Kid's gifts don't have to be plastic supermen and space warriors that have bionic hearts and self-destruct in six days. This holiday season, think old-fashioned: Many of the perennials -- sailboats, tops and Tinkertoys, toy drums and soldiers, puppets and kites, diaries and coin tricks, jump ropes, kaleido scopes, kazoos and magnets and paint or tea sets are still around, with good reason -- many under $1.
Think handmade and homemade -- crafts and dollhouse miniatures; or educational and scientific toys from the Smithsonian shops -- gyroscopes, prisms, old airplane models or a pocket mcroscope and telescope; or good books and records. In short, treat a child to the simple, sturdy toys we knew.
Here are some shops where unusual, quality children's gifts can be found at reasonable prices, many of them run by nice people who care about your business. If you're last minute shopping, call first to make sure the item you want is still in stock.
THE RED BALLOON (1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW, 965-1200) boasts more than 200 inexpensive stocking-stuffers, many imported windups. Owner Bob Joy seems to enjoy demonstrating them almost as much as the kids. Good for old-fashioned girls: a Kate Greenaway tin filled with a mini-tea set, $2.50; little sewing kits, $2.98; leatherette animal change purses for lunch money, $2.98. For little one, there's a three-in-one doll of Red Riding Hood, Grandma and the Wolf for $4.50. Traditional toys include Jacob's ladders, $3.98; wooden jumping jacks, $6.98; Russian nesting dolls, $9.95; limberjacks, $13.95 for the riverboat gambler; hobby horses, $12.98; nutcracker soldiers, $16.95; a dragon kite, $2.75; kaleidoscopes starting at $14.98; and reproduction turn-of-the-century pressed-metal windup toys, $2.98 and up.
Try an outsize candy-striped stocking 12.95) stuffed with glow-in-the-dark stars, moon and planets, $3.25; rainbow stickers by the yard, $1 (attention reainbow fans: see rainbow shop at the new Harborplace in Baltimore); a one-man hand (kazoo, cymbals, drum and bugle), $2.25; a dozen hand dipped birthday candles, $2.98; handmade shoelaces with hearts or purple pigs, $1 a pair; finger-paint bubble bath, $4.98; a ballerina or flying Superman magnet, $2.25 or 98 cents; and animal ink stamps or stencils, 98 cents.
A clever craft is the window paint imported from Germany, $9.95. Painted on a window, it looks like stained glass. Peel it off, glue it to construction paper and varnish -- it looks like decoupage. If you want to get fancy, there's an enchanting musical jewel box with a dancing clown for $21.95 or pachinko (japanese pinball) for $39.95.
Across the street in Georgetown, a wooden rocking horse might catch your eye. It's in the window of BOWL & BOARD (1066 Wisconsin Avenue NW, 338-5919), which stocks a wide variety of wooden toys (white pine and mahogany) made in Vermont and the islands. That fellow in the window is a whopping $150, but inside there's a rocking-horse kit (with directions and everything you need) for $24 and a dowel-shaped version for $39. Other wooden toys include tops, 25 cents; cars and trucks, 50 cents to $20; planes and helicopters, $1.75 to $15; train sets, $1.75 to $80; and a ferris wheel, $29.25. Bound to be popular with little boys is the East Legion set, with 18 toy soldiers, horses, flags, cannons, ammunition and barrels, $13.25. There's one marionette of a mouse for $21.
How would your favorite child look dressed up as an old-fashioned boy or girl? Give a tintype portrait made in the 19th-century photographer's studio at THE SMITHSONIAN (old clothes provided, prices start at $9 for a 4x5 photo of one person). It's at the Arts and Industries Building museum shop (900 Jefferson Drive SW, 357-1367) where you can find educational toys inspired by the exhibits. Such as: a giant magnet, $3; a rock and mineral collection, $1.25; a magnifying glass, $1.20; gyroscopes, $1.95; a combined miniature telescope/microscope, $1.50; a wood Conestoga wagon kit, $8; an old-time car kit, $4; dinosur cookie-cutters in a canvas dinosaur bag, $13; the 1981 air-and-space calendar, $9.
Little girls would like a delicate circular Chinese paper fan, 65 cents; Kate Greenaway playing cards, $4.75; a Mason jar full of jellybeans, $3.50; an old-fashioned Christmas block to hang from the tree, $2.85. Was Johnny Burnett's 9-for-11 the best day a hitter ever had? If you know or care to know, check out the baseball box, 154 trivia cards for $9.There's also a large selection of hardback hobby and old-fashioned children's books, including "A Day in the Zoo" -- a reproduction of an antique pop-up book at $8.95 -- and a collector's replica of the old cast iron Punch-and-Judy bank, $50.
