So Christmas is right around d’ corner; sorrel is in season, poinsettia in bloom, and your tv overrun by every toy commercial imaginable.
Lots of us do pre-season shopping to avoid the usual hustling, and some have already started searching for gifts for the pickneys. Personally, my gift credo is to always put some educational toys in the mix, and mind you, educational does not have to be boring. So why not give your Christmas bucks the best bang in a fun and wholesome manner that wouldn’t rot your child’s brain?
Here are my picks for best edu-fun gifts (in no particular order):
1) Subscription to abcmouse.com:
This is an exceptional teaching aide website that’s proving to be tons of fun for my boys, and an incredible tool for lesson reinforcement. It offers thousands of available and fun activities with customized learning paths at $60 USD annually; which is a comparative steal of a deal. Kids learn about the usual phonics, geography, social studies, art and science, but it’s all structured in such a super engaging way that your younger kids would perceive the platform to be one large game site. The challenge is simply teaching your kids how to follow the navigation steps, as well as learning to use a mouse. But on the plus side, it’s really easy for little fingers to use with touchscreen devices. Take the leap and check it out at http://www.abcmouse.com/home#abc/student_home
2) Hooked On Phonics: Learn To Read Program:
After purchasing the local I.B.G. program for about $800 TTD, which bored the living daylights out of both me and the boys, I did my research and bought the Pre K and Kindergarten packages off amazon.com at about $40 USD each (give or take). Cool dvds, books, cue cards and workbooks are included, plus access to online games and other material. It offers great stuff for working through with my boys. You could also engage in other programs like Preschool Prep and Sight Words Packages: at first I wasn’t too keen on this one (thought it was annoying) but then realised that the boys were hooked. Easy to follow, fun illustrations and lots of repetition, and most child-minded DVD stores in Trinidad stock up on them.
3) Fisher Price Discovery kids View-master Projector:
Got this online for $30 USD at, you guessed it, amazon.com, where else? It works just like a mini projector and is compatible with viewmaster reels (not included and prices range from $4 USD upward). It also has built-in speakers for reels with sound and it’s so simple to handle that kids can play with it themselves. A really magical and fun activity at night or in dark places- and as it works with batteries my kids use it sometimes when there’s no electricity. My advice is to look for the “Look and Learn” Viewmaster reels which are themed around a variety of cool educational topics. Check it out at http://www.amazon.com/Fisher-Price-View-Discovery-Learning-Projector/dp/B0015KU1DU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382675449&sr=8-1&keywords=viewfinder+projector
4) Leapfrog Tag Reading System:
I just love this, and so do my kids! Bought it off amazon at $25 USD and purchased the compatible books separately (at $9-16 USD each).Using the computerised stylus pen gadget thingy to touch what they want, my sons have a fun time with actual interactive books that identify letters, sound words, ask questions and read themselves! The pen will need an internet and a computer hook-up in order to download the “books” from the website, but don’t worry, the instructions are clear to follow and your user account is a neat touch as it offers a library to store “books” not being used. In the end all, it’s wonderful at fostering a love for literacy and is a busy mom’s dream! Look at the promo video here>> http://www.amazon.com/LeapFrog-TAG-Reading-System-Green/dp/B003JQV9LG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1383498949&sr=8-2&keywords=leapfrog+tag
5) Leapfrog Scribble and Write Tablet:
Bought this online a year ago at $17 USD, and it’s now proving to be quite handy now that the boys are learning to write. Easy to grasp, super-portable and fun! It goes through the alphabet and shapes, has an attached pen, adjustable volume, and 4 different modes: games, drawing and uppercase/lowercase alphabet. There’s also a separate Leapfrog Count and Draw gadget that goes through numbers and pictures.
6) Convertible books:
Got this at Toymart, Trinidad a while back for about $80 TTD each and they had quite a run. What exactly is it? It’s a heavy cardboard book that could also convert into a house/car/bus/barn and so on. A total hit with the young ‘uns and a great tool to nurture a love for reading and to inspire imaginative play.
7) Playdoh duffel bags or any playset:
I purchased this at Marabella’s Bel Air store (Trinidad) for about $60 TTD each (with a 50% discount) at the time. It was incredibly worth it and sold out very quickly, but are thankfully available for $19 USD at http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-23512-Play-Doh-Duffel-Bag/dp/B00005BO0O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382675901&sr=8-1&keywords=playdoh+duffle+bag It includes various cans of Play-Doh, assorted cutters and presses, a rolling pin, a pair of scissors, a cool sprinkling tool in a durable zippered duffle bag. It’s a great start-up set and Playdoh has lots more funky accessories and sets. There are cheaper alternatives, but I like the durability, variety and quality of the Playdoh brand.
8) Melissa and Doug’s band in a box:
Stir up your little one’s inner Chopin with this cool musical combo. Got this a while back at The Knowledge Zone, Movietowne POS (Trinidad) for $120 TTD, but it’s available online for about $19 USD. It contains 6 instruments (as picture shows) and is surprisingly durable (but then again, so are most Melissa and Doug toys). As a bonus, the wooden crate storage box looks exactly like a fenced pasture and my kiddies use it to play with their plastic toy animals! Look it up at: http://www.amazon.com/Melissa-Doug-488-Band-Box/dp/B00005RF5C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382676014&sr=8-1&keywords=melissa+and+dougs+musical+set
9) Be Amazing Toys Big Bag of Science:
Every junior scientist’s dream! This super-duper activity set has over 70 activities with easy-to-follow instructions with included material and instruments. It’s priced at only $30 USD and I recommend that every parent try to invest in a set like this! My kids love it and pretend they’re mad scientists at work! Full description here at:http://www.amazon.com/Be-Amazing-Toys-Big-Science/dp/B0034N7OZO/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1382676086&sr=8-3&keywords=science+kit FYI if you don’t want to buy the entire set, look up experiments and buy bits and pieces including things like magnets, magnifying glasses, grow crystals/animals, colour tablets/ a range of food colouring, and harmless kitchen chemical items, and experiment away!
10) Mega blocks/ Lego sets:
These classic supertoys are available in hundreds of sets classed according to your child’s age group. My favourite purchase was a mega Mega block set from Pricesmart Trinidad for just $140 TTD, but they’re tons of themed or general sets available at your local toy stores. These toys provide some of the funnest ways to develop creativity, strategy, problem solving, aesthetics and coordination. And of course, to develop those little builder instincts; future architects or engineers anyone?
*** What’s on my edu-fun gift list this year? The Leapfrog Leappad Power Kids’Learning Tablets and accessories>>> ordered it off Amazon and included the gift card, games, readers and protective cases. The tablet with a recharger kit costs $99 USD (it’s preloaded with some apps) and additional games/ readers cost $10 USD and up. Luckily for me, my mom decided to take it as her Christmas 2013 gifts to the boys (yay for my pocket!), so this year I’m indulging in the Hot Wheels wall tracks, the Fisher Price Octonaut Octopod playset, Thomas talking trains and other random toys…
(Update): I’m adding Ubooly to this list (check out the links below). It’s available online (haven’t seen it at any toy shops just yet) and it’s a smart toy with a really cool concept that allows your child to interact with a ‘dressed-up’ app that recognises your child’s name and talks back, encouraging/ instructing your kid to explore and be active, do math and science, have healthy habits…the works! It works with an iphone or ipad, samsung galaxy touch and so on (so you’d need to have that at hand separately) which when linked to the Ubooly app center, downloads thousands of educational activities! Cost for toy and attached app (exclusive of ipad, etc): $29 USD. >>>Not bad 2013 toy developers! Loving the ingenuity & techie-ness :P<<<
If you are not an online shopper, most of these are available at our local toy shops also but are of course a tad pricey-er due to rent and shipping mark-ups and so forth, but hey! support your local merchants 🙂
On a final note, don’t forget to put some real toy- toys under that tree. Better yet, indulge in that not-so-common-in-the-Caribbean Christmas tree stocking. This was a little Christmas family tradition my dad started when we were little: we loved it and looked forward to it each year and yes, I’m not ashamed to state that it continued right up until I got married! No chimney? No problem! Let your kids hang their stockings by their bedside, on your plastic Christmas tree, on the louvers, on the hammocks in the gallery, wherever! Fill ’em up with Christmasy chocolates, fruit, marshmallows, candy canes and other candy, and of course with as many small toys and other knick-knacks you could shove in. Think matchbox cars, tiny dolls/ action figures, bouncey balls, funky shades, small wind-up toys, small whistles/ harmonicas, squirt rubber duckies, kid-friendly jewellery, grow toys, bubbles, gloop in cans, small games sets; the list is inexhaustible!
Have fun with it and most importantly, pack your presents in with a garland of love wrapped up in Christmas spirit and topped off with ribbons of hugs and kisses.
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