My Highly Idiosyncratic Picks for Holiday Gifts

It’s already late in the season for a list like this…even writing and reading this blog is a form of procrastination! But I have a few favorite gift tips that I wanted to share.  So without further ado.

For competitive kids who like to play games, but not together
How do you get a 7 year-old boy to play with two 5 year-old girls, and not cream them every time at a game? My granddaughters, Rosie and Teddy, were tired of losing, and refused to play with their cousin Jude anymore. Naturally, I couldn’t allow the girls to quit so I found, while searching on Amazon, a company I love, Peaceable Kingdom, and their line of cooperative board games. Starting at around 3-4 years of age, I recommend the game, Hoot Owl Hoot, and progressing to other games like Race to the Treasure for slightly older kids. Everyone wins or everyone loses. For the first time, I watched the children help each other figure out the best moves. Very gratifying for this grandmother!

For the business partner who likes a good story
I read about this book first on Bill Gates’ blog. I won’t repeat all the amazing reviews, just buy it. The fascinating, funny, inspiring “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Founder of Nike” by Phil Knight, will be appreciated.

For anyone who designs kids games
Mark Schlichting has been an admired designer since his earliest days at Broderbund. In addition to having credits on many classic kids games, he just wrote what I consider to be the best book available on the art and craft of designing children’s interactive products.  It is chock full of wisdom and warmth throughout the almost 400 beautifully illustrated pages. My favorite chapters include a brilliant discussion of traditional children’s play patterns, and how the best designers tap into those patterns in order to create something new. Other helpful sections discuss how to design challenges, leveling and pacing, all of which is extremely difficult to get right in kids products. But the best part of the book, in my opinion, is Mark’s discussion of gendered play patterns. It is a minefield, without a doubt, but he manages to put into words so many of the sex differences I have observed in children over the years, and how that relates to design. Friendship versus winning, action versus dialogue, epic story versus personal relevance, and more. Don’t miss it: Understanding Kids, Play, and Interactive Design.

For the man who has everything
My husband, David, has a new love in his life, “OK Google”. He talks to his new Google Home device each morning in dulcet tones, saying “please” and “thank you” as the voice activated know-it-all tells him the traffic, plays his favorite playlist and much more. At first Google Home retrieved his requested tunes on Google music, but after only a few times of specifying Spotify, Google grocked David’s preference. Machine learning is a beautiful thing and is probably why we will end up using Google Home more than our Amazon Echo, another voice activated smart assistant device.

If you want to be the coolest parent, or grandparent
Forbes just published this list of the best connected toys this Xmas. Connected toys combine the best of physical toys with added digital pizzazz and depth. I have always been a fan of connected toys because kids learn through physical manipulation — not everything can or should be digital. It’s the combination of physical with digital where the real magic happens. Of the products listed, I am a big fan of the Osmo products (although ridiculously pricey) and Maze by Seedling. Kids, ages 8+, build their maze with physical pieces, take a picture of it, then put on Google cardboard and walk through their maze in virtual reality. They can further customize and decorate their maze with obstacles, pictures, etc. Very cool, and although I am not a huge fan of VR for kids, short play periods with Google cardboard feels like a good introduction to the experience that all kids seem to crave.

If you need to butter-up a teacher
I recommend another connected toy that just started shipping this week, called Happy Atoms. You physically assemble models of molecules from atoms, which connect via magnets.  Then you scan the molecules you’ve built, and the app provides detailed information about its composition, name, properties, etc. Designed for ages 10-17, it combines the best of physical manipulation, discovery learning, and digital depth.

If you still aren’t convinced, maybe follow the advice of this article. Research tells us that the best gifts are the ones that people actually ask for!  Shocking, I know.

Happy Holidays!