Gifts for Preschoolers
I asked the list members of "Unpreschool" at YahooGroups to tell me their best recommendations for educational toys, games, and DVDs for preschool age children. I have compiled their gift suggestions.
In compiling the information, I included comments by list members (where appropriate) that helped to explain certain products. A couple of the products got such repeated high praise that I included the rave reviews -- seems to me when more than one parent has great success with an item, we all need to know about it. I have attempted to include links to online stores where you can purchase these products to make your holiday shopping a little easier. (By the way, "Melissa and Doug" toys were mentioned several times and they have a website that I referenced below -- however, it doesn't seem to be working. Many of their products are available at stores like Target in the toy section.) Some list members offered suggestions and words of wisdom and that has been included for your enjoyment as well.
I'd like to thank those who contributed to this undertaking including:
Brit, Claire, Tara DelVecchio, Ellen, Eve Erikson, Ariana Flamik, Fran, Samantha Gray, Tamara Holdren, Jen in San Diego, Jennifer, Julie Cartwright of Florida, JoEllyn, Karen, Katrina Fehring, Meleasa, Sarah, Susan Stewart, and some anonymous donors as well.
UnPreschool's Recommendations for
Educational Gifts for Preschoolers...
- Candy Land is the classic childhood board game for young children that is made by Hasbro, and is available in just about every toy department of every store. If you visit Hasbro's website, they offer Candy Land-themed online activities, printables, games, a movie and more to enhance the fun. Not only that, they offer a search engine to help you find stores that carry Candy Land in your area -- or buy it from their online store. Look for "Candy Land - The Great Lollipop Adventure" in your local library.
- Chutes & Ladders -- This game of rewards and consequences is a classic "beginners" board game that helps teach number recognition and counting skills. Also available from Hasbro.
Cranium Games were mentioned by several list members:
- Cranium Cariboo Island -- Helps kids with basic number, letter, shape, and color recognition. "You could easily make your own cards for the game board and cater this to any subject. My 3-year-old daughter loves this game, especially since it has balls and a treasure chest involved. We've played multiple times." ~ Tamara Holdren
- Hullabaloo -- A fun activity game for ages 4 and up. "You spread colorful pads on the floor, turn on the machine and listen for what to do. The voice tells you to do things like 'bounce to an animal' or 'spin to a square' or 'Freeze!' There is fun music, too. Teaches kids to follow directions and has some color, animal, shape recognition. Great fun for the whole family!" ~ Meleasa
- Fisher Price's Matchin' Middles (ages 3-7), a shape matching memory game.
- Spelling Bee Bingo made by Pressman -- This game (for ages 4 and up), teaches letter recognition and spelling skills.
- Band in a Box -- This game comes with all kinds of wonderful, fun, musical instruments including tambourine, 2 castanets, rhythm sticks, triangle, and a kazoo. Made by Small World Toys, you can purchase it online. ~ Ellen
- Mighty Minds
-- "My 3 year old and 5 year old love this game! It is a
set of about 30 shapes in different sizes and colors. There is also a set of 30
cards that have patterns/shapes printed on them and the kids use the shapes to
create the pattern/shape on the cards.
What I love about this particular set is that it starts out by telling the kids which shapes/colors to use, gives them a "thought bubble" that helps them figure out how to place the pieces, and then gradually removes the thought bubbles as the kids progress through the cards until they are doing it all on their own. It is a great, challenging (but not too hard) game that the kids can play with a parent, sibling or independently. You can also buy extension activity cards to extend the life of the game once the kids have mastered the original 30 cards. ~ Jen in San Diego
Videos & DVDs
- Baby Einstein -- This company offers a variety of DVDs, VHS, and CDs, along with other toys and games to promote learning with babies and toddlers. It was mentioned by several parents as very worthwhile.
- The Baby Wordsworth video is by the Baby Einstein Company and "teaches concepts of verbal and written communication and sign language for basic objects found around the house; when the word is being signed, it also has the word written out on the picture too, which helps beginning readers." ~ Brit
- Barney Videos & DVDs -- Kids learn all kinds of concepts from math to music with the lovable TV character, Barney.
- Blues Clues -- DVDs and videos based on the Nick Jr. educational television program. Find free Blues Clue's games and activities to extend the learning for every program.
- Disney Movies & Sing Along Videos/DVDs
-- Many list members mentioned Disney classic movies and sing-alongs as favorites. Here's a comment
from one list member:
"Cinderella -- For my very 'sensitive' dd, there aren't that many DVD's that she can watch without becoming 'upset'. (Uh, Bambi?? Not happening) This is one of the few. Sometimes, watching a movie is about cuddling with mommy and watching something fun and that's as important an educational lesson as other things." ~ Tamara Holdren
- Jumpstart Learning System DVDs - These were mentioned by several families who have used them successfully for preschool through early elementary grades to teach phonics, reading, and math. Sample some of the products for free.
