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Easy & Foolproof Idea For Every Child’s Birthday Party Gift

Not interested in adding yet another boring toy to the birthday child’s collection? This birthday gift idea works for just about any child and is simple and sustainable. 

In the last three weeks, our boys have been invited to four birthday parties for school classmates, most of whom we’ve never met. Only in the last year have we started to see an influx of birthday invites, primarily because everyone kindly invites the whole class. I don’t mind the parties and know the boys enjoy them. They’ve been a really nice way to get to know fellow parents who I don’t often spend time meeting as we pass by each other on drop off and pick up runs.

With each invitation, however, I waver about what to buy for the gift. To date, we’ve only hosted one birthday party and requested no gifts (though our boys are starting to question why other families don’t have the same policies).

I really refuse (out of principle) to buy some miscellaneous, plastic toy that will fall out of favor a few hours after being opened. We all have enough junk, and I suspect other parents don’t desire any additional clutter in their house. Being the parent of a friend, I’ve been reluctant to buy something “useful” (like clothes); that might seem weird at a child’s schoolmate birthday party, no?

After many birthday parties, however, I’ve finally landed on a simple formula that I think is foolproof.

Picture books and coloring books to match the theme on the invitation. 

This may not be revolutionary, but it has entirely simplified my gift-giving stress. I’m a giant fan of books for children. Coloring is a great activity for just about any child. And matching the theme of the invitation ensures I’m choosing a genre the child enjoys. Upon receipt of the invitation, I RSVP and head to the internet to buy 2 -3 picture books and/or coloring books to match the invite, and I’m done.

If the invite doesn’t have a notable theme, I fall back on classic picture books like Danny and the Dinosaur, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, or one of these 14 Picture Books That Make Great Gifts for Kids.

For older children, classic characters like Amelia Bedelia or the Fancy Nancy series are great as well as The Boxcar Children or the Magic Treehouse series. I loved these books as a kid, and they still hold strong in the market of beloved early reader and young chapter book stories.

All Wrapped Up(cycled) 

Before heading to the party, I wrap the books in simple brown paper or even a brown paper bag (turned inside out so it’s not immediately obvious it was my Whole Foods grocery bag before heading to the birthday party). I wrap it in string, sometimes reused (like the time I used the little blue and white string that came wrapped around my Industry Standard jeans).

I know it’s silly, but I love having a chance to be creative with the little things lying around the house (that we can reuse instead of throwing in the trash).

Eco + Etsy

Etsy has become my go-to for eco-friendly greeting cards. I found some simple cards I loved that were printed on recycled paper with soy ink (fewer chemicals). Although not by design, they came from this Etsy shop which is owned by a local artist who lives in a Philadelphia suburb just a few miles away from me.

Input From the Kids

As my boys get older, I’ll let them help choose gifts when we can start to talk about the impact of their choices. For now, while they’re still a little young to weigh the pros and cons, I’m making most of the gifting calls but leading by example.

9 More Intentional and Sustainable Gift Ideas for Preschoolers

Books might not be the best choice for everyone, so I’ve included several other options I have considered at times. These are more sustainable gift options for preschoolers.

Under $5

Frozen Yogurt or Gourmet Cupcake gift certificate (from a local shop)

Kid-Friendly Deck of Cards (for Memory or Go Fish)

Kids cooking tools

Under $20

Box from Little Passports

Box from Green Kids Crafts

Junior Builders or DUPLO LEGO Set

Under $50


Legos (we’re big fans of Legos in our house)

Personalized Books

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