Gift Ideas for Kids

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 4, 2013. To find a more comprehensive list of gift ideas and interesting online stores to shop in, see my post Gift Ideas for Home Educators.

Kids love getting toys for Christmas, but after seven years of Christmases and birthdays, I have watched the toys pile up, so I’m not looking forward to adding new toys. This year I’m going to try to convince my boys to donate some of their older toys to charity. (That hasn’t gone so well in the past, so wish me luck.)

All play is good. I’m a huge advocate of giving children plenty of time for free, unstructured play because this is when the learning really happens. The best kind of play is when children have to use their imaginations, so I tend to favor toys that don’t have a lot of bells and whistles.

My seven and four-year-old boys love toy animals and dinosaurs. We have two boxes of those, and they also love blocks, Legos, and pretend food. My four-year-old is a little chef.

Not all of our friends love the toy animals, but Legos seem to be a big hit with all the seven-year-old boys, and our friends, both girls and boys, love to dress up in old costumes for their make-believe, though my boys have never cared for that. You never know what a child is going to get into.

Now that my house is brimming with toy animals, trucks, cars and you-name-it-we-have-it, I would prefer for my boys to receive presents that give them activities to do or add to the projects they are already doing. Last year, my son was interested in rockets, so that’s what he asked for. We gave him a set of small U.S. toy rockets, and it spurred weeks of learning about the U.S. space missions.

With that said, I’ve put together a list of gift ideas that offer alternatives to your throw-in-the-box-after-a-few-days toys.

  • Magazine Subscriptions – Big Backyard (ages 4-7), Ranger Rick (ages 7-14), National Geographic Little Kids and National Geographic Kids are just a few of the awesome kids’ magazines out there.
  • Art Supplies – I’m not talking about Crayola. Quality art supplies are expensive, and they make a great gift. For example, you can find different kinds of paint, brushes, and quality paper at craft and art specialty stores. We especially love our watercolor pencils.
  • Kid’s Space – Children need a good amount of space to play and create. If you’re a grandparent looking for a unique gift, offer to buy your grandchildren a kid’s size table or maybe some new shelves to hold all their artwork.
  • Posters and Maps – My sons love posters. We have everything from snake and dinosaur posters to monster truck posters. Not all of them are on the walls, but the boys will pull them out and study them sometimes.  Check out foldingguides.com for some beautiful, nature posters.
  • Games – Anything goes here. My son’s current favorites are Sum Swamp (great game for math practice) and Busy Town Eye Found It! Trouble Board Game is a family favorite.
  • Equipment – Microscopes, science kits, terrariums, building supplies, magic kits…there are all kinds of things you can buy that will get the children thinking and creating.

Here are some of my favorite websites to peruse on the web:

  • www.bioquip.com – Some grad students at UGA told me they buy their equipment from this site. I checked it out, and there are all kinds of games, puzzles, posters and other things for kids on the site too.
  • www.imaginechildhood.com – Beautiful site with items that provide creative and educational activities for kids.
  • www.discoverthis.com – Educational Science Kits and Toys
  • www.bellalunatoys.com – Waldorf Toys – You can spend lots of time perusing this site.
  • www.unclegoose.com – Some of the coolest blocks I’ve ever seen.

What are some of your kids’ favorite gifts to receive?

Gift Ideas for Home Educators

Someone’s first Christmas

{Gift Ideas for Children} {Gift Ideas for Homeschoolers} {Gift Ideas for Anyone!}

This is a post I wrote two years ago. I thought it might help you (and me) as we get ready for this holiday, gift-giving season! I have added a few resources & checked all the links. Enjoy!

***

Do you have homeschooled children on your gift list this holiday season?  Or some precocious children who love to learn?

Homeschooling can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on how much parents decide to invest in it.  Curriculums can cost a pretty penny, but a lot of homeschoolers do without and use materials that they can find at the library or in thrift stores.

Still, the best way to get a child to learn is to lay some interesting materials around the house – a book on the coffee table, art supplies in an accessible bin, a game on a low shelf.  If they think that they are discovering it themselves, they are more likely to want to know all about it!  So homeschoolers will appreciate any extra help they can get to offer fun, educational tools to their children.

Here are some ideas they might love:

  • Art Supplies – I’m not talking about crayons and markers that you can buy at any grocery store (though kids love and need those too), but real art supplies that you can buy at art stores can make a wonderful gift.
  • Ask what they need – You may just want to ask what they need.  Do you know what kind of teaching method they are using?  You may find a store that specializes in it.  In addition, for homeschooling families who purchase curriculum, they may appreciate it if you could chip in on the cost because some curriculums can be quite expensive.  Or perhaps there are certain books or other resources they want but aren’t able to afford.
  • Let’s not forget books, especially if there’s a subject the children are interested in or studying.  And remember, gift certificates will be appreciated too!

Here are some cool online stores that may help you find that perfect gift. They are in no particular order.

Are you a homeschooler with a wish list?  Please tell me what you would like to receive for gifts this year! Or do you know of another cool place to buy educational items?  Do you make them yourself?  Let me know!

