While traditional gift ideas like dolls, bicycles, and video games are still popular go-tos for birthdays and holidays, let’s face it: we are living in an age of information where there are more and more tools to educate and stimulate our children than ever before. A Barbie or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle will still get you the bright-eyed cheers you’re looking for, but opting for educational toys can build healthy brains and a lifelong love of learning.
The internet and social media have brought unlimited access to information and resources, elevating our awareness of all the “how-tos” of raising bright, creative children. No one is saying your kid has to be the next Einstein, but why not provide your child the best building blocks for learning when there are so many affordable toys and tools out there?
According to the University of Maine’s Bulletin on Children and Brain Development:
“The neural network expands exponentially. If they are not used repeatedly, or often enough, they are eliminated. In this way, experience plays a crucial role in “wiring” a young child’s brain. Brain development does not stop after early childhood, but it is the foundation upon which the brain continues developing.”
To get those brains wired and connected, here are Hospitality Health ER’s top gift ideas for kids—also rated highly by parents.
Educational Gift Ideas for Babies
Babies begin developing the neural connections for vision, emotion, movement, and language the day they are born. Because human touch and interaction play the most important role in these areas of development, we chose two educational toys that require tactile interaction and engagement. Hospitality Health ER also highly encourages reading from birth, so both of our recommendations help instill a love of reading.
- VTech Musical Rhymes Book is a best seller. What better gift than a fun and multi-sensory way to read to your child? This interactive kids book’s brightly colored pages that will certainly stimulate your baby’s vision and teach classic nursery rhymes to strengthen those language connections. As your child engages in these easy-to-turn pages and interactive buttons, they will enhance brain connections related to hand-eye coordination and movement. The best part: hold your child while you read to develop both emotional and physical connections. Both of you will cherish the experience.
- Good Morning, Good Night is a touch and feel book that allows you to interact with your baby and your baby to interact with the book. This bedtime story illustrates the ideas of love and security when putting your baby (and their favorite animals) to bed. Reading to your child with expression will generate linguistic and emotive neural connections that can last a lifetime. And running your baby’s hands over the different pages and textures will stimulate connections associated with movement and sensation.
Educational Gift Ideas for Toddlers
By the age of two, an infant has developed around 1000 trillion neural connections. Besides encouraging them to run, climb, and have conversations, you can also help reinforce these connections by allowing your toddler to solve problems by trying things out. Two is also the age when you should promote interaction between you and your child— and your child and other children. So, along with these educational toy picks for two and three year olds, we highly recommend joining them in play or inviting a friend over for a brain-stimulating play date.
- Bilibo is a quirky-looking toy, a bit like a curved pail or hat with a pair of side-by-side holes in it. And honestly, it’s hard to figure out what this quirky-looking toy ‘thingy’ is supposed to do, but that’s the whole point: it’s perfect for toddlers who are constantly thinking, imagining, and wiggling around. It can be used for whatever your child imagines it to be: a seat, a basket for other toys, a tortoise shell —really anything. The Bilibo will arouse curiosity, stimulate senses, foster movement and motor skills, and encourage creativity. Join your child in thinking of different ways to use the toy. According to an NAEYC white paper, children go through a thinking process when given a problem to solve. Movement provides the cognitive loop between the idea, problem, or intent and the outcome or solution— which is all to say that this toy is perfect for fostering the brain-body connection at a significant stage in your child’s development.
- Squigz: Squigz are multi-colored, multi-dimensional suction construction toys that your tot can piece together by suction cups. They are designed to bend and flex, providing your little one with relaxation and sensory stimulation, somewhat like the ‘zen effect’ Playdoh has on your kids. Your kids and their friends will enjoy the satisfaction of connecting them and hearing the popping sounds they make when they pull them apart. Made with suction connectors, your kids can use them on walls, windows, bathtubs, and more. Squigz encourages creativity, fine motor skills, interaction, and playful experimentation.
Educational Gift Ideas for Preschoolers
At this stage, your child is starting to count objects using one number for each item; differentiate characteristics of objects (long, short, black, white, soft, rough); and use problem-solving skills for activities, such as sorting, planning and building structures.
