Back to basics

Childhood expert recommends books, classic toys as Christmas presents


All I want for Christmas is you.

One of the holidays' most popular songs may hit it right on Rudolph's nose.

Some Christmas shoppers are hustling to stores for TMX Elmos, which roll on the ground in hysterics, or 3-foot-tall battery-operated whinnying ponies named Butterscotch. But a local child-development expert said it's time to get to the basics -- books and blocks -- for children.

Janet Martinez, who teaches infant and toddler courses for the Colorado Department of Education and has provided child care for 14 years, said she prefers some of the classic toys -- blocks, balls, clay, dress-up clothes and art supplies -- in education.

Martinez said these toys encourage creativity and imagination, skills that are important in children's development.

"What we really teach is a lot of literacy, a lot of hands-on, a lot of one-on-one care," Martinez said.

As Martinez rates care facilities on the Family Daycare Rating Scale for the Department of Human Services, interactive toys and computers are not part of the grading.

Still, Martinez thinks some interactive toys are OK. She recently purchased a LeapStart learning table for her 4 1/2-month-old grandson.

Martinez said it's important that caregivers do not rely on toys or computers as babysitters or educators. Interactive toys are supplemental educational tools, she said.

Carol Jacobson, owner of Downtown Books, said business has been steady for the holidays, but notices that nowadays publishers cater books to children's interactive tastes.

Some of her most popular picks -- "Pirateology," "Wizardology," "Dragon-ology" and so on -- have interactive elements on every page.

"('Pirateology') wouldn't be a bestseller if it had text from beginning to end without all this interactive stuff," Jacobson said. "But because it does, it's a huge hit with kids and parents."

Jacobson, the mother of three grown sons, said she used to practically force her children to discuss books they'd read with others as a way to promote literacy.

She said watching the movie version of stories robs children of their chance to create their own details.

"I think (reading) makes us all better people because we experience (stories) ... in our own creative way without being fed the color of the truck, the way the horse sounds ... we have to imagine what it's like," Jacobson said.

And the same goes for toys that are practically lifelike.

"There's no imagination required in a toy that does it all for you," Jacobson said. "I don't think (interactive) toys fuel your imagination."

Plus, reading is a bonding activity for children and caregivers, she said.

"It perpetuates closeness and intimacy in families," Jacobson said.

That's exactly the message Martinez hopes to spread this holiday season.

"The biggest advice I could give (parents) is to spend time with their children and to give them one-on-one quality time every day," Martinez said.

"I think the biggest gift parents can give their kids is themselves."

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or

Consumer protection managers recommend buying toys that are age appropriate and safe for children in a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment press release last week.

The release advised shoppers to avoid small parts and sharp edges for children younger than 3, and to observe safety precautions for children of all ages.

For more information on finding appropriate toys, and avoiding recalled ones, visit

Young children

  • "Pirateology," "Wizardology," "Dragonology" and "Fairyopolis" by various authors
  • "The Three Pigs" and "Flotsam" by David Wiesner
  • "Curious George" by H.A. Rey
  • "Ten Little Rabbits" by Virginia Grossman and Sylvia Long
  • Pop-up book series by Robert Sabuda

Young adults

  • "Eragon" by Christopher Paolini
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • Manga comics-style books
  • "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl" by Barry Lyga


  • History, particularly World War II history, such as "Masters of the Air" and "Flags of Our Fathers"
  • Books with local or regional interest, such as "Homesteading Women" and "The Mantle Ranch"

Source: Carol Jacobson, Downtown Books owner

Top toys for girls 2006

1. Barbie

2. Dolls (generic)

3. Bratz

4. TMX Elmo

5. Dora the Explorer

6. Disney princesses

7. iPod/MP3 players

8. Nintendo DS

9. Playstation 3

10. Little Mermaid

Toy toys for boys 2006

1. TMX Elmo

2. Cars (generic)

3. Playstation 3

4. Video games

5. Legos

6. Nintendo DS

7. Hot Wheels

8. Xbox 360

9. Remote-controlled cars

10. Trucks

Source: National Retail Federation (

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