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Thought-Provoking Gifts For Young Kids?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the grey-putty-and-wires dept.

Christmas Cheer 458

An anonymous reader writes "Societal norms and my sibling's procreative endeavors have put me in the position of having to buy gifts twice a year for young children. What makes them happy are unremarkable bits of plastic. They already have innumerable unremarkable bits of plastic (from their parents and grandparents). My preference would be to get them gifts that challenge them to think creatively (or at least to think), which they'll be able to pick up and enjoy even after they outgrow their train/truck/homemaking fetishes. Beyond the Rubik's Cube, what thinky toys from your childhood are still in production? What new thinky toys have you discovered that work for the 5–10 age range?"

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A bigger Rubik's Cube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293670)

DUH!

Re:A bigger Rubik's Cube (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293690)

Man, I got a Rubiks Cube as a kid, and *hated* it, as I was absolutely unable to solve it ... Gimme something fun !

Re:Gimme something fun ! (3, Funny)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293892)

Shuriken!

What, not thought-provoking enough?

Re:Gimme something fun ! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293958)

How about a TSA groping? You love your kids, right? Show them with some love-pats!

Re:A bigger Rubik's Cube (2, Funny)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293834)

A bigger Rubik's Cube? Rubik's Hypercube?

Re:A bigger Rubik's Cube (0, Redundant)

Sean_Inconsequential (1883900) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294060)

Rubik's Tesseract.

How about (5, Insightful)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293672)

How about books? I know it's not the latest high tech doodad but I would of loved to have gotten more books as a child.

Re:How about (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293728)

Sorry, that won't work. Children in America today aren't allowed to read books.

Re:How about (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293788)

Just not out loud...

Re:How about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293796)

If by America you mean the UK, then yes. The problem is just as bad here.

Re:How about (4, Interesting)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294058)

My 4yr old nephew loves books. In part because it means with spent time with him, at first it was to read to him; but last time I was tired and had him"read" it to me, I was marvelously funny to get his vaguely relevant ad-lib intermixed with lines he remembered verbatim. I'll do that again !

Re:How about (5, Insightful)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294094)

Seconded for books. Don't forget legos as well! Don't just buy the theme sets, buy the sets with tons of blocks and random pieces so they can get creative. I probably spent more time with my legos than anything else.

As for books, some recommendations appropriate for the double-digit ages:

  • Where The Red Fern Grows
  • The Giver
  • Call of the Wild
  • Animorphs/Goosebumps series
  • Anything by Roald Dahl
  • Harry Potter series
  • Gemini Game (if they're techy sort of kids, really good story!)
  • Anything by Jerry Spinelli (Crash, Maniac McGee, There's A Girl In My Hammerlock

You could probably pick up a few months (or years, depending on how fast they read) worth of good children's books on Amazon for less than the price of a game console. Plus books aren't laden with any of that silly DRM nonsense!

Re:How about (0, Redundant)

DrXtreme (1210624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294156)

Therein sits one of the points of pain I have fought for years as a curriculum advisory board member...Schools seem more bent on teaching basic Math, English, Reading and such when the major goal should be decision making and problem solving skills. Math, English, and the rest are but the tools used to facilitate the prior. My son was asked to enter two major colleges rather than proceed into middle school due to his path provided by exposure to all forms of PC architecture and access to knowledge without it being forced on him from 4 years of age. He is now 18 (August this year) and completing his dual degree in musicology and multimedia production.

Re:How about (4, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294172)

Books are great, and young kids are quite happy to read the same book over and over again but as they get older they'll tend to read it once or twice and move on. It might sound corny but maybe you could take the kid(s) to the library once a month/fortnight/weekend/whatever if they live close enough to you and your schedule allows it? A bit hard if you live hours away but spending time with an attentive adult is the next best thing to cheap plastic crap :)

My bike, books, lego, and computer are the only material things I can really remember spending a lot of time on as a kid. We got RC cars (which need charging all the time), motorbikes (which need fuel and adult supervision), and all sorts of other things but those 4 are the ones I really remember and that were always there and ready for me to play with (except maybe the computer... stupid computer hogging siblings!)

