It doesn’t take much to delight a child — especially when it comes to stocking stuffers, where a little can go a long way. But whether you’re shopping for your 5-year-old nephew, your best friend’s newborn, your own kid — or three — finding those doodads and trinkets, even if they’re small, can be tricky. To help you fill your shopping cart in one fell swoop, I’ve rounded up a bunch of toys, books, and other goodies (many of which were personally recommended — and vetted — by Strategist editors and writers who happen to be parents) for the little ones in your life. To make things even easier, they all cost less than $20, and most things are available from Amazon (but some are from elsewhere for those who like to shop around).
I’ve made sure that everything on this list is truly stocking-size. Some toys might come in larger packaging, so I suggest taking them out and wrapping them individually or dividing them among your little recipients. For more — and more substantial — gifts for youngsters, check out our guide to this year’s hottest gifts for kids as well as our roundups of gifts for kids of all ages.
Stocking stuffers $10 and under
Novelty lip balms are always a hit, according to multiple Strategist editors. This panda Lip Smacker has a shimmery finish and comes in an adorable tube.
Superheroes also need well-moisturized lips, which is why your Marvel superfan will appreciate this Iron Man lip balm that doubles as a keychain. They’ll get a kick out of the flavor — Billionaire Punch — too.
Or try some good old-fashioned ChapStick in classic cherry.
Strategist senior editor Winnie Yang says these clicking fidget toys that can be manipulated into any shape were all the rage on the school bus earlier this year.
Fun bandages like these space-themed ones from Welly make ouchies feel instantly better. As a bonus: The tin box can double as a knickknack holder when it’s empty.
For some more fun skin “art,” here’s a set of temporary tattoos for the monster-truck fanatic.
This fanciful LEGO unicorn set can be turned into a seahorse and a peacock. All for $9.
Kids love these little animal erasers that are like puzzles they can put together and take apart.
According to experts, tweens love anything mini and collectible, like these blind sets from Miniverse that come with tiny kits that let kids make their own resin smoothies, loaded pancakes, and more. Try a couple because you never know what’s going to be inside.
Imagine your child’s delight as they suck milk through these wacky glasses-shaped straws.
It doesn’t get more classic than a Slinky. This one is jumbo-size for double the fun.
How cool are these pull-back cars for the child in your life who’s obsessed with both cars and dinos? You can even split up this six-pack among multiple children.
Mesmerize your kiddo with this wood Jacob’s Ladder toy that will surely keep them occupied — at least until it’s time to unwrap the next gift.
Here’s a “magical” activity that’s on our list of the best gifts for 3-year-olds. Mess free and completely reusable, it’s a coloring book that comes with a paintbrushlike pen you fill with water. When your child “paints” with it, the water reveals a colorful image on the page. When the page dries, it goes back to being blank and ready to use again.
The more developed artist will appreciate these fine-lined markers that are watermelon, orange, and marshmallow scented.
Yang loves these tiny puzzles from Mudpuppy that are available in dozens of different animals.
Again: Farts will never not be funny.
You can’t go wrong with a lifelike animal figurine — like this three-inch baby rhino from Schleich, a German company that has been hand-painting its toys since 1935. The level of detail on this particular animal is impressive, even for Schleich.
And here’s a whimsical creature from the brand’s fantastical line, Bayala.
“A huge array of washi tape is really a great gift,” says New York deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff, “and most importantly doesn’t destroy your house.” Our senior editor, Jen Trolio, agrees: “My kids go through a ton, for all kinds of different uses.” Get them in a bunch of patterns, like this set that comes with 21 rolls.
Swerdloff and Trolio also love this 100 percent nontoxic nail polish for their kids.
And here’s some temporary hair dye for your tween.
A pad of rainbow scratch paper is always a hit, too, according to Yang.
Swerdloff says her kids recently got their hands on one of these squishy toys that sticks out its tongue when squeezed, “and it’s persisted as a funny little thing they play with.”
My 4-year-old just got a finger skateboard from a friend and it’s all he plays with now. His favorite activity is launching it up and down the slide at the playground.
Stocking stuffers $15 and under
Kids still go gaga for Squishmallows. This mini set comes with six 2-inch ocean-themed plushies.
For the entomologist in training, this magnifying glass humanely catches bugs for observation. Afterward, simply release it outside.
Yo-yos are always fun and timeless, but add LED lights and you’ve got a really good time on your hands.
Here’s a lovely heart-themed ribbon streamer from the maker of some of our favorite silk scarves for 1-year-olds that Trolio recommends.
“I got every 1-year-old a kazoo this year for their birthday and they’re a surprise hit,” says Strategist senior editor Ailbhe Malone. (Apologies in advance for the noise.)
Bead kits are a huge hit among Trolio’s kids, “especially in this Eras moment.” This compact set comes with six key rings and enough beads to make 10 different pets.
Kids will play with a Rubik’s cube for hours — even if they never end up solving it.
If you didn’t get a chance to try out these self-sealing, reusable silicone “water balloons” this summer, they transition rather seamlessly into bath toys as well.
This grid-making card game that Yang’s daughter’s into comes in the teeniest, stocking-friendly tin, making it great for travel too.
I love everything eeBoo makes, including these story cards that you can shuffle and rearrange into endless combinations to create new stories each time. This set involves a tiger, three blue monkeys, an alligator, two children, and a volcano.
Stocking stuffers $20 and under
My pre-schooler has had these friction-motor-powered construction vehicles for years and still plays with them. They require only a few pushes to propel them forward and go farther than any other toy cars he owns.
If your kid is like mine and hates washing their hands, these roll-on soaps that are scented and colored make the process a bit more exciting.
This new game from PopSockets takes fidget toys to the next level. According to the brand, it’s like a “magnetic skate park for your thumbs” — on a keychain.
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