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Learning is at the center of a 5-year-old’s life, but that doesn’t mean they need so-called educational toys. Kids automatically get an educational benefit from any number of well-designed, engaging toys, says John Tenuto, a sociology instructor at the College of Lake County, in Grayslake, Illinois, who has studied toys and collectibles (and is an expert featured on the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us).You could look for gifts that complement a child’s natural curiosities, whether they’re focused on art, sports, or music. Books to build their library are wonderful choices. And board games are also great, especially cooperative ones that require working together as a group.We relied on the advice of Tenuto and other experts—as well as that of parents and caregivers on our staff—to identify memorable and engaging gifts for 5-year-olds. If you’re looking for more kids gift ideas, check out our guides to the best gifts for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, as well as thoughtful stocking stuffers for kids. We also have guides to gifts for tweens and teens. And please share your own best ideas in the comments below.Under $20A first gardening set Photo: Green ToysGreen Toys Indoor Gardening Kit ($15 at the time of publication)Green Toys Watering Can Toy ($14 at the time of publication)At around age 5, my oldest daughter started helping her grandfather plant, weed, and harvest in his large, lush vegetable garden during our summer visits to California. Whether you have a big garden, enjoy a modest green space (as we do, at our own home in urban Philadelphia), or grow indoors only, the gardening set and watering can from Green Toys are great for encouraging a young kid to develop a green thumb. Wirecutter has recommended Green Toys’s products, including this sandbox set, for kids because they are made from durable but slightly flexible plastic, so they can survive years of indoor and outdoor use, unlike cheaper, more-brittle sets that crack and shatter. The company’s indoor-gardening set includes three pots and a stand (perfect for placing on a windowsill), a trowel, ready-to-go soil discs, and three packets of seeds. The separate watering-can set pairs well with the pot set; the watering can comes with a hand rake and a small shovel.—Courtney SchleyA story of self-discovery Photo: Simon & Schuster Books for Young ReadersSulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison ($16 at the time of publication) Sulwe, actor Lupita Nyong’o’s first children’s book, is a magical tale that stems from the author’s real-life experiences. Like the titular character, Nyong’o was teased about her dark skin and, according to the book’s author notes, prayed for a lighter complexion. Sulwe, a picture book in which most of the pages display a purple, starry night sky, features Black people in every shade. But the bullying of Sulwe over her deep skin—the color of midnight, as the book describes it—is the real story. Though Black and brown children of color will relate to the themes of colorism, all children will find something to relate to in Sulwe’s spirited journey toward loving herself just as she is.—Kelly GlassLow-mess modeling clay Photo: CrayolaCrayola Model Magic Deluxe Variety Pack (about $14 at the time of publication)My daughter loves the tactile and squishy texture of Crayola’s Model Magic. She’s used it to mold everything from a fantastical landscape of fairy houses to a family of tiny pigs. The clay hardens after about 24 hours, so her figurines are sturdy enough to handle and play with (though she’s had pieces fall apart here and there). She was given a set in a range of colors, as well as the white modeling clay, which she stains with acrylic paint. As your child grows older, the clay also comes in handy for school projects; it’s perfect for building a diorama or any 3D design. And as a parent, I appreciate that the clay doesn’t crumble or leave behind a mess.—Ellen LeeCreepy-crawlies, close-up Photo: Kyle FitzgeraldCarson HU-10 BugView ($9.50 at the time of publication)This contraption’s sliding mechanism lets you trap an insect, an arachnid, or a small lizard from a distance, and it has a built-in magnifier, so you can get a closer look at your catch. My daughter gave this bug catcher to one of her friends for her fifth birthday. The friend and her younger sister love it. They were already pretty into bugs, and they like catching and carefully investigating critters in their yard—and then releasing them afterward.