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BOOKS AND LOW-TECH TOYS MAKE BEST GIFTS, EXPERTS SAYS

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Books are good gifts even for newborns, according to Peggy Kohlepp, associate manager of Tulane University's bookstore.

By reading aloud to babies, parents give them a "variety and richness of language," says Kohlepp.

And Pat Schindler, director of Tulane's Newcomb Children's Center in New Orleans, says blocks, dolls, trains and paints usually make better children's gifts than gimmick toys and video games."Television toys soon lose their luster," she says, suggesting that instead parents should buy toys that stress imagination and creativity. "The more I work with children, the more I realize that parents transmit their values even through the toys they buy." At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Jack Lochhead agrees that some of the worst toys for children are the expensive, gimmicky, spectator type, such as talking dolls and bears.

Because they do things as the child watches passively, such toys squelch the child's imagination and limit play, explains Lochhead, a cognitive-learning expert and director of the university's Scientific Reasoning Research Institute.

He says the best toys are low-cost, low-tech toys that offer imaginative play, such as unpainted wooden blocks that help teach geometric patterns and mathematical concepts.