Capsela (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293674)

Re:Capsela (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294062)

Haven't heard of these things since the 1980's.

Since the poster hasn't said anything about price, I'd go with LEGO Mindstorms [lego.com] .

Re:Capsela (2, Informative)

spauldo (118058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294078)

That would be great, if you could still buy them. See the bottom of the wikipedia entry where it says they're only available used.

I loved my capsela stuff. I wish I still had it around so my son could play with it when he gets a bit older.

C=3P (3, Informative)

Improv (2467) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293684)

Paper, pencil, paintbrushes.

Re:C=3P or box (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293994)

Or, for really young kids, buy something really cool and BIG for yourself and give the kids the box. They will have more fun making that into a fort/dollhouse than all the paints and paper in the world.

Parents today often use writing/drawing as calm down methods, and the kids start looking at it as punishment. But at least these are creative devices, rather than passive entertainment devices. Kids bore quickly. Let them build the fort, then draw the fort.

Nothing with batteries.

Lego (5, Informative)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293692)

unremarkable bits of plastic... I had Lego when I was a kid too, and it was great - helped my imagination in a constructive way - no use thinking about spaceships unless you could put one together from little blocks.

Today, we have Lego mindstorm - robot lego with software controllers. For something that was enjoyable and improving back then, and enjoyable and improving now is pretty cool.

Re:Lego (4, Funny)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293724)

Absolutely! As long as you don't step on one, they are the best toys in the world.

Re:Lego (5, Funny)

jo7hs2 (884069) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293746)

However, standard convention when buying toys for children of siblings is to buy something as obnoxiously loud and repetitive as possible. In which case, Tickle-me-Elmo and firecrackers would be appropriate. ;)

How about an MC-board? Re:Lego (1)

Ibn al-Hazardous (83553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293872)

I have discovered that siblings get back at you when you get kids of your own.

All my kids will think of is LEGO, that's what they spend all their money on. Myself, I'm thinking of giving them an Arduino, a couple of motors, sensors and diodes and install Processing/Wiring [wikipedia.org] on their computer - just to see what they'll come up with.

Re:How about an MC-board? Re:Lego (3, Funny)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294016)

just to see what they'll come up with

A crippling fear of electricity and computers!

Re:How about an MC-board? Re:Lego (1)

Ibn al-Hazardous (83553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294104)

If they do, not all is lost! ::))

(My kids range from soon 11 to soon 2 y.o. And they have the same whitish un-tan I had myself when I was the same age.)

Re:Lego (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294026)

A slingshot and a bag of marbles.

A set of permanent markers in assorted colors.

Re:Lego (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294090)

No no, Tickle me is easily broken or tuned out.

Drum sets. That's the way to go. Works for grand kids too.

"Get out of here with that boom boom boom and don't come back no more" http://www.weknowcampfiresongs.com/detail-thing_the.html [weknowcampfiresongs.com]

Re:Lego (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294008)

Stepping barefoot on one in the staircase at night without lights, ah, the memories...

Re:Lego (4, Informative)

winterphoenix (1246434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293730)

On top of Lego, K'NEX are pretty amazing pieces of construction material. As a kid, I started training with the basic sets, then got into the "master" sets. There's nothing more amazing for a child to do than to build a structure that is twice as tall as them. They are a bit expensive, but looking back they were worth every penny to me.

K'NEX, not just for kids ... (4, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294126)

On top of Lego, K'NEX are pretty amazing pieces of construction material. As a kid, I started training with the basic sets, then got into the "master" sets.

I bought myself a K'NEX set called "The big ball factory," and some other sets of spare parts. My computer geek / engineer colleagues came over one night for a few to many beers. Everyone had a plan one how to improve the damn thing. There were four folks working in parallel on different sections at once, and showed no intention of stopping, and lost all track of time . . . just like what happens when you do hard core coding.

