The holidays are a great opportunity to come together as a family. In many families, they also are a time to express our appreciation with thoughtful gifts that align with our values, and that put big smiles on the faces of our precious children.
Unfortunately, among the many highly promoted toys that are commercially available this season, it may be difficult to find ones that foster the skills and attitudes at the core of your child’s Montessori education. If you are interested in finding gifts that help you support your child’s education at home, read on to discover gift ideas that your child will both love and learn from, and that, importantly, you will enjoy, not regret buying.
- Get into the kitchen and out into the garden. Most children love to hang out in the kitchen and “help”. They love to garden along with us, or take a turn at handling tools. Commercially available toys allow children to pretend to do these things, often using cheap plastic replica hammers, pots, rakes, and pizza slices. Why not give them the real thing, and let them apply their Montessori-acquired skills toward doing the real job? For Small Hands is a great online store that offers real, high-quality tools sized for young children to handle comfortably. You’ll find everything from child-sized brooms and aprons to hand-drills, from gardening gloves to child-safe vegetable choppers.
- Game time! Needless to say, this doesn’t mean video games or games on TV… The holidays are perfect for starting a tradition of turning that TV off and instead playing games together as a family. Children as young as age three can play board games, such as Hi Ho Cherry O, the Ladybug Game or Sequence for Kids. Memory games—with wide ranges of pictures, from construction equipment to life on earth and more challenging I Spy versions—can be turned into "matching games" for 2-year-olds; with practice, some 4- or 5-year-olds will love to beat Mom and Dad at memory! Simple card games, such as Uno or Go Fish, can also be fun, especially if you start by playing them with the cards laid out openly, so you can help younger players. And older children may enjoy more challenging games: Shut the Box was a favorite at this year’s Game Day at LePort.
- Pretend play. Every child should have plenty of time for unstructured free play. Pretending to take on grown-up roles, working together to make up far-flung journeys, or acting out day-to-day situations is lots of fun. Children are creative, and can make a lot from a little, so you don’t have to buy much. Consider largely unstructured items, which inspire and not limit creativity, things like a play cape, a doctor kit or even a working stethoscope, some huge card board blocks, a child’s tent structure, and your little ones may be off to hours of play, especially if you also make sofa cushions, chairs, blankets and tables available to them!
- Let’s draw and do crafts together. With your child’s growing attention span and improving fine motor skills, he’ll soon delight in having quality and fun materials to be creative with. If you have the space, a two-sided easel can be great for the youngest ones to draw on a big, toddler-suitable surface, especially if you can offer nice chalk or poster paint. (Don’t forget the artist smock!) For older children, invest in drawing pads and high-quality colored pencils. If you want to help your budding artist to both learn to draw more things, and practice reproducing shapes (a key skill in writing), you may find one of the "How to Draw" series a great way to spend some quality time together. The step-by-step instructions for drawing animals, flowers, people or monsters are super-simple; 3-year-olds will delight in coloring the figures you draw for them, while older children will be excited to try their hand at tracing or copying the figures. Klutz books and activity kits also are a great source for creative inspiration, and so easy that even those of us who don’t think we are very good at crafty things can have fun with our children!
- Head outside and play! Every child should have a collection of balls: even infants can enjoy easy-to-clutch open balls to throw around outside. Or try having fun with bubbles: this bubble wand is just amazing, and sure to be a hit, whether in your yard, or at the park. Finally, we keep coming back to balance bikes, which we wrote about in a prior blog post. These make great holiday gifts for children as young as age 2, and are a great way to get ready quickly for riding real bikes for older preschoolers.
- Design and build. Unstructured building materials, from Lego Duplos to Citiblocs, from Magna Tiles to Zoob building sets, from Wedgits to wooden pattern blocks and the classic Tinker Toys, all foster creativity and offer lots of play value for the money.
- It’s story time. No surprise here: we think books are a must-have gift for your child whenever there’s a joyous occasion. If you haven’t seen our new 2012 list of favorite books yet, just click here to download these recommendations for preschoolers to lower elementary children now.
We hope you find some interesting new ideas in this list for your family, and that whatever gifts you choose add joy to your holidays and for the year to come.
P.S. Do you have favorites you think other parents might enjoy? Please share them in the comments below, so we can add them to next year’s list.
While we will continue to recommend only products we personally use with our own children or in our classrooms, LePort is piloting an affiliate program with Amazon.com. Items placed in your Amazon cart directly from the above links earn LePort Schools a commission of up to 8%, which we donate to our Support LePort scholarship fund. We hope to offer a similar program from other vendors in the future. To learn about other ways you can contribute – or how to apply for a scholarship for your child – please click here. Together, we can spread Knowledge for Life to children across America.