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Back to Basics: Gifts That Inspire the Imagination

Dec 13, 2014 05:58PM, Published by Elena Hutslar, Categories: Today Family Features, Family Features Lifestyle



Though it may seem that all of the high-demand gift items this season require batteries and a level of tech savvy only the younger generation can boast, there are actually many great options that let you encourage the kids on your list to get back to basics and get unplugged.

According to research by Common Sense Media, kids under eight spend nearly two hours of every day on screen time - that is, using a tablet, computer or mobile device, watching TV, etc. While some of that usage is dedicated to educational games and content, the prevalence of media use among kids is distracting them from one of childhood's greatest gifts: the freedom to let their imaginations soar.

Kids whose imaginative play is fostered and supported show numerous health and developmental advantages, ranging from increased levels of fitness and coordination to higher self-esteem and an improved ability to apply the information they learn.

This holiday season, look for gifts that inspire kids to embrace pretend play:

Blocks

It doesn't get much more basic than building blocks when it comes to setting the imagination free. Skip the sets that come with specific instructions and opt instead for blocks that encourage free-form play and construction. Small and mid-sized plastic pieces let kids create miniature versions of nearly anything their minds can conjure. On the flip side, jumbo cardboard blocks let children create environments they can physically engage with, such as life-size playhouses.

Figurines

There are many figurines and customizable accessories and environments available to tickle kids' imagination. From auto service stations and race tracks to dollhouses and pet boutiques, little ones can explore and create for hours. For example, the Calico Critters toy line provides hours of wholesome and imaginative play. These adorable, high-quality miniature families of animals are paired with a selection of environments ranging from homes to shops to restaurants, along with complementary furnishings and accessories. These settings are similar to those in a child's life, making them more relatable and fun. For more information, visit www.calicocritters.com.

Dress up

Whether you assemble a collection of whimsical treasures from thrift shops or rely on the costumes and sets available at retail stores, clothing that allows a child to adopt a new persona is an instant way to encourage the imagination. Costumes depicting familiar characters let kids act out their favorite screen-time scenes in real life, while a unique mish-mash of items lets them create unique scenarios to explore.

Books

Good old-fashioned books help expose kids to new worlds. Choose-your-own-adventure books, in which the reader helps direct the flow of the story line, are a great choice for engaging kids directly as they imagine their way through the story line. More traditional books introduce concepts, characters and scenarios that provide hours of play as kids act out the new ideas they discover.

Crafting sets

From create-your-own jewelry to color-to-complete playhouses and spaceships, crafty gifts let kids explore their artistic side and experiment with creating tangible representations of their imagination. You can choose from prepackaged sets at many retailers, or crafting stores provide a diverse selection of unfinished items to pair with the appropriate tools.

Toys and games that encourage pretend play let kids create, explore and imagine in a stress-free environment where they set the rules and boundaries. These gifts, which encourage kids to unplug and embrace a whole new world of wholesome play, are the kind you can feel truly great about giving.


A Gift That Keeps Giving

Encouraging kids to explore the world and learn through imaginative play has numerous benefits for their overall well-being. Giving gifts that encourage kids to use their imagination helps boost numerous long-term development skills.

Social development
Creating characters and scripting scenes, whether alone or through play with others, teaches a child to consider other perspectives and fosters the growth of empathy and understanding.

Language
Being allowed to create their own play environment, versus those delivered on a screen, forces children to rely on their vocabulary and practice using the words they've learned both informally and formally. Solitary play offers the benefit of allowing a child to practice these skills, while pretend play with peers encourages clear and effective communication with others.

Problem solving
It's never too early for a child to begin developing cognitive thinking skills that allow them to effectively trouble-shoot and resolve problems. Even a simple play activity, such as contemplating what items from the dress-up drawer should be packed for an imaginary vacation, lets a little one begin to understand how to identify a challenge and create meaningful solutions.

Relationships
Playing with others is a natural way for kids to forge meaningful bonds with other children, and with the adults in their lives. Imaginary play nurtures and lets children practice critical relationship-building skills such as communication. What's more, interacting through pretend play gives kids a shared experience that shapes a bond with their partner in play.


Helping Out During the Holidays

This holiday season, Calico Critters is giving away $250 in merchandise to 40 lucky winners. Plus, for every dollar of merchandise the company gives away, toys of equivalent value will be donated to Toys for Tots and My Stuff Bags to help children in need. To learn more visit www.calicocrittersclub.com.


(family opening gifts)
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Sponsored by Calico Critters



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