—Angela SylcottAn ogre for an opponent Photo: Rozette RagoPeaceable Kingdom Race to the Treasure! ($18 at the time of publication)Not all games need to produce a winner and a loser to be fun. Cooperative games have all players working together toward a common goal. They can help 5-year-olds practice skills like collaboration, compromise, communication, and conflict mediation, all of which are vital to their social and emotional learning inside and outside of school. In Race to the Treasure!, the goal is to gather three keys to unlock a treasure before an ogre reaches it. First, the players roll the dice to determine where on the grid to place the keys. They then take turns picking game tiles and deciding where to place them on the board in order to lay a path to the keys and avoid the ogre.—Courtney Schley$20 to $50A little learning lab Photo: Learning ResourcesLearning Resources Primary Science Lab Set ($30 at the time of publication)When my son turned 5, he fell hard for baking-soda volcanoes: the anticipation, the inevitable eruption, the whole frothy affair. This science-lab activity set brought things to a new level, allowing him to fill beakers, pour from test tubes, don goggles, use a magnifying glass, and more. Most of the time he asks to concoct these volcanoes—we just use the larger beaker as our “volcano,” though you could certainly place that inside your own papier-mâché mountain. But we’ve done all of the simple, engaging experiments that come printed on big cards. The whole thing stokes his curiosity and keeps us talking about science, which makes me very happy.—Ingrid SkjongFirst-rate fort building Photo: Crazy FortsCrazy Forts (about $40 at the time of publication) Fort building is having a big year. As many of us continue to search for ways to pep up time spent at home, being able to fashion a time machine, a rocket ship, or a privacy nook out of an old blanket and a few pillows has become a critical life skill. Crazy Forts is a fort-building kit consisting of 44 plastic poles, 25 connector balls, and building instructions; kids can make endless structural configurations and secret hideouts with the simple addition of a light sheet. (Younger kids may need some assistance building their creations.) Wirecutter editor Marilyn Ong said the kit has been a big help on the activity front; her 7-year-old leads the building charge with his two younger siblings, who are 4½ and 2½. (Another option is the similarly designed Lakeshore Ultimate Fort Builder, which we recommend in a guide to craft projects and creative toys we love for kids.) Need a structure big enough for, say, the whole family? Consider buying two of the same set and connecting them.—Caitlin GiddingsPiece by piece Photo: JanodJanod Equilibloc Balancing Game ($19 at the time of publication)We’ve noticed stock issues with this item. We’ll update this article once it’s available again. The Equilibloc Balancing Game is a colorful twist on a family favorite. “Everybody loves Jenga,” says Keewa Nurullah, owner of the children’s shop Kido in Chicago. “This version by Janod Toys includes a die.” The set includes 60 wooden pieces of seven different colors, and the game involves a bit more luck and strategy than traditional Jenga. Whichever color a player rolls on, the die is the color they need to take out. That raises the stakes, especially when the game nears the end and the tower is wobbly. Still, it’s fun and playable for kids of all ages. (The manufacturer gives a range of 3 years to 10 years, but we think 5-year-olds would have a ball with it.) The colors make it challenging and visually exciting for kids to play with—both as it is intended and as blocks for building structures.—Kelly GlassA mythical board game Photo: HABAHABA Dragon’s Breath (about $20 at the time of publication)We’ve noticed stock issues with this item. We’ll update this article once it’s available again. Dragon’s Breath, which won the prestigious Kinderspiel des Jahres award for best children’s board game of 2018, has themes and features that are sure to appeal to many 5-year-olds: sparkly gems, cute cartoon dragons, a magical ice tower, and a cleverly designed, two-level game board. Dragon’s Breath differs from more-traditional board games that have you roll a die, spin a wheel, or draw a card to move along on the game board. Instead, up to four players construct a column using translucent plastic rings (representing a magical ice tower); this offers just enough fine-motor challenge for a 5-year-old to find it satisfyingly tricky. Players then fill this tower with small, sparkly gems of different colors. Each player is responsible for collecting a specific color, and players take turns removing one ring at a time from the ice tower, causing the gems to scatter out onto the board (some will slip down into holes in the board). Kids have to gather as many gems of their color as they can. The game requires a mix of strategy and luck, and it’s mildly competitive and quick to play.