child playing with blocks A walk down the toy aisle can leave a gift-buyer bewildered by the number of choices. How do you find a present that will hold a child’s attention while feeding the imagination?

You can’t go wrong by sticking with the basics like books, puzzles, board games, balls and art supplies, says Scott C. Tomaine, DO, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Primary Care, Flourtown. The best gifts for children of all ages are ones that encourage open-ended play, social interaction, physical activity or creative expression.

Here are some great gift ideas for kids.

Books

Reading opens the world to children and aids in both social and language development. For a meaningful gift, choose a beloved book from your own childhood. Or find one that explores a topic your child is interested in.

“Books are my favorite toys for kids of all ages,” says Dr. Tomaine.

Infants and toddlers. Reading to a young child is a wonderful shared activity. Board books and books made of vinyl or cloth are perfect for babies and toddlers because they’re designed to withstand rough handling. Look for ones with bright colors and different textures.

Beginner readers. Match the book with the child’s reading level. Books should challenge a child without causing frustration.

School-age and older. Kids take great pride in tackling their first chapter books. Look for book series, which allow readers to stay with favorite characters through multiple volumes. They’re a great way to keep kids reading! 

Games

Board games and cards build problem-solving skills, encourage social interaction and teach kids to win — and lose gracefully. They also offer fun for the whole family. Pull out the checkers and let the games begin!

Puzzles and building blocks

These mainstays of the toy box help children with problem-solving and fine motor skills. Toddlers enjoy shape sorters, puzzles that require them to fit a piece into a corresponding hole. Blocks stoke imaginative play and also build mathematical skills.

Outdoor toys

Playing outside has so many benefits — kids burn calories, strengthen bones and muscles, build vitamin D and so much more. Some tried-and-true outdoor toys are bicycles, balls, jump ropes, hula hoops and yard games like badminton or horseshoes. Teach your child jump rope rhymes, ball games and hula-hoop moves from your childhood.

Arts and crafts

Coloring books, crayons, paints, drawing tablets, modeling clay, sidewalk chalk and other art supplies spark creativity, encourage self-expression and build fine motor skills.

Magnetic letters and numbers

Stick these on your refrigerator for daily fun and learning. Magnetic letters help very young children learn the alphabet. Children will be proud to spell their names and other words as they get older.

Toys and props for imaginary play

Kids love to play dress-up and you don’t have to spend a lot of money on costumes. Shop in your own closet and put together a basket of clothes, shoes, hats, jewelry and ties for the child in your life.

Dolls, action figures and stuffed animals lend themselves to endless play scenarios.

Pretend food, dishes and utensils can make great props for playing restaurant, school cafeteria, grocery store or anything else a child can dream up.

Digital media

While traditional toys make the best gifts, most children would welcome a videogame or digital device under the wrapping paper, too.

When giving a child technology, set ground rules about its use right away, before it becomes a problem, Dr. Tomaine says. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day, parents should figure out what makes sense for their family and aim for a healthy balance between technology and other activities.

“Be aware that technology can be very isolating. It’s often just the child and the videogame or the child and the tablet. When we have non-technology games, it encourages children to socialize, get outside and exercise,” adds Dr. Tomaine.

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