Thanksgiving Wreath

This is a Thanksgiving wreath that my son made last year…. 

We’re having a cozy Thanksgiving at home this year, and the only true activity we are doing besides cooking, eating, and reading our Thanksgiving books is make this autumn wreath out of cotton, natural items from our yard and natural items that my son’s cousin sent him last year from his yard in Colorado (a very cool X-mas present)! My son arranged these on some cardboard I cut in shape of a wreath and glued them down himself with a hot glue gun. 

For more autumn and Thanksgiving activities to do with young children, you can read the post I wrote two years ago: November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children.  If you have any activities you want to share, feel free to post a link in the comments section.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have taken the time to read my blog. I hope you are warm, safe, loved and happy.

The Gift of Story

storytelling drawingNote: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, December 12, 2012.

If you’re running out of money searching for the perfect holiday gifts, remember that sometimes the best presents for young children are free.  Telling stories to children is a gift they’ll never forget.

When I was young, my grandmother told me stories about her childhood living on a farm. I can still remember the sound of Granny’s voice, her laughter and the way she used her hands when she talked.  The stories have stayed in my memory because they delighted me so much, and now I tell them to my own children.

She told me about the “tricks” she, her brothers and cousins used to pull while growing up on the farm.  She was the youngest of three daughters, so she wasn’t needed in the house.  She became the ringleader.

Once they stripped a pine tree of its needles, and when my great-grandfather drove by it on his tracker in the field, he couldn’t figure out what in the world happened.  He came and got his family to look at the pine tree that shed its needles, and they all wondered what happened.  My grandmother and her brothers didn’t say a word.

Another time they had a water-drinking contest that she said almost drowned her littlest brother, James!  And the best story is how they took a bite out of every peach on the peach tree because they were told not to pick any of the ripe peaches.

She also told me about the time my grandfather wrapped a huge box, labeled it to my grandmother from him and put it under the Christmas tree very early in December.  He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was.  All he said was that it was very practical.  On Christmas morning, everyone wanted Granny to open that box first.  What was in it?  Toilet paper.

So you see, I come from a line of tricksters and practical jokers, and if it weren’t for these stories, I would never know that. True family stories tell children where they come from, and they teach them lessons that their elders learned the hard way.

I believe every parent should tell stories to their children, but they don’t have to be true stories. Children love it when their parents make up stories for them. Trust me – it doesn’t matter how bad you think your story is – you’ll have a captive audience.

Two years ago I started a nightly ritual of making up a story for my six-year-old.  Now he won’t let me go until I tell him a story, but that’s okay.  I know that my stories are a treasure to him, and even though he might not remember all the stories, he’ll always remember me telling them to him.

Most nights my mind is a complete blank.  I have no idea what to tell him. Sometimes he’ll give me an idea, or else some character, usually an animal, will pop into my head. I just have to go with whatever comes to me or else I’ll never get a story told.

It’s amazing that as I start with some kind of character and setting, the storyline will arise from that almost as if by magic.  The more I tell, the easier it is for me to stop worrying about telling a good story and just tell something. No matter how silly I think it is, my son always smiles and wants another one.

So this holiday season, think about starting a storytelling ritual with your children. Start with something from your child’s life – a toy, a favorite animal.  Make it come alive, and you’ll be amazed to see that made up stories can be the best entertainment, the best way to share your values, and the most rewarding gift you can ever give your child.

Do you tell stories to your children? Do you want to, but you’re not sure how?  Please let know. I’d like to offer more resources on storytelling, and I’d like to get a feel for what you would like or need.

Happy Thanksgiving

{Thanksgiving Wreath}

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!  

We’re having a cozy Thanksgiving at home this year, and the only true activity we did besides cooking, eating, and reading our Thanksgiving books was make this autumn wreath out of cotton, natural items from our yard and natural items that my son’s cousin sent him last year from his yard in Colorado (a very cool X-mas present)! My son arranged these on some cardboard I cut in shape of a wreath and glued them down himself with a hot glue gun. (This idea and the cotton was courtesy of Dotty at the William Harris Homestead – thanks, Dotty!)

For more autumn and Thanksgiving activities to do with young children, you can read the post I wrote last year: November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children.  If you have any activities you want to share, feel free to post a link in the comments section.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I want you to know how thankful I am that you have taken the time to read my blog. I hope you are warm, safe, loved and happy.

 

Gift Ideas for Home Educators

Someone’s first Christmas

{Gift Ideas for Children} {Gift Ideas for Homeschoolers} {Gift Ideas for Anyone!}

This is a post I wrote last year, and I’m referring to it as I try to decide what to buy for the children on my list. I thought it might help you too as you get ready for this holiday, gift-giving season! Enjoy!

***

Do you have homeschooled children on your gift list this holiday season?  Or some precocious children who love to learn?

Homeschooling can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on how much parents decide to invest in it.  Curriculums can cost a pretty penny, but a lot of homeschoolers do without and use materials that they can find at the library or in thrift stores.