My girlfriend quipped to the other girlfriends, that if the beer didn't run out, she would have to chase them all out with a broom. Most of the girlfriends found the behavior "cute", especially since with every improvement, one of the guys would run to his girlfriend, and say, "Look, Romy, at that thing that I just built!"

When the folks were leaving, one of the chicks said, "I'm glad that these toys are in your apartment, and not in mine."

Re:K'NEX, not just for kids ... (1)

winterphoenix (1246434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294140)

Actually, the big ball factory is one of the master sets I put together as a kid (I was maybe 12 at the time). I also did the Hyperspace Training tower and the original roller coaster. Lots of fun, and I'd love to find time to put them together again.

Re:Lego (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293756)

Indeed.

Although one thing I've noticed is a serious reliance on "specialty parts". Now that spaceship comes in a kit with a special cockpit, wing, and landing gear piece..

The mindstorm stuff looks really cool though. I _really_ would have had a blast with something like that as a kid.

Re:Lego (3, Informative)

swillden (191260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294166)

Indeed.

Although one thing I've noticed is a serious reliance on "specialty parts". Now that spaceship comes in a kit with a special cockpit, wing, and landing gear piece..

The mindstorm stuff looks really cool though. I _really_ would have had a blast with something like that as a kid.

Lego is shifting away from those specialty parts, partly because of the limited building possibilities and partly because their exploding unique part count was increasing their costs. It's cheaper to produce fewer unique parts.

I'm happy to say that my kids have pretty much lost interest in the pre-designed kits. We recently stumbled over a big plastic bin full of thousands of assorted generic lego parts at a garage sale and they immediately pooled their money to buy it.

Re:Lego (1)

ddegirmenci (1644853) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293762)

Lego never gets old... Just avoid the stupid "toy" Legos of the last few years - they leave nothing to the imagination. Another one to be considered: K'nex [wikipedia.org]

Re:Lego (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294098)

I thought so at first, but my 4 year old's tow truck lego kit was promptly disassembled and the parts now adorn several robots.

The Taj Mahal kit makes a great spaceship too - http://www.coloribus.com/adsarchive/prints/lego-taj-mahal-spaceship-13977355/

Re:Lego (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293846)

I used to disassemble my unremarkable bits of plastic and build new "toys" out of the pieces. It's not about getting them something that fits the bill, but rather giving them whatever and letting them enjoy it how they like. My mom freaked out when she found that I had completely dismantled my Verbot only days after getting it for Xmas, but whatever, it was interesting and the toy was kind of lame as intended anyway.

Re:Lego (1)

boreddotter (1836042) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293954)

Before I discovered lego I also liked these http://s3.amazonaws.com/bzzagent-bzzscapes-prod/classic-little-people-house--lrg.png [amazonaws.com] from fisher price, sadly they don't make them anymore, but they were amazing! they had a whole town! with school, a main street, a fire house with a cool truck, me and my brother loved them!

Lego's a GOOD one, but,CHESS is a GREAT one... apk (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293988)

I cannot BELIEVE none of you mentioned the immortal game of CHESS...

APK

P.S.=> Why'd I note it? Ok - Chess is NEVER the same game twice, & demands thought, a LOT of thought, and it varies by opponent and the style they play/use! Since you asked for "thought provoking", I could not think of a better game than this from my personal experience (been playing since I was 8, & have played, literally, 10's of 1000's of games since)... apk

Re:Lego (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294036)

unremarkable bits of plastic... I had Lego when I was a kid too, and it was great - helped my imagination in a constructive way - no use thinking about spaceships unless you could put one together from little blocks.

Or tinker toys, Lincoln logs, or Erector sets.

For older kids, a computer in parts. Gotta build it to use it.

 

Re:Lego (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294072)

Or, to make sure you get the usual Slashdot news approval: LEGO Mindstorms controlled by Arduino!

Re:Lego (1)

kaini (1435765) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294134)

Careful! Lego is a gateway drug to Minecraft.

