The Beachcomber Holiday Guide

Sleigh Your Kids’ Wish Lists This Season: Perfect Presents for Growth and Learning

By SARAH HODGSON | Nov 14, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The entreating sound of sleigh bells jingles over the horizon – a sweet symphony to children, a foreboding rattle to parents. As you scramble to hunt and gather up holiday goodies for your kids, quiet your inner Arnold Schwarzenegger a la Jingle All the Way and remember that your children don’t need the flashiest, trendiest toys on the shelves. What they really need are toys that challenge, excite and inspire.

We implored local experts to share their secrets on the year’s best toys for learning and growth so that you can fill your little ones’ stockings with meaningful, wholesome treasures.

Fidget toys. The Haymarket, an LBI institution when it comes to toys, is a trove of both classic and modern amusements. Sour candies, puzzles, board games, puppets and mind benders pile the shelves like those of a wondrous emporium. Every nook and cranny is filled with a new delight and whimsy.

Susan Hay, the owner of the Ship Bottom store, recommends stuffing stockings with fidget toys this holiday season. “Squishies were the hot thing of the summer,” she said, demonstrating the toy by squeezing it inside her fist. The Squishy collapsed in on itself tightly like a ball of dough before slowly rising back into its original form. “We have the best of the best.”

These colorful compression toys are ideal for children who have trouble focusing and keeping still. Another fidget toy at The Haymarket is “Thinking Putty,” an iridescent, stretchy putty kids can morph into whatever they like. Speks, a desk toy brand, makes magnetic cubes that you can stack and reconfigure into different shapes and sculptures.

“Everyone says, ‘Had you ever thought that we’d be selling Unicorn Poop?’” said Hay, holding up a vibrant, sparkling variation of Thinking Putty. The packaging features a charming illustration of a rainbow protruding from the mythical creature’s hindquarters and extending into a pile of colorful dung. According to The Atlantic, fidget toys such as Unicorn Poop can improve a child’s focus and memory. With fidget toys in hand, children can approach cognitive tasks in a more prepared, concentrated mental state.

Harry Potter merchandise. With the Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” rambling toward box offices this month, it seems entirely appropriate that a toy store should carry at least one or two wizardry-themed items. Hay said she expects Harry Potter wands to arrive very soon. At the moment, however, the toy store boasts a LEGO Hogwarts Castle and a book of Harry Potter Paper Flyers from Klutz that instructs children how to build and fly the fantastical creatures from the J.K. Rowling series.

Toys based on fictional, magical worlds can prompt children to partake in creative play, to access their imaginations and to develop innovative problem-solving skills. It’s also worth noting that a stocking is the perfect shape for an Elder Wand replica.

Blind bags. “Blind bags are a huge trend,” said Hay. The bags are “blind” because consumers don’t know what’s inside until they purchase and open them up. The mystery bags come in all kinds: LEGO, confetti poppers, tattoos, stickers, stuffed animals, miniature Hatchimals, and more. Kids are encouraged to collect the toys like baseball cards, sharing and trading duplicates as they come. This toy concept sparks curiosity in children and encourages them to communicate and share with their peers.

Board games and puzzles. When there isn’t a runaway game in a given year, Hay said you can’t go wrong with the classics. Scrabble, Catan, Trivial Pursuit and Jenga are staples in the board game industry. Trivia games and quiz challenges can promote learning and curiosity. Puzzles can build on your child’s fine motor skills, fine-tune their shape awareness and build self-esteem through problem solving.

Dumping a mound of jigsaw pieces onto the dining room table is also a great way to gather up the family and teach your little ones team building and social skills. The Haymarket even offers a unique puzzle that engages the entire family. The box contains different-sized pieces for different-sized family members. Adults can manage the smaller pieces while kids can opt for the bigger pieces. Everyone wins.

Electronics. A compilation of toys wouldn’t be complete without satiating the technological thirst of younger generations. While elders may “tsk” at the sight of a child playing in the glow of a tablet or smartphone, studies actually reason that tablet learning reaps a multitude of benefits for kids. In an article for BBC, University of Edinburgh faculty members found electronics use in moderation can actually empower children to communicate and provide them with the skills to do so effectively. It can also give them the means to solve real-world problems, depending on what apps they engage with.

Nathan Colmer, an owner of The Toy Store in Beach Haven, stressed the importance of mindful toy purchases. The store has been in his family for almost 20 years, so he knows a thing or two on the matter.

“As a father and owner of a retail toy store, I think having access to toys that promote learning and creativity is essential,” he said. “I think this can come in many forms. For some that could be a board game that a family plays together, and for others it could be an electronic device that promotes coding, technology usage.”

The right trinkets and baubles can improve your child’s cognitive and motor skills, and teach them how to tap into their creativity and reasoning. Seek out toys for your children that pique curiosity and lead them to ask question, after question, after question. As the late and famous Mr. Rogers once wisely sang, “When you wonder, you’re learning.”


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