expert-approved gifts

The Best Design Gifts Under $30 for Kids, According to an Architect

What better way to foster an appreciation for design than to give a kid a design-inspired gift? To find the best things — dinosaur pop-up books, gem-shaped crayons, French toy wooden trains — we talked to architect Ming Thompson (who last recommended first-apartment essentials for us) about the best design books, games, and toys for growing minds. They’re all under 30 bucks, too.

This is a simple and beautiful toy that is as nice to play with as it is to decorate a baby’s or a 1-year-old’s room. It’s a spin on a classic bead toy, but sized just right for a baby in a palette of fresh colors.

When you’re 2, building and smashing towers of blocks can be a fun activity for hours. These lovely wood blocks feature infographics about the planets on all sides, so you can learn about the solar system while you play.

Janod designs lovely wooden toys that come in offbeat shapes and colors. Every kid loves trains, and this little set is a great addition to an existing collection or a good way for a 3-year-old to start their train set. Aesthetically, it’s as far as you can get from Thomas the Tank Engine, and that’s a good thing.

These gemstone-esque crayons are easy for little 4-year-old hands to hold, and are beautiful in a clear container on the shelf.

With brightly colored faces and animals, this is a modern spin on the classic game. No one is ever too old for a game of Memory with a 5-year-old.


Every book in this series (Cities/Construction/Vehicles/Space) will knock your 6-year-old’s socks off. Every page has flaps and wheels and slots that reveal the complex fabric of the city, from cutaway sections of the subway to diagrams showing how plastic toys are made. Why didn’t they make books like this when I was a kid?

In our family, we all sit on the floor and paint together, and these brushes are a great no-mess way to paint at home and on the go. Keep them filled with water, and you and your kid can be artists wherever you may travel.

This book is a masterpiece; it pushes the boundaries of what paper can do, and is an inspired work of design. Also, what kid doesn’t think dinosaurs are cool?

For the budding engineer or sculptor in your life, this kit allows you to assemble drinking straws into incredible forms.


This is such an inspiring book for 10-year-olds; it’s full of activities and lessons on artists, and is a great tool to get kids’ creative juices flowing.

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The Best Design Gifts for Kids, According to an Architect