(by the way, this is not a paid endorsement. I went, I bought, I liked!)
Anything to encourage environmental awareness and nutirtional understanding gets my vote, so I almost also picked up a Junior Gardener set (with tools, kids gloves, and presented in a terracotta pot); but you could also go for a Worm Farm, Outdoor Adventure Kit, or Grow Your Own Vege Patch.
Budding artistes? make a Collage, create your own Russian Dolls, make a mosaic butterfly or rocket, paint a Character Mask; or go crafty with Card Making sets, a Seashell Mirror or Stick Puppets. Fashionistas can sew their own Tote, create Bejewelled Keyrings, design a Streetwear Tee, or simply go all out with the Fashion Designer Kit. Encourage mini masterchefs (without a hankering for reality tv) with Cupcake Kits, or a Sushi Shefu set, while little scientists can make a Kaleidoscope or Erupting Volcano!
Nesting? (Or, feeling huge and over it while waiting for Bub to be born?) Create your own Mobile or Baby Blanket, or even a Designer Tee (without the need to start your own label). The Baby kits, or products of, also make wonderful, thoughtful and personal gifts.
I'm not sure if it's a sad sign of the times that something so simple seems so innovative - Charlotte's Doctor Kit gets so much more use then any battery operated toy in her arsenal (and we're talkin' 'bout a big arsenal). The last issue of Wondertime has a great article of a mum, who conveniently is a child psychologist, who gives her kids 'art kits' - blank journals, pencils, glue, stickers, paddle pop sticks and such, each in their own portable box (sewing boxes or fishing boxes with compartments) which encourages them to draw, write, create and express themselves in their own time and in their own way. I loved this idea and once I can find an appropriate box I'll be giving my daughter one too (man, I hate Spotlight. I can't muster up the energy to wade through it in search of a plastic box, lest I am engulfed in a sea of scrapbooking accessories and terrible fabrics).
If getting back to basics is a result of trying economic times, then I'm all for it...!