School-age children can have lots of fun all year long without breaking your budget if you select their holiday gifts wisely. Your gifts can also speed their learning. The pressure to buy costly electronic toys, games, and "fad" items, can be fierce. However, these things provide little chance for children to get personally involved in the play. Unknown adults have already developed the storyline and the characters.  Children find that play they create themselves is satisfying and exciting. They may not realize that it is also a major tool for learning in math, science, literacy, and the arts. Which items below do you think your favorite children would find fascinating? Why not try making some of the items, rather than buying them?

Especially for play with friends
During these years, girls generally like playing with other girls, and boys with other boys. Interesting play things help children cooperate, make up rules that work, and imitate what you do as an adult each day. They may need you to assist them now and then.

  • Dolls and accessories (especially the youngest children in this age group)
  • Office or grocery store play items  
  • Dad's work items  and clothing to match
  • Puppets, puppet-making supplies, and a simple puppet theater
  • Small toy people and animals as well as fences, trees, houses
  • Transportation toys

Especially for learning fun skills and exploring ideas
This age group is all about gaining skills. It's best if you help them get a project started. You'll also want to supervise for safety and to help them succeed. They may stick with the activity longer if you play along with them (if they want you to do so, of course).  Encouraging them as they learn the skills is very important.

  • Construction materials, such as LegoTM and ErectorTM sets, and many others
  • Puzzles
  • Craft materials
  • Woodcraft
  • Measuring and science materials
  • Games with rules, such as board, card, guessing, word, number and counting games
  • Books

Especially for art and music lovers
Children may become so interested in these activities that they want to take formal lessons.

  • Drawing and painting materials
  • Collage materials, such as non-toxic paste and glue, natural or paper items
  • Natural modeling clay that hardens
  • Real instruments-Recorder, piano, strings, woodwinds, drums and other percussion, guitar or ukulele.

Especially for whole body activities
Remember to emphasize that playing and being a good sport are more important than winning. Be sure all safety and protective items are supplied. A whole team is not really needed. Just you and your child playing catch together build togetherness as well as throwing and catching skills.

  • Balls and other equipment for team sports
  • Bicycles
  • Climbing structures with cushioning surfaces below

It is clear that there are unlimited play things for elementary school children that would make great holiday gifts. Most of the above suggestions are inexpensive, advance learning and development, and create lasting enjoyment.  Have fun as you prepare for gift-giving this year!

Bronson, M. B. (2004). Choosing play materials for primary school children (ages 6-8). In D. Koralek, (Ed.), Spotlight on young children and play (pp. 22-23). Washington, D. C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press/Perseus Books Group.

Source: Carole Gnatuk, Extension Child Development Specialist, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture