If that sounds too complicated, don't be afraid to think outside the box, urged Rachel Jarrett, general manager of the children's department for the sale site Gilt Groupe. Wall decor may not feel terribly gifty, but Wallcandyarts.com has chalkboard decals in the shapes of elephants, apples and circles that would please lots of kids.
And there's nothing wrong with asking your giftee's parents for a suggestion. “I think parents do appreciate it when you ask what might make a nice gift,” Jarrett said. “They want to make sure you're not getting something that maybe somebody else is also getting. It's a lot to return a toy.”
A couple of other suggestions by interest:
Lego lunch set: Licensed Lego lunch box in the shape of a brick, with two mini-boxes also made to look like the real thing, along with a drinking bottle topped by an iconic yellow Lego head for the cap. From Plast Team.
Giant Lego brick for room storage: Also licensed, storage boxes with lids that stack, wastebaskets with yellow-headed lids included. Heads also come as storage in two sizes. From Plast Team.
Lego calendar for 2012: 28 pages, wall-size, features constructions from top Lego designers, including a space shuttle, the White House and an entire city block. From Workman Publishing.
Lego watch: Lots and lots of Lego-themed watches are out there. There's one called the Lego Make-N-Create with links that look like brick in the brand's classic blue, yellow, red and green. The set includes 22 links in assorted colors and two bezels. From Lego.
The Lego Ideas Book: Tips from master builders on taking what a child already has and making something new. Divided into six themes, including transportation, buildings, space and kingdoms. By Daniel Lipkowitz. From DK Children.
Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven: Sure, cooking on the real thing is great, but this version of the classic is space-agey in purple and doesn't require a light bulb. The baking pan is bigger and it also comes with a cupcake pan. Two mixes included. From Hasbro.
Nest kitchenware: Go with real tools that kids and parents can both enjoy. These sets from Joseph Joseph of six or eight pieces include durable measuring cups and mixing bowls in bright, child-friendly colors.
Go Anywhere Grill: Parents looking to keep their 3-year-olds away from the hot backyard grill will appreciate this 33-piece wooden hibachi-like play grill set. With charcoal bits and two play shish-kabobs. Add on the My Backyard BBQ Fix-ins Starter Set with condiments, also wood. Both by Hape.
Kid cookbooks: Many exist. Find one with step-by-step instructions and color photos of the finished dish. Have a kid-size apron personalized or wrap up a play food set. Melissa and Doug make a great selection in wood, but more real-looking play food is widely available.
Photo: Lego-themed watch