Give the gift of learning

Teaching Your Child

Teaching Your Child

November 28, 2008|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Remember when Christmas lists were simple?

Let's see: A fire truck for Bobby, a doll for Susie and a ball for little Jay.

Now, visions of iPods, MP3 players and Xbox 360s are dancing around the minds of the little ones we love.

Being plugged in is important in today's society, but I think we do our children a disservice if we don't allow them time away from electronic devices to build, create and play.

Gifts for children do not have to be expensive or trendy. Some of the best toys are ones that encourage exploration. When children are playing with the right kind of toys, they develop valuable skills and have fun at the same time.

Here are some suggestions for the children on your list:

o Magnetic letter sets. Every home with a preschooler should have a set of these on the refrigerator. This is a great way to introduce a child to letters and sounds. (Ages 3 to 8, with parental supervision. Little ones may try to put the letters in their mouths.)


o Finger paint and finger paint paper. Yes, I know this creates a mess, but the cleanup effort is worth it. While finger painting, preschool children can experiment with straight lines, circles and angles. This exercise will help them form letters later on. (Beginning at age 3, with supervision)

o Cuisenaire rods. These rectangular rods of various lengths and colors help children identify patterns, learn the concept of fractional parts of a whole, explore ratios and experiment with perimeters. (Age 5 to adult)

o LEGO building blocks. Avoid the trendy LEGO kit sets. Opt for the simple, block sets, particularly the ones in the LEGO City collection. There is no limit to what a child can create with these ... until he or she runs out of blocks. (Most of these are for children age 6 and older.)

o Uno. This game contains number and action cards. When a player is down to one card, he or she says "Uno," which means "one" in Spanish and Italian. This portable game is especially popular at family gatherings. (For age 7 to adult)

o Chutes and Ladders. As children move their game pieces along the numbered grid, they learn the concept of a number line and of moving forward and backward along that line. (Age 3 to adult)

o Magazine subscriptions. There are several good children's magazines, such as Highlights, Kids Discover and Ranger Rick. Having a subscription to a magazine encourages a child to read a periodical on a regular basis. Knowing that the magazine is coming gives the child something to look forward to each month. (Preschoolers to adult. This gives parents of pre-readers something new to share each month by reading aloud.)

o Musical instrument sets. Yes, instruments are noisy, but most children will create their own "music" with common kitchen items. Why not provide them with a drum, tambourine, finger cymbals, rhythm sticks, maracas and a triangle? You may be surprised by a child's creativity. (Beginning at age 3)

o Hula hoops. Children love motion and often are drawn by the "Let me try" appeal of a friend's hoop. Hula hoops build coordination and rhythm skills. (Age 5 to adult)

o Jump ropes. These provide great exercise and are especially fun when shared with a friend. (Age 5 to adult)

o Tangram geometric shapes. Tangrams help children recognize geometric shapes, explore fractions and develop an understanding of area.

o Books or a gift card to a book store. Reading will never go out of style and its benefits are beyond measure. (Any age, any time, any place)

Happy shopping. Remember, the simple gifts are the best.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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