Classic Gifts For Children and Families

It’s the holiday season, and gift-giving is at full throttle.  Kids are making their lists and checking them twice.  What is a parent to do?

There’s plenty of advice out there about setting a budget, planning ahead, and sticking to your family values about materialism and consumption.  But how about some appropriate gift ideas?  How can families spend their gift money in ways that promote family togetherness, cognitive development, and cultural literacy, while still providing hours of plain old family fun?

Let’s start with one basic assumption: toys and games that allow children to push a button and watch are not toys and games that promote growth and development.  Choose toys that require children to interact, respond, problem-solve, experiment, imagine, follow directions, remember, create, and/or follow rules.  Choose toys and games that are open-ended and require children to DO something, with their brains or with their bodies, that affects the outcome of the activity.

We’ll start with some classic board games and card games.  Children learn to follow rules, take turns, win and lose gracefully, follow a sequence, count with one-to-one correspondence, match colors and numbers, remember, and problem-solve.  Wonderful stuff!

Classic board games that many families love include Candyland (3-6), Chutes and Ladders (4+), Sorry (6+), Chinese Checkers (5+), Game of Life (8+), Scrabble (8+), Monopoly (8+), Yahtzee (8+), Rummikub (8+), Clue (9+), and Apples to Apples (9+ for junior version).

Another classic game that defies categorization (but promotes major hilarity) is Twister – a party game that also teaches colors, body parts, and right/left.

Classic card games that the whole family can enjoy include Crazy Eights, Go Fish, I Doubt It, Spoons, Old Maid, and Uno.  Many of the card games for younger children have a silly component which is lots of fun for everyone (e.g. Spoons).  Hearts is a wonderful card game for older elementary kids and up, involving rules, strategy, and memory. The rules for card games are accessible online.  Some card games require a special deck of cards, like Uno, but others just require one or two decks of regular playing cards.  Cards come with all kinds of interesting pictures and designs, and a deck of cards is a great stocking stuffer.

Puzzles are great for developing problem-solving skills, eye-hand coordination, and visual skills.  Many families love to work on a new jigsaw puzzle together every year during the holiday season.  Lots of kids enjoy tangrams and other logic puzzles – just google “wooden logic puzzles”. There’s an interesting puzzle game called Colorku – it’s a Sudoku game with colored marbles instead of numbers.

Holiday gift-giving is a great time to give children the opportunity to pursue their hobbies and interests.  Do you have an aspiring writer?  A beautiful diary or journal may be just the thing.  Is your child interested in cooking?  There are lots of great children’s cookbooks and cooking utensils.  Does your child love to make things?  Look for a tool kit, modeling clay, a box of balsa wood, a set of paints.  You get the idea!

I can’t finish an article on gifts for children without talking about books!  If I ran the world, every child would get a book on every gift-giving occasion.  Need some suggestions?  Scholastic has a site with the one hundred greatest books for kids, sorted by ages and categories.  The selections are based on parent recommendations.  The Children’s Book Council offers reading lists and “roundups” for kids.  Parents, teachers, and librarians can search for books by age, genre, format, and theme.  The New York Public Library offers a list of the best 100 classic books from the past 100 years.  And for middle and high school kids, here’s a list of 101 books that college-bound kids should read, as compiled by the College Board.

Happy Holidays to everyone!


Alice Wellborn is the author of the recently released book, The Savvy Parent’s Guide to Public School.  This practical guide helps parents navigate the frustrating world of public education.  Designed to empower parents to work effectively with teachers and school administrators, the book provides parents with the information and tools they need to become strong partners in their child’s school community.

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