circuit blocks

12 places to buy local gifts for Pittsburgh kids

“Buy local” is a phrase most of us see and hear every day. While we make an effort to buy fruits and vegetables from area farms, why not buy local when it comes to gifts for kids?

We’re here to help you skip the big-box stores and bestow your kids with one-of-a-kind gifts made by local artists and innovators. Whether you get your wares from a neighborhood vendor, a small boutique, or a pop-up market, shopping locally is a great way to support small businesses. And it will show your children the importance of craftsmanship and entrepreneurship.

Children’s Innovation Project Learning Store 

With their focus on “learning about learning,” the Children’s Innovation Project has come up with many cool things, including Circuit Blocks that give children ages 5 and up the opportunity to learn about the small elements of a complex circuit system. And kids will have a blast doing it.

The wooden blocks made of Pennsylvania hardwood can be purchased in sets ranging from $36-$96 or individually, starting at $6.72 each. The pieces fit together in a variety of ways, allowing children to slow down and methodically put them together using logic and persistence. (Note: Kidsburgh brings these along in our visits to festivals and such and we can assure you that kids love it!)

Puzzlets show kids how to combine critical thinking skills in math and science with art and design.

Digital Dream Labs

Kids today have such an intuitive approach to electronic gaming. Give them the advantage of learning math, science and design skills while they play – and it will be our little secret!

Puzzlets is a 50-percent real, 50-percent virtual game for ages 5-8 that introduces kids to coding through hands-on play. The Puzzlets Starter Pack sells for $99 and comes with 22 programming Puzzlets, Bluetooth play tray, “Cork The Volcano” game download, and everything you need to wirelessly connect this gaming system to your own tablet or computer.

Turtle Mail
Turtle Mail will keep your kids safely connected with friends and family.

AE Dreams

Kids can stay in touch with Grandma in an innovative way that combines old-fashioned postal mail with the convenience of email. Turtle Mail, available for $99.99 from AE Dreams, features a small mailbox that uses thermal printing (no ink!) and eco-friendly paper to keep your kids connected with friends and family. They can receive mail only from those who have been given access using an easy-to-download app. Unlike regular mail, there’s no postage required to send personalized messages, drawings, coloring pages and puzzles from anywhere in the world. Kids love this!

RetroBuiltGames has developed kits to build a small-scale arcade experience.


Get your gamer kids away from the screen and back to the early years of arcade games — and give them the chance to actually build a game themselves. RetroBuiltGames has developed hands-on kits to build a small-scale arcade experience. This local maker offers kits starting at $280 with everything you need to create your own arcade machine, as well as individual pieces for more precocious and ambitious mechanics. These DIY Arcade Kits are a great way to build and learn alongside your kids. They are best suited for ages 10 and up.

Schell Games
Happy Atoms, from Schell Games, teaches the basics of chemistry. Photo courtesy of Schell Games.

Schell Games

Science can be fun. And chemistry can be even more fun. From a company known for its transformative game design comes Happy Atoms ($159), an interactive learning tool that combines a modeling set — think snap-together Tinkertoys — with a digital app. Your fourth grader, as well as your college student, will quickly grasp the components of chemistry in a fresh way.

Among its other games, Schell Games partnered with the National Park Foundation to create Save the Park, a free IOS game that lets the player take on the role of a caretaker for the national parks system. It’s a great way to teach kids the importance of taking care of the environment and volunteering.

Kreepy Dolls
Kreepy Dolls at Society for Contemporary Craft

Society for Contemporary Craft

We know your little monsters will love these little monsters. Artist Daniel Baxter, creator of the eerily peculiar Kreepy Dolls, has returned to Contemporary Craft for the holiday season. Take the kids to visit his Kreepy Doll Factory on the main floor where Baxter’s sewing machine is whirling as he builds each one-of-a-kind doll. Choose a favorite or two, priced between $20 and $50 each.


