Educational gift giving for children | Ask Mrs. Brooke

Joy Brooke - Contributed
Joy Brooke
— image credit: Contributed

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

I am looking to purchase my child some gifts for his birthday that are not only fun, but also educational. Are there any ideas as a teacher and a parent that you recommend?

Thanks, Parent Shopping for Birthday Gifts

Dear “Parent Shopping for Birthday Gifts,”

Thanks for your question. I completely understand the eagerness to find the right gifts for your child that are not only fun, but help to increase their achievement and love for learning along the way!

Below are a few of my favorite things as a teacher I recommend parents give their children for birthday gifts and throughout the year, and gifts I also enjoy giving my own children.

Give the gift of writing

• Journal/Diary

No matter how old your child is there is always time to record important life happenings and along the way strengthen their writing skills. When my children were babies and toddlers, I had a journal for each of them that I would try to write down little happenings and cute quotes or “firsts” that they would say or do.

Now, my preschool daughter tells me what she wants to remember about the day and I write it for her in her “forever” journal. Lately, she has been asking to help write and I encourage her to sound out the last word in the sentence. With my son, who is a kindergartner, he is now able to write his own sentence each night with little assistance. This writing work helps not only by helping them reflect on their day but preparing them to orally recall small moments, a great beginning to writing personal narratives.

For older children, journals or diaries help give a parent a little window into their world and open communication between parent and child. As they grow, journals can also be therapeutic and encourage positive emotional growth.

Give the gift of reading

• New books

Of course, in my mind there is no greater gift than a new book or several new books! In our house we have books in our library, books in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bathroom and stacked on our bedside tables. Books everywhere!

A recent study supports this culture of book in our homes. “Scholarly Culture and Educational Success in 27 Nations,” a study by four researchers in the United States and Australia and based on 20 years of research, suggests that children who have 500 or more books in the home get three years more years of schooling, on average, than children in homes that have no books. Even just 20 books make a huge difference in a child’s life. In my mind, there can never be enough books in a home as we work each day to raise readers who can and choose to read.

Also, remember if you are looking to buy new books support your local bookstore! Parkplace Books here in Kirkland always has a great selection and recommendations of children’s literature and books for all ages. If they don’t have a certain title in the store they can always order the book for you.

Give the gift of math

• Games: Board games/card games

The one thing that is most often overlooked as educational is the power of a board game - talk about fun! Not only do most board games, yes, even Candyland, help a child with one-to-one correspondence, counting, focus, and memory, they help a child learn to follow rules, directions, and get along with others in an often competitive situation.

Board games help teach children how to win and lose, a skill needed for the rest of their lives. Classic games like Yahtzee are perfect for kids working on their addition or multiplication facts, Monopoly for the understanding of money; the game of Sorry is especially good for reading and counting forward and backward. The list goes on and on. What does your child need to work on in the area of math? Find a game to help. There are a multitude of websites that can recommend specific games for ages and math skills.

Give the gift of time

You know your children and their interests. Maybe this year give them the gift of an art class, gift of a concert, the gift of traveling on a new adventure or experiencing an outdoor excursion and join them! Give your child the gift of time during this birthday celebration. What our children probably most want to put at the top of their birthday wish lists is for us to slow down, put down our phones, put away our computers, and listen to them and reconnect.

The journals, books, and games listed above can support this family quality time, as well. We learn so much about our children when they write in their journals about what they want to remember forever at the end of the day. We share special moments when we read the last chapter of “Charlotte’s Web” together and both express our feelings of happy and sad together. We enjoy the laughter and smack talk we offer one another during a good game of UNO that seems to go on and on forever. It is these moments that our children treasure most and we should hold onto as well.

I remind myself each day how fast they grow. I want to treasure these times, these moments and just by you asking this question I can tell you do, too. You care about your child’s education and the fact that it is important to have fun and I agree, that is the key.

One of the best gifts we can give our children is the joy of learning.

As your child’s first and most important teacher, remember the gift of yourself you give all year long is what matters most to your child. Enjoy this birthday celebration and all the many special memories of writing, reading, playing games and spending quality time together.

Happy shopping and happy birthday to your child!

Joy Brooke is the first and most important teacher of her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She resides in downtown Kirkland with her husband and two children. Brooke is a National Board Certified teacher in Literacy: Reading- Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood, holds a B.A. in Educational Studies and a M.A. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon. The opinions provided in this column do not reflect that of the LWSD or any other organization she is affiliated.

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