Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Great Holiday Gifts for Kids

No matter how much planning you do, shopping for holiday gifts can feel overwhelming. Let us help! Our guide is packed with 100+ holiday gift ideas hand-selected to inspire, educate, and entertain kids of all ages and stages. Whether your list includes young children, tweens, or teens, use this guide to find presents that kids and parents will feel good about. All our picks are arranged by age and media type, and they include movies, video games, books, TV shows on DVD, apps, and websites.
 
Our expert editors are completely independent, so their selections are based solely on what we think kids will love. We've provided purchase links for many titles, but they're simply for your convenience.

Giving without guessing makes for happier -- and more fun -- holidays for everybody!

Guide Details
Who Made This Guide?

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and are not influenced by the creators or by our funders. When you use our buy links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. We appreciate your support.

Ages 2-6

Movie Buffs

DVDs are great gifts because they help make family movie night a hit. Browse our editors' handpicked list of the top new DVD releases of 2014, from animated gems and comedies to action flicks, dramas, and documentaries.

AGE
3

In these five episodes from the Disney series, Sofia learns to be a princess as others learn from her. She has an unflagging spirit, great resourcefulness, and a loving heart, and the episodes showcase problem solving and developing worthy values.

AGE
4

Gustafer, a former resident of the Sun, discovers a giant molar, and he and his friends in the Minnesota woods don't know what to do with it! Young kids and even teens will enjoy the whimsical, catchy songs and quirky drawings.

AGE
5

In this original fairy tale, book-loving Princess Alexa is shy and unsure of herself. Then she enters a magical kingdom of faeries and unicorns, where singing and dancing are contagious fun. Solid messages about courage and self-confidence.

AGE
5

A special sing-along edition makes it even easier for kids to chime in for the catchy, show-stopping musical numbers in this film that perfectly combines the best Disney has to offer: empowering heroines who discover strength in themselves, stunning animation, and scene-stealing sidekicks.

AGE
5

What happens when a fairy "goes rogue" and becomes the Pirate Fairy? Direct-to-DVD movies aren't usually high-caliber, but this one has an engaging plot, impressive visuals, and standout voice casting, and it focuses on teamwork and friendship.

AGE
5

The sleeping princess, under a spell, can only be awakened by a kiss from the prince. The hand-drawn animation in this classic Disney film is refreshing compared to today's CGI, and the score can be an intro for kids to classical music. Updated with HD.

AGE
5

It's rare to find a lower-budget film with a strong story, theatrical-caliber animation, and valuable messages; this surprisingly entertaining adventure follows an abandoned cat who finds a new family in the home of an elderly magician.

AGE
6

A brown bear named Sky and her cubs, Amber and Scout, embark on a dangerous -- and sometimes intense -- journey across the Alaskan peninsula to reach the spawning salmon. The cinematography is unforgettably beautiful; John C. Reilly narrates.

AGE
6

This lovely, hand-drawn animated movie, nominated for an Oscar, is the story of the unlikely friendship between a mouse and a bear. Filmed in French and dubbed in English, it's about finding friendship where you least expect it -- and defending it.

AGE
6

Movies based on toys aren't ever this good, and it's a testament to the filmmakers that The LEGO Movie is so smart, humorous, and fun to watch. The inventive and action-packed adventure follows new and old characters and should appeal to all ages.

AGE
6

The gang is back! Expect old-school Muppets mischief, including globe hopping, a stolen identity, plenty of musical numbers with celebrity cameos, and some romance between Miss Piggy and Kermit -- and Kermit's doppelgänger, Constantine, the world's most wanted criminal.

AGE
6

In the superior 3-D sequel to Planes, Dusty Crophopper accidentally sets a fire, and now he and the crew must save Piston Peak. The animation and story are much improved, the characters are likable and complex, and kids and parents will love the action.

AGE
6

When a sinister car shows up in their hometown, Team Hot Wheels is called into action. With distinctive characters, fine performances, very funny writing, inventive animation, and plenty of comic action, this movie will appeal to adults as well as kids.

Making a List, Checking It Twice
  • Not all family members ask before they do their holiday shopping for your kids, so make sure to speak up early and often about your preferences. You can take the subtle approach with, "We're only watching G-rated movies these days," or you can be super proactive with, "We've got some really clear rules about media use in our house, so if you're thinking of getting the kids any gadgets, DVDs, or video games, please ask me first."

TV Fans

TV-show collections are excellent gifts for superfans who want to collect and rewatch their favorite episodes. Kids can enjoy a beloved series during play dates, sleepovers, family road trips, and more. Check out some of the top TV titles available on DVD this year.

AGE
3

Daniel Tiger celebrates the holidays in this special episode of the popular animated series. Each show has strong messages about social strategies, friendship, family, and respect for curiosity, and they review skills such as letter sounds and counting.

AGE
3

The Christmas episode of this cute British cartoon series stars Peppa, who's about 4. The animation is simple, and the pint-size crises involve visiting grandparents, playgroups, and riding bikes. Lessons about kindness, loyalty, and thoughtfulness abound.

AGE
5

Starring a magical unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle, this series celebrates friendship's development from first impressions to true connections. It benefits kids to see how the characters accept each other's differences and work through troubles.

AGE
6

Mixing live action, puppetry, animation, and cartoons, this innovative show stars a man-boy and his toys and gadgets. Parents will giggle over double entendres; wee ones will lap up the weirdness. With new interviews and never-before-seen footage.

Making Smart Choices
  • Picking presents that kids will really love means factoring in more than their ages and interests: you also have to consider a kid's developmental stage. Study after study shows that what our kids see, hear, and play with really does impact them. Most kids under the age of 6 are still afraid of the dark, loud noises, and strangers and can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. But they love humor, especially slapstick!

