Steer towards gifts that have wider applications, e.g. don't get a telescope, get binoculars! Don't get a microscope, get a hand magnifying glass! Don't get a nature DVD, get a bird book!
I would tend to agree with avoiding "educational" products. However, getting a decent microscope, especially a USB one so you have your computer screen to look at instead of the tiny little eyepiece, is WAY cooler than a magnifying glass.
If you want to assemble a portable "field science" kit, I definitely agree:
A nice, bound, notebook with good pens
A butterfly net
Bird/insect identification book
Good science coaching (that's where you come in)