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Holiday Shopping Suggestions!

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and we'd like to help you come up with a few gift ideas for the children in your life when you go Black Friday after you've gotten your Thanksgiving fill :).

Last year, we did a series on toy recommendations for children of all ages. You can check out last years series on the following links:

We would like to add a few more toys to our list. Let's start with children 2 years old and younger.

First is the Touch and Learn Musical Bee, which can be found here. The Touch and Learn musical bee comes in pink or yellow. A similar item would be the Laugh and Learn Puppy, found here. This is not an item-specific recommendation; any plush toy with simple buttons that can make noise or light up will be fine. There is a variety to choose from, in a different ranges of prices and complexity. These types of toys can generally be found at Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Target, and other department stores. These toys are great for teaching cause and effect, and provide a great sensory experience for your little ones.

Next is the Bright Starts Silly Safari Activity Gym, which can be purchased here. The Infantino is another activity, which can be found here. These are another not item-specific recommendation. We recommend any type of activity set, which again come in a variety of styles and prices. These types of toys help with visual scanning, bilateral coordination, and postural strength and control in younger children.

Last on our list of 2 years old and under toys is the Early Melodies Pound and Tap Bench, which can be purchased here. We recommend any type of tapping toy, such as pushing pegs through holes or hitting a xylaphone. Toys such as this can be purchased at Target, Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, and other department stores. These types of toys are great for cause and effect and visual and fine motor type activities.

From 2-4 years of age, children start to do more imaginative, immitation, and pretend play. The following recommendations are again not toy-specific, but just general ideas for what types of toys to look for.

First off is blocks. The block set pictured here is the Wonderworld 75 Piece Block Set, found here. Blocks are wonderful toys for young children because it allows them to practice motor planning skills, fine motor skills, and allows them to engage in imaginative play. For more complex building for older children, LEGO toys or K'NEX tinkertoys are also a great idea.

Our next recommendation is any type of pretend play set. A doctor set, a fire fighter set, a grill set (the pictured item can be found here), toy house cleaning or lawn maintainence set (mowers, vaccums, ect), toy houses, a hair dresser set, a kitchen set, a police officer set; all types of pretend play are great for this age! Around age 3 is when children start to imitate their parents, and this imitation play expands as the child grows. They want to be like their parents, or like the cool firefighter that rescues people, or the kind vet who makes puppies feel better. Playsets that imitate real life are great for children starting around age 3.

Last year we recommended a lot of individual play toys that worked on motor and coordination skills, but not a lot of social games. Around age 4 is when children start to be able to play games with set rules. With this in mind, we are going to recommend a few board games and family games that work on these new rule-following skills, as well as fine motor, counting, and social skills.

First is Crazy Cat Lady, which is rated 8+ but can certainly be played by younger children with parent assistance for reading and counting. You can find the game here, as well as at a local Hastings. The rules are simple; spin the spinner, move that many spaces, resolve the space you land on. Some spaces give people cat tokens, like the adoption event at the pet store. Others spaces take cat tokens away, like if a cat gets fleas and has to go to the vet. The player who makes it home with the most cats wins. The cat tokens are small, so we would not recommend the game to children who would try and eat the tokens. Other than that, it can be great for children as young as 4. The game works on counting skills, with players needing to count the right number of cats to gain or lose. It also works on fine motor skills by having to pick up the small cat tokens and having to spin the spinner, and for the early reader it can work on reading skills as well.

A similar game to the one above is Count Your Chickens, rated 3+ and found here. This game is a cooperative game in which players take turns spinning the spinner, moving the Mother Hen across the board, and collecting chicks based on those movements. The goal is to get all 40 chick tokens back to the coop before the Mother Hen gets back. The game works on counting skills, light problem solving, cooperation skills, and fine motor skills when spinning the spinner and picking up the small chick tokens.

The next game we would like to recommend is The Three Little Pigs Board Game, found here. This game uses dice and is described as a more fun type of Yahtzee. You roll dice to build a house, with better rolls getting better material for the house. For example, if you roll two windows and two roofs, you can get one straw window and a straw roof. Or, you can re-roll your windows and try for two more roofs to get a stronger brick roof. If you roll a pair of wolves, you blow on a spinner and whoever it lands on gets their house blown down by the Big Bad Wolf. The game is rated 7+, but most reviewers agree that children as young as 4 can play with simplified rules. The game uses basic stragey and planning by having players choose if they want to build weaker straw houses faster, or slowly build stronger brick houses.

From the same publisher as the previous game is The Hare and the Tortoise Board Game, found here. This game is a betting game, where you pick which racer you think will win and then play cards to try and help who you bet on. The better your racer does, the more points you get. The game is rated 7+, but includes rule varients to help include players as young as 4 or 5 years old. It also includes a championship mode that ups the difficulty for experienced players. The game utilizes simple math with the way the racers move, and has duel-sided tiles to make the racetrack range from easy to complex. This ability to change the racetrack adds even more re-play value, since you can play different tracks to keep the game interesting.

The last item on the list is Cheaty Mages. This is a betting game similar to The Hare and The Tortoise Board Game, but for a slightly higher age group. It is recommended 7+, but with some help it can go down to 5 years old. The premise of the game is that the players are wizards betting on monsters in a fight. This game uses a fair amount of math, but in a fun way that keeps the game exciting; simple addition and subtraction is used as you add up bonus points to a monster and subtract weakening spells, simple multiplication and division is used when giving out prize money (you get double prize money if you bet on one monster, the listed prize money if you bet on two, and half the prize money if you bet on 3). Its a great way to work on social skills, turn taking, and basic math skills in a fun way!

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