This gets it's own section within the DVD category because it received more recommendations from list members than any other product (see comments).
Here are the Rave Reviews from list members for the Leap Frog Videos/DVDs:
- My boys (2 & 4) both love the LeapFrog Learning DVD Set - we have the letter ones and the math one. Our two year old has actually picked up quite a few letter sounds from the videos and can recognize the letters in words. ~Brit
- Leapfrog's Word Factory - These are available at Target Stores for $9.99. Our son learned his alphabet and sounds in just 5 days, watching just 20 min a day. Previously he forgot letters unless he was singing the song and didn't know any sounds. He loves the songs for remembering the letters & word sounds. ~ Claire
- I found the LeapFrog DVD "Letter Factory" to be wonderful. My 3 year-old daughter watched it incessantly for a few days, and within that time, she learned what sounds all the letters make and she remembers them still, nearly six months later. She can sometimes even answer correctly if we ask her to name a word that starts with a certain letter or sound. ~ Tara DelVecchio
- My Baby Can Talk - Sharing Signs -- A video series designed to inspire early language development — from simple gestures to first spoken words.
- Disney's Little Einsteins: Our [Big] Huge Adventure DVD -- This DVD was developed by Disney and the Baby Einstein company. List member, Julie Cartwright of Pinellas Park, Florida wrote: "My 4-year-old loves this DVD for preschoolers... It really caught my attention when my daughter was very loud one day, playing with the dog. I told her to keep quiet, as her baby sister was sleeping. Her response was, 'Okay, I'll go diminuendo, diminuendo, diminuendo...' and got quieter and quieter. Apparently, the Little Einstein DVD presents musical terms like diminuendo, crescendo, staccato, etc. That 'indoor voice, outdoor voice' conversation with her never clicked, but 'diminuendo' and 'crescendo' terminology worked wonders! The DVD also has a catchy tune sung to "Ode to Joy" as well as scenery by Van Gogh and Monet. It's quite entertaining."
- Magic School Bus DVDs and Videos -- These are based on the popular Magic School Bus book series.
- Jumbo Box of Storybook Classics -- Video adaptations of popular children's books.
- Sesame Street Video Series -- Based on the long-running PBS educational show for young children.
- Signing Time DVDs and Videos -- "These are some of my three year old's favorite ones to watch. They are designed to entertain and educate: to teach American Sign Language. Eirik loves seeing Alex and Leah, the two kids in the movies, and has been successfully repeating back the signs he learns from the programs during the day. He has a lot of fun with the songs, too. And some of the movies I don't mind sitting alongside him for...I've even picked up a few signs. His 11-month-old brother enjoys them, as well." ~ Eve Erickson
- Zoboomafoo -- video based on the PBS children's series.
Many of you said that your children enjoy listening to music including:
- Baby Einstein Music CDs -- Baby Einstein offers classical music such as Baby Bach, Baby Mozart, Baby Vivaldi, etc., along with other educational music CDs for infants on up. One list member wrote: "If you start them as babies they love the music later on!"
- Mother Goose Rocks CD - Celebrity sound-alikes perform pop music parodies of kids songs. You can preview the titles before purchasing at the website.
- Baby Genius 3 Pack -- Baby Genius offers a variety of products using music to enrich and stimulate development in children from birth up. This one includes rhyming favorites and classical compositions.
- Classical music -- Listen to classical music at home -- rent CDs from your public library.
- Disney Movie Soundtracks -- Listen to the soundtracks from favorite movies. Just enter the movie title in the search engine at: Amazon.com
"I have to say my 3 year old loves the computer (perhaps having a 10 year old brother who loves the computer and similarly minded parents helps) and we have numerous computer games that he likes. In addition to the usual Jump Start and Reader Rabbit preschool editions (both of which we have, both of which he likes), he likes games that are not necessarily meant for his age group. Zoombinis Logical Journey is an example. It is geared for 8 and up, but my 3 year old can how read a graph due to the 'Mudball Wall' game." ~ JoEllyn
- Bean Bags -- "I think a must-have is bean bags. They are pretty much the only non-ball toy that can be thrown at our house. They behave differently from balls and have a zillion game possibilities. I made a bunch out of an old pair of jeans making them very durable." ~ Katrina Fehring
Construction Toys (these were mentioned frequently):
- Dominoes (available at most toy/game stores)
- Lincoln Logs
- Wooden Blocks
- Magnetic Toys (such as: magnetix, geomag, supermag) -- Both my kids LOVE these. The one caveat is that they are a potential choking hazard. For kids that are particularly oral, this is not the toy to get, but especially for the older kids, these are wonderful. Even my youngest, with constant supervision, loves these, and can build a number of shapes. ~ Tamara Holdren
- Megabloks -- Helps children develop math and science skills, problem solving skills, and encourages imagination and creativity.
