Give the gift of presence


During the holiday hustle and bustle, sometimes we need a reminder about the gifts that really matter. When you cross on thing off your to-list only to see five more tasks pop up in its place, it’s easy to spend our days caught up in the “next thing” instead of the things right in front of us.

In his book, The Gift of Nothing, Patrick McDonnell shares the power of presence during a season obsessed with presents. The book tells the story of Mooch and Earl, two characters from his award-winning comic strip, Mutts, as Mooch searches for the perfect gift for Earl. But, what do you give to a friend to a friend who has everything? After searching high and low, Mooch finds the most special gift: friendship.

If you haven’t read this heart-warming children’s book, consider this recommendation our gift to you–it’s bound to brighten your day.

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What makes a gift creative?


Watching a child open a gift brings joy to both the giver and the receiver. Perhaps this is why so many of us search high and low for the perfect gift. When the markets are flooded with books, toys, gadgets, and devices, how do we choose a thoughtful gift? If we want to provide children with experiences that foster their senses of wonder and exploration, we must ask ourselves if the gift encourages them to think creatively.

Creative gifts provide children with opportunities to practice skills that will serve them throughout their lives. So, as you’re walking the aisles at the local toy store or surfing the web, consider how those toys and gadgets address the following points:

Creative gifts are process-starters.

A creative gift invites children to engage in a process of developing ideas and then tinkering with tools to bring these ideas to life. Will the gift spark the child’s interest and initiate the creative process?

Creative gifts are generative.

A creative gift provides opportunities for multiple experiences. In other words, there is no “one-way” to use the toy or device, instead it can be used for a variety of purposes. Will the gift surprise the child with new and different experiences?

Creative gifts are an invitation to act. 

A creative gift is not something to be consumed, but rather a call to do something. Will the gift encourage the child to be active in doing something creatively?

Looking for a last minute gift that will bring creative experiences to a child you know? Here’s a quick link to one of our favorite gifts for kids:


How to choose the best STEM gift


During the gift-giving craze of the holiday season, it’s easy to get overwhelmed on the toy aisles. According to the Toy Industry Association, the U.S. toy market exceeded $19.48 billion in 2015 and the final numbers are expected to rise when the data is compiled for 2016. Since Americans are also expected to spend an average of about $800 on gifts, it’s safe to say that most U.S. consumers will be purchasing at least one toy during the holidays. The Toy Industry Association also projected STEM to be a top tend in the 2016 toy market because of the increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math skills in the changing economy.

With this surge in STEM toys in the marketplace, how can gift-givers choose toys that best support the critical thinking skills that children need to create and innovate?

Here are three tips that will help you select the best STEM toys for the all the children on your list:

STEM toys should promote inductive and deductive thinking.

Inductive thinking encourages kids to build off their observations to test and generate larger theories. Deductive thinking challenges kids to start with a general theory or hypothesis and then test it within the context of their own experiment. Does the toy encourage children to formulate, test, or generate different theories or hypotheses about how something works?

STEM toys should develop systems thinking skills.

Systems thinking requires creators and innovators to consider how different parts and linkages work together within a larger network or system. Modern technology is built off complex systems that can be understood through smaller segments and parts, so it’s important for children to practice these skills. Does the toy help children learn how smaller parts work together to create a more complex whole?

STEM toys should encourage kids to solve problems.

This might seem obvious, but STEM thinking is about solving problems and creating innovative solutions. Therefore, STEM toys should allow kids to solve problems by creating their own solutions. Does the toy promote problem solving skills?

Hopefully, these simple tips will make your shopping duties easier, but if you’d like some more specific examples of the latest STEM toys, check out this GIFT GUIDE we found at

A Creative Tool to Teach Empathy and Perspective


When the world is divided against itself and suffering from hurt that we can’t fully comprehend, what tools can we give children to help them see beyond the madness? Perhaps, the most powerful concepts we can teach them are empathy and perspective.

Those who can empathize with others begin to see beyond their own perspectives into spaces of multiplicity and divergence. When we begin to acknowledge the diversity of others’ experiences, suddenly, we’re no longer the center of our own universe.

As adults, we can support children in empathizing with others by teaching them how to imagine the world from an other’s perspective. While there are numerous ways to teach and model empathy, children’s literature can create authentic and powerful opportunities for exploring different perspectives.

One of our favorite children’s books that demonstrates multiple perspectives is Anthony Browne’s, Voices in the Park. As an artist, Browne explains that he is drawn to children’s literature because he “likes the idea of showing that the world looks very different from inside someone else’s head.” In Voices in the Park, Browne uses words and images to portray the complexity of experiences during a day at one city park. The book uses multiple modes (words, images, story structure) to tell the story of a trip to the park, and in doing so, it becomes a collection of voices that are woven together into a plural narrative. 

After researching the story a bit deeper, we discovered that Voices in the Park is actually the result of Browne’s revisiting of a story he wrote years ago called A Walk in the Park. Although Browne liked the original story, he always felt the illustrations looked “rushed and clumsy.” This led him to re-imagine the illustrations years after the original publication and he surprised himself when the characters evolved into depictions of his signature gorillas. He explains that while he can’t explain exactly how or why he revised the story, he believes that “it does show that quite often the best decisions I make have more to do with instinct than intellect.”

While Voices in the Park is a creative representation of multiple perspectives in and of itself, the story behind the story adds another layer of meaning. This additional layer draws our attention to the cyclical nature of empathy and perspective-taking. Neither concept is static and when we take time to revisit our understandings, we are surprised with new and different ideas. Maybe it’s time that we all revisit the stories of our past and re-imagine what they mean to us today.