Parent Education: Gift Giving

Christmas is just around the corner, and family and friends are wondering about gift ideas. You may also wonder what might be an impactful or special gift that remains true to your family’s values. The choices can often seem overwhelming, especially when we are marketed with so many winning activities, games and toys.
Here are some helpful tips for navigating the frenzy of the season, along with specific examples of “Montessori” gifts and activities appropriate for Primary-aged children at home.
Prepare, Engage, Delight
When planning meaningful gifts for the season, it’s helpful to reflect on your children’s individual interests, developmental needs and the kinds of activities that attract them. It’s not unusual, for example, for young children to be just as excited about the box or gift-wrapping as they are about the contents therein.
Primary-aged children are active explorers of their environment, absorbing everything happening around them with seemingly little effort. They also have a unique ability to learn language and an innate desire to learn, connect, and engage in constructive work. It’s great to think about gifts for young children that are as open-ended and engaging as simple boxes.
Other questions that might steer you in the right direction include: What does my child ask about frequently? What is he/she passionate about? Some typical interests of children this age might include cooking, cleaning, gardening, animals, insects, birds, cultures, art, coloring, painting, building and exploring. Once you’ve brainstormed, you might think more specifically about the interest within the interest. For example, is your child who is interested in geography most interested in naming different states and territories, or in learning about different cultures and languages? This kind of reflection can help narrow down the many ideas and materials available.
The following might be helpful criteria in determining whether any gift or activity is suited to a Montessori approach. Please keep in mind that while it’s wonderful to incorporate Montessori principles at home, children don’t need replicas of the classroom materials there. In fact, having the materials at home can diminish their allure at school or confuse children as to their proper use in the classroom setting.
What Makes An Activity “Montessori”?
  • Attractive and inviting child-sized tools
  • Involvement of the senses
  • Hands-on (rather than abstract)
  • Protected concentration to “work”
  • Control of error
  • Consideration of the earth and global community

What Gifts Would A Montessori Child Enjoy?
  • Gifts that are high-quality and child-sized in order to play, create and learn
  • Toys that are open-ended such as bags, Legos, play silks, loose parts
  • Real-to-life materials and books to supplement (Ex: real tools, a first aid kit or doctor’s kit with real tweezers, bandages, clipboard and pencil, etc.)
  • Non-fiction books such as atlases, picture dictionaries, dictionaries and many other titles that can be recommended by our librarian or your child’s guide (Children of this age love books that provide concrete information about the natural world.)
  • Items made of wood, glass and other natural materials that are delicate and require proper care, but not so valuable as to be irreplaceable

Giving our Time
The Christmas season is also a great time to remind ourselves that children first and foremost wish for connection and experiences with us, as opposed to material items in and of themselves. Children value time, presence, respect, participation, independence, the ability to grow and learn about the world, beauty, quality, doing “good work,” and helping others.
With this in mind, there are many “experience” gifts that might be just as wonderful as a game or toy. Examples include a date to cook together, ride bikes, go on a picnic, play games, watercolor, read, or make a book. You might also make a coupon book that incorporates several of these activities to be redeemed throughout the year.
Advent: A Time of Preparation
Advent is a season of expectation and preparation. It’s a great time to have conversations with your children about the meaning of the season and your family traditions.
If Grandma wants a wish list, for example, you might use the opportunity to discuss how to graciously make a written request. Or you might suggest reciprocating by asking Grandma what she would like for Christmas. This might also be a good time to talk about other etiquette important to your family pertaining to giving and receiving gifts.
Another way to focus on experiences rather than things is to think about Advent as a time to explore interests together, or to prepare or improve a play space at home. You might organize set days for organizing a space, cleaning out old belongings, cooking together, engaging with one of your child’s interests, or having time to just be.