Day 5: Your Budding Mathmetician

Algebra in preschool?!?  I could barely do it in high school, and...what?  Oh.  Not the same thing.  Oh it is the same thing?  Ah.  Beginning.  Right, building a foundation before we build the house.  Yes, yes.  I remember.

Math is beautiful.  Math is fun.  Math is challenging.  Math is everywhere.  Let's get our kids more comfortable with the basic concepts so they'll have a solid foundation as they move into upper grades.  Let's work with them, help them understand difficult concepts, and let them feel the joy of the "Aha!" moment.  Let's close the gap between where our nation is in the world, and where we should be be.  The following toys have been designed to help children better understand algebraic and geometric concepts.  Bonus: they won't know they're learning.  Shazzam!

Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

Tangram Puzzles

These puzzles strengthen a child's understanding of matching, shapes, colors, and spacial relations.  With an adult's help, they can also learn to identify the shapes by their proper geometrical name.

Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Abacus

Both aesthetically pleasing and practical, an abacus teaches the basic concepts of counting, addition, and subtraction.  Numerous publications are also available to learn the many uses of the Chinese abacus, the first calculator.

Cardinal Double 12 Color Dot Mexican Train Dominoes in Tin

Teach your kids to play a little game of bones!  Fortunately, dominoes is a game they will simply not outgrow.  As a beginner, they can simply match the dots.  Some sets, like the set listed above, color codes the dots, as well, making the game a bit more accessable to preschoolers.  As the child gets older, they can play dominoes "for realsies" by incorporating strategy and logic into their play.
Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads

Lacing beads are an amazing toy for children.  They can understand the geometric concepts of pattern recognition while incorporating the algebraic concepts of addition and multiplication.  As a bonus, your child develops her hand-eye coordination while expressing her creativity.  Finally, she'll experience the enjoyment of quiet, independent play.  She can work on this activity at the kitchen table, and she probably won't need any help.  It's self-directed.  Lacing beads are a GREAT toy!

Melissa & Doug 100 Piece Wood Blocks Set

Understanding the basic concepts of spacial relationships, counting, and matching are key mathmatic concepts. Blocks can help children achieve those goals. The possibilites with blocks are endless! In addition to the mathmatic concepts they'll be learning, they'll also be introduced to concepts in physics like balance (when the structure inevitably falls) and velocity (when they throw them).  They'll also develop fine motor skills.

The epidemic of our anemic performance in mathmatics as our children grow must change.  Interactive toys like these provide a sound foundation for children's learning, but we must continue to encourage our children's engagement in these concepts.  Let's make math cool.  Remember that we don't need to "purchase" items for our kids to experience math on a daily basis.  They can count out 9 pretzels for a snack, they can help bake cookies by measuring and adding ingredients.  They can put toys away based on their age (if you're 4, you can put away 4 toys).  They can figure out how to fit all of their toys in one box.  They can make neclaces from tube pasta.  By introducing them to everyday interactions with math, we'll encourage problem solving through creative thinking.  They'll see that sometimes it's frustrating, but the moment they solve the problem, when they say, "Aha!", makes the challenge more exciting.  As parents, family, and friends, we are obliged to give our children every opportunity for success.  We can do this.


Day 4: The Gift of Revenge

So, maybe your brother was a jerk when you were kids.  Maybe he gave you Wet Willies and noogies.  Maybe he locked you in a closet.  Maybe he regularly flushed the toilet while you were in the shower.  Maybe your sister cut the hair off all of your Barbies.

You've been waiting years to pay them back, like a tiger waiting to pounce.  You understood vaguely that the birth of his kids might be your launching point.  Friends, your moment has arrived.  What better way to torture your sibling than through your nieces and nephews?  And it really is for the benefit of the kids.  Christmas morning is the perfect time to unwrap a cold dish of revenge.

DeRosa by Bridgecraft BLUE Child Drum Set with Seat, Sticks & Cymbal DRM 312

A classic in the revenge world, a drum kit will serve as a valuable reminder that what goes around does indeed come around.  Your beloved niece or nephew will bang, beat, and crash their way into your sibling's head while learning the intracacies of rhythm and timing.

Hohner Old Standby Harmonica, Key of C

A harmonica serves an especially cruel reminder that you didn't forget.  It's portable.  Encourage not-your-child to take her harmonica EVERYWHERE, in the car, to bed, and to the dinner table.  Let them know that every aspect of their parent's life needs a soundtrack.  Especially during morning coffee.


Your nieces and nephews will squeal with delight when they open this beauty!  Your sibling with groan with dread.  In addition to the money your sibling's going to have to sink in to keep this puppy going, there's also the time.  Somebody's going to have to clean it, purchase food, deal with the inevitable "cloudy water" situation, and replace fish.  There is a 99.9% chance the kids will *not* do it.  The kids will learn about the responsiblity of feeding something, and your sibling will learn that you hold a grudge.  Perfection!

Fisher-Price Corn Popper Push Toy

Every time your niece walks around the house with this gem, your sister will know that you're still ticked off that she colored your favorite doll's face with permanent marker.  Your niece can strut around the house making all kinds of commotion, and be happy as a clam!  This is a really fun toy for toddlers!

A Bow and Arrow
Surefire hit!  Your niece or nephew will love playing with this in the house if they live somewhere that is prone to snowstorms, or better yet, blizzards!  They'll develop strength and hand eye coordination in the process.  Make this winter especially long for your sibling with a bow and arrow set!

Have fun auntie or uncle!  Mwahahahaha!


Day 3: Book Series for Young Adults

We're not quite here yet in our house, but I sooooo look forward to the time when both kids can read young adult fiction.  It's such an exciting niche of literature.  Teenagers, parents, and grandparents can all read the same book, and then talk about it!  Today, the options for young adult readers has never been so diverse.  I've read all of these and LOVE them!

Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)

by J.K. Rowling

Well, it's kind of the crown jewel, right?  I stand behind any book that will inspire a 13 year-old to voluntarily read an 800 page book.  Let's hear it for staying up until 3 am!  The journey into Hogwarts captivates the imagination and inspires the soul.  There's a teenager out there who's going to thank you.

Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

by Suzanne Collins

Be prepared to stay up late.  Very, very late.  This suspenseful tale challenges popular media and culture in the context of the wildest reality show ever concieved.  Collins explores the tragic circumstance of children growing up in times of war.  This book is more appropriate for older teens, as violence plays a major role in the lives of these young people.  I encourage parents to read this series, too.  This book affords the opportunity for your teenager to think critically about current affairs and consider the lives of their counterparts living in warzones around the world.  I cannot speak any stronger words of praise about this series.

J.R.R. Tolkien Boxed Set (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings)

by J.R.R Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien's master work is a must-read for avid readers, young and not-so-young.  He created a complex, perfect world full of lovable and frightening creatures, rich languages, and customs.  I'm not quite sure how much more I can say.  It's an epic tale on the scale of the Bible.

Maus 1 and 2 - (2 Volume Box Set)
by Art Spiegelman

Art Spiegelman brilliantly tells the story of his Jewish father's harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust through a comic book.  Skeptics may turn their heads, but Spiegelman takes the "human" aspect out the picture and replaces each of the major players with animals.  The French are frogs, the Jews are mice, the Norwegians are reindeer.  This is not a pleasant story, but it is beautiful and real.  Spiegelman implores the reader to view the Holocaust through his father's eyes.  For more mature young readers.

Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)

by Orson Scott Card

I'm not kidding.  This book will blow your mind.  After you're done reading it, wrap it up and give it to your favorite middle schooler or high schooler.  Just kidding!  Confession time:  I have not read the other books in this series.  However, I love this book with all my heart, and really wanted to include it in this list.

The category of "Teen Fiction" often confuses adults.  My sister was kind enough to explain  that "it just means the main character is a teenager."  Everything else is legit.  The common thread between these books is that they all tell of the boundless capacity for human strength.  None of these characters believes they are special.  They are common people who achieve uncommon things in the face of powerful obstacles.  Young readers will find a piece of themselves in each of these characters, and may close the book a stronger, more confident young adult.

  I hope you know some readers.  Additionally, these are also great titles for the numerous charity book drives at large, commercial bookstores.


Day 2: Toys for Babies

OK, so you've got a new baby in the family, and mom and dad seem completely stocked with clothes and diapers.  What do you get for the baby who needs nothing?  Here's a quick list of wonderful toys that focus on baby's developing skills.  The best part?  Four out of five are under $15!  You're welcome.

Sassy Me in the Mirror Crib Toy

Babies love looking at other babies, and seeing another baby when they're in their crib offers comfort and distraction for times they might get lonely.  The mirror also transitions nicely out of the crib to incorporate into floor play.

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks

Both of my kids STILL play with this toy.  We bought it for Alexandria for her first birthday.  As soon as Marcus could crawl, he was into it.  It's compact, self-contained, and easy to play with.  The box stores nicely. 

Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack

Oh the classics.  Rings on a post.  I love this one because the base of the toy is curved, so as your baby is attempting to put the rings on the post, their motor skills are challenged with the gentle rocking of the base.  I prefer the Fisher Price version over the wood versions because there are no sharp edges.  In most cases, I LOVE wooden toys, but the wooden post in this toy makes me nervous.  I prefer the rounded edge of this post.

Discovery Mozart Music Cube by Munchkin

I'm breaking my own rule here.  This battery-operated beauty is a Gamble House favorite.  Dave insisted on getting it for Alexandria's birthday, and she loved it.  Marcus got it when he was a wee one, and he still plays with it over a year later.  The cube plays 6 different Mozart tunes, and the baby controls what instruments they want to hear.  He can listen to just the piano or harp, or the entire orchestra.  Basically, it breaks down the contribution of each instrument.  Even as an adult, I think it's kind of cool to hear a piece by the whole orchestra, and then listen to the same piece as played by the harp only.  It's a completely different experience.

Bright Starts Lots of Links

This is easily the most un-sexy baby toy of all time, but these rings will get more use than you can imagine.  Mom can attach snack cups, sippy cups, and toys to the stroller and car seat to avoid "loss by toss."  It doesn't matter what kind of links you get, but every child needs these.  As they get older, they become useful in developing hand-eye coordination as the child attempts to link the rings together himself.

There you go!  Happy shopping!