Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 3rd Grade :)

Christmas Gifts for Little Kids

on November 28, 2012

What is Wrong with This Picture?

Someday I need to get on my soapbox and write a full post on the ludicrously segregated marketing of girl toys for girls and boy toys for boys. For now, I will start with a paragraph. Do you ever wonder why aren’t there more shared toys for girls and boys anymore like when we were kids?? Why do girls need a pink airplane when a white one would suffice? Well, toy companies found that they can make a better profit if brothers and sisters don’t share their toys. Marketing sends powerful messages, and according to the Toys r Us ads and toy aisles, girls only like variegating shades of pink and play solely with dolls, clothes, make-up, and princesses. In contrast, boys, surrounded by blue, are future scientists, architects, and construction workers. This never bothered me so much until I had my own little girl, went shopping for her at Toys r Us, and left empty handed racking my brain as why girls toys are so lame. Princess toys are not the problem, but the lack of alternatives is. It feels now days that “princess” is synonymous with “girl”. We now have a “princess culture” — the entire bubblegum wash of glitter, sparkles, rapid materialism, and cult-like following that Disney and Barbie have no intentions of slowing down. Don’t get me wrong, I will be buying Faith the prettiest doll pram, baby doll, and other “girl” toys, but I am also happy that she plays with trucks and trains……..And that Noah plays with our play kitchen, cares for a baby doll, and enjoys our dollhouse. Domestic imaginative play is equally important for future mommies as well daddies! Consider crossing over the gender stereotypes this Christmas, buy what your little girl is interested in even if its not in the pink aisle, and buy from private toy stores like Five Little Monkeys in Walnut Creek where gender neutral is more the norm still.

Less is More

Here is my other soapbox of the day–being a minimalist at times, I feel that less is more when it comes to toys. Having less toys can actually be better because it protects children from spoiled ways. I know most of us would agree that we don’t want our child crying in the toy store aisle for more toys, or having no comprehension of how much stuff he has compared to the rest of the kids in the world, or thinking that Christmas is only about getting new toys. We know too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Excessive amounts of toys can actually be a hindrance to a child’s development. Fewer toys allows children to love books, music, writing, coloring, and painting. Kids getting everything they want leads to the unhealthy belief that they can have everything they want. Kids who have less toys play outside in nature more. Kids with less toys often value what toys they have more, and thus learn to take better care of what they have. Too many toys prevents imaginative play; less toys forces kids to be more creative. Kids with less toys can develop longer attention spans by playing with the same toy for longer periods of time. Kids that have too many toys sometimes live in a constant fantasy world and they do not participate and learn from doing real things, real work, in real life. For all these reasons and more, I try my best to keep my kids from toy land mania, and have them focus on giving to others–especially during times of the year like right now when all thoughts are on me, me, me, and what I want for Christmas.

I haven’t really been able to think of anything that Noah, my 3 year old, needs for Christmas anyway because he is still so happy and engaged with all the toys he has. Then the other day, Noah declared the sweetest thing ………”Mommy, some boys are selfish and keep all the gifts to themselves. I already have a lot of toys, so I don’t need any Christmas presents this year. Maybe just two next year.” I hugged him tight for saying that, marveling since he has been daydreaming and talking about his Christmas presents for months now. Now what do I do? How do I encourage that good heart in him, perhaps even allowing his beneficent wish to come true, while still wanting to lavish on my boy who waits all year for the special traditions of Christmas morn? This is something I will have to ponder and get back to you on…….In the meantime, I want to help some of you who are still celebrating Christmas :), to wisely choose the gifts your buy for your kids this year this year!

Toys that Teach Make Great Gifts

I love open ended educational toys that are recommended for a wide age range. Toys that have multiple levels of use become more and more interesting to children as their thinking becomes more complex. I love how I get my money’s worth out of these long lived toys and how I don’t need to replace them as often. If the toy can challenge me, while still being accessible to my preschoolers, I know its a good non-expiring toy and my kids will be able to use it for a long time.  I find that usually these type of toys are educational (like blocks) rather than entertaining (like a light up Buz Light Year on rolling wheels).

Since math manipulatives were pretty non-existant in schools before the ’90s, I think parents often overlook these type of beneficial toys because we were raised only knowing pencil and paper math. When I tell Noah to pull out some “math” before school starts, he views it as time to play because he sees his math materials as toys. Preschoolers are not ready for pencil and paper math (even elementary student readiness is arguable), and so math work is simply playing or manipulating objects that once explored deeply enough, reveal the foundations of fractions, geometry, number sense, symmetry, etc. This type of hands on learning provides a more sure mathematical foundation for paper and pencil math later. And since kids see these “manipulatives” as toys, why not gift them as such at Christmas, thus making play time at your house this coming year more educational? I am including a list of our own favorite math toys here to help you get started.

