From the superintendent: Give the gift of learning this holiday season
Remember the Christmas days when we ran to the tree and opened the most promising packages first? Brightly wrapped boxes which gave off the promising rattle of a desired toy always got immediate attention. One never opened the oddly shaped soft packages first. They were inevitably clothing, socks, or some other disappointingly practical item.
It is amusing that I now look for those more sensible things, and open them before the others. With age comes wisdom, and over the years I have found that functional gifts often give more satisfaction than the flashy toys we may crave. Children may wish to eat only candy, but in the end, they will thank adults who gave them the gift of healthy eating habits. Likewise, they will eventually be thankful for gifts and toys that help them learn.
As holiday shopping season hits full swing, I have some thoughts as to the best educational gifts one can give to a child.
First, books, books and more books. Be they paper or e-books, the gift of reading outshines and outlasts any toy any child will ever receive.
Books help minds grow, spurs thought and creativity, and brings prospective. But be sure the books are developmentally appropriate, and a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. Too much of any one thing becomes boring. Reading should first be a joy for children, and they will later find it an invaluable tool.
Toys which develop the ability to think and solve problems develop real-world skills. Particularly effective are toys which must initially be assembled using a set of instructions. It starts out as one thing, and the child can use their mind to fashion something else. Things with pulleys and levers are my personal favorites, but any kind of creative building set works.
Games of strategy and planning help kids learn to think in terms of patterns and the relationship between causes and effects. If the game appears too complex, give it a try anyhow. Kids are surprisingly adept at higher level thinking if we just give them the right instructions.
Toys and games which encourage physical activity are two gifts in one. The link between mind and body is well known. Active kids learn more information faster, and are generally happier than their sedentary peers.
Time. Giving a child your undivided attention may be the best gift of all. Take the time to read with them, play with them, and learn with them. They will undoubtedly remember those times far longer than the particular toy or game.
My children have learned that I am a master at disguising the practical to resemble the desired. A box, exactly the size of an electronic game system, can contain a surprising number of books. DVDs of educational programs cannot be discerned from the latest popular movie when tightly wrapped in multiple layers of paper and ribbon. Certainly I am no Grinch, my kids have way too many toys.
But among the clutter that litters their rooms after the holidays, are many things which bestow one of the greatest gifts I can ever hope to give; a love of learning.
– Dwayne K. Newman is superintendent of Colusa Unified School District.