Bookworms

Help kids discover whole new worlds this holiday season with picks from our book list. Our book editors have pored through the year's best releases to bring you great gift ideas for the kids on your list, whether they're already readers or just need the right story to get them hooked.

AGE
3

Actor/comedian/screenwriter B.J. Novak makes the reader say all sorts of silly things, including made-up words, and make funny sounds to show that a book with no pictures can be fun and entertaining. A fantastic choice for a read-aloud.

AGE
3

The knowing context of this book makes it a highly relatable story that kids and parents will love. At first, the pigeon is stubborn and oppositional about taking a bath, but then he has such a ball he doesn't want to leave the tub! A great bedtime read.

AGE
3

In another wordless tale of friendly young Flora, she teams up with a penguin for a duet on ice in a wintry blue-and-white landscape. There's plenty of story to tell out loud or for kids to "read" on their own. Loads of charm and a range of emotions.

AGE
4

Keith Richards' fond, heartfelt memoir of his granddad, Gus, portrays their close relationship, adventures in London and the countryside, and the moment Gus gave Keith his first guitar and taught him how to play. Upbeat, moving, and cleverly written.

AGE
4

Elliot's a charming young elephant in a big city who sometimes feels it's "hard being so small in such a huge place." He cheerfully perseveres and enjoys "the little things ... most of all, cupcakes!" A message about friendship is gently handled.

AGE
4

Even without words, the breathtakingly beautiful pen-and-ink-and-watercolor illustrations tell a detailed adventure story about imaginative people. This second book in a series is engrossing and full of wonder.

AGE
4

A movie shoot turns to hilarious mayhem when the frustrated director, a duck, insists that his subject, a moose, act like a moose. But the moose wants to be an astronaut. The message is clear: Individuals should be able to follow their dreams.

AGE
5

A little mouse is scared by a storm, and her papa soothes her by reading a rhyming tale of a rhino who survives a storm as well as loss with the help of his animal friends. The engaging story is packed with positive messages and dynamic art.

Picture Books 101
  • Toddlers and young preschoolers like big, bright images and only a few words. Books with animals are always a good bet. For young readers age 4 to 6, look for books in which the pictures work well with the text to help tell a story; humor is a great hook, too. Also, be sure to pick something you can read aloud again and again.

App Lovers

Looking for a unique, affordable stocking stuffer this year? Try giving an app or two. Not only are many apps for kids fun and engaging, but they also can provide real learning. Not sure how to give an app? Look for the "Gift This App" option in the App Store.

AGE
2
LEARNING

Based on Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Busy Shapes mimics a real-world environment but also gives kids a safe, appropriately stimulating way to explore this digital world. A refreshing and smart use of technology, supported by research.

AGE
2
LEARNING

Kids move from house to house, ringing each doorbell and going inside to play with a friend. The familiar activities -- snack time, playing with toys, simple chores -- are delightful and teach cooperative play. A sweet, fun experience.

AGE
3
LEARNING

Who wouldn't want to help Cookie Monster devour more cookies? Kids will love playing appealing, charming, ever-more-challenging games that stretch skills such as problem solving, memory, self-control, and following directions.

AGE
3
LEARNING

Games, a photo activity, songs, art, and a simple calming technique help kids expand their emotional vocabularies and discover strategies for handling a wide range of feelings in healthy ways. Beloved host Daniel Tiger is spunky and sweet.

AGE
3
LEARNING

Kids explore a cute turtle's fun tree-house home by playing, eating, and exploring. There are no instructions, but Toto shows kids what he wants or needs through thought bubbles. The interactions are adorable and will produce some giggles.

AGE
4
LEARNING

From walking through the metal detectors to cleaning the plane, kids get the whole airport experience, finding mini-games as they explore. They'll see diversity of dress and culture, stamp passports, and drive passengers to the right gates.

AGE
4
LEARNING

This outstanding way to get kids excited about reading incorporates drawing, voice recording, stories, and songs as well as traditional phonics exercises. A beautiful map helps them find just the right lesson or creative activity.

AGE
4
LEARNING

This library of 300 books is themed according to interest (action adventures, magical tales) and features mini-films covering a wide range of topics. Finishing a book earns a sticker reward, and original TV host LeVar Burton is the guide!

AGE
4
LEARNING

With this delightful storytelling tool, kids narrate and animate the endings for five incomplete stories from the Disney Junior show, each with a different setting and characters. Then they watch a video replaying the whole story with their ending.

AGE
4
LEARNING

The range of book types (from fairy tales to educational stories that help kids learn school and social skills), fun songs, quality narration and animation, and interactive games in some books combine to form a highly engaging digital library.

AGE
4
LEARNING

Using technology, Toca Town adapts and perhaps improves on traditional, physical play, retaining all the possibilities that come with imagination. Each part of town -- a home, a store, a police station, a park -- has lots to explore and discover.

AGE
5

With nine songs from the hit movie, this easy-to-use app helps kids do what they're doing already: singing! The recording quality is excellent, and kids can sing along to a movie clip -- a snowflake bounces with the lyrics -- or record themselves.

Experience Classic Characters in a New Way
  • Chances are, some of your kids' favorite book or TV characters appear in apps in some form or another. Try book apps for a fun and interactive complement to the stories kids are already reading. 

Game Gurus

Share the gift of play with a pick from our game list. We've chosen some of the best new titles for gamers of all ages for a variety of platforms and preferences. From games on systems like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to Nintendo 3DS and Wii U must-haves, we've got the gamer  in your life covered. 

AGE
4
LEARNING

Dog-loving kids will go gaga for the adorable talking pets in this simulator that mixes responsible dog ownership with memorable pet personalities and an adventure that brings purpose to a genre in which purpose has always been sorely lacking.

AGE
5
LEARNING

Set in Tally-Ho, a rustic village inhabited by friendly animals, this Web-based game teaches and reinforces early math skills such as number recognition, counting, adding, and subtracting. Activities are aligned with the Common Core standards.

AGE
6
LEARNING

Players try to safely guide lemmings from the entrance to the exit, but not all of them will make it. Puzzle-loving kids will like the easy-to-grasp level dilemmas, and this version of the classic puzzler is just as much fun as its predecessors.

AGE
6
LEARNING

This all-ages racing game stars iconic characters driving cartoonish karts around fantastical tracks. It's instantly accessible and absolutely gorgeous, and kids with any affinity for Mario or racing games won't be able to put their controllers down.

AGE
6
LEARNING

If Pokémon characters ran off and decided to form a choir, it might look (and sound) a little like this fun, free game. The entire point is to collect monsters and raise them on an island to sing harmoniously. Kids will fall for the charming ditties.

Creative Ways to Save
  • New gamers aren't always looking for the hottest, newest games; what's old to one gamer is new to the kid who just got a gaming system. Stores like GameStop and Best Buy let gamers buy and sell used titles for all the major systems. Gamefly also offers video game rentals and can be a good alternative to buying new games.

Web Masters

This holiday season, consider giving a membership to your kid's favorite online destination or paying for an upgrade to any number of savvy sites. There's often a discount for purchasing an entire year upfront. For crafty sites with a techy bent to premium access to a virtual community, you have lots of options. 

AGE
3
LEARNING

Ameba TV offers a range of unique programming for kids, viewable online or through devices such as Roku, Google TV, and Xbox 360. It's a nice mix of education and entertainment with no commercials or product tie-ins -- hard to avoid on network TV.

AGE
3
LEARNING

A cast of adorable, friendly characters introduces activities in creative expression, literacy, foreign language, math, social science, and scientific thinking. The site is soundly designed and age-appropriate and provides data about what kids learn.

AGE
4
LEARNING

An extension of the popular literacy destination Starfall.com, this expanded site includes a ton of math and reading activities for young kids. There's a variety of interesting and attention-grabbing games and a fun, if irrelevant, collection of songs.

AGE
4
LEARNING

Much-loved PBS characters introduce entertaining games. Kids learn through appealing visuals, prizes, videos, music, games, and creative production tools. Bold colors, friendly environments, and familiar cartoon faces make learning fun.

Giving Back
  • Remember others less fortunate during the holidays. At sites like We Give Books, Kiva, and Free Rice, kids can learn about important causes and make a difference in the lives of children around the world.

Ages 7-12

Movie Buffs

DVDs are great gifts because they help make family movie night a hit. Browse our editors' handpicked list of the top new DVD releases of 2014, from animated gems and comedies to action flicks, dramas, and documentaries.

AGE
7

Isabelle is a talented but insecure dancer. She works hard; accepts help to overcome stage fright, nerves, jealousy, and fear; and learns a lot about herself, her family, and the joy of dancing. Surprisingly well-made, written, and performed.

AGE
7

Visually beautiful and well acted, this is a heartwarming tale of four orphans who flourish in a home they create. They never argue or complain, and they find joy in life's treasures. Highly recommended for families who might enjoy this special world.

AGE
7

Kayla is the long-running top female snowboarder in Summit Valley and the privileged daughter of the ski resort's owner. When she makes a lapse in judgment, she must climb her way to the top again. A great underdog story with sweet high-flying stunts.

AGE
7

It's rare to love a sequel as much as the original, but this epic 3-D adventure has dazzling visuals, gripping action sequences, strong female characters, and positive parent-child relationships. A must-see for fans of the original and the show.

AGE
7

This documentary follows eight 7- and 8-year-old golfers from across the globe who gather yearly at a world championship in North Carolina. The kids cross cultural, racial, and class lines and are shown to be worthy role models with supportive parents.

AGE
11

This iconic '80s movie about paranormal-sanitation workers who fight ghosts and ghouls mixes a ton of humor (some of it fairly racy) with a plot about the end of the world. The dated special effects may not faze kids, but some scary scenes might.

AGE
10

This beautifully rendered Danish animation follows Jonathan and Sophie into the vast forbidden forest beyond their grandfather's garden. On their perilous adventure they come upon Great Bear, a lovable creature they must save to return home.

AGE
11

These background singers have been on stage with the greats of rock and roll, but many have remained mostly anonymous. This documentary gives them their due, and it's an absolute thrill. Confidently told, expertly filmed, and entirely inspiring.

AGE
11

The fascinating true story of a mixed-race woman -- the daughter of a British admiral in the late 1700s -- who becomes an activist (and a worthy role model!) by educating herself and her uncle on the perils of the slave trade. Deeply affecting.

AGE
12

A group of misfit outlaws defends the universe against a murderous villain, becoming superheroes by working together. This Marvel Comics-based adventure is beautifully cast, with a fantastic soundtrack and thrilling action -- and it's very funny.

Creative Ways to Save
  • Netflix, YouTube,  iTunes, Target Ticket, Amazon, Hulu, and more all offer options for watching movies (and TV shows) online for less than the cost of a night out at the theater. Some of these sites have a flat rental fee, some offer a monthly subscription rate, and some even offer the ultimate bargain: free rentals!

