Epistula | 4 Minutes

A Christmas Guide for Educational Toys by Laurie Detweiler

Laurie Detweiler Written by Laurie Detweiler
A Christmas Guide for Educational Toys by Laurie Detweiler

My grandchildren are probably the most fun to buy for on my Christmas list. As you may know, Marlin and I have four sons, three daughters-in-law, and five of the best grandchildren anyone could ever hope to have. At this time of year, I become nostalgic for our family Christmases when my boys were little and cookies were set out for Santa. 

Children today more than ever need to just play. We live in a society where children have more and more of their time scheduled. Even the precious time around Christmas and New Year’s Eve is filled with special classes, recitals, etc. Structure is fine for kids, but too much adult involvement about what “fun” children can and can’t participate in can dampen their imagination. 

 I can always tell the difference between children who have had hundreds of hours of imaginative play and those who go from lesson to lesson. These children tend to be more curious. They tend to enjoy reading, storytelling, and writing. They also tend to be less stressed.

Toys have changed a lot since my boys were young. They are flashier, more stimulating. They make noise, do crazy things, and can have a million tiny pieces. Not to say there aren't quality toys out there, they are just a little harder to find. I admit I, too, am guilty of buying my grandchildren the trendiest toys from time to time, but their novelty is fleeting. I’ve found the toys they go back to (unless they’ve grown out of them), are good quality toys that require imagination.

I guarantee you your child will play with the items on this list, whether they asked for them or not. It’s in their nature to be curious and imaginative.

  1. Tools. One of the best Christmas gifts we ever gave our boys was a set of real tools and a huge pile of wood. We also gave them a book like this with ideas. Nine months later they were still playing with their saws and asking for more wood. 
  2. Magna-Tiles. I love toys that are versatile. All of my grandchildren love Magna-Tiles. If you are not familiar with them you should be. They are colorful, plastic tiles that attach to one another by magnets. They come in many shapes, which make for an infinite number of ways to build. They are amazing! The many educational implications include hand-eye coordination, patterning, the ability to visualize 3D objects, and more. Of course, Lego is also great for building. I found that the Magna-Tiles were liked by both those who liked Lego and those who did not.
  3. Maileg Mice or Calico Critters. You can imagine having had four sons how much I adore having four granddaughters. It has been so fun. My granddaughters all love playing make-believe with dollhouses. I love Maileg Mice, but they are rather pricey. A good alternative is Calico Critters. If you want hours upon hours of fun, do it yourself! Two of my grandchildren have really gotten into creating their own “worlds” using little critters, dollhouse furniture, and cardboard boxes. The Dollar Stores usually have wooden dollhouse furniture that can be painted and decorated. Be creative and let them explore. If they want the sofa in the kitchen or the bed on the roof don’t try and tell them, “That’s not where it goes.” Children know the difference between reality and play at an early age, they don’t need adults interfering in their make-believe world.
  4. Sensory Kits. I absolutely love the sensory kits from Young, Wild, and Friedman.  I got these for some of my grandchildren and it was a hit. Hours of fun exploring and playing make-believe. Each themed kit includes homemade play-doh (which smells amazing) and figurines. 
  5. Miniatures. My grandchildren love anything tiny. Tiny animals for making tiny zoos, tiny furniture for tiny houses; they even like printing and folding their own tiny groceries. My oldest granddaughter is also into tiny baking. I found this great STEM tiny baking kit that not only makes real food but explains how cooking works.
  6. Subscription Boxes. There are so many subscription boxes to consider! We’ve personally tried Kiwi crate, Little Passports, and Eat2Explore and love them all. These are great for supplemental learning.
  7. Experiences. There are so many great experiences for kids these days: swimming with dolphins, visiting the zoo, cooking classes, airplane rides, interactive museum exhibits. The best part is the time you spend together.

I hope this list has helped give you some ideas for creative and educational gifts for your little ones this Christmas. Enjoy this time of year with your children; it goes by quickly!