Tech-Free Tots: Holiday Gift Ideas


“What do you think, Dr. Natasha? She really likes my new iPad mini. I’m thinking of buying her one for Christmas.”

 I curiously looked at the father standing in my office. His busy 9-month-old daughter was showing off her new crawling skills, independently roaming the exam room. 

“Buying one, for whom?” I asked. 

“For her!”, he exclaimed as he pointed to his little girl. 

The week of Thanksgiving traditionally marks the beginning of the Holiday shopping season. In some families, getting to stores on Black Friday at 6 AM holds as much tradition as grandma’s famous turkey stuffing. 

And on the top of Holiday wish lists? Technology!

From iPads and iTykes to LeapFrog and vTech, there seems to be a new gadget for every age. And in our adult world of bigger-newer-faster, it only makes sense that even our youngest children would be putting the latest tech on their wish list. 

But would they, really?

I think these shiny new boxes, dusted with the fragrance of fresh batteries, cloud our judgement. We get blinded by the blinking lights, overestimating toymaker-touted benefits. Meanwhile, we underestimate the learning and creative play our children are doing everyday. Naturally. Simply. Without intervention. 

I believe that just because we can buy the latest tech gadget for our children, does not always mean we should

As our toy technology advances, we limit their creative potential. Tech toys are given to children with predetermined boundaries and purpose. Simple toys, on the other hand, provide the raw materials of unlimited possibility.

Blocks, dolls, and trucks can be lifted and dropped, tasted and chewed, squeezed and thrown, cuddled and loved. These are the building blocks of self-directed learning, creative play, and intellectual development that we all want for our children.

Toys are also the building blocks of memories, more powerful than any LCD screen.

When it comes to toys for young children, I believe technology needs to be kept on the store shelf. So as I am shopping for my own family, nieces, nephews, friends, and neighbors; I have a simple rule:

No tech toys for tots. 

In exchange, I can offer some alternatives. Here are some classic, developmentally appropriate gift ideas for the little ones on your shopping list. 

0-6 months: Board books, Cloth books with large pictures, Rattles, Teething toys, Toys with various textures to grasp and chew, Activity mats

6-12 months: Simple picture books, Sorting cube, Push/pull toys, Bathtub toys, Stacking rings/blocks, Sensory balls, Soft blocks, Soft activity books

12-18 months: Picture books, Simple instruments, Dolls, Stuffed animals, Big dump trucks and tractors, Building blocks, Jumbo knob puzzles, Play workbench/kitchen

18-24 months: Lift-the-flap books, Simple shape puzzles, Large building blocks, “Helper” toys (broom, play vacuum, apron, play tools), Play animals, Play phone

Simple. Classic. Battery-free. 

Although these toys may never be on the “Hot 100” list for the Holiday season, they are classic toys for a reason. You may be pleasantly surprised just how long their joy will last. 

For more Holiday gift ideas, check out this post from Dr. Lai and Dr. Kardos of Two Peds in a Pod.

A special note: As Thanksgiving Thursday disappears as quickly as the pumpkin pie, I am hopeful that all of you will pause and be thankful for where you are. Thankful for the people that you are with. Thankful for the teachings and guidance from family members who came before you. Thankful for the person you have become, including your strengths and flaws. And, thankful for the next generation that we all have a part in guiding and loving until next Thanksgiving. 

Have a wonderful Holiday.