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Shopping for children's gifts? Try these educational ideas

Editor's note: The following information was provided by the West Central Initiative (WCI) and the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative.

Are you at a loss for what to give that special child in your life?

Sure, there's plenty to choose from - we're bombarded with toy gift ideas everywhere we turn - but often these playthings are just too expensive or downright inappropriate.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) suggests selecting toys for young children that encourages the kinds of interests, motivation and skills we want children to develop. Any toy given to a child should match his or her developmental age and individual needs.

In addition, pay careful attention to safety and durability. Materials should have lasting play value and help provide a foundation for future development.

NAEYC has these ideas for inexpensive and, most important, fun play materials for the early years:

•Birth through six months:

Toys for young infants should promote their interest in looking, listening, sucking and grasping. Well-secured, unbreakable crib mirrors, rag dolls, stuffed toys and simple hand puppets moved by an adult are all age-appropriate gifts that can either be made or purchased for a minimal amount of money.

•6 to 12 months:

Infants from 6-12 months are able to enjoy a wider variety of toys that support their social, cognitive and physical development. Floating objects for bath play, construction materials, simple puzzles, cloth and board books, and balls are durable options for young children at this stage.

•1 to 2 years:

Toddlers are increasingly mobile and independent. Dressing, lacing and stringing materials, picture and nursery rhyme books, nontoxic crayons for scribbling, and stacking materials will be enjoyed by 1-year-olds, while role-playing toys, pegboards and large balls to kick, throw and catch are good choices for older toddlers.

•3 to 5 years:

Three- to 5-year-olds often find enjoyment from materials that promote pretend play and foster their language and social skills. A large variety of books suitable for this age are available, as well as an assortment of blocks, dress-up clothes and simple games, including dominoes, bingo boards and card games.

Keep in mind that the holiday season can also be stressful for children. It isn't necessary to give a child a room full of toys in order for him to have fun. Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the most enjoyable.

WCI is a public foundation serving nine counties in west central Minnesota, including Douglas County. WCI provides programs and resources in the areas of business and employment, workers and their families, and communities and the region.

For more information about WCI programs or how you can be a partner/supporter of WCI, call 1-800-735-2239 or visit the WCI website at