gifts they might actually want

The Only Gift Guide for an 8-Year-Old You’ll Ever Need

Photo-Illustration: Photo-Illustration: Stevie Remsberg; Photos: Courtesy of the retailers

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At 8 years old, children are not yet officially considered tweens, but they are experiencing what child therapist Glenda Stoller, co-founder of Village Parenting NYC, calls “a tremendous growth spurt in physical, emotional, and cognitive development.” In school, they are beginning to get the hang of homework and independent reading. Whole worlds, real and imagined, are opening up for them through books, social interactions, and the hobbies and sports they get involved in. More than ever before, they are in charge of how they play and able to follow complex instructions, whether they are building their own gumball machine, challenging a friend to a Beyblade battle, or making a tiny clay flowerpot.

To help entertain and challenge their exploding brains and bodies while nurturing their independence, we talked to professionals like Stoller, as well as lots of discerning parents, to curate a list of the best gifts for 8-year-olds. We then organized their suggestions by price, so if you have a specific budget in mind, you can use the table of contents to jump right to that section. Otherwise, scroll through the whole list to get a full picture of the toys and gifts that the 8-year-olds in your life might like.

Meanwhile, if you’re also shopping for kids in other age groups, we have gift guides 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, 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 12-year-olds — plus the meticulously curated Strategist Toy Store, filled with all our greatest hits.

Under $25

This DIY kit teaches kids about gears and electronics by letting them build a motorized machine that makes rainbows spin around their room. Adrienne Appell, senior director of communications at the Toy Association, likes that the kit also contains educational experiments about the science of light and the weather conditions that cause rainbows. But the finished product is also just pretty to look at.

According to play expert Chris Byrne, a.k.a. the Toy Guy, creative play prepares kids’ brains for learning, and introducing them to new ways of making art expands their imaginations. This kit he recommends turns ordinary Crayola markers into airbrush paint and comes with washable markers, blank paper, and two stencil sheets. It’s also compatible with Crayola window markers, so kids can decorate windows, mirrors, and glass cups.

“Your kids become inflatable Goodyear Blimps in these Gobstopper-shaped entrapments,” says Zibby Owens, author, mom of four, and host of Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. “My twins got the set as gifts for their 8th birthday and spent the afternoon crashing into each other, rolling around in the grass, and laughing hysterically.” The suits are made of durable PVC, but in case the wrestling action gets particularly intense, there’s a repair patch included.

You might remember the feel of these rectangular decks in your hands as you fanned them out from their fastened corner to reveal each of a thousand trivia questions written by Chris Welles Feder (eldest daughter of Orson Welles). The look has been modernized and the material has been updated since you were a kid — it’s based on school curriculums, with categories for the third-grade set including math, science, social studies, and language arts. But in this form, the quizzing doesn’t feel like school; it becomes a game that can be played anywhere, including in a car or on a plane. “And even during dinnertime,” adds Kate S., a nanny for the New York–based SmartSitting agency. She likes to buy sets for the level just above the child’s actual grade, “to challenge them and help them get ahead in school.”

Nicholas Elmi, chef and partner at several restaurants in Philadelphia, including Royal Boucherie and Laurel, bought this American Girl cookbook for his daughter Grace when she turned 8 to complement her obsession with the American Girl doll of the same name. “Her backstory is that she loves to bake, and after a trip to Paris, Grace falls in love with Parisian bakeries and helps save her family’s bakery.” The book has recipes for cookies, brownies, pies, cupcakes, and more.

What 8-year-olds may not realize as they’re utterly absorbed in this balancing game is that it’s encouraging socialization: Up to four players can get involved, watching the tower wobble and shift and change shape with each newly added piece. Playing together in smaller groups is also a great way for kids to develop self-esteem, according to Stoller: “They’re more competitive at this age and love to play games together, so peer interaction is very important.”

Austin, Texas–based dad Bryan Camphire calls this the best chess board for elementary-school kids because it’s affordable, portable, and magnetic, so you won’t lose any of the pieces.

