My 13 and 11 year old back in 2011.
It’s that time of year where friends and family start asking what to get your little ones for Christmas. I am a huge advocate of buying educational toys and gifts. Children can learn from an early age that learning is fun. There are so many wonderful resources available that can turn play into learning!
I have been teaching since 2003 and started collecting educational items when I started college in 1999 because I knew I was going to be a teacher. As a mother of five children (ages 13, 11, 9, 7 and 4) I have collected a warehouse of educational games. All of my school-age children are advanced readers and do very well in school. I believe that starting early doing educational activities with them gave them an advantage. We played games at the kitchen table and if they were ever bored or needed something to do while I was busy, I would give them an educational activity to keep them entertained. Definitely limit your child’s screen time but when you do use screens, I recommend something educational (I included a few videos and websites that are great for learning).
Remember that interactions with people benefit young children the most. So while products like Leap Frog games or apps on your IPAD are fine, playing with your child using hands-on activities with real items will engage them and stimulate their brains more. YOU are your child’s first teacher!
Here is an extensive list with links to some of my favorite educational resources and gift ideas for your children. I included ideas in English and in Spanish as well as some school supplies. I add to/edit this list ever so often, so you can always come back here, share the link and refer to it when people ask what to get your child or if you need some ideas yourself.
***These are all links to make it easy for you. Click on the orange heading and it will take you to Amazon or to the website where you can buy each product.
Our preschoolers are always fascinated with this! Children practice tracing letters using a magnetic pen. This particular version is double sided so they can practice uppercase and lowercase but they also sell boards to practice tracing numbers.
It’s the preschool version of Highlights Magazine (remember that from your childhood?). Fantastic way to spend time with your preschool-age child reading and doing fun activities. Each magazine comes with stories, poems, a cut & create craft or game, seek and find (huge hit), movement activity & recipe. Choose from the English version
or bilingual version
. I get both versions because the English one comes with more activities. The bilingual version has fewer activities but they are both in English and Spanish.
Our Pre-K and School Age kids love this fun, hands-on Bingo style game. It is very visual and the children have to say the word in Spanish to get the chip. Even our toddlers were interested when they used to watch the older kids play.
Our toddlers love this but it’s also good for pre-k children who are learning numbers. You can play a game by putting the numbers in a bag and letting them pull one out. They say it in Spanish (you could do English or Spanish at home) and then put it in it’s place. This teaches number recognition, fine motor skills and number ordering.
Same idea but teaches letter recognition. Make it a game by putting pieces in a box and letting the child pull out a letter, say it’s name and put it in the correct place. As they get older, make it a challenge by letting them order the letters on their own without the puzzle (can do it with numbers, too).
Puzzles are fantastic for fine motor skills and for developing log and reasoning skills. These puzzles are good because they come in a variety of themes (dinosaurs, vehicles, pets, etc) and you get 4 mini puzzles in each box. Help your child with these puzzles and watch them get better and better at them! Around age 3-5 they should be able to do them on their own.
Good for ages 2-6. Fabulous for teaching basic words in English (I wish they had Spanish). It’s self correcting so your child can do it on their own to find the letters. However, I find that doing it with them is good because you can talk about the letters and the sounds they make and say the words out loud as you go (emphasize each letter and the sound it makes to help teach letter sounds).
Manipulative that teaches shapes and spacial reasoning.
Practice counting, one to one ratios and numbers match. We also teach the vocabulary in Spanish from each picture.
Great STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) toy that teaches patterns and strategic building. Increases in difficulty so it works for ages 3-12!
Fun way to practice vocabulary.
These can be played in any language and are a great way to review color and number recognition. Many children can count in Spanish but need help identifying the numbers.
Use an Expo marker- good for pre-writing skills, letter, number, color recognition.
This classic game from your childhood is perfect for ages 3 and up to practice colors, focusing and following directions in English or Spanish! No reading required. We play it with our students sometimes in groups and they love trying to get to “El Castillo” (the castle)!
