Christine Koh

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I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Timeless Toy Alternatives

playsilks.jpgToday, Tracy offers ideas for timeless toy alternatives:

“My younger son just turned 4. In the weeks preceding his birthday, his grandparents called to ask about gift ideas, and as usual, I found it difficult to generate a list. I realized that part of my difficulty is that my kids don’t really play with toys. Gabriel enjoys sports, and likes to be very ‘real’ in his play (moving action figures around just doesn’t cut it for him). Caius likes pretend play and art (current pretend play favorites include being a waiter or groom; a little challenging to find those trimmings at your average toy store).

The below is a compilation of gift ideas that are meaningful, useful, fun, or timeless when you are “toy tired” or just looking for something out of the ordinary. I’ve also included ways to be creative with some old favorites.

1. Books. Books are always at the top of my list. Look for classics, award winners, or ask your local bookseller for recommendations appropriate to the reading level of the child you are buying for. If you are buying a book gift for another child, buy a book that your own bookworm can’t get enough of. If you’re sure the child doesn’t already have the book (i.e., won’t need to return it), write an inscription on the inside cover.

2. Magazines. It is so cool for kids to get their own mail. We bought gift subscriptions to Chirp (ages 3-6) and Chickadee (ages 6-9) for our kids, and they love when their magazines arrive. There are plenty of other magazines and reading clubs geared to children, several of which have been reviewed here at Boston Mamas (see Highlights and Tessy & Tab reviews).

3. Education funds. We have set up education and other scholarship funds for our boys, and it is always welcome when grandparents and relatives contribute to these. We have requested that if a doting grandparent’s budget exceeds the list of gift ideas we give them that they put the remainder into the education funds. This idea has been very well received.

4. Charitable donations. Make a donation in the child’s name to a charity that has a meaningful association. In our case, this would mean donations to allergy oriented causes given Gabriel’s severe allergies. Caius was born on his great-grandmother’s birthday and she suffered from strokes and heart disease, so donations to those types of organizations are meaningful for us. Other ideas include buying green space, adopting an endangered animal, or supporting another eco-minded charity.

5. Give the gift of experience. Tickets to the theatre, symphony, or other performances or sporting events can be both educational and inspirational. If grandparents don’t live locally, plan ahead to attend one such event when they next visit. Other ways to give experiences are by funding all or part of lessons, activities, or camps. We have recently suggested that helping defray the cost of Gabriel’s piano lessons next school year (when I am on maternity leave) would be very helpful.

6. For the athlete. Along the lines of giving an experience, contributions toward the cost of playing an organized sport, or the gear associated with it, would be useful.

7. For the artist. With avid artists, you can never have enough art supplies, whether it’s crafting clay, paints, paper, etc. - the ideas are limitless! I even heard of a parent who showed up to a birthday party with the cardboard box from her new fridge at the suggestion of the birthday boy’s mother. The box was the hit of the party.

8. For the scientist. Gifts from museums or educational toy stores can include anything and everything from “science labs” to geology gear.

9. For the musician. Investing in child-sized versions of real instruments is a great idea. The child-sized conga drum we got for Christmas gets pulled out for dancing, marching, and sometimes for a kid who just needs to make repetitive noise. Other good ideas are bongo drums, rain sticks, slide whistles, kazoos, harmonicas, and accordions.

10. For the actor. Kids love dress up but costumes can get expensive. Ask relatives for interesting hand me downs, or shop at second hand stores to find items to stock the dress up box. Another great idea for open-ended dress up play is investing in play silks (shown; play silks from Magic Cabin). These colorful pieces of cloth can be transformed into whatever a kid needs: napkin, neckerchief, headscarf, or “twirly” skirt. (Old bridesmaid dresses can also offer another source for dress up clothes.)

11. Reach for the stars. One of the most original and touching gift I’ve ever seen was my sister’s gift to her godchild: naming a star after her. There are many websites that will help you do this, and most give a certificate listing the coordinates of your star. The child may never actually spot their star, but just imagine the sense of awe and “specialness” they will feel looking up and knowing one of those sparkling gems is just for them.”


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