A Gift Guide for the Thinking Child

holiday gift guide

It’s easy to find out what the hottest gifts this Christmas are. Just walk into any toy department and see what displays are largest. This is, at least, what the market predicts will be our children’s favorite gifts for 2016. And they may be right. Then again, maybe they aren’t. Or maybe the children on your list already have the hottest toys of the season.

So I thought I’d put together my own little list of gift ideas for children who like to think. All of these are things I purchased for our homeschool. For school. For their educational value. And yet my children pull them out over and over because they are some of their favorite activities. And if you don’t find something here you like, check back as others add their gift guides to the linky at the bottom of this post. Or even add your own!

First, a classic I loved as a child: The Spirograph.

I spent hours playing with my spirograph as a kid. I bought this kind of on a whim because part of our math practice involves inscribing shapes in circles. This seemed like a fun extension. Most people aren’t all that interested in the math behind the cool little designs, but children are natural scientists and they will eventually learn the relationship between the number of teeth in a design and the placement of the pen to the end design. And they will be walking in the footsteps of the creator of what was originally a mathematical tool. Back in the day, finding a way to predict the position of a point on a rotating circle as it traveled in a straight line was kind of a bid deal. See, they had to figure out a way to turn the vertical motion of a piston into the circular motion of a wheel to create the horizontal motion of a train.

Then there’s Shut the Box.

It doesn’t look like much all on its own and if you haven’t been to Colonial Williamsburg, you might not have ever heard of it. Shut the Box is an old sailors’ game. The rules are simple. Roll two dice, and knock down one or two tiles that add up to that number. Doubles allow you to knock down any one tile. Once you run out of turns (your dice gives you a number you can’t make), you add up what is left and that’s your score. Play to beat a friend or yourself. If you get them all down, then you shut the box! My children have played this so often the felt is starting to wear in spots. And the best part for this homeschooling mom? They have spent as many hours practicing basic addition. Part history, part math and all fun. What could be better than that?

For the child who likes puzzles, there’s Color Cubes.

Best, Color Cubes is like multiple activities in one. The cards start out simple as you just get the idea of recreating the images in three dimensions. But they get more complicated quickly, asking you to complete patterns and guess the hidden blocks to finish the build. It even has little games to play with a partner. Most of the cards can be completed alone or with a friend. And of course, you are working on developing spatial reasoning the whole time you are playing! My only complaint is that there is no “extension pack.” They do go back to some of the games and challenge each other with their own designs, but I would so totally buy another set of cards now that they’ve been through them all (more than once, even!).

We also love Animal Logic.

Animal Logic is a game for all ages. My kids love it. I love it. My dad worked through every puzzle while he was farm sitting for us. It’s basically you against the board as you try to get all the animals across the river. Again, the rules are simple. There are four kinds of animals in each of four colors. If you move a yellow lion, your next move has to either be yellow or a lion. The puzzles start out simple, but it doesn’t take long and you have to think through the next move (or three!) in order to get all the animals across.

Tangoes are a great little stocking stuffer.
This is the travel version of Tangoes with magnets and a small attached book of animal shapes to replicate with the tangrams. Best, there’s no reason you’re limited to creating the animals in the book. Once you’ve worked through them all, you can create your own shapes. It is a wonderful activity to keep in the seat pocket of your car for some mind growing activity on long drives.

If tangoes look interesting, check out pattern blocks. And this wonderful book of pattern block puzzles.

I had Pattern Animals as a teacher and we wore it out. I finally replaced it this year for my children. There are all kinds of boards and books for pattern blocks out there, but animals seem to have a special draw for children.

And last but not least, anything origami.
My daughters spend hours folding paper and learning new designs. They are limited only by the amount of paper I am willing to buy them. A special bonus for homeschool families: There are books at the library to teach you how to fold just about anything. It fits very well into almost any study on any subject.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Largely as a service to you so you know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you were to buy something through any of these links, I would get a small percentage and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

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12 thoughts on “A Gift Guide for the Thinking Child

  1. My parents were always getting me ‘educational’ toys. I had a great deal of fun with my Soma cube, from grade school age well into my college years. Amazon has a whole page of possible sources.

    1. I always liked these kinds of games and toys. Even when I played video games, my favorites were the puzzle type games like Lolo and Tetris!

    1. I like the idea of Rubiks cubes, but the only way I can solve them is to pop them apart and put them back together!

  2. I remember having a Spirograph when I was a kid! We loved it. I’ll be getting my oldest daughter some pattern blocks soon. She’s just getting to the point that she’ll be able to assemble them.

    1. I hope she enjoys the pattern blocks. Funny story: When my now 11 year old was about three, she was busy playing with pattern blocks. Her older brother kept pestering her and she ignored him and ignored him until he finally pulled the paper away, messing up her creation. My sweet, gentle little bug who had never shown an aggressive inkling in her life had him down on the ground and was sitting on him in an instant! It is not safe to mess with pattern block creations!

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