The classics (4, Informative)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293698)

Don't know about modern stuff (which I know is what you asked about) and may not be within the age range (I really have a hard time envisioning age) but the classics like meccano and K'nex (if you don't like picking up billions of mini nuts and bolts) were great.

Looking back, I learnt a lot about structure (triangles, width to height ratios etc) and gear ratios just as a side effect of messing around.

I can't be the only one who as a kid one day realized that if you hook a small gear to a large drive gear.. the small gear turns faster! Then tried to make a massive tower of alternating large/small gears.. only to discover that when you get to the top.. you have a fast spinning gear that can barely drive the weight of it's own axle.

Nor the only one who tried to make a crane, only to realize that the second you attach a load, the whole thing crumbles .. seems pretty simple as an adult .. but learning that as much force is applied to the structure as the load was pretty neat at that age.

AND of course, eventually everyone builds a crossbow .. those elastics that came with K'nex were pretty damn sturdy.. making something that could punch a hole in a piece of paper from across the room wasn't too difficult. Then trying to come up with a trigger mechanism was great fun.. and more lessons on the whole force/structure thing.

Aside from "mechanical" toys.. there are also electrical.

Not sure of the age range, but when I was a kid my dad made me what was basically a board with a power source, some lights, switches, and some other odds and ends. It had contacts (bolts) and a bunch of alligator clips for connecting the stuff. I had a lot of fun playing with it, and I've seen commercial versions of this now.. so might be a good idea. Also rates high on the "learning without realizing" category.

What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (2, Insightful)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293708)

If "unremarkable bits of plastic" make the children happy, what's the problem with getting them unremarkable bits of plastic and making them happy?

Not everything is about you, hipster. Try being the "fun uncle" instead of the "odd uncle who's always trying to make them into something they're not."

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (1, Informative)

lbalbalba (526209) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293758)

>
> Try being the "fun uncle" instead of the "odd uncle who's always trying to make them into something they're not."
>
Word. :P

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293802)

Making them into something they're not is what most parent do. Most of us call that : raising children.

Edit : Captcha was hopeful...

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (2, Funny)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293806)

Ignorance is bliss. Give them the greatest gift of all: a TV and a basic cable subscription!

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293824)

But, at the same time, it's worth it to learn what kind of stuff they actually like. My oldest nephew loves the geeky stuff I've given him over the years.

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293830)

That's pretty harsh, where's the attitude coming from?
I think he's looking for something better than plastic wallmart toys from china.

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (3, Insightful)

Eponymous Bastard (1143615) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293864)

Growing up is about "turning into something you're not". Otherwise you'd stay a child forever.

While the submitter does seem like a troll with his "unremarkable bits of plastic" thing, he does have a point that if everyone is giving them the same thing then (a) they are all trying to turn them into the same thing they are not (e.g. gun wielding/fire truck driving men) and (b) the children haven't had a chance to see if they even like anything else.

It's a risk thing too. You can give them the same thing as everyone else and they will thank you. Or you can give them a Rubik cube, a set of Lego, or something else and there's about even odds that they'll play with it for a day and forget about it, or they might start playing with it and you'll hear from their parents months later that they didn't drop it ever since.

These are children you're talking about. Give them a great big expensive toy and they'll end up playing with the box for hours instead.

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293940)

>
> These are children you're talking about. Give them a great big expensive toy and they'll end up playing with the box for hours instead.
>
Indeed ...

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293866)

Yes, because nobody should try to mold anyone else, especially not CHILDREN! Oh, Heavens No!

We can cut off their foreskins, but don't try to take away their TVs!

Re:What's Wrong with Happy Kids? (1)

AfroTrance (984230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293888)

The problem is, "They already have innumerable unremarkable bits of plastic." What is the point of getting them, for example, a toy truck when they already have three?

It's not about being "hipster" as you arrogantly state, it's about getting them something new and different that they haven't already got.

