It's that time of year when parents, grandparents, and loving aunts and uncles scratch their heads. What is a good holiday gift that the kiddos will enjoy, but also educate them?

Saint Leo University alumna Sarah Ann Bradburn (Class of 2015) teaches social studies at Fox Chapel Middle School in Hernando County, FL. When it comes to education, Bradburn knows how to engage her students. She was honored earlier this year as one of the county's top teachers for 2019-2020. A hands-on gift ranks high on Bradburn's list of recommendations.

"When I visited Washington, DC, I bought some Lego-like block kits of the Capitol building and the White House," she said. "I found a similar kit for the White House on Amazon [Liberty Imports 3D Puzzle Building Blocks The White House - World's Greatest Architecture]. I believe this teaches critical-thinking skills because they have to follow step-by-step instructions to build the model. I also think it is a good tool for teaching kids about national landmarks."

She advises to think about the gift of educational music this year. "I enjoy showing my students educational songs dealing with class content," said Bradburn, who earned her bachelor's in secondary education from Saint Leo. "Hearing the concepts in songs seems to help them with retaining key information. Some of my favorite songs are from Disney's Schoolhouse Rock! The collection of animated music videos can be found on DVD in Amazon and includes many social studies-related songs as well as songs for language arts and math."

Games always make great gift and also allow families to join in the fun. "I enjoy creating bingo games to help my students review for tests," Bradburn said. "At the end of the year, I review the 50 states with a bingo where they have to match the state names with the state geographical outline. I found a similar game on Amazon. It is called GeoToys – GeoBingo World and GeoBingo USA — 2 Board Game Set for Kids. I find that many students struggle with geography, and this seems like a fun way to help them become more familiar with the 50 states and world nations."

Raising awareness

Future educators also have advice for those looking to give books this holiday season. Undergraduate elementary education students in Dr. Rachel Hernandez' EDU 222, Teaching Diverse Populations class at Saint Leo University, offered some suggestions not only for the youngsters, but also for "teacher gifts" for those looking to build their classroom libraries.

The Saint Leo students are looking for ways to address the racial divisions occurring in the country today, Hernandez said. "What can these pre-service teachers do as future educators? As educators, they understand the need for a diverse classroom library so that all students are represented in the classroom. Too often, students of color have difficulty relating to characters who do not look like themselves or stories that do not depict their culture."

So the students created "wish lists" for their future class libraries and offer these suggestions as holiday gifts, too." These lists consist of books that represent all cultures, races, abilities, sexes, and more," Hernandez said.

Jessica Davis recommends Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio. "I chose this book because of what is going on now with politics," Davis said. "It deals with gender and how we have not had a woman in office [as president]. This story is about a little Black girl whose teacher tells her that there has never been a woman president. This motivates her to be a candidate in her school's mock election."

Saint Leo student Reese Hathaway suggests The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. "I chose this book because [the character] Unhei begins to question her culture and tries to adapt to American culture by changing her name so that she is not made fun of," Hathaway said. "In the end, she decides to keep her name because it represents who she is."

All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold is the recommendation by Hannah Kessinger, who said, "This book is about how all children are welcome in school no matter what they look like, where they come from, or how they dress."

Saint Leo student Alyssa Perez offers What If We Were All The Same!: A Children's Book About Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion by C.M. Harris as a gift idea. "This book embraces the differences of people and teaches young readers to appreciate our differences, like height, hair type, abilities, and more," she said.

Other suggestions from the Saint Leo class are: My Friend Has Autism by Amanda Doering Tourville; Nya's Long Walk: A Step at a Time by Linda Sue Park; Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai; I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barns and Gordon C. James; and Don't Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller.

"We really feel that exposing children to other cultures at an early age will increase the likelihood of accepting one another and the celebration of our differences," said Hernandez, the Saint Leo adjunct education professor. 

Faculty-recommended gifts

Faculty members in Saint Leo University's Undergraduate Education Department highly recommended the Magic Tree House series by author Mary Pope Osborne for young readers. The series not only features the books, but also online games, advice for parents, and nonfiction books that explain more about the places and time periods featured in the series.

As many children are learning at home during the pandemic, Saint Leo faculty also suggested gifts of a computer mouse for keypads and headphones.

Making memories

The holidays offer opportunities for families to connect whether it be through Zoom or small in-person gatherings. Gifts that can be shared such as reading a book via FaceTime or working the same puzzle at the same time in different places, can provide connections that last.

"I think that arts and crafts kits are also great gift ideas," Bradburn said. "I have cherished memories of gifts my grandparents and aunts gave me that helped develop my creativity."