Parent to Parent
Tips for Holiday Giving
By Betsy Flagler
United Features Syndicate

Less is more.

"I go with things that spark creativity, not just toys that make noise and do everything for your child," says a Johnson City, Tenn., mother of five. "I go with choices that will bring enjoyment, not heartache over lost pieces or broken toys."

Ask for a short "wish list." Don’t get into competition mode with other relatives, ex-spouses or Santa. A receipt and return-policy information will be appreciated.

For the littlest set, keep it simple and slow. A few colorful balls with different textures, squishy blocks or socks for puppets, and you’re all set.

"Dr. Toy," Stevanne Auerbach, an expert in child development, features a holiday guide, "100 Best Children’s Products," on her Web site, There are dozens of questions to weigh when selecting from the dizzying array of products for kids, she says, including:

  • Is the toy safe? Any potential hazards? Is the product too small? Any sharp edges or loose ties? Is it non-toxic? Will it take rough treatment? What is the return policy?
  • Is the product fun? It should amuse, delight, excite and be enjoyable.
  • Is the product appropriate? Does it fit the child’s age and abilities? Will it hold interest?
  • Is the product well-designed? Is it easy to use and versatile?
  • Is the product durable?
  • Will the product help the child expand creativity? With the right products, the child can expand his or her imagination in art, crafts, drama, hobbies, language, reading, music and physical movement.
  • Will the toy frustrate or challenge the child? Does the toy offer something new to learn, to practice or try? Will it be too difficult without adult assistance?
  • Does the toy build eye/hand coordination? Fine and large motor skills? Communication?
  • Can the product be cleaned and reused?
  • Can I afford this toy? Does the price match the value?

Part of making the right toy choice involves observing and knowing the child and his developmental stage. For babies and toddlers, it’s especially important to slow down to their simple pace of play and let them take the lead, according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., co-author of "Einstein Never Used Flashcards," (Rodale Books, 2004). "Play is to early childhood as gas is to a car," she says.

To help parents understand that what’s best for a baby’s brain is to play, Hirsh-Pasek is one of three child development experts who have assisted with a new series of DVDs called "eebee’s adventures" by Sony Wonder. The DVDs, featuring a puppet named "eebee," are designed for babies and toddlers, ages 6 to 24 months, and their parents.

The DVDs show how parents can turn everyday moments into teaching moments, such as playing peek-a-boo through the holes in a laundry basket, sitting in piles of crunchy paper, building with plastic storage containers, making shadows on the wall, and banging on pots with a spoon. For more information on the DVDs, go to