This is a very special time of year, but it can also be overwhelming when it comes to looking for children’s gifts. As parents and relatives we always have the best intentions, but we sometimes end up choosing gifts that don’t support those intentions and can be a nightmare for the family. Or maybe we end up buying gifts that the children are simply not interested in. But if you keep in mind these 5 basic characteristics, you can ensure the gift will not only be something the child likes and uses, but also something that contributes to his or her development.
CHILD POWERED: Let’s look for toys and activities that are child powered, instead of battery powered. For example, for an infant who is standing up, a pushing wagon is a more useful gift than a character that sings and walks on its own.
CHLD AS ACTIVE AGENT: Often we go for toys that have lights, music and movement, thinking this will grab and hold the child’s attention. However, with these kinds of toys the child is usually a passive agent who sits and absorbs all that stimuli without having much autonomy or participation. But what we really want to offer is a hands-on experience. For a two-year-old, for example, it is better to have a wooden shapes sorting and stacking activity (letting the child hold and interact with the shapes) rather than a tablet that plays music and recites the name of the shapes.
NATURAL MATERIALS: We often chose plastic toys or materials for children, thinking that they will be safe for the child and will be durable and long-lasting. However, we can greatly contribute to their sensorial development by choosing toys and daily-use objects made out of natural materials (wood, metal, glass).
REAL EXPERIENCE: We want to help children become independent and get to know and navigate their world. The best way to do this is to offer them real life experiences that they can put into practice in their daily lives. Experiences that become skills for life. A good example for this could be with a 3-4 year-old, instead of buying a chopping toy with fake fruits and a fake knife you can get him or her real tools (a sandwich knife, peeler, cutting board) and show your child how to peel and chop real fruits and veggies. Bonus: they are also more inclined to eat foods such as fruits and vegetables when they have played an active role in preparing them.
DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE: It is important to follow children’s needs and try to see the world through their eyes. Not always what gets our attention as adults is what follows the children’s needs. For example, to a 1-year-old, I would buy a one-shape stacking toy because he or she is practicing this very fundamental beginning skill of eye-hand coordination. While a 3-year-old could have a four-shape stacking toy because this child will be further along in his or her development and can also distinguish and sort objects as well as stack them.
Keeping these five basic characteristics in mind when Christmas shopping can allow you to pick a toy that the child enjoys, contributes to his or her development, and doesn’t bring extra clutter and noise to the house.