gifts they might actually want

The Only Gift Guide for an 8-Year-Old You’ll Ever Need

Photo-Illustration: Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg; Photos: Courtesy of the retailers

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By age 8, kids are in the throes of “a tremendous growth spurt in physical, emotional, and cognitive development,” says child therapist Glenda Stoller, co-founder of Village Parenting NYC. And while you’ll notice these changes in everyday life, they will be especially prominent when it comes to the kind of things they like to play with. Natalie Williams, director of education at the Miami Children’s Museum, says this age group is entering the early stages of autonomy and true independent play. “It is no longer about cooperative playing with me sitting with you, it’s me leaving you with these play items and you engaging in that play independently,” Williams tells us. And when it comes to trends, Toy Insider senior editor Jackie Cucco says that “a lot of retro toys are making a comeback, with a new spin on them to keep them relevant.”

To help entertain and challenge their exploding brains and bodies while nurturing their independence (even if it’s just while they play), we talked to professionals like Stoller, Williams, and Cucco, as well as parents, to curate a list of the best gifts for 8-year-olds. We then organized their suggestions by cost to make budget-based shopping easier. If you have a price point in mind, you can use the table of contents to jump right to that section. Otherwise, you can scroll through the whole list to get a full picture of what this age group is interested in. Whether you’re shopping for a birthday or the holidays or any other day, it’s a list that keeps on giving.

Meanwhile, if you’re also shopping for kids in other age groups, we have gift guides for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 12-year-olds — plus the meticulously curated Strategist Toy Store, filled with all our greatest hits.

Under $25

You might remember the feel of these rectangular decks in your hands as you fanned them out from their fastened corner (a brilliant design detail — this way the cards never get lost) to reveal each of a thousand trivia questions written by Chris Welles Feder (eldest daughter of Orson Welles). The look has been modernized and the material has been updated since you were a kid — it’s based on school curriculums, with categories for the third-grade set including math, science, social studies, and language arts. But in this form, the quizzing doesn’t feel like school; it becomes a game that can be played anywhere, including in a car or on a plane. “And even during dinnertime,” adds Kate S., a nanny for the New York–based SmartSitting agency. She likes to buy sets for the level just above the child’s actual grade, “to challenge them and help them get ahead in school.” And the price of around $10 for each deck, she says, can’t be beat.

“Your kids become inflatable Goodyear Blimps in these Gobstopper-shaped entrapments,” says Zibby Owens, author, mom of four, and host of Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. “My twins got the set as gifts for their 8th birthday and spent the afternoon crashing into each other, rolling around in the grass, and laughing hysterically.” The suits are made of durable PVC, but in case the wrestling action gets particularly intense, there’s a repair patch included.

According to Chris Byrne, a.k.a. the Toy Guy, creative play prepares kids’ brains for learning. For nature-loving 8-year-olds, he recommends this combination science kit and art project from Crayola. It contains enough parts to build a dozen butterflies plus color dyes, markers, and a white crayon, which you can use for resist-dyeing — wherever you draw with it, the dye won’t adhere. Once the butterflies are colored and decorated, kids can display them on the included stand.

What 8-year-olds may not realize as they’re utterly absorbed in this balancing game is that it’s encouraging socialization: Up to four players can get involved, watching the tower wobble and shift and change shape with each piece that’s added on. Playing together in smaller groups is also a great way for kids to develop self-esteem, according to Stoller: “They’re more competitive at this age and love to play games together, so peer interaction is very important.”

This DIY kit teaches kids about gears and electronics by showing them how to build a motorized machine that makes rainbows spin around their room. Adrienne Appel, senior director of communications at the Toy Association, says the different experiments covering the science of light and different weather conditions for rainbows are good learning opportunities. It’s also really pretty to look at.

“This is so fascinating to play with,” says Ruka Curate, founder of the Tiny Treasures Nanny Agency. The 12-inch-tall anatomical model of the human body has nine squishy versions of vital organs inside of it, which can be removed with forceps and tweezers, along with the rib cage and other skeletal and muscular systems. And as a five-star reviewer on Amazon noted: “There is an easy-to-follow book filled with facts and information about each organ, as well as an organizer to help you keep track of parts when you’re taking the body apart and putting it back together.”

If having their very own gumball machine isn’t enough of an incentive to build this colorful tower, the cool and creative stunts your kid can make it do should convince them to get to work. Assistant manager of content and digital communications at the Toy Association Maddie Michalik says the coin track is completely customizable, so kids “can watch as their coins perform stunts before triggering the prize compartment to open.” The kit introduces a variety of STEM concepts like simple machines, force, gravity, and more, and Michalik likes that it lets kids “deconstruct and rebuild their creations to make different configurations.”

