Beyond the toy aisle: Selecting educational gifts for children

Do you have a child to shop for this holiday season? Take time to review these tips for selecting a great gift before you head to the store!

Consider giving a child you love the gift of an experience.
Consider giving a child you love the gift of an experience.

As the holiday season approaches, the question of what to purchase for children is forefront on many people’s minds. It can be difficult for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others to sort out what gifts are educational, quality, or will stand the test of time. Toy companies put millions of dollars into sophisticated ad campaigns to encourage their toys to be selected above all the rest. If you have a special child in your life that you are looking to purchase a gift for this holiday season, Michigan State University Extension recommends you take the following into consideration.

  • Open-Ended Toys: A child who receives the most sought after princess doll will often only play princesses with that doll. They already know the story, and what happens next. But if you give that same child a set of blocks, she might build a castle, or a house, or a racetrack, or any number of things! Toys such as basic unit block sets, creative dress-up items like capes and play silks, and housekeeping items such as a pretend kitchen allow for children to use their imagination. They can tell their own story, create their own game and build their own imaginary world. Research tells us that children who engage in imaginative play show gains in their social and emotional, cognitive and language and literacy skills. Play is a child’s dress rehearsal for adulthood, a chance for them to create their own world and life experiences. Support a child’s play by providing them with open-ended toys that peak their interest and spark their creativity.
  • Experiences: Consider giving a child you love the gift of an experience. Perhaps a family membership to a museum, tickets to see a play, or a special day out with their beloved Auntie. These special experiences are not tossed aside into a toy box, and will not loose their luster before winter break is over. Think about what the child is interested in. A child who loved swimming at the beach with you in the summer might be thrilled about a special trip to an indoor waterpark, or your grandchild who loves dinosaurs would be very excited to go to the field museum to see real dinosaur fossils! Consider packaging your experience gift with a small tangible object for young children who might not understand the concept at hand.
  • The gift of reading: Children can never have too many books! Research tells us that simply having access to a variety of reading materials increases children’s likelihood of reading on grade level. Consider a magazine subscription for your young child, or a variety of books on subjects that are interesting to them. Live far away? Consider purchasing a duplicate set so you can read to them over a web connection such as Skype or Zoom, or simply over the telephone as they follow along. Not sure what reading level to purchase? Or what might be interesting to a four year old girl, six year old boy? Check out Scholastic’s Build a Home Library tool for ideas.
  • STEM gifts: STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and it’s the current “buzz word” in education. Encourage your young scientist to explore the world around them with a STEM gift. From packaged science kits that let children create their own science experiments, to robotic kits, circuitry boards, math games and more, there are numerous unique hands-on gifts for children to explore. STEM gifts are a gift that truly keeps giving, as you watch your child develop a life-long love of learning and exploration.

Take time to discuss your gift ideas with parents and caregivers before purchasing a gift, to be sure you are not duplicating an item. Do take age suggestions on packaging into account to avoid accidently purchasing an item that is too young, or too old for that particular child. Consider searching online for reviews of the item you are considering buying.

A little planning and forethought can ensure that the special item you select for the child you love is just right for them and will encourage their learning and development.

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