- Unit Blocks - "Melisa & Doug has a nice set as does Haba - just make sure they are 'true' unit size would be my warning to any parents wanting to buy them. My children love building (and knocking down), and my husband and I both remember building with unit blocks as kids. The blocks will grow with them too and (hopefully) won't be discarded a few weeks after the holidays." ~ Brit
Other Good Bets
- LeapFrog Little Leaps Grow-with-Me Learning System -- Hands-on activities create on-screen learning fun as your child grows from baby to toddler.
- Fisher Price Little People - "They have so many different sets - garage/car wash, school bus, farm with tractor, firetruck, Noah's Ark, zoo, etc. They all allow for imaginative play while learning about everyday stuff. Perfect for unstructured learning that can even lead to outings to visit some of these places." ~ Jennifer
- Leap Frog My First LeapPad Blue -- Once again, list members said anything from this company is a good bet! If you go to the LeapFrog website you will see pages and pages of educational preschool products from toys to electronic learning systems. Here's one product review by list member Karen:
- LeapFrog ClickStart My First Computer -- Makes a great gift comes with four learning games in one that teach phonics, letters, animal facts, counting, and computer skills.
- LeapFrog Word Whammer Fridge Phonics Set -- Create more than 325 three-letter words with magnetic letters that sing. Teaches kids letter names, letter sounds, and how letter sounds blend together to make words!
- Magnetic Doodle Pads - Lap-size sketching, drawing, writing boards.
- Magnetic Dress-Up Dolls -- Target Stores sell them (including the Melisa & Doug line), as does Amazon.com's Imaginarium.
- Puzzles!! -- A list member wrote: "Almost any kind, but I find Melisa & Doug make some of the best puzzles!!
-- The classic kids' favorite sculpting clay/dough from Hasbro or make your own with this recipe:
- 1 c. flour
- 1 c. boiling water
- 2 tbsp. cream of tartar
- 1/2 c. salt
- 1 tbsp. oil
- Food coloring
Directions: In a large bowl mix and knead all ingredients together. Have fun!
Advice, Educational Philosophy & Personal Stories
- I'm a big fan of low-tech for preschoolers -- blocks, crayons, dirt, books, pudding finger paint, and the like. ~ Susan K. Stewart, Practical Inspirations.
- My kids have hundreds of books, and their favorites are interactive books - flaps, puzzles, moving parts, but almost any book will do! ~ Jennifer
- I believe that "open-ended" toys are the most educational and have the most staying power with my kids. Things like wood blocks, Lincoln Logs, Zoobs, Duplos & Legos. ~ Katrina Fehring
- We also like the audio book stories and use those during play time. My son has a cd/tape player in his room and we put them on while he plays. Greathall Productions has a nice collection of audio stories for young children.
- I like doing arts and crafts with my son. He turned 4 this month and he is an excellent crafter because we started him at 18 months. The earlier you start them crafting, the better they listen to directions later on. I think a great gift for young children would be a versatile craft set with pom-poms, pipe cleaners, foam projects, paint, colored paper, pencils, etc. The little ones get to be creative and that is what counts! Some kits require parental help. ~ Fran
- My 4 yr old granddaughter began collecting rocks when she started walking outside with me. I bring her rocks from my travels and will probably get her some more rocks for Christmas. ~ Susan K. Stewart
- My kids love all the hands-on, imitate mommy or daddy play things: toy vacuum, pail, mop, broom, shopping cart & food, little play kitchen with pots, pans, and dishes, various toy appliances. This stuff is great, since they can't play with the real things. ~ Jennifer
- I have a new favorite site for educational gifts: TAG Toys. I ordered a few things and have been extremely happy with the quality.
Holiday Resources for the Entire Family
- A Holiday Preschool Curriculum
- A Holiday Curriculum: How To Satisfy Educational Requirements Through Simple Holiday Activities
- DVD Schooling Calendar!
- Learning Through the Days of the Year
- Christmas Holiday Links
So there you have it! Great suggestions for educational toys, games, and DVDs that entertain as they teach!
Give your little ones a hug for me,
Diane Flynn Keith
Founder, Universal Preschool.com
Copyright 2005, All Rights Reserved