Recommended gift ideas from faculty and staff members

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Forget Furby and Tickle-Me Elmo. Those “hot” holiday toys rarely stand the test of time. For most kids, interest in these trendy, flashy toys fizzles before the garbage truck carries off the boxes.

We asked a few Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members who oversee outreach programs for younger students to tell us what they wish parents/caregivers would give to the kids on their list.

Here are their top choices:


School of Science 

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Legos.  Check out where you’ll find lots of great information and shop by grade level.
  • Books that encourage experimenting. Three good titles: Apples, Bubbles and Crystals: Your Science ABCs, Best of Wonder Science, ChemClub Cookbook. You can find many more chemistry books here.
  • Snap Circuits. These make a great gift and they are available in a variety of sets so you can find one that will fit your budget.
  • Science kits. There are no shortage of fun science kits available for kids today (spa science, sci-fi slime, crystal-growing kit, butterfly kit). Look for them in craft and book stores.
  • Classic toys:  You can never go wrong with toys that have spanned decades, such as silly putty, Slinkies, and Spirograph.


School of Business

Ideas provided by Erica Jackson, Director of the Center for Financial and Consumer Outreach

  • Games that allow kids to play as grownups.  Teach kids how to budget their money by giving games like The Game of Life and Monopoly. These games teach children how to live within their means, receive a paycheck, work investment deals, and pay their bills.
  • Toy ATM. Toy ATMs, like the one manufactured by The Hammacher Schlemmer Institute $40, accepts real coins and bills and displays accurate, up-to-date account information on the screen. Kids even get their own ATM card and PIN number.
  • Piggy bank or a safe. If the child on your list has outgrown cutesy banks, look for a mini safe or vault that opens only by secret code or your child’s voice, which makes saving money more fun and easier to do around little siblings looking to share the wealth.



School of Engineering

Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, lecturer in computer science and software engineering

  • K’nex.  One step up from Legos, K’nex are slightly more sophisticated building toys. The roller coaster and simple machines kits teach students basic engineering and physics principles.
  • Origami kits/books. Origami, the art of Japanese paper folding, teaches students spatial skills.
  • Logic puzzles/games. These types of games and puzzles teach problem solving skills — a key concept for all engineers! The Perplexes Maze Games are a favorite among kids. has many more great ideas.
  • GoldieBlox. Part construction set, part story book, the creator of GoldieBlox (a young female engineer herself) aims to tap into girls’ strong verbal skills, while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.
  • Lego Mindstorms. Classic building bricks + robotics = one cool egineering lesson (but don’t tell the kids they are learning, they just think it’s cool.)

art kit

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Ideas provided by Dr. Thomas Noyes, associate professor of English and creative writing; Kim Todd, assistant professor of English and creative writing

  • Art supply sets. Participation in the visual arts helps children develop an imagination and sharpen their eye for detail.
  • Award-winning books. Any book is a great gift, but quality children’s fiction books, such as Newbery Award Winners, are an especially good choice.
  • Nature journalThe Nature Connection, An Outdoor Workbook for Kids and Families (by Claire Walker Leslie) is a nature journal full of activities and prompts for each month. Parents can guide younger kids through it on a walk or a hike; older kids can just put it in their backpacks and do the activities themselves when they feel like it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s