LEGO!! (3, Interesting)

guruevi (827432) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293714)

I actually still like the little plastic blocks. I think that's what started or at least cultivated many an engineer's interest in the trade. Just get them a box with mixed blocks and they'll keep it for their kids when they grow up. My parents gave me 1 small kit when I was young (back when they had less custom blocks - the newer series are actually going back to those roots it seems) and then whenever I got some cash or gifts for good report cards I would expand until by 16 years old I got a whole city that took up the whole attic.

erector set - newfangled plastic type (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293720)

when he was six, my son loved the plastic Erector Sets. just had to show him how to build one thing, then he could understand the diagrams to build other things, and before long was making his own creations. Not like the razor-sharp metal erector sets of my youth (which I had at about 9 or 10), on which I'd occasionally cut myself open!

Re:erector set - newfangled plastic type (4, Funny)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293768)

I still remember the lovely combination of little tiny nuts and bolts.. and deep carpeting.. and the sound it made going into vacuum cleaner!

150 in one (5, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293726)

Perhaps I'm atypical, but I absolutely loved my "150 in one" electronic kit. Here is a pic [flickr.com] of the exact same kit I had when I was 8. I built every project, and came up to plenty of my own little circuits. I don't know what the modern equivalent is nowadays - perhaps heavier on the digital / logic side?

Re:150 in one (1)

Albert Sandberg (315235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294044)

There is a pretty cool software that emulates electronic circuits which a friend wrote: http://sol.gfxile.net/atanua/ [gfxile.net] .. not sure if it has been featured here but it definitely should... great to experiment and is getting really evolved, and it's free as in be^M^M pepsi.

Also, I think you could extend the lego playground to use spaghetti and glue to build bridges and see if they support the load of the lego cars perhaps. Simple and easy and don't requite much funds to try out...Paper mache etc could also be a nice treat.. make masks off eachother or something to make it more fun.

Re:150 in one (1)

spauldo (118058) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294164)

I had one similar to that, although not the same model.

I got tons of use out of it. I wouldn't recommend it for children under eight or nine, though.

Last time I went to Radio Shack, I looked for one of these, but nowdays they've thrown out the springs and wires and you have some kind of snap together thing. I can't imagine those having the same flexibility as the spring type ones.

Re:150 in one (1)

mattpalmer1086 (707360) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294168)

Yes! I had the same kit. Many happy hours :)

Electronics prototyping board? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293732)

Perhaps something like an Arduino board. Of course, it will probably require you to help them learn how to use it initially.

It may be a bit advanced for that age, but I believe the point is to seed their minds with things, which will stew and become second nature or useful later on in life.

If they like to read sci-fi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293764)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thrawn_Trilogy

Re:If they like to read sci-fi (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294010)

Predictable, poorly written, and constantly having to recall moments from the original trilogy to remind us that we're reading a Star Wars book.

Why would you inflict this on one so young? The state has removed children for less.

A Fleshlight (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293766)

Thought-Provoking? Check.
Unremarkable bit of plastic? Check.
They'll be able to pick up and enjoy even after they outgrow their train/truck/homemaking fetishes? Check.
Won't have to pick out gifts twice a year after this? Check.

ThinkGeek Geek Kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293776)

Many of the items at ThinkGeek Geek Kids [thinkgeek.com] are suitable for children, educational, and fun.

Couple of obvious suggestions (2, Interesting)

RogueyWon (735973) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293784)

Lego is always going to be the obvious suggestion in cases like this. Not the pre-packaged Star Wars/Transformers/whatever licenced stuff, but a plain old box of bricks.

Alternatively, though this might seem a strange suggestion taken at face value, that old 1960s favorite Spirograph can be an interesting stepping stone into all kinds of clever thoughts about geometry/mathematics. Plus you get some pretty pictures out of it.

"Unremarkable" vs "creative" (1)

williamhb (758070) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293800)

5-10 year olds are often very creative with "unremarkable bits of plastic". (Lego, for instance, consists entirely of unremarkable bits of plastic, while Meccano is unremarkable bits of metal and plastic.) A Rubik's cube on the other hand, while certainly interesting and stimulating, isn't actually very creative at all. Even cars, dolls, and trains are played with creatively and imaginitively, as children make up and play stories around them, and often lay out cities using nothing more than dirty clothes on the floor...

