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Saturday, 01 January 2000

Choosing The Right Gifts for Your Child

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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Whether an upcoming holiday, a birthday or just for a special surprise, it seems part of our year is spent choosing gifts for our children. In today's age of constant advertising - the Internet, television, magazines and newspapers - it's easy to be overwhelmed by our choices and not know where to start. While nobody but you can know what presents will most excite your child, here are some important points to consider as you start on that yearly dilemma:


More Can Be Less

Do not measure the value of the presents your child receives by quantity. Ten presents of questionable value may mean no more than ten minutes of playtime to your child. Sometimes investing in one large present is far more worthwhile.

Don't Judge A Gift By The Price Tag

Do not assume that because a present costs more, it is worth more. For my son's fifth birthday, my husband and I gave him two presents - a $35 computer game to teach him letters and numbers and a $5 ball. I am happy to report (although my pocketbook feels a bit cheated) that my son has gotten endless hours of fun play out of his ball and the computer game has been relegated to the back of the CD pile.

Stay Away From Fads

Try to avoid giving toys that may be outdated in only a few months. There ia alwaysthe "in" toy that "everyone is getting". Unfortunately, within six months,no self-respecting parent would be caught buying such a ridiculous present.

Of course, if you are certain there is nothing your child wants more than a Pokeman, (and this is not meant as a rejection or endorsement of this particular toy) I am not saying to refuse. I am saying that you may want to make certain that it is your child who really wants it, and not advertising that has determined that an item is worthwhile. If you are certain that your child wants nothing else, then buy it; but you don't have to go for the biggest one. Buy a small version and then use the majority of your funds on toys with longer-lasting potential.

By cautioning you not to be taken in by new fads, I am not implying that new toys are bad or of lesser quality. Wonderful quality toys are being sold for the first time during this holiday season. Try, however, to consider if you are buying the toy because of its value to your child or because of the advertising hype surrounding it.

Don't Worry About Fancy Packaging Or Brand Names

One of the wonderful things about young children is that they are not as discriminating about presents as their older counterparts. When my now eight-year-old was two, there was nothing he loved more than Barney. Well, I certainly could not afford a fifty-dollar authentic Barney doll. Instead, I purchased a nine-dollar imitation. How he loved that purple dinosaur! He carried it everywhere for a year. The same "Barney" doll is now being loved and adored as Barney for the third time by my current two-year-old.

Give Some Thought To What Your Child Is "Telling" You She Wants

Does your child spend lots of time dressing up and making up elaborate stories with dolls or "figures?" Consider toys that will make accessories to those stories. Buy puppets, costumes, a play-kitchen, or some items to use with a play-kitchen such as a tea set or plastic silverware and dishes.

If a play-kitchen is not in your budget, a tea set or dishes are not too expensive and imaginative children will usually happily use a plain table as a kitchen. A puppet theatre is a great item for your imaginative child. While professionally packaged puppet theatres are very expensive, you can fashion a homemade puppet theatre for your creative child out of two pieces of wood or hard plastic, a string and some fabric.

Does your child love the block corner at pre-school? Consider construction toys. A great set of building blocks is an invaluable toy. In addition, Lego, Mega-blocks, Knex, and straw connectors are all great construction toys. Don't worry if the fancy "theme" packages are beyond your budget. A basic set leaves plenty of potential for your child to explore his creativity.

Does your child love to play outside? Consider outside toys like a ball, a Frisbee, paddles and balls, or a kite.

Think Of What Your Child Needs

Take a look at your child's room, playroom or toy closet. What's missing? If you see 50 puzzles that he never touches, rearrange the toys so he will start using them, but don't purchase more. If on the other hand, the puzzles are worn and pieces are missing - some new puzzles may be what your child needs. (Does anyone have an idea for how to recycle old puzzle pieces?)

Are there any skills that your child needs to improve? Consider buying toys that will help him work on these areas. If your child is a bit clumsy during outside activities, buy a new ball or a kite. If he always wants to play outside and never wants to sit and play a quiet game, try and look for a board game that will excite him. If you are not sure what areas he needs to work on and your child is in a pre-school program, now is a good time to check with his teacher how he is doing and ask what toy suggestions she might have.

True, often the toy that a child "needs" is not the toy that he "wants." The tricky role of the gift buyer is to balance these two factors and still come out with the best compromise between the two. If your child is a big Batman fan and would prefer to sit at home and watch videos rather than play outside, consider buying a "Batman" ball or other "Batman" accessories to use in the great outdoors. If your child loves to run around all day and never takes time for quiet activities, look around for indoor games that involve some form of action or body movement.

Give Books

While I try to avoid recommending specific toys, there is one item that is appropriate for every child - books. The magic of books is that there are so many on so many topics and in so many formats, that I can truly state that there is an appropriate book for every child. In addition, by choosing books as a present, you give your child the message that books are and should continue to be an essential part of her life. Think of the topics that interest your child and look for a book that matches her interests. If your child loves animals, look for books about her favorite furry friend. If she's into outer space, look for a book about the solar system.

For some guidelines to buying books for your pre-schooler and for a list of some great books to consider, you can go to: Books To Grow On

Give Of Yourself

Spend quality time with your child. Consider giving presents that will bring your family together. A great present for any pre-schooler is tickets to a play, the circus or a day trip to the zoo. It is great not just because they are fun places to go, but because he will go there with you.

No matter what toys you choose for your child, the key to making that toy the right choice is to play with those toys together with your child. Read the books, play the games and build wonderful inventive buildings with construction toys. No matter how beautiful her new toys are, no child will appreciate them unless she has an opportunity to learn how to use them. Your attitude and willingness to use the toys with her can be what decides if these toys will become her favorites or be relegated to the back of the toy closet.

Remember What Really Counts

In preparation for this article, I tried to remember what presents I appreciated most as a young child. I realized that I could not recall any specific present that I received before the age of seven or eight. (No, it's not that long ago - well maybe 25 years or so...) What I do recall without difficulty, is the joy of standing in front of our dining room window, singing holiday songs to the light of the Hanukah candles. I remember my father lifting me up, candle in hand, to light the Hanukah menorah that I made in pre-school. I can still clearly picture the five of us, sitting together afterwards around the table and enjoying a holiday meal.

Were there presents? Of course there were. (If there weren't, I'm sure I would also remember my angry protests.) Yet somehow, over the years, the memories of the specific presents have dimmed but the fun times with my family and the wonderful memories we made together, remain.

So hit those stores and pick out those presents. After all, our children are expecting them. But don't forget that the most important presents you can give to your child are...absolutely free.

Have a Happy Holiday or Birthday!

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 April 2011 14:28
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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