The 22 Best Gifts for 8-Year-Olds
Any age is a good time for tinkering, crafting, and building, but many engineering toys are recommended for kids age 8 and older specifically because kids this age have the dexterity to manipulate small pieces, the logic and reasoning skills to follow instructions, and the ability to focus on a task for longer periods of time, says Elizabeth Gajdzik, assistant director of Inspire, a research institute focused on pre-college engineering education in Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education. (The research group reviews some 120 new engineering toys, kits, and games for its annual gift guide.)Many kids who end up pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers start developing their interest in it by age 8, adds Tamara Moore, executive director of Inspire and an associate professor in engineering education at Purdue. Age 8 marks the time of “the first spark,” when kids see and understand that they can become scientists or engineers, she says. “So you want to capture their imagination.” Of course, art supplies, craft kits, and creative games can also be an important part of the mix at this age (and some educational researchers call for expanding STEM to STEAM, to include art, design and humanities).We considered Gajdzik’s and Moore’s advice on great engineering toys, and relied on advice from other experts and members of our staff, to find all kinds of gifts that are likely to challenge and delight the 8-year-old in your life. 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, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds, as well as wonderful stocking stuffers for kids. And please share your own best ideas in the comments below.Under $20Learn a new trickPhoto: AmazonJuggling for the Complete Klutz ($15 at the time of publication)Juggling for the Complete Klutz, a set of three red beanbags and an easy-to-follow instruction booklet (first published in 1977!), appeared under my family’s tree one year when I was a kid. My three younger brothers and I tossed the cube-shaped bags around for months till we all became fairly proficient jugglers. To say it changed our lives is an overstatement, but I’m proud to say all four of us can still juggle with ease. (My dad, ever the sentimentalist, still has our original set.) Klutz still makes the classic kit, and while my 5-year-old isn’t quite ready to take on the challenge—the set is recommended for ages 8 and up—I can’t wait for him to try. The cubes are easy to grip and the clear-cut instructions lay out the steps to successful juggling (the toss, the drop) with expertise and a dash of humor. Juggling is great for hand-eye coordination, but more than that, it’s one of those hard-won skills that helps instill the joy (along with the inevitable frustration) of mastering something new—and it’s not a bad party trick, either.—Ingrid Skjong, staff writerCode like a piratePhoto: ThinkFunThinkFun Potato Pirates ($15 at the time of publication)This wacky card game, for three to six players, may look like it’s just a battle between cute little potatoes, but it also introduces kids to the fundamentals of computer programming. Each player is the captain of a pirate ship with a crew of potatoes, represented by soft tan balls. Drawing cards, players search for the elusive “Potato King” cards and take turns “programming” their ships to execute a function, for instance “roasting,” “frying,” or “mashing” (that is, destroying) another ship’s crew. Students who tested it “were laughing and hollering,” says Gajdzik of Purdue’s Inspire Research Institute, which named Potato Pirates as its overall top pick of 2019 after reviewing more than 120 new engineering toys and kits.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorA sticky challengePhoto: Melissa & DougMelissa & Doug Suspend Family Game ($13 at the time of publication)My kids and their friends love pulling out this easy-to-learn and easy-to-set-up game, which was also recommended by Lisa Regalla, Director of STEM Learning & Innovation of the Center for Childhood Creativity, in Sausalito, California. Players take turns balancing thin, bent metal rods (which come in an assortment of colors and lengths; a roll of a die determines which rod a player must use) on a stand, creating a delicate wire sculpture. If you place too many rods at a precarious angle, the structure (or parts of it) comes crashing down—a satisfying end to the game.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorPom-pom projectsPhoto: KlutzKlutz Mini Pom-Pom Pets ($15 at the time of publication)My boys can’t get enough of cute, little stuffies. So they were pretty excited to unwrap the Klutz Mini Pom-Pom Pets kit, which lets kids create their own diminutive animal friends from homemade yarn pom-poms. My husband and I had to help with the first couple of critters, but the instructions are clear. And once the “body” is created—you wrap the included yarn around a fork to form a sort of ball, then clip the string loops, tie it off, and, voilà!, a tiny ball of fluff—the rest of the job (glueing on eyes and other features) is simple. The kids seemed to find satisfaction in envisioning and creating their own little bunny or chick, and one even gifted the resulting poofball to a friend who was going through a rough time. We liked the set with a variety of animals, but you can also focus in on just pom-pom pups or pom-pom kitties.—Kalee Thompson, senior editorUltra-creative clayPhoto: Hey ClayHey Clay Aliens ($17 at the time of publication)