Almost ANYTHING you buy from Lakeshore Learning is going to be good! I’m pretty sure if I won the lottery I’d spend half of it on Lakeshore. They sell high-quality educational supplies and games that last (I have materials that I purchased over 10 years ago that still look new). There’s a gift-giving guide on their website divided by age. They have toys that teach science, reading, math, writing as well as manipulatives for fine motor skills. Pass along their website or request a catalog to give family members. There’s also a store in Matthews, NC (outside of Charlotte). I’ve never been but it’s my dream to go one day 🙂
Here are some of my favorite ideas from Lakeshore. I’m sharing hands-on language/literacy/math ideas but they also have STEM, science and block/manipulatives, too.
Peg Number Boards
(teaches fine motor skills and learning to associate numbers and quantities- one to one correspondence) (2-5 years)
Fantastic video- very entertaining and all in Spanish. Covers a variety of topics and incorporates music and movement. Includes children acting out Goldilocks and uses real children rather than cartoons. Good for toddler through elementary age. **I found it on sale for around $12! I think I paid about $25 when I first bought it 12 years ago 🙂
One of my favorite Mexican children’s music artists. We sing many of his songs at our school. This DVD has real children performing his favorite songs.
Build your child’s Spanish language book collection and save money! Use our school’s discount code to save 15% + free shipping on beautiful, high-quality, hard-cover, authentic Spanish language books from Syncretic Press.
Discount code: NC19WBPAM
During the months of October, December, March and May you save 30% + free shipping. Our school also gets 1 book for every 5 bought with our code.
The first book from Susan Middleton Elya, one of my favorite bilingual children’s authors. She is so talented- her books combine Spanish and English in a lyrical way, using lots of rhyming. Great for parents who are just learning Spanish. Children seem to like all of her books.
Jungle-themed book with beautiful photos and a catchy song to go along. Children move like the animals. Great for parents who don’t speak a lot of Spanish since it comes with a CD that sings the book.
At only $3.99 each, these books are budget friendly. Choose from over 30 classic stories like The Gingerbread Man, The Little Red Hen, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. Each page is written in Spanish and English so you can practice both languages with your child. My seven year old daughter and I read these together. We take turns- she reads a page in English and I read it in Spanish then we switch on the next page. It helps enhance her vocabulary and build confidence with reading Spanish. You can buy these books on Amazon (free shipping) or order directly from Carson Dellosa for the same price.
Many of our students bring their lunch in these. Great gift idea if you don’t have one.
A pricier version similar to the Bentgo kids box that some children bring (maybe ask the grandparents :-)). I’ve heard good things about the planet box and it is super cute, eco friendly and made of stainless steel.
It’s always good to have a backup water bottle. We like the no-spill kind and there are many options out there.
English Pre-Reading Resources
We’ll work on the Spanish at school but it is a great idea to continue working to develop your child’s English language skills at home so they can be strong in both languages.
My 11 and 7-year old daughters are excellent English readers; well above grade level and in advanced classes. When they were little they LOVED Starfall. It’s one of the best websites that I have found for early reading skills. There is a free version but you get more features and games if you subscribe and it’s well worth it.
Starfall is very entertaining- it starts with pre-reading skills like letter sounds and songs and moves on to site words and really teaches children how to sound out words and read. There’s even math games. My 4-year old plays it with our touch-screen computer but older children can use the mouse. Good way to entertain and teach the children guilt-free while you cook dinner or finish some work. Check it out!
Carson Dellosa sells my favorite workbooks because they’re economical, colorful, not too short/not too long, have fun activities and come with a sticker for each time a page is finished. I would let my children work towards a goal and tell them when they finish the book they could get a special prize from the dollar store or a trip to the park. They would do 10 or more pages at a time trying to finish but definitely go at your child’s pace and interest. Good for ages 3-5.
Developed by a teacher, these are my favorite early reading books. They come with stickers and use lots of visual cues to help with sight words. I’ve re-used this set with all of my own children and it was a hit. Good for ages 4 and up, I think.
Dollar Tree Workbooks
Go to the Dollar Tree and check out their children’s workbook section. There are so many choices and they all cost $1! These might make good stocking stuffers.