TV Fans

TV-show collections are excellent gifts for superfans who want to collect and rewatch their favorite episodes. Kids can enjoy a beloved series during play dates, sleepovers, family road trips, and more. Check out some of the top TV titles available on DVD this year.

AGE
7

The Duncans are an all-American family of five whose comfortable routine is upset with the unexpected arrival of baby Charlotte. This lighthearted sitcom about family dynamics is well-rounded enough that there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

AGE
7

Fourth-grader Arnold shares his ups and downs. He's a loyal friend and a thoughtful problem solver who always tries to find the best in people, and his mellowness is a welcome change from the hysterical characters on some kids' shows. Complete series.

AGE
7

The Ingalls family, who live on the American frontier in the late 19th century, are a model of mutual respect, affection, cooperation, and generosity. The show sets the standard for rich characters, intuitive acting, and interesting storylines.

AGE
7

Adjacent to Luke Skywalker's family farm live his lesser-known neighbors, Phineas and Ferb. This laugh-out-loud reimagining of the Star Wars saga has rapid-fire jokes and jabs, some in musical form, so well-incorporated you may have to listen twice.

AGE
7

This incarnation of the Power Rangers story -- a live-action show about universe-traveling superheroes in bright, color-coded spandex costumes -- is one of the most beloved and well-remembered. It's quite violent and very silly but exciting and fun.

AGE
7

Based on the Animaniacs TV series, this holiday special is set in Acme Falls, ruled by wicked King Salazar. Dot Warner needs to touch the Wishing Star to save her life, but a lot of people want to touch it, so the race is on! Funny, with catchy tunes.

AGE
7

This filmmaking family dashes to a new corner of the globe in each episode -- to Finland, Australia, India, or the Everglades -- instilling in kids a curiosity about different ways of living and suggesting the vastness of the world.

AGE
8

This classic '80s sitcom follows a strong family whose parents happily share domestic duties. Much of the humor stems from personality differences, but the parents always support their kids and encourage them to express their views. Complete series.

AGE
8

Korra is a headstrong but principled heroine who works hard to make herself worthy of the role destiny gave her. This series is rich in storytelling, mysticism, and fantastic messages, with a surprising level of substance for an action cartoon.

AGE
8

This action-packed movie serves as a pilot for the Disney series Star Wars Rebels and introduces an entirely new team of self-deprecating heroes to appreciative fans. There's a lot of plot in 43 minutes and a surprising depth to many characters.

AGE
10

Finn and his talking dog have off-the-wall, often absurd escapades in the mystical Land of Ooo. The cartoon is so inventive and gorgeously rendered that even young kids may be dazzled, and there's tongue-in-cheek, ironic humor for older kids.

AGE
10

This long-running British sci-fi series tells the story of the Doctor, who defends the peaceful residents of the galaxy against threats. He uses charm and quick thinking to disarm his foes rather than guns or fists, and there's a real joviality here.

AGE
10

Jack pretends to be gay so he can share an apartment with two women. This classic sitcom is full of slapstick, misheard comments, misinterpreted situations, and double entendres, with strong on-screen chemistry. Complete series with new special features.

AGE
10

The complex, thoughtful scripts were designed to tweak notions of reality and show issues from a new, usually unexpected, perspective -- and they all end with a twist. The pacing's slow, and there's not much action, but it's a classic for a reason.

AGE
11

An angel and his human companion travel the country on orders from God to better people's lives. The show tackles serious topics, and storylines are often emotionally charged, but the overwhelmingly positive lessons are inescapable. Complete series.

AGE
11

This 14-hour docuseries by Ken Burns delves deeply into the lives of Franklin Delano, Eleanor, and Theodore. It might be dry and slow going for some kids, but the lively style paints complete pictures of these long-dead figures. A triumph.

AGE
12

This sharply written modern spin on classic fairy tales combines drama, romance, and suspense, extrapolating from the original stories to create new relationships and experiences among the characters. It makes for a scintillating plot and is truly magical.

AGE
12

This hit sitcom, set in the '60s and '70s, offers a funny, nostalgic look at a boy coming of age during one of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history. Overall it's lighthearted, with its fair share of thoughtful and dramatic moments. Complete series.

Making a List, Checking It Twice
  • Not all family members ask before they do their holiday shopping for your kids, so make sure to speak up early and often about your preferences. You can take the subtle approach with, "We're only watching PBS shows these days," or you can be super proactive with, "We've got some really clear rules about media use in our house, so if you're thinking of getting the kids any gadgets, DVDs, or video games, please ask me first."

Bookworms

Help kids discover whole new worlds this holiday season with picks from our book list. Our book editors have pored through the year's best releases to bring you great gift ideas for the kids on your list, whether they're already readers or just need the right story to get them hooked.

AGE
8

Four intrepid young squirrels try to save their friends, family, and homes from being destroyed by humans with chain saws cutting back the trees. Cute illustrations, a fast-moving plot, and lots of clever asides and puns here.

AGE
9

There's so much to love here: the unbelievable setting of a 900-car train, a hag in the muskeg, Sasquatch, avalanches, flooding, mystery, action, and a hero named Will who needs to reunite with his father. Readers won't have a moment's peace!

AGE
9

Time-traveling 11-year-old twins Molly and Miri have more exciting adventures in which they learn more about their pasts. They're smart, headstrong, and curious in a rewarding book about the nature of time, relationships, love, and shaping your destiny.

AGE
9

Narrated by Percy Jackson from the bestselling series, this hefty gift-size volume profiles the 12 major Greek gods. Percy's goofy sense of humor helps smooth things over when the content gets more mature. Entertaining, thorough, and easy to read.

