Looking for gifts that'll get young children away from the television and computer?
An idea that could pay life-long dividends is to give them gift sets that will inspire them to work in the kitchen or garden.
Both toy stores and some bookstores sell kitchen tools for kids. Just avoid the really flimsy plastic stuff. Think tools, not toys.
Toysmith company sells quality, junior-size tools in various combinations, including cookie- and cupcake-making kits. They also sell complete chef sets in both blue and pink. Or just go for their essential tool set, which includes a Teflon spatula, a metal one, a mixing spoon, server and whisk, all sized for children. These are available locally.
Curious Chef also makes real kitchen utensils sized to fit small hands.
"This is a new company that sells strictly stuff for kids," says Steve Abandonato of Pot Rack kitchen store in Jacksonville.
"The 17-piece measure and prep kit is the most popular thing they make."
Scheffel's Toys, also in Jacksonville, sells a European brand called Alex. Their Deluxe Baking set includes metal pans and wooden tools.
Take the tools out of their packaging and put them in a mixing bowl with a rubber base, maybe tied with raffia or a ribbon to help them stand up.
Then, of course, every cook needs a good cookbook. Two of the best for the under-6 set are Annabel Karmel's "Mom and Me Cookbook" and "The Toddler Cookbook." Both are great introductory books with a limited number of recipes and detailed color photos for every step of every recipe, as well as a glossary section and a section explaining terms and procedures, also fully illustrated.
Williams-Sonoma's "The Kid Cookbook" is another book with extensive color photos to illustrate both the recipes and processes, like how to crack an egg.
For the slightly older set, try "The Everything Kids' Cookbook" by Sandra K. Nissenberg, with 90 kid-friendly recipes. "The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook" by Angela Wilkes is another good choice.
One that can be used either for a cooking gift or a gardening gift is "Grow It, Cook It: Simple Gardening Projects and Delicious Recipes" by Jill Bloomfield.
Each fruit and vegetable gets a section on how to grow it, followed by illustrated recipes. The book includes sections explaining how seeds become plants, and a kitchen know-how section with tools and terms fully illustrated.
The Blue Door Garden Store in Jacksonville has quality kid-size gardening tools, plus tote bags with matching gardening gloves and small metal hand tools with wooden handles.
"I focus on anything garden-related for kids," says owner Kaye Faught, "and I always have a kid's section."
Scheffel's Toys in Jacksonville also sells small, wooden-handled hand tools, plus brooms, rakes, shovels and small, metal watering cans.
One gift possibility is to purchase several of the large tools and tie them together with a watering can and a book. Or you can use a basket with a handle that will hold hand tools.
A fun option is to buy a pair of the new children's rubber boots, which are available in a wild variety of styles. My favorite 5-year-old has a pair of alligator boots with a smile wrapped around the toe and eyes perched on the toebox. Several other animal styles are available, as well as patterns that vary from tattoos to fire engines to girly flowers and paisleys. A pair of boots with hand tools stuffed in them — and with maybe a few seed packets and an appropriate book inside or attached — would make a great gift.
"Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children" by Sharon Lovejoy is a good gardening primer. "Gardening with Children" (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide, six authors) is all-inclusive for the older set.
"Gardening With Kids" (three authors) is another good guide. For those interested in organic gardening there's "Organic Gardening for Kids" by Elizabeth Scholl.
A book that might make the forest come alive for little ones is "The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grownups" by Gina Ingoglia. It explains how trees eat and drink, how leaves change color, and contains a definitive two-page spread for each of 33 common trees.