Are you buried under catalogs and newspaper ads with the latest electronics and trendy clothing for kids? Does the Amazon gift lists that your kids emailed you for easy, link embedded shopping make your gifts seem as impersonal as fruitcake? What do children under 10 want, anyway? The gift can’t be a gift card like the older siblings prefer. (Six year olds do NOT need Starbucks.) These gifts will be remembered not only the week after Christmas, but for years to come.
- Time. Children (and their parents) desperately need time that is unplugged. If the child is under 5, wrap up a small plastic clock and a photo of a place you can take them, like the library, a park, a playground, even a gymnasium. On the back of the photo, write down the day and the amount of TIME you are going to spend with them doing something other than staring at a computer screen or telephone. Whatever you do, be sure you stay off your phone while you are doing it. Keep your attention and you focus on your grandchild. Talk to them and above all else, listen to them. Ask questions and answer any questions they ask you.
- A book. I know what you are thinking, “That’s lame.” But in the age of IPad and Kindle, children in the 5–10 age range often are not given print format things to read. Toddler books are common, but school age children are more likely to read on their phone or tablet that a hard copy book. Now that they can actually read the words on their own, a book can be a treasure they will enjoy for many years. Don’t believe me? A book that doesn’t need to be plugged in is a lot handier than you think on the bus or a car ride. The key is to know what topic is the current fascination of the child. Super heroes, fantasy characters, or fiction adventure stories that spark the imagination while building vocabulary (a sneaky benefit) are a gift they will enjoy and use. Have you ever read a book more than once? Children under ten do as well. Does your grandchild love video games? Many of the games have graphic novels or (even better) hard copy books with tips about how to play the games they love and how to get a higher score. Amazon shopping or a stroll through a local store that carries video games will provide a variety of titles to choose from. Does your grandchild love a particular movie? Many movies have tie-in books to go with them. How do you know what book they will like? Answer: See #1 above.
- An instrument. OK, your kids may be upset if you get that drum set for your grandkids, but there are many musical instruments that children will use and enjoy without annoying the neighbors. If you play an instrument, get a child size version of it for your grandchild. Then sit down with them and teach them how to play a song on it. Learning to play an instrument benefits a child in three ways. First, it helps them develop a way to entertain themselves for the rest of their life. Second, learning to play music will help them build persistence, a quality that is sorely lacking in our instant gratification world. They have to practice to get better at something. Music helps child with math skills through rhythm and beat. If you play an instrument, sharing that knowledge with a child will always be remembered. When they are your age, they will be telling their own grandchildren about the time grandpa taught them to play the harmonica, piano, guitar, or whatever. Just remember that a child under ten is unlikely to be able to focus on sitting still and doing something for more than twenty minutes. Learning an instrument requires patience, both on the part of the student and the grandparent. When a child gets squirmy, it is time to praise their effort and move on to something else, coming back to it later. The older they are, the longer they can work on learning an instrument. Praise and practice reward children. Criticism and forcing young children to sit still for too long will build resentment that may ruin the gift and make it seem like a punishment.
- A craft. If you yourself are artistic, sharing that talent with a child can spark an interest in them following in your footsteps. A box of paint and brushes and a lesson in how to blend colors will open a new way for them to express themselves. Air drying polymer clay can be molded into animals and fantasy characters they will enjoy. What they create will be unique to them and different from the plastic toys they buy at the store. Everyone may have a Ninja Turtle action figure, but no one else will have the monster/super hero they make with your help. The key here is not to just hand them the craft materials and expect them to enjoy them. The real gift is teaching them how to use them. If you don’t get to see your grandchildren in person, scheduling a Skype or FaceTime art lesson will combine the technology they love with the personal time they need to develop their artistic talent and your personal relationship with them successfully.
- A writing kit. Box up a blank journal with lined pages, some envelopes large enough to hold the journal, and enough postage on each of the envelopes to mail the journal to you, repeatedly. You can include some cool pencils or ink pens in unusual colors of ink. Inside the journal, write a story. The older the child, the longer the story you can write them. You can write it by hand, but be sure you print it if the child is under 10 so they can read it. Draw pictures to help tell the story. You can do it on the computer using clip art or Google images, print it out, and paste it in the journal if you prefer. Make your story personal, like telling them about your favorite vacation, or a time when you won a trophy, ran a race, or achieved something of which you are proud. Sharing your true personal stories can be powerful for you and your grandchild. It helps a child define themselves as the grandchild of a veteran, a doctor, an animal lover, or whatever else you want them to know about your life. Another option other than “true stories” is to write them a story that is exciting, but not about yourself. Write an adventure that they will enjoy based on what you know about their interests. Step two is for them to write you back and mail it to you for you to read. When you get their story, resist the urge to correct the spelling or punctuation. You are not the school teacher. As a grandparent, you only need to figure out what the story says and praise them for putting it on paper. Praise can be in a phone call, a FaceTime/Skype chat, or a written note on the next journal page. The last step is to mail the journal back to your grandchild and add another story of your own. Kids love to get mail. And personal mail with a story just for them will be anticipated and encourage them to write again. Writing helps them develop their sequencing skills, handwriting, and written vocabulary. Another option for younger children is to have them tell you a story on the phone, you write it down for them, and send it to them for them to add the pictures they want to in the margins or on the next page. Hopefully, you can get three stories written before the journal isn’t interesting any more. For the child that find out they like to write, a journal can be the first step for a future award winning author!
- A cookbook of family recipes. If you have ever eaten a meal or cooked one for a grandchild, a cookbook of their favorite foods for a child 5–10 can be a good idea. There are many online publishing options if you want it to be slick and professional, but the recipes written in a spiral notebook works just as well. A favorite food like chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, or a dessert they enjoy like Christmas cookies can be made from scratch (no boxed foods allowed!) so they can follow the directions (a super important skill for children), combine ingredients (sequencing), and make something they can EAT, which kids really love. Make sure the recipes have no more than five steps, five ingredients, and are safe for their age. Three year olds do not need to handle knives, but a cookie cutter is a tool they can handle. Most important, help them make one of the recipes. Long distance video chats can substitute with a parent’s help if you can’t be there in person. Cooking requires adult or older sibling supervision if you can’t be there to handle the stove or oven, so plan your recipes carefully to make them age appropriate and minimize the steps. Even picky eaters will taste something they made themselves. Cooking is a life skill and when you are gone, they will treasure the recipes you shared with them when they were young.
If you must purchase a grandchild gift from “the list” to keep your children happy, do it, but include a surprise gift that is personal and original. I promise you the personal gift will last longer and be more meaningful than anything plastic or electronic you purchase from the Big Box Store. Happy shopping!
Originally published at medium.com