We already recommended Hey Clay in our gift guide for 6-year-olds. But it’s become such a favorite, we added it here, too. Options include these aliens, plus monsters and animals. The molding mania begins with 18 cans of delightfully textured clay. Kids can either sculpt on their own or create figures with the help of a fun instructional app. Burgeoning sculptors learn useful techniques (like how to introduce texture, for instance), and the clay dries completely in 24 hours, resulting in a figure that can either be displayed or played with. Artistic expansion aside, we’ve also found the kits to be excellent travel companions. One word of warning: Once the individual pots of clay are open, it’s a good idea to use up the contents within a couple of weeks. We’ve found they dry out if left alone for much longer.—Ingrid Skjong, staff writer$20 to $50Circuit constructionPhoto: ElencoElenco Snap Circuits Classic ($63 at the time of publication)E-Blox Circuit Blox Builder 120 Projects ($40 at the time of publication) From having kids build a working radio to a toy house that lights up, the Snap Circuits Classic and the E-Blox Circuit Blox Builder let kids explore the fundamentals of electronics and circuit design with easy-to-use pieces that snap together. Snap Circuits Classic, one of our recommended STEM toys, comes with basic components such as power sources, switches, and wires. E-Blox Circuit Blox pieces are similar to Snap Circuits but resemble—and are compatible with—Lego bricks. Gajdzik of Purdue’s School of Engineering likes both sets for kids who are interested in exploring the basics of circuitry, though she’s found that E-Blox Circuit Blox can be easier for kids with a little less dexterity to manipulate pieces.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributor A storytelling gamePhoto: Rozette RagoDixit ($21 at the time of publication)My daughter recently came home from a friend’s house raving about a “bunny game.” The bunnies turned out to be from Dixit (players are represented by bunny-shaped game pieces), one of Wirecutter’s favorite board games for both kids and adults and the winner of the 2010 Spiel des Jahres prize for general audience games. Dixit players are each dealt six wordless cards that bear provocative and interesting illustrations (though my daughter and I noticed that the humans represented in those illustrations could stand to be more diverse). In each round, one “lead player” chooses one of their cards and makes a short statement—a sentence, poem, story, song, or even a single word—about what’s shown on it (without revealing what it is). Each of the other players responds by selecting a card of their own that they think best fits with the statement, and all of the players then vote on which card best matches. Rather than rewarding speed or dexterity, Dixit is all about creativity, provocation, and storytelling.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributor Balls that keep the game going after darkPhoto: Dan FrakesGlowCity Light Up Soccer Ball and Basketball ($24 and $28 each at the time of publication)Even if you live where winter nights are temperate enough that you can stay outdoors, it can be tough for kids to play their favorite sports once the afternoon grows short. A lit backyard or driveway helps, but it still may be difficult to see a ball well enough to avoid the occasional face shot. GlowCity’s regulation-size soccer ball and basketball solve this problem by lighting the ball from the inside, allowing kids to play as late as they want to (or at least as late as you let them). The company also makes a football, but we haven’t tried it.—Dan Frakes, senior editorFabulous watercolorsPhoto: Kyle FitzgeraldKuretake watercolors ($28 at the time of publication)Kuretake watercolors are a step up from most watercolor pan sets that kids use, and they would make a special and likely unexpected gift—for a kid or an adult. Made by a 117-year-old sumi ink manufacturer in Nara, Japan, these paints feature a wide array of bright colors to experiment with, and the large pans and quick-dissolving formulation make the paints easy to work with, even for kids.