AGE
9

On a family road trip, Raina contemplates her rocky relationship with her younger sister, Amara. This funny, affectionate examination of family dynamics and sibling rivalry emphasizes loving someone while enduring his or her "crazy" behavior.

AGE
10

In this captivating poetry collection, the author remembers growing up between Ohio and the Jim Crow South, reflecting on the intimacy of family, the warmth of friends, the joys of imagination and discovery, and the worries of being left behind.

AGE
10

This excellent fantasy debut has everything going for it. The heroine is awesome, the characters are compelling, and the story moves fast, twists and turns like a gnarled old tree, and stays complex and scary. Quite a feat for a first-time novelist.

AGE
11

The first volume in this fantasy series about magic and witchcraft is brilliantly imagined and compellingly written. The riveting story, although violent at times, has compelling characters, numerous plot reversals, and vivid, literate language.

AGE
12

What might be the first Asian-American comic book superhero, an obscure 1940s character called the Green Turtle gets a backstory in this graphic novel that subverts Asian stereotypes while celebrating Chinese culture. Clever and heartfelt.

AGE
12

Half-blind, facially scarred teen Adelina joins a group of fellow outcasts with magical powers to bring down the corrupt king and queen. A fast-moving start to a new fantasy series by the author of the Legend trilogy.

Choosing Chapter Books
  • Kids age 7 to 8 enjoy short, funny chapter books with appealing characters and stories about school, animals, or young detectives. Comic graphic novels can be a good transition into chapter books at this age, too. For older tweens, there's an enormous choice of topics from fantasy tales to riffs on middle school. Reading series will help keep them engaged, and this is also a great age to introduce the classics.

App Lovers

Looking for a unique, affordable stocking stuffer this year? Try giving an app or two. Not only are many apps for kids fun and engaging, but they also can provide real learning. Not sure how to give an app? Look for the "Gift This App" option in the App Store.

AGE
7
LEARNING

Similar to the virtual-world website, this app has 10 games, filtered chat features, and an igloo to decorate for each penguin. Kids practice critical thinking and spatial relations. Highly engaging and colorful with a well-designed online community.

AGE
7
LEARNING

In the sequel to the wildly popular physics-based puzzle game, players still cut dangling ropes to get the candy to protagonist Om Nom and collect as many stars as possible, but they're aided (and confounded) by new characters, adding further depth.

AGE
7
LEARNING

One player holds her device to her forehead; a person, song, or other answer appears on the screen. Then she must guess what it is from other players' hints. A terrific marriage of video games and IRL gaming, with options and add-ons. Great family fun.

AGE
7
LEARNING

Five articles, from world political news to celebrity stories, are posted on the main page of this interactive newspaper daily. With more than 15 features, including puzzles, a word game, and audio, it's highly engaging with a dash of silly fun.

AGE
8
LEARNING

Each day brings a new, funny, slick, smart animated documentary, and it could be on any topic you can think of: Mars, dogs, asthma, blogs, or Frida Kahlo. There's a startling amount of content for a free app, with quizzes to test comprehension.

AGE
8
LEARNING

The mobile version of the popular PC game is still an alpha build, but it's fairly feature-complete and offers the same sandbox-style gameplay that lets players create things from materials. Promotes collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.

AGE
10
LEARNING

This is a good photo-editing app for teens who've grown out of simpler apps but aren't ready for professional-level functionality. It's well-designed and easy to use, and they'll feel empowered by the ability to customize interface and storage options.

AGE
11
LEARNING

The Room was a breath of fresh air in the app world, and in The Room 2 players try to open a series of locked puzzle boxes to solve a mystery that presents itself at the start of the game. Atmospheric and brooding, with sharp graphics.

AGE
11
LEARNING

Kids type in words to conjure up objects, then use those objects to solve a variety of colorful brainteasers. Newcomers will be astonished at the number of ways to solve puzzles, and the real joy comes from seeing how creative you can be.

Virtual vs. the "Real" Thing
  • If you have a tablet, adding classic-board-game apps -- ScrabbleYahtzeeMonopolyThe Game of LifeBoggle, and more -- can be less expensive than buying the real thing. But the "old-school" versions are lots of fun and generally pretty inexpensive, too. Ask kids to compare the experiences: what are some of the pros and cons of each?

Game Gurus

Share the gift of play with a pick from our game list. We've chosen some of the best new titles for gamers of all ages for a variety of platforms and preferences. From games on systems like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to Nintendo 3DS and Wii U must-haves, we've got the gamer  in your life covered. 

AGE
8
LEARNING

Based on the 2014 World Cup games, this exceptional soccer simulation features digital versions of real soccer stars. Kids experience professionalism, athleticism, healthy competition, teamwork, and an understanding of racial and cultural differences.

AGE
8
LEARNING

One of the most beloved -- and, not surprisingly, best-selling -- pro football series ups the ante with a deeper, more connected, and more attractive offering. Specifically, this edition brings a new layer of defense to the field. Lives up to the hype.

AGE
8
LEARNING

The franchise that pairs fantastical creatures with real-world toy counterparts gets better with each new game. The shtick this time is that kids can pull villains out of the game and "trap" them in plastic crystals, then summon them when needed.

AGE
8

Kids create Miis and watch a whole island community evolve. Miis become friends, have fights, date, get married, and have babies -- and then start making demands of the players. A real treat for those who enjoy open-ended virtual social experiments.

AGE
9
LEARNING

In this straightforward simulation based on Major League Baseball, gamers can become a player or a general manager, guiding an athlete or a major league team to the World Series. It's gorgeous, and the gameplay is as enjoyable as ever.

