Raising Real Men’s Gift Guide for Boys
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“What in the world should I give my son?”
We hear that a lot all year long! We have six boys of our own, so we’ve wondered the same thing as we’ve shopped for boys from babies to grown men. Here are a few ideas, principles, and outright recommendations to get you going choosing something you can feel good about that will delight your boys.
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There are a few principles we’ve adopted over the years to help manage the gift budget for our family. We’ve taught our sons to share most of their gifts from the beginning, so they don’t blink at ‘presents for the family’. They know that means everyone has more to enjoy! It also means they don’t expect a large pile under the tree for each person. On Christmas Day, we take turns opening presents. When there are no more with your name attached, you use your turn to open a family gift.
We treasure old things, too. We believe that a old gift that is new to you – rare, old books, a cherished toy handed down, a family keepsake – may have greater value than a brand new item. You just have to be sure to make a big deal about it.
Practical gifts can be a lot of fun, too; underwear is still underwear, but things that encourage them to grow up a little, like real tools of their own, can both entertain and teach.
Boys love to create and build!
LEGOs immediately come to mind. After a couple of decades of gift-giving, if we don’t have ten thousand pieces of LEGOs, then we’ve got twenty thousand. Don’t forget that you can reinterpret sets, too, especially for younger boys. An “Indiana Jones” narrative could also be a paleontology expedition, for example. Likewise, we have no trouble chucking out one or two problematic pieces from an otherwise great set – just be neat with the package! For preschoolers, LEGO has the DUPLO junior line, too.
Fischertechnik is great for older boys. Originally designed for engineering simulations, the technicians found their kids liked playing with them, too. Now they’re sold for building all kinds of models, some with motors, sensors, and controls, others for historical models or workable toys. The pieces don’t fall apart by themselves during active play like LEGO tends to, either. They have a Junior line with bigger pieces for the younger set.
What if you just can’t afford new sets? We’ve suggested to our less-solvent sons that hunting through the closets and bins, finding the misplaced pieces, then repackaging them in a bin with the directions (we keep all directions in one file drawer) would be a great gift for their younger brothers. You could do the same thing with bins of outgrown toys from a friend’s house or “freecycle”.
Do you remember model kits, plastic cement and tiny jars of paint from your youth? They’re still available, and your son might enjoy building one with Dad (who might enjoy it, too). Kits are available for a few dollars on up, and many of the toxic chemicals in glue and paint have alternatives or have been phased out.
People ask us all the time how to get their preteens and teens off of their devices. We say, “Give them something REAL to do!” Our own boys suggested we start a line of Classic Craft Kits that would teach boys some really cool skills.
The first one they designed lets young men try their hands at the medieval skills of an armorer by making chain mail with our Men of Iron Chain Mail Kit!
The Chain Mail Expansion gets lets them make a belt they can wear with costumes or everyday. It takes a good long while to make, not just an afternoon, which is another bonus!
We got interested in wood-burning while developing the chain mail kit and had so much fun, our Wood-burning Kit came next:
Calligraphy is something that Hal enjoyed a lot when he was a teen, so when we found a great book about heroes of the Middle Ages and calligraphy, we built a Calligraphy Kit around it!
Then we really started getting excited! Our guys wanted to learn leather-working, so we started with a Leather Kit to dye, finish, and stitch a pocketknife and flashlight holster.
I remember my grandfather sitting on the porch whittling while he talked to his brothers. I want our boys to have that same since of purpose that keeps their hands busy even when they are just sitting around. This Wood-Carving Kit will teach them how!
The Sketch Artist Kit isn’t just about scribbling, but has the tools and instruction they need to really learn how to draw almost anything, including a figure that can be posed to help them draw people.
Another new one is our Chef Kit. It inspires boys to get in the kitchen and make everything from family meals to a business. One of our sons has recently started catering! The Chef Kit isn’t for play, it’s for seriously teaching your guy to cook. It has a black chef’s apron, real tools, and more.