—Michael Hession, head of photography and videoRobotic animalsPhoto: Thames & KosmosThames & Kosmos Engineering Makerspace: Terrain Walkers ($27 at the time of publication)This kit comes with 138 pieces—including gear trains, linkages, and a motor box—that allow kids to assemble eight different robotic animals, including a kangaroo that hops and a mouse that scurries across the floor. Kids can follow the instructions animal by animal or use their imaginations to build their own designs. Terrain Walkers is part of the Engineering Makerspace series, which has kits of different levels of complexity that allow kids to build various robotic structures. Purdue University’s Gajdzik named the Engineering Makerspace: Terrain Walkers one of the 10 best engineering toys for 2019, calling it a fun way to learn about mechanical design. Plus, the animal robots move the way they’re supposed to, from a wriggling shrimp to a monkey that can crawl along a string.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorFinishing touches for projectsPhoto: Kid Made ModernKid Made Modern 1000pc Arts and Crafts Library ($40 at the time of publication)Whether or not your kid is ultra-arty, the Kid Made Modern 1000pc Arts and Crafts Library is an appealing tool kit for finishing off any creative endeavor. According to senior staff writer Lauren Dragan, whose young son routinely dives into the collection of fun stuff, it’s finishing touches like the ones found here—googly eyes, beads, stick-on jewels, pom-poms—that take a project from good to great. And when the treasure trove of supplies begins to dwindle, the cardboard box itself can be used as a space to store miscellaneous arts-and-crafts items that your kid already owns.—Caira Blackwell, updates writer$50 and overCozy comforterPhoto: Pottery BarnPottery Barn Kids Solar System Glow-in-the-Dark Duvet Cover ($66 for a twin at the time of publication)Utopia Bedding Comforter Duvet Insert ($25 for a twin at the time of publication)If your 8-year-old is still sleeping with a comforter from their preschool days, they may be ready for an update. Pottery Barn Kids duvet covers are a great middle ground between little-kid bedding and adult linens. The covers come in more than a hundred colors, prints, and patterns and you’re likely to find something that fits with your kid’s taste, including glow-in-the-dark solar systems, unicorns, butterflies, and Star Wars. The more classic options, like plaid, gingham, floral or solids, could grow with a kid through their teenage years. We chose a pastel, watercolor-like rainbow print for our three kids’ beds and I’ve often remarked to my husband that the silky cotton fabric feels softer and finer than that of our own duvet cover. The Pottery Barn Kids covers have handy corner ties that attach to a comforter insert to keep it from shifting around. Pair your cover of choice with the inexpensive but ultra-fluffy Utopia Bedding Comforter Duvet Insert, our pick for the best down-alternative comforter.Marvelous marblesPhoto: RavensburgerRavensburger Gravitrax Starter Set Marble Run ($60 at the time of publication)We’ve noticed stock issues with this item. We’ll update this article once it’s available again.My 8-year old spotted this next-level marble run at a local toy store over a year ago, and he requested it from his grandparents for the holidays last year. The toy, which has you stack and arrange plastic disks to build complex marble-racing routes, incorporates concepts of gravity, magnetics, and kinetics, and overall it feels far more refined than the taller, tubular plastic marble runs we encountered when my son was younger. (Gravitrax is one of the top picks in Purdue University’s 2019 gift guide.) I’ve found that it’s the sort of thing he pulls out and obsesses over for a few days, and then doesn’t play with again until a couple of months later. But each time my son rediscovers Gravitrax in the game closet, he seems ready to take his marble chutes to the next level of complexity.—Kalee Thompson, senior editorAn invention kit from MITPhoto: JoyLabzMakey Makey ($50 at the time of publication)Developed at the MIT Media Lab, Makey Makey is an “invention kit” that connects to a computer via a USB cable and lets kids turn household objects—like bananas or Play-Doh—into a keyboard, controller, or touchpad. (If this is hard to visualize, check out this video, which shows some of the things kids can create with Makey Makey, including a banana piano and a Play-Doh video game controller.) The possibilities are endless, which is why Makey Makey is recommended by Lisa Regalla, Director of STEM Learning & Innovation at the Center for Childhood Creativity, in Sausalito, California. “You can hook up fruits, vegetables, flowers, anything that mildly conducts electricity,” she says.