If you love the handmade look and don't do it yourself, discover ONE STEP UP (7327 Wisconsin Avenue Bethesda, 656-2550) -- it's like going to a craft fair every day. This is the place to find booties like grandma used to knit ($3.50). There's a nice variety of puppets, from felt animal finger puppets, 90 cents, to pop-up clowns, $4.50, to hand puppets of felt (2.50), terry (bath mitts, $3) and knit ($5). Quilted items include a set of blocks, $8.75; large letters $4.50; hobby horses with yarn manes, $9.50 to $14; an old-fashioned tufted clutch ball, $9; and baby quilts, $27 and up. Knitted: alphabet blocks, $10 a set; baby sets, $12.50; personalized child-size stockings ($10) and a wee one for dolly (2); button monsters, 95 cents; and Sesame Street doorknob covers, with Cookie Monster caught in the act of devouring Oreos, $3.50. Wooden: animal-shaped crayon holders, $4; hand-carved name sign for the bedroom wall, $4.50; a special-order giraffe clothesrack, $25. Ceramic: elephant hooks, $5; a piggy bank with a cork nose, $8.25; dollhouse miniatures from $1.25 to a three-piece old-fashioned bath set (claw-footed tub, pull chain toilet) for $20.
Other handmade children's gifts are the felt mouse bookmarks, $1; tie die baby sets, $9.50; bright little appliqued activity aprons, $8.25 and up; the two-faced baby (asleep-awake, $13.50); a macrame-and-bead nacklace, $2.50; a stained-glass caterpillar to hang in the window, $4.50; and the tree ornaments, such as Charlotte's web, a furry spider in a silvery thread web, $3.
WHY NOT? (above a dress shop, 200 King Street, Alexandria, 548-4420, 548-2080) brings back memories of yesterday's five and-dimes. A careful inspection of the clutter yields many of your basic buck-or-less stocking-stuffers mentioned above.There's whole rack of magic tricks, antique paper dolls of the Edwardian era, $2.50; 92 Hall of Fame baseball cards, $2.50; Old Maid and other mini-card games, 75 cents; World's Worst Elephant Jokes and other joke and riddle books, $1.50; and a wonderful collection of historic coloring books, including antique airplanes, ballet, composers, great Indian chiefs, steam cars and toys through the ages in the $1.50-to-$3.50 price range.
It's a good outlet for dolls, doll houses, miniatures and their related magazines and books. There's a book first published in 1908 called "How to Dress an Old-Fashioned Doll," $1.50 with patterns. Little girls also would like the birthstone rings, 80 cents; a like-real cutlery set, $4; a little wooden heart bracelet, $2.50; a diary, $5; a Christmas snowstorm, $6.50; hand-painted barrettes, $2 to $3.50; and grosgrain headbands, $3.50. Boys would like the dinosaur section (puffy stickers, books stuffed and rubber reproductions); old-time car models, $8.65; Britains Deetail line of metal model soldiers, cowboys and Indian, and knights, 89 cents each; and the Valkyrie, a kite made in Nantucket, $18.
Babies would like a set of cloth picture blocks, $13; a nursery-tales doll, $3.60; little wooden puzzles with handles, $4.50; and the cloth, board and touch books, $1 and up. Anybody would like the handmade feld hand puppets (my favorites were the Indians, king, clown and mermaid) by local teacher Margaret Crowley, a steal at $6. The shop also carries simple craft kits -- beads jewelry, needle point, knitting and origamo (japanese paper folding) -- $1.75 to $5, and wooden toys -- the Brio wooden railway from Sweeden sells for $59.50; Tucker Toys' Noah's Ark is $39. There's a thoughtful little play area for the kids while mom browses.
If you have an older child who would like to try making gifts for family or friends, visit TOYLAND (in the University Mall, 10655 Braddock Road, Fairfax, 591-3866) for craft kits. Creative hands can turn out latch-hook pillow and rugs, $5.99; yarn animals called Cuddle-up, $1.79; color-me mugs with six holiday labels, $2.99, leathercraft such as wallets and key chains, $5.99; and jewelry, masks or a personal zoo with Das self-hardening modeling material, $6.99.
There are some clever windups, such as an animal band, $1.99 to $2.69, and a jogging Santa for the little jogger on your list, $1.59. Also worth a second glance: a pocket erector set, $2.34; a gumball machine coin bank, $4.49; passport games with velcro-backed pieces, great for travel (dominos, checkers, chess and backgammon), $4.99; and the wooden toys, such as hardwood puzzles of jungle and farm critters for pre-schoolers, $5.29, and the 80-piece wood construction set called Nuts and Bolts, $10.88.
CRABTREE & EVELYN, purveyors of fine comestibles and toiletries, carries whimsical soaps and sponges for children. The animal-shaped sponges run $6; the soaps are $2.75 for Peter Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland, $3.50 for Baber. (At 1101 Connecticut Avenue NW, 659-0099; Market House in Georgetown, 3726 M Street NW, 338-1515; Tysons Corner, McLean, 356-0577; White Flint, Bethesda, 770-7822; and Columbia Mall, 997-7666.)
Of course, you don't have to buy craft kits for children to create their own holiday gifts. A cute and simple gift that even a young child can make is a bookworm. Cut a wiggly worm shape our of an old shirt cardboard. Color it with a marker, giving it stripes, eyes and a mouth. The head peeks out of a book to mark a favorite person's place.
An idea for pinatas -- fun to make and break at a children's party -- from the Sunset Magazine book Children's Crafts (Lane Publishing Co., 1976): Hang a big balloon from a string. Cover it with many layers of paper and paste, leaving a big hole (about six inches) around the string. After it dries (about two days), add cardboard cones covered with colorful tissue paper and fringed crepe paper trim. Pop the balloon and pour in little toys and goodies. Feliz Navidad -- happy holidays!