With the holidays fast approaching, television and radio ads herald virtually every high-tech toy imaginable. These toys promise to reap educational benefits for our kids and can come with a price tag to match. If you want your baby, toddler or preschooler to have tons of fun and learn at the same time, the best toys can be found in your house or among the cheaper items at the store. This along with your time and attention will ensure that your child arrives at school on the first day prepared to succeed.

Research tells us that young children learn most from experimenting with the world around them and interacting with adults.

The season offers many opportunities to help young kids learn. In holiday decorating, children learn about shapes and colors. By helping to wrap presents, they develop motor skills. Through helping with cooking or baking, they learn about numbers and textures. Singing along to festive music and telling stories about family traditions build vocabulary. Holiday songs and stories help to improve literacy and vocabulary and provide a foundation for early learning.

The No. 1 activity to help kids learn has and will always be reading. Fifteen minutes per day with infants and 30 minutes per day with toddlers will help to ensure that your toddler or preschooler is prepared for kindergarten and excited to read.

For parents looking for gifts that encourage their young child’s learning, First Things First has put together the Top Ten Gifts for Kids Birth to 5 — aimed at helping families keep their kids entertained and learning this holiday season. The list is comprised of items that help children develop critical skills and encourage families to play together, a crucial combination for success in kindergarten and beyond. It includes:

1. Books

2. Blocks

3. Balls

4. Art supplies

5. Dress-up clothes

6. Board games

7. Dolls

8. Bubbles

9. Musical toys or instruments

10. Duplos or similar building toys

Besides the learning benefits, the best thing about these items is that they are relatively inexpensive and offer the opportunity for you to bond with your child while fostering his or her early childhood development.

Of course, parents will want to be sure each item is at the appropriate level for their little one, and to supervise children whenever they play. But, supervision doesn’t mean running the show.

When we play with kids, we become part of what they are imagining. Follow your child’s lead, take opportunities that come up to ask questions and teach them new words; you’ll be amazed at where their imaginations will take you.

• Rhian Evans Allvin is CEO of First Things First. Reach her at rallvin@azftf.gov.

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