Re:"Unremarkable" vs "creative" (1)

Bobakitoo (1814374) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294012)

Exactly. He should just buy the damn toy. Present is to please. Kid are creative on their own, they dont need special or educative toys.

If he really care about them thinking, he could write some Koan [wikipedia.org] on the gift card. That should occupy their mind for years to come. It might even bring them enlightenment; Is there a better gift then enlightenment?

I'm in the same boat. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293804)

As my nephews have gotten older I've tried to get them more educational toys. When they were just a few years old I did get them convential toys, toy cars etc... But like myself as I was growing older, I wanted things that actually made them think about subjects and not just some toys to smash around. Severals years ago, I got one of them a book with instruments about weather. It taught them about the weather but also included things like a rain gauge and other relatively simple weather related devices. I was told by my sister they actually enjoyed it. I always enjoyed the metal "Erector Set" when I was growing up, Not only could I build things from the instructions but I could also build other random machine using basic know how from the previous builds.

Marble tracks (2, Interesting)

Mysteray (713473) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293812)

As said above, it's hard to go wrong with Legos.

5-10 is a huge range to generalize about.

On the lower end of the range, books are great. They're starting to read or reading more but probably haven't decided what kind of books they don't like yet. There are several modular marble track systems on the market, Some even integrate with the Duplo-sized bricks. Everybody enjoys these.

The upper end of that range will want to choose their own gifts. Finding out if they're into Nintendo DS or another specific system can narrow the choices in a helpful way.

Lego (1)

joost (87285) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293814)

Your tone speaks volumes. If "unremarkable bits of plastic" are what makes your nieces and nephews happy, stop being a douche and get them unremarkable bits of plastic. If you prefer not to engage in the social interaction called gift-giving, tell the parents just that and stop doing it. Really, parents know pretty well what makes their kids happy -- and a happy kid is a learning kid. No one will be any better off having received educational toys against their will.

That being said, Lego is bits of plastic and this is probably the best gift you can give. Provided of course they like playing with it in the first place. Three crates of the stuff carried over from my childhood and now my kids are playing with it every day. It's fun and educational and if you buy genuine Lego it's amazing high quality. But really, instead of posting anonymously on an internet forum, for the love of your family don't ask us but ask the parents!

LEGO and BASIC (1)

Ebbesen (166619) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293816)

As other have mentioned, there's a difference "unremarkable bits of plastic" and remarkable bits of plastic - like LEGO.

Or, you may get them an 80s home computer (Commodore 64 or similar). Hook them up with BASIC. That'll teach them logic, a bit math, programming and/or may scar them for life.

Wood blocks (4, Insightful)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293822)

Seriously, right after Legos, a big heap of good old fashioned woods blocks were the best. Building towers, cities, etc is the best.

Giant refrigerator sized cardboard boxes too.

Get them a playhouse, and not a plastic one. Draw up plans, precut the pieces, and have them help you assemble it. Playhouses are a blank slate for childhood adventure to paint upon.

I know, I know! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293826)

A box. An empty box. Give them that and they're virtually guaranteed to grow up philosophers.

Re:I know, I know! (2, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294124)

Or they could end up working for FedEx or UPS.

There are lots (1)

karait (711632) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293862)

Crystal growing (sheep / garden) Elastic band gun. Domino toppling. Levitron. Solar charging (magic) night light (sunshine jar) Glow in the dark stars and star map. Paper hot air balloon. Gyroscope. Ant farm (see thru gel) Plant growing (hydroponics) Knitting. Skeleton kit.

Spend the money on investments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293868)

In their future. College Fund. Savings Bonds. Stock Indexes. Heck, even put the money into charities.

At least it'll be doing some good.

But really, how do you expect us to know what your sibling's children will want? There are many who would enjoy Legos, but others might like a set of colored pencils, or a digital camera instead. Some might like music, some might like a good book.

