Ten Gifts that Money Can and Can’t Buy

Author: Lisa Howie

It’s that time of year when the shopping ads outweigh the actual news in our daily papers, when every commercial sends the message that you cannot live without a new electronic device, and parents who haven’t already stockpiled a closet full of gifts are getting nervous about shipping deadlines and low inventory.

No matter which holiday you celebrate at this time of the year, it’s difficult not to be overwhelmed with the barrage of advertising in every media format. The pressure to purchase items that promise educational payback and hours of entertainment are difficult to refuse, especially when those items are put in front of our children during every commercial, pop up ad, and point of sales display.

As an observer of young children in the classroom, I have the luxury of seeing many different materials in use and the benefits that are gained from time spent exploring and practicing with these items. Some are simple in nature and date back to the early 1900’s while others are more recent additions. To help you sift through everything that is available for children ages 2-10, here are some ideas from our classrooms to help narrow that list for gift buying this season.

1. Books: This gift fits every age group, interest, and ability level. Board books, picture books, series, informational, graphic novels, and more. Visit your local independent bookseller for ideas and instill a love of reading that lasts a lifetime.

2. Marble Run: This “toy” can be made of wood or plastic and can be purchased from educational catalogs/online or at your local Target store. It provides opportunities to construct, plan, observe, manipulate, and learn. Be aware of your child’s age/maturity when considering, as marbles are choking hazards for very young children. marble-run

3. Art Supplies: The possibilities are endless and only defined by your own tolerance to glue and glitter. Purchase a container with a lid and fill with materials that encourage creative expression. Some fun choices include: goggle eyes, feathers, oil pastels, stamp pads, sequins, watercolors, scrapbook paper, scissors, pipe cleaners, etc.

4. Games (Board and Card): We’re talking about games that provide lessons in strategic thinking and build cognitive skills, not just games of chance. Check out the following examples for a mental workout and time together with your children: Simplexity (connect four with a twist), Apples to Apples Junior (builds a knowledge of adjectives), Blokus (develops spatial thinking), The A-maze-ing Labyrinth (strategic planning), Qwirkle (matching attributes), SET (logical and spatial reasoning)

5. Train Sets: Building with wooden track pieces allows children to plan, problem solve, and imagine. The design possibilities are numerous. The time spent constructing with your children is priceless.

6. Magna Tiles: This is a newer choice in the family of construction toys. A combination of pattern blocks and magnets. The colored pieces are translucent and quite beautiful when used on a light table or even near a sunny window. Using these tiles builds knowledge of basic geometric shapes, fractions, angles, and symmetry. Available online and at local stores. magna-tiles-1024x1024

7. Playdough (Store bought or made at home): Sensory materials provide a soothing and relaxing activity during all the hustle and bustle of the season. Building fine motor muscle and imagination are key learning experiences. If you make a batch from scratch, you can even add scents and colors of your choosing. Ask your child’s teacher for their favorite recipe!

8. Dolls (that don’t DO anything): That’s right, dolls don’t have to DO anything to be a great toy. If fact, imagination gets a better workout when a doll simply allows itself to be bathed, clothed, fed, rocked, and loved sans batteries.

9. Blocks (All kinds): This granddaddy of toys still provides more varied play experience than any electronic device on the market. Children at each developmental stage use blocks in a different way, making the same set appropriate for your child for many years. Math and science skills are employed during block play. Creative planning, negotiation, and language skills are practiced when two or more children work together with these simple manipulatives.

10. Musical Instruments (Shakers, Bells, Claves): Lessons not required! Simple instruments that stimulate a sense of rhythm and tempo can get everyone on their feet and moving. Physical exercise and budding math awareness are just a few benefits derived from playing with musical toys.

Once you’ve completed your shopping, take a few moments to consider some gifts that you can give your children everyday of the year. They cost nothing but time and intentionality on your part, and your children will remember them long after they’ve outgrown their toys.

1.Nature: Enjoy the outdoors with your child. Take a walk or a bike ride together. Go sledding. Have a “treasure hunt” for acorns or rocks.

2.Sense of Humor: Tell a funny story at dinner. Make silly faces in the mirror. Laugh with your child every day. laughing-family

3.Curiosity: Invite your child to ask questions. Model your own curiosity about something in the world. Investigate together.

4. Finding Beauty: Allow your child to make a centerpiece for the table. Frame a piece of their artwork and hang it. Point out the saturated colors in the produce section of your local grocery store. Notice the complexity of frost patterns on a windowpane.

5. Chores: Give opportunities for children to show they are capable by letting them set the table, make the bed, or feed the pets. Ask your child for suggestions of chores they would like to try. Contributing to the family is a great gift they can give back.

Setting-the-table-26. Undivided Attention: Disconnect to connect. Eye contact and physical proximity are simple gifts that make a child feel valued.

7.Challenge: Learn a new skill or a new game together. Joy of mastery comes from the frustration of learning.

8. Meals Together: Family dinners are great opportunities for building relationships, practicing social skills, and modeling healthy habits.
9. Affection: Your children are never too old to receive physical and verbal affirmation of your love for them.

10. Patience: The days are long but the years are short.