Tis the Season...for giving, for cheer, and for Holiday Parties. Around this time each year, I begin getting a slew ofinvites to Holiday Parties...with a Purpose. You know, holiday parties where you mix, mingle, network and give donations - usually gifts for a needy child or family. Since moving to St. Louis I kept myself busy joining local young professional organizations, as well as volunteering with a number of civic and social justice non-profit organizations. The parties are fun and the Angel Tree (or similar) requests are always inspiring. But how can the gift I give to a child (or teen or adult) inspire him or her?

Even in something that's as simple and carefree as 'giving a needy child a smile for Christmas' there should still be a purpose, an objective to meet. I'm sure this is my mother's fault. Whenever I was invited to birthday parties she always purchased books as gifts. So, I find myself following suit. I try to find interesting books to place in the Santa bag or Toys for Tots bin. If possible, I try to donate books about science or engineering. Afterall, it's still matters to me that even in this anonymous act that my gift still be used to fulfill my life's purpose (sharing science and the love of learning) and inspire the inner scientist/engineer in every child.

Here's some of my favorite science book titles, perfect for any young child:

1. Animal Tracks & Signs by Jinny Johnson. Published by National Geographic.

My review of the book, here.

2. World Biomes The Series, 6 Books about our world's most interesting ecoystems. Published by Scholastic News Nonfiction Readers.

My review of the book, here.

3. Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman, Illustrated by Beth Krommes. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

This is my favorite book of all. Here is my review of it.

Additional book titles and reviews by me are provided ay my previous science blog. Plus, there are a host of titles the Animal Behavior Society Outstanding Children's Book Award for books that accurately depict science and animal behavior and are down-right enjoyable for 3rd-5th grade students.

Sometimes I branch out and give toys and games; although I still make sure the gift emphasizes learning and creativity in some way.

My favorite toys and games include:

1. Jigsaw puzzles - to get those problem-solving gears going

2. Lego blocks

3. Spirograph (okay this is what I want for Christmas, but it is an excellent Art & Math activity set).

However, I always run into the same problem - finding gender-neutral toys. The thematic Lego sets are always on the "boys aisles" of the Big Box stores. And yes, there are plenty of other science toys - like microscopes, telescopes, chemistry sets, geology sets, doctor kits - toys are often packaged as "boy toys" or "girl toys". Other bloggers have discussed the problem of engendering science toys and I'll admit I have a problem with it, too, but for different reasons.

I can just imagine a Christmas day drama of brother and sister ripping colorful paper off of packages under the tree, parents smiling on at their youngsters' joy filled with thanks of the generosity of strangers. Then lo! One the kids exclaims that the other shouldn't touch his/her science set because it's only for girls/boys.

I don't know who will receive my gift, so I want to make sure any child feels like that gift is perfect for him or her. Even at a very young age, children are very sensitive to receiving 'the wrong type' of gift set and will reject the toy and goodwill intended. Plus, I'd rather the children share such a gift and have a blast exploring science and engineering together - like science was meant to be experienced - not separately with his and hers life science kits.

But this problem of gendering doesn't stop at toys. Books are a conundrum, too. For some reason, reading is thought to be a "girl activity". Doubt it? Then peruse down the children and young adult sections of the book store and find a book for a boy older than 5 and a man younger than 50. (How many Gentlemen Book Clubs are there? I'm just saying.) Inclusive literacy is hard...No wonder young black boys reading scores are so low.

So, yeah it is about evangelizing education - literacy, science and math. In my opinion, those are the gifts that keep on giving and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.