Magical Childhood Newsletter
Volume 25
November 26, 2001

Happy Holidays!  Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving (or Thursday for those of you not in the states).  Here's wishing you a Happy Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and great Kwanzaa. If any of you celebrate other holidays please feel free to write me and let me know about them.  For those of you who don't celebrate the holidays please bear with me and be sure you'll find neat stuff you can use anyway.  ;)

This issue is packed with great gift ideas for kiddos, more links to fun ways to celebrate the season and another craft for homemade presents kids can make.  There's also a special top ten for the holidays.  Let me know if you're looking for anything special this month.  Enjoy!

Great Gifts for Kids.......

Looking for something a little different for a kid in your life this year?  Want something that will last longer than the first day and teach more than commercialism?  Here are some great gifts I've found, all under $20.

To find these some of these online, I recommend searching via -- it will find you the best deal (including shipping costs) for books, videos and music, plus more.

The age groups are pretty random and you can easily swap them around.  Toddlers would love Tinker Toys as much as preschoolers, for instance.

For Babies:

"Baby Songs"  This video by Hap Palmer delighted both my babies and they still love to watch it.  It's more suited for older babies and it will entertain them for quite some years.  Unlike most videos for tots, this one is filled with real babies and kids to watch.  The songs are funny, educational or reassuring (I especially like "My Mommy Comes Back" which shows mommies dropping off kids and then returning for them and talks about how mommy always comes back to get you).  Some of the songs are sung by kids, too.  I find myself humming along and it's tunes I don't mind having stuck in my head.  This is a great video to occupy the kids while dad jumps in the shower or cooks supper, or just to get everybody sitting and unwinding if the stress level is getting too high.  It is obviously from the 80's, which may be good or bad in your eyes.  <G>

Hammering toys  I had to search thrift stores for ours because all I could find in new stores were things with blinking lights and sound effects.  It's worth a search!  Babies and toddlers love to hammer these wooden or plastic pounding tables that you probably remember from your youth.  Larger toy stores should carry them, too.

Nesting and stacking cups

Pound-a-Ball  This sturdy toy has four holes in the top for 4 large, brightly colored plastic balls.  Older babies and toddlers can use the plastic mallet to pound the balls into the holes and watch them go down three levels and roll out at the bottom.

Activity Centers with lots of knobs to turn, flaps to lift, noises to make and ways to use those little fingers.

Books  Yes, babies love books too!  Good choices for this age are board books, bath books and interactive books (like ones with shatterproof mirrors, pockets and buttons).  We really loved More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams, first word books with lots of bright objects to point to and name, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, books with pictures of babies, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins, and any of the adorable board books by Sandra Boynton.


Sturdy wooden puzzles  Some come with knobs to help wee ones, while others teach numbers, letters and colors at the same time.

Magna Doodle  You can't beat this toy for letting kids safely and easily draw without messes and with the magic extra of being able to swipe the slate clean!

Blocks of all shapes and sizes At a local dollar store, I found miniature back packs filled with colored, shaped blocks for a dollar each.  My girls love them!  You can even make your own if you sand them well and leave unfinished (or paint with non-toxic paint).

Old fashioned Dominoes for pattern recognition, setting up trails to knock down, counting and just plain fun.

Kid Tapes  There are some great collections of children's songs on tape or CD that have classic nursery rhymes, fun songs (try Joe Scruggs) or even stories on tape.  Not only will the kids love them, but the parents will love you for it during those long car rides.  Live and Learn (see below) carries a lot of good titles.

Books:  Some of my favorites for toddlers are The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss, Do's and Don'ts by Todd Parr, Clickety Clack by Amy and Robert Spence, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Silly Sally by Audrey Wood, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and books by Martha Alexander like We Never Get to do Anything.

Low cost option:  Make up a huge batch of homemade play-dough and present it in coffee cans that you've covered with contact paper or painted.  Put the dough in large ziplock bags inside the cans, perhaps rainbow tinted or swirled.  If you like, hide small toys in the dough (nothing small enough to fit in a toilet paper tube or it's a choking hazard).  Yes, I'll be sharing our favorite recipe.  Look for it this week, cuz first I have to look for it downstairs.  ;)


Duplos and Legos  At this age, kids are really getting into creating more elaborate structures.  One of the great things about giving these is that it doesn't matter if the child already has some.  The more the better!  You can usually find lots of them at thrift stores if times are tight.  Present them in a cool container or drawstring bag.

Tinker Toys  Yes, they still make them.  More and more stores are carrying them again.  Live and Learn (see below) carries them too, I believe.

