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I sat in church yesterday, on the front row of the folding chairs. A carpeted space separated me from the last wooden pew of the chapel. A child to my left a few chairs down dumped his colored pencils like pick-up sticks onto the carpet amid 2-3 coloring books, and then forgot them. However, those bright colored pencils were a magnet to toddlers. One crawling boy in front of me kept starting out from under his parent’s pew, eyes intent on the treasure only eight feet away. Just as he’d take three or four knee-hand moves, his father would grab him by the pant / diaper waistband and drag him backward. This happened over and over, but he remained optimistically hopeful that he could reach those pencils. Finally his dad turned him about and diverted him with toys of his own.

That is when another crawling child came up the aisle to my right. He’d also seen those pencils. He turned the corner at the last chair and crawled right under my legs like they were a bridge. He never even glanced up. I nearly laughed out loud. Good thing I have long legs and that my heels added extra height. Unfortunately for him, he had an older brother who retrieved him before he could seriously taste every color.

Children have a sense of wonder and adventure; they enjoy movement and the tactile feel of hands on exploration. They learn best by experiencing.

This post is about possible gifts that help nurture their wonder-lust, their sense of adventure, and their delight in movement. So if you are not quite done with Christmas, consider one of these in either 1. movement, 2. Discovery & learning, or 3. Old fashioned creative play. And if Christmas is done, file it away for another day.

Note: none of these suggestions have to do with TV’s: movies, video games, etc. Studies have found that significant time with a television made children more aggressive, harmed the acquisition of reading skills, decreased creativity scores, and cut participation in non-TV leisure activities.

3. Old fashioned creative play refers to things like Tinkertoys (for ages 3+) that require the child’s imagination. My favorite are LEGOS. I used to build my own doll-houses and miniature dolls and play for hours with Legos. We still have a large bin of Legos in storage that belongs to our newly married son. Any child that likes to build, loves Legos.

Paper-dolls also stimulate creativity. You can make your own from printable patterns and magnetic paper or find some like these on the web. For young ones, a simple Slinky enchants them as it steps down some stairs. It’d make a great stocking stuffer. Pick-up sticks, jacks, marbles, and a hand held super ball are often forgotten, but wonderful skill builders.

2. Discovery and learning. Think of games that encourage your child to think. A favorite with our family was a simple card game called SET. Their website describes it through a tutorial that becomes increasingly more challenging. They also offer a daily challenge.

Games based on forming words, on learning math skills, and other “educational games” can be found at Latter-day Family Resources. They happen to be in my small town and I shopped there often when my children were young, but they also have a thriving on-line business.

Origami, challenging coloring books, and books on everything from mazes to chess are available through Dover Publications.

I love models of any type for boys. When our son was young we built a model railroad with buildings, a tunnel through a papier-mâché mountain and working street lamps as well as lights in the buildings, on a piece of plywood in our basement. Each building, whether the depot, or a grocery store was a complete project. Years later he enjoyed some complicated warrior models his uncle obtained in Japan.

1. Movement. The timeless bicycle used to mean an all-nighter on Christmas Eve for parents, but now they are ready to roll right out of the store. I still recall the year I got my purple bike. I also like the old fashioned wagon. So many possibilities for creativity from such a practical toy. Basket balls, table tennis, jump ropes and even Wii are gifts that encourage movement. Oops, I just included a video game suggestion. I confess we played bowling, golf etc. that way. But our children also received sleds, roller-blades and a volley-ball set that each received lots of use.

And of course my favorite gift is books and more books. The reason I read classic stories as a child is because my grandparents gave them to us, one book at a time. Amazon’s top seller (perfect gift for parents who deserve some quiet time—that’s why you get them the out-door toys) is a Kindle . And I believe the Apple iPad is changing our world. I’ve added one to my wish-list.

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