores. 

While the initial investment might seem steep with the ever-popular Magna-Tiles, the safety and durability they offer make them an absolute must-have. Official Magna-Tiles come equipped with tiny rivets securely placed at the corners locking the small magnets within the tiles. This provides not only limitless creative possibilities, but also peace of mind for parents. Easy to clean, entertaining for hours, and a one-time investment that lasts a lifetime—these tiles have become a staple in our household.

Links to Magna-Tiles:

Another top pick of ours is the timeless LEGO Building Blocks—a classic choice that has been a favorite in households for generations. You can go with a variety pack of pieces for open-ended play, or challenge your child to build something amazing with a set that includes instructions. There are options for all ages and skill levels, as well as many different interests and popular film themes within the sets. If you have a mini-engineer, then the Powered Up tools are a great addition to LEGO Technic and LEGO Boost sets. We stick to the name brand so that we always know the pieces will connect consistently across sets, without someone melting down when the blocks won’t stick together (I’m looking at you, Christopher). We’ve found that it’s worth it to pay a little more to be intentional with your products; it ensures a cohesive play experience without a mix of mismatched pieces, which leads to easier clean-up and less-frustrated kids. LEGO Building Blocks are a gift that transcends generations, providing lasting entertainment and fostering creativity in all ages.

Links to Lego Building Blocks:

Kapla Blocks quickly became a favorite for their surprising simplicity and endless creative possibilities. These blocks, with their single shape, provide hours of imaginative play. The building possibilities are stunning, as well!

Link to Kapla Blocks:

Venturing into the lesser-known but equally captivating, we have Plus Plus toys—a hidden gem in the world of toys. These soft plastic pieces interlock in various ways, offering compact, travel-friendly entertainment. Their versatility has sparked countless make-believe games in our home, providing a canvas for imaginative play. Plus Pluses are not just toys; they are catalysts for endless creativity.

Link to Plus Pluses:

For puzzle enthusiasts, Wentworth Wooden Puzzles offer a perfect blend of challenge and beauty. Introduced to me by chance at a thrift store, these puzzles have become cherished family treasures. The whimsy pieces add a unique touch, and the quality craftsmanship ensures lasting enjoyment. Keep an eye on the piece count; these puzzles are more than just a pastime—they are collector’s items meant for generations.

Link to Wentworth Wooden Puzzles:

Adding to our list of safe and engaging play options, Soft Blocks are perfect for little ones. Made with a soft material, these blocks provide a worry-free play experience. The simple shapes and easy-to-stack design ensure hours of entertainment and are easy to clean and really sturdy (we haven’t seen any rips or busted seams yet!). A fantastic addition to any playroom!

Link to Soft Blocks:

That's a Wrap For No-Screen Toys

In the spirit of the season, remember that the joy these toys bring doesn’t rely on the price tag. Whether new or thrifted, the key is finding items that spark creativity and provide lasting entertainment. Happy gifting, and may your holidays be filled with laughter, learning and play!

If you’re looking for more holiday gift ideas, check out this video where we share lots more ideas like experience gifts, books, gifts for mom and dad, and more!

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