Even before the holiday tree is taken down, the child in your life begins to lose interest in the expensive electronic toys that set you back a big chunk of money and hours in long lines. Maybe you made a vow not to repeat this same gift-giving mistake again this year. So, how do you choose toys that have staying power?
Shop with Purpose -- the BEST way In a tight economy, gift giving doesn't have to be about high-tech shopping. Before heading out, consider the age, interests and aptitude of the child and reflect on what brings out a smile and encourages sustained play.
Try applying the BEST approach to gifting and look for toys that:
• Build physical or intellectual skills
• Stimulate the imagination
• Teach team-centered play and socialization
According to Dale Grubb, creator of the BEST approach and Baldwin Wallace University professor of psychology, "Most people have experienced the heartbreak of gift failure. Often, it is because the item is too highly structured. When a toy is overly limited in its function, it fails to sustain a child's interest. To help prevent this scenario, ask yourself, 'what could the child do with this?'
Variety, Creativity and Strategy = Fun "Variety is also an important consideration," Grubb continues. "While purchasing a gift that lies outside a child's established interests poses some risk of 'gift failure,' so does buying yet another set of colored pencils for the budding artist, or yet another baseball for the aspiring shortstop. "
Baldwin Wallace University Physics Professor Dr. Edwin Meyer, who teaches a popular problem-solving class, also encourages gifts that employ creativity and strategy. "Any game or toy where you see a child sitting there trying to figure out the best move is a good one." Meyer also endorses art supplies, "Crayons, paints, modeling clay, among other materials, offer wonderful learning opportunities and foster dexterity."
Participate Don't Isolate According to Grubb, gift-givers shouldn't assume their role is complete once the colorful wrap is discarded. "It's important for a child to be in an environment where creativity and learning are valued. Parents, family members, friends and caregivers need to be participants, too." He says engaging with a child in play tells the child that creativity and learning are important, encourages socialization skills and strengthens bonding.
Grubb cautions adults not to become over-zealous in coordinating activities. "Make sure the child is directing the play," he recommends. "When you 'play house' with a child, the child should be allowed to steer the creative play in any direction. Simply go along for the ride, even if that means spending time squeezed into a box from a long-forgotten toy," he says with a smile.
Or, in the case of an age-old favorite like Play Dough, be sure to buy plenty… enough for you and your budding artist to create masterpieces over and over again.
BEST Gift List
• Build physical and/or intellectual skills: sporting goods, games of skill, puzzles and trivia games
• Entertain: MP3 music players, puzzles, interactive video games
•Stimulate imagination: Art supplies, dolls, action figures, kitchen/workbenches and musical instruments
• Teach socialization and teamwork: Board games, playhouses and recreational games
Ed Meyer -- "the Problem Solving Prof" -- Favorite Games
• Rush Hour -- This single-player game involves freeing a red car from a traffic jam by moving other cars and trucks back and forth. It develops mental stamina and is a great introduction to the field of operations research.
• Guess Who -- An old game with many spin-offs. It develops creativity and problem solving ability. By asking creative yes/no questions yourself, you can spark the child's thinking skills. For example, "Does your person's name have an odd number of letters?"
• Set -- This card game is easy to learn and the whole family can play. It develops pattern recognition.
• SOMA Blocks or SOMA Cubes -- Introduced in 1936, SOMA blocks are seven blocks that can be arranged into a cube or an unending number of other shapes. Your child can spend hours completing a checklist of shapes.
All of these games can be found on the Internet. Several of them have online versions that allow a gift giver to test the game before purchasing.
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