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The 7 Best Gifts for Preschoolers

As a mom and long-time preschool teacher, Ms. Meyers knows which toys get used and which ones wind up in the back of the closet.

Preschoolers don't need expensive STEM toys, but they do need plenty of art materials to stimulate their creativity: paints, brushes, paper, markers, chalk, colored pencils, and crayons.

Preschoolers don't need expensive STEM toys, but they do need plenty of art materials to stimulate their creativity: paints, brushes, paper, markers, chalk, colored pencils, and crayons.

The Best Gifts for Preschoolers Are Timeless

When shopping for preschoolers, keep in mind that the best toys are the same ones you had as a kid. In their simplicity and versatility, they've survived the test of time for very good reasons. You can't go wrong with these seven classic gifts for preschoolers:

  • wooden blocks
  • wooden puzzles
  • an easel
  • art supplies
  • kids' music
  • classic games
  • a water table

When Choosing the Best Gifts for Preschoolers, Think Simplicity and Versatility

If you're shopping for a preschooler, resist the newest, flashiest playthings on the market and go simple. Otherwise, you'll wind up with something that brings instant glee when the gift is unwrapped but then goes unused. It gets tossed aside after a few days—money down the drain and more clutter in the home!

The latest tempting toys for tots are prominently labelled "STEM," which is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. These toys, games, and kits are bought for preschoolers with the hope of fostering little geniuses who will one day attend MIT and land high-paying jobs in Silicon Valley. They're typically over-priced, cheaply made, overly complicated, and developmentally inappropriate. Kids get easily frustrated with them and parents do, too!

1. Wooden Blocks: They Never Go Out of Style!

Visit any preschool or childcare center and you'll see a group of children playing, building, and exploring with old-fashioned wooden blocks. Watch and listen for a while and you'll quickly understand all the benefits of owning them. Wooden blocks stimulate conversation among kids, teach new vocabulary, and enhance social skills such as sharing, taking turns, and working together as a team.

Children discuss measurement: How tall should we make it? How wide should we build it? Are these two square blocks as long as that rectangular one? They talk about engineering: Is this strong enough to support that? Can this block go under that one? Will this big, heavy block make the others collapse?

Wooden blocks kindle children's imaginations as they combine them with other toys: Hot Wheels to make a race track, dinosaurs to create a prehistoric playground, Little People to make a town. The possibilities are endless. When my boys were little, they spent hours making mazes out of wooden blocks so their pet hamster could crawl through them!

A quality set of wooden blocks is a smart investment and will provide hours of creative fun for children.

A quality set of wooden blocks is a smart investment and will provide hours of creative fun for children.

Blocks Promote Creativity, Conversation, and Team Work

With blocks, the possibilities are infinite!

2. Wooden Puzzles: Children Need Quiet, Cerebral Toys, Too!

Parents, grandparents, family, and friends love to hear the squeals of delight when presenting preschoolers with baby dolls, trains, and stuffed animals. While other toys such as puzzles receive a low-key response, they shouldn't be forgotten. Puzzles are a must-have item, especially today when youngsters are starting kindergarten with poor fine motor skills. Puzzles are fantastic for enhancing the pincer grasp so youngsters can hold pencils and scissors comfortably and correctly upon starting school.

Wooden puzzles come in different shapes, colors, and styles. They usually have themes such as farm animals, fruits and vegetables, construction vehicles, the alphabet, and numbers. These themes teach children about the world around them. Puzzles also promote the following:

  • Reasoning skills and problem solving strategies
  • Fine motor development and hand-eye coordination
  • Visual discrimination
  • Sorting and classifying skills
  • Self-esteem for completing a task
  • Shape recognition
Puzzles promote fine motor skills and problem solving.Garage sales and children's re-sale stores are good resources for wooden puzzles at reasonable prices.

Puzzles promote fine motor skills and problem solving.Garage sales and children's re-sale stores are good resources for wooden puzzles at reasonable prices.

Not all toys for preschoolers need to be loud and flashy. Puzzles are terrific for quiet times.

3. An Easel: Open-Ended Art That Stimulates Creativity and Independence!

A sturdy easel makes a fabulous gift for preschoolers and will be enjoyed for years to come. Children can use it for painting as well as drawing, coloring, and writing. They can use it alone or with friends, indoors or out. Many have a chalkboard or magnetic board on the back that increases the creative possibilities.

Easel painting is open-ended art at its best as kids have the sheer joy of expressing themselves through their creations. They experience art as both empowering and soothing—something they want to continue throughout their lifetime because it makes them feel good.

An easel allows for tremendous versatility. Parents can change it up so the children never get bored: using tempera paints one day and watercolors the next, helping the child mix primary colors to make secondary colors, letting them add white to make pastels, putting out certain color combinations near the holidays (orange and black for Halloween/ pink, red, and white for Valentine's Day, having them add shapes, glitter, yarn, fabric, etc. to their painting). With easel painting, the possibilities are endless!