Capsela (2, Interesting)

Phoenix666 (184391) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293878)

Capsela [ebay.com] is the best toy I ever saw that fits your requirements. It consisted of transparent plastic spherical modules with various gears you could connect to build vehicles and tools of various types. My younger brother played with his set for years and now he's a mechanical engineer who builds advanced composites for Ford. You can't buy it new anymore, but there's lots available on eBay.

Go simple (1)

arshadk (1928690) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293884)

Blank paper and paint/crayons or play-doh is a great way to give a kid creative freedom.

Well, the following... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293896)

What about one of these?
http://www.cracked.com/article_18494_15-unintentionally-perverted-toys-children_p2.html

The Dangerous Book (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293898)

My new standby (although you can only really use it once per child) is a book. Two actually:

The Dangerous Book for Boys
The Daring Book for Girls

Check em out on Amazon, actually really interesting stuff. The gist of it is it's all the stuff that a well rounded kid should learn as they grow up.

Give them the materials and the time.... (5, Insightful)

CCTalbert (819490) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293902)

Some of the most fun I had as a child was when I had the raw materials to do something- and conversely often the biggest frustration was a lack of materials.

Wood, rope, large cardboard boxes, tape, etc. Strangely rope seemed to always be in short supply. Hammer and nails. Much learning occurs when idle hands are armed with stuff :)

And actually I think the best gift you can give is time. One of the best times I had with one of my young nephews was building a swing- just your simple board and two ropes off a tree limb swing. We discussed how big the seat needed to be- actually measured some assorted butts!, how big the rope needed to be, we measured and cut, learned about knots, tied the whole thing up, and it got a lot of use for years. The designing, acquiring materials, building, overall a simple but enjoyable project with an immediate return, and a template for many other projects.

Later projects were a potato cannon, tree fort with crows nest, for-real play house (including wiring in outlets, windows, insulating, basically a small guest-house)... we spent an afternoon pulling cat5 to all the rooms in their house and putting in a router... soldered up a pong game and a couple other odd electronics kits. Next up may be firearms if I can get the parents to buy into that :)

Time, encouragement, and patience are incredibly valuable and are remembered. Not easy if they're far away or too busy with all the distractions kids have these days. Maybe my entire comment is out of date in today's world. ?

Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293904)

Get them an Arduino, maybe they'll get into programming and hardware.

Games (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293920)

How about a game a bit more complicated than Monopoly? Start with games by Avalon Hill. [wizards.com]

It's less about the toy.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293978)

It's all about the interaction.
As a parent of 2 10 year olds (Yes Twins, Yes identical, No no history) We have lego and magnetic building kits. Based on my experience there are 2 key feature to this.
1. Have lots of it. Nothing kills the creativity more than running out of a part/size at the key moment. Hunt out charity shops for buckets of the stuff. The hunting for the right bit in a sea of the stuff is really part of the fun. If there are siblings involved then it can become a cooperative process which aids the learning of shared purpose. (I need a blue bit 2x3 etc)
2. Be Involved. My experience is that nothing beats; Trying to guess what the adult is building, and doing it better. Seeing what the adult has built fall apart.

Bottom line. None of these toys will work if you don't get down on you knees with the kid and imagine.

Porn (5, Funny)

VTI9600 (1143169) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293984)

Buy them porn...When I was a kid, I found it to be remarkably educational.

A little off the wall, but.. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34293986)

Ask your siblings if there's a particular piece of furniture that the kids could use in their room(s), (coffee/play table, dresser, whatever), find a used one cheap, get a bunch of paint and decorative type stuff. Spend a day decorating it with them, and you're set. Hell, you could even attach Lego mats to a coffee table and tether some basic tools to it, if they're into that sort of thing. I tried something like this a few years back and it worked really well.

Zen magnets ("buckyballs")? (2, Informative)

JavaJones (512344) | more than 3 years ago | (#34293998)

Surprised no one has mentioned the magnetic ball kits, they're "all the rage". I prefer Zen Magnets: http://www.zenmagnets.com/ (for the following reason: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7Tka4NUmUo). Of course they're probably a choking hazard, depending on age of the children. Maybe other Slashdotters have more sense than I...

