This Christmas Give Gifts for Learning

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I was recently asked why there are few female economists. I have no research; no statistics; just my own theory….that girls, especially those in my generation, too often lacked learning opportunities that would have encouraged the development of better skills in thinking — abstractly; spatially; logically. Many aspects of economics deal with issues and concepts that are, or at least appear to be, abstractions.

Our young males, and our young females, deserve opportunities and encouragement to fully develop their thinking skills; creative ideas; vocabulary usage; and knowledge base. Toys, games, puzzles, and books play important roles in bringing about such ends, so here are some of our family’s very favorites.


I need only think of Capsela toys, and I smile at a favorite family memory. I bought David his first Capsela set when he was about three years old. He wanted help in building his first machine, but the adults were busy playing cards and told him to wait. He was playing quietly in another room when, suddenly, he let out a yell! He had closed a final connection by accident, and the little machine had taken off across the floor, startling him! I am disappointed that there are not nearly as many Capsela toys available as there used to be. These neat little sets have motors, gears and axles suspended within clear plastic bubbles/balls. When the different pieces are locked together, and a battery pack is added, wheels roll; fans blow; and more. Fun! Even my high school students loved to create with these.

Capsela Toys and Building Kits

Capsela MX Racer 200 — David’s first set.

When I think about K’NEX…I sometimes wince, for David has a couple hundred pounds of them, and there are K’NEX pieces everywhere. There are completed and uncompleted K’NEX projects everywhere. (Guess who is the only one with patience enough to take everything apart, sort the pieces by the color coding, and get them back into the multitude of plastic drawers that I have purchased through the years? Right!)

Jokes aside, these construction materials are absolutely marvelous, despite the game of 52,000-Pick-up that follows any major project. David has received many sets, including the huge roller coaster and other big items. He has created and/or built some of the most stunning things, including an 8-cylinder engine with pistons and cams that moved with precision. He built a snowmobile that ran all over deep Michigan snow. He often uses K’NEX to build a prototype of an invention before building the real, life-size project. It seems that these materials are never outgrown. My high school students used them to create unique things, as well, and many high school physics classes use these for their experiments.

There are sets of all sizes available, from small to massive.

K’NEX 425 Piece Super Value Tub

Roller Coaster Physics

There should always be a box of Lego’s somewhere in the room of every creative child. Although Lego’s are small, there is no need to limit one’s vision, imagination or creativity. Do check out the Lego constructions at this link: Church built of LEGOs

Lego’s come in sets of all sizes, from very small, to very large.

Lego Creator 1000-Piece Tub: Fun with Building (4496)

LEGO Mindstorms: Robotics Invention System 2.0


Mastermind — deductive logic and problem solving — a family favorite and we even take a travel-sized one on trips

Rush Hour — spatial relationships and problem solving — Rush Hour puzzles are the greatest! I have three sets plus add-ons, and still my students complain that there aren’t enough to go around. Our two homeschooling families used to sit around the kitchen table doing these puzzles at one or the other of our homes. The kids complained a bit when the adults took over the puzzles, but hey…we deserved some fun, too.

Rush Hour 2, 3 and 4 Add-ons — spatial relationships

Railroad Rush Hour Game — spatial relationships — Larger than the traffic Rush Hour, and with two baggage platforms that can move in all four directions, complicating solutions.

Connect Four — three-dimensional thinking and strategic planning

Guess Who? — deductive logic — I put every one of my students through training on this one until they know how to use deductive thinking skills.

Scrabble — Hint: turntable edition prevents sliding tiles. Excellent way to develop flexible thinking while improving spelling and vocabulary skills.

Clue — deductive logic — I still have the Clue game that I received for Christmas when I was a child! It has spent many hours as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.

Pavilion Chess Teacher — Start the children early. Strategy! Any type of set is fine.

Best of Chronology — historical information and time perspective — Don’t think that children can’t handle this. Our two homeschooling families began playing together when the youngest child was about 8, and it was amazing how he was able to place a historical event between two others!

Mighty Mind Game — Recommended for ages 4—7. Have the child do each puzzle in the series, in order, to train thinking. — a good site for all kinds of puzzles, both problem solving and jigsaw.

BOOKS: For thinking; for knowledge; for imagination; for broadening worlds

My favorite atlases for children:

The Eyewitness Atlas of the World — Wonderful maps, photos, drawings, extra information.

DK Ultimate Panoramic Atlas — Study the Earth with the water out of the way. Utterly amazing!

Our favorite science books:

Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty — Kids just love things that bother the squeamish!

Earth From Above — 366 Days — Views of the Earth, taken from above Earth, that provide perspectives found no where else — one photo with description for each day of the year. We leave it on a table and flip the page each day. Author has other books along this line. This one is VERY HEAVY for little hands.

The New Way Things Work, by David Macaulay — Answers questions about all sorts of working objects with drawings to aid understanding.

The Unhuggables: The Truth About Snakes, Slugs, Skunks, Spiders, and Other Animals That Are Hard to Love by Victor Waldrop — This one might be hard to find, but it is such a nice book. We bought ours at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

The Kingfisher Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia — We used this as a textbook in homeschooling, as well as for informal excursions into the world of animals. Well-organized according to biological complexity.

Ultimate Visual Dictionary of Science — This is another book we used for homeschooling, as well as for fun fact finding.

We also love books on interesting topics and vocabulary:

When Do Fish Sleep? And Other Imponderables of Everyday Life, by David Feldman — “Why are manhole covers round? Why is yawning contagious? Why are tennis balls fuzzy? Why do the English drive on the left?” Curious kids become curious readers!! The author has other books along this line.

Mistakes That Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones — “40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be” — doughnut holes; aspirin; leader dogs for the blind; Frisbee; Silly Putty; Post-It Notes; VELCRO; …

The Facts on File Junior Visual Dictionary by Jean-Claude Corbeil and Ariane Archambault — For the younger set but may be hard to find.

The Firefly Visual Dictionary by Arianne Archambault, Jean-Claude Corbeil — A wealth of vocabulary! These books are an immense help to deaf individuals for everything is pictured and labeled, adding to their vocabulary banks, as well.

For literature books, see these previous articles:

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year of Lively Learning, and Rewarding Reading.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is an educational consultant, homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for presentations, inservices, and workshops.

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