The holidays are literally days away, but there's always time for last minute shopping, right? If you're still looking for the perfect gift for your child (or someone else's), here are some quick thoughts based on my very own Christmas lists of years past and present. Spoiler alert...these are gender neutral, won't leave you longing for ear plugs, and double-dip as kid pleaders and brain builders.
These are colorful plastic shapes that stick together through the magic of magnets. They're recommended for kids 3-years and up, but when my son got his first set, his older sister (then 9) could not keep her hands off of them! My kids are now 8 and 12 and Magna-Tiles are still a favorite. Parenting thumbs up for being durable, easy to organize/clean up, and quiet (no buzzing, music, or other sounds included). Brain building bonuses: great for creativity, logic, spatial skills and problem solving.
Laser Maze Logic Game
For older kids (the manufacturer recommends 8 to 15 years), this maze game is a huge hit. Fair warning, it does include a small laser device, but if your child is responsible enough to avoid pointing it at their eye (or someone else's), this puzzle is incredibly exciting and helps kids practice sequencing skills and build planning and organizational abilities. Bonus, it comes with batteries (score!).
Castle Logix & Camelot-Jr
These games are great for preschool and early elementary school aged children. The wooden pieces are sturdy and this "game" really teaches planning, organization, logic, and problem-solving skills. Once you explain the concept to your child even pre-readers can use the guidebook to choose puzzles that are appropriate and work up to the most challenging items. As a bonus, my kids always loved making up their own games with the castle pieces.
Full disclosure: I am tired of hearing that my kids need to take a smart phone or an iPad somewhere because they want to take a picture. My solution to this is a sturdy digital camera that will allow older kids to take photos and videos while unplugging. This Polaroid version is my current favorite because it has an option to print small photos immediately. Yes, the photo paper does have to be replaced. But, that provides a great opportunity for kids to exercise selectivity and impulse control and also earn and save money for replacement paper when they run out. Even without the instant print feature, the camera has a standalone digital option so it's still a great find and may very well be wrapped in my closet right now.
Etch A Sketch (or the "pencil" and stamp version for younger kids)
I love these toys because they allow kids to be creative with minimal cleanup. Don't get me wrong, a lovely artistic mess once in a while is fantastic but these toys allow kids to create while traveling or laying in bed (both times when paint and glue is probably not going to lead anywhere good). Younger kids will love the version that has a "pencil" and stamps which are a bit easier to manage. Older kids will enjoy the challenge of the Etch-a-Sketch which requires greater fine motor skill, precision, and planning.
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