Books (1)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294000)

Give them Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Bible for Children that leaves the nasty stuff in as though it were moral, and various Norse and other myth books.

At six I was already a strong atheist thanks to that combination on my bookshelf.

Yay for atheist parents.

Leapfrog (1)

mariasama16 (1895136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294002)

My niece (turning 6 next month) had an issue with sitting still in pre-school and we got her some of those Leapfrog things. She's learning (and also learning to sit still) and is still entertained enough to handle long car rides without whining. It was so popular her mom buys her other items for the system as well. Our plan this year is to send her a gift card and let her figure out what she wants to buy herself, so she can start to learn the value of money/budget and still get the reward of whatever she's purchased.

Try these folks (1)

careysb (566113) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294014)

Try "Steve Spangler Science" http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/ [stevespanglerscience.com] (Shameless plug - my daughter works there) Honestly - we've had a lot of fun with their products.

Thought-Provoking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294030)

Thought-Provoking?

"Ten-games-that-make-you-think-about-life"

http://www.casualgirlgamer.com/articles/entry/22/Ten-games-that-make-you-think-about-life/

Girls and kids have about the same capacity. ;)

K'NEX (1)

Negathle (1728272) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294032)

To this day, my husband still builds things out of K'NEX. Yes, still little bits of plastic, but they encourage spatial reasoning and imaginative creation. Even as adults, we still broke out the case of K'NEX and made some fun ornaments for our 30-gallon goldfish tank. We build robots for cat toys (example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfzixDTLvVU [youtube.com] ) and fun, practical organizational solutions for cabinets. Kids can do wonders in a sandbox-mode.

Musical Instruments (1)

ignavusinfo (883331) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294042)

Consider a drum, xylophone, small guitar ... that sort of thing. Kids love shit that makes noise, exposing them to music is no bad thing, and it will drive your siblings crazy. Win, win, win. We bought my GF's nephew a drum for Xmas when he was a little kid; he's now in his second year at Berklee. It's probably not a direct correlation, but the exposure can't have hurt.

Simple. (2, Insightful)

leifb (451760) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294108)

Time and attention from interested, intelligent adults.

Simple Things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294128)

Well, instead of using objects to occupy your kid, try the following:

1. Spend time with them -- go out, hit the zoo, do ANYTHING worthwhile with the kid.
2. Legos -- can't go wrong w/ Legos unless they are eating them.
3. Chemistry at Home -- Get a chem kit and do chem w/ your kids! It's fun, messy, and they learn about nature.
4. Give them a microscope -- show them the microscopic world is pretty damn cool.
5. Get a telescope -- go to seeing parties and teach them about the universe.
6. Blackjack -- Use card games to teach them math.
7. Books and Music -- Share and grow together.

But above all, teach them science. They will need it in the world of Ignorance. That's the best gift you can give a child.

Meccano (1)

sslayer (968948) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294150)

Meccano is remarkably the best construction game ever made. It's not only about imagination and building things but also about learning how to use the tools, mixing them when neccesary and understanding physics (for example, why does this nut gets unscrewed when the motor is on) and learning real world building, and in later years, they should be able to fix their own bikes when they need to change the brakes, because they know the tools, how to use them and why are they to be used that way.

Origami? (1)

deepthoughtless (1264016) | more than 3 years ago | (#34294170)

When I was a child in that age group (about 15 years ago), I got quite a bit of joy from Origami. Much like the Lego and K-Nex suggestions, it was something where you could start out with very simple designs, but as you got better, the designs could be more and more complex. Eventually, I started making my own designs, like many other posters did with their toys. The great thing about Origami, though, is that you can do it anytime, anywhere, so long as you have a simple sheet of paper. Or a leaf, or anything else flat and fold-able. Makes it easy to entertain yourself on the go, or to show friends something "real quick." The water balloons were awesome :)

Maker SHED (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34294176)

http://www.makershed.com/

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