“Five is the age parents say their child changes from being truly ‘little’ to a mini adult, with opinions and strong interests all of their own,” says Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting video network ChannelMum.com. With that in mind, we asked 13 experts — from play psychologists to parenting writers and toy makers — to recommend the best gifts for all budgets. Kids this age will appreciate gifts that show you’ve been paying attention to their current likes and dislikes, so there’s something to suit everybody whether you’re shopping for a little scientist, a bookworm, an artist, or a daredevil. Read on for the best STEM toys, board games, books, dolls, and outdoor toys.
The best role-play and small-world toys for 5-year-olds
“Creating their own worlds really encourages children to use their imagination and builds their storytelling skills,” says play psychologist and Good Play Guide founder Amanda Gummer. She recommends buying this set, as children can have lots of fun imagining their characters’ journey in the van and as they set up camp.
“This is an absolute classic, and one that stands the test of time,” says Kate Everall, blogger at LesBeMums and mother of a 5-year-old. “I don’t know many children who don’t like to build a train track. Nowadays, there’s so much you can add to your collection — from train stations and junctions, to bells and tunnels.” This Deluxe set includes five red supports to raise the track, so children can enjoy pushing the train up and down different levels.
“These wooden stacking and balancing blocks are so simple, but so engaging — and are a great, calming, mindful toy,” says Alisha Lestrade, founder of diverse doll brand Thimble & Doll. Almost any 5-year-old will enjoy experimenting with how the worms can balance on top of each other.
At this age, children thrive on being given a little responsibility, so Natasha Crookes, director of public affairs and communications at the British Toy and Hobby Association, recommends getting them this swimming plastic fish, which they can look after and “feed” with the magnetic fish feeder. It comes with batteries included.
For another first-“pet” option, Everall recommends HexBugs. “They are cute, battery-operated ‘bugs’ that vibrate and travel around a variety of environments, from tunnels to obstacle courses,” she explains. Batteries come included in this one too.
“At this age children are now able to express themselves in lots of ways and will often pretend to be someone else,” says Emma Fraser, teacher of the deaf at the National Deaf Children’s Society. Lestrade says her son was really into dressing up in superhero costumes and masks when he turned 5, so she’d recommend seeing whether your local supermarket has any in stock.
“Every child loves a den, somewhere they can hide, or curl up to share a book with a friend,” says Fraser. She recommends this cocoon hanging chair in which kids can swing safely, or chill and daydream. Reviewers say it is easy to get set up, but you will need to install a ceiling hook.
The best art and craft gifts for 5-year-olds
Vese Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu, founder of children’s brand Philly & Friends, recommends these “beautiful” colouring pencils embossed with inspirational words. The sets include colouring cards and wall posters, so kids can decorate their rooms with the inspiring messages too.
Tessa Trabue, Let Toys Be Toys campaigner and co-founder of the Toymark Award, recommends this colouring book, which is part of the best-selling Little People, Big Dreams series. It features an eclectic mix of 15 famous faces, some which will be more familiar to children than others, including Maya Angelou, Stephen Hawking, Greta Thunberg and … Agatha Christie.
This craft set includes more than 1,000 beads in 24 colors, which can be turned into permanent works of art simply by spraying them with water. Gummer says it is great for encouraging the development of fine motor control in the fingers and hands. “It is lovely to see children making the star shape and then giving it to friends and family members as a ‘well done’ gift,” she adds.
Don’t underestimate the importance of diverse representation in children’s toys. Kids need to have toys that reflect themselves, but they also need to have ones which reflect the world around them and normalise seeing depictions of a wide range of different people. Nina Malone, founder of Dope Black Mums, says her daughter loves this book, as she likes that “the girl in her coloring book looks just like her.”
Add an extra sensory element to colouring in with these markers, each one of which has a distinct smell: strawberry, blueberry, orange, watermelon, blackberry, green apple, grape, and lemon. “This is a great resource to encourage tabletop activity with an added olfactory, sensory element,” says Caireen Sutherland, principal education officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
The best board games and puzzles for 5-year-olds
This puzzle was recommended by both Malone and Keisha Ehigie, founder of book subscription box Imagine Me Stories. “I think just about every mum in our Dope Black Mums group has one of these puzzles,” says Malone. “I am hoping to get all of them. I have the Jamaica puzzle, which comes with a bonus poster. It’s a great educational gift and since having ours, I have bought it for everyone I know.”
The best STEM toys for 5-year-olds
Rachel Vecht, a teacher and mum-of-four who founded the “Educating Matters” seminars, rates this construction set, as she likes kits that “encourage children to develop creativity and don’t just get them follow set instructions to only produce one outcome.”
Everall recommends this set “if your little ones like to think big.” “They’re versatile and easy to use,” she explains. “In no time you’ll have built yourself a house or a boat.” The manufacturers recommend this one for kids aged 6+, but Everall says her 5-year-old has mastered it.
The best soft toys and dolls for 5-year-olds
Crookes says these collectable monsters are already a hit in the U.S. and are sure to capture the hearts of kids in the U.K. The large Monji monster cuddly toy has a cold-to-the-touch popsicle hidden inside its mouth, which you can carve up to reveal one of 28 mini Monji monsters.
The best books for 5-year-olds
Lestrade says her son is a good reader, but sometimes trying to get him to read is hard work. If your child is of a similar temperament, she recommends this compendium of eight mini adventures starring Lego figurines. “This has been the only book my son will pick up off his own back, rather because I’ve suggested we read a story,” she says.
“This is gold dust,” says Vecht. “It teaches children essential values for life.” Kids can follow the tales of the eight residents of 7 Oaks, including Lily Skunk and Ernie the Worm, as they learn about topics such as consideration and the importance of being responsible.
Rocket, a science-mad chatterbox, is on a mission to convince her big brother to stop looking down at his phone and start looking up at the stars — and she may just convince young readers to do the same. Lestrade says her son loves this story as the main character is refreshingly different from the usual protagonists of kids’ books.
Children can help shape the stories played on this interactive audio storyteller, by selecting the characters, locations and items that feature in the tales. “The children were fascinated with the stories and they felt like they were writing their own,” says Gummer. “This is a good toy to take on long journeys.”
The best outdoor toys for 5-year-olds
“Whether your 5-year-old lives in a city tower block or a rural idyll, this present gives and gives,” says Freegard. “Why watch an iPad when you can watch a bird pecking at your window? Children will get to recognise birds that visit regularly and will see them as ‘pets’ to be cherished.”
“This bubble wand is perfect for 5-year-olds — just dip it in the bubble solution and wave to make three types of bubbles at once,” says Trabue, who adds that it is great fun for parties.
The best active indoor toys for 5-year-olds
There is plenty of room for kids to crawl about in this spacious dome tent and four connecting tunnels, which is recommended by Millsop. Turn off the lights, or take it outside on dark evenings to watch the stars glow, giving children an immersive space experience.
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