There’s no shortage of toys and gadgets for kids to play with these days. But amidst the technological wizardry of tablets and game consoles, branded dolls and action figures, and noise-making doo-dads lies the humble magic kit. Each kit is different, but all share one goal: to give children the opportunity to share the art of magic with their friends and family.
Magic kits are incredible toys for a kid, filled with cups, balls, gimmicks, and of course, the ubiquitous magic wand. It’s more than just a box of plastic, though; a humble magic kit is a gateway to unlocking the full potential of a child’s imagination and curiosity. Beyond getting to fool their friends on the playground, there are loads of beneficial life skills kids can learn thanks to magic.
Some tricks are so easy to perform their effects can be achieved right out of the box. Most, though, require hours upon hours of practice to simply learn, let alone pull off naturally. It’s like any skill—train enough and you’ll eventually develop the necessary muscle memory to make performing it second nature. Getting to that point requires dedication, sticking to routines and schedules, and devoting time to harnessing a craft.
Repetition is vital for developing minds. According to the Montessori Academy in Australia, repetition helps to form neural connections, which make tasks easier and require less energy and thought to perform. Performing tasks over and over also helps increase self-discipline, increase skill acquisition, and even improve cognitive abilities. By practicing magic, children will be able to make these neural connections while also getting to see the surprised looks on their friends and family’s faces.
Public speaking consistently remains one of humanity’s number one fears, above death, loneliness, or even spiders. The best way to gain the confidence and self-esteem needed to speak to groups of any size is to practice early, and often—which is why it’s so important for children to develop those skills when they’re young. Turns out, practicing magic is a great way to build those skills.
Magic as an art form requires an audience, along with a certain level of confidence, to be performed well. Through practice, kids can learn to think on their feet, build rapport with others through developing patter, and learn how to interact with a variety of people.
There’s even science behind this. A 2008 study by the British Association for the Advancement of Science found that a single lesson of “magic school” led to “dramatic psychological effects, with the results suggesting a significant increase in sociability and confidence.” In fact, their “magic school” was more effective at building social skills than a standard self-esteem lesson. By learning magic tricks, kids can learn vital real world skills and have a ton of fun doing it.
There’s science behind every magic trick. A trick as simple as the ‘torn-and-restored newspaper’ requires an understanding of the way paper bends and folds, while more complex tricks apply the scientific principles behind mirrors, chemicals, magnets, and more. Even something invisible like gravity has an effect on magic—and in order to be a good magician, one must have a general understanding of the science behind an effect.
Magic, then, becomes a fun way to learn how the world works around us. It’s one thing to learn how a mirror reflects and refracts light in class, but it’s way more fun to use mirrors to make objects disappear before your very eyes. There are even special magic kits for children that specifically teach the science behind their favorite tricks. Making learning magical makes it more entertaining for everyone.
One of the words magicians love to use is “ordinary”. Here’s an “ordinary’ deck of cards, or an “ordinary” ball, or an “ordinary” stack of coins. It’s why magic is able to amaze people—you’re taking the mundane and making it special. This can be mind-blowing for a child, as they see all the things in their house that they take for granted everyday and learn how to use them in totally new ways by thinking outside the box. Let a kid learn how to make a rubber ball disappear under some cups, and you’re opening up their mind to a world of creative possibilities. Start with a magic kit full of “ordinary” items, and maybe they’ll find the inspiration to design and build their own tricks.
Getting children to focus on a task and follow directions can be difficult, as modern society is filled with all kinds of little distractions. Magic is a way to get children to learn how to direct their energy onto a single activity, and to encourage them to read and understand directions.
Performing magic well requires being able to understand and then perform a series of distinct tasks. Some tricks are easier than others, of course, but many require special shuffles or techniques completed at the exact right moment to be truly effective. If a child has trouble following directions, giving them a magic kit with numbered instructions and visual diagrams can aid their working memory by helping them logically connect multiple actions together.
It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like magic, but what do you get someone who loves magic? We’ve compiled a few of our favorite gift ideas from some of the most interesting corners of the internet for magic fans of any interest or skill level, whether they know how to do a proper Faro shuffle or simply appreciate the art of illusion. These gifts go beyond your standard grocery store magic kit, offering a bounty of DVDs, books, tricks, playing cards, and much more. Give the gift of magic this holiday season with our suggestions below.