Legos are always a great go-to for this age (and many ages!) but here are a couple newer toys to consider:
- Arx 2.0: Similar to Magna Tiles, these arc-shaped multi-colored, translucent magnetic building blocks allow your child to create various designs, including curved structures. Arx 2.0 can also help you incorporate math and scientific principles into play; teach your preschooler simple addition and subtraction by creating games that require your child to add or take away pieces to make a certain sized structure. This also shows them that learning can be fun!
- Inchimals: To help expand your preschooler’s ability to differentiate between traits and characteristics, introduce new vocabulary with these different, precisely sized animal blocks. Inchimals are a fun, interactive way to challenge your child with math, size, and measuring concepts. You can also inspire creative thinking and emotional dialogue by using the twelve animal blocks (ladybug, frog, mouse, rabbit, penguin, tiger, bear, snake, monkey, ostrich, elephant, and giraffe) as characters for a homemade play.
Educational Gift Ideas for 5 to 7 Year Olds
Even after your child enters kindergarten, first grade, or second grade, encouraging play is still very important. Engaging in play is how your child learns and builds social, emotional, and thinking skills. And now that their attention span has grown, you can introduce toys that require a little more strategy and logic:
- Animalogic will work your child’s brain to solve these smart safari stumpers. Your kids will have to solve different puzzles to move their animals through the game and get them safely to the other side of the river. The game encourages an understanding of rules, object recognition, sequencing, matching abilities, and logic.
- Coggy is a great mind bender for your 6 and 7-year-olds. Coggy encourages visual-spatial skills, critical thinking, and logic. Somewhat like a Rubix cube, your child will have to organize a cog platform into a particular formation shown on cards. This is a great way to challenge your child to question, reason, and make steps towards finding a solution. It’s also easy to bring along if you’re traveling by car or plane.
Educational Gift Ideas for 8 to 10-Year-Olds:
Among many other developments, children in this age range typically develop critical and abstract thinking skills. They also become curious as to how things work and how they are made. And because this is the stage when your kids understand how to be safe, stay somewhat neat, and clean up afterward, you can be even more daring with your gift selection.
- Tasty Science: Calling future cooks and scientists! Your kids will indulge in the art of chemistry by learning the wonders behind the science of cupcakes, cookies, and candy. They’ll learn what exactly makes the cake rise, how candy crystallizes, and what makes fizzy drinks fizz. Invite some friends over to have some group fun. With ten cooking activities, your kids will learn that science is not only fun, but also tasty.
- Robotikits: Feed your young, curious minds by allowing your brainiac kids to build and test different robots that can move on land and water. Your kids will learn about alternative energy sources as they build 14 solar-powered bots including dog-bots, beetle-bots, and twelve others. With two skill levels, more experienced builders will still be challenged. Transparent pieces show your kids just how the nuts, bolts, and gears work together.
Educational Gift Ideas for Teens
As your child moves into young adulthood, it’s time to really challenge their critical thinking skills. Teenagers experience an enormous growth of synapses during adolescence, and because the brain will get rid of synapses that are not being used, you want to make sure you continue to stimulate their critical thinking skills so that they are strongly wired through adulthood:
- LittleBits CloudBit Starter Kit: Instead of buying your teen a Smart TV or smartphone, why not add to their tech smarts by getting them to create their own ‘smart’ technology? Your kids can use a phone, tablet, or Apple Watch to control inventions like a smart coffee brewer or auto-pet feeder. They can even trigger inventions with web services like Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter using IFTTT. The work entailed encourages visual-spatial skills, logic, reasoning, creativity, and exploration.
- Pandemic Survival: Board games make great gifts because they promote social interaction and healthy competition. But Pandemic Survival is unlike most board games because team members will need to really collaborate together to achieve the objective: find all four cures or be the sole survivor at the end of the game. Get those brains working to save the world!
As you shop for the perfect gift for kids, remember that their minds are looking to be nourished, challenged, and stretched. So instead of TVs and video games, introduce multi-dimensional toys, games, or activities that require your children to touch, feel, interact, create, and think critically.
Disclaimer: All data and information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. Hospitality Health ER will not be liable for malfunctions, defects, losses, injuries, or damages that may arise from these products.