By BROOKE HENDERSON
Special to South Florida Times
The Holiday season brings an opportunity to spend time with family and friends while also showering each other with gifts that help celebrate the festive season. From the youngest members who are just beginning to expect to have something under the tree, to the significant other for whom shopping each year is a challenge to get it right, this gift guide offers a few pointers for interesting, meaningful items sure to put smiles on faces.
For The Kids
Racecar, dump truck, racecar. In this season of gift giving, you can give them what they want and still break from the routine—and maybe get a little free yard work done. The CAT Digger; $85.69 (2+ years) is an investment, but its versatility makes it worth it. Having an excavator that your child can actually sit on, drive, and manipulate makes family beach days a little more interesting. And it’s easy to lure your child to play outside when there is important digging to be done.
Building and construction toys, blocks in particular, are the ultimate open-ended creativity toy. Children can play with them for hours on end, all while developing math, problem-solving, and spatial thinking skills. That is why you can never go wrong with Mega Bloks First Builders Big Building Bag, 80-Piece, $14.59 (1-2 1/2 years). Children typically grasp block building somewhere between 12 and 18 months, and the locking mechanism is just a little bit easier for beginners to put together and pull apart then Legos. But don’t worry, Legos are still a great gift for girls and boys four and up.
There is that awful stereotype that says building toys are only for boys. But it’s not all about princesses and pink anymore for the girls. GoldieBlox ($21.99) has a new toy line and their goal is to get girls building. By utilizing girls’ strong verbal skills, their story based construction set encourages confidence in spatial skills. Through construction toys, an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math can be developed to hopefully reverse the trend of girls losing interest in these subjects as early as age 8. Through their award-winning debut story, GoldieBox aims to “… inspire the future generation of female engineers” by helping girls to realize they can do anything boys can do.
For the little princesses, there are always a variety of toys to meet their holiday gift demands. For the die-hard princess fan, it might be a good idea to invest in the Melissa & Doug Folding Princess Castle; $63.16 (3-10 years). It has lots of accessible reach-in play space thanks to multiple play levels and an open courtyard. The impressive palace design is equipped with removable turrets, bedrooms, a working drawbridge, a stable, and more. It is large enough for several princesses and princes to play in at once, with durable hand-painted accents. When they leave the castle, it can a fold into a smaller size when not in use.
The Disney Frozen Color Change Elsa Doll and Disney Frozen Anna & Kristoff Dolls 2 Pack $24.24 are just as popular as the movie because of their quality and large Barbie-like size. The two pack is an especially good deal and kids will love Elsa’s “magic” dress, which has a secret pattern that only appears when it gets wet. And don’t forget the Disney Frozen Olaf Doll; $14.99 (3-10 years).He is also Barbie-sized; and like the real Olaf, he comes apart and can be put back together again and his facial expressions change when his head is pushed down. He’s a great little toy for both boys and girls at a reasonable price.
Another great fun and functional toy is the Rainbow Loom® by Choon’s Design LLC, ($14.99) With a variety of colorful bands, boys and girls make bracelets and anything else they can imagine. When children loop the bands on the Rainbow Loom, they hold the hook the same way they would a pencil, helping them with their handwriting. This is a gift that keeps giving, as the child who receives it will make things for their family and friends.
Besides building toys, another stable in any toy chest is a tool set. They’re all you need to get a child’s imagination running, and add in working nuts and bolts, and you’ve created motor skill practice to boot. Green Toys makes a set made from 100 percent-recycled high-density polyethylene (#2 HDPE), which is considered the safest type of plastic. ($16.10) It comes in blue, yellow, green, red, and brown.
If you must give a car, give a car whose possibilities are endless. The Magformers XL Cruiser Car Set ($47.73) does not just build, it rolls, zooms, and never breaks down. The magnets are housed in colorful, high quality ABS plastic so they always attract, connecting the moment any two pieces touch. Magformers are most importantly easy to use and never frustrating for little fingers.
