Here we are at that time of year again, when I am banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what gifts to give my kids for Christmas. As if that weren’t enough, I have to figure out what to give all of the other dear wee-ones in our life. Of course, it should be easy right. After all, millions of dollars will be spent over the course of the coming month in an effort to convince us that our kids are going to grow up emotionally scarred if we don’t give them the latest flashing-buzzing-electronic-thingie-that-will-eat-through-$50-worth-of-batteries-every-month (assuming that my child actually plays with it after New Years Day). Perhaps I am just not that gullible. Perhaps I am just not that mainstream. I like to think that my standards for gifts is higher than the spoon-fed masses – or so I tell myself in an attempt to combat the insecurities that have arisen since the Post-Thanksgiving Day advertising barrage.
Maybe its just me, but I want my gifts to be both fun and have some educational value. And I don’t mean the kind of educational value that I found as a 6 year old boy playing with a Barbie doll. You know, how to take off and put on (ok, mainly take-off) a four-snap blouse. I mean the kind of age-appropriate educational value that helps develop special skills, memory or reasoning. Maybe even something that reinforces phonics or sight-words. Perhaps arithmetic. Anything other than “B-Button” or Myspace etiquette.
So here is a quick list of some of what I believe to be top educational gifts for children. Many of them we have used with our own kids.
1. Signing Time Video Set: These videos are great for helping to teach American Sign Language to kids and their parents. Research has shown that children develop the mental ability to communicate long before they develop the required dexterity in their tongues. If you would like to eliminate many of the frustrations that lead to the two’s and three’s being “terrible,” then this is the gift for you. And unlike some of the other products on the market, these videos are teaching true ASL so the skills will be applicable beyond the childs infant years. Http://www.singingtime.com
2. LeapFrog Fridge Phonics and Fridge Words: These magnets are wonderful for teaching and reinforcing the letters of the alphabet, their sounds, and how they form basic words. And let’s face it, who doesn’t need more magnets for their refrigerator? http://shop.leapfrog.com
3. LeapFrog Learning DVD: Let’s face it, active parents occasionally need to plop their little one in front of the digital baby sitter. And if they have already mastered the Signing Time videos, then it’s time for Phonics or Math skills. And what’s even better is how the videos work hand-in-hand with the LeapFrog Fridge Magnet sets. Granted, this gift still requires them to be in front of a tv, but at least it’s better than “SpongeBob Squarepants.”
4. Insect Lore Butterfly Garden: This was given to us by a friend, and after our experience with it, we have given it to many of our friends children. Children get to witness the four of the stages of butterflies’ growth cycle. Once the butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, your child can set them free. No worries though, the Painted Lady butterfly is found throughout the US, so no need to be concerned about introducing invasive species into your local environment. The Garden comes with a poster that illustrates the various growth stages. This project provided just the opportunity I was looking for to teach my four-year-old the word “metamorphosis.” http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3979145
5. Boost Your Brain-Power: OK, I have to be upfront and cop-up to the fact that this is one of my products, but it truly is amazing! This music CD is loaded with specific classical music that increases learning ability. Due to the pacing of the songs, children (adults too) can learn up to 5x’s faster just by having the music playing while engaging in an educational activity. While the songs may be ones you are familiar with, the particular renditions used are chosen for their specific tempos. Artists include Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and more. http://www.mindful-measures.com/brain.php
As with all great educational toys, there simply is no substitute for parental participation. As much as we love to surround our little-ones with brainy toys, we know that they are only effective because of the time we spend down on the floor playing with them – yes, even the videos. I can’t tell you how many hours have been spent quizzing, inquiring, exploring and reiterating skills during play. And that Time, is the best – and most affordable – gift we have given our children.