Books  Anything by Eric Carle (especially the ones that light up, play music or in some way delight kids at the end), No Jumping on the Bed by Tedd Arnold, A Fairy Went A-Marketing by Rose Fyleman, Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss (great for pre-reading), Mama, Do you Love Me? by Barbara M Joosse, There's a Nightmare in my Closet, by Mercer Mayer or early chapter books like Stuart Little, The A Bear Called Paddington series or Winnie the Pooh.

Tea party sets  This is an age where role playing is such a big part of children's lives.  Kids can have hours of fun making tiny treats and sipping tap water tea with teddy bears and little brothers.  For older toddlers, you may want to look for the real porcelain kind instead of the cheap plastic ones.  The prices are often comparable and they are so much nicer.

Snow globes, music boxes or similar treasures Things that play beautiful music or have tiny whimsical parts delight little ones.  My girls will sit and ooh and ah over a butterfly snow globe that plays "Wind Beneath my Wings" that my mother gave them before she died.  Yes, these are fragile and kids need to be supervised with them, but kids deserve treasures to learn how to respect them.  Not every possession should be plastic day-glo.  :)

Pattern Blocks  The bigger the better, and preferably in real wood.  These vividly colored blocks or tiles can be used to recreate elaborate patterns or create their own.  These toys are so creative but they also use skills in kids that will later help them with spatial relationships, math and more.  Victoria loves these and will sit and lose herself in creating beautiful designs.

Low Cost Option  For a computer savvy child, download lots of freeware games in subjects the child likes and present her with the disks.  Attach a list of the games and a description of each.  There are some neat ones that teach everything from geography to phonics but in totally fun ways.

Grade Schoolers:

Hopping balls These just squeak in under $20 but what fun they are!  Betcha after the kids are asleep the parents will take a try bouncing on these balls too.  ;)  Hearthsong (below) carries 3 sizes and I've seen them in other catalogs too (Constructive Playthings, below, has one for less).

Books Good books for this age are picture books like Weird Parents by Audrey Wood, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, Eloise by Kay Thompson , Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Paris, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (full of delightful little letters, mini books and such), Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (My favorite all-time picture book!), The Dragons are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky, and chapter books like the Little House on the Prairie series, Judy Blume books (for older grade schoolers and reading alone), Roald Dahl books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Child's Metal Detector  Discovery Toys had some nice ones under $20 last year (Target carries this line).  It's such fun to go searching for treasure with these things!  Even the parents might want to borrow it.

A camera and film   For the price of a disposable camera you can probably find an inexpensive 35 mm one.  For fun, include a roll of black and white film. Make sure to pay for developing too ( has pre-paid mailers you can print out online).

Sealing Wax and a Personalized Stamp What a way to add a classy touch to letters!  Hearthsong carries some of these or you may be able to find them elsewhere. Along the same theme, calligraphy pens can be such a fun gift at this age.

Low Cost Option  Make up an "All About Me" book.  Fill a binder with printed pages full of questions about the child's life, spaces for photos and artwork, story starters on blank pages ("My favorite day last year was when......", fun quizzes (My best friend is, My favorite color is, The TV show I'd most like to spend a day in is, A talent I wish I had is......).  Cover the book with cloth or decorate the outside.


Charm Bracelets are nice for girls, since they can choose their own charms to keep adding to express themselves.

Diaries that lock

Craft kits  Kids love to create things.  There are craft kits for wood burning, scented lotions, robots, you name it.  You can buy kits pre-made or you can put them together yourself.  Get creative-- find the instructions to build a bat house online, get the pieces precut and present the kid with the pieces, nails, instructions and stain to make his own bat house!  (And before you say you don't want bats, remember each one eats 200 mosquitoes an hour in the summertime!)

Rockets These range from blunt-tipped stomp rockets to elaborate recreations of real rockets.  I would have loved to get one as a child, so don't assume this is just a boy's toy!

Shark's teeth, fossils and artifacts Daryl finds these surprisingly inexpensive oddities on E-Bay and small online shops.  An auction ended today where fossils of dragonflies, birds and snakes went for $6.50 plus shipping.  How's that for a gift nobody else in school is going to show up with?  ;)  If you're looking for something in particular, drop me a note and I may know a good source.  Otherwise just do a web search on google and E-Bay for key words like fossil and sale.  You may stumble on some really unique treasures!

Henna Kits  This ancient body art is very popular right now and could be a totally cool gift for some girls.  Just make sure it's okay with the parents, as it can take up to 2 weeks to wash off!