Let us know if you have ideas for the next kit! Boys LOVE these kits — they get to learn real skills they can use. Some even start businesses with what they learn!
We want our boys to use their imagination! Men who are imaginative, who are creators, are better prepared to be entrepreneurs, for one thing.
Boys like to collect realistic gear to suit up as knights, soldiers, ranch hands or explorers. Sometimes this can double as useful clothing items (a western-style winter coat, for example, or an Army surplus field jacket or a pair of cowboy boots that are suitable for church, too). Our fellows have had fun with a stack of inexpensive cowboy hats we bought by the dozen from an importing company specializing in party favors.
Speaking of Army surplus, many towns have one of these dream emporiums available. You’ll want to chaperone any visits by younger boys because sometimes the other merchandise is, well, edgy, but we’ve never met a boy who wasn’t thrilled to shop for canteens, web belts, compasses and folding shovels. A little investment can go a long way here and even an older teen will find things he likes in a place like this.
Having some “fancy” dress up clothes, like a king’s velvet robe and jeweled crown or shiny armor can satisfy little boys who are tempted by their sister’s or mom’s silky clothes. Boys have cool things, too, they’re just different!
Here’s something we found that combines imaginative play with constructive stuff: It’s a kit to stitch your own suede pouch. Once made, it can be an ammo pouch, money bag, or whatever accessory he needs today.
For pretend-world-play indoors, we liked Playmobil when our children were younger; it’s built so well the castles and ships we bought when our grown-up son was a toddler still look like new. Our guys also loved the Brio system of toy trains. It’s great to have things you can add to over the years – it simplifies shopping for grandparents, too.
For boys young and old, inspirational things like our Men of Iron poster can give them a vision of what it means to be a godly man – a courageous leader. One mom said, “I hope they read it a hundred times!”
Like it or not, imaginative play for boys usually involves war.
Should boys be allowed to play with toy guns? We think so, for several reasons, but we do generally forbid them to ‘shoot’ their family members or friends, or to play out activities that would be sinful in reality. There are only cops visible in our yard, the robbers are imaginary.
Toy weapons can go along way in helping you teach your guys the righteous use of force – to protect your family and country, to punish evildoers, and to hunt. In our family we do use toy weapons to teach firearm safety, otherwise, they are the props the boys use pretending they are pioneers, soldiers, policemen, and hunters — all God-honoring roles.
We carry wooden swords made out of furniture grade plywood so they can stand a lot of rough play and rubberband guns that will shoot twelve times without reloading. Our boys picked them out, so we feel sure your boys will love them!
Last year, we added cool pie tin targets that make a plunking sound – so that they have something to shoot at other than each other! Kids LOVED them!
We have always lived near other homes and in subdivisions, so real guns, even air rifles and airsoft guns, require an excursion to use safely (and legally!). We teach our sons how to handle firearms and to shoot safely, but not as frequently as we would if we had more land. Teenagers are fully capable of owning and caring for firearms, though; the National Rifle Association and 4-H offer classes in hunter safety, target shooting, and competitive sport shooting, if you are looking for more opportunities in this area.
Another option for teens are the mega version of the younger kid’s stuff. Even our older guys got a huge kick out of getting a rubberband machine gun.
Our teens (and twenties!) kept after us until we ordered training swords – because they wanted a set themselves! Last year, we took it up a notch and added bigger and better ones. These polypropylene swords have the heft and balance of real swords without the danger. They’re great for learning how to really sword fight!
This year, after many requests, we added training knives. I could not believe how quickly they were grabbed up at conferences this year!
Don’t forget ballistic rockets! Our boys have always loved model rockets. Of course, what boy wouldn’t like something that goes boom and flies away?
Boys appreciate having their own tools. Maybe they can’t handle Dad’s 16-ounce framing hammer, but they work fine with a smaller, lighter tool. Take a look at what is most useful for your family; construction tools might be awkward around an apartment, but standard maintenance tools like a tack hammer, pliers and screwdrivers are practical everywhere. Cull lumber from the lumberyard can give him an inexpensive way to try his skills.