Collaborative games teach kids to work together toward a common goal or against a common threat. Caitlin Meister, founder of the Greer Meister Group, a private-tutoring and educational-consulting practice in Brooklyn, recommends this collaborative game where players have to work together to get off of an island that is sinking into the ocean. She says it’s fun for kids and adults because it’s different every time: “You reassemble the board each time by laying out tiles, so it doesn’t get boring.”

Camphire also mentioned having just bought this game for his daughter, who is very into math. “Her teacher has this game in the classroom, so I bought it for us to play at home,” he says. To win a card, players have to get to the center number by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing the five other numbers on the card. The first player to collect five cards wins. Each player starts the game by choosing their own level of difficulty, meaning kids (and adults) of different ages can all play together.

We have heard from dozens of experts and actual kids about the magic of Squishmallows. And even if your favorite 8-year-old already has a bedroom full of them, it’s still a good gift. Especially if you are adding a really hard-to-get Gryffindor lion or slightly less hard-to-get Hufflepuff Badger to their collection.

Pokémon may be more than 25 years old, but the franchise is just as popular with grade-school kids as it has ever been. Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief at the Toy Insider, says there are all kinds of new licensed toys being released — including Squishmallows and new video games for Nintendo Switch — but that even these basic trading-card packs will make an excellent gift for an 8-year-old.

Anne Carrihill, Amazon’s director of toys and games, recommends “toys that allow kids to learn with games or arts-and-crafts projects,” and this updated version of a classic artsy toy fits that prompt perfectly. The set comes with nine stencils and three fine-tipped pens, and kids can use the included glasses to view their drawings in 3-D.

This is an ideal stocking stuffer that Brenda Bisner, SVP of content at Kidoodle.TV, described as a “keep in your purse at all times” gift. It’s a speedy dice game — there’s one labeled L that you pass to the left, one marked C to put in the center, and an R to pass to the right — that comes with chips for the winner to collect. “You can make this a lot of fun without taking up a lot of space. I love to have this on hand for when the crayons and coloring become boring. I feel like the ‘cool mom’ when I pull it out.”

“This is so fascinating to play with,” says Ruka Curate, founder of the Tiny Treasures Nanny Agency. The 12-inch-tall anatomical model of the human body has nine squishy versions of vital organs inside of it, which can be removed with forceps and tweezers, along with the rib cage and other skeletal and muscular systems.

Under $50

This portable planetarium is one of the Toy Insider’s top STEM picks for 2023. Senior editor James Zahn says it’s a huge value for the price. Not only does the projector turn any darkened room into a shimmering and rotating night sky, it also comes with 24 high-definition slides that kids can change out to create different combinations.

If having their very own gumball machine isn’t enough of an incentive to build this colorful tower, the cool and creative stunts your kid can make it do should convince them to get to work. Assistant manager of content and digital communications at the Toy Association Maddie Michalik says the coin track is completely customizable, so kids “can watch as their coins perform stunts before triggering the prize compartment to open.” The kit introduces a variety of STEM concepts like simple machines, force, gravity, and more, and Michalik likes that it lets kids “deconstruct and rebuild their creations to make different configurations.”

Elementary-school kids love anything that’s miniature — hence the success of toys like Five Surprise Mini Brands. But if that miniature toy is also a working pottery wheel, then you’ve got a toy that’ll blow their minds, says Zahn. The box includes ten mini pottery projects kids can complete to progress from total beginner to pottery master.

Mom of two Misko Beaudrie told us that her 4- and almost-8-year-old children both love their Jellycat stuffies because they’re so soft and come in so many fun designs. The brand even makes a bunch of stuffed-animal cross-body bags — from sun, moon, and cloud shapes to a cactus, box of popcorn, piece of toast, and a frog — that fashion-curious 8-year-olds would be excited to receive.

$34

For ages 8 and up, this is “an amazing logic and thinking game,” according to Dr. Taylor Chesney, Psy.D., director of the Feeling Good Institute NYC. The goal is to arrange the tokens on the board so that the flashing laser beam hits your target. And since it “comes with multilevel challenges,” Dr. Chesney notes, “it grows with your child.”

Beaudrie recommends Prism Designs kites like this one, which she and her family like to take on camping and beach trips, and which she has often given as gifts. She says they are durable, easy to pack, and fly really well.

