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Gifts for kids - that encourage simple, natural play

Gifts for kids - that encourage simple, natural play

by Lucy McNamara July 24, 2022

Play is important for children, it's a natural part of growing up. It helps kids to develop the social, physical, cognitive and emotional skills they need for adult life. Given the chance, young children happily find ways to amuse themselves, all the time playing in a way that helps them to develop and discover the world around them.

However real play is under threat. Instead of going outside and building forts kids are now lured towards the latest technology. Once, little boys and girls treasured their one special teddy or baby doll, now they own mountains of toys, many of which are barely used.
With this in mind, more and more parents and children are embracing free, simple, natural play and all the benefits that come with it.

Below is a list of gift ideas. These types of gifts have been chosen because they encourage free, simple, natural play. They feed kids imaginations; are hands on; foster creativity and initiative; encourage kids to play outdoors and with others.

I have included links to NZ artisans (many are clever NZ mums who run little businesses from home), providing environmentally and budget friendly toys for kids. This is not an advert. I don't know these people, I'm not getting freebies or getting paid. I genuinely love their products and believe in supporting small, local businesses.

Gift Ideas
1. Good old fashioned wooden toys for: playing pretend, outdoor rough and tumble, problem solving and much more.
If you search the Internet or go to your local markets, you are likely to find talented local people selling all kinds of handmade wooden toys. Built to last, Eco friendly and beautifully crafted I have chosen the following examples because I am truly amazed at the effort, energy and love that goes into making these items;

Bow and Arrow set

Town houses

Little Hilde wooden toys also on instagram @littlehildetoys

Forest Folk Shop for painted wooden peg dolls in cups and gnome playground set

2. Craft and literature kits for: firing up their imaginations, encouraging creativity, initiative, and developing critical thinking. These are big at the moment, many Mums (including myself) are running little business from home putting literature and craft materials into handy kits. Each brand have different focuses. My subscription gift set focuses on creating a love of classic literature, promotes letter writing and encourages creative play and nature play. The beauty of a subscription gift is that kids receive a wee treat throughout the year.

Other subscriptions or kits on offer for children out there include;

3. Adorable things to snuggle: to encourage emotional and social development. There is a wide range of exquisite dolls made by clever, local people. These are the kind of toys that become treasured, loved so much they become worn with time, and this just adds to their charm.

4. Books, books, books: for increasing kids literacy skills, creativity, and knowledge and understanding of the world around them. Many experts suggest we limit the number of toys we give our preschool children to around two dozen, however the exception is books, for these, the more the better! Any book, of any child friendly topic, whimsical or factual, long or short, new or pre-loved is awesome. My girl enjoys reading a series of books, which she can collect, currently horses or anything magical/fantasy. A big pile of second hand books tied together with a pretty ribbon makes a great gift. As well as gifting reading books, also consider giving kids activity books, journals, field guides and the like.

5. Art supplies: for encouraging their inner Picasso or Pollock. Buying a bunch of art supplies is a no-brainer. This stuff needs replenishing. It's good for kids to realize things don't magically appear. They need to ask for useful things as presents too. Think paints, pencils, felt tips, glue, stickers, glitter, strips of fabric, pressed leaves and flowers. Many places are presenting these in really exciting ways too.


6. Experiences: so they can explore the world around them. Gifts don't always have to be things. They can be tickets for a fun experience. The anticipation of going will be half the fun. Tickets to theater shows, day passes to a zoo, museum, or exhibition are all fantastic gifts. Present the tickets in a pretty card.

7. Nature Playthings: any gift that encourages kids to connect with nature and the world around them. You could give them things to take on tramps and nature walks such as an old second hand camera, binoculars and a magnifying glass. A telescope could introduce them to astronomy. Stuff for fun at the beach is always a winner such as buckets and spades, (as well as beach toys consider the practical stuff too; cool beach towels, togs, hats, sunglasses, even sunscreen!).

Forest Folk for bird calls and wooden seed pot makers

8. Dress up / Act out : for role play, imaginative and pretend play. This helps to develop social and emotional skills, creativity, language skills and much more. Again, I am so impressed by the small, local businesses, ran by parents, making this sort of stuff. No plastic tiaras here. Eco friendly, cute kids costumes and fancy pants. Or, what about giving your wee one their very own theater? (or puppet one anyway).

9. Dress down: so they are not naked! Again, kids need need to realize clothes don't grow on trees. They need to appreciate practical gifts. Those wonderful local people are making really cool clothes for kids - a lot of it is unique, quirky, funky and genuinely thrilling.

10. Don't forget kisses, hugs, tickles, songs,  and cake . . . . connect rather than consume, the best things in life are free. 


Lucy McNamara
Lucy McNamara


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