—Kelly GlassAn at-home dino dig Photo: MindWareMindWare Dig It Up! Dinosaur Eggs (about $25 at the time of publication)A soft intro to paleontology, the Dig It Up! Dinosaur Eggs set offers little explorers the hands-on experience of excavation. The kit includes 12 individually wrapped clay eggs and 12 chisel tools. Keewa Nurullah, owner of the children’s shop Kido Chicago, loved watching her youngsters get their hands messy as they soaked the eggs in water and then chipped away at the softened clay to reveal the dinos inside each. An excavation guidebook explains more about each find, but the digging is where it’s at. When Wirecutter staff writer Ingrid Skjong’s 5-year-old received this as a gift, he was set to free all 12 dinos in one sitting. Doling them out over several weeks proved a bit more reasonable—and extended the fun.—Kelly GlassMetamorphosis in your living room Photo: Insect LoreInsect Lore Butterfly Farm with Live Cup of Caterpillars ($40 at the time of publication)Insect Lore Butterfly Garden with Voucher ($25 at the time of publication, plus an additional $8 to order the caterpillars)Whether you’re 5 or 35, watching the lifecycle of a caterpillar as it transforms into a big, beautiful butterfly is an incredible thing to experience, and this simple butterfly farm was a big hit in my home. My kids fell in love with the tiny baby caterpillars, which started off the size of rice grains and grew to the size of my 5-year-old daughter’s pinky finger before metamorphosing into Painted Lady butterflies. After a few days of watching them flitter about, we released them in the park. This was perfect, wholesome, educational fun, especially for my 5-year-old, who considered the butterflies to be her babies, since she assisted in their “birth.” If you’re planning to gift and use the Butterfly Farm immediately, get the kit that comes with live caterpillars. If you need to wait for warmer weather or would prefer to ease into butterfly rearing, buy the kit that comes with a coupon to send off for your caterpillars when you’re ready to watch nature’s magic.—Nancy ReddNature’s night-light Photo: Uncle MiltonUncle Milton Moon in My Room ($30 at the time of publication)We’ve noticed stock issues with this item. We’ll update this article once it’s available again. We bought the Moon in My Room for my son when he was a toddler for a couple of reasons, the first being that he was afraid of sleeping in the dark. We also got it because he loved spotting the moon in the night sky and pointing it out to everyone, shouting, “Moon! Moon!” When he started learning about the planets, the sun, and, yes, the moon in school, he found a renewed appreciation for the night-light—the craggy detailing, for instance, that’s evident even way up on the wall. The remote (which we initially kept to ourselves) lets him choose a phase and adjust the brightness, depending on his mood or how the actual moon looks outside. As parents, we appreciate that the night-light shuts off by itself. (If you’re giving it as a gift, we recommend that you include batteries; it requires four AA and two AAA.) Our son is now 10, but the moon is still on his wall. It currently matches his room’s Star Wars decor, and, truth be told, he still hates sleeping in the dark.—Joanne ChenA charming treasure chest Photo: Melissa & DougMelissa & Doug Wooden Pirate Chest ($25 at the time of publication)Aside from a live parrot, a treasure chest is the ultimate in pirate-themed accessories. This Melissa & Doug version (which my son got when he was 5 and which quickly became a staple in his toy rotation) comes with an eye patch, plastic gold coins, and a skull-and-crossbones bandana. (It’s also customizable; my kid’s name is etched into the top.) The middle slat of the bottom pops out to reveal a secret compartment, and the chest as a whole is large enough for stowing small toys and other miscellany. (We added these jewels. Can there ever be too much treasure?) If looking the part is crucial to your little one’s swashbuckling vibe, consider getting this pirate costume, which includes a one-piece outfit, a hat, and a plastic eye patch and dagger.—Ingrid SkjongFor a playful rainy day Photo: Holly & BeauHolly & Beau Color Changing Raincoats ($50 at the time of publication)Rainy days can be less than inspiring, even to a little kid. But thanks to Holly & Beau’s delightful raincoats, my 5-year-old son can’t get enough of a downpour. They are available in a range of cute prints, including dinosaurs, monsters, unicorns, and cars. And the designs on the jacket change color when they get wet (for example, a white dog will turn purple) and revert to their original state when dry again. The color shifts are really fun (though after nearly two years of wear, many of the designs have permanently changed color), and my son has a ball putting up the hood and tromping through the elements without a care in the world. On one particularly rainy day, he looked up at me and chirped, “This isn’t so bad!” Made by hand and machine-washable, the jacket folds into a neat pouch. And unlike umbrellas that break, it’s guaranteed to brighten up a drippy day.