The dozen plaster-coated dinosaur eggs in this kit come with chiseling tools to spark your kid’s inner archeologist — as they excavate away, they’ll eventually discover a different clay dinosaur inside each egg. “I like these sorts of toys because they give children a window into science without them realizing they are learning,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services. There are informational cards included about all the dinosaurs, too. (Parent tip: To cut down on the dust involved in the unearthing process, you can soak the eggs in water first.)

Collaborative games teach kids to work together toward a common goal or against a common threat. Caitlin Meister, founder of the Greer Meister Group, a private-tutoring and educational-consulting practice in Brooklyn, recommends this collaborative game where players have to work together to get off of an island that is sinking into the ocean. She says it’s fun for kids and adults because it’s different every time. “You reassemble the board each time by laying out tiles, so it doesn’t get boring.”

“Goldieblox was designed to get kids engaged with STEM projects, and they have branched out more into the art space now,” Meister says. She recommends the company’s craft kits for creative kids. With this one, kids can decorate their own light-up essential oil diffuser and essential oil-infused bracelets. The kit comes with everything they’ll need to create their own unique scent, including six different oils.

$5 for 50

Pokémon may be more than 25 years old, but the franchise is just as popular with grade-school kids as it has ever been. Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief at the Toy Insider, says there are all kinds of new licensed toys being released — including Squishmallows and new video games for Nintendo Switch — but that even these basic trading-card packs will make an excellent gift for an 8-year-old.

Anne Carrihill, Amazon’s director of toys and games, says that “learning toys that allow kids to learn with games or arts and crafts projects” are in demand, and this updated version of a classic artsy toy fits in perfectly. The set comes with nine stencils and three fine-tipped pens, and kids can use the included glasses to view their drawings in 3-D.

Cats vs Pickles started out as a YouTube sensation, and the squishy collectible plush toys went viral on TikTok in 2021. They now come in tons of styles, from reversible soccer goalie and referee cat to special-edition blind bag kitties to ones shaped like an eggplant. But Mierzejewski tells us the jumbo-size cats and pickles, which are more than twice the size of the originals, are the most popular of them all.

An ideal stocking stuffer: “Here is a ‘Keep in your purse at all times’ one,” says Brenda Bisner, SVP of content at Kidoodle.TV. It’s a speedy dice game — there’s one labeled L that you pass to the left, one marked C to put in the center, and an R to pass to the right — that comes with chips for the winner to collect. “You can make this a lot of fun without taking up a lot of space. I love to have this on hand for when the crayons and coloring become boring. I feel like the ‘cool mom’ when I pull it out.”

WowWee Got2Glow Fairy Finder

Mierzejewski recommends this glow-in-the-dark fairy finder, which leans into the social-emotional learning-toy trend by encouraging empathy and nurturing. The Mason-jar-size toy is like a giant Tamagotchi, except it can house more than 30 different pretend fairies, which kids may “collect” out of the air and trade with their friends. Open the lid and watch as the jar lights up each time you “catch” a new fairy. “It has a kind of magical, firefly feel to it. You can toggle through all of your fairies, see what each of them needs, and take care of them,” she says.

Under $50

For ages 8 and up, this is “an amazing logic and thinking game,” according to Dr. Taylor Chesney, Psy.D., director of the Feeling Good Institute NYC. The goal is to arrange the tokens on the board so that the flashing laser beam hits your target. And since it “comes with multilevel challenges,” Dr. Chesney notes, “it grows with your child.” To that end, an Amazon reviewer writes: “Fourth graders and engineers love this toy. Follow the cards, create your own, make it big, make it long — it’s all fun. It is the most sought-after game in my classroom and it engaged two very serious young adults until they were told to put it away.”

“Shouldn’t every family have a chess board?” asks Naomi Davis of the blog Love Taza, who is a mother of five. This model is particularly authentic: She says it is the same style board and pieces used in professional chess tournaments. (It meets the proportion standards of the World Chess Federation.) “It’s fun to do together with kids and even more fun to watch them play each other and be good sports about it.”


Part memory game, part board game, this is a particularly appealing gift for visual learners, according to Owens. Each card has an illustrated (and sometimes wacky) scene — a girl at the beach, a potluck party, a cockatoo making pancakes. You have 30 seconds to stare at each scene, then you have to recall as many details as possible. “It’s fun, mind-engaging, and highly entertaining,” Owens says.