$28

Part memory game, part board game, this is a particularly appealing gift for visual learners, according to Owens. Each card has an illustrated (and sometimes wacky) scene — a girl at the beach, a potluck party, a cockatoo making pancakes. You have 30 seconds to stare at each scene, and then you have to recall as many details as possible. “It’s fun, mind-engaging, and highly entertaining,” Owens says.

This enhanced edition of the ever-popular Pokémon trading-card game “is inspired by the popular Pokémon GO mobile app, which has been downloaded more than one billion times,” Michalik says. The cards feature live-action images of the Pokémon characters and objects from Pokémon GO.

Lego sets are usually a crowd-pleaser, and once it’s built, this 497-piece ocean-exploration base can also provide hours of pretend fun. The set comes with interchangeable living and working quarters, plus a docking submarine, underwater drone, five researcher mini-figures, and a shark and stingray. Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio says her two daughters have several different pirate-ship and undersea Lego sets that get lots of play and mix well with their more basic blocks. There are also lots of licensed Lego sets, including Harry Potter, Gabby’s Dollhouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Super Mario Bros. for 8-year-olds with specific pop-culture obsessions.

Under $100

Games that encourage full-body movement are particularly beneficial at this age, says Deb Vilas, director of the Child Life program at Bank Street Graduate School of Education. Along with classics like Jenga, Connect Four, and Twister, Vilas recommends Nok Hockey. The fast-paced game is incredibly durable, uncomplicated, and a great antidote to too much screen time, she says.

The half-pound of roughly textured rocks that come in this set are transformed into polished agate, amethyst, and seven other types of real gemstones when you put them through the motorized tumbling machine with some grit powder and water. “Any budding crystal or gemstone collector will get such a kick out of this,” says Tara Maria Famiglietti, a mom and jewelry designer of ONDYN. Famiglietti notes that you can shine up any other rocks you happen upon, too: “There are even quartz rocks you can find in Central Park and throw in here to have your very own polished crystal stone,” she says. Of course, it’s not immediate gratification: The tumbling process involves multiple stages of running the rocks through the machine for days at a time. But that’s an “added bonus,” Famiglietti says. “It teaches patience.”

Stoller points out that perhaps the best thing you can do to encourage a kid’s love of art and art making is to gift them something that takes their artwork to another dimension, literally. 3Doodler is widely recognized as the best 3-D printing pen on the market for kids. It works by gently melting, then pushing out, a brightly colored, nontoxic plastic filament that hardens almost instantly so that kids can create everything from silly-looking monsters and wearable accessories to entire cityscapes and imaginary flying vehicles.

“There’s something deeply satisfying in watching two tops bang into each other for Beyblade supremacy,” says Beth Beckman, a co-founder of FOMOFeed Kids, who can’t remember a playdate where these didn’t make an appearance. “It’s a hit as big as the noise it makes when these explode on the floor.”

$100 and up

Beaudrie says these colorful magnetic building toys, also recommended by Strategist contributor Youngna Park, get a ton of use from her kids “anytime we’re in the car for longer than 45 minutes, on a plane, or going out to eat.” Compared to Legos or Magna-Tiles, they are a lot more portable, and according to Beaudrie, they’re easy for kids to play with while sitting. You can buy them in packs of varied complexity based on a child’s age. But all the pieces are compatible with each other, and like other open-ended building toys, the possibilities are endless.

The glory days of the department store may be over, but kids still experience a sense of wonder in the two-story shopping tower here, complete with a working elevator and revolving door that lead to the fashion boutique and cosmetics counter, set amid patterned ceilings and a movable quarter-balcony. Curate finds this to be a beautiful gift for this age. Even if they’re not familiar with the Calico characters, the old-world aesthetic — and Chocolate Lounge serving tiny treats — has an undeniable pull.

“Last year we subscribed to CrunchLabs and he love, love, LOVES them,” says Beaudrie about her son, who is really into puzzles, strategy games, and building stuff. Each month, you get a box with a new toy to build and new videos to watch that explain the physics behind how the toy works.

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The Only Gift Guide for an 8-Year-Old You’ll Ever Need