I have strong opinions on gifts for children. These ideas are based in part on memories of my own childhood and my observations of what my grandchildren enjoy.
But first the Naughty List. Unless you are a mechanical engineer or a whiz at some assembly required, avoid these complex gifts. You will hate your partner, the girt of the child by the time you get it put together properly. I remember the year my father was up all night assembling a merry-go-round next to the Christmas tree. When we discovered it would not go through the door to go into the back yard, my sister and I learned several new words from Daddy (words we were not allowed to use.)
Any toy with an extensive instruction manual is also on my Naughty List along with those which require large numbers of batteries, chargers or adapters. I find that rather than encouraging creativity and imagination, these toys tell children how to play. Where is the fun in that.
Number 1 on my Nice List is and always will be books. These can take a child anywhere. Each of the grandchildren gets at least one book each year. Books are available everywhere. And children don’t mind picking out their own books. Here is one area where gift certificates are great as they get the child into the habit of buying books. If you are on a budget, gift certificates are available from The Bookrack on First Avenue in Arcadia. This is a used paperback bookstore and wonderful for discovering unknown authors or rediscovering old favorites.
Consulting with my husband, we recalled that sometimes the best toys were not designed to be toys at all. We both loved it when someone in the neighborhood bought an appliance when we were children. They always came in huge boxes that could become anything our imaginations dreamed of: club houses, rocket ships, castles. Unfortunately, most appliances are delivered without boxes these days (the boxes being recycled). But despair not. Why not buy a simple tent? And they are easy to find. Golden West Supply on Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia has realio, trulio pup tents for $24.99.
Tents are not the only creativity encouraging items, I love giving Legos and Duplos (depending on the child’s age and manual dexterity). I prefer the big containers of legos rather than the prepackaged scene of pirates or castles. Children will merely try to duplicate what is on the box (or Dad will) and that is not tapping in to the creativity of either the child or adult. Lincoln Logs are also great fun and will bring back memories for grandpas.
Crayons and paints with pads of blank paper rather than coloring books also make the Nice List. Modeling clay and Play Dough are also great for encouraging what the experts call “Open Ended Play.”
Old fashioned toys have always been hits with the little ones in my family. Dolls that are just dolls and are not anatomically correct and which do not have bodily functions (I will own up to owning a Betsy Wetsy when I was little, but I outgrew it and it went on to a long career as Baby Jesus at Monrovia First Presbyterian Church – Mom taught Sunday School there.) This year the little ones on my list are each receiving a hand crafted doll created by one of the Maryknoll sisters here in Monrovia. I can admit this since the ones who can read do not live locally.
I also like non-electric trains and cars. I prefer the non-electric because they do not require a parent’s presence. No child wants to wait to play with a toy because the parent is busy with something else.
I hesitate to add the next item because it usually violates the first rule of not requiring assembly. Almost all bicycles and tricycles require some assembly, but many stores will do this for you for a fee. I believe bikes and trikes should never be given without the appropriate size helmut for the child. They do come in different sizes. I also believe that the gift of a trike requires restrictions about its use. I like to give a bike safety booklet with a bicycle. These are usually available for free at your local police department. Taking time to teach your child the basic rules of bike safety will save both of you grief. Don’t be afraid to point out when someone is violating the law on a bike (such as running through stop signs – adults are especially guilty of this).
Here in Southern California, I like to give a kite for Christmas; here we don;t have to wait for March for blustery days. You don’t need to give a complete kite. It may be more fun for everyone if you give the makings of a kite and allow the child’s creativity to come out. And remember to include a tail. This is a great way to get rid of a tie someone gave you or your husband that neither of you can stand. Balsa wood or dowels for the frame can be found at home improvement stores and fabric is readily available. Google Kite Making and you will find hundreds of easy to make kites with complete instructions.
These last two ideas are great because they encourage the child to be active and not a couch potato. With that in mind, my last gift idea is a ball, any kind of ball. My oldest grandson was a whiz with a basketball by the time he was three. This year the older son’s daughters are getting a badminton set (all right, its technically not a ball, but close enough).