Dr. Chesney sees all kinds of educational benefits here. For one, the futuristic-looking marble run “gives kids a hands-on introduction to gravity, magnetism, and kinetic energy.” And the modular design can be assembled in various ways, allowing for curves, free falls, even a cannon situation. All of which is “a great way to practice trial and error and problem-solving skills,” says Dr. Chesney, who notes that kids can either follow the instructions or get creative and dream up a layout all their own. It “grows with a kid’s increasingly complex mind.”

This award-winning MudWatt kit by Magical Microbes teaches kids how to build a battery using dirt, which kids can grab from their own yards or the park. Kansas State University geology professor Matthew Kirk recently used this kit to teach middle-schoolers about geobiology, specifically getting a charge out of microbes and mud. “They like to play with mud, and who doesn’t,” he says. “From my perspective, these MudWatt fuel cells offer a lot of potential learning opportunities — from environmental chemistry and microbiology to electricity and circuits. They could be used in a lot of ways.”

This enhanced edition of the ever-popular Pokémon trading-card game “is inspired by the popular Pokémon GO mobile app, which has been downloaded more than one billion times,” Michalik says. The cards feature live-action images of the Pokémon characters and objects from Pokémon GO.

Lego sets are usually a crowd pleaser and this 354-piece set “brings iconic Super Mario characters to the real world as kids build and play their own video game levels,” Michalik explains. The set comes with an interactive Peach figure that has Mario gaming sound effects and a reactive LCD screen on her dress. Kids can perform actions from the video games like collecting digital coins, and the interactive set can be combined with other Mario Legos to create unique game designs. (Or if your kid isn’t a Mario fan, you could get them an equally cool Harry Potter set instead.)

Under $100

The half-pound of roughly textured rocks that come in this set are transformed into polished agate, amethyst, and seven other types of real gemstones when you put them through the motorized tumbling machine with some grit powder and water. “Any budding crystal or gemstone collector will get such a kick out of this,” says Tara Maria Famiglietti, a mom and jewelry designer of ONDYN. Famiglietti notes that you can shine up any other rocks you happen upon, too: “There are even quartz rocks you can find in Central Park and throw in here to have your very own polished crystal stone,” she says. Of course, it’s not immediate gratification: The tumbling process involves multiple stages of running the rocks through the machine for days at a time. But that’s an “added bonus,” Famiglietti says. “It teaches patience.”

Squeakee The Balloon Dino

The latest version of one of the hottest toys of 2020, Squeakee the Balloon Dino is an animatronic dinosaur that chomps, walks, and dances, making over 70 sounds and reactions. According to James Zahn, senior editor at the Toy Insider, the Squeakee toys are popular with both kids and their parents because they look cool and are fun to play with.

A follow-up to the holiday hit of 2021 (the Magic Mixies Cauldron was sold out everywhere by Christmas), Michalik says this version offers “endless play value.” When your child waves the wand in front of the crystal ball and performs the “creation spell,” the ball fills with mist that will dissipate to reveal a cute little fortune-telling creature. It can be reset to reveal the Mixie (or another small toy) over and over, and can also be used as a night-light.

Stoller points out that some kids at this point in their development show an inclination toward such creative endeavors — so perhaps the best thing you can do to encourage their love of art and artmaking is to gift them something that takes their artwork to another dimension, literally. 3Doodler is widely recognized as the best 3-D printing pen on the market for kids. How does it work? The pen gently melts, then pushes out a brightly colored, nontoxic plastic filament that hardens almost instantly, and the latest upgrades to the award-winning device include a slimmer pen for easier handling, faster charging, and a standby mode for improved safety.

“There’s something deeply satisfying in watching two tops bang into each other for Beyblade supremacy,” says Beth Beckman, a co-founder of FOMOFeed Kids, who can’t remember a playdate where these didn’t make an appearance. “It’s a hit as big as the noise it makes when these explode on the floor.”

$100 and up

If it’s a monster truck good enough for Kate Hudson’s kid, well … (It appeared on Hudson’s Instagram as a birthday gift when her son, Bingham Hawn Bellamy, turned 8). Maybe you won’t be surprised, then, to hear that it has such awesome features as four-wheel drive, waterproof electronics, a 2.4GHz radio system, and a “bashable” design that allows you to easily swap or replace parts and keep racing if something breaks, say, from crashing the truck into a mailbox, a fence, or a tree.

The glory days of the department store may be over, but kids still experience a sense of wonder in the two-story shopping tower here, complete with a working elevator and revolving door that lead to the fashion boutique and cosmetics counter, set amid patterned ceilings and a movable quarter-balcony. Curate finds this to be a beautiful gift for this age. Even if they’re not familiar with the Calico characters, the old-world aesthetic — and Chocolate Lounge serving tiny treats — has an undeniable pull.

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The Only Gift Guide for an 8-Year-Old You’ll Ever Need