If you’re following a lot of Montessori blogs/ sites/ social media accounts, you must have read a couple of gift guides for Montessori kids already. Since I don’t have a lot of time to blog regularly, I’ll skip that one first (and try to make my own next time) and blog about what you can gift children in general – no matter what parenting style their parents adhere to.
See, before I became a parent, everytime we had to attend a birthday party, we would just head to the toy store and get something. Not the best way to do it, I realize that now.
So through this blogpost, I am sharing some ideas on what you can give that can always be useful in a household. If you’re a Montessori parent and you are attending a birthday party of a non-Montessori child, this post might be helpful. If you’re not a parent and have no idea what to give your nephews and nieces (or godchildren) for their birthdays or holidays, this post might be helpful. If you want to give something to a “Montessori” kid but you don’t have access to the traditional Montessori materials, or you have no idea what Montessori is, this might be helpful. If you’re a parent and you no longer have enough energy to think of a nice gift, this post might be helpful.
All these are nice and useful things to have, but of course, speaking from experience, let me stress that here: nothing beats knowing the child and spending time with the child – that way, you can really think of the most meaningful gift for him / her.
Anyway, here’s my general screen-free, battery-operated toys-free gift guide. Children learn best when they get to manipulate a material with their hands (unlike us adults who base a lot of things on our sight, children learn with all their senses – so they also need to feel textures and weight for things to improve their learning), whether or not they are “Montessori” kids, so for this post, I will stick with this principle.
Please share what other gifts you think should be in this list and I’d be happy to edit it!
Blocks are probably the most basic but most useful toys in a household. It offers the child a chance to develop a lot of things: problem solving skills, creativity, eye-hand-body coordination, etc.
Depending on the child’s age, there are a plethora of basic blocks you can choose from – simple cube blocks, unit blocks, mirror blocks, rainbow blocks, balance blocks, magnetic blocks, wooden lego blocks, water blocks, legos and duplos and crayola building blocks are just some of them. Really, the list is endless. You can “upgrade” your blocks gift every year!
STACKING AND NESTING MATERIALS
This kind suits infants and toddlers best. With stacking cups/bowls, children learn the concepts of size, sometimes color (depending on which brand you get), and eye-hand-body coordination. It doesn’t stop there – my nephew has used my stackers multiple times for his imaginative play, too.
Depending on the age, you can start with finger paints to watercolor to pencils to non-toxic paints! Crayons and chalks are handy to have, too! These days, there are a lot of “washable” crayons and markers available, so if you don’t know how a child works around the home, this style might be the answer to the child’s parents’ prayers. 😛 However, if you are giving a gift to a Montessori/ Waldorf child, there are brands that are usually preferred. I heard Lyra is good for pencils, Filana for crayons, and I’m still on the hunt for a watercolor brand (I think Prang is a normally-preferred brand, but let me edit this if I find better options).
CLAY AND KINETIC SAND
You cannot go wrong with clay – the plain ones with no molds included are great – because it allows the child to work on his/her own and doesn’t hinder one’s creativity!
Similar to clay, there are endless things you can do with kinetic sand – they can use it for sandpaper letters if they do Montessori, or they can use it for sensory play if they’re doing Reggio-Emilia or other approaches, etc. You know how a child loves going to soil and sand even if we think there’s nothing there? Same concept. Watch them as they think of a thousand things they can use sand for.
Before I became a parent, my only idea of puzzles were those 100-piece-jigsaw-puzzles kind that you see everywhere. But I learned that there are actually many different kinds of puzzles. After seeing the wide range of puzzles for beginnings, I actually feel dumb for not knowing them more than half of my life. Haha. For starters, you can get those single knobbed puzzles, like a triangle with a knob. The point is for the child to discover that it fits! As the child gets better, you can move to multiple knobbed puzzles in one puzzle, then maybe those chunky puzzles without a knob, then maybe a 2-pc jigsaw puzzle, and then 3-pc to 4-pc jigsaw puzzle and so on. Or you can start from floor puzzles to smaller puzzles as the child grows! You can also look at wooden blocks that form an image when put together, or a puzzle of a bird cut in an actual bird form (like the wooden toucan photo above).
Even young children can enjoy game materials, as long as they are age appropriate. Memory games can work for toddlers, or those photo-domino type of toys, or even Guess Who? when they are already talkative. There’s always the classic Tic-Tac-Toe, too! Or the four-in-a-row! Card games suitable for children are really fun, too! For older children, you can consider the classics like Scrabble, or Boggle, or Jenga! Or even the classics many of us love: Sudoku, Word Find, or Crossword Puzzles. Even fun family games like Pie Face are welcome. Or games like balance blocks, or pick-up sticks! The recommendations here are just some of them – there’s still a lot. I suggest going to a store that specializes in board games and you might just bring home one for yourself (PS: My favorite of all board games is Cranium!).
MATERIALS FOR FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Fine motor skills are so important for future work – writing, practical life (like zipping their clothes, tying their shoes, buttoning their shirts, cooking, etc) and you can support this by thinking of materials where they can really use their hands and fingers. Repetition is key to strengthening and perfecting skills, so working on their hands is very important for children. You can look for pegs, sorting materials, spinning tops, yoyos, stamps, stickers (best to look for reusable sticker books!), magnets, even tapes (like washi tapes!), games that involve the use of chopsticks, shape or coin sorting activities, lacing work, or even practical work (like that toolbox in the photo).
MATERIALS FOR GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
A basket of different kinds of balls will always be useful in an infant or toddler’s home – the variety of textures, sizes, patterns, colors, weight, etc help them understand a lot of concepts indirectly. You can include something small like a table tennis ball, and something big, like a Pilates ball!
If you have a higher budget, you can also consider toys that will make them move, hence strengthening their gross motor skills: climbing dome, climber, balance board, balance beam, balance rocks, balance bikes, jumping ropes, wall climbing tools – there are a lot of options out there. Best to talk to the parents for this to see which can be accommodated in their space.
Music enhances a child’s learning. Hence, musical instruments make great gifts – as long as they are quality materials. You can consider giving beautiful-sounding rattles and shakers for infants, and you can move on to drums, rainmakers, lyres, bells for toddlers. When they already know how to blow, beautiful whistles (those that make bird calls, for example) or flutes make great gifts, too! If they’re really musically inclined, you can consider or chip-in with others for instruments like guitars, keyboards, etc.
Books are always a safe choice – however, parents have different approaches when it comes to books. Some parents want everything cartoony and fantasy-based, while some parents like me prefer realistic situations and beautiful illustrations. It’s best to ask the parents (and child – if s/he already has preference) what kind of books they prefer so you can make an appropriate choice.
Since a lot of families travel frequently nowadays, it’s also great to source travel-friendly materials as gifts: mini-sized books, card games, magnetic games, mini-art materials, or even Melissa and Doug’s Water Wow series (reusable pages for painting – all you need is to keep refilling the pen with water)!
SOME TIPS FOR YOU:
1) When buying toys, it’s better to stick to the most plain design as much as possible. Personally, I’d stay away from those with a lot of things going on. Plain or plain in different colors work best for me. Those with designs tend to be too “noisy” and overstimulating, which can hinder the child’s concentration when working on the material.
2) When buying toys, keep the child’s age in mind and make a quick search on the internet for age-appropriate toys. This is especially helpful if you’re not that close to the child you’re giving a gift to. Of course, if you can talk to the parents, it makes a world of difference!
3) There are a lot of online stores popping up – selling plastic and wooden toys here and there. Yes, they may be cheaper, but personally, I don’t recommend them. WHY? Because safety-tested toys matter to me, and those cheap toys are not at all regulated. They are sourced from China without any sort of regulation, which means that the materials they use may or may not be safe. Before I had a child, I didn’t really think about this, but after seeing my own child putting everything in his mouth, I suddenly understood why legit toy manufacturers actually go through all these safety-testing procedures. Even if it’s a wooden toy, it doesn’t mean the wood is safe, or that the paint used is safe (lead alert!). Nowadays, those “busy boards” make popular gifts, and it’s something Pablo got that he enjoyed. However, a fellow mom shared that her son almost choked on a small piece of item that her son easily grabbed from the busy board – a reminder why even though all these Pinterest-worthy toys are now being sold online by overnight entrepreneurs, it doesn’t mean it’s safe nor something we should just give our children. Here are some of the locally-available brands I personally feel comfortable having at home: Haba, Hape, Melissa and Doug (have mixed feelings about this – won’t be my first option if we had more options here), and Plan Toys. It doesn’t mean those are the only brands we have at home, but I really try to collect materials that are more careful about their production. Really wish we had Grimms here!
So there. Hope this blogpost gave you an idea of what to look for and give for the holidays!
Locally, you can visit Ogalala World, Toy Kingdom, and Hobbes and Landes to see some of the suggested toys here. For books and puzzles, you can try our local bookstores. For musical instruments, you may check out Plan Toys in Hobbes and Landes for some of them, and also visit actual music stores for more options.