Gifts for kids with staying power, not batteries |

Gifts for kids with staying power, not batteries

by Lorie Schaefer

“The best thing to spend on your children is time.”

– Louise Hart

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of sitting on my grandfather’s lap as he played Michigan Rummy with all my Swedish great-aunts and uncles.

Before I was old enough to play, I sat as he played and whispered the rules in my ear. He included me and made me feel part of the game. I was attended to, taught the rules, made to feel important and valuable.

Games are a great way to make children feel included and teach something at the same time. Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Uno, Hearts and Yahtzee teach important mathematical lessons at a variety of levels. Dominoes has many variations that can be played with kids from kindergarten up.

Just as importantly, they teach the concepts of rules and fair play, of winning and losing. And don’t cheat – don’t cheat the kids out of the experience of losing now and then. Children will learn to accept small losses and disappointments when they see sportsmanship demonstrated by people they love and look up to.

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Children who are reading and writing a bit are good candidates for Scrabble, Boggle and Perquackey. How many words can you make with the letters a-e-t? Those games encourage flexibility in thinking while building vocabulary, reading and spelling skills.

Don’t just give the kids the game, though. That’s not the point. Sit down and play with them. Not only will they will learn how to play, you will pass on some of your enthusiasm for the game. You’ll have fun. You’ll make a memory, a connection.

One of the best toys I can recall having was a set of large wooden blocks that my dad made. You know, the kind where one rectangle is exactly the size of two squares, and those squares are exactly two triangles? My brother and I played with those for years. Dad made a set for our daughters as well. Girls like building things too. He even made a box that they fit in, but only if you stacked them carefully, in layers. Without knowing it, Dad taught two generations of kids about geometry and pattern. Thanks, Dad.

For children old enough not to put everything into their mouths, I’m a big fan of Tinkertoys, Legos and Lincoln Logs, too. I suggest getting down on the rug and playing alongside your little person to show him or her how the pieces go together. Look at the sample projects.

Get involved in the process of assisting your child to grasp new ways of playing, building and learning. In building something together, you are also building a relationship and imparting intangible lessons in playfulness and imagination.

My brother and his family always have a jigsaw puzzle on their coffee table when the family is home for the holidays. Whether they are simple wooden puzzles for preschoolers or a dizzyingly complex 500-plus piece jigsaw, puzzles teach problem solving, patience, visual spatial relationships and even social skills.

My grandfather also taught me to ride a bike and whistle. He taught me to scramble eggs in butter with last night’s boiled potatoes. My grandmother taught me to crochet. My mom taught my daughter to knit. Those gifts last a lifetime.

This holiday season, consider giving something of yourself. Are you a knitter, quilter, scrapbooker or crafter? Do you build model planes, trains, rockets? Do you draw or paint? Are you famous for your pies or spaghetti sauce? How about woodworking, astronomy, fishing or fly-tying? Or reading? Pass along both your skill and enthusiasm to your young person with the gift of a starter kit for your hobby and – more importantly – some quality one-on-one time.

Like most gifts, the batteries are not included. In these gifts, however, you are the critical component. The power is in you, not in the batteries. What is more, once you make that connection with a child, you will find that the energy goes both ways. You and your child or grandchild can recharge each other’s batteries – forever. That’s what I call power.

• Lorie Schaefer teaches kindergarten at Seeliger School. She wishes her students and their families a holiday that is filled with love and laughter.