Books  Some good novels for this age are The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper (fantasy set of 5),  Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (a true tale of a 19th century tomboy and her pranks and adventures), and The Pinballs by Betsy Byars.   Scary Stories to Read in the Dark, collected by Alvin Schwartz, is recommended for a spooky, fun out-loud book for grades 5 and up (I haven't read this one but it sounds good for reluctant readers).


Art kits Make sure to include everything they'll need for whatever medium you choose, such as a quality tablet and charcoal pencils and erasers, or a starter watercolor set with brushes, palette, quality paper and a small book on techniques, for example.  Art can be a great way for teens to deal with emotions and express themselves!

Blank books Beautiful, elegant or sophisticated journals can be used for diaries, poetry, writing their own books, or whatever they wish.

Teen magazine subscription Browse the ones at your book store or library first, since some of the stuff in these magazines can be pretty objectionable.  Don't make it too young or preachy though, or they may not read it.

Books:  When I needed a confirmation present for my niece I went to Barnes and Noble to find a good book for teenaged girls.  I found so many great ones that I ended up getting her two.  There are tons of fantastic books out today for girls that speak to them respectfully and honestly while still being modern and grown up enough to be taken seriously.  Go to your neighborhood book store and ask where the "advice" books are for teen girls and just browse.  I guarantee you'll find something you wish you'd had when you were young.

For boys, you can try the same approach (I haven't needed books for teen boys yet so I don't know how available they are).  Be careful to avoid the typical macho nonsense though.  It's becoming easier and easier to grow up as a girl in today's world but boys are still expected to act macho and shove down their emotions.

These looked good for teens:  If High School Is a Game, Here's How to Break the Rules, by Cherie Carter-Scott (for boys and girls), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares (a novel about friendship more suited for teen girls), Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen (a teen novel told through the eyes of both girl and boy who alternately flip for each other and decide the other is a dork-- G), Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan (contains cussing and mature subject matter but widely recommended).  This is also an age where non-fiction and interesting reference books can be great.  Find out the teen's heroes and hobbies and then get some books that tell all about them.

Resources for all ages:

Brave Girls and Strong Women Booklist:
Books recommended for girls from 2 to 17, broken up by age group.

Guys Read  A web site established to encourage boys to read, with book lists.

Best Book Lists:
A round-up of best book lists from Booklist, library associations, etc. for each year, including themes and books for reluctant readers.

Good for Girls  This site recommends books and videos for girls, broken down by age group.  The books brought back a lot of smiles for me.  This website is no longer available.

Try these sites to buy some creative, fabulous gifts....

Live and Learn  I cannot say enough good stuff about this place!  Here you'll find old fashioned classics you loved as a kid, marvelous educational toys that let kids use their creativity, good prices and a great selection.  You won't find mass market nonsense toys or things that blink and flash and do the thinking for your child.  They do ship internationally but they say that the delays in shipping overseas right now mean that they can't deliver before Christmas so they are not shipping internationally until after the holidays.  Sorry!  The good news is you can still go there and find the great toys and then have friends in the states ship them to you or find them elsewhere after Live and Learn narrows down the search for you.  :)   Okay, this site does have all the stuff I maligned above, but they also have a great selection and very good prices.  Last year I bought a Sit N Spin for the girls for $9.99, a large and sturdy wooden abacus for $8.99, a Chunky garage with cars and a little working elevator for $8.49 and a baby walker for the same (the kind you walk with like the ones elderly people use, except with a steering wheel-- G), plus a huge roll of craft paper for art projects for $4.99 (75 feet long).  I was very pleased with all of it.  Shipping was $9.45 for the 5 items standard mail, as opposed to VERY high prices at a lot of online toy stores where they gouge you on checkout to make up for their "discounted" products.  The site's a little slow and graphics intense, but the service was good for me and that's what I look for.

Hearthsong  This children's store has some creative, different toys, though some can get spendy.  Some of my favorite picks are the candle decorating pens (draw with wax to decorate your own candles), MagiColor nail polish that turns colors in sunlight (oh come on, what a fun stocking stuffer!), inexpensive Bungee Balls (balls that attach to the wrist with elastic to bounce back when you toss them) and the construct a robot or robot car kits.

Constructive Playthings  This mega-catalog of toys and supplies for day cares, Montessori schools and home schools has virtually any kind of toy worth having (with a decided lack of things that require batteries).  They are not the most cost effective option but they do have a huge selection of stuff you may not find elsewhere.  If you want a fun toy for a baby that doesn't flash or make siren sounds, this is a good place to look.

