Even though I'm bad at gifts, I do know several excellent gifts for kids 3-8. These are not the kinds of gifts that will cause a moment of ecstasy when the wrapping is torn off. In fact, they might get a rather low-key response....or even be ignored. But long after Tickle-Me Elmo is in the donation box, your recipients will be playing with these. In fact, if you take cost-per-play (based, of course, on the cost-per-wear concept), these items are practically free.
1. UNIT BLOCKS. I bought these when my kids were little and they were played with every day for 8 or so years. They became roads, puppet theaters, and Noah's Ark. Make sure you get UNIT BLOCKS (this will embed math in your child's head); mine were maple. Twenty years ago, my set of 60 cost over $100.00. I got mine from a school supplier. Like many other things, these are now available from Amazon and are cheaper, perhaps for ecological and economic reasons that might upset us.
2. PATTERN BLOCKS. These make fantastic patterns and provide hours of fascinating play. These are fun for adults too.
3. CUBE BLOCKS. These were a particular favorite of Miss Em, who called them quilt blocks. Here is something similar.
All you need for the rest of the childhood years are a few dolls/animals, some plastic animals, some little cars or similar. Maybe a marble run.
4. OK. Can't resist that memory. Get a marble run too. You need to watch the little ones with the marbles, however.
And remember: GOOD art supplies. Your children can play with the toys du jour when they visit their friends. Their friends can play with the blocks at your house.
With the money you save on toys, you can .... do something wonderful. Your choice.
Any other good ideas?