Christmas Shopping on a budget for preschool children

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1. Something to read – approximate spend £5-£8

During lockdown 2020 I started to discover Montessori learning. One of the principles of this is have realistic books and where possible incorporate other objects to help with learning.

One of my 3 year old twins favourite activities is to look through books and try to find ‘lists’ of things in the pictures. Search, find and match books are ideal for this and provide a lot of early maths activities. We teamed our 101 Sea Creature books with a packet of realistic looking sea animals which they happily sit and try to match to the pictures they can see in the book.

Lift the flap books are also great for this age group and we have a number of the Usborne Look Inside range.

There are 101 Sea Creatures in this bookLook Inside Our World
Plastic Sea Creatures for ‘matching’Lift the flap questions and answers about space

2. Something to wear – approximate spend £15-20

Once children turn 3 the ‘dress up’ obsession begins. For our eldest it was dressing like a builder or a police office and for our 3 year old twins it is everything from a Disney Princess to a chef and a vet. You do not need to go all out with full on dress up costumes, I find some accessories to inspire their imagination is often enough and before you know it they are imitating you and being you better than you can!

Super Hero CapesKids Baking Set
Make Up and Hair Accessories
(I have included these as they are played with daily in our house)
Melissa & Doug Builder Costume

3. Middle Size present- approximate spend £15-£30

For me this is the perfect brief for an open ended toy and as the name suggests the possibilities are absolutely endless.

Less is more at this age and you will start to think “but this isn’t much?” – I can promise you from experience that the less toys they have to chose from, the more they will play with what they have and tidy up time will be much easier as the number of toys in circulation is reduced.

The point of an open ended toy is that your child will get years of enjoyment from it. They should not be getting bored with it anytime soon. For me these toys are an investment in the next 6-12 months because you should not need to replace them or buy anything else for a few months as your child will naturally start to play longer with them and extend the amount of playtime they get.

Some great examples of open ended toys which are suitable for this age group include Lego Junior, wooden play food, sorting toys, board games, small world play, and wooden train sets. Honestly the list is absolutely endless. You will see something very similar on all of these toys; there is not a flashy light or noisy button to be found.

Combine these toys with a weekly toy rotation and you will see the financial benefits of not buying toys so often.

Lego Junior
The benefits of Lego Junior is that you get the best of both worlds with smaller Lego pieces combined with some larger ‘shells’ to get your model built quicker
Melissa & Doug Wooden Play Food
The possibilities are endless with wooden play food, learn about food, early maths concepts such as shapes and sharing equally. This is also my go to gift when my children are invited to a birthday party.
Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie
Not only do my 3 year old twins love this Super Sorting Pie but so do I. There is something therapeutic about sorting all of the fruit into categories and making patterns. The possibilities again are endless, I have seen my girls use this as a learning game, in their play kitchen and my eldest will use it in the back of his trucks or on his play farm as harvest fodder.
Orchard Toys Shopping Game
This is another lockdown discovery. You can buy the basic set for 4 players or add either of the extension kits. It is amazing to watch the children learn to play this game and you will be amazed at how quickly they pick up the concepts and how long they will play for independently.
Sylvanian Families
The Red Roof Cosy Cottage is a great starter set at approximately £20. I remember buying this set for my nieces and they loved it.

Thomas Take & Play
These sets are far simpler than the more expensive big plastic sets and they are great travel toys.
Always supervise children under 3 with toys

4. Something from the Santa list

Try and take advantage of getting away with something cheaper here if you can. If you can’t try and manage expectations every time an ad comes on the TV – now is the time to instil a mindset that Santa cannot deliver everything they ask for.

If they have constantly changing lists I would buy something a keep the receipt – you can always change it later. I have been known to shop early and then encourage my children to watch ads with what I have bought, kind of helps with the process.

These are some bigger ticket toys which I have found our eldest adored and also the twins are now constantly arguing about as they ‘borrow’ them from his room.

Vtech Camera
I know I said no sounds or lights but from a longevity perspective this is a great purchase. Our eldest received his for his 3rd or 4th birthday and it is till going strong four years later. It is probably one of the most popular toys in our house and one of the most argued over.
Balance Bike
Our children love their bikes and learning to ride on a balance bike can set them up for success when a pedal bike comes along.
Micro Scooter
This is far from a budget buy but I recommend these because they retain their value and one in good condition will disappear off Facebook marketplace faster than you can make a coffee.
Baby Born Doll
These dolls are the ideal size because they fit premature baby size clothes (which are a lot cheaper than Baby Born branded clothing). Again expect hours of independent play from one of these.
Wooden Play Kitchen
You are probably thinking that a wooden kitchen looks really boring and uninviting. A wooden kitchen is far sturdier than its plastic counterparts (unless you want to spend a lot more on a Little Tikes or Step 2 Kitchen) and can often be customised to compliment your décor. The Ikea wooden kitchen is a popular choice among Montessori families because you can adapt the sink to add running water and set up a snack station for the child to use.
Wooden Train Set
This is probably one of the most played with toys in our house. Our eldest had complicated plastic train sets which by the time we had built them for him, he was bored. I bought a wooden train set and all of a sudden he could independently build the layouts in the way he liked. This is a great foundation gift as it can be added to for years to come (and no you do not need to spend a weeks pay on Brio! Your child will not know the difference)

5. Something they need – approximate spend £10-£50

A bit like ‘something to wear’ this is where you get to be your future money friend and buy something which you are going to probably buy anyway. Don’t spend the money twice if you don’t have to!

Swimming KitBean Bag
Ruck Sack for Pre School/SchoolPuddle Suit for Forest School
Chair & TableSchool Lunch Set

6. A handmade gift

This is your opportunity to make something yourself or support an independent business. There is a huge variety of independent businesses out there selling handmade clothes, toys, and decorative items. I love handmade gifts which will last; something like a poster with a name on it is perfect.

7. eBay/charity shop bargain

This could be anything. I recently bought my son a scooter in our local charity shop for £4.50 and the twins had a huge box of Sylvanian Families for £15. You wouldn’t have known any of it was pre loved.

8. Christmas stockings – approximate spend £15

This is yet another area where social media has sent people into over drive at Christmas. Keep it simple and small. A bath toy, a small toy (our kids love torches) and maybe another book. That’s it. Don’t buy anything else.