Christmas Gifts: Turn choosing presents into child's play

Selecting gifts for kids shouldn't always be about buying into the latest craze. Fiona Campbell looks at books and toys that will fire children's imaginations

The year that I vowed never to buy another children's toy (a vow that has since been broken many times) was the year that my nieces came for Christmas and got bored before they had finished opening the presents I'd bought them. Loving parents and relatives bombard their children with wonderful gifts at Christmas, and yet kids are often content with very little.

Crazes and peer pressure appear to suggest that children are becoming more materialistic, with money and material gifts being equated with love. But Angela Underdown of the Children's Society says that the one gift that is at a premium now is time. She advises parents and relatives to put aside more time for their children. "We need to listen to children and hear what they want, but also be aware that children often don't say what they really want, which is love, affection and attention."

Thea Backhouse, an expert in education, recommends inventing stories for children, or reading to them. Adults unsure of their powers of invention may be inspired by Keith Johnstone's book, Impro for Storytellers (pounds 9.99, Faber & Faber) which explores a variety of games based on the principle of saying yes to every idea. Players invent a story by taking turns to add the first idea that occurs to them. Other useful imagination tools include The Anti-Colouring Book, by Susan Striker and Edward Kimmel (pounds 3.99, Scholastic).

Good books to read to your children include illustrator/author Carolyn Dinan's books, for example Goodnight Monster (for five- to eight-year- olds, pounds 3.99, Puffin) and her magical tale, Donkey Magic, (pounds 3.99 Puffin). These books have a sense of playful exploration that will appeal to children (and to the adults reading them).

Other kids books this Christmas include Susan Laughs, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, which aims to encourage understanding towards disabled children (pounds 9.99, Andersen Press); Holly, by Ruth Brown, the story of an orphaned kitten (pounds 9.99, Andersen Press); and The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg (pounds 9.99 Andersen Press), which is a thrilling tale of a journey by train to Santa's kingdom and the adventures of a small boy there. Finally, Humphrey's Corner, by Sally Hunter (pounds 9.99, Viking), for pre-schoolers, comes with its own Humphrey toy.

For new babies, try some luxuriously cosy winter warmers (they're also washable!): soft fleece baby bunting (pounds 39.95), baby pillow (pounds 24.95) and blanket (pounds 39.95, all from Jenny Blanc Designs, 0181 943 4440).Tartine & Chocolat cosmetics are specially designed for baby skin. Its Ptisenbon Eau de Senteur (pounds 27.50) is available from department stores.

Toys that involve both adults and children include the Manhattan puppet theatre, with its own finger puppets (pictured below, pounds 37.50 for theatre plus puppets). Manhattan also makes other soft toys, such as Lizzie the Lizard, designed in soft velvet, with its own name-tag (pounds 12.50 from toy stores nationwide, or mail order from Manhattan 08700 129090).

Millennium Mallets supply both adult- and child-sized croquet sets for all the family, and part of the proceeds go to support Kenyan wildlife and local Kenyan groups.(pounds 300, adult set; pounds 150 child set, 01289 388210). Escor's hand-made traditional toys (made by the disabled) include a set of skittles, which should provide fun for all the family (available from toyshops nationwide or 01202 591081). Alternatively, cook with your children with a set of "make and bake" Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer cookies (pounds 5.50, Boots).

One surpise gift that should go down well is the Chocolate Labrador, which comes with its own sack of chocolates (pounds 29.50 plus p&p, ChocExpress, tel 01763 257744). Still on the pets theme, the motorised Harry Hamster (pounds 5, Boots) has fine comedy value

Dressing-up is always popular, and among the best costumes available are the George range from Asda (from pounds 8.99).

Teenage girls will love the No 17 Manicure Kit (pounds 13, Boots), while any kids who enjoy following the adventures of Ross, Rachel and co will appreciate a Friends alarm clock (pounds 15, Boots).

Finally, the more technically minded child will enjoy the Science Museum's innovative aerial camera, which can be attached to their favourtie kite and sent up on reconnaissance missions (pounds 36.99 plus p&p from the Science Museum catalogue, order no 95209, 01623 724515).

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

    £16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

    £9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn