Kids Hate Cheese Boards. Gift Them These Toys Instead.

Kids Hate Cheese Boards. Gift Them These Toys Instead. | Chicago Shopping | Groupon

Determined to buy the best holiday gifts of their lives, Groupon's Style & Beauty writers sought shopping advice from local experts. Click here for guides to buying presents for the fitness lover, foodie, or coffee addict in your life.

For many people, being a parent is a full-time job with no paid overtime. But for Sara Fisher, co-founder of 2 Moms Media, parenthood has become a fruitful career. She shares the challenges and triumphs of raising kids on her blog, Self-Made Mom, and as a contributing writer for Chicago Parent magazine.

Naturally, when pressed for holiday gift advice, the busy mom was quick to recommend items that would benefit overworked parents. To be sure everyone’s getting enough sleep, she suggests this stoplight alarm clock with red, yellow, and green lights that let kids know when it’s an appropriate time to get out of bed. To spare parents hectic trips to the grocery store, she likes gift cards for Artizone, a grocery delivery service that specializes in artisanal and organic foods.

My own family has grown exponentially each year, and this holiday season I was staring down a list that included more than 30 children. Luckily, Sara wasn’t short on gift recommendations for the pickiest of all giftees.

Where to Shop

If you prefer small businesses to chains: One of Sara’s favorite kids’ boutiques is Twinkle Twinkle Little One (2007 W. Belmont), which she likes for its extensive selection of furniture, gifts, and accessories for children and babies. For toys (and great customer service—a bonus for frazzled shoppers) she recommends Building Blocks Toy Store (3306 N. Lincoln) “hands down,” and she swears by the boys’ clothing at Little Threads (2033 W. Roscoe), where parents will find cute graphic tees and sturdy playwear.

If you don’t have time to canvass the whole city: Sara likes the mix of stores in the Gold Coast, which is convenient for when you’re shopping for an entire family. “I can get toys from Galt, baby gifts at Preggers (both at 900 N. Michigan), and lots of shopping for the adults in my family around Oak Street and beyond.”

For great consignment pieces: If you need to buy practical items like winter coats and holiday outfits, but want to reserve most of your budget for toy shopping, Sara recommends hitting up secondhand stores such as The Second Child (954 W. Armitage) and Moxie Jean, an Arlington, Illinois–based company whose online shop has been featured on Today.

Once you realize a pony doesn’t fit in a stocking: Sara finds Matchbox cars and rubber-band bracelets to be classic stocking stuffers, and also likes the s’mores flavor of Jolly Oak Granola (available throughout the city) as “a fun treat for kids to open up in the morning and snack on while opening gifts.”

What to Buy for...

Family game night: A gift centered on an activity is a great way to cross a whole brood off the list in one fell swoop. Puzzle games such as Korner’D entertain different ages and, in Sara’s experience, “are good for special needs kids, too.” Sara’s kids love the magnet-based game AttrAction, and she loves the Xbox with Kinect “because it gets the whole family playing and moving at the same time.”

Tots who are more interested in the wrapping than the gift: Sara suggests Baby Paper, a toy that looks and feels like a piece of cloth but sounds like paper. Babies are fascinated by the sound, and when they invariably put it in their mouth, parents can relax—it’s machine washable.

Kids too old for toys but too young to be into clothes: “I’m still a fan of Legos for any age kid,” Sara says, particularly the new Chima Lego sets for their alternative worlds and buildable figures. For a more action-packed gift, she recommends the battery-powered Ground Force go-cart by Razor.

Future Picassos, J.K. Rowlings, and Katy Perrys: When it comes to artsy kids, Sara says she loves giving experiences such as classes at the Art Institute. For something more tangible, she recommends the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and says “you can’t beat those cool headphones by Pottery Barn Kids.”

Those days it’s too cold to play outside: To help kids burn off some energy, Sara likes indoor Nerf hoops and these football action-figure toys by Kaskey Kids.

Kids who have nailed the whole sharing thing: Sara’s crazy about Magna-Tiles, which she says “are hands down my favorite gift for the 6-and-under set…really durable. Plus so many come in one set it’s easy to share.” The specially engineered design of Citiblocs makes it easy to build tall, sturdy designs, even if there’s a clumsy kid in the group.

Groupon’s Gift Shop has toys and other gift ideas for kids.

Photo: left, Heather Kingensmith; right,  courtesy of Twinkle Twinkle Little One.