Best Gifts for Boys, Girls, Kids for the Holidays

In case you haven’t noticed from the stores decking their halls since October, the holiday season is upon us. Whether that means Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day, St. Nicholas Day, New Years, or more, I am sure I am not versed in; it is the time of year people give gifts.

I do a lot of reading and writing for my job, and this time of year, I repeatedly see titles or requests for expert opinion on the “Best Gifts for Girls” or “Top Boy Gifts in 2020”.  

It makes me cringe. Here’s Why.

I thought we were moving past all this “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”? If you don’t know my full background with gender theory, I invite you to go back and read my post, “Boys Can Like Pink Too!”

Long story short, I studied and wrote my master thesis on the topic. Erasing gender stereotypes has been a quest for my early childhood career. 

Just to clarify, I am not saying give your son a barbie doll if he doesn’t want one or your daughter a toolset if she has no interest. But, I AM saying don’t judge a gift by the gender of the child receiving it and don’t make assumptions a child will like a gift based on their gender.

Children today are much more likely to play with something previously deemed gender-specific for the opposite sex.

My oldest son loves all things reptile and Batman, and he makes bracelets out of those tiny (annoying) rubber bands. My youngest is an engineer at heart, loves science kits, and he owns a sparkly pink jacket because he loves to dance and thinks it makes him look like Michael Jackson.

Kids don’t fit into a one size fits all gift guide.

One of the best ways to gauge what a child likes is to ask them. I am also a big fan of the old school method of providing them with a catalog and having them put their initials next to items they wanted. 

I was surprised this year by my six-year-old picking out a set of pajamas!  

If you ask their input, there is no guessing. To help your relatives out (especially grandmas and such), create an online wishlist that you can pass out. Or send out a generic theme such as Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, Legos, or American Girl Dolls.  

When you give a child gifts, include the gift receipt and make sure the parents know where to find it; if it ends up being a duplicate gift, no foul, they can just exchange it for something else.  

Want something even better than a gift? Gift a child an experience or membership. Over the years, my children’s grandparents have purchased them memberships to museums, the zoo, put money towards summer camps, and paid for our Disney+ annual subscription.

You can give them a coupon for a weekend at your home and visiting a favorite place of their choosing. You can put money towards programs they want to participate in, like coding classes, magic school, or musical instrument lessons.

Gifts don’t have to be things; they can be experiences.

The long and short is, buy gifts based on who the child is and not what gender-specific marketed toy companies make you believe is appropriate. 

If you are genuinely at a loss, buy a gift card to a popular store or site. I understand that some people find that to be impersonal, but I can tell you as the mother of two children under 10 – They LOVE it!

A gift card gives them the power to make their own decisions, which is an important skill when it comes to learning how to manage money.

Most importantly, though, a gift that comes from the heart will never be wrong. If you are taking time to choose the perfect gift for someone young or old, when your heart is in it, that is truly all that matters.

Inspiring Books for Teachers

Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.

I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!

The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other

I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.

Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!

Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.

It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.

It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.

Teacher Man

If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.

You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party

This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.

We have all heard little kids say these things:

You can’t come to my birthday party!

You can’t come to my house!

You can’t play with my anymore!

It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power

A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.

I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….

This is how it Always is

This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.

This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can

The End of Education

This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.

There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!

Boys Can Like Pink Too!

Featured

I know this post may upset or offend some people, so I will state from the start that it is not my intention.  My goal is to break gender discrepancies that society adheres to and to discuss unintentional things we do to drive those stereotypes home to our children.

 First, allow me to give you a little background on myself and this subject. I spent a year of grad school researching and writing a thesis paper on the development of the gender schema in children.   It’s long and wordy and highly researched and runs about 60 pages, so I won’t subject you to all that, the point is I know this subject intimately. It is near and dear to me. 

Did you know that before the 1940’s it was often suggested by clothing retailers and newsprint that boys wear pink and girls were blue?  These two colors showed up well in print ads.   We could be having a totally different conversation today if people stuck with that.  Before that in the 1920s most babies wore neutral colors, girls AND boys often wore dresses up until about 7 and had long hair (gasp).  Only 80 years ago is when all this nonsense about a girl color and a boy color really took off, and the American society latched on to it and went running.  I always say to my students, and my two boys, “Colors are for everyone.”  Then I go on to blow their minds and say pink is actually NOT one of my favorite colors (unless it is neon pink, I mean I am a product of the ’80s).  If you want to read more about the evolution of clothing colors, please click on the link posted at the bottom.

Now let us delve into pants and dresses.  Most of us do not bat an eye when we see a woman wearing pants.  Yet again, only 100 years ago, it was taboo.  Women who wore trousers were scandalous or considered perverted.  They were also required to wear corsets and a lot of other bullshit gear, but I won’t rant on that, at least not today.  Currently, I am wearing leggings, an oversize t-shirt, and using an exercise ball as a chair. Not precisely super feminine, but again what defines feminine has changed and much for the better.  Besides, my Disney Belle leggings are really cozy.

