We encounter the principles of STEM every single day. From navigating our natural environment, to the devices that we incessantly tap our thumbs all over, we’re constantly interacting with feats of science, technology, engineering, and math. While we value the much-discussed professional benefits of STEM education, what gets us most excited about these studies is that they encourage kids to be curious about the world around them. Without curiosity and questioning, life would be rather boring! Unfortunately, the STEM world tends to get a bad rep for bordering on stuffy. Here at UncommonGoods, we know that diving into STEM education doesn’t have to be void of creativity. We’ve gathered our favorite educational gifts for kids of all ages to explore this holiday season and into the next school year. Let the experiments begin!
Lori of Groovy Green Livin picked out her favorite organic and sustainable children’s gifts. Check out her entire collection here!
One of my personal favorite bloggers, Rebecca of A Daily Something, has an incredible way of making everything beautiful and ethereal. I first met her when she was styling the room at BlogShop with old book pages, antique suitcases, and fresh flowers, transforming an empty studio into a colorful yet serene work space.
I wanted to see what she could do with our wooden and crocheted toys and how they would inspire her. So she staged a play picnic (with real life children) and shared these dreamy pics with me for the blog.
The moment I saw Kinetic Sand, I was addicted. At first, I played with it and felt like I was a kid at the beach again, playing with sand castle molds. I couldn’t wait to bring it into our assortment. I brought it to the office to pass around to my coworkers – my teammates absent-mindedly played with it during meetings and at their desks. It’s fun for kids and also the perfect stress ball or thinking toy. I love sharing this item with friends, because as soon as people understand what it is and what it does, they can’t get enough.
Here are a few examples of what happened when I introduced some unsuspecting members of our team and artist family to this workable, sandy substance.
First, customer service specialists Valerie and Lauren gave this not-quite-putty a try.
They mushed it, squished it, and watched it flow.
Then they practiced their sculpting skills by reproducing some of their favorite uncommon goods.
I’m sure keeping a few piles of Kinetic Sand around the office will result in many more impromptu product testing sessions. After all, it’s proof that you can have fun in the sand without spending a day at the beach.
We read each and every comment that our customers leave on our site, and we are often moved by the stories you tell about giving and receiving gifts from UncommonGoods.
In recent weeks, we’ve shipped out many, many gifts, and it got us thinking about the gifts you never forget. So last week, asked a random handful of our fellow team members, “What was your favorite gift that you received when you were a child?” Here are their answers, in their own words. No job titles, because this is about play, not work!
I was fourteen. We had just moved here to Brooklyn, and we were still really poor. What I used to do, I’d go to an arcade and I’d pay two dollars to play on a PlayStation for 30 minutes. My mom saw how much I liked it, and found a way to save up all the money and buy me a PlayStation for Christmas.
It was a secondhand PlayStation, it had marks on it, but I didn’t care. It was crazy, I was going bananas in my house, and I played it alllllllllll night long. And I beat the game. I beat all three of them that she bought me.
I honestly don’t know where she got the money. But I’m trying my best to pay her back. I just had my first child, so she’s a grandmother now. That’s more than enough, for her, I think!
I loved Legos as a kid