I have also included our one can’t-do-without language toy. Having several math toys is beneficial, but I feel only one language toy is really necessary because most language learning for young children comes from listening, speaking, and being read to. Well written books are always a wise gift choice for our children, and so I will also provide you a hand selected book list of some of our family favorites that we own (some soon to be owned), with an emphasis on Christmas literature.

Our Favorite Toys:

 Rainbow Resource is a Christian Homeschool Supply Company that offers very competitive prices on educational toys. It is possible to shop somewhere besides Amazon! 🙂 And you can support a Christian business with your purchases!

Old Fashioned Blocks

Standard Unit blocks teach math because the dimensions of each block shape in a set of unit blocks is a multiple or a fraction of the size of the piece defined as the “unit”. The “unit” is a rectangular piece of maple measuring 5 1/2” in Length by 2 3/4” in width by 1 3/8” in height or thickness. The name of each basic rectangular block shape in a set is based on its size as compared to the length of the “unit”, e.g., the Unit Block is 5 1/2“ long while the Half Unit Block is 2 3/4” long, the Double Unit Block is 11” long and the Quad Unit Block is 22” long. The dimensions of all other block shapes, including the columns, the pillars, the triangles, the curves, etc., are proportional to the length, width and height dimensions of the “unit”. This is the source of the term, “Standard Unit Blocks”.

Unit Blocks are an essential for basic math concepts, imaginative play, organizational skills, physical development, sequential skills, social interaction, spatial relations, structural design and creativity!

Melissa and Doug’s Standard Unit Block set is a good quality starter set (FYI, I believe the price on amazon is much better at other times of year like last summer when I bought mine because I don’t remember paying $50!)

If you have the basic set already, you could order some additional blocks item by item since the Melissa and Doug set doesn’t include items like the 22″ Quad block or the Double Unit Pillar block for example.

This page in our math book, Developing Math Concepts in Pre-Kindergarten, showed me how time spent playing with blocks will develop the complexity of how kids play with them and thus making it a much more interesting toy. Noah mostly likes to do rows so I know he has a ways to go before he outgrows this toy. 🙂

Pattern Blocks

The art loving side of me is drawn to pattern blocks because they make math beautiful. Pattern blocks are geometic shapes that make wonderful mosaic deisgns. In the primary grades we can use them to sort, pattern, to explore transformations, symmetry and congruency as well as compose and decompose shapes.  Kids need to learn that patterns are not always in a straight line like ABABAB, but can expand out in every direction. In the upper grades we can use them to explore, add & subtract fractions as well as do angle work. You can use pattern blocks to teach number sense (counting, fractions, estimation), statistics (graphing) and probability, as well as geometry and algebra.

This Melissa and Doug pattern block set is a good starter set if you feel like you want some initial structure for using the pattern blocks, but eventually its great for kids to make their own patterns. Plus, you don’t need pattern boards because you can always find plenty of templates to print off online. So in that case, you could get way more blocks for the same price if you forego the pattern boards and just buy a big set of pattern blocks (you will probably need more pattern blocks than the set Melissa and Doug offers anyway in order to make complex patterns later).

And look what your preschooler can make (even without a template)!

Marble Run

A Marble run is fun and challenging to little and big minds alike as you design, build, and test your runs. This was definitely a favorite toy at the preschool where I used to teach!

Gears

The beginning principles of mechanics and physics of motion make gears an educational toy. We have had gears for a year now, and it is not collecting dust at our house!

Other examples of good math “toys” to buy would be unifix cubes, geoboards, and a large die.

Lauri Alphabet Puzzle

We use this puzzle almost everyday!! We don’t just use it as a puzzle, but as a word building tool too (I wrote a whole post on this puzzle. Kids who can work with larger words should buy a moveable alphabet instead–read about it here). You may feel that you don’t need another alphabet puzzle if you already have one, but I just think this Lauri version is the perfect one for many reasons! Its lowercase, its crepe rubber and the pieces stay put, the phonics mat behind serves as a reminder of each letter sound, and its very inexpensive. There is something about the feel of pushing the crepe rubber letters in and pulling them out that is so gratifying to the senses, even for me. LOVE it!!

Our Favorite Books:

Christianbook.com has free shipping through December 6th! Its a great alternative to Amazon because you are supporting a Christian company!

