Friday, November 29, 2013

Favorite Finds: Great Christmas Gifts for Preschoolers

When I was a classroom teacher parents and grandparents often asked me about what toys I would recommend for their preschoolers.  I have always been very passionate about finding toys for children that give them opportunities to increase their language skills, motor skills, social skills, imaginative skills, and creativity.  This year I sat down at my computer and tracked down 10 of my favorite toys (from my favorite store Target) for preschoolers.  I don't like toys that take all the thinking out of play and include lots of lights and noises so you won't find them here!  Most of these toys can be played with for hours with no need for batteries!  I also looked for great deals so all these toys are under $25!  All of these recommendations are based on years of observing young children and what I know to be best practice in early childhood.  Hopefully you will find this to be a helpful resource.

When asked about my recommendations, often my first response was Play-Doh (one of my all time favorite toys).  Guess what their response was!  "Ugh, Play-Doh?  I HATE Play-Doh!  It gets in my carpet and makes such a mess!"  Of course I was ready with my response.  "Play-Doh is a wonderful toy that helps develop imagination and motor skills.  When given guidance and direction (such as staying at the table in the kitchen and an adult joining them in their play) the possibilities are limitless!"  :)  This fun Play-Doh Perfect Twist Ice Cream Playset has so many possibilities for imaginative play and developing fine motor, language, and social skills!  There are many other fun Play-Doh products available or you can even make your own dough at home!  Maybe you could give a child a package that includes some homemade dough as well as some additional recipes, rolling pins, and some cookie cutters!  One of my favorite ways to help children to learn to use scissors is by cutting Play-Doh! (I prefer plastic scissors)
I once read some research that said that children who play the most board games do the best in math and social skills later in life.  Therefore, I try to include board games on the Christmas List every year!  There are many great board games out there, but this is one that my own children as well as my preschoolers loved!  Zingo is similar to Bingo, but it is very easy to play and great for vocabulary development as children are recognizing and naming pictures in the game.  What is your favorite board game?  What games do you remember playing with your family and friends when you were growing up?  Many of the best games are still around!  Board games are timeless gifts when you make sure that they are not based on movies, TV shows, and other animated characters!
The next toy on our list is a timeless classic!  I remember playing with a doctor kit when I was a child and I see children use these tools over and over again today!  Each week I provide childcare for a group of preschoolers and this is by far their favorite toy!  They play doctor with the babies, on each other, stuffed animals, and ME!  It is amazing to watch as children replay their experiences with the real caregivers in their lives!
I recently returned from the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference in Washington DC where I attended several sessions about music and movement with young children.  I heard over and over again how important it is to get real music into the hands, ears, and hearts of young children!  This is the best technology you can give your child--a musical instrument in their hands!
Our next gift is a toy that children AND adults enjoy!  Do you remember Lincoln Logs?  We had a set when I was a child and my brother, sister, and I played with them over and over again!  In fact, we still have those blocks!  In my experience, Lincoln Logs are a little too technical for most 3-4 year olds.  They are more appropriate for children that are a little older.  Bristle Blocks, on the other hand, are the perfect block for preschool children.  They are also a winner with boys and girls alike!  This particular set is recommended because it includes some people and accessories that can be used as wheels all in a nice carrying case!

Of course anything Lego makes is going to be a hit with kids (big and small)!  The set listed below is a great option for preschoolers because they are a bit more chunky for smaller hands.  It also comes in a great carrying case!  My sister and I used to dream up ways to organize all the Legos our kids had, but this has a built in storage case!  That is so helpful!  Now you can take them anywhere!  Instead of putting your kids in front of a screen while they ride in the car or wait at the doctor's office you have an opportunity for play!
Another favorite toy for preschoolers is anything involving dramatic play!  In my classroom the two favorite play areas were blocks and dramatic play!  Children love to pretend to do the things they see adults do!  My daughter loved having tea parties with all her favorite animals, dolls, and people when she was younger.  Who ever really outgrows tea parties?!?  This is a nice little tea set from Fisher Price that gives lots of opportunity for pretend play along with a fun little stand for the perfect tea party spread!
When my daughter was turning three years old we had a Teddy Bear Picnic for her birthday party.  All of the children loved getting their own little picnic spread and pretending with their teddy bears!  This Leap Frog Shape and Sort Picnic Set is super fun and educational!  It includes some shape and color sorting activities as well as several different foods children can play with in this adorable picnic basket!  Who wouldn't love those eyes!!!
Do you have one of those kids who has "everything"?  My favorite solution for children like this is BATH TOYS!  Bath time is one of my favorite play times!  You can sing songs, explore, and get creative!  All while you get clean too!  :)  This little Seahorse Pump offers many opportunities for children to observe, explore, and ask questions!  There are many commercial products for bathtub play, but one of our favorites was a cup and a spoon!  Maybe you could personalize a set for your favorite child and set it aside for bathtub play!  Remember, bath time is about more than just getting clean, so play, explore, and HAVE FUN!
Christmas wouldn't be complete without at least one great children's book!  Last year my preschoolers and I absolutely LOVED the newly released Pete the Cat Saves Christmas book.  In fact, they wanted to read it all year long!  If you have been around my blog for very long you know that Pete the Cat is one of my very favorite characters!  His books are always full of fun rhythms, rhymes, and lessons to be learned!  The Christmas book is about giving and the fact that no matter how small you are there are lots of ways you can give and help others.  Why not pair the book with the Pete the Cat plush doll?  Snuggle up with your favorite little preschooler, Pete the Cat, and a cup of hot chocolate and make some memories!  Your time and presence while creating memories and reading with a child are the best gifts you can ever give!


As you may have noticed, most of the toys in this list are open-ended and don't require batteries!  They are an invitation to play, but the "batteries" are provided by the child.  Keep that in mind when you are purchasing toys for the children in your life this year!  You don't have to spend a lot of money or buy the "latest and greatest" in order for them to be truly happy.  The happiest memories I have from my childhood were the times that involved play with the people that I loved.  Whether it was reading stories with my mom, playing games with my dad, or building and pretending with my brother and sister, the lesson I learned was that the relationships I have are priceless!   You can't wrap the things that matter most...your relationship with your children.  This Christmas Season, take time to create memories, play, and be present with your child.  That's the best gift you can ever give!