AGE
10
LEARNING

A princess is whisked away to a beautiful, mysterious land filled with bizarre creatures. The heroines in this turn-based RPG are clever, caring, and independent, and none is sexualized. With stunning visuals and a quirky poem-like narrative.

AGE
10

The franchise's titular racing festival shifts to France and Italy, allowing players to race across urban, rural, inland, and coastal areas. With more than 100 hours of challenges, gearheads and casual racing fans will be playing for weeks -- or months.

AGE
10
LEARNING

With surprisingly accessible and robust creation tools, kids build a virtual world and create the rules that govern it. They can even program the "brains" of characters and objects, using their imaginations as they learn game design and programming.

AGE
10
LEARNING

Emmet, an ordinary LEGO man, is pulled into a battle against an evil villain. Kids bash objects to harvest studs, complete a model, solve puzzles, and unlock characters. The joyful narrative celebrates imagination and condemns rigidity of thought.

AGE
11

Characters who are generally portrayed as friendly -- such as Mario, Yoshi, and Pac-Man -- beat, stomp, and attack each other in this over-the-top, cartoonish free-for-all. It's most fun to play with friends, but you can play strangers around the world.

AGE
12

In the sequel to a game that turned tower defense on its head, players attempt to safely command convoys of military vehicles through gauntlets of aggressive alien towers. With 3-D postapocalyptic environments of snowy mountains and ruined skyscrapers.

AGE
12

The core mechanics of this action/adventure platformer, considered to be one of the industry's best, are the same as when the game debuted in the '90s. The downloadable version has been spruced up graphically, and the ending still elicits emotion.

AGE
12
LEARNING

The content may be somewhat mature, but this puzzler preserves both franchises' reputations for positive messages and role models. Kids identify patterns, recognize contradictions, and use logic to beat obstacles. Beautiful animation and clever writing.

AGE
12
LEARNING

The ability to multitask is the biggest update to this game that tries to provide an accurate simulation of modern human life; players create virtual people and manage every aspect of their lives, from hygiene and happiness to career and family growth.

AGE
12
LEARNING

Enjoy the curious pleasures of Japanese RPGs? In this terrific game, you tap out beats to memorable songs from dozens of Final Fantasy classics. Each properly struck beat damages an enemy, and each missed beat results in your character taking damage.

AGE
12
LEARNING

Social options and creative opportunities differentiate this fun motorcycle racing game. It has absolutely gorgeous graphics, intuitive controls, and 60 extraordinarily dangerous courses, and kids can build more with a powerful track editor.

Taming the Gift Monster
  • The holidays are often when relatives like to splurge on high-ticket tech toys or go overboard in general. But your kids may not be ready for expensive electronics or the latest gaming system. If you want to moderate the amount of media (or anything else) coming into your home, set some limits. Organize a gift exchange in which each family member buys for only one other person -- or ask for activities (like a trip to the zoo) or services (a snazzy haircut) instead of gadgets.

Web Masters

This holiday season, consider giving a membership to your kid's favorite online destination or paying for an upgrade to any number of savvy sites. There's often a discount for purchasing an entire year upfront. For crafty sites with a techy bent to premium access to a virtual community, you have lots of options. 

AGE
7
LEARNING

Club Penguin is a "cool" way for kids to learn about social networking and online gaming. Kids dress up a penguin and waddle around the many themed areas -- all with cool themes -- learning about online citizenship, dialogue, and play.

This charming and easy-to-use tool gives kids a template to create their own short books and includes all kinds of prompts to get them started. Culling the illustrations is almost more fun than writing; the graphic options are incredibly detailed.

AGE
8
LEARNING

Grammaropolis is a fun city populated by zany characters who personify each of the eight parts of speech. Kids learn by watching music videos for each concept, reading short cartoon-y books, and completing quizzes. Includes a lot of content.

AGE
8
LEARNING

What appears to be simply a fun website teaches music and composition skills. You may go crazy hearing your kids' somewhat repetitive songs, but they'll love the handful of sleepy-eyed hipsters who become their very own beatboxing crew. It's super fun.

AGE
8
LEARNING

Tynker uses visual blocks of code to teach programming. Using the concepts of Scratch, developed by MIT, the videos, interactive exercises, programming tutorials, and quizzes help kids learn the basics before they begin working on their own programs.

AGE
9
LEARNING

Kids complete a mix of offline challenges involving, for example, technology, art, comedy, or bugs. Some can be done independently, and others require adult or professional help, and kids walk away with confidence, new skills, and a nifty online patch.

AGE
9
LEARNING

It's simple to set up online music lessons in real time, with a real person -- some Juilliard-trained -- for students of all ages and levels. All major instruments are represented, as are the dulcimer, didgeridoo, accordion, and ukulele.

AGE
11
LEARNING

Kiva makes lending to business owners in third-world countries seem personal and real. Kids read summaries of potential loan recipients, then make their choice and later get updates, giving them the sense they're helping change lives for the better.

Great Creative
  • Creative websites let kids make cool projects -- videos, scrapbooks, comic books, animations, storybooks, and much more -- as they learn new technology and hone existing skills.

Ages 13-17

Movie Buffs

DVDs are great gifts because they help make family movie night a hit. Browse our editors' handpicked list of the top new DVD releases of 2014, from animated gems and comedies to action flicks, dramas, and documentaries.

AGE
13

Epic in length and dealing with the Civil Rights movement, drugs, abuse, and war, this sentimental tearjerker never loses sight of the love story between slow-witted Forrest and disillusioned Jenny. Superb acting, especially from Oscar winner Tom Hanks.

