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November 30, 2001

Ask an expert: Holiday gift ideas for children

by Linda Charles
The holidays are approaching and kids are thumbing through catalogs, saying, "I want that and that and that." Meanwhile, their parents and grandparents are looking for gifts that will keep their allure after the wrapping paper has been thrown away. Following are tips on buying for children, from Iowa State faculty members in human development and family studies.

Michael Godfrey
Michael Godfrey, assistant professor
Godfrey: First, you need to make sure it is developmentally appropriate, not way over their heads or way below. You should get something that children can manipulate, do something with and have fun with. I recommend toys with multiple uses, instead of a toy that can do only one thing (like a computer game).

For younger children, I personally like things that they can pretend with. Toys with multiple uses that children can pretend with, and interact both with themselves and others, are good. Play mobiles and the Fisher Price Little People can help increase imagination. Another good item is dress-up clothes, especially hats. They can change their personalities by changing their hats.

Joan Herwig
Joan Herwig, associate professor
Herwig: Infants need things that can be squeezed, dropped, poked, twisted or thrown. Toddlers need things that can be stretched, pushed and pulled, and opened and closed. All ages need things that are interactive, have multiple uses and allow children to incorporate their experiences into their play. Another idea is a container of things they can be creative with, like tissue and construction paper, sketch pads, scissors, markers and sequins.

For children a little older, board games are popular gifts, although these may end up on the shelf after the holiday because they require partners, usually the parents, to play. But they do teach sharing, rule following, cooperation and competition. Outdoor equipment, like bikes and sledding saucers, are good, as is camping equipment.

And traditional toys like dolls and trucks are worthy. The tendency is, once a child is 8, the era is over. It's unfortunate we don't foster that longer.

Carol Alexander Phillips
Carol Alexander Phillips
Phillips: Children learn through exploration and discovery, and need hands-on, concrete play experiences. Children like toys they can be actively, rather than passively, involved with. Holiday advertising is geared to sensitize children to the hot, trendy toys, but the costs of these are escalated. In subsequent years, you can pick them up for much less. Infants and toddlers explore with their mouths and noses. They don't use their eyes as much as adults. Toys children can construct things with are good, like blocks, building sets. Even the Barbie sets are good because they have things to put here and there and children can get into the dramatic play. Things to avoid for younger children are sharp edges, small pieces that can come off and be swallowed, and anything breakable. A rule of thumb is anything that will fit inside an empty toilet paper tube should not be given to infants or toddlers.

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