Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Only Gift-Giving Guide You'll Use from Now On

Setting Sensible Limits

I recently shared an article from the Washington Post titled "My kids have too much stuff." It echoes the problems that are depicted in the picture book by David Shannon called "Too Many Toys." While parents recognize the problem and do their best to limit what they buy for their own children and the children of their friends, the constant influx of gifts from generous people who want to "spoil" their grandchildren, nieces and nephews is a real challenge for many people. In fact, a fan said as much and asked me for some guidance. This is my response to the question, "what about the gifts?"

My recommendation is to set limits for the gift-givers. As much as I would like to say, "Please just buy ONE thing for my child," I don't think it would fly. So I expanded to Four Things:

 One Thing They Want
One Thing They Need
One Place To Go
One Thing to Read

My hope is that this guide helps everyone strike a balance with enthusiasm for giving with sensible limits. Within each of these categories, the possibilities are endless. See...

One Thing They Want

I rarely meet a child who doesn't have one thing they covet: a specific toy they've played with at a friend's house or a special book they always want from the library.

Just Ask the Child!

Many young children have ideas of things they want that they have seen in the store or at a friend's house.

Sometimes the child just wants "something new" but couldn't name it if they tried. In that case, I recommend looking through my lists of STEAM toys and picking something that you think would appeal to the special small person in your life.

My Gift Guides

My Gift Guides include themed lists as well as age-appropriate STEAM gifts.

One Thing They Need

Children get messy. They stain their clothes with grass, paint, mud, and food. Between the rough and tumble lifestyle of toddlers and preschoolers (and children in general) and the fact that they continually outgrow stuff, it seems like they are always in need of clothes and shoes.


Find something that is as equally practical as it is fun like a Bobcat shirt from Jeff and Paige or a dress for everyday play from Princess Awesome.


Pediped shoes are the greatest shoes. In fact, when a new pair arrives in the mail my children exclaim, "oh! the good shoes." Pediped has been awarded the American Podiatric Medical Association Seal of Acceptance for creating shoes that promote healthy foot development. You can find them for discounted prices at the Pediped sister site


 Depending on the child, clothing might be the least exciting gift. My daughter LOVES to receive new clothing. However, my son isn't excited to get clothes as a gift. Special sheets/blankets/towels on the other hand seem to appeal to him more. So how about getting some flannel robot sheets or character towels for your preschool engineer.

  • Bedding. Maybe it is super soft. Maybe it has images of his or her favorite thing on it (robots, trucks, flowers, character). One way or another a set of sheets can go a surprisingly long way to make a child feel safe and happy in his or her own room.
  • Fun Towels. Hooded towels come in every size and shape. Find one that seems like the perfect color, shape, and size.

Musical Instrument

I keep thinking about music lessons for my kids and feel grateful that we have instruments around for them to experiment with. However, perhaps having an instrument in the house is a roadblock for parents who have to make choices about how to spend their money. In order to learn to play a musical instrument, a child NEEDS an instrument on which to play. Think about getting one that sounds beautiful, not merely a child's toy.

One Place To Go

Ah, the gift of experience. It is exactly what every child wants but doesn't know how to ask for it. The most special gift is one where you give them your undivided attention.

A Day with Auntie! (Or Uncle, Grandma, Grandpa, etc.)

Give a fancy "certificate" and tell the child that you want to spend time with them. What will you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Cook something together.
  • Go somewhere together like a playground, the zoo, a state park, or children's museum.
  • Go to a cultural event together (play, dance performance, music concert, etc..)
  • Shopping "spree" at his or her choice of stores with you buying. First, set your limit. Second, decide who chooses the store. Do you want to go to a toy store? an arts/crafts store? a garage sale? I realize that this gift might be a sneaky way to get around the limit of four things (my daughter recently bought four things just on her spree with her grandma), but the value of spending the morning shopping with Nana was worth the extra stuff.

Don't Live Nearby? Sponsor the Family 

If you don't live nearby your preschool engineer, then maybe you could sponsor a fun day for his or her family to enjoy. My four year old daughter always exclaims when she sees posters for ballet performances. My son would go bananas for a trip to an amusement park to ride his first 'coaster or drive some go-carts or bumper cars.

A Single Special Show
Pay for the child and his or her family to spend a day at an amusement park or to attend a cultural event like:

  • Music Concert, 
  • Play, or 
  • Dance Performance (think "Nutcracker").

The Gift that Keeps On Giving...Memberships
Oftentimes a family membership to a zoo, museum, or national park will pay for itself after two trips. Peruse the websites below to find a cultural attraction near you.

  • Zoo or AquariumLook for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. Find the great zoo or aquarium near you by searching by the states or countries listed below.
  • Children's MuseumUse the Search Form Tool below to locate an ACM member museum. Refine your search with the available filters. 
  • National Parks PassA pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Child Experiences
Consider paying for lessons for the child. It could be anything from single lessons like cooking at the local children's museum to ongoing weekly sports or arts classes.

One Thing to Read

Our house is busting at the seams with great books. In addition, we have regular trips to the library to borrow new ones (or old favorites). And we love to get books chosen especially for us as gifts. However, in an effort to minimize things, avoid getting full collections of books, let's just say "One Thing to Read."

