Every day, parents across the UK head to the high street to make their kids' dreams come true. But with all sorts of flashy and entertaining gifts available, are those with a more educational edge a better choice? And do parents see merit in these developmentally focused presents?
How do educational gifts benefit kids?
To find out whether items that are expressly made and marketed as educational are better for children, we asked Dr Amanda Gummer - founder and managing director of Fundamentally Children, an organisation that helps children develop through play - what she thought of educational gifts.
According to Dr Gummer, educational gifts and books were important, but parents needed to be aware of the way the industry marketed the products: "Many items have a developmental benefit but a lot depends on how they are marketed.
"We need to be careful how we define 'educational' when it comes to children's gifts, as there are a lot of skills that children need to learn.
"We should not undervalue those that promote other key aspects of child development, such as communication, empathy or confidence."
Do parents factor in education when buying gifts?
To find out whether parents saw merit in gifts marketed as traditionally 'educational', we surveyed 1,100 parents of children aged 12 or under.
40% of parents said that they prioritised buying gifts that were entertaining, not educational, and 23% noted that the developmental value of a gift didn't factor into the choices they made. 12% of parents believed their children deserved a break from school, buying more entertaining gifts as a result.
That said, a number of parents surveyed saw the developmental value in gifts that aren't traditionally labelled as 'educational'. 51% believed that fictional books aided development of communication and language skills, while 31% said outdoor toys and games and 23% colouring books help personal, social and emotional growth.
Disney films were also seen as being beneficial, with 35.3% seeing them as a positive influence on the development of communication and language skills. As well as this, 37.5% of parents believe that the Christmas mainstay of board games and puzzles help children develop these areas.
So which educational gifts are best?
According to Dr Gummer, different types of gifts are better suited towards different age groups. For newborns and toddlers, products that promote attachment, physical development and early reading were seen as being best, while for young children, it was important to choose toys that bolstered social skills, problem solving, phonics and reading abilities.
For kids between 10 and twelve, toys and books that promote self-expression and knowledge (non-fiction texts) were best, and for 13- to 16-year-olds, Dr Gummer thought it important that teens were given communication-based games and literature to help them make sense of the world around them.
Overall, the study shows that many children's gifts which aren't explicitly marketed as 'educational' can have developmental value. Buying the right presents for children can be stressful, with many parents struggling to find a balance between items that are both entertaining and also aid learning. However, parents shouldn't worry as every child learns differently and educational value can be found in the strangest of places, even in a fictional book.