The Other Gifts of Christmas:
Smart Choices Can Promote Your Child's Development

With the gift-giving season of St. Nicholas Day and the Nativity fast approaching, it might be time investigate some new options, in order to make the most of the gifts you give your child. The joys of toys - to spark imagination and inspire exploration - may never have been greater.

Many of today's toys offer loads of fun and lots of learning. Many of the toys we parents played with still top the popularity charts. Plastic building blocks (like Lego & Duplo), wooden train sets (like Brio), and puzzles are favorites with kids - and with parents looking for toys that teach and encourage peaceful play. Remember to look for age-appropriate, well-made toys that won't easily lose their appeal to your child. The goal is fueling your child's imagination and opening the door to new subjects and interests he or she can enjoy for many years to come.

Beanie Babies Overboard!

Baby-blue elephants. Tie-died turtles. Glittering dinosaurs. And the ever-underfoot, "DiDi Yellow Duck". Soft, palm-sized, bean-filled toys - selling for around $5 - have captured the imaginations of children across the country. Toy stores can't keep them in stock, and parents staked out their neighborhood McDonalds hoping to get one in a Happy Meal.

"These soft, cuddly animals are the greatest make-believe toy to come around in a long time," according to Connie Jensen, a registered day-care provider based in Minnesota. "The kids can't wait to compare and share their collections, and they've spent countless hours creating complex stories and histories for the beanies they own." Because of their small size, beanies make good stocking-stuffers!

From the Written Page

Visit a good bookstore to find sequels to your child's bedtime favorites, and check out the new versions of the Nativity story or the life of St. Nicholas (not the commercial Santa Claus!).

Plush-toy versions of the characters from favorite stories are also available in many book shops and toy stores. Some popular ones include: Madeline, the French schoolgirl; Marc Brown's Arthur and his sister, D.W.; the Bunny and slippers from Goodnight Moon; and the "wild things" from Where the Wild Things Are. High-quality wooden or plastic playsets for recreating the adventures of the Biblical Noah (with ark and animals), Thomas the Tank Engine, and Theodore the Tug Boat are also very popular.

Look for board games inspired by your children's favorite books, too: Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham games are hits with the "if it rhymes, I like it" crowd.

Book-based toys and games don't usually emphasize the violent behavior that is so much a part of many cartoon-based superhero action figures, and they encourage more reading and writing! They're a great choice for kids of all ages.

Activity Kits

Going one step further, many book shops and science stores are now offering complete activity kits for kids. Kitchen chemistry, astronomy, and rock- and insect-collecting kits can spark a lifetime interest in science and the conservation of God's Creation.

Crayola, the crayon giant, packages complete art stations with paints, stencils, crayons, glitter glue, markers, and paper - everything needed to create home-made cards, books, pictures, even icons!

The Pleasant Company offers recipe books, story books, craft projects, and theater kits with historical themes at better book shops, using their lovely American Girl dolls - Samantha, Molly, et al. - as central characters. (The dolls, accessory sets, and matching clothes for the doll's owner may be purchased for $$$ by mail, if you're so inclined.)

Activity kits don't need to be expensive, or even pre-packaged: several yards of thin, gold elastic and a bucket of colorful beads from the local craft supplier, or a handmade wooden insect box and an inexpensive field guide do quite nicely.

Computer Software

Face it, we're in the technological age, and our kids know more than we do… and they'll have to to survive in the world tomorrow. Video games are just a small part of what's available for your home PC or Macintosh.

Check out the special-interest collections like Microsoft Baseball, and interactive storybooks and activity centers (from Disney Interactive, D-K, Fisher Price and other very reputable software publishers). Electronic trivia quizzes on subjects ranging from music history to Bible verses, are great fun for the whole family, but can be very addictive. And if your kids still beg for the games, choose from the sports and strategy-themed titles available (e.g. Civilization) instead of the shoot-up types, like Doom.

by Nichola Toda Krause

1997 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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