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13 screen-free gift ideas to keep kids happy and entertained over the holidays – National

Kids are attracted to screens like flies to honey and, honestly, it makes sense. Even as adults, we know that scrolling on a tablet, playing video games and watching endless streaming content are fun ways to relax and be entertained, without a lot of effort.

But any parent or caregiver knows just how addictive screen-based technology can be — and many have felt the frustration of trying to set screen time limits for kids who are less than willing to comply.

If you’re struggling to find some gifts that will pry your kid’s eyes away from their screen this holiday season, look no further. These gift ideas are a great bet to keep kids busy, amused and away from technology, even if it’s just for a little while.

And, as an added bonus, these aren’t “one-and-done” toys that kids will abandon minutes after opening them. These ideas are gifts that kids can go back to again and again, making sure your get your money’s worth, as well as keeping them out of your hair for a while.

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For the kid who loves to build

Lego has come a long way since we were kids, and each year the building bricks favourite rolls out fresh and exciting builds for kids of all ages.

We’re especially loving Lego kits that come with plenty of pieces but leave lots of room for creativity; the Modern Art set being one example.

While this build is sure to keep kids (or adults!) busy and help with their math and logic skills, it can also be taken apart and remade into many designs. Plus, it has a cool ’90s vibe to it, which is all the rage these days.

However, if you have a kid who prefers a structured build, likes to play pretend, or wants to follow the directions to a tee, Lego continues to offer many immersive builds, like the Harry Potter: Ministry of Magic set.

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Hogwart’s fans will get a kick out of building this famous multi-story headquarters, which comes with nine mini-figures, Polyjuice Potion to change their expressions, and a modular design so kids can reposition the rooms and create even more adventures.

Lego Modern Art ($64.99) and Harry Potter: The Ministry of Magic ($90.99), available at Lego.com


Just like Lego, Hot Wheels were a big part of our childhood. They have stood the test of time and keep getting better with age.

If your kid likes vehicles, racing or a good session of crash-up, the Hot Wheels Action Epic Crash Dash will be just the ticket to keep them busy this holiday season.

Hot Wheels Epic Crash Dash

Featuring five crash zones, two loops and a motorized booster to keep the cars moving, this set comes with plenty of excitement while experimenting with how many cars can be on the track at the same time before an inevitable big crash.

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Hot Wheels Action Epic Crash Dash, $49.97, available at Walmart.ca.


It seems like marble runs are a dime a dozen these days, but very few offer an experience quite like Gravitrax.

While most marble runs seem to come pre-built or only offer a few limited ways to set up the track, Gravitrax is completely customizable with tons of accessories and components that all work differently, making players in charge of designing a completely original course — and using their problem solving skills while they’re at it!

The other awesome feature of GraviTrax is it’s host of expansion packs and Pro edition, which make the building opportunities endless.

Gravitrax Starter Set, $79.99, available at Mastermind Toys.

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For the STEAM-loving kid

Simple games are a great way to keep kids busy, either with each other, friends or as a family. The classic UNO card game has been given a fresh twist with UNO Quatro, adding tiles and a playing board to make an exciting yet easy game that even young kids will be able to figure out quite quickly.

UNO Quatro

We love that the game comes with graphic symbols to help out colour blind players. It also serves as a low-stakes way to teach your children impulse control and conflict management, and helps build skills in memory and strategic thinking.

UNO Quatro Game, $29.97, available at Walmart.ca.


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While we’ve covered a lot of toys that have stood the test of time from our own childhoods, 3D pens are a gadget that definitely were not on our wishlists as kids.

There are plenty of 3D printing pens on the market right now, at a variety of price points, but they all pretty much do the same thing — long, thin strips of plastic filament are fed into the back or side of the pen and warmed up, coming out the tip kind of like the hot glue from a glue gun.

But, unlike a glue gun, the plastic is’t too hot, meaning less chance of burns. And, unlike a 3D printer, it’s much more forgiving if you make a mistake — just cut away the part you don’t like and continue creating your masterpiece.

SCRIB3D 3D Printing Pen, $39.99, available on Amazon.ca.

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If you have a kid who loves to play with cause-and-effect, a Snap Circuit kit is the perfect toy to keep them busy for hours.

The Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Exploration Kit is a small toy that packs a big punch — its tray, base and electrical components fit into a box only slightly bigger than a piece of loose-leaf paper, but can create more than 100 experiments.

And while the set up and instructions are simple enough for even little kids to figure out, the kit starts them on the right foot using proper terminology like “conductors” and “diodes.” Younger kids can follow along with the instructions to turn on a lightbulb or power a mini propellor, while older kids will enjoy freestyling their own designs.

