gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for 5-Year-Olds, According to Child Psychologists

Photo: Courtesy of the retailers

“Spending time with your child is the biggest gift that a parent can give,” says Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, co-author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (and who helped us find the best toys for 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds). It should also be noted that Golinkoff’s partner’s son, Benj Pasek, recently won a Tony Award for the Best Original Score he wrote for Dear Evan Hansen. He’s proof that Golinkoff and her partner, Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, know what they’re doing when it comes to raising creative and successful children. And according to Dr. George Sachs, a child psychologist and founder of the Sachs Center in Manhattan, as children this age begin to control their emotions, they’re better equipped to work through problems and conflicts. With these milestones in mind, Golinkoff and Sachs helped the Strategist find an array of gifts for 5-year-olds. We’ve also got gift guides for kids of all ages, including 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and 11-year-olds.

And if you’re looking for holiday toys, don’t miss the top kid’s toys to buy before they sell out — we talked to experts to find 2018’s hottest toys.

Lego Classic Bricks and Gears Building Set
$16 at Amazon

Almost anything by Lego is super popular, and this classic kit includes not only bricks but also gears that can be used to create rotating elements like helicopters and spinning sunflowers. While free-building is always encouraged, Sachs likes to give kids the options of following instructions — this kit comes with an ideas book — even if they don’t end up using them.

Lego Creator Ocean Explorer
$35 at Amazon

Golinkoff agrees: “This is about the age when kids can start using Lego kits. Their fine motor skills are just about ready to build more specialized stuff,” like this three-in-one Ocean Explorer kit.

Kid Made Modern House Kit
$26 at Amazon

For something a little more DIY, try this die-cut wooden house kit that’ll get them started early on the mid-century-modern craze; it even comes with minimalist furniture that you can paint. It’s great for pretend-play as well: “Anything that spurs the imagination is great,” says Golinkoff. “A miniature anything, like this doll house, will make kids want to do role-play, which is very powerful for building creativity and imagination. It can be done alone or with other friends and family members.”

Lego Education Community Minifigure Set
$47 at Amazon

“To go with that, make sure you get figurines that represent people of different ages — like grandma, grandpa, kids — so that kids can role-play family stuff. Any kind of imaginative role-play is good for creativity and content,” says Golinkoff. “If they play with other kids, they’ll argue and make cases, often about the kinds of things that boys and girls can do. One will say, ‘You can’t be a doctor, only boys can be doctors,’ and meanwhile the kid’s mother is a doctor. This is how they learn. It’s going over the rules and roles of childhood.” This set features an array of jobs and professions, including a female drummer, mail carrier, vet, and farmer to a male firefighter, fishmonger, and barber.

Crazy Forts!
$42 at Amazon

After building in miniature, kids will enjoy creating life-size structures that they can play in. Sachs thinks this free-build fort kit is pretty instructive, and your 5-year-old will just think it’s cool. As the packaging notes, “Just add bed sheets for endless fun.”

Stomp Rocket Ultra Rocket
$18 at Amazon

Kids go wild over the Stomp Rocket, according to Sachs. Although the toy, which relies on a kid’s stomping power to launch foam rockets up to 200 feet in the air, looks deceptively simple, it is educational as well, teaching children the concepts of gravity, trajectory, force, and the power of air.

Crayola Twistables Colored Pencils
$6 at Amazon

According to Sachs, 5-year-olds are also continuing to advance their fine motor skills. “This is when kids really learn how to write and hold a pencil,” he says. “Helping them improve their fine motor skills at this age will set them up for being able to write in kindergarten and beginning school.” These twistable colored pencils are a step up from crayons and are great for encouraging drawing and writing on a more detailed level.

Perler Beads Sunny Days Activity Bucket
$13 at Amazon

To promote even more refined motor skills, try these hollow beads that kids can place on peg boards using their fingers or a tweezer. Adults can help them fuse the beads together using an iron to create a colorful piece of art. “These beads are fun and very creative, that’s for sure,” says Golinkoff. “By this age, they’re not going to eat the small pieces, so you don’t have to worry about that. My grandkids have a lot of fun with these.”

Classic Chutes and Ladders Board Game
$21 at Amazon

You can’t go wrong with classic games, either. “Chutes and Ladders and Connect Four are great for pre-readers. Board games in general are great for any age group,” Golinkoff says. “Think about what happens: You’ve gotta talk; you’ve gotta count; you’ve gotta be nice. There isn’t much in the way for creativity because you’re following the rules, but as they get older, you realize you can make up your own rules.”

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
$16 at Amazon

Books, of course, are always fabulous, according to Golinkoff. Here’s another instant classic from the team behind Rosie Revere, Engineer, which we recommended in our gift roundup for 4-year-olds. Ada Twist is an insatiably curious little girl whose ambitious science experiments cause some trouble for her parents. For more age-appropriate feminist reading, check out our list of feminist children’s books.

The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha King
$10 at Amazon

For those kids nervous about embarking on the entirely new adventure that is kindergarten, this book by Natasha King will help calm some of those nerves. And, as Sachs noted, reading this together with a parent or caregiver can also help children better understand and talk through some of the emotions they might be feeling, like sadness and being scared.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
$23 at Amazon

Another Sachs-approved book, this collection comprises the complete illustrated texts of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
$11 at Amazon

While Sachs admits this Shel Silverstein classic is more for parents, it’s still definitely worth reading to your 5-year-old — and an essential addition to any child’s growing library.

Little Pretender Walkie-talkies for Kids
$27 at Amazon

With a two-mile range, three channels, and a built-in flashlight, these walkie-talkies are perfect for make-believing that you’re on an adventure. “Walkie-talkies encourage communication, collaboration, and creativity,” says Golinkoff. “Kids can go into their own imaginary worlds, but they have to tell each other stuff that the other one understands. It could be really fun. More fun than a cell phone, although kids love apps.”

VTech Kidizoom Spin and Smile Camera
$29 at Walmart

Pair this camera with the walkie-talkies and your 5-year-old has an instant detective kit for better exploring the world around them. While Golinkoff likes the idea of kids making little movies, a camera is a more realistic first step: “Five might be a little young [for movies], as they might need to learn how to read first, but a regular kids’ camera can work. It’s so fun, and you can work with the kid to teach it to them.”

Green Toys Jump Rope
$11 at Amazon

“Let’s not forget the physical stuff,” says Golinkoff. “Jump rope, that’s really fun. You can do that with a few kids.”

Spalding High-Bounce Ball
$6 at Amazon

Don’t let the simplicity of this rubber bouncing ball fool you — possibilities abound, according to Golinkoff: “There are all kinds of things you can do with a small pink bouncing ball and hand-clapping. I played those for a long time when I was a kid. As a parent, you can teach your kids these games (if you don’t know any, look them up on YouTube), and then they’ll go and teach the other kids, which is really great and so much fun.”

RoyalBaby BMX Freestyle Kids’ Bike
$120 at Amazon

Now’s the time to try a bike, says Golinkoff: “You can start with a bike with no pedals to learn balance, or just take the pedals off an existing bike, and then put pedals back on to learn how to ride.”

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The Best Gifts for 5-Year-Olds, According to Psychologists