My younger son was so proud of his Elsa Shirt, March 2017

 However, a boy in a dress that is still a BIG no-no to most people in western culture.  Allow me to state I am not suggesting you run out and buy dresses for your son; unless he wants to wear them, and then I totally support you being the awesome parent that encourages him to be who he is.  Here’s the thing, most preschool boys (and having been a preschool teacher well over a decade I can tell you they will) put on a dress while playing at some point.  I’ve had little boys who would walk into the classroom, and the first thing they would do is head to the dress-up bin and put on their favorite dress for the day. Children like to mimic what they see.  Maybe mom wears a lot of dresses, when teaching, I can often be seen wearing a long maxi dress.  Or perhaps they just think it’s fun and pretty like the girls do.  I am raising two boys during the rise of Frozen, dresses happen.  Dolls happen too by the way; embrace it, studies show that boys that play with dolls grow up to be more attentive fathers.  No proof or research points to a boy being gay or transgender because he wore a dress or played with dolls when young.  If your child is LGBT, you can’t change that, so love the shit out of them and support them through life; even with loving parents, it is still a hard path.  Would you tell your daughter to stop wearing pants and pretending to be an engineer?  Nope, probably not.  Extend the same to our boys.

Our culture tells boys to “Man up” “Don’t be so sensitive” “Don’t cry” or my personal favorite “Stop acting like a girl,” implicitly implying to our boys and girls, that girls are bad and weak.   Our language has so much power, even if we do not mean to be derogatory, we can do a lot of damage with words.  The old “Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is frankly, bullshit.  Take it from someone who was in an emotionally abusive relationship at one point in college, words can destroy you.  When boys are to hold in their emotions because it is weak to do otherwise, we are sending them a message that their feelings don’t matter and that real men are tough and don’t feel things.  Some of the manliest men I know I have seen cry.  We are doing our boys a disservice by shutting down their emotions.  Emotions are human, not gender-specific.  Hey, there’s a new phrase! “Feelings don’t have gender.”

For our girls, we need to stop telling them they are pretty all the time or how cute their outfit is.  Sure, a lot girls like to hear that, but when you hear to it too often, especially when you are young, you start to believe your looks define you.  Studies have shown that the majority of greetings young girls receive by their teachers as they enter the classroom are related to their looks. At the same time, boys, are much  more likely to be greeted along the lines of “Hey, how are you today?”  The problem is we think we are just giving a compliment.  Compliments are lovely and necessary exchanges; they make us feel good to both give and receive, so give them. However, I challenge you next time you see your niece, stepdaughter, neighbor, or student pay attention to what you say. Is the first thing out of your mouth about their appearance?  One of the most unintentionally damaging things I ever heard was done by a father to his daughter.  A dad came in to pick up his 3-year-old daughter from my classroom.  She pulled out a picture she had drawn and said, “I made a picture of Mommy!” You could see how proud she was.  He looked at the picture, and incredulously said, “That’s Mommy?” and laughed, he continued to say, “That must be Mommy without her makeup on.”  The message that was sent to this young girl was: 1) Your picture is so bad I can’t even tell what it is 2) Because it’s so bad and you say it’s Mommy that means women are only attractive with makeup on.  I know for a fact he did not intend to send that message, but he did.  Words have power.

My younger one at 3, 2017

          We do not need to force children into cross-gender roles or out of gender-typical roles.  We simply need to let them be who they are.   Gender Roles Need Not Apply Here is the message we want to send.  You are a boy who loves to cook and garden, awesome those are great skills to have.  You are a girl who wants to become an astronaut, you will be great at the because astronauts must work hard.  You are a boy who wants to be a dancer, that’s amazing you have to be really strong to become a dancer.  You are a girl who wants to run her own business, that means you must be really good at math!  See where I am going? 

Studies show that gender roles are becoming more neutral in the household.  Our world is changing, and that’s good!  I know in my house it is pretty much 50/50.  He cooks, he cleans, and he does his own laundry.  I enjoy doing the yard work and can often be found with a tool in my hand attempting some minor household project.  Credit is due however, for the brand-new toilet he installed in our downstairs bathroom, way beyond my pay-grade.  The point is there is no right or wrong way to be a male or female.  My guy can be one of the manliest guys, by standard definition, you have ever met.  I mean, he wore a Punisher shirt to work today, and yet I met him while performing in a musical theater production together (he’s really talented too!).

His first Broadway show, 2018!

  It is hard to navigate the waters of parenting. We have friends, co-workers, relatives (and bloggers) telling us how to do everything.  Find your own path.  Here is my final anecdote.  When my older son was in the EXCEEDINGLY early stages of potty training (yes, the kids from that previous post), he wanted Disney Princess underwear.  I can tell you that 6 years ago, they did not make that for boys, I still do not think they do.  Instead, I bought iron-on decals from Etsy, a pack of white briefs, and I made them.  He was delighted (not that it helped!)  The moral is, listen to your kid, love what they love, support them, and be their number one fan.  I mean, I am a nerdy, book-loving, Harry Potter and musical theater geek that can often be heard to say “Yay! Sportsball!” and I let my son play baseball.  But guess what, he loves Broadway too. 

Aladdin 2019

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/ ~ When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink.

The portrait at the top of the post is titled “Portrait of a Baby Boy” and can be found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

https://www.si.edu/unit/american-art-museum