Originally posted at Urban Science Adventures! © Educational Gift Giving Ideas for the Holidays.

It’s that time of year for good cheer, celebrating, and holiday parties. I especially love attending networking holiday parties. And in the spirit of the holidays, many of these parties have charitable notions. Some ask for food donations, or to adopt-an-angel/family/child/senior. I love these themes.

However, my time serving and working in social service really forced me to confront the objectives of these gift-giving soirees. I mean, what does it mean to give a family requesting assistance with their utility bills a brand new game system or iPod? Something about that is not only ironic but completely opposite of the goal of helping families get on their feet. Moreover, I believe the gifts one gives should be meaningful to the giver, too.

When I was younger, and my mother made holiday gift donations, she always provided books. She didn’t want to bother shopping for clothes that might not fit or be appreciated and she hated fighting crowds in the toy aisle. Plus, she’s a big proponent of education so books are the best gift, fits everyone, lasts forever and keep on giving. So when I am asked to bring a toy for a child, I find myself browsing through the book shelves instead of the toy aisles. Moreover, as a scientist interested in sparking the excitement and wonder of nature in youth and adults of all ages, I tend to favor books about science, ecology, and achievement. But I’m biased. I liked books as a kid. I loved reading. I know there are children (and adults) who don’t like to read and might find such a gift insulting. So, I’ve stretched my imagination some, however, I still believe in educational gifts – gifts that inspire creativity and imagination, gifts that foster critical thinking and team work, and gifts that are gender-neutral.

So here’s my list of suggested educational, science/engineering, youth and adult friendly, gender neutral gift ideas.

1. Jigsaw puzzles (but depending on the age, not too many pieces, that could be discouraging). I chose one with North American Animals. I thought that perfectly reflected my values related to environmental education.

2. Rubik’s cube

3. Board games: old-fashioned strategy games like Scrabble, Othello, Connect 4, Memory (for the tots)

4. LEGOs and other building and engineering-inspring games. Did you know that LEGO sponsors all kinds of Educational Competitions? Sometimes childsplay can turn into something awesome. Legos are the gateway to robotics, engineering, computer science, and technological sciences.

5. Books are still a great idea. Such as the ones I’ve read and reviewed about animals, nature, and environmental science. Also check out the AAAS Science Books & Film Gift Guide 2010 list of science books for all ages. Lots of great titles.

What fun educational gift items are on our shopping list? Please share.