It’s unavoidable: the mad rush each holiday season to make sure you get something, anything, for the kids. But before you settle for the same old, same old, take a look at our lists for infants (0-12 months), toddlers (1-3 years), preschool age (3-5 years), elementary age (5-10 years) and tweens (10+ years).
It’s chockfull of some of the hottest toys for 2014 (and a few holdovers from Christmases past). They’ve all been chosen with input from owners and managers at independently owned toy stores in the Chicago area. And best of all, they all come with a pretty price tag—$50 or less.
Just be sure to remember us when you're dubbed the “best parent ever.”
Scream-worthy and wallet-friendly gifts under $50 for kids ages 1-3.
Brio Magnetic Train, $19.99, 12m+
Just because its a classic doesnt mean it cant be cool. This train doesnt need a track, and the 11 magnetic pieces give an easy introduction to primary colors and shapes, not to mention the ever-popular world of choo-choos.
HABA My First Games Evening in the Stable, $14.99, 2+
Playing a game with a toddler can be an exercise in futility (or losing your sanity), but this one is designed with their abilities and attention span in mind. Kids help put all the animals in bed for the nightand hopefully wear themselves out in the process.
Meaningful, custom hand-stamped jewelry and Christmas ornaments created with names, dates or inspirational words from Vintage Pearl make great gifts. Save 20 percent off your order of $75 or more with the code ChiDEC20 (expires Dec. 31, 2014, and cannot be combined)
Magbot Magnetic Wooden Block Set, , 1+
Ever wanted to build your own robot? The future is now with Tegu. These sustainably-sourced magnetic blocks (they come from Honduras) can be combined in any number of ways to create a robot friend. Theyre compatible with all other Tegu sets, too.
Tiggly Shapes, .99, 18m+
Your iPad already half-belongs to your toddler, so you might as well let them use it for good. These fun learning toys help kids interact with educational apps to learn language skills, develop spatial reasoning and become more creative.
Snapo, .99-.99, 1+/3+
Theres no shortage of building blocks in the world, but these colorful ones can connect by snapping top-to-bottom or side-to-side, plus they can rotate and slide. The big blocks are great for the littlest builders, while the standard blocks are best for when they stop putting things in their mouths.
The gift of play cant be beat
Toys break but memories your kids will make with you at the Childrens Museum in Oak Lawn will never fade. Museum gift cards make the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
Childrens Museum in Oak Lawn
5100 Museum Drive, Oak Lawn
Beezeebee Zeeland, .99, 12m+
You probably dont need a toy to make bathtime more fun, but it never hurts to have something in your back pocket. The activity center suctions to the tub so kids can play with the four sea creatures that fit in the holes and squirt water.
HABA Curioso Shape Sorter, .99, 1+
This isnt your average shape-sorter. The eight beechwood blocks each come with their own special features, like bells or kaleidoscopes, and the non-toxic stain means theyre safe for tots. Best of all, the sorter looks practically heirloom-quality.
Gears & Puzzles, .99, 2+
Parenthood might be a puzzle, but its nothing compared to this one! Kids can build endless combinations with the help of puzzle pieces and colorful gears, and then see them work together in an early exposure to basic mechanics.
Give them the magic of the stage
Ideal for all ages, Symphony of Clouds, by Margaret Larlham and directed by Ann Wakefield, will inspire your music and theater lovers. Follow the adventures in the life of young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: boy genius, musical prodigy and gifted composer, Jan. 13-Feb. 21.
Chicago Playworks for Families and Young Audiences
The historic Merle Reskin Theatre
The Theater School at DePaul University