One of the first tools we give our boys is a multi-tool. Everyone needs this handy item on their belt on or in the car. Make your young man a handyman!
When they show themselves responsible with that, it’s time for a bigger knife for bigger jobs!
An older technically-inclined son might enjoy his own precision screwdrivers or drafting instruments. One of our boys wanted tools to get a lawn business going — new, old, from yard sales, he doesn’t care! Another son recently suggested that his brothers find free classical sheet music online, print it out and make him a notebook to play the piano from. It’s practically free, but a big time savings for him. All of our sons have been thrilled with gifts like a vintage-style, adventure-worthy briefcase and power tool set as they become teens.
We watch the sales, too. Older teens usually appreciate a nice, manly wool or leather winter coat. Sometimes you can find them for pennies on the dollar at the end of winter and pack them away for the next Christmas. As they get older, they also appreciate things like retro colognes and shaving lotions and a real safety razor. Did you know some of those old brands you remember from your childhood that have gotten relegated to the drug store bottom shelves are now some of the hippest colognes out there? And they aren’t expensive at all!
Does your son have a good, grown-up Bible? Every young man needs one!
Your son might want to proclaim his faith publically, so Hal designed shirts that showcase the Five Solas of the Reformation, the principles that brought the gospel back to the church! Here’s one of our favorites:
Or, you might want to inspire your boys to develop the manly virtues. We want our boys to be thinking about their character. These shirts will help:
Boys want to do real things. They want to be men!
Books and Games
Books are important! They fuel our kids’ imaginations and make it easier for them to use good grammar and even write. Used book stores and library book sales can be a source of inexpensive pleasure for your young men. Old series books like The Childhood of Famous Americans and the Landmark Books are full of excitement and entertainment, but also history! Be sure to check out the G.A.Henty historical adventure novels (which taught our boys tons of history, but about the manly virtues, too).
The Truthseekers series is high adventure that teaches a boatload of science. It was written by a homeschool mom and daughter team. They won’t be able to put them down! AND we’re giving away a free copy of the first one with every order over $20 this year! Just add Missing Link to your order and use the coupon FREELINK to get it FREE!
We also love audio books – what a great thing to take in the van on a long ride. Our Hero Tales from American History audiobooks were written by Theodore Roosevelt to teach character to kids through the stories of heroes. We added sound effects, too, because history is ever so much better with cannonfire! This is one of our most popular resources!
A Cry From Egypt and the sequel, A Stand at Sinai, were written and illustrated by recent homeschool graduates and now it’s required in several homeschool curricula! How cool that teens are being required to read a book written by a teen. Everyone we know loves it!
Our brand new Radio Theatre version of A Cry From Egypt has over 50 actors and will make the time of the Exodus come alive for your family! Perfect if you like Jonathan Park or Adventures in Odyssey.
Audiobooks are a fantastic way to teach your children to love reading and to enjoy a book together as a family.
Need an attitude change in your family? We did! The Pollyanna series is so hilarious that even our teen guys enjoyed it – and it made all of us more grateful people. This series is so much fun! Plus, we have the rare sequel!
The Five Little Peppers, a real classic, teaches that people are more important than things. The sequel, Five Little Peppers Midway, shows how to remember that when times are good, too. Such a fun way to teach your kids to value their family!
An all-time favorite of our boys is Men of Iron by Howard Pyle, a story of honor and courage in the Middle Ages – a great gift to go along with our chainmail kit and swords!
Our teens begged us to do Captains Courageous, a book that really influenced them. It’s the story of a rich boy who fell off an oceanliner and was rescued by a fishing vessel. The fishermen didn’t believe his story, so impressed him as cabin boy until their voyage was over. He learned how to work and how to become a man. A great story by Rudyard Kipling!
When our boys were younger, they LOVED the Sugar Creek Gang stories! These are adventure stories about a group of Christian friends in rural America in the middle of the last century. These books are tremendous fun and show our kids what it looks like for a boy to walk with Christ. Really, we can’t say enough good about them! And the audiobooks, well, the narrator in these does an absolutely fantastic job capturing the voice and joy of boyhood. These are the recordings you may have heard on BBN or Moody Radio growing up and there are none better.
Games that the family can play together are a hit here, too. We love noisy games everyone can play like Pit, but also harder games like Mille Bornes and Clue – we just team a younger child with an older one. The younger children mostly want to roll the dice and move the ‘man’, while the older boys get into the strategy; as a team they can all play together.
Games like Catch Phrase that can be played in a crowd are great when other families visit. Another fun game for all ages is Snake Oil. It’s an entrepreneurship game where you get 30 seconds to sell a new product!
Our favorite game of the year, though, is brand new. In fact, our family served on the product development team! It’s a game that teaches about forms of government, but the best thing about it is that everyone is playing all the time! There’s no dead time waiting for your turn. Every move could impact someone else at the table. We play-tested it with our friends and church family and everyone, young and old, not just loved it, but became obsessed with playing it! Get Civitas, you’ll love it!
These aren’t books or games, exactly, but they still fit in this category. The Ranger Mike DVDs use adventure to teach kids about nature and creation from a Christian perspective. They are a lot of fun and really solid, too.
The old standbys, balls and bicycles, are always good for gifts. One family recently told us they bought used bicycles, sanded them down and gave them in pieces to their boys with paint in their stockings. They had many hours of fun putting their ‘new’ bikes together and customizing them with their dad.
Top on the list for many boys are video and computer games, but we think they should be lower down on most lists, especially for younger boys. We do allow our boys to play video games and game systems, but for the most part we keep them at grandmother’s house for an occasional or weekend treat. Why? Most boys love exciting, action-packed games the most and those games fill a boy’s system with adrenaline, then leave him with no way to be active. We find that boys who spend a lot of time playing video games tend to get cranky and irritable with the rest of the family. They’re all charged up with no place to go! The exciting inaction just doesn’t work out too well for us. The addictive nature of some games is another issue you need to be careful of. Learn more here.
We do like computer-based games that have some historical or practical premise, like Age of Empires, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, and Minecraft. They are time consuming to learn, though, and isolate both the player and the computer from the rest of the family.
This is something most boys are born wanting, it seems. We think it’s best to keep the ownership in our own hands until they are teens, though. The children play on our tablets or phones, but since they’re ours, they have to ask in advance. That lets us manage the screen time a little better. Young kids need time to be bored, to imagine, to pretend, to read. We find that when the screens are shut down around here, the imaginations open up after a few hours. So, a tablet might be a better family gift or parent gift even if you mean for the children to use it a lot.
Teens, though, are going to need their own computers to get school done, to communicate with others, to learn how to live in an online world. You want teens to start using those things while they are still home and you can teach them how to use them in a godly way.
For crying out loud, though, don’t just hand them the device and walk off. Check and make sure you can protect the device you are considering. Get accountability for every single device in your house. You can try Covenant Eyes (what we use in our family) for 30 days free. If you aren’t sure why we’re being so adamant, check out our purity and sexuality guide for information on what’s going on with device use and boys.
Memories and Experiences
One great option for gift-giving is to give memories and experiences. Pass on a toy you loved, along with the story. Join the zoo. Wrap up some stuffed animals or animal books to share the secret, and plan an adventure. Give the family a tent and stove, give everyone sleeping bags, and plan a camping trip.
An adult or older teen son might like a gym membership or a trip for the older brothers to go on. A college age son might appreciate gas or pizza gift cards. Our guys have been able to find great gifts for each other at thrift and consignment stores. They’ve found tweed jackets, bomber jackets, and all kinds of cool things there.
Thinking Outside of the Ads
As we get past the idea that our boys need the latest hot toy and think about what will not only give them pleasure, but develop their skills, their imaginations, their minds, souls, and bodies, we’ve found that gift giving has become a lot more fun for all of us!
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Hal & Melanie Young
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