Homemade Gifts-- Recipe Books!

Here's a gift idea for older kids to make or for you to do with younger ones.  Make a family recipe book!  Gather up grandma's sweet potato pie recipe, dad's chili, your favorite brownies, and type them up in a nice font.  Put them in sheet protectors and insert them in a binder.  You can enlist the kids to illustrate the pages.  Decorate the front and voila!  A gift everybody will treasure.  To make it especially useful, type up some pages of equivalents, substitutions, and those other things you always search for.  Personalize it by finding recipes you know the recipient will love-- copycat recipes for his favorite dishes while eating out, for instance.

How much do you know about Kwanzaa?

This holiday was created to celebrate African American heritage in 1966.  It is not a religious holiday and doesn't replace Christmas.  Celebrated on 7 days starting on December 26, it teaches 7 principles-- Unity, Self-determination, Collective work and responsibility, Cooperative economics, purpose, Creativity and Faith.

Here are some pages to teach you about this wonderful holiday.
For kids:  Make your own kwanzaa workbook:

* * * * * * * 10 Ways to Make Today Special... Holiday Style * * * * * *

1.  Decorate a tree for the birds using strands of popcorn, pine cone bird feeder ornaments (roll in peanut butter and bird seeds), edible seed pods from the garden, etc.

2.  Make cinnamon applesauce ornaments for a scent that will fill up the house (about one part applesauce to two parts cinnamon, leave to dry overnight or bake in a slow oven).  Shape into dreidels, stars, letters, trees, you name it.  Hang in windows and scatter throughout the house for a lovely scented decoration.  Paint with clear nail polish or shellac to make more permanent (though I'm not sure if you'll keep the scent).

3.  Put jingle bells everywhere!  Sew them onto the kids' socks, hang them on doorknobs, even put a couple on the pets (hey, it keeps the birds safer anyway!).

4.  Cut  out paper snowflakes with the kids and decorate the walls and windows galore.

5.  Have the kids put a special holiday message on the answering machine.

6.  Go on a field trip to collect pine boughs and pine cones to decorate the house.  Spread them on windowsills, tables, etc. and top with colorful bows and ornaments.

7.  Wrap your pictures on the walls.  Take down that tired artwork and wrap it in your nicest wrapping paper.  Top it with a ribbon and bow and hang it back on  the wall.  Enlist the kids to help find other things like cannisters to wrap for extra whimsy.

8.  Find a program to adopt a family and get presents for them, or shop for a "toys for tots" gift with your little ones.  Talk about how happy the child will be to get this present and how happy it makes us to share with her or him.

9.  Add curling ribbon to your daughter's hair by tying it onto pony tails or barrettes.  Dress everybody in festive colors, red and green, and decorations.  Use small ornaments as necklaces and even tinsel in pony tails.

10. Start a holiday memory book.  Get a scrapbook and start a yearly tradition of filling it with photos, wrapping paper samples, wish lists, summaries of the year and letters to the family.  Record the gifts everybody gets, the meals you serve, the niceties you do for others and your favorite recipes.  Make note of all those little things that make the holiday special, for a souvenir to treasure.


Many of you wrote to say you liked my article on nursing a toddler and that you're doing the same.  There are a lot more closet nursers than we think!  Since I wrote it, I've been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Epstein Barr Virus and my doctor recommended that I wean Annalee.  She shared with me that she'd nursed her youngest till he was two and gave me some advice to make it easier on us both.  I'll share those in an article soon.

I wavered back and forth about whether to follow the advice, and I got lots of advice from advocates on both sides of the issue.  I finally just decided that for me, this is the right time to wean Annalee.  Nobody can tell you when it's right for you.  It's just such a personal decision.  For me there were a lot of factors that led to the decision.

We've made it about 24 hours now and Annalee is handling it pretty well.  I'm giving her lots of extra love (and water and nutrition).  I now also resemble an inflatable doll about to burst.  <VBG>  Egads, my chest is going to be a deadly weapon by the end of the night!

Now, this newsletter has taken way too long to write and I'm finally sending it off into cyberspace to y'all.  We're off to read books, simmer some potpourri and make some decorations.

Have a fabulous week and remember to slow down and enjoy this magical season!



A Magical Childhood
Copyright 2001, Alicia Bayer

A Magical Childhood Newsletter is just something I throw together because I love children and those who love them.  To subscribe, send a message to  We do not use ads.  It's not about money.  :)

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