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5 Free Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays can be expensive, between the gifts, parties and travel expenses. My favorite gifts are those that don’t cost a lot of money, yet are personal and meaningful and maybe even a little playful. So, the ideas below will save money, and they also encourage thoughtful gifting for loved ones. Whether for adults or kids, add a personal twist on an idea or two below and have fun making gifts this year. You can definitely enjoy a Happy Holiday that doesn’t have to demolish your bank account!

1. Coupon Book: There is a reason department stores and food chains use coupons – people like them. By making your own unique coupons, this gift will be a hit for any age. Think of what the recipient would appreciate and design a page for each coupon. Ideas for kids can include a game night, extra book at bedtime, dance party, choosing the dinner menu, making a special food item, or a soccer play date with mom/dad. For the adults on your list – a massage at home, having date night in-house (wine, movie, or game), making a favorite dinner/dessert to share together, coupon for cleaning the house (kids can help). Have fun designing each coupon and keep the coupon list short as you need to hold true to redeeming your coupon book.

2. Picture Frame: Designing a one of a kind picture frame for a memorable photo is a wonderful gift for that someone special on your list. Collect and cut out old photographs or words and photos from magazines.

Review & Giveaway: Steve Spangler’s Science Toys

With the holidays just around the corner, we are bombarded by ads for toys. All the bells, whistles, and batteries required can make your head spin.

I’m always on the lookout for new toy ideas that foster learning with a hint of adventure, so when Claire and I were asked to review some of Steve Spangler’s most popular science products, I jumped at the chance. Yes, The Casual Perfectionist received these items for free in exchange for an honest review, and we were not forced to give a glowing review. The positive reviews practically write themselves with these toys.

I love toys that teach. I love science that disguises itself as toys. I love toys that are powered by magic. (Scientists will say they’re powered by the Laws of Physics and whatnot, but I know the truth: It’s all magic.)

Here is what we played with, er, I mean “tested.” I’ll skip ahead and tell you that all three of these items were a HUGE hit, and I’ll break down my review after each one. BUT THE BEST PART? You can ENTER TO WIN these for YOURSELF. Or for your kids. No one says you have to let anyone else play with them.  [Edited to add:  This contest is closed!  The winner has been notified.  Thanks to everyone who entered!]

Pearl Swirl BallPearl Swirl Ball ($6.95)

What do you get when you combine a super-sturdy bouncing ball with our Pearl Swirl rheoscopic fluid? We’re not completely sure either, but we do know that it makes one really fun toy! The Pearl Swirl Ball is our new favorite toy at the Spangler Science office. Plus, not only is it fun to play with, it also demonstrates a fascinating lesson in currents and Newton’s First Law of Motion. WARNING: The Pearl Swirl Ball has proven to be highly addictive, so proceed with caution! Recommended for children 4 and up.

The description is exactly correct. It is addictive. You can’t not play with this ball. In fact, in order to focus on this review, I had to set it in the other room. I’m not kidding!

Pros: It’s a ball, so there are no small parts or batteries needed. It’s really cool to watch the swirling. It’s addictive. This will provide hours of entertainment. Did I mention it’s relatively quiet entertainment!? Bonus!

Cons: It’s addictive. (Wait. Wasn’t that a Pro, too? Pro or Con? You decide.) In the video on Steve’s site (see the above link for the Pearl Swirl Ball), he bounces it, which is fine when you’re in a room where that can happen safely, but this is a relatively heavy, hard ball and if any of you bounce it by my china cabinet one more time, I’m taking it away! Rolling it on the floor has the same effect but doesn’t get nearly the same reaction out of mom.

Verdict: This is a MUST for your wish list. I dare you to get it and NOT play with it.

blizzard-in-a-bucketInsta-Snow Blizzard in a Bucket ($14.95)

Makes 2 Gallons of Fluffy Artificial Snow in Seconds!

Just add water and the powder instantly erupts into amazing artificial snow that looks and feels like the real thing. Technically, it’s a superabsorbent polymer (if you really want to know), but it looks and feels like the real thing. It’s so realistic that it’s being used in indoor snowboarding parks and by special effects artists in movies. Once you start playing with the stuff, you just can’t put it down.  Recommended for children ages 4 and up with adult supervision.

The amount of magic (science?) involved in making this work is amazing. It boggles the mind. I’m not sure who was more surprised by the end result of this, the adults or the kids!

Pros: No batteries required. The look on people’s faces when this tiny powder erupts into a mound of “snow” is worth the clean-up.

Cons: If you have a nervous breakdown when small specks of anything become larger and multiply in your house, you may have to leave the room when the scientists in the room start playing with this. It is super-fun to play with and easy to clean-up, so focus on that, and you’ll be fine.

Verdict: This IS REALLY Cool! Some of our relatives who live in warmer climes may be getting a “white Christmas” after all!

Magna-Tiles ClearMagna-Tiles Clear Set ($54.95)

Hidden magnets in the colorful transparent plastic tiles give children the opportunity to build, create and design amazing structures. This award-winning play system develops patterning skills, shape recognition and motor skills, not to mention great spatial problem-solving skills. Our customer service experts each have a set at their desks and our productivity has dropped 37% in less than a month! Recommended for children ages 3 and up.

Claire is at the age right now where she is enthralled with toys that build other things. She will sit and play with Legos or blocks, and I love that about her! This set is really cool because they are easy to assemble and can turn into anything her imagination desires.

Pros: This is a quiet game that doesn’t require batteries. (Are you seeing a theme here?) The kit comes with maps and instructions on how to build various structures, and we all had fun putting those together. All of us had fun building our own creations, too!

Cons: The only con I can think of is that when a certain preschooler steals one of my integral pieces, I have to start over on my building…but that’s not the toy’s fault.

Verdict: My preschooler loves this set, and she has yet to run out of things to make. This would be an awesome addition to your Wish List.

WIN THESE STEVE SPANGLER TOYS! CLICK HERE TO ENTER. [Edited to add:  This contest is closed!  The winner has been notified.  Thanks to everyone who entered!]

Need other gift ideas for those on your list? Be sure to check out the Top 25 Gift Ideas over at Steve Spangler Science!

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I think I hear a Pearl Swirl Ball calling my name from the other room…