—Ingrid SkjongOver $50A sweet strummer Photo: LoogLoog Mini Acoustic Guitar ($80 at the time of publication)When our oldest son turned 3, my husband and I gave him a glossy red Loog Mini Acoustic Guitar. We listen to a lot of music, and his uncles all play the guitar, so I wanted him to start connecting with a musical instrument. We didn’t expect him to play it (he didn’t), but we did want him to love it (he did). By the time he turned 5, he had “played” too many rock concerts with his axe to count. He’s ready for some sit-down instruction—and so is the guitar, which has stood up well to its status as a daily favorite. An actual instrument, the Mini has nylon strings (the first three strings on a real guitar, making the transition to a 6-string easier), and it is a comfortable fit for little hands. My kid learned to correctly hold this guitar and how to strum, and he’s learning even more with the help of the Mini’s included flash cards and the app, which features a tuner and video lessons. (The Mini is suggested for ages 3 and older; the starting age for the next model up, the Pro Acoustic, is 8; and the Pro VI Acoustic is for ages 12 and older.) Whether or not our son grows up to be the next Dave Grohl, the Mini has made quite an impression: He’s asked for the electric version next. (Loog is about to launch its newly designed electric guitars, complete with built-in amps.)—Ingrid SkjongAn heirloom-worthy wooden toy Photo: TEDCOTedco Super Set Blocks and Marbles ($70 at the time of publication)A wooden set of Tedco’s original Blocks & Marbles is truly timeless. I spent years creating elaborate, Rube Goldberg–like towers with my set in the ’80s. My sister’s five kids have taken over in the decades since. And when my daughter gets a bit older, she’ll be ready to inherit the fun. Handmade by the Amish in Indiana, the set includes 14 marbles and 45 sloping tracks, and it has blocks made of tunneled wood that can be stacked and combined any way you choose. Together, kids and adults can build marble-racing runs in endless configurations that are as fun to design as they are to play with.—Caitlin GiddingsA building toy that really clicks Photo: ClixoClixo Rainbow Pack ($60 at the time of publication)“Like Magna-Tiles but bendy” is how my daughter described the Clixo building kit, which has flexible plastic pieces with strong magnetic nodes that snap together with a satisfying click. Instead of castles and cubes, Clixo pieces can be used to build curving, jointed, movable creations. The 42-piece Rainbow Pack has a variety of brightly colored, differently shaped pieces, and it comes with three spinners to make things like pinwheels, whirligigs, or helicopters. I sometimes divvy up the pack for car rides, and the pieces stack together efficiently for cleanup.—Courtney SchleyThe most Mo Willems Photo: Winnie YangElephant & Piggie: The Complete Collection ($135 at the time of publication)Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie are two of the most charming characters in modern children’s literature. I was a school librarian for almost a decade, and I don’t think I’ve met a single kid who didn’t fall in love with these hilarious books when we read them together. They were favorites of my daughter’s for years, and they’re perfect for young kids just learning to read on their own. Willems ended the series at 25 books, and this set (which comes with metal Elephant and Piggie bookends) has all of them. Throw in the stuffed versions of Elephant and Piggie for the full story-time experience.—Jackie ReeveA tough two-wheeler Photo: Ian TroxellCo-op Cycles REV 16 Kids’ Bike ($190 at the time of publication)A 5-year-old may be ready for that classic big gift: a first real bicycle. The Co-op Cycles REV 16 Kids’ Bike, our pick in the guide to the best first pedal bike, is a great choice for a brand-new rider. It’s light (16.9 pounds) and highly adjustable, and it comes with training wheels (though if your child has mastered a balance bike, they may not need them). The semi-knobby tires perform well on dirt or pavement. And an adjustable seat post as well as the handlebar stem’s 1½-plus inches of adjustability mean this bike can grow along with a kid. This model’s old-school coaster brakes make it easy for kids to get going without much fuss. Also, unlike most similar bikes we tested, the REV 16 comes nearly completely assembled, so you won’t have to do a lot of painful wrenching (or visit a bike shop) before your kid takes it out for a spin.—Chris DixonWe love finding gifts that are unusual, thoughtful, and well vetted. See even more gift ideas we recommend.
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