Gifts that inspire learning

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell and Laura Smith

‘Tis the season for exchanging gifts. Unfortunately, this can be a time of uncertainty and anxiety. What do our friends and family really need, value, or want? What can I give them that will have a positive impact on their lives or make lasting memories? Hopefully, this column will provide you with a few ideas for gifts that will be remembered.

Family memberships to a museum or park are gifts that keep giving throughout the year. Memphis has a number of excellent museums. For the musically inclined, consider these: Memphis Rock N Soul Museum (audio tours of interactive displays of music pioneers, age 5+); and STAX Museum (audio tour paying tribute to soul music, age 9+). Art lovers will like: National Ornamental Metal Museum (rotating displays and practicing metalworking artists, age 7+); and Brooks Museum of Art (permanent and visiting collections of visual art, age 7+). The history buffs have: National Civil Rights Museum (archives of artifacts of the Civil Rights struggle, age 4+); Fire Museum (interactive exhibits of firefighters and their apparatuses, all ages). Memphis is also home to excellent parks: Memphis Botanic Gardens (nature themed activities, workshops, and family playgrounds, all ages); Pink Palace (family of museums including Lichterman Nature Center, Mallory-Neely/Magevney Houses, Coon Creek Science Center, plus Pink Palace IMAX and Planetarium, age 4+); and Memphis Zoo (animals on display in natural settings, all ages).

Gifts that can be used repeatedly or help the receiver gain knowledge are always a bonus. Subscriptions to magazines are great for many reasons. Children and adults alike anticipate their arrival in the mail, magazines target specific interests, and they encourage reading. Some recommendations are Sports Illustrated for Kids, Dig, Cobblestone, Highlights, Ranger Rick, Kidz Fun, Footsteps, Appleseeds, Hopscotch for Girls, and National Geographic Kids. Thoughtfully selected board games can be both fun and intellectually stimulating. They can be enjoyed by all ages, encourage family interaction, and build happy memories of time spent playing them together. Some examples of these types of games are Boggle, Upwords, Balderdash, Trivial Pursuit, Charades, Scrabble, Life, Password, Scattergories, Yahtzee, and Blokus.

Some of the best selling gifts of recent holiday seasons have involved gaming systems. Wii, PS 3, Xbox, and Nintendo DS have released a wide range of intellectually challenging games that the whole family can play together. For example, Wii has really broadened its catalog of educational games of which Smarty Pants Trivia, Endless Oceans, Wild Earth: African Safari, and Big Brain Academy are a few of the best. The PlayStation 3 (PS3) system has a couple of offerings such as Little Big Planet and Flower that promote learning. Kinectimals and Axeland Pixel for the Xbox 360 are mind enhancing. Finally, for those who are more inclined to use portable devices, there are Nintendo DS games. Art Academy, Warioware, and Scribblenauts all encourage emergent game-play and creativity through puzzles and art challenges. While there are many other high quality educational games, this list should provide a starting point.

Anything we as gift givers can do to inspire fun learning opportunities involving the whole family is definitely a plus. The suggestions offered here will hopefully appeal to those on your gift list. So, this holiday season consider giving presents that stimulate the mind, spur the imagination, and encourage family togetherness.

A special thanks to Laura Smith, who in addition to being an outstanding, highly qualified teacher, co-authored this article with Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell. To ask further questions, contact




Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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