In New York City, there are even specialized “block labs” and “block consultants” to help kids interact with the old-school toys. As the cultural pendulum swings back to basics, there’s an emphasis on age-appropriate gift-giving.
Of course, what’s appropriate varies from one kid to the next.
“You have to look at the unique development of each child. It’s not chronological,” says Dr. Michael T. Smith, president of the Child, Adolescent and Family Division of the Florida Psychological Association.
Still, ages can serve as a rough guide. Here are some gift ideas for the kids in your life:
Infants: board books, soft books. “It’s very, very important for children to learn to read,” says Dr. Kenneth Heilman, a University of Florida neurologist. Start early. Even if your infant seems more keen on chewing that book of nursery rhymes than listening to you read it, stay the course.
Ages 1-2: ball, push toys. “For them, it’s all about movement,” says Professor Kathleen Armstrong, director of pediatric psychology at the University of South Florida.
Ages 3-5: dollhouse, toy farms, blocks: “By 3, they are much more confident in a lot of their skills,” Armstrong says. Preschoolers can successfully manipulate large Legos, blocks and Lincoln logs. Kids at this age are also big on make-believe; dollhouses and toy farms foster imagination while promoting shared play. Just be aware of gender stereotyping.
Ages 7-8: the intangible. At this age, kids can be anxious about what’s going on at home and in the news, Smith says. Ask your child, “What do you want that can’t be wrapped?” Maybe it’s world peace, for you and your partner to stop fighting or for the family to eat dinner together more often.
Ages 9-10: digital camera, digital photo frame. Some kids learn early that their perspective isn’t the only one. Others take longer. A camera or frame allows your child to capture his viewpoint and compare it to others, teaching empathy.
Ages 11-13: smartphone, XBox LIVE. Believe it or not, a techie gift can be a good thing. “It’s how it’s used,” Smith says. “Kids are very other-oriented in the middle school years. They really look at feedback from their peers as one of the best ways to gauge their social acceptance.” Cell phones allow kids to network with peers, while online video game systems help them stay connected via the web. Just be sure to monitor what they’re consuming online, and balance electronic use with other activities.
Ages 14-15: gift certificates. Young teens spend most of their time with their classmates anyway, so encourage positive interactions with a card for a restaurant, movie theater or favorite store. Let your teen and her friends loose at the mall, but stay nearby – either in the food court or around the neighborhood. Then have her check in with you at a predetermined time, either in person or by phone. “They need a little slack on the leash, but the leash is still attached,” Smith says. This gives your teen much-wanted space and an opportunity to demonstrate maturity.
Ages 16-18: a gift as unique as they are. At this age, the mentality is, “I am the only one like me in the world,” Smith says. Give gifts that help teens find their distinctive voice or display their talents. This may mean an engraved baseball bat for the aspiring Major Leaguer or acting lessons for the theater queen.
What are you giving the youngsters on your gift list?
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