We get it: You’re buying for a little one and need something more unique than, say, Amazon’s Hot Christmas Toys 2018. You won’t see Hatchimals, L.O.L. Surprise or anything made by giant corporations on this list.
Instead, we asked real live women entrepreneurs (many of them moms) to tell us about the best products they make for kids. We invited finalists to send us samples to unbox (watch our video). Our team of judges reviewed them, gave them a few whacks, and made sure they were either fun or useful or delicious, depending on the product.
Here’s our 2018 Gift Guide for Kids. All items are made by women-owned businesses, whose e-commerce sites are listed. Think you need to suffer the lines at big-box stores or go on crazy last-minute hunts for sold-out gifts? Think again.
1. IAmElemental’s “Courage” Action Figure
Submitted by: Julie Kerwin
Hello, girl power. We loved this action figure, who stands 6.5 inches tall and has over 30 points of “articulation” that enable an impressive array of poses. She comes with a magenta superhero outfit and hot coral-colored flaming sword, plus a card about Joan of Arc, the original bad ass. If you want to buy the complete set, Courage’s friends include Bravery, Energy and Persistence, among others. IAmElemental says it offers the first line of female action figures designed specifically for girls (and boys). “If you change the way kids play, you can change the way they think — about themselves and the world around them,” says Julie Kerwin, IAmElemental co-founder.
2. Hooray Hoopla’s Pals Socks
Submitted by: Hannah Lavon
Price: $9 – $22
We liked the powerful message behind these adorable, deliberately mismatched socks representing “odd couple” friends — cats and dogs, turtles and frogs, crabs and jellyfish. “It’s cool to have different kinds of friends and try new things,” says creator Hannah Lavon. “We inspire kids to keep an open mind for a nicer, cooler planet.” Plus the socks are stretchy, colorful and comfy. Useful and transformative.
3. Puzzlebilities’ Lap Desk with Magnetic Jigsaw Puzzle
Submitted by: Beverly Nance
How has this not been invented before? We loved this convenient, portable lap desk that allows you to put 48 (magnetized) pieces of a puzzle together, without worrying they’ll fall off. Because no one should have anxiety when they are puzzling. Creator Beverly Nance originally designed the desk for people with autism. “Not only are jigsaw puzzles fun, they help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills,” she says. “My favorite benefit of jigsaw puzzles is that of social interaction, logical problem-solving and conceptual thinking.” Win, win, win.
4. Kidstir’s Kids Cooking Kits
Submitted by: Aparna Pande
Price: $19.95 a month, with 3-, 6-, and 12-month subscriptions available.
The goal of these kits — which come once per month — is to make cooking fun for both adults and kids. Each kit contents contains three easy recipes with step-by-step instructions and two kid-sized, kid-safe kitchen tools, plus games and activities. We liked that the fresh-food shopping list is emailed ahead of time, so you can be ready with ingredients when the kits arrive. “Kidstir creates an ongoing opportunity for adults and children to have conversations about shopping for food, making food and spending time eating good food,” founder Aparna Pande says.
5. Art 2 the Extreme’s The Original Rainbow Crayon
Submitted by: Nicole Lewis
These chunky crayons in a whirl of colors can be personalized with a child’s name (or phrase or logo) of your choice. Each individual crayon measures 4” long and 3/4” thick. The design is suitable for kids with developmental delays, as it has a groove in the back for a better grip, inventor Nicole Lewis says. We liked that it won’t roll off a restaurant table. “I am one of the few original Etsy shops still in business,” says Lewis, who has made the crayons for 11 years. “I take pride that this small idea I had as a teacher has grown into something so much bigger than my vision originally was.”
6. Buddy Bench Ireland’s Sam Builds a Nest
Submitted by: Sam Synnott
This beautifully illustrated children’s book, which comes with a snugly toy robin, helps kids work out any fears they may be experiencing about flying the nest. The book “is dedicated to the small child in all of us who sometimes gets a glimpse of the great big world out there, and is torn between wanting to rush out and explore, and needing to feel safe and at home,” says Sam Synnott, co-founder of Buddy Bench Ireland, a social enterprise dedicated to kids’ well-being. Awwwwww.
7. Bundle’s Personalized Game
Submitted by: Cassie Collier
For close-knit families, or maybe families who want to be more close-knit, there is Bundle — a customized game on a canvas board with questions like: “Name 4 memories you have from the Foster family vacation to Disney World.” We liked that the board game serves as a memory book for special family moments. “In a busy world of emails, texts and obligations, Bundle is the perfect way to leave all that behind and connect with the people who matter most,” says Cassie Collier, who launched the game a year ago with sister Jacklyn.
8. Mini Melanie’s Mini Smash Cakes
Submitted by: Melanie Moss
Price: $35 (shipping limited to greater New York City-area)
Multiple layers high with buttercream frosting, these delicious cakes (in pink, blue, or any color) come with reduced sugar for babies. There’s also a variety of minicakes for kids in popular flavors like funfetti. After one bite, we were easily convinced. “Everything is made from scratch with high quality ingredients for children to experience sugar in a positive way,” says baker Melanie Moss. Yum for adults, too.
9. Vivi G’z Baby Booties
Submitted by: Allison Childs
Price: $37 – $40
These booties were designed to solve a perpetual problems faced by parents: Keeping socks or booties on babies’ feet. “Your baby develops these magnificent fine motor skills at 3 months and then can pull everything off in sheer delight,” says Allison Childs. Her soft products, which have non-slip soles, come up over babies’ pants to mid-calf and feature a drawstring cord to keep everything in place. Plus they’re made in America, and a portion of profits go to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that donates shoes to people in need. We wished these came in adult sizes.
10 Playdate Digital’s Playdoh: Create ABCs app
Submitted by: Shaan Kandawalla
If kids are going to be in front of a screen, they might as well be doing something educational — and we liked how Playdate Digital’s Playdoh: Create ABCs app can teach young users how to write letters of the alphabet. It also helps them learn new vocabulary words. (“What starts with the letter A? An alligator!”) We’ve profiled founder Shaan Kandawalla before and admire her success as tech entrepreneur. “Our products nurture children’s emerging literacy and creativity skills by turning digital screens into engaging experiences,” she says.