I don't have any children (that I know of, heh) and very few of my close friends have kids, but I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Which means you want kids to be smart and interesting and creative and so on, and not just pawns in a corporate conglomerate chess game, where every cartoon is a secret marketing ploy for a made-in-China non-bio-degradable thingamajig that will only be entertaining for three hours on December 25th. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in museums, and I think some of the best presents for kids can be found in an institution devoted to arts or sciences. Yeah, that's right, I'm one of those people who believes in edjumacational gifts, okay? Here are some suggestions…
Chances are, the kid's parents are going to get him something that requires batteries, that has gears and lights and a motherboard and bells and whistles. So I feel like it's cool to go the opposite way and offer something aggressively low-tech. Wood and magnets. That's it. You have to use your imagination, pretend the carpet is a bubbling brook, and there might be flesh-eating piranas out to get you! Simple never goes out of style, never breaks, and a kid could pass this charming fishing set down to his kid. Plus! Have you ever held a well-loved piece of wood in your hand? Such a great feeling.
Wooden fishing play set, $35, MoMA store.
I would so get this for a little girl who loves adventure. Comic book superheroes are fine, but they're not real. If you want to fly high, you just need some math skills and discipline! Totally attainable goal!
(Throw in the Space Shuttle construction set for a truly out of this world kid.)
I spent a lot of third, fourth and fifth grade being obsessed with Egyptology. In my day, they didn't have archaeology kits where you have to interpret hieroglyphs to unlock a pyramid, and use a hammer, brush, and chisel to excavate a replica of a tiny sarcophagus and some mini canopic jars. If they had, I would have lost my mind. So damn cool.
Egyptian pyramid archaeology kit, $25, Metropolitan Museum Of Art.
I did have Fun With Heiroglyphs when I was a kid. It turned my journal, gift tags and notes to friends into super-secret language missives.
Fun With Heiroglyphs, $25, Metropolitan Museum Of Art.
This present isn't really for the kid, it's for the parents, and for Instagram photo ops.
Star Trek onesies, $16 each, Think Geek.
In case Star Trek is not the family's thing!
Black Is Beautiful onesie, $22, Studio Museum Of Harlem.
Pretty sure this is self-explanatory.
Self-rescuing princess shirt, $13, Think Geek.
Sometimes the reason something is perfect for other people's kids is because you don't have to be involved in cleaning up the mess. Slushie not included!
Constructible drinking straw, $14, MoMa store.
Kids today have their own digital cameras and YouTube accounts. Drama queens! Steer a potential Chris Crocker in the right direction and he could be a Kubrick. This thing comes with a clapperboard, director's handbook, a fill-in storyboard, a CD of sound effects, push-out mustaches, tattoo stickers and tiny tickets!
Movie Maker: The Ultimate Guide to Making Films, $18, Barnes & Noble.
A deceptively simple and super old-fashioned stocking stuffer: The mood ring! Kids are self-absorbed anyway. They might as well start tracking the cycles. Again: Entertaining and thought-provoking without batteries or bleeps or bloops, now get off my lawn.
Authentic mood ring, $2.99, Amazon.
Kids love Lego! And as an alternative to the usual weird multi-color brick city projects, the Lego Architecture series highlights stunning designs. Gotta love the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House. Falling Water is cool too, but way more expensive. You'd better really love those kids.
Farnsworth House, $60, Lego.com.
Two words: Yoda backpack. Carry books I will! $60, Smithsonian store.
Last, but not least: Museums carry some of the greatest books. Gorgeous illustrations, pop-up dragons, tales so fantastical a kid might forget she is learning — that is, until you realize she knows the difference between a Manet and a Monet and can name the nine muses.