Play Doh: It's worth it's weight in gold here, with both the 2 and 5 year old. The kids like the fancy cutting and extrusion gadgets, but they're equally happy with a plain old can of Play Doh. From a mom's perspective, Play Doh covers all the bases. It's quiet, doesn't require batteries, and encourages open ended play. (It is a little messy, but not much more messy than all the other things my kids like to do.)
Crayola Twistables Crayons: My kids love to color and draw, but they're pretty rough on crayons Even the big, supposedly toddler proof ones get broken. Crayola Twistables are as good of a solution as we've found. They're Crayola brand, so they are the same characteristically bright colors the kids are used to. They don't get dull. The kids aren't constantly peeling wrappers off, and throwing them all over the house. (Do your kids do that, or is it just mine?) They will break if the kids twist them all the way out, but after a little trial and error, the kids get it. They're totally worth the couple of extra bucks they cost.
Here Come the ABCs DVD/CD Combo, by They Might Be Giants: I've raved about this set before. After repeatedly checking it out from the library, we had to buy our own copy. The songs are educational, but also funny and hip. My husband and I enjoyed them nearly as much as the kids. For around $10, you get both the DVD and the CD.
Zhu Zhu Pets: After seeing all the ads about them last winter, we picked one up for V as a Christmas gift. She's still playing with it, even after all this time. It has subsequently been joined by a whole family of Zhu Zhus, and they honestly get a lot of play around here. Even L, the five year old boy likes them. I can't actually think of very many things the kids got last year and are still playing with, but this is one.
Wikki Stix: Another artsy craftsy pick, these are a hit with my son. They're great for fine motor practice, can be used to sculpt letters and words (my son's favorite, ) or just to make pictures. They're portable, and not messy, so a good choice for car rides, doctor's offices, etc.
HexBug Nanos: I posted a while back about our HexBug party, and these are still in frequent rotation. The only downside I can come up with about these is that they do require frequent battery changes, so if you're gifting some, it might not be a bad idea to pick up an extra pack of batteries while you're at it. (You can get the bugs for under $10 at regular price, but if you wait until Hobby Lobby has a 40% coupon, you should be able to get a mini habitat with a bug for under $10.)
Veggie Tales DVDs: Take your pick, really. They're all good. Having said that, I remain partial to some of the older titles, with more overtly biblical themes. We have nearly every Veggie Tales movie there is. I don't actually know anyone who doesn't like Veggie Tales, regardless of age. They're always a solid choice.
Magnetic Letters: For my 2 year old daughter, who's just learning her letters, and my 5 year old son, who's obsessed with building words, (a la Word World,) these are endlessly useful. There are lots of ways to play with them. ("Find the vowels." "Which letter makes the sssss sound?")
Leapfrog Letter Factory DVD: This is a must have for preschoolers. My son loved it, and now my daughter does. This movie helps bridge the gap between being able to repeat the alphabet by rote memorization, and actually knowing what sounds the letters make. The other movies in this series are just as good.
Usborne activity books: This is actually a pretty broad category, but many of the Usborne Dot to Dot and Things to Make and Do books are under $10. We have quite a few of both, and they're really well received by the kids. Got a kid who likes pirates? Or fairies? Or big machines? There's a book for that.
What are some of your go to gift ideas for the kiddos?
Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated for any of these recommendations. These are items we've used and loved in our house. All opinions are my own. If you happen to click through and order anything from Amazon, I'll get a small commission. Frankly I just linked to Amazon so I could use their pictures.