Friday, December 5, 2008

Great Toy #4: Christmas Shopping Guide

Today's great toy might not actually be considered a toy...

If you're wondering what to get your children for Christmas, why not try getting something real for them?

By "something real" I mean the tools to purse an interest or hobby they have or a piece of equipment that will help you pass your own special knowledge on to your child.

That could mean:

  • a fishing pole and tackle box, with the promise of fishing lessons from Mom or Dad,

  • real hand tools in a tool box -- most hardware stores have small tool sets designed for use in the kitchen that make great "first" tool kits for kids,

  • art supplies that aren't made by crayola -- pastels, brushes and acrylic paints, artists watercolors and technique "How to" books are great gifts for artists. So are an easel and high quality paper.

  • small-scale power tools -- My father gave my five-year-old a Black & Decker Mouse power sander when they were working on a woodworking project together this fall. My son nearly burst with pride at the idea that he could operate (after proper safety instruction) his own power tool. It was like crossing the threshold into becoming 'one of the big dogs'.

  • a real sewing box with needles, thread, and small sewing scissors -- small boxes are available at many craft stores, as are the supplies to fill them. This is another gift that is enhanced greatly by the promise to start a first sewing project together. What a great way to pass cold winter days without getting bored.

  • a small sewing machine -- with accompanying lessons on how to use it. A great gift for an elementary school age child.

  • model planes or cars -- Okay, this may not seem like something real at first. But the glue and the paints are absolutely real. So is the time you spend helping your child put it together correctly.

  • a model rocket -- rockets fall into an entirely different category because they involve the ultimate Dad-Son bonding moment... the launch. They also involve some dangerously explosive stuff to make them launch, so parental supervision is part of the deal.

  • a telescope -- put a guide to the stars with this gift to make your child's interest in astronomy really take off.

  • science tools -- By this I do not mean a "make your own slime kit" or some other toy company's idea of kid-based fun. I mean a used microscope (call your local school or community college or check Craigslist for one), a book or kit for studying bugs, the supplies to build circuits (batteries, wires, small lights or a fan). If you have the know-how to use these tools yourself, teaching your child more of what you know can open their eyes to your innate coolness (or geeky-ness... your choice.)

  • cookbook, apron, and cooking utensils -- My oldest is a fantastic cook at age 7. He has gone from cooking macaroni and cheese to baking lemon meringue pie during the past year. When he has friends over, he always says, "can the kids cook lunch today?" And I almost always agree. Tools are the first step to spark that interest.

  • a calculator -- One of the most prized possessions of my oldest child at the moment is his calculator. Want to see your child have some real fun? Give her an adding machine with a fresh roll of paper on it. She'll have a ball.

These are just a few real ideas for Christmas to open your kids eyes to new interests or enhance the way they experience interests they already have. A key part of each gift, though, is the time you will spend together to teach a skill or to learn with your child. I think that makes this type of gift one your son or daughter will really remember.

(Remember to smile at strangers while you're Christmas shopping this weekend. Cheerfulness is contagious.)

- Midwest Mom


  1. Great suggestions. I always built gift giving on a theme, it's much easier to shop that way.

  2. What an awesome idea. That's why I love coming here you have such simple, down to earth ideas I can actually use. Thanks!

  3. These are all great ideas right up my family's alley-- I hope plenty of people take this and run with it, instead of just adding more useless plastic crud to the world!

  4. those are great ideas! Thanks Julia!
    btw I make children's aprons... :)

  5. Great suggestions Indeed! I would love to gift a small sewing machine to my 5 years old daughter I am sure she would find it very interesting and adventurous!

  6. What great ideas. The truth is, kids do know the difference between the play version and the real thing. If they're mature enough, why not get them the real thing. Thanks for the great ideas. I'll keep them in mind for when my little guy is a bit older.

  7. Excellent article. I really like the fact that most of these real-world gifts involve skill building activities. . .and require parent participation. You’ve introduced gift ideas that are good for a lifetime!

  8. There was a segment on some show this morning on TV. The best they could do was pasta maker. Seriously. You're list is so much more insightful and educational!

  9. My kids have loved many of these "real" things - especially tools and calculators! Great post and great list!

    Have a good week - Kellan

  10. These are some AWESOME ideas--I adore the fishing pole one the most. I'm sending this to their grandpa NOW.

  11. Me-Me, shopping on a theme is a great idea. How fun!

    Court, I'm glad you like coming here and can use the tips! That's terrific! :)

    Dan, I agree. Instead of some plastic toy called "My First (insert name of real item here)" why not get the actual real thing?

    Elaine, Thanks for sharing that. My mother made an apron for my son last year, and he *loves* wearing it whenever we cook together!

    Medela, Thanks for visiting the blog. I let my daughter help me sew on my machine... it's never too early to start teaching!

    Abby, You're right. These ideas are suited more for children who are ready for more independence. Thanks for visiting and for your comment, though! :) (psst. how was your weekend away?)

    Anthony, Your comment makes me smile because you are so dedicated to learning play. Thanks for coming by!

    Laurie, You gotta be kidding me. A pasta maker? Well, anytime the folks from the Today Show want to ask for a guest post, they're going to have to call my agent! ;)
    (BTW, do you want to be my agent?)

    Green Girl, Thanks for coming by. My boys love fishing with their Grandpa and their Daddy. Even my daughter got into the act this summer (she's three.) They have their own tackle boxes and everything. It's a great family activity.

    Have a great week, everyone! -MM


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