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Holiday gifts to learn with

Ten tips for avoiding the hype and choosing toys that delight, encourage, and inspire.

Physics Workshop
Physics Workshop

By GreatSchools Staff

Looking for toys that won't be broken or abandoned soon after the package is open? How do you find the right holiday gifts that will delight your child, encourage curiosity, and build skills?

"Good toys have staying power — they engage," says Diana Huss Green, founder of Parents' Choice. "They help build attention spans, not fragment them. A good toy does not offer answers; it stimulates questions and presents problems for solving."

Tips to guide your holiday shopping

1. Don't be lured by the hype for the "hottest toys."

These toys may be advertised heavily, but they may not hold your child's attention for long. "The 'hot toys' are OK, but don't depend on them as the only gifts. There are so many excellent active, creative and educational products that offer more value," says Dr. Stevanne Auerbach (a.k.a. Dr. Toy), Director of the Institute for Childhood Resources, and author of Dr. Toy's Smart Play/Smart Toys. The editors of Toy Wishes magazine warn on their Web site: "The hot toy is only hot if it's hot for your child. Lists are great, but kids are the ones who make toys truly popular."

2. Follow your child's interests.

"Some children may want to read about a certain culture or its art, while others may want to create art of their own, some of it inspired by the art in a museum," says Mike Norris, associate educator in charge of family programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "Most parents have a sense of which toy is effective in teaching something to their children, but because each child has her own way of learning, a toy that is great for one child may not be effective for another."

What does your child like? Dinosaurs? Birds? Cars? Know your child’s passions and look for a book, CD, or game to cultivate his or her curiosity about these subjects. For a few recommendations, check out "Bundles of Learning Gifts."

3. Make sure the toy, game or book is age-appropriate.

Always check labels on boxes or read the full description when shopping by catalog or online, to see what age the toy is recommended for.

4. Pose the right questions to find out what your child will learn.

Children learn from playing. You can try to understand what the toy you're selecting will teach. Dr. Toy suggests asking these questions: Does it help expand positive self-esteem, values, understanding and cultural awareness? Does it offer practice in skill building? Eye/hand coordination? Fine and large motor skills? Communication? Does it educate the child about the environment? Community? World? History? Computers? Other skills? Toy Wishes magazine offers these guidelines on its Web site: "Look for toys that help your kids express themselves, discover their world and develop their imaginations."

5. Check out the award-winners.

Many organizations have annual awards for the best toys and educational products. A few noteworthy ones are:

Comments from readers

"These are great ideas! Thanks."