With an easel, preschoolers have opportunities to experiment with paint, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and chalk.

With an easel, preschoolers have opportunities to experiment with paint, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and chalk.

This Easel Is Versatile and Will Provide Hours of Enjoyment

4. Open-Ended Art Supplies: Simple Is Best!

One of the best possible gifts for preschoolers is a basket of high quality art supplies. It could include a watercolor kit, tempera paints, brushes of various sizes, white and colored paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, colored chalk, play-dough with a mat and tools, stamps, stickers, glitter pens, craft scissors, a bottle of glue, and a glue stick. When I taught preschool and kindergarten, I was shocked at the number of kids who didn't have these supplies at home. They would ask me if they could take art materials from the classroom so they could create at their house. A collection of art supplies can also be put in a suitcase or carrying tote so kids can take it in the car, to the park, or for sleepovers.

5. Kids' Music: Get Your Groove On With These Favorites!

Giving the gift of music to a preschooler will bring loads of happiness. Plus, the songs teach so much: the alphabet, counting, rhyming words, shapes, manners, left/right, and movement. Here are some favorites that have stood the test of time and always put a smile on the faces of adults as well as kids.

*Learning Basic Skills Through Music Volumes 1 & 2 by Hap Palmer—Hap Palmer has been around a long time and with good reason. He's the quintessential singer of kids' music and a favorite of preschool and kindergarten teachers.

*Kids in Motion by Greg and Steve—These songs will get you and your child up and moving. They're high-energy fun and get kids exercising without even realizing their exercising!

*Happiness Cake by Linda Arnold—These are terrific songs for listening to in the car. Some are soft and sentimental and other are just crazy good fun.

*10 Carrot Diamond by Charlotte Diamond —Kids adore this collection of songs, especially Looking for Dracula and I Wanna be a Dog.

*Dr. Jean Sings Silly Songs by Dr. Jean —While her voice may not sound pleasing to everyone, Dr. Jean has the ability to choose songs that kids love and want to hear again and again.

*Late Last Night by Joe Scruggs —Sing along with these entertaining songs that make kids squeal with delight.

*The Singable Songs Collection by Raffi —Many adults will remember listening to Raffi when they were kids. The music stands the test of time with classics such as Down By the Bay and Willoughby Wallaby Woo.

When it comes to kids' music, Raffi is a legend!

6. Games, Games, Games: Develop Fine Motor Skills While Having Fun!

Sadly, many preschoolers today only play games on the computer, iPhone, and iPad, which deprives them of opportunities to build their fine motor skills. Kindergarten teachers are noticing children entering school with weak hands and fingers, making it hard for them to hold a pencil correctly, cut with scissors, or string beads. Giving preschoolers one of these classic games not only promotes their fine motor development but it enhances social and communication skills, encourages good sportsmanship, and gives everyone in the family a much-needed break from technology.

Don't Break the Ice—This simple game has been around a long time. Holding a mallet, the players lightly strike the blocks of ice. If the player causes the polar bear on the block of ice to fall, he loses. When using the mallet, children are learning about proper grip and are building muscles in their hands and fingers.

HiHo CherryO—This is the quintessential game for preschoolers. It teachers math concepts such as adding, subtracting, and counting. Children use the pincer grasp (holding an item between the thumb and index or middle finger) to pick up the cherries. This is excellent practice because they'll need a developed pincer grasp for handwriting in kindergarten.

Pop-Up Pirate—In this game, children slide plastic swords into the barrel. If the player makes the pirate pop up from the barrel, he's out. It's fun, suspenseful, and promotes fine motor dexterity.

"Don't Break the Ice" is a classic game that enhances fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

"Don't Break the Ice" is a classic game that enhances fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

7. Water Table: Inside or Out, Playing in Water is Fun!

If you really want to make a splash with your gift, a water table is the way to go! Like wooden blocks, it encourages the 3 C's: conversation, community, and cooperation. A group of children can gather around a water table for hours, never getting bored and always finding new things to explore. Some days the water table can serve as a bathing station for baby dolls or stuffed dogs. Other days it can become a pond, filled with rubber ducks, frogs, and fish.

By playing with cups and spoons in the table, children learn about measurement. Water bottles, funnels, and plant misters enhance eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. Children learn math concepts such as full and empty, before and after, heavy and light, shallow and deep as well as science concepts such as float and sink. Best of all, the water table is versatile and can also be filled with sand, beans, or rice. Investing in a sturdy water table is definitely worth the expense.

A water table can also be filled with sand, beans, or rice. Children have fun and learn about measurement while playing at a water table.

A water table can also be filled with sand, beans, or rice. Children have fun and learn about measurement while playing at a water table.

What Mattered Most When You Were a Preschooler?

© 2015 McKenna Meyers