Louson Drums
The Louson Drums Peruvian hand drum is a great instrument for beginners.

Louson Drums

Your foot-tapping, pencil-drumming kid can make a lot of the right kind of noise with a Peruvian hand drum from Louson Drums. The CajónTab is available in a variety of styles priced from $79-$100. The hand drum is portable, making it a great beginner instrument for kids ages 10 and up who are interested in percussion.

The simple design of the CajónTab allows kids to discover the subtle nuances between high-pitched pops and low bass tones without the bother of tuning or carrying around a cumbersome instrument.

Louson Drums creates all their instruments by hand in a small local workshop.

Your gift could be a keepsake for years to come.

Build a craft box of odds and ends to inspire your kids to build their own creations.
Build a craft box of odds and ends to inspire your kids to build their own creations.

Pittsburgh Center For Creative Reuse

Every mom and dad can bear witness: Sometimes that empty box is more fun to play with than the battery-operated toy that came in it. Take advantage of your kids’ imagination and the boundless possibilities of a cardboard box filled with creative inspiration. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse in Point Breeze is the one-stop shop to build a craft box of odds and ends that your kids can spend hours with, building their own creations. The center’s rotating inventory offers cardboard tubes, bottle caps, pom-poms, yarn, paper and knickknacks of all kinds. Assembly definitely required!

Everyday Balloons

Young artists and writers love having special notebooks where they can put pencil to paper. The charming hand-printed covers from Everyday Balloons will delight and inspire. Chris Bencivenga and Becki Hollen are the printmakers and illustrators behind Everyday Balloons. This duo makes a variety of products using their imagery, including kid’s T-shirts, baby onesies, tote bags and a selection of sketchbooks ranging from $6-$12 each.

The covers for the compact notebooks, pictured here, are made using 100-percent recycled materials.

While kids will love them, we know some adults who would, too.

Hello Doll Face 

Your mother might recognize some of the baby doll faces that adorn these fun and kitschy holiday stockings, priced at $20. Your little girl is sure to adore them, too. They are designed to like a vintage baby doll is peering out a peephole on the side of the stocking.  The self-described “crafty goddess” behind Hello Doll Face is Molly Allen, a local maker who creates fun pieces using vintage odds and ends in addition to doll faces, like cake toppers and flower picks.  You can also find a variety of sweet girly brooches, kid-friendly wall art, keepsake ornaments and quirky magnets that are sure to make for unforgettable gifts.

Otto Finn
Otto Finn offers fashionable and functional toddler apparel. Photo courtesy of Joey Kennedy.


Otto Finn

So cute! Who wouldn’t love a T-short proclaiming “(eye) (pretzel) U”? Find those and other fashionable and functional toddler apparel in Otto Finn’s fun line. Otto Finn products can be purchased online, as well as at The Mattress Factory Museum Shop where you’ll find an assortment of onesies, toddler shirts and other varieties of apparel. Their bandana bibs, priced at $12.50, come in a large array of patterns — polka dots, foxes, bears, daisies — to make the perfect stocking stuffer for all those fashion conscious babies out there.

Songbird Artistry
Local artists create the charming clothing and accessories sold at Songbird Artistry.

Songbird Artistry

The bunny-ear hat that never leaves the head of Louise Belcher is a tough one to resist. Tween fans of the animated series “Bob’s Burgers” on FOX will get a kick out the  Louise Belcher Inspired Bunny Hat ($25). And won’t you look cool for finding it? The hat is one of the most popular items in owner Jennifer Orefice’s Lawrenceville shop, which is dedicated to handcrafting and enlisting local artists to create unique clothing and accessories. Orefice started crafting at the age of 14 and has been developing her brand of pop culture-inspired wares ever since. Songbird Artistry also carries a variety of whimsical children’s clothing that encourages imaginative play — crowns, capes and dragon tails – all made locally.

Got other suggestions? We welcome them in the comments below!