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorA Lego dollhousePhoto: LegoLego Friends Stephanie’s House ($70 at the time of publication)We’ve noticed stock issues with this item. We’ll update this article once it’s available again.With 622 pieces, Lego Friends Stephanie’s House is a large and ambitious Lego set. But kids who stick with it will end up with a dollhouse where a family of three figurines and their pet rabbit can sleep, cook, work, and relax on a swing set. Stephanie’s House is part of Lego’s Friends line (it includes thematic sets, such as a restaurant, a pool party, and a dolphin rescue), which offers something different than the more archetypical vehicle/rocket/pirate ship kits that many people associate with Lego. When we tested Stephanie’s House with more than 50 kids, ages 5 to 12, they liked the set’s bright pink and blue colors, and that it comes with larger characters (instead of traditional Lego mini figures), as well as stickers and unusual accessories like food items and a staircase.—Signe Brewster, staff writerSleek headphones that sound as they shouldPhoto: Michael HessionPuro Sound Labs BT2200 ($55 at the time of publication)Though a lot of headphones for kids claim to limit the volume to safe levels for developing ears (under 85 decibels), many fail to do so. The Puro BT2200 headphones, our pick for the best headphones for kids, remain within safer listening levels when used properly—and they were also the favorite of all of our kid panelists. Although other kids headphones are made of breakable cheap plastic, the BT2200 headphones have a well-constructed aluminum frame, and they’ve proved to be sturdy enough to survive multiple cross-country flights. The Bluetooth connection lets kids use them wirelessly or with a cord. (Puro also makes a version of these headphones with active noise cancelling, the PuroQuiet headphones). The Puro BT2200 headphones come in blue, black, pink, or purple, and they are sleek and fun without looking like a toy.—Lauren Dragan, senior staff writerA fun watch that’s just smart enoughPhoto: Sarah KobosVerizon Wireless GizmoWatch ($180 at the time of publication, plus a monthly service fee)Relay ($30 at the time of publication, plus a monthly service fee)Both the Verizon Wireless GizmoWatch and the Relay are fun smartphone alternatives for kids who are ready to venture out on their own a little bit (each is a pick in our upcoming guide to smartphone alternatives for kids). The GizmoWatch can make phone calls, send simple, pre-set text messages (such as “Where are you?”), and make silly fart sounds (in addition to telling time). My kids also got a kick out of communicating walkie-talkie–style with the brightly colored Relay, which is shaped like a small wireless speaker. In addition to making calls, kids can switch to other channels on the Relay, such as a daily joke channel and a music player. The GizmoWatch and the Relay are both tools that allow school-age kids to communicate simply but easily with their parents or other caregivers, and potentially contribute to their own growing independence. (Both also use GPS to track a kid’s location—which parents can see on a smartphone app; this may help some parents feel better about their kids’ first solo ventures.)—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorFamily membership to a technology museumPhoto: The Tech InteractiveThe Tech Interactive ($140 for a one-year family membership at the time of publication)A membership to an interactive technology museum can be a great gift for an 8-year-old who is creative and curious about how things work. The Association of Science and Technology Centers has a database of regional museums, so check out what’s available in your area. My family loves visiting The Tech Interactive, our local technology museum, in San Jose, California. The imaginative, hands-on stations, from building robots to simulating what it’s like to fly like a bird, are fun for kids of any age, but they’re especially well-suited to elementary-school-age kids. Although my preschooler wanted only to touch and tinker with everything, my older kids could read the descriptions and begin to grasp the fundamental ideas that the exhibits presented. Some of the activities are specifically for older kids, such as a cyber-detective experience (in which they were “locked” in a room and had to solve a series of puzzles to break out) that introduced them to online security, hacking, and encryption. Many technology and science museums, including The Tech Interactive, offer reciprocal memberships to other museums around the world as part of the Association of Science and Technology Centers Travel Passport Program, which allows families to explore family-friendly institutions while traveling.—Ellen Lee, Wirecutter contributorWe love finding gifts that are unusual, thoughtful, and well vetted. See even more gift ideas we recommend.