AGE
13

This wonderful 2013 documentary about a Dutch teenager named Laura Dekker, who became the youngest person to sail around the world alone, shows what happens when you apply drive, determination, and focus to make a dream come true. Beautifully filmed.

AGE
13

Based on a video game, this film is an homage to classic car-chase movies with all live stunts, no CGI, and an actual actor as the lead. With typical twists, romances, heroes, and villains, it still feels old-fashioned, organic, and exciting.

AGE
13

The X-Men franchise knows how to deliver the goods. This is thrilling filmmaking, a deft combination of engaged storytelling and impressive special effects -- and bone-crunching battles. It's great to watch the talented cast do their thing so well.

AGE
14

This thought-provoking sci-fi thriller steers clear of some action-movie clichés and presents both strong female and male leads. Impressive special effects and a complicated plot about soldiers who die in battle but wake up to relive the same day.

AGE
14

This tear-jerking love story about two deep-thinking teens with cancer is based on the beloved YA book. Viewers feel the wonder of falling in love as well as the pain of knowing someone you adore is dying. A must-see for fans of the book.

AGE
14

After the most humiliating defeat in World Cup soccer history, it seemed things couldn't get worse for American Samoa. But it did. This exhilarating documentary is for everyone who likes underdog tales, with fascinating characters and inspiring messages.

AGE
14

The original cast of the TV show stars in a story about how you can't escape your roots and figuring out who you are and whom you love. With witty writing and exceptional performances by actors who clearly love their characters.

AGE
15

A fantastic comedy about food, family, and one man's flawed but abiding love for both. The story has a timeless message about finding your bliss and is a fresh take on fatherhood, post-divorce, without the usual treacle.

AGE
15

An extraordinary drama that follows the characters -- and actors -- over the course of 12 years, especially Mason as he grows from age 5 to 18. More about the rhythms of life itself: trying to get by, making mistakes, and moving on. Truly visionary.

AGE
16

Another quirky, irreverent movie from Wes Anderson, this time about a once-magnificent hotel that has fallen on hard times. Just when you think you've recovered from yet another bizarre, hilarious, and charming plot twist, it trips you up again.

AGE
16

Earth is a frozen wasteland, and the survivors ride a spectacular, self-sustaining train that speeds continuously around the globe. This postapocalyptic movie has frequent brutal fighting and violence, but it's exceptional for its design and scope.

Family Time
  • Try some tech togetherness over the holidays. Plan a night of movies and other activities you can enjoy together, and build in quiet, unplugged time, too. It's important to reflect on ways you can maximize the benefits of technology without letting it take over your family's life.

TV Fans

TV-show collections are excellent gifts for superfans who want to collect and rewatch their favorite episodes. Teens can enjoy a beloved series during play dates, sleepovers, family road trips, and more. Check out some of the top TV titles available on DVD this year.

AGE
13

The primetime follow-up to the popular movie The Avengers is an entirely new story based on a new set of characters. It's a thrilling ride with rapid-fire, often comical dialogue, action sequences, and an enticing evolution of various story arcs.

AGE
13

This quirky comedy teases post-hip 30- and 40-something viewers with humor based on familiarity with the '90s and the trends and characteristics of progressive cities. Some kids may not get it, but they'll find the visual gags and banter very funny.

AGE
13

Former happy-go-lucky guy Shawn starts using his observational skills to solve crimes -- but the police think he's a psychic. This comedy/drama is lighthearted, and teens will find it amusing and compelling. Complete series with new special features.

AGE
15

Based on the 1989 film, this show concerns the daily dramas of the sprawling Braverman family. It tends to focus on adult problems, so it's a good choice for teens and their parents to watch together so the positive messages hit home.

AGE
14

In this mockumentary-style sitcom, an unseen camera crew documents the efforts of an idealistic -- and often incompetent -- parks and rec official. The first season was hilarious, and it gets even better once audiences get familiar with the cast.

AGE
14

Arthur Conan Doyle's classic series has been retold countless times, so it's impressive that this latest, 21st-century version feels fresh. The writing is smart, and there's plenty of witty repartee, laugh-out-loud moments, suspense, and mystery.

AGE
15

This sketch-comedy series alternates between sharp commentary on African-American life and broader humor that capitalizes on violence and adult language. When the show goes broad, the jokes get generic. But overall the comedy has real muscle.

AGE
15

FBI agent Dale Cooper is investigating the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. Although this surreal series may be too disturbing for many teens, it explores morality and identity in a fresh and original way. Complete series with special features.

Stream to Save
  • Netflix, YouTube,  iTunes, Target Ticket, Amazon, Hulu, and more all offer options for watching movies (and TV shows) online for less than the cost of a night out at the theater. Some of these sites have a flat rental fee, some offer a monthly subscription rate, and some even offer the ultimate bargain: free rentals!

Bookworms

Help teens discover whole new worlds this holiday season with picks from our book list. Our book editors have pored through the year's best releases to bring you great gift ideas for the kids on your list, whether they're already readers or just need the right story to get them hooked.

AGE
13

Cassie and her motley crew once again must fight to survive in this unputdownable sequel to The 5th Wave. With startling plot twists, it raises the stakes, deepens characterizations, and adds new heroes and villains and even some breathtaking romance.

AGE
13

A dying teen's head is cryogenically frozen; five years later it's reanimated on another young man's decapitated body. This straightforward narrative shows our hero's layered, emotional journey with crisp, easy-to-follow, and often hilarious language.

AGE
14

Finn, a 16-year-old epileptic, is tired of being the boy who inspired his dad's alien-invasion book. His quirky journey of self-discovery explores friendship, love, sex, and the meaning of life in a way that should appeal to male and female readers.