Charlotte Mason-esque Literature

Ambleside Online has a booklist of Charlotte Mason type literature for all ages, and the age 0-6 booklist is my priority for what my kids “need” this Christmas. Stories that have the noble, beautiful, inspiring kind of living ideas that CM espoused, including “the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighborly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbor, to ’cause’ and country and kind, to the past and the present”. The text of the books we expose ages 0-6 to should be literary in order to prepare children for the challenging books they’ll be using throughout their education. And they should be well illustrated too! (Amblesideonline.org)

Christian Mother Goose

Its a strange feeling that the cast of characters in Christian Mother Goose has become part of our family because they are so loveable. The poems can be a bit eccentric, but we love it, and the concepts are so beautifully deep that it is definitely a book to grow with. Look up the “Big Book” to get all three volumes in one.

Click on this map that shows where all the characters live! You will see how the author put her heart and soul into this book.

God Gave Us Christmas

In the midst of all the Christmas preparations, curious Little Cub asks one day, “Who invented Christmas?” Mama’s answer only leads to more questions, like: “Is God more important than Santa?” So Mama decides to take Little Cub on an expedition to discover how God gave them Christmas. As their journey unfolds, the pair finds signs that God is at work all around them. Mama’s gentle guidance helps Little Cub discover that Jesus is the best present of all! I like this book for offering kids proper perspective on Santa’s role in Christmas.

The Christmas Angels

A sweet story from 1933 with dear vintage illustrations about 10 angels who quietly go about doing good on Christmas Eve. It inspires my little helpers at home.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic.

One Wintry Night

One Wintry Night is much more than the nativity story, its the Christmas story told from creation to the ressurection. (Written for an elementary age audience)

Also, any of the books listed in my December Lesson Plans would be a great choice for Christmas books!

I Hope this Makes your Holiday Shopping a Little Easier! Happy Shopping Friends!

…….So what are your children’s favorite toys, and your personal Christmas wishlist for this year?

(I am asking for a guitar, and I hear music lessons are in the works too! Yeah!!! This is something I have always wanted.)


4 responses to “Christmas Gifts for Little Kids

  1. Tara Hannon says:

    We are implementing the idea of the “Three Gifts of the Magi” in our family this Christmas. It basically holds that you give your child only 3 gifts, thus reducing the materialistic focus and over-expenditure of the season. One gift is meant to be something that they have been dreaming of, one gift is something practical that they need like pajamas or a new coat or math blocks, and the final gift is for their spiritual development like a children’s devotional or a book of rich meaning. We are also focusing on giving to our World Vision little boy and local Burmese families in need. I think they realize that they have scads of toys and they’re excited to give to others who don’t.

  2. Tara Hannon says:

    I also really love the message of this article! Check it out. All that our children really want is more time with us… and they are perfectly content if that is with the toys they already have. 🙂 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzette-standring/gift-of-the-magi-being-pr_b_150218.html

  3. Miss Lynn says:

    That is a great article! Especially makes sense for people whose love language is quality time–like you and me– to forgo the mad obligatory time consuming Christmas shopping for everybody and his uncle, and put the saved time towards some good old fashioned time together with friends and family instead. I am glad we are checking our priorities before the season gets into full swing, and before we mindlessly march into the pattern of past years or of society around us, sadly spending our precious Christmas on things that do not matter. A few hours, or even minutes, of reflecting on our values and making plans accordingly early in the season can often save the holidays!

    Yes, I meant to mention children’s Bibles in my book list as a Christmas gift idea!!! We seem to buy a new storybook Bible every Christmas because after reading in one all year long, we feel ready for a new one. My favorites are on this blog in the Bible Curriculum tab on the main menu. However, revisiting my post Teaching Children the Bible (from last August) would be good for anyone who is in the market for a Bible. And actually, not mentioned anywhere on my blog, the Baby Bible Storybook, is the one I will be getting for Faith this Christmas. It is written for shorter attention spans and incorporates kinesthetic learning, hand and body movements– like instructions to “close your eyes” to see how dark it was before God created light, or “clap your hands” after Noah closes the door to the ark. After each sentence there is something for your toddler to do. Great for our busy bee Faithy! And a great way to help Daddy doing devotions with the kiddos a little more interactive.

    I like the 3 Magi gifts idea! Its so hard for me to pare down like that though since we don’t buy the kids much throughout the year….. :/ Noah abdicating his Christmas gift rights adds to the challenge. 🙂 It feels like God is leading me to have the kids sponsor a child through Compassion International at some point soon. I love how they can write letters back and forth (especially as my preschoolers are able to write more). Do you get to correspond with your sponsored child through World Vision?

  4. Tara Hannon says:

    Yah, we do. We draw him pictures and send him stickers and Roman has described our family to him before. He’s never personally written back to us, but he’s 5 and he also doesn’t speak English. His uncle sends us pics of him and gives us written updates which is really nice. They once sent a pic of Arsen playing with blocks, but he looks really sad… so now Roman is pretty sure that those are the only toy he has (which it might be) so he wants to send him all the things he doesn’t play with anymore. 😉

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