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Non-toy gifts support development, creativity
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Though electronic toys continually top children’s Christmas wish lists, a child and family development professor at Mississippi State University suggests non-toy gifts could be the best presents under the tree.
Louise Davis, MSU Extension Service professor and executive director of the Early Years Network, said non-toy gifts such as activities, memberships and classes can offer enriching, fun experiences that encourage intellectual, social and physical development.
“Many parents worry that their children have too many unused toys gathering dust,” Davis said. “For these families, giving some non-toy gifts can reduce clutter and create longer-lasting, positive experiences.”
Enriching presents such as one-time or annual passes to a zoo or children’s museum offer families the gift of more time together. Other options, such as paying for team sport fees or lessons in dance, music, or art, can support more rounded development.
“The cost of children’s activities often limits participation, especially for families with multiple children,” Davis said. “Research shows that quality extracurricular activities help build confidence and increase curiosity in children. Including these items for holiday gifts can help families who may not participate otherwise.”
By focusing on gifts that encourage children to explore new places, non-toy gifts are child-centered opportunities that focus on fun.
“When children play, they are learning and shaping their brains,” Davis said. “By giving gifts that encourage imaginative play, develop skills and introduce new concepts, families can help children prepare for future personal and academic achievement.”
The Early Years Network recommends giving presents that focus on open-ended learning, such as blocks, puppets, dolls and art supplies. These items encourage children’s imaginations, independence and creativity while building on their fine motor, language, reasoning and social development skills without being solely academic.
“Children have so many toy options these days that encourage them to be inside passively watching instead of doing and learning,” Davis said. “While non-toy gifts often come in smaller packages, by supporting new experiences they add up to so much more in the long term.”
Lydia Bethay, associate director with the Early Years Network, said gifts that focus on children’s imaginations are the best way to make learning fun.
“The gift of a membership to a children’s or science museum gives hands-on, fun, indoor learning experiences,” Bethay said. “These indoor places are wonderful when it’s too cold, hot or wet to be outside. It gives a needed outlet where restless children can play in learning-based settings but not feel like they are studying.”
Increasing the settings in which children learn and play creates the potential to expand their worlds. Books add another dimension.
“Pairing a nonfiction book about animals with an annual family pass to the zoo is a great way to layer presents,” Bethay said. “The child can immediately enjoy the book, then when the family visits the zoo, he or she can refer back to that book when they look at the exhibits.”
The Early Years Network is a system of services and programs that helps communities and families meet children’s needs to play, learn and grow. It is housed at MSU and funded by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Early Childhood Care and Development. It offers support, training and technical assistance for parents, communities, and early-care and education providers.