AGE
14

In alternating chapters, we hear the voice of Noah at 13 and his twin sister, Jude, at 16. The brilliant, emotional, complex novel has love, sexuality, art, a tragic death, betrayal, remorse, and forgiveness -- and the writing often sings.

AGE
14

Red-hot chemistry between Isabel and Cole (a werewolf with a rock-'n'-roll past) permeates this L.A. story of love and friendship. Luscious prose, a lyrical sense of place, and swoon-worthy descriptions of sharing a kiss and writing the perfect song.

Creative Ways to Save
  • Libraries aren't just for bound books. Most public libraries have a great selection of digital products, including ebooks -- all free to borrow!

App Lovers

Looking for a unique, affordable stocking stuffer this year? Try giving an app or two. Not only are many apps for kids fun and engaging, but they also can provide real learning. Not sure how to give an app? Look for the "Gift This App" option in the App Store.

AGE
13
LEARNING

It's not a powerful video-editing tool, but teens can make short, fun, entertaining videos quickly. All you do is match up the automatic editor with your raw footage, a background theme, a music track, and a time duration. An advanced and engaging design.

AGE
13
LEARNING

This free, cloud-based music service lets users create stations based on favorite artists, songs, or composers. You can't play specific songs, but that's Pandora's charm: It can be a great way to connect and find out about new music.

AGE
15
LEARNING

This free app is a full Sims game, complete with house building, job hunting, and relationships. It captures the same level of features and options of the renowned series, with teens sculpting the social landscape and developing lifelike characters.

Try It, Then Buy It
  • Many apps come in a "lite" version with ads that may not be age-appropriate. Purchasing the full version will usually remove the ads. If you like the app, it may be worth it to spend the money to enjoy an ad-free experience.

Game Gurus

Share the gift of play with a pick from our game list. We've chosen some of the best new titles for gamers of all ages for a variety of platforms and preferences. From games on systems like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to Nintendo 3DS and Wii U must-haves, we've got the gamer  in your life covered. 

AGE
13
LEARNING

The story in this turn-based Japanese RPG, about a girl and her friends trying the save the world, is filled with messages about courage and responsibility. Lovely visuals and music and a polished, finely tuned battle system make for a very fun time.

AGE
13
LEARNING

Shay lives alone on a spaceship; Vella's village sacrifices girls. Their stories unfold through point-and-click investigation, conversations with non-players, and fairly simple puzzles. This first part in a two-part game ends in a cliff-hanger.

AGE
13

This 2-D, side-scrolling action-adventure game is an entertaining parody of Cold War-era threats, and the clever hook of searching bases for secret documents and plans will satisfy players trying to foil both the Imperialists and the Socialists.

AGE
13
LEARNING

Two classic Japanese RPGs come in a single package, with a sophisticated, satisfying battle system and compelling stories. The complex and lengthy games feature plenty of over-the-top fantasy combat and well over 100 hours of action.

AGE
13

New fighters added to this remastered version of 2009's best-selling Street Fighter IV bring the roster to 44 unique combatants, all with their own styles and moves. This is the definitive version a serious fighting-game fan should own.

AGE
13
LEARNING

This fictional story about a small group of Allies working together to survive is filled with accurate facts and details about the conflict. That rare game that educates as it entertains, it offers contextual puzzles, some of which are emotional.

AGE
14
LEARNING

The emotional and satisfying finale in the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games follows Rosangela, who helps spirits move on to the afterlife. It's gritty, mature, and thought-provoking with fantastic music and top-notch dialogue.

AGE
14

The highly anticipated sequel to a notoriously difficult RPG, this game focuses on fantasy combat against a variety of memorable enemies. Fresh content includes a new undead hero, an updated storyline, and advanced graphics. Worth your time and money.

AGE
15

The adrenaline-filled combat against a variety of robots, aliens, and human avatars in this beautiful, challenging, and fun shooter is nearly constant -- and the landscapes are so breathtaking players may stop fighting to appreciate their splendor.

AGE
15
LEARNING

Playing as a pair of hunters who must eliminate abusers of the world's worst magic, gamers spend much time in dialogue and often engage in magical, melee, and ranged combat. This highly ambitious RPG is beautiful to behold and smartly designed

AGE
15
LEARNING

Learn about the economic, social, and militaristic challenges of running a country -- and try to prevent a coup -- by playing as the dictator of a small island nation. With its humor and well-paced gameplay, this is the best in the series so far.

Now What?
  • The manual that comes with a new gaming console -- be it a hand-held device or the newest high-tech system -- may cover the basics, but managing how your kids use the console and what kinds of games they play is up to you. Learn surprising ways to spot great video games.   

Web Masters

This holiday season, consider giving a membership to your kid's favorite online destination or paying for an upgrade to any number of savvy sites. There's often a discount for purchasing an entire year upfront. For crafty sites with a techy bent to premium access to a virtual community, you have lots of options. 

AGE
13
LEARNING

English-language speakers can learn Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, and Italian through language lessons. Ideas are drilled in via repetition, and kids answer interactive questions, write phrases they hear, or identify words from photos.

AGE
13
LEARNING

This cloud-based music service lets you access more than 20 million songs. Kids can make playlists and share them with friends and discover new music by creating radio stations based on their favorite bands. A lot of fun for music fans.

AGE
14
LEARNING

Users hide secret trinkets and find hidden items, frequently by employing a GPS device. Hunts range from simple challenges to complex problem-solving adventures. Reinforces geography and map reading and gets kids excited about exploring the world.

Get Creative
  • Creative websites and apps let teens make cool projects -- videos, scrapbooks, comic books, animations, storybooks, and much more -- as they check out new technology.