A friend asked me recently what kinds of gifts I seek out for my children for Christmas. And while such a list will have much in common with my recent post of Homeschooling with Sensory Integration Issues, I thought it would be fun to toss out there.
Especially where my children are concerned, I approach gift giving with intention and purpose. The season’s popular and trendy plastic toys rarely have any bearing on my selections. Throughout the year, I collect such treasures as will serve to open their eyes to beauty and wonder, feed their minds, and cause their hearts and souls to blossom. Perhaps you have never thought a Christmas gift could serve such a high purpose, but it can! By keeping to such a high standard, I attempt to place before my children all that is bright and lovely, good and delightful, thought-provoking and excellent, for the purpose of raising intelligent and imaginative young men and women who are rich in soul and well equipped to proclaim the gospel to a dark world.
Necessary but Novel
Clothing: Perhaps something a little nicer or less “necessary” than my typical purchases throughout the year. A pretty dress for the girls, fun shoes or slippers, cozy fleece sweatshirts for the boys, fuzzy bathrobes, sweaters, and of course outerwear such as coats, snowsuits, boots, hats, mittens, scarves, and gloves.
School Supplies: Pencils, pens, erasers, pencil cases, fresh notebooks…and again, maybe nicer or more novel than our August run to Wal-Mart.
Educational but Exciting
Books: Of course! Books always feature prominently under our tree. We purchase books throughout the year, but Christmas selections tend to be special…beautifully illustrated picture books, sets of a classic series, bright and fun books on a subject such as science or history. Even the baby gets a classic board book or two! A child’s first Bible makes an excellent gift. For an older child, a study Bible or commentary might be appropriate.
Art and Craft Supplies: Stockings bulge with sets of quality colored pencils and drawing pencils, packages of modeling clay, cray pas, crayons and chalk. And for under the tree? Sketchpads, easels and rolls of paper, paint sets, smocks, bead sets, mosaic kits, model magic, sewing kits, and various craft kits.
Music and Musical Instruments: CD’s! We try to seek out wonderful and inspiring music for our children to listen to…classical, folk music, scripture songs, and learning songs are favorites. “Band Box” sets (for example, a drum with shakers, bells, rhythm sticks, and a triangle), an acoustic or electric guitar, sheet music, a harmonica, and any range of real instruments that a child might take interest in, though such a purchase tends to be a major one and is less likely to be something we choose as a Christmas gift.
Educational Toys and Supplies: Science kits, Geosafari, educational software, flashcards and activity cards, puzzle and activity books (mazes, word search, crossword, paper airplanes), instructional books and kits (how to draw, how to do oragami, cookbooks, historical paper dolls), board games, magnet sets, a microscope or telescope, and a host of various toys and gifts that could fall under the banner of “learning”. What we tend to avoid from this category: toys that light up or make lots of crazy and artificial-sounding noises (or really that require batteries at all).
Museum Memberships: Science Museums, Art Museums, Living History Museums, Children’s Museums…a gift the whole family can enjoy throughout the year! These are also great to hint at to family members who might be looking to give your whole family a special gift instead of an individual gift for each person.
Playful and Practical
Classic Toys: Wooden building blocks, wooden train sets, dolls and doll clothes (American Girl is admittedly a favorite in our house. Barbie is…ahem…simply not), pull-toys and other classic baby toys for the tiniest around the tree, a dollhouse with furniture and people, tinker toys and lincoln logs, a kaleidoscope, etch a sketch, magnadoodle, marbles, matchbox cars, trucks, pick up sticks, kites.
Imaginative Play: Dress up clothes, play kitchens (we have selected durable wood over garish plastic), play food (again, we try to choose delightful cloth and wood items over plastic, though well-made plastic fruits or vegetables have certainly made their way into the mix), play dishes (I found a wonderful set at IKEA made from real stoneware), magnetic dress-up dolls, doctor’s kits, playmobil and lego sets (examples of plastic toys that are freely welcomed in our home!), a child-size table and chairs, erector sets and other building sets (one of my boys particularly likes the sets with lots of parts and bolts and screws with clear, comprehensible instructions for making multiple creations).
Staying Active: Sports equipment such as balls and gloves, bikes and scooters, and skates.
Real-Life Stuff: Tool sets, cooking utensils and equipment, items for a teen girl’s “hope chest”…all excellent examples of gifts that aren’t “toys” but are real and useful and yet still thoroughly fun to receive as a gift.
Electronics: MP3 players, watches, clock radios and cd players, digital cameras and walkie-talkies are all electronics that have found a place under our tree. As children get older (perhaps much older!), gifts such as a new cell phone or laptop may become appropriate.
Movies: We love to watch movies as a family and are always on the lookout for quality, family-friendly films that are well-produced and contain good acting. We don’t care for sappy or overly-silly movies. Movies are an intensely visual and stimulating experience…so when I sit my kids down in front of that screen, I am intentional about what they are viewing. Some of our favorites are films where a literary classic is brought to life, such as an Austen or Dickens novels. Do we let our children watch these films even though children aren’t the target audience? Absolutely! Think outside the box when it comes to what your children watch, and you will train their tastes and appetites for movie-watching for a lifetime! However, gifts of DVDs under the tree tend to be more geared towards children. Favorites? The Narnia Series, Anne of Green Gables, Babe, Nim’s Island, Dolphin Tale, Charlotte’s Web (live action version), Stuart Little, and Wind in the Willows.
Is this list comprehensive? No. Does this mean I’ve never bought a cheaply made plastic toy for my children? No, of course not. But I think you get the idea, and I hope this list either encourages you to keep giving your children gifts of quality, beauty and usefulness, or inspires you to begin! A don’t think that making such choices necessitates spending a lot. I can promise you that it doesn’t! Some tips for keeping cost down:
Shop throughout the year. Keep a big opaque bin or box away from where your children will nose through it and place gifts in it whenever you happen to find them, even if it’s the day after Christmas!
Shop thrift shops and consignment stores.
Look for clearance and sale items.
GIVE. THEM. LESS. STUFF! Keep the message of Christmas clear by resisting the urge to obscure it with piles of stuff, much of which is likely to break before the following year’s Christmas season begins. They might not like it at first, but you will be training their hearts to be satisfied with less, to appreciate what is of real value and beauty, and to keep Jesus the focus of your family’s celebration of the season.