Still, the best way to get a child to learn is to lay some interesting materials around the house – a book on the coffee table, art supplies in an accessible bin, a game on a low shelf.  If they think that they are discovering it themselves, they are more likely to want to know all about it!  So homeschoolers will appreciate any extra help they can get to offer fun, educational tools to their children.

Here are some ideas they might love:

  • Family Memberships– What venues do they like to go to?  Most museums, zoos, aquariums and other centers have family or individual memberships that will allow a family/person to have free admission and/or discounts at the facility for a full year.  If you know that the family lives close enough to such a place, it might be perfect for them!
  • Art Supplies – I’m not talking about crayons and markers that you can buy at any grocery store (though kids love and need those too), but real art supplies that you can buy at art stores can make a wonderful gift.  If you don’t think it’s worth buying children good quality art supplies, I suggest you read this post at Camp Creek Blog, “In Praise of High Quality Art Materials.”
  • Ask what they need – You may just want to ask what they need.  Do you know what kind of teaching method they are using?  You may find a store that specializes in it.  In addition, for homeschooling families who purchase curriculum, they may appreciate it if you could chip in on the cost because some curriculums can be quite expensive.  Or perhaps there are certain books or other resources they want but aren’t able to afford.
  • Let’s not forget books, especially if there’s a subject the children are interested in or studying.  And remember, gift certificates will be appreciated too!

Here are some cool online stores that may help you find that perfect gift:

Are you a homeschooler with a wish list?  Please tell me what you would like to receive for gifts this year! Or do you know of another cool place to buy educational items?  Do you make them yourself?  Let me know!

Creating New Family Traditions

Note: This column first appeared in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 (you can view it online here), and shortly after, appeared on my blog. I’m re-posting it now because we’re entering the holiday season again, which can be stressful for many, including me. It’s important to think about what you want for your family at this season, and I hope this inspires you. Please leave me a comment and tell me about your favorite family traditions. (Psst…This also happens to be one chapter in my e-book, Then There Were Two: Essays on Motherhood.)

There’s a time when old traditions need to die, a time for new traditions, and a time when old traditions can be reborn with new meaning.

In years past, I have always felt a little lonely during the holidays.  I wished I had a big, happy family that didn’t live so far apart, so we could all come together and eat a lot of food, play games, and exchange stories.

My husband and I are usually invited to a relative’s home each Thanksgiving, and we’ve always gone, but this year I did an uncomfortable thing and turned down the invitation.  It’s because I began to think about what kind of memories I want to create for my two boys.

Except for my dad and step-mom, we rarely see our Georgia relatives during the year, so for my boys, it would almost be like visiting a stranger’s house on the holiday.  What do I really want for them?  I want them to remember the holidays in their childhood home with their loved ones.

So this year we’re going to have a cozy Thanksgiving at home, and we’ll make a big meal (big to us, that is), and we’ll start the tradition of stating what we’re thankful for at the dinner table.

This time of year has got me thinking about family traditions in general too.  A few years ago, I had a conversation with my brother (who is also starting his family) about how we need to create our own family traditions, especially since so many of our traditions were blurred by divorce and moving from state to state.

Shortly after having that conversation, my brother and sister-in-law sent me some books about creating family traditions as a Christmas gift.  The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox and Together Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes are beautiful books that have given me many good ideas.

Yet I’m aware that the best traditions spring forth spontaneously.  I have to be careful about stating, “Here is a new tradition we are going to start…” What if I’m the only one on board that boat?  Traditions need to be something the whole family enjoys.

We all have traditions whether we realize it or not.  Religions give us many of our traditions.  My family follows the Christian traditions of observing Christmas and Easter, and we’ll continue to do so.  Traditions can also be unique to each family.

In The New Book of Family Traditions, I read about a family that every month during the full moon, they go outside and roast marshmallows in the moonlight.  By coincidence, my family took a moonlit walk the other night.  We showed our son where Jupiter was and looked for constellations.  It was so much fun, I’m wondering if I could make that happen every month.  (Or almost every month?)

Traditions can be simple daily exercises.  Some people say grace before mealtimes; others enjoy a slow cup of coffee in the mornings (that’s me).  Come to think of it, I have already started the ritual of telling my five-year-old a story every night. Even if I feel uninspired and tell him a boring tale, he seems to love it, and I know that somehow this is imparting my love and beliefs to him.

And this is what traditions do at their best: They give a family or community a reason to come together and share their love and commonality with each other. This in turn gives an individual a sense of belonging.  I want my boys to feel that being part of this family is important. When life gets tough I want them to have a place to come to and feel loved.

This is why we’ll have Thanksgiving and Christmas at home from now on, and I’ll be looking for ways to expand our old traditions, making them more meaningful to us.  I’ll also be thinking about new traditions I can add throughout the year.

What are your traditions?  Old or new?  I would love to hear what your family does because it may give me ideas for my own.  Please leave me a comment.  And in the future, I’ll write about what kinds of traditions we have started or renewed.

You can view all my posts regarding seasonal traditions (which I’m still working on) here: Traditions / Rituals / Holidays