One Great Book

Choose from a great list like the Association for Library Service to Children, or I have written a few: Favorite Audio Stories24 Books for Preschool Engineers and Favorite Truck Books.

A Sneaky Subscription

Here is a sneaky way to give more than one book. Consider giving a subscription to audio stories:

  • Subscription to Audible: Includes one audiobook per month plus 30% discount off additional books.
  • Subscription to Sparkle StoriesSparkle Stories is an independent media company based in Austin, Texas and Vermont. We produce original audio stories for children, enjoyed by families around the world. Started in 2010, Sparkle has built a community of subscribers from the U.S. to Europe and Australia. Featuring the work of storyteller and teacher David Sewell McCann, Sparkle has been recognized for our simple yet highly-engaging stories. The Sparkle Stories Podcast was awarded the iTunes “Best of 2013” award in the "New and Noteworthy" category. Sparkle offers over 875 original audio stories - along with hundreds of recipes, crafts and parenting tutorials.

True Generosity is Unselfish

The psychology of gift giving suggests that, "the biggest effect of gift giving may be on ourselves. Giving to others reinforces our feelings for them and makes us feel effective and caring." But true generosity is, by definition, unselfish. Giving gifts in the spirit of selflessness means to show restraint and to consider how overwhelming gift-giving holidays can be for children

That is why this is The Only Gift-Giving Guide You'll Use from Now On. It provides a framework to help you show true generosity. Now it is up to you to be the thoughtful and selfless person your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews can admire.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blow Your Children Out of the Water with these Coloring Books

Foot-Dragging Frustrations

My son was never interested in coloring. It was probably a combination of his vision problems and his sensory processing disorder. But over the years we have done plenty of occupational therapy to help him develop his fine motor skills so he could participate in the world - be more comfortable and more confident in himself. And once we addressed his self-esteem issues that surrounded being a young artist, the floodgates opened.

Turning the Corner

Nowadays he has embraced writing and coloring and drawing. I love to see the stuff he brings home, the gifts he makes for himself and the people he loves. And since his interest has grown, we all have had more opportunities to do art together, especially coloring. What I didn't see coming was how much my kids would LOVE "adult" coloring books.

Like Moths to a Flame

We have perpetually had character coloring books around the house, typically untouched. Strawberry shortcake, teenage mutant ninja turtles, Disney princesses...all of them partially used before being set aside for something "more interesting." When I got an "adult" coloring book for Christmas, my kids flocked to it, and to me, like moths to a flame. They exclaimed that the pictures were so interesting and begged to either help me with my coloring page or have one of their own.

See... Sharing IS Fun

I am very happy to have coloring together as a regular activity in the house. We often find ourselves sitting together after dinner has been eaten and the kitchen cleaned. We listen to a book on tape and take turns with markers or colored pencils. Sometimes we take turns with the page on which we are working. It turns out that adult coloring books are not just for adults. Preschoolers enjoy them, too!

Find One that Suits You (I Mean Them)

Here is a list of the different "adult" coloring books that my four year old and six year old enjoy:



Patterns of the Universe

And some adult activity books:

Mosaics - Something for the older child who knows his or her numbers and letters.

Extreme Dot to Dot (there are a lot of themes but for the Iggy Peck fans I'm showing you the "Around the World" one)

Monday, July 11, 2016

4 New Musical Selections for Preschool Engineers

What excitement is generated when we hear songs that feature science, technology, engineering, and math topics! Since I wrote our Top 5 Songs for Preschool Engineers, we have discovered two new musical groups who sing about STEM topics. Check out Jeff & Paige and the Laurie Berkner Band! Plus, Rob Gardner has two new albums of Truck Tunes!

21st Century Energy Superheroes by Jeff & Paige
Tired of eco-doom and gloom? "21st Century Energy Superheroes" is an educational & solutions focused journey into climate change and energy conservation. The songs, woven together by a story, will keep the whole family captivated from start to finish! 

Rocketship Run by The Laurie Berkner Band
The story woven through the CD isn't as good as Jeff & Paige musical stories but the first couple songs on this album are loved by both of my young children: Rocketship Run and Mouse in my Toolbox.

The Marvelous Toy performed by Peter, Paul and Mary
"It only made sense when Peter, Paul & Mary released this "kiddies" LP in 1969, beginning a trend they've returned to throughout their career. Mary Travers had indeed recently become a "mommy," and the trio celebrate here not only with a new version of their classic tune and the traditional "Mockingbird," but clever children's songs from the likes of Tom Paxton, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Shel Silverstein." 

The Marvelous Toy is a perfect and compelling description of a mechanically interesting toy.

Truck Tunes by Rob Gardner
Sing along with ten cool original songs as you follow these tough construction and timber trucks at work. Dig a deep hole with an Excavator. Scoop dirt with a Front End Loader. Smash up asphalt and concrete with an Impact Hammer. Written and performed by award-winning artist Rob Gardner, these irresistible songs will have you laughing and singing along. Songs include, That's What an Excavator Does, Dozer for Short, The Forklift Boogie, D is for Delimber and many more. There is something for kids of all ages here. We dare you to try and find a better way to spend 34.5 minutes than Truck Tunes. Your truck education continues with Truck Tunes 2 and Truck Tunes 3!