For the Bigger Kids (Teens)
SanDisk 64GB Ultra Class 10 MicroSD Card ($74.95) is even better than a gift card. With 64GB of storage they’ll never run out of storage on their smartphones, or cameras, or tablets, or almost anything. The card comes with an adapter so it fits into the average size SD slot, so those perfect pictures and five page essays are never lost. The ultra class 10 guarantees a high-speed transfer of data when copying things to and from the card. Your high-tech teen will thank you, especially when they get to save their level on their new video game.
Some of the newest video game releases include Halo: The Master Chief Edition, Assassins Creed Unity, NBA 2k15 as well as FIFA2k15 and Madden2k15, Disney Infinity, and Sims 4. Games coming later this season are Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, LittleBigPlanet 3 and Grand Theft Auto V and WWE 2k15.
As far as gift cards go, a gift card to Etsy ranks close to number one. Etsy is an online marketplace and mecca for your vintage-inspired teen. Items listed are artisan or collectible. This means anything from authentic high-waist jeans from the 1960s to Star Wars-inspired wallets to custom jewelry charms. With gift cards ranging from $25 to $250, anyone can find something they love on this mashup website.
And anyone can benefit from a charger and phone case in one, but parents especially. The hefty cost of a charging cellphone case is worth its weight when parents are free from the mourning wail that accompanies a dead cellphone. Mophie is just one great brand catering to the IPhone and the odd Galaxy S5. Their power station XL is said to be the longest lasting universal battery available today and is compatible with all tablets, smartphones, and USB devices. It is fully capable of charging two tablets simultaneously with the fastest output possible. Prices start and range around $100.
This season for teenagers and adults alike there is a category of gifts made of old things you should have kept. Polaroid cameras and record players have made a strong comeback, and that means expensive film and vinyl that used to be cheap.
There might be a few lucky finds at garage sales and thrift shops, but it is much safer to invest in a new instant camera. One of the top brands is, of course, the Polaroid Socialmatic ($299). It has a feature to share what you shoot on all of your online social networks instantly, along with being WiFi and Bluetooth compatible so you can upload pictures stored in its substantial 4GB of internal storage. A more affordable but still fabulous instant camera is the FujiFilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Camera ($69.99). This mini point and shoot comes in a stunning array of pastel finishes, complete with an exposure adjustment feature and an automatic flash.
For the photographer looking for tons of control over their instant photos, the Instax 90 Neo Classic Instant Camera ($199) is a better fit. Along with six shooting modes, it has settings for fast-paced action, super close ups, and artsy double exposures, as well as adjustable shutter speed and a tripod mount.
Record players are still as temperamental as ever despite their Millennial facelift. Audio-Technica and Crosley are two of the most reputable brands. Crosley uses a diamond needle, so the record player should be able to get 10,000 hours of playing time before it wears out.
The Cruiser model from Crosley ($100) is three-speeds, portable, complete with a headphone jack, RCA audio out, and features a built in full-range stereo speakers turntable. For serious record collects willing to pay more for their sound, the Audio-Technica Direct-Drive Professional Turntable USB & Analog ($263) is a great choice. Its defining feature is its selectable internal stereo phono pre-amplifier, which allows the turntable to plug directly to components with no dedicated turntable input. The gift of music is universal. Studies have shown that listening to familiar music can trigger memory so for those older with memory impairments, familiar music can literally be a lifeline. The non-profit organization Music & Memory Foundation uses this gift to help those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias find joy through listening to their favorite music, and you can too. Past Perfect Music (www.pastperfect.com) is a British company notable for their extensive collection of music from the 1920s-1940s. They sell pre-loaded flash drives and iPods ($433) filled with over 70 hours’ worth of the most popular music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s as well as MP3 players.
A Google Chromebook can be enjoyed by any member of the family because it is especially simple to use for staying in touch and enjoying the aforementioned music. Starting at $199, Chromebook is an affordable laptop with an easy-to-navigate operating system. Set-up quick and the laptop is easy for multiple users to share.