Courtesy Will Heap/Dorling Kindersley/Thinkstock
Whether you live in the city or deep in the woods, you can always spot a house with kids by the primary-colored plastic décor. Tot-sized slides, swings, climbers and tables litter the yard in bright reds, greens, blues and yellows. Inside, the color scheme seems to remain the same, as the parents desperately attempt to merge their softer, more mature palette with their children’s explosion of color. Vibrant-red tables are tucked neatly into corners next to the soft-brown hues of Mom and Dad’s living room. The walls are lined with stacks of baskets overflowing with even more plastic, toy pieces patiently awaiting their time to play once again or meet their inevitable fate in the notorious black bag. Next to the enormous television—no doubt, Dad’s contribution to the décor—sit rows of movie cases all aimed at entertaining the kiddies long enough for Mom to make dinner. (Unfortunately, upon closer examination of the movie cases, you will find many of them empty, containing a different movie completely, or housing a small disc that undoubtedly was the locale for miniature ice skaters.)
Yet in spite of this primary-colored plastic invasion, every year we surround our tree with beautifully wrapped boxes containing even more plastic pieces. “Complete sets!” we tell ourselves as we gently stack them under the tree. “He’s old enough now to keep all the parts together!” we foolishly convince ourselves. Well Mom, all I can say is get the black bags ready.
Oh, don’t worry—I’m not pointing fingers. My tree, too, is full of boxes containing hundreds of pieces of building blocks I will soon find in the middle of the night with my bare feet. Beautifully wrapped packages contain “dudes,” with their small plastic guns and rifles that one day in the very near future will attempt to destroy my vacuum cleaner.
Yes, this is a season of giving, of being with friends and family, of decorating massive trees and of baking tons of cookies (or burning candles that at least smell like we were baking), but the reality is it is also a time when we feel obligated to have tons of wrapped packages under the tree. As you wind up your holiday shopping this year, try think outside the box. Cut down just a smidge on toys and instead arm your children with the tools they need to help around the farm.
1. Stocking Stuffers
I love stocking stuffers! They are the perfect opportunity to sneak in all sorts of little things that normally wouldn’t be to exciting. Toothbrushes, gloves, knit hats, soap, socks. Separately they scream boring, but placed in a giant, red sock with a few pieces of candy, they rock. “Yeah! A Spiderman toothbrush!” Santa even tosses some fruit in there, too. A beautiful red apple or luscious orange fit perfectly in the toe of this wonderful Christmas symbol. Oh, that Santa. What a sneaky little man.
2. Toolboxes for Helping Hands
As parents, we take pride in the fact our children want to help around the farm. But as adults, this “help” usually leaves us muttering obscenities under our breath. We know how much feed costs and are acutely aware of the overall cost increase during the winter months when we are unable to rely on fresh vegetation. When our little helpers spill half a bag of chicken scratch in an attempt to help with the chores, the adult in us sees dollar bills laying all over the ground.
Minimize your loss margin by gifting a few 99-cent measuring cups and a pack of stickers! This is one of my favorite double Ds—double-duty gifts. (Hello! This is a family-oriented blog! What were you thinking I meant?)
If the rabbits are fed a half-cup of food per day, an inexpensive half-cup measuring scoop with a rabbit sticker on the side helps ensure the little critters aren’t overfed. Simply combine this with one for the chickens, goats and ducks, all neatly labeled with their appropriate animal sticker, and place in a “Little Johnny’s Big Boy Helper Box,” for an inexpensive double-duty Christmas gift. Little Johnny wants to help; he just needs the right tools for the job.
Speaking of tools, nothing sends my husband’s blood pressure up quite like our little helpers “misplacing” the hammer, screwdrivers or measuring tape, which is why an inexpensive tool set is an ideal present for older helpers. Next time Dad needs help pulling fencing, his hired hand will be ready for the job and Dad will know exactly where all his tools are.
3. Seed-starting Kits for Little Gardeners
As homesteaders, we grow what we eat (or at least we aim to). That’s why it’s never too early to start seeds inside. We want to utilize every second of growing season, and an early start inside helps accomplish this goal. For the little gardeners in the house, a few packs of seeds and some starter trays are a great way to involve the kids in the seed-to-table process.
I like to include a calendar with my garden gifts. This is a great way for my impatient gardeners to keep up with important dates, like germination, splitting, transplanting and harvesting. Throw in some gloves or tot-sized garden tools, and you’re one step closer to actually growing food in your garden, as opposed to the Hot Wheels-cars and green-army-men graveyard it’s has been in the past.
4. Gifts for Rainy Days and Sundays
(If you read that line and immediately followed it with “… always get me down …,” you are officially middle aged.)
Christmas is a great time for this last DD gift. A simple plastic shoebox full of crayons, markers, glue, googly eyes and other craft materials makes a great gift that also doubles as “sanity time” for Mom on days the kids are stuck inside. Also, a cheap tote bag with a magnifying glass, an area map and a field guide of local poisonous plants and wildlife make a wonderful junior-explorer pack for those Sunday Fundays.
Oh, Little Jack will still be getting his fair share of building blocks and action dudes this year, but he will also be receiving his very own hand vac! Yes my dear friends, I bought a 4-year-old a hand vac! Now he can use his tools to help Momma clean, and my own vacuum may live to see another day.