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You can also purchase upgrade kits that work with Snap Circuit Jr.’s original components for extra building and experimentation.

Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Exploration Kit, $46.00, available at Amazon.ca.


If you’re a parent or caregiver with any sort of social media presence, chances are you’ve seen a KiwiCo crate in action, even if you didn’t realize it.

These monthly STEAM subscription boxes are perfect for the budding architect, engineer, artist or any kid that’s into learning about science and art in a hands-on way. KiwiCo offers various boxes for kids aged zero to 16, and there are a number of different themes to fit your child’s unique interests.

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What sets KiwiCo apart is that not only are the projects in each crate really innovative and creative, they’re also a ton of fun once you’ve mastered the assembly. They often contain working electrical and kinetic components and can become part of further imagination or exploration play.

Customers can order one box at a time or sign up for prepaid plans that ship a box each month. Also, if there’s a particular project that’s caught your eye, you can order individual boxes, a la carte, on the KiwiCo website.

Choose your subscription or box at Kiwico.com.


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A set of walkie talkies are a no-brainer when it comes to upping the fun of pretty much any activity.

Walkie talkies set.

Siblings will love using them to communicate while in the house, friends will love using them during playdates and they can even be loaned to other kids to use while playing a game of neighbourhood tag or hide-and-seek.

Walkie Talkies for Kids 3 Pack, $32.99, available at Amazon.ca.


For the kid who’s always on the move

There are fewer things more quintessentially Canadian than an afternoon at the sledding hill. A snow scooter is the perfect gift to up the fun and antics while enjoying the outdoors.

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These nifty little sleds are perfect for kids who want to get a feel for downhill sports without the pricey lift ticket or are looking for something a bit more challenging on sledding days. They’re also great for building better balance and can be used on flat ground, by propelling with one foot.

The handle makes these scooters easy to maneuver while going down a hill and provides a bit of extra balance, The lack of foot straps also ensures kids can avoid the hard falls on the bum that snowboarders and skiers know all too well.

H2O Scoot Snow Scooter, $32.99, available at Canadian Tire.


Speaking of the outdoors, crafting snow forts is another activity that ranks high on the list of Canadian kid winter pastimes. Long gone are the days of crafting snow blocks by hand for the perfect fort or igloo — kids today can make snow brick building a breeze with these handy molds.

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Snow brick maker.

While it’s a very basic toy that’s cheap enough to be a stocking stuffer, these molds are sure to be a hit next time the kids wake up to a pile of the white stuff and realize they can quickly build an impressive structure with sturdy, evenly sized blocks.

Sno Brick Maker, $5.99, available at Indigo.ca.


If your family loves pickleball, Spikeball or both, then they’re sure to love this latest acvitity, which combines two of the most viral games of the last decade.

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PaddleSmash is meant for two to four players and is probably best played outside, but could also work if you have a large area in your home where you can move around freely. The rules are straightforward and set up is quick, making this game fun for spontaneous competitions.

PaddleSmash does, however, require a bit of strength to play properly, which means it’s probably best suited for older kids. But even young ones will have fun chasing the balls down when they go astray.

PaddleSmash, $283.87, available on Amazon.ca.


For the budding artist

A tracing pad is a toy that pretty much any kid would love to have in their artistic arsenal — and the good news is that they have many uses beyond simply tracing.

This deceptively simple device is a great way to encourage kids to practice their drawing skills while trace pictures and lettering. But it’s also an essential tool for any kid who wants to practice a new font, learn how to draw their favourite characters or wants to layer elements from several pictures into one of their own.

Crayola Light Up Tracing Pad.

These pads are also handy for diamond painting and tracing designs or patterns onto fabric, and the come in handy as a moody play surface for action figures and dolls.

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We also love that so long as you have access to a tablet or phone and a printer, you can find an endless supply of fonts, pictures and designs to keep your little artist glued to this less distracting screen.

Crayola Light Up Tracing Pad, $39.99, available at Michaels.com.


Stickers are a form of currency between many kids, so why not give them the ability to make their own?

With this paint and peel set, kids can create their very own jelly stickers that can be used to decorate water bottles, lockers or anything else with a hard, smooth surface. Plus, they come with a bunch of rhinestones and googly eyes to make designs even more whimsical and fun.

The stickers are really straightforward to make, just squeeze out the jelly paint, decorate it and let it dry. They can be reused, traded and gifted and each kit comes with enough supplies to make up to 60 stickers.

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Paint & Peel Jelly Stickers, $26.99, available on Amazon.ca.


Looking for more gift ideas? Check out our other gift guides, as well as suggestions from previous years, here.

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