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The Best Gifts for Design-Minded Kids

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Retailers

Ideas for gifts from infancy to teenage-dom that will look good even when they inevitably end up scattered around your house.

0–12 months

As easy to grip as they are to clean (any substances, bodily or otherwise, can be wiped off the vinyl), the squeezable stackers’ bright patterns feel like a little nod to Memphis.

Crafted from smooth hardwood in contrasting colors and magnets, little hands will find immense satisfaction in the twisting, turning, and clicking mechanism.

These rainbow orbs strung together on a sturdy elastic cord can morph into a plethora of shapes. Keep them around after the baby years because they are great for keeping fidgety older fingers occupied too.

All of designer, painter, and art director Leo Lionni’s children’s books (a career pivot he didn’t embark on until he was a grandfather) combine colorful graphics with a simple message and a poetic text. I have gifted this particular one about identity and acceptance to every new parent.

Keith Haring’s eye-catching prints have been scaled by an orthoptist to be optimal for babies’ development and transformed into a cushioned play mat. One side is black and white for their first months; flip it around for a colorful version.

12–24 months

The Swedish clothing brand is beloved by children for its offbeat prints and patterns and by parents for its quality and durability. This water-repellent graphic checked puffer, should you want to go the matching route, happens to be available for adults, too.

Think of Grimm’s as the Birkenstock of the toy world: The German company has been churning out sturdy and sensible designs that withstand the test of time since the 1970s. This rainbow stacker is both attractive to adults and totally engrossing for your grabby baby.

Lovevery’s gray-toned play gym has become a ubiquitous presence in many a Brooklyn household, and the Idaho-based brand’s block set is worthy of an investment. With 70 sustainably harvested solid-wood pieces in an array of shapes and hues, even the storage box they come in serves its own building purpose.

A collaboration between author, illustrator, and Shopsin’s cook Tamara Shopsin and her husband, designer Jason Fulford, this simple, inventive book introduces children to color.

A simple truth: Kids love anything with four wheels. Consider these solid beechwood cars a very evolved take on ye old matchbox vehicles with top-notch craftmanship, quirky options (a hot-dog van! a Yosemite RV!), and throwback designs.

Danese Milano has been producing this clever wooden puzzle of 16 interlocking animals cut from a single piece of solid oakwood since Enzo Mari first designed it in 1957. Younger kids will delight in playing with the individual animals; as they get older, they’ll want to piece them together. And for adult design dweebs, having a piece by Mari — the massively influential Italian modernist artist who died of COVID-19 last year — will bring them just as much joy.

2–4 years

Available in a painter’s palette of washable colors to compliment any kid’s bedroom or playroom, the cult-favorite Nugget comes in four foam pieces that can be manipulated into myriad configurations. Engaging in the toddler years and useful far beyond them.

A mod take on the classic matryoshka dolls, this cheerful set by Swedish illustrator Ingela P. Arrhenius allows littles to practice their fine-motor skills.

The polar opposite of a Barbie Dreamhouse, it has an energy-efficient design including a rain barrel, solar panels, recycling bins, and a wind turbine.

A highly adaptive furniture set — it transforms from a table for two to a bench with tables to a work desk and shelf space — that requires no assembly and takes up minimal space.

At an age when kids are starting to talk frequently about their feelings (in some cases, very frequently), this wooden pegboard face lets them explore a range of expressions.

The children’s books by Italian artist Bruno Munari are a wonderful mash-up of offbeat storytelling and bold design. This one, first published in 1963, was a favorite of another iconic designer and children’s storyteller: Eric Carle.

4–7 years

An actually-nice-looking recording device made specially for little hands, this voice recorder is a cinch to operate: One button records, one plays back, then a switch loops your recording and, most thrillingly for the younger set, a knob distorts sound.

A comfy cruiser-style feel makes for an ideal first big-kid bike. For particularly sophisticated kiddos, it’s available in a sleek matte black.

A DIY indoor playground of sorts made up of giant modular pieces decorated with fun Bauhaus-inspired patterns and colors. It keeps kids busy and is easy to tidy up afterward.

A workwear-inspired jacket from We a Family.

The latest book by the celebrated children’s writer and illustrator (responsible for the art on many of Roald Dahl’s titles) focuses on small acts of kindness.

These highly modern marbles come in dozens of patterns and themes.

8–12 Years

A lower-fi but equally satisfying way to selfie, thanks to the near-instant printed pictures, with far more tangible results.

Featuring Yayoi Kusama’s 2018 piece Dots Obsession, the Canadian maple-wood deck can function as wall art or, if you add wheels, a skateboard.

The cult-favorite ecosneaker brand’s new mid-fur styles have a cool high-top silhouette; easy-on, easy-off zips; and genuine sheepskin lining that gives them traction in the colder months.

This super-small, extremely loud Bluetooth speaker is waterproof, making it a tween favorite to bring in the shower.

This compendium of artwork from around the globe spans various eras, genres, and movements and will be an essential reference for your budding artist.

12 and up

For those who already have the very-popular-right-now Birkenstock Bostons, pick up a pair of designer Sandy Liang’s limited-edition collaboration with the Japanese brand Subu (an abbreviation of the Japanese expression for slip-on shoes).

The swirling, trippy print — taken from a Dusen Dusen collection and translated into puzzle form in collaboration with Areaware — offers an appealing break from perpetual screen time.

Tood’s glitter gel is made with nontoxic, plastic-free plant cellulose, so when washed off, it will biodegrade in a month’s time — not the case with most glitter-based products.

These star-shaped hydrocolloid pimple patches protect spots from bacteria and from any inclination to pick them — and, most important, they look cute. Plus the smiley-face kit they come in is just as fun.

Utilitarian and unisex, Big Bud Press’s signature jumpsuit is — quite literally — for everyone and anyone. Teens appreciate the vast spectrum of poppy colors as well as the L.A.-based company’s commitment to ethical and local manufacturing practices.

When he’s not dancing for the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, Ryan Ruiz constructs these sustainably filled and endearingly weird pillows — or, as he calls them, bloobs.

The Best Gifts for Design-Minded Kids