Price: $35 for digital only or $58 for print and digital
We admit, we’re a bit biased, but you’d be hardpressed to find a better monthly magazine out there covering magicians and their craft. Each issue is loaded with articles, tricks, interviews, reviews, and so much more, and features columns by some of the greatest magicians who have ever lived. Your subscription doesn’t just get you new content, either; you’ll gain access to over 80 years of back issues, and all digital issues from 2011 onward contain exclusive audio and visual supplements. It’s nearly a century of magic history, right at your fingertips.
Magic kits come in all shapes and sizes and often range wildly in quality. Not wanting to recommend any old box full of plastic, we’ve picked out the Facinatrix Kit from Fantasma Magic. It contains a bunch of tricks—over 200, the box boasts—and many of them the kind you don’t typically find in your run of the mill magic kit, including linking rings, bitten-and-restored cookies, a mirror box, and even a trick to perform with your smartphone. It’s a bit pricier than the average magic kit, but the Fantasma line is the only one endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Magicians, so you know it’s legit. Perfect for kids or kids-at-heart.
If you’re looking for a magic kit that’s a little less flashy, a little more professional, this is the one to go with. The heart of the set are two DVDs filled with tons of great instruction, ramping up in difficulty from easy, virtually self-working tricks to more difficult, mind-boggling fare. The kit itself is customizable, too—purchase either DVD separately, or combine them and a box of gimmicks to save money on the whole set.
Looking for a quick bundle of goodies but aren’t sure what to get? Grab a Christmas stocking from Ellusionist filled to the brim with playing cards, including Black Tiger, Blood Kings V2 (or Black Rounders if sold out), Blue Keepers, Rockets, and Roadhouse. Act fast because once they’re gone, they’re gone, and Ellusionist has already sold out of its Magic Christmas Stocking bundle.
Price: $9.95 for the deck of cards, or $149.95 for the Lockbox
What’s in the box? Well, they’re playing cards, but each deck is individually wrapped and sealed to give it some added mystique. The Mystery Box deck is designed in conjunction with J.J. Abrams’ production house Bad Robot, with art direction by Abrams and Theory11 CEO Jonathan Bayme. Grab a deck, or spring for the Lockbox, which includes 12 decks of cards inside a handcrafted box made out of 100-year-old reclaimed wood and sealed with an alpha-numeric lock.
Sure, you could just hand someone a deck of cards, but why not make them work for it? The Outlaws Vault is a fiendishly challenging puzzle box, built out of Raintree wood and covered in all kinds of mysterious locks and symbols. It’ll take all the logic at your disposal to crack it open, but once you solve it, you’ll be rewarded with two decks of Outlaws playing cards—the original and the crimson variant—as well as a challenge coin to show off how smart you are.
If the mentalist in your life is looking for an upgrade to their standard impression pad, look no further than Parapad. Its slick design looks classy without appearing obvious, and more importantly, it just works. The $69.95 price tag gives you enough paper to perform this routine over a hundred times, and even includes an instructional video to teach you everything you need to know to perform this trick flawlessly.
Price: $120 (currently on sale for $99)
Shin Lim’s 52 Shades of Red is a stunning work of magic and performance art, and with this starter kit, you can learn how to do it yourself. The kit includes the full second version of Lim’s signature act, twice as many Shim magnets (each one the thickness of a single playing card), as well as the vanish/reappear trick Gone Deck. Stocks are running low, but if it sells out, don’t worry—version three of 52 Shades of Red is arriving on December 8.
This is perhaps the weirdest, most gorgeously off-kilter deck of playing cards we’ve ever seen at GeniiOnline. Developed in conjunction with Stranger & Stranger, the Ultimate Deck features 54 playing cards, each one featuring wholly unique artwork. The three of spades incorporates a charcoal drawing of a skull into the card; the ace of spades features a drawing of a massive, trimmed hedge with the roots exposed. There’s no other deck of cards quite like this one.
The first part in a planned trilogy from actor and magician Neil Patrick Harris, The Magic Misfits isn’t just a whimsical tale of a young runaway illusionist finding adventure with a gang of, well, misfits. It’s also filled with games, secret codes, and even instructions to make and perform your own magic tricks. Perfect for middle graders, but no judgements from us if you decide to sneak in some reading when your kids aren’t looking.
Another ingenious book combining storytelling and puzzle-solving, The Maze of Games is a massive tome filled with crosswords, riddles, logic puzzles, and of course, mazes. It tells the story of two teenagers living in Victorian England, trapped in a menacing, puzzle-filled labyrinth. Each page of the book has a different conundrum that must be conquered before the kids can continue their journey. What makes The Maze of Games so great is that the writing is approachable for youngsters but the puzzles remain vexing enough to challenge even the most ardent sleuth.
The Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase has been one of the foremost authorities on card manipulation for over a century, and it’s old enough that cheap paperback versions of it abound at bookstores and on the internet. Why not give this classic the appreciation it deserves with this special, faux-leather pocket edition from Dan & Dave? It’s called the Erdnase Bible for a reason: it’s printed on thin gilt edged pages, contains line numbers for easy reference, and even features a ribbon for keeping your place.
Jim Steinmeyer is one of the foremost experts on magic history and the craft of illusion design, and his book explores the life and legacy of Howard Thurston—a man who during his time achieved greater heights of fame than Houdini but has since lived in his shadow. A book as much about the history of two great magicians as it is the psychological battle waged between them, The Last Greatest Magician in the World is vital for anyone wanting to learn more about the Golden Age of Magic.
One thing is certain: the Golden Age of Magic from the late 19th to early 20th century had the best posters. The McCord Museum in Quebec compiled hundreds of broadsheets and documents of the era in an exhibit called the Illusions: The Art of Magic. If you weren’t able to make it up to Canada (or simply love old-timey artwork), Abrams Books has reproduced more than 250 illustrations from the full exhibit in a lovely coffee table book.
Max Maven has been wowing audiences for decades with his brand of mentalism, and now, he’s finally revealing the methods to many of his signature routines. Kayfabe is a four-DVD box set filled with nine hours of videos, with detailed instructions and performance advice, as well as interviews and documentaries about one of magic’s most enduring performers.
Price: $15 ($20 signed)
Our Magic is a documentary made by magicians, for magicians and anyone else who appreciates magic as a serious art form. The two-disc DVD set contains the documentary, filmed over the course of 18 months with conjurers from all over the world, as well as bonus extra features that include interviews cut from the final film. Pick up a signed copy for that extra-special touch.
Price: $175 ($200 for custom wands)
There are magic wands and then there are magic wands, and the Levit Wand is definitely the latter. Each signature wand is hand-crafted over two days with blackwood, faux ivory, and cocobolo, or can be custom ordered and fashioned with a variety of high-quality woods and acrylics.
Price: £30 (about $40USD)
The Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit is in full swing at the British Library, but if you can’t make it to the UK by Christmas, you can do the next best thing and order the official exhibit book instead. Filled with write-ups and images of ancient historical artifacts, as well as concept art and sample manuscripts from J.K. Rowling’s seminal fantasy, Harry Potter: A History of Magic is a perfect gift for Potterheads and magic fans alike. (Sidenote: There is another, very similar edition of this book also curated by the British Library more readily available in the United States called Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic, but it’s about 30 pages shorter and only available in paperback. I have no idea whether that’s because content has been removed or just formatted differently, so buyer beware.)
Lev Grossman’s hit fantasy series The Magicians tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a young genius who discovers that magic is real and Fillory, the magical realm from books he loved as a child, is an actual place. It may take place at a school for magicians, but this is no Harry Potter wannabe; the stakes are very high and nobody’s chugging butterbeer. Grab all three entries in the trilogy in this swanky box set of trade paperbacks (or pick up the hardcover editions here for a little more cash).
The world’s first comic book hero is having his magical exploits from the 1930s reprinted in a series of wonderful hardcover editions. This one contains Mandrake’s first Sunday story, but there are a variety of other compilations available from different eras of Mandrake’s legacy.