Looking for that special gift for kids?
I don’t need to tell you that kids spend less time outdoors today than they did 20 years ago.
Just drive through any neighborhood a few minutes after the bus lets off and you can see for yourself. You won’t see kids biking in the streets or playing touch football in a front yard or even hear the sound of laughter. It’ll be a ghost town, except for the occasional dog walker or jogger.
That’s shameful considering how important outdoor recreation is for kids’ health and welfare. It’s no secret everyone in America is getting fatter — kids, too — and I’ve read that even hand strength is decreasing because people don’t need to grip stuff anymore.
Keep that in mind when you’re shopping for Christmas gifts this year. Kids are already
sedentary enough. They don’t need the latest smartphone or video game. Those things aren’t good for them. My own kids don’t have any devices and they are just fine without them. They get plenty of exposure to computers and tablets at school.
Kids are born with active imaginations and a sense of wonder. They don’t need to augment their reality with digital devices, as their imaginations are the original virtual reality. What they do need are gifts that inspire their creativity and encourage their adventurous spirits, things that get them outside, enjoying the fresh air and doing things with their minds and hands.
Here are a few ideas for gifts
that have done my children well and things I plan to get them in the future.
We have one of those giant trampolines with the mesh enclosure in our backyard. Seldom a day goes by that my three older kids and our neighbor’s two don’t spent a good chunk of time playing on it.
My husband was a little hesitant to get one because his sister is an emergency room nurse and cautioned us against it, but we’ve had it about three years now and, in my estimation, the kids have logged at least 1,500 hours in it with no serious injuries.
There is a wide variety of sizes and prices, from $250 to $1,000, but you get what you pay for, so spend a little more to make sure it’s safe and quality-built to last many years.
If you have a nice tree in your backyard with some sturdy branches, a platform swing is a toy that will get a lot of action. This is a newer kind of swing that’s usually made with woven nylon rope or flexible webbing for the bottom. They come in various sizes and some can fit a couple of kids (or even adults) on them. Prices range from $80 to $130.
If you have a youngster at home who loves to dig alongside you in the garden, a childsize wheelbarrow and a couple of yard tools would make a great gift.
Ace Hardware carries a nice model called the Lil True Temper, which costs about $20, but it’s only available at some stores. Order one online from Walmart for closer to $40. This wheelbarrow is sturdy and would be appropriate for a child 2 to 5.
Don’t waste your money on cheap plastic tools. Kids want to be just like mom or dad and luckily there are quite a few brands that make children’s-sized versions of the adult shovels, rakes, and hoes. Just a regular garden spade would work fine, too.
A real Swiss Army knife can enhance childhood adventuring. They are handy in many ways and tend to be the kind of gift that you can use to teach your child safety and responsibility. I had one as a kid, and while I never had occasion to use the corkscrew, I certainly found uses for the many other implements.
A Swiss Army Knife makes a nice stocking stuffer for a boy or girl. The Victorinox Swiss Champ knife has 33 tools and costs $90 at Cabela’s and L.L. Bean, and is $70 on Amazon.
If you have a budding scientist at home, the GeoSafari Talking Microscope ($28) from Educational Insights is a fun toy that will teach kids about everyday bugs and scientific equipment. It comes with 12 slides that have pretend specimens for little ones to look at. The suggested age range is 5 to 7,
but in my opinion this toy is more appropriate for kids 2 to 5.
If your child is in kindergarten or older, buy a real microscope. Once you teach them how to use it, they can look at anything in the natural world that interests them. We have a mid-range microscope at our home and have looked at the hair on insects, fly’s eyes, dragonfly and butterfly wings, fungus growing on tree bark and every kind of rock imaginable. The sky’s the limit.
The AmScope 40x-1000x Dual Light Student Microscope is the one I bought for my own children on Amazon for about $85. It comes with a handbook and some prepared slides to get them started. While you’re at it, buy an extra box of slides (for about $7) so you never run out.
A remote control helicopter or drone is a toy that’s guaranteed to get your kid outside.
We’ve had a lot of fun with the smaller helicopters from Air Hogs and Syma. They are not so big that you are worried about safety and if you get some rechargeable batteries and a charger, you can keep the long-term costs down. If you are careful, you can even fly them indoors, although I think you would probably rather they be flown outside in the yard.
One of our little helos even has a video camera in it. You can take pictures and videos during your flight and then watch them on your laptop. These helicopters can be had for between $25 and $50.
Something that would make getting up before dawn a more pleasant affair is a Yeti 10-ounce tumbler.
Fill it with hot chocolate on early mornings or send it to school with some warm tomato soup on really cold days.
At Cabela’s they cost $19.99 and for $5 more, you can have your child’s name engraved on it so it never ends up in the lost and found. And while you’re at it, get one of those Nalgene Grip-N-Gulp water bottles to put in their stocking. It will never break and there are a couple colors to choose from, which is great for families with several kids. Just assign them each a color. They cost $9.25 apiece on the Nalgene website and will last for many, many years.
Young and old alike will appreciate this last gift idea. Parents or grandparents can purchase a family membership to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons that includes all the children in the household for the bargain price of $60. And when I say bargain, I mean it.
No child of mine has ever turned down an opportunity to visit the museum. The aquatic exhibits are top-notch and the children’s room can keep kids busy for hours. A rainy day, summer vacation, out-oftown visitors are all good reasons to take a short drive over to Solomons and check on the otters and giant megalodon.
When was the last time you visited the museum? The kids will be out of school for the holidays soon. Get a membership and visit the museum together. It’s a great local destination and an opportunity to spend time together as a family, which is what Christmas and the holidays are all about.