The start of Primary school. What a mixed bag that is.
Uniform, homework, newsletters, PE Kits, the PTA, junk modelling, missing jumpers, fundraising, and nits.
It truly is a time of learning — for the whole family.
But the thing I least expected; what I did not see coming, was the number of birthday parties we would end up going to. Don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely when your child comes home gripping their invitation, a huge grin stretched across their face. But when their calendar becomes busier than yours, you know you have a problem.
In the first year of primary school we were invited to over 20 birthdays.
That, combined with the other usual birthday parties (cousins, NCT, friends’ children, neighbours) meant that I found myself buying a present almost every two weeks. And then my second child started school.
You can see where I am going with this, right?
But don’t panic. Things do ease off in the long run, but there is no denying that this is a new time in your life as a parent in which you need to find your feet.
And that’s where I come in.
We are lucky that in South East London we have a handful of excellent local toyshops, and so I contacted a couple that were more than happy to help. Just Williams and Wigwam are both family run businesses with a strong experience in this field (both have children in school), as well as an excellent range of gifts in stock.
They had plenty of great suggestions and insight about how best to navigate the murky waters of gift buying for kids, taking into consideration price, frequency and quality.
So, before you log in to your Amazon account and bulk buy, see what your local experts have to say about it.
If you are a busy parent, why should you go to a specialist shop (instead of supermarket/Amazon)?
WIGWAM: As a busy mum myself, I know how easy it is to order things over the internet. But you don’t get the personal service and gift recommendations that you get when you go
into an independent shop like Wigwam. Wigwam also offers free gift wrapping and many customers end up buying and writing the birthday card at the till too, so the whole present buying purchase is
wrapped up (excuse the pun) with one visit.
As a local mum who lives, works and whose children go to school on the same road, I also know a lot of local families and I’ve found after four years in the shop I usually know the child that customers are shopping for, so I can try to help by suggesting gift ideas relevant to that child. Plus, I am a strong believer in supporting our local independent shops and high streets. The world would be sad and lonely place if we no longer had local shops and a local community.
JUST WILLIAMS: By going to a specialist toy shop, like Just Williams you will get advice and guidance. If there is something specific you want, and we don’t have it in stock we can either order it in or get it from one of our other branches. A lot of suppliers deliver to us the next working day (which is as quick as Amazon!).
Going on-line to places like Amazon is only convenient if you know what you want to buy. Supermarkets, depending on their size have a limited number of toys, you never know what is going to be in stock and there is no one to advise/guide you. They also tend to stock highly advertised, well known brands so if you are looking for something a little different, you are better off going to an specialist shop.
You have children in primary school. How have you tackled the challenges of buying extra presents during the year?
WIGWAM: I try to keep to a strict budget. I usually get my children to choose gifts for their friend’s birthdays, as it’s something they enjoy doing, it gives them some independence and helps them understand the value of money. My children love helping in the shop!
JUST WILLIAMS: When children start primary school it is difficult when everyone is invited to everyone’s party and most people don’t know many of the children/parents. This is a difficult one, if parents know each other, they tend to club together and get one bigger gift for the birthday girl/boy — which I think is appreciated by both the giver and the receiver. For these gifts we tend to recommend a puzzle, paint your own mug/piggy bank.
What was the last (kids) present you bought?
WIGWAM: My niece, who lives locally, turned three the other week, so I chose things from my shop, including Trolls toys, Paw patrol toys and a wooden food chopping set.
JUST WILLIAMS: The last present I bought was a colouring set “a day at the zoo” for my 5yr old nephew. I love these Tiger Tribe sets.
What are your gift recommendations for Primary School children?
WIGWAM: I usually recommend the Fairy and Unicorn garden. They are a great gift and a good price too. The secret spy decoders are also great fun as children can write a secret message and only see it through a spy light! 5–6 years.
Slime!!! The kids absolutely love it! But the parents don’t always :) Also for this age I would recommend magic kits and science kits. 7–9 years
The Speak Out game is a great game for this age. Scented pens and rubbers are always a good idea, along with a diary. I’d also recommend magnet sets and practical jokes. 10–11 years
For all the family, my go to game is Dobble. It is great fun, easy to take away with you and is suitable for any age.
JUST WILLIAMS: We recommend Brainbox — most popular are the World, Sport and Nature and Dinosaurs for those slightly younger (5yrs +). These are great games, as not only fun but educational and can be played with 2 or more players. Aimed at those 7yrs+ £12.99
Mould and Paint Sealife — great arts and craft activity to make magnets and badges. Aimed at those 5yrs+ £9.99
Marvins Magic Amazing Tricks £6.99. These are great value, introductory magic kits, which include 25 tricks in each set. There are 3 to collect. 8+yrs
Toyrific Bingo Game — fun game, children love to spin the wheel and get creative on how they read the numbers out. Can be played with 2+ players aimed at those aged 6yrs+. £6.99
Kites — fun for all ages, especially in the autumnal weather and gets children out and about in the parks. Prices vary from £4.99 to £12.99 depending on the size.
Party bags: yay or nay?
WIGWAM: Yay! I think all children love to receive party bags at the end of a party, but I know they can be expensive. We are always happy to suggest some ideas in the shop. They don’t need to be expensive and rather a small token. A small toy or stickers, bubbles and piece of cake are usually winners with children!
JUST WILLIAMS: Personally I don’t say nay (and probably not what an owner of a toy shop should say!) as I feel that we live in such a consumer-focused society where children have so much now a days. We see a growing trend that parents would rather give 1 usable gift in a party bag with a piece of cake rather than several small toys which end up in the bin. Thinks like a finger puppet, foil bag like a lego minifigure, jokes, yo-yo, spiky flashing bouncy ball, splat balls, or wall climber work well.
And finally, do you have any xmas predictions?
WIGWAM: The LOL dolls and Pokemon are very popular at the moment and we expect them to be big for Christmas. Also, traditional wooden train sets are very popular each year, as well as remote control robots and cars.
JUST WILLIAMS: Thinking Putty, Magformers construction game set, Nerf Nitro, Toilet Trouble Game, and the Deluxe Mini Micro Microscooter.
There you have it. I hope you found some of the suggestions useful. I know I have! Not only that, visiting these shops with time in my hands made me realise that local knowledge really is better than Amazon browsing (all those hours feeling utterly overwhelmed!).
The toy market is vast, and it’s easy to get lost in it. So go talk to the experts. They can help you, and you can help them too — by shopping locally.
So, the next time your kid comes home with birthday party invitations in their bag, take a breath.
You got this.