by Dr. Clement Chau, director of learning, VTech, LeapFrog

With gift-giving season kicking into high gear, it’s a great time to look for gifts that give more and contribute to a child’s early learning environment. A recent study published in Applied Developmental Science discovered that exposing children to positive home-learning environments early in life could influence their achievement in school. When parents engage children in meaningful conversations and learning activities, and provide them with books and toys designed to increase learning, children are more likely to develop early cognitive skills that can lead to later academic success.

Here are some gift suggestions that offer lasting play value while helping to powerfully shape a child’s development:

Pretend Play

Pretend play is a great way to build your child’s communication skills. Look for gifts that encourage pretend play activities where both you and your child can participate. For example, a play tea set is perfect to host a good old-fashioned tea party. Dress up with your child, invite their stuffed animals, and encourage polite table manners. Costumes are another great gift to promote pretend play. Your child can transform into a doctor, princess, or teacher while you play their patient, prince, or student. As children grow, these pretend play activities will help them learn to use language to communicate ideas in clear and strong ways.


Books are a child’s first introduction to literature and have enormous lasting benefits. When selecting a book as a gift, think about what will appeal to the child. Vivid, clear imagery is a must for young children, so make sure the illustrations correspond to the storyline. Look for well-written stories that offer age-appropriate language that is imaginative, rich, and challenging. New and difficult vocabulary words are wonderful when meanings can be inferred from the context of the story. Additionally, timeless themes will help children and adults enjoy reading together.


Toys are a fun, common gift, but they can also be a great resource for learning. Look for toys that offer more, such as developmental and educational play. VTech’s new GearZooz Roll & Roar Animal Train lets kids mix and match gears to create their own unique train, which helps strengthen fine motor skills and problem-solving techniques. The new Pop-a-Balls Push & Pop Bulldozer encourages movement and motor skill development when balls pop up through the bulldozer. These toys also teach a variety of valuable firsts, such as colors, numbers, animals, and instruments. In addition, LeapFrog offers the Scoop & Learn Ice Cream Cart, which lets kids build memory and sequencing skills while they follow instructions to build ice cream cones.

By looking for gifts that give more, you can contribute to a strong early home learning environment that will lay the foundation for a bright academic future.


Dr. Clement Chau is the Director of the Learning Team for VTech and LeapFrog. Along with Dr. Chau, the Learning Team includes subject area experts in early literacy, science education, and early mathematics who oversee the design, creation, and production of VTech and LeapFrog toys, books, and digital products. Dr. Chau received his doctorate in Child Development from Tufts University, with a specialization in early childhood education and technology.Prior to LeapFrog, Dr. Chau was a researcher at MIT, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Tufts University.