Gift-buying guide for children

Looking for a special holiday gift for the children in your life? Here are some helpful tips for buying gifts for children–at the holidays and all year long.

1. Choose toys that encourage open-ended play.

Toys that encourage imaginative or creative play healthy choices that can provide children with the most fun in the long-term. Lower-tech, open-ended toys such as blocks, play food, and dress-up toys are great choices.

2. Avoid toys that tell children how to play.

Toys that direct children’s play should be given as gifts minimally. Avoid toys that have only one intended use and discourage creativity.

3. Choose toys that encourage interactions with others.

Toys that can be played with friends or by the whole family, such as sporting goods or board games, should be strongly considered.

4. Feel free to shop in the “wrong” toy aisle.

Although many stores arrange products by gender — with aisles of “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys”–consider these categories as mere suggestions. For example, little boys often enjoy play kitchens as much as girls do, but play food is in the girls’ aisle; girls often enjoy toys that involve constructing things, but these are usually placed in the boys’ aisle. Be creative in your search.

5. Try to minimize kids’ screen time.

It’s healthiest for kids to spend time in active, creative ways–not in front of a screen. Think carefully before buying any gift that directs kids observe or interact with on-screen content, no matter how “educational” their manufacturers claim them to be.

6. Look for experiences in addition to products.

Consider giving tickets to theatrical productions, memberships to zoos or museums, or vouchers for other outings. Things experienced, rather than consumed, are wonderful ways to create happy memories together after the holiday season is past.

7. Avoid on-screen products for children under two.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than two watch no television. This applies to other screen-oriented products, as well (such as movies, computer games, and apps). Although it’s impractical for many families to follow the AAP guideline to the letter, it’s a good consideration while shopping: less is better, especially for the youngest of children.

8. Books, books, books!

For children of all ages, books make wonderful gifts. Every child should be given at least a few books at the holidays.

As published in the Globe North, Dec. 12, 2011

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