Before I conclude this 2010 gift guide, I have two more installments: gifts for play experiences (toys!), and gifts of experiences reflecting gratitude (teachers, coaches, etc.) ... but since Christmas is um, tomorrow, I'm offering some quick-hit tips on those items, followed by a wrap-up. Next year, I'm planning a much smaller, simpler gift guide. ; ) For now, here are some last-minute tips on toys and treats:
Gifts for Play Experiences:
- Games are my favorite gifts to give and to receive, both for my kids and for myself. Click here to read my post devoted solely to games.
- Puzzles are always a winning gift, too, especially if they're high-quality Ravensberger puzzles, which are made in Germany and are surprisingly affordable. For even higher-end, higher-quality, Artifact Puzzles are made in the USA out of beautiful wood. I like these as gifts especially for siblings; it's a coming-together activity that my 5- and 10-year old can enjoy together in these years when their play otherwise goes in different directions.
- Do you know a teen who loves gadgets and tinkering? They might love some tavern puzzles, also made in the USA. These really are gifts for one (not a party game!); part of the reason I like them is that it's something that's not screen-driven and requires hands-on manipulation to solve -- something to which today's older kids aren't often exposed.
- The Earth Friends dolls made my gift guide last year, and they're on the list again this year because we really, really love them; Petunia saved her allowance for months to buy another one at this year's GreenFest (they can be ordered on-line, too). I have nothing against American Girl dolls, but these dolls offer a little environmental education in addition to being made in an ecoconscious way; I'll take that anyday over overpriced plastic from China!
- Legos in any form are always an awesome gift, but my new favorite Lego thing are the Lego Brickmaster books. It's the size of a high school textbook but stores enough Legos to make the patterns (a dozen or so) in the attached guide. Dash asked for a million Star Wars Legos for Christmas, but he also asked for a million other things -- and voila! The Lego Star Wars Brickmaster book has patterns in it for all of the kits he asked for ... won't be exactly the same, but it's a heck of a lot more portable. Legos are great for solo or group play, and nothing inspires my kids' imagination as much as building their own virtual worlds; I love it when they do this with manipulatives instead of on the computer or Wii.
Gifts of gratitude:
- AmEx gift cards: As a room parent this year, I was in charge of our class's holiday gifts for the teacher and her aide. Because we have further appreciation events coming up (e.g. Staff Appreciation, which is a whole Week at our school and is highly personalized), I conferred with other parents and decided to keep this holiday gift simple: collect money for a gift card and tie it to a plant with a card signed by the class. Our mall offers no-expiration AmEx gift cards (used to be no fee, too, but now they're $3); so the teachers can use these cards however they want for whatever they want whenever they want it! Visa also offers cards, but they expire over time ... boo for that.
- Other gift cards: I like to give small-amount gift cards and gift certificates to others who work at the school or who make my kids' days more pleasant. These I pick up from Amazon, Starbucks, local coffee shops (Philz!), local yogurt/ice cream shops (Fraiche!) -- and I found that, at the end of the year, a lot of these places offered great deals. For example, if you bought 10 $10 gift cards at Fraiche, you received two free two-topping yogurts. If you bought a $50 gift card from Philz, you got 20% off. It's easy to find out where your teachers, coaches, music lesson providers, etc. like to dine out; and what a treat to be able to do that on someone else's dime for a change!
- Classroom Needs: Back in New Jersey, I once flat-out asked a teacher what she liked to receive as a holiday gift. She went on a long rant about how many baked goods, chocolates, tote bags, mugs, and ornaments teachers receive, when, really, what they usually want is stuff for their classrooms that aren't part of the school budget. In this teacher's case, she wanted some subscriptions to literary magazines for use in her classroom (they had a library set, but they couldn't leave the library). When I was a kid, I remember taking in kleenex, etc. to kick off the year; in our school now, that's provided, but sometimes teachers want things different: Clorox wipes for desk cleaning, for example. In sum, ask you teacher (whether it's a school one, a Sunday school one, or a music teacher) if they have any teaching needs. If all else fails, a gift card to Oriental Trading Co. (online) or an office supply store is sure to be well-received.
- Tickets: Our competitive soccer team has a paid coach, a young guy who cobbles together other jobs to make room for his love of soccer. While our team gifted him with a gift card this year, I was thinking he might've enjoyed tickets to a pro soccer game. He also might've enjoyed a Live Nation gift certificate to choose a concert to attend. (This isn't just an appropriate gift of gratitude -- it's a great gift for anyone, especially someone who needs a night out!)
- Donations: A couple of years ago, I gave our teachers "FEED" bags with a treat tucked inside. Teachers have plenty of tote bags, true; but these bags with a message (fighting hunger) might be an exception to the no-totebag rule. Think about a cause your teacher, coach, or whoever cares about -- illiteracy, child health, Head Start, music lesson access, etc. -- and there's probably a way to make a donation to a cause and score a memento to gift in the process.
And with that, I'm out of ideas as well as time! I hope you enjoyed this year's gift guide. Next year, shorter, sweeter, and earlier for sure... Meanwhile, if you're celebrating, best wishes for the merriest Christmas ever and a fantastic 2011!
Cross-posted on Good Stuff Rox