Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Best Sneakily Educational Gifts for Tweens and Teens

You know you want to buy your kids educational gifts! It only works, however, if they don't KNOW that the gifts are educational, or if the gifts are so awesome that they don't CARE that they're educational!

These gifts, hits with my own tween and teen from previous holidays, are so awesome that the kids either didn't notice, or didn't care, how much they learned. It's a gift-giving best-case scenario!

Universal Yums

I bought this monthly subscription box for Will for her last birthday, and we all LOVE it. Every month she gets a box of snacks from a different country, with a pamphlet explaining them, giving facts about the country, etc. And then we get to eat the snacks! It's a great way to sneak a little extra geography into your life, because after eating weird food from a country, don't you want to look it up on the globe, find a bunch of YouTube videos about it, and check out Spotify to see what its Top 50 hits are?

We do!

Robotic Unicorn

Tweens and teens who are into unicorns, dragons, and other castles in the sky aren't always into robotics.

At least, they think they aren't. Just wait and see how excited they get when they've got a real, live (for a very specific definition of the word...) robotic unicorn of their own to program!

LED Circuit Stickers Journal

Your tween and teen get an interactive journal that teaches them how to add awesome special effects to their notes or school projects or greeting cards or private writing or artwork. At least, that's what they think they're getting.

They're actually getting a pretty good basic course in circuitry and electricity. Whenever it comes up next in school or life, they're going to be surprised to notice that they're already experts!

Flying Lesson

Yes, a REAL flying lesson! Will's grandfather gave her a certificate for a one-hour flying lesson for her fourteenth birthday, and it is the best gift that she has EVER received. She got to practice take-offs and landings and take turns flying an actual Cessna with her flight instructor, and she learned so much about aviation in just that one lesson, not to mention all the math and map reading and physical skills that she used.

Dwarf Houseplants

This might seem like a super weird gift, but bear with me. Whenever I buy from a seed catalog, I always let the kids look through it, too, and if want they want isn't too expensive or unsuitable for our property, I'll buy something for them. A couple of years ago, Syd picked out this dwarf pomegranate plant, and it has been the best thing ever! We haven't actually gotten it to bear us a completely ripe pomegranate yet, although we live in hope, but it's been endlessly entertaining for Syd to watch it, and she does reasonably well at taking care of it.

Since then, we've kept a lookout for other interesting dwarf houseplants that we can nurture. They can live outside in the summer and then come inside for the winter, but since they're dwarf varieties, they don't take up a ridiculous amount of space. And, of course, the kids get to care for them, observe them, learn about them, and enjoy them. It's hands-on science and practical life skills!

I think we're going for a dwarf banana plant next...

Create This Book

Syd loves this book both because one of her favorite YouTube stars created it, and because, unlike Wreck This Journal or most other similar creative artist's notebooks, you don't mess the book up AT ALL while you're making it. Instead, you end up with a completely adorable complete creation. Even tweens and teens who don't consider themselves artists will find lots of inspiring prompts to play around with. And you can keep going back to it endlessly, it seems--I bought this for Syd back in June, and she's constantly tweaking pieces or adding new ones or further embellishing it.

Constellations Memory

Memory might seem like a game that's too babyish for tweens and teens, but I assure you that it is not. Here's a photo of Will and I playing this exact Memory game a couple of nights ago, while Syd was playing with polymer clay (an item in my Nerdy Gifts for Tweens and Teens post) and Matt was reading A Christmas Carol aloud to us:

Because we're nerds. This particular Constellations Memory game, which we've had for years and which I often bring on road trips to play in our hotel room, has so many cards that it's very much a challenge even for adults (you can remove some of the cards to make the game easier, of course), and not only are the illustrations beautiful, but they also sneakily teach you the constellations. Curious folks can go on to explore more astronomy, Greek myths, or stargazing resources.

Color Yourself Smart Series

These coloring books are like the adult coloring books that tweens and teens like, BUT they're sneakily educational! Will completely immersed herself in the dinosaurs book after someone bought it for her for some holiday that I don't remember, but there's a whole series of them to explore.

Contemporary Craft Kits

I think everyone should know how to do a large selection of hand arts, especially sewing, but most beginner's craft kits shoot themselves in the foot by making the stuff that a beginner is learning to create so CHEEZY! 

It's very much worth your time to look for a how-to-crochet, how-to-cross-stitch, how-to-sew, etc., kit with contemporary theming. The kids still pull out this particular stitch-it kit that I have for cross-stitching, not because the patterns are necessarily anything special, but just because they're good contemporary patterns that don't look out of place.

For those who are a little more advanced, the craft kits get even more awesome. Check out this Stitch People kit!


We found the travel version of this game at Goodwill years ago, and even though we later also bought the full-size version (also at Goodwill!), this travel version remains our favorite by far. It's terrific for logic, spatial reasoning, and math skills, but it's also easy to learn and quick to play. We've whiled away lots of time with this game on road trips or while waiting for various appointments and activities to end. 

These are some of our favorites, but I'm always on the lookout for sneaky educational stuff to put on Santa's list, so if you've got a favorite of your own, please let me know!

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