School Literacy & Culture’s 2017 Gift Guide: Gifts for Play Around the Home

Play Around the Home: Gifts for Where Children Spend Their Time

Welcome to the 2017 SLC Holiday Gift Guide! We hope this post finds you embracing the holiday season with Thanksgiving just around the corner and the promise of precious time spent with family and friends near. With Thanksgiving, of course, comes the opening of the holiday shopping season and our gift guide is here for you just in time! This year, we’re focusing on “Play Around the Home.” The gifts you see on this list are organized by place in the home and are most appropriate for children aged three to six years old, though some of the materials can be used for children a little older and a little younger.

At SLC, we’ve recently read a book titled, Becoming Brilliant by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Golinkoff. This text walks readers through what they call the “6C’s” of 21st century learning: collaboration, communication, content (deep knowledge of an academic subject area), critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. These 6C’s, the authors suggest, are what children need to become “knowledge transformers” rather than “knowledge digesters” (p5); to become the productive thinkers and dreamers of our tomorrows. Our futures quite literally depend on the creative thinkers we are growing and building up in our homes and classrooms! The gifts we’ve selected for this year’s gift guide encourage these 6C’s in young children as they play with friends, siblings and perhaps most importantly, cherished adults in their lives.

You’ll notice these gift picks do not include any technology, and only two items in the whole gift guide even require batteries. The materials are uncomplicated and focus on children engaging with the materials in authentic ways. There are opportunities for building, making music and art, fostering early literacy skills and pretend play options in this gift guide; the sort of play materials young children need most. Don’t get us wrong, there is a time and place for those hot toy items, too (Hatchimals in 2016 or Fingerlings in 2017, anyone?), but we want to be sure that toys like those are balanced with play opportunities that provide numerous occasions to foster children’s oral language development and budding imaginations. So, anticipate seeing a lot of “tried and true” and classic toys on our gift guide this year because some things are just so good they never go out of style!

With little ones in the home, you can bet parents spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. Someone is always hungry, and prepping meals and snacks takes time! These items are excellent additions to a child’s stash of toys that make for excellent play in the kitchen while a parent or caretaker is making a meal. Wondering why we included Play-Doh and tools rather than a pretend play food set? While the wooden or plastic pretend food is great, a banana will always be just a banana. But with Play-Doh and a set of plastic dough tools your child can create all kinds of imaginative dishes and not be limited to the items in the pretend food basket. Pine cone and pear soup, anyone? Magnets also make a great option for kitchen play as most dishwashers have a magnetic surface. Children can practice building words or creating scenes and play scenarios with the magnets suggested here!
1. Play-Doh 10-Pack of Colors and Play-Doh Shape N Slice Set
2. Melissa & Doug Wooden Magnets Set – Animals and Dinosaurs
3. Melissa & Doug 52 Wooden Alphabet Magnets
4. Melissa & Doug Chef Role Play Costume Set
5. National Geographic Kids Cookbook
6. Stainless Steel Pots and Pans Pretend Play Kitchen Set

Bath time is a favorite play time in many homes with young children. A few new bath toys like these can inspire budding artists, engineers and young readers!

1. Munchkin Letters and Numbers Bath Toys, 36 Count
2. Zviku Magnetic Light Up Fishing Baby Bath Toys Set
3. Green Toys Seaplane & Submarine Bath Toys
4. Crayola Bathtub Fingerpaint 5 Color Variety Pack
5. Crayola 9-Count Bathtub Crayons
6. Lakeshore Waterway Pipe Builders, 52-Piece Set

New and classic books are always a must-have addition to our gift guides. This year brought us several new, great books and we’ve listed a couple here along with a few other new-ish ones that need a home on your child’s bookshelf. Bedtime stories are a routine in many homes with children, offering the opportunity to snuggle up in a warm bed and share a great text with rich conversation about the story. Remember to read animatedly; bring the story to life for the little ones who are listening!

1. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
2. Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney
3. The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert
4. A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
5. Zoo-Ology by Joelle Jolivet

Playroom/Living Room
In a house with young children, the playroom or living room is often the most lively as it plays host to the majority of playtime activities. We’ve included lots of play options for this home space – from board games and puzzles to instruments and fort building blocks to a doll house and train table. Games are always a great addition to a playroom as they offer opportunities to collaborate and communicate with others as well as engage in problem solving and critical thinking. We’ve even included one here that helps develop a child’s budding number sense. You can bet we have blocks in this year’s gift guide, as they are versatile and purposeful. Block play stimulates learning in all domains of development: cognitive, intellectual, physical, social-emotional and language. Opportunities for hand-eye coordination, visual perception, spatial awareness and balance are also provided as children explore with blocks. And let’s not forget options for pretend play in the doll house and train table – these are sure to keep little ones engaged in play for extended time periods!
1. Original Memory by Hasbro
2. Pop the Pig Game
3. Melissa & Doug Busy Barn Shaped Jumbo Jigsaw Floor Puzzle (Preschoolers)
4. Classic Twister
5. Melissa & Doug House Pets Jumbo Knob Puzzle – 3 Piece (Toddlers)
6. Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Chunky Puzzle (8 pcs) (Older Toddlers/3’s)

1. Fort Boards Prime Pack Kids Fort Building Kit (90 Piece Set)
2. Melissa & Doug Castle Blocks Play Set
3. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Band Set With Wooden Musical Instruments and Storage Case
4. Melissa & Doug Wooden Castle and Kingdom Play Set
5. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Easel
6. Melissa & Doug Easel Accessory Set – Paint, Cups, Brushes, Chalk, Paper, Dry-Erase Marker
7. Melissa & Doug Wooden Building Blocks Set (100 Blocks)


1. Fisher-Price Little People Surprise & Sounds Home (Toddlers)
2. Hape All Seasons Kid’s Wooden Doll House Furnished with Accessories (Preschoolers)
3. Imaginarium Metro Line Train Table

Backyard/Outdoor Play Space
Outside play is essential to a young child’s healthy physical development. Running and jumping and climbing outside fosters gross motor development, and, with materials like tweezers, opportunities to practice fine motor skills as little ones explore the wonders of the great outdoors. Giving a gift like a tee ball set nurtures hand-eye coordination and chasing after endless iridescent bubbles with a bubble machine is just plain fun. Thanks to our climate in Houston, we can take young children outside to play nearly every day of the year!

1. Little Kids Fubbles Bubble Machine
2. Little Tikes Big Digger Sandbox
3. Little Tikes T-Ball Set
4. Kangaroo’s Insect Bug Adventure Set – 18 Pc Backyard Exploration Kit

Happy holidays to all of you. We wish you a joyful season!

Need more ideas?
2016 Annual Gift Guide – Blocks: A Gift That Spans the Ages
The 2015 Annual Gift Guide For Toddlers
Holiday Gifts for Promoting Imagination and Creativity in Preschoolers


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