Children have an incredibly challenging task assigned to them — growing up. Considering that it is their first try at that job, they are amazing. All they have to do is develop the ability to learn and solve problems. And they must gain social and emotional skills. Then add speech and language development. On top of all that, they must work on small muscle control and large muscle control. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it.

And they accomplish this awesome task by playing. Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” Fred Rogers offered, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” Continuing from Mr. Rogers, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.”

This time of year many of us are looking for gift ideas. Why not look gifts that will help children along that pathway. Find toys that cultivate creativity and imagination.Try to give gifts that use no batteries or have no plug-in cords.

*Music that encourages movement is fun and critical for healthy development. Marches by John Philip Sousa are stimulating. “Peer Gynt Suite” by Edvard Grieg has fast, stormy sections as well as quiet sunrise music. The classics of Tchaikovsky such as the “Sleeping Beauty Ballet” and the “Nutcracker Suite” never fail to inspire. The music of Sandra Boynton is pure magic for little ones and their parents.

* Books, books and books are an essential ingredient in every child’s development and growth. And they grow with the children. I still love “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss, “Corduroy” by Don Freeman and “Are You My Mother/” by P.D. Eastman. It is fun to explore several books by the same author - Kevin Henkes, Shel Silverstein, Ezra Jack Keats, Dr. Seuss. For 9-to 12-year-old boys who like adventure and nature, try James Kjelgaard, Matt Christopher, Will Hobbs and Gary Paulsen.

* Creating and building things are critical to healthy development. Younger children love the colors, geometry, visual stimulation and hands-on aspects of stacking and nesting toys. Those also help them develop coordination. And wooden blocks have not gone out of style.

* Legos are another toy that keeps on giving and growing. It is amazing to watch what kids can create with them.I have seen several books that challenge kids to create even more designs than the picture on the box.

* Spirograph has been around for a long time. It is fun using gears to make art. It encourages creativity, the use and experimentation of color, learning mathematics and geometry. It has endless possibilities, is hands-on and is a non-computerized art tool.

* Marble mazes are fascinating, especially if the set is high quality.

* Classic games from 50 years ago are still engaging while the new ones beg for attention.

* Promote flexible thinking through the toys you give. Include puzzles, games, logic. I have found exceptional toys at mindware.com such as Rush Hour, Brain Builders, Square Up, Q-Bitz and at youngexplorers.com. You can find more ideas at melissaanddoug.com.

* Feed children’s curiosity with the multitude of maker kits available. You can find sets for cooking, geology, mystery, magic, chemistry, fashion, art, ceramics, sewing, physics, electricity, magnets, construction and creating grossness.

A final thought from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. —“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” So, choose carefully, it may be time to give growing-up a second chance.

Grandma is Rebecca Kordatzky. She is a wife, mother of three and grandmother of six. A retired educator, she’s taught all levels and trained teachers. In the Milton school district, she taught at the middle school for nearly 20 years. As an educational coach/tutor at her own business and at the Milton Area Youth Center, she aims to educate, encourage and inspire.

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