[** Alert! Totally off-topic! Well, unless you have kids. **]
Are you a new parent looking for some ideas? Searching for holiday presents for your some little-ones?
For fun, I'll break with this blog's science tradition to share a random collection of stuff that I would recommend to new parents or folks buying gifts for young kids.
Sure, there are plenty of books, toys, and parenting-supplies. But which are good? Which don't break after two years? At the moment, our two boys are 2 and 4, so let's look at the stuff that's had some staying-power around our house.
Regarding age-ranking: Kids are different so I'll leave that up to you. I'll try "Around 2" and "Around 4." (Sorry that I don't have any Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, or "The Magic Schoolbus" stuff here - for some reason I just don't enjoy reading those aloud. I must have some weird parental deficiency!)
Also, I'll hold off on the more widely popular books which we love, simply because you probably already have them. For example: the Francis books, Frog & Toad, ...
- Around 2 -
- Go, Dog. Go! - There are actually a few versions of this. In any case, this surreal book employs a minimum of words to teach a maximum of prepositions. And when else could you read about three dogs, on a boat, at night?
- Byron Barton: Trucks, Boats
- Big Red Barn - I am in love with this little farm-story that winds down to a quiet, nighttime close
- Baby Touch and Feel - Quack Quack (for 1 yr olds)
- Caps for Sale - yep, fifty cents a cap... Ah, yes. Ms. Slobodkina's book might've taken ten readings to grow on me, but now we are stuck.
- Good Night, Gorilla - Peggy Rathmann
- Hug - Jez Alborough
- ** The Cookie-store Cat - Cynthia Rylant (we really love this cozy book)
- Charlie Parker Played Bebop - Christopher Raschka
- Snow - Cynthia Rylant
- Trashy Town - There's a general fascination with the garbage industry in our household, spanning the onomatopoeia-rich I Stink! to obsessive YouTube taxonomies of frankly quite innovative garbage truck designs, cataloged by whoever "georgewuzheer" is.
- Flying - Donald Crews
- Katy No-Pocket - I don't really like this book, but our 2-yr old does
- Abiyoyo - you sort of need the Pete Seeger song, too. This was popular in our house for a year.
-- Around 3-4 --
- How a House is Built - Gail Gibbons
- *** Roxaboxen - maybe I'm just a softie but this is wonderful story that brings back memories of inventing secret places on the playground
- How to Behave and Why - Munro Leaf (it's so very 1946)
- Any Curious George or Martha Speaks stuff is fine by me
- People - Peter Spier - an almost encyclopedic book that explores the similarities and differences of how 7 (7?) billion of us dress, eat, worship, and play.
- The Jenny Linsky series - like Jenny Goes to Sea
- Bread and Jam for Francis - though you probably have all the Francis books already
- Elisha Cooper's charming watercolor storybooks of country life, e.g. Country Fair
- Brian Floca's Moonshot, one of the few children's books that make me all goosebumpy
- Jumanji - Chris Van Allsburg (it's amazing that anyone can draw this well)
- I Spy (books of picture riddles which are actually really hard)
- Henry and Ribsy - Beverly Cleary
- The Day-Glo Brothers - is the true story of two brothers who actually did invent the Day-Glo colors. It's a little overly-detailed, but it sure caused Toby to realize that he could invent stuff one day, too
- Paul Revere-related stuff
...and J-Fav listed all of our children's books here (617 of them at the moment! Yes, I married a former preschool teacher). I feel like a fraud listing these books as if they're "my" suggestions, since Jenn does 99% of the book-researching and -buying. Hooray for Jenn!
Toys, and implements of covert education
- Big organizers stocked with white and color paper, crayons, markers, stickers, ...
- Wooden train set. IKEA's Lillabo trains are affordable and durable. Costs much less than the stuff in toy stores but totally tough.
- Plastic or glass magnifying glasses. (Don't look at the sun!)
- Prism-like things for casting rainbows on walls and bellies.
- The Toy Story dolls have been surprisingly enduring in our house, e.g. Woody
- Playskool Basic Ball Popper (this captivates grown-ups too, or maybe just our peer group is child-hearted)
- Fisher-Price Swan Palace dollhouse. Our 2 yr-old spends nearly every morning with it.
- Fisher-Price Little People stuff, especially the, ah, "boat" of animals-in-twosies, and Busy Day Home. With flushing toilet of course.
- Party Time Kitchen - I have been served many a hotdog, pepper, and chicken soup!
- A giant box for dress-up clothes
- D+L Company Stomp Rocket Ultra (be the most popular parent in the park)
- Toysmith Optic Wonder (compass, magnifying glass, binoculars - like a Swiss Army knife of optics)
- Long outdated: I wish the Radio Shack 1977 150-in-1 electronic kit were available for when they turn 7!
CDs / DVDs
I bet most folks with kids under 5 already have "Cars," "Little Mermaid," "Toy Story," and "Cinderella." But have you checked out the amazing Scholastic DVD series of great children's books that have been animated and narrated? There is a whole series worth checking out.
They Might Be Giants has several infectious CDs that teach you how to count or about science which we must've heard over... what, Jenn... 100+ breakfasts? The benefit is that your four year old will regale you with theories about the "bloodmobile" and its voyages throughout your body, or questions about why no one seems to like Pluto anymore.
Stuff to Do
Ah, that topic is just too broad. If you live in Boston and your kids are into tinkering, consider browsing the monthly Flea at MIT, an affordable flea market - in an MIT parking garage - of hackable stuff, from TVs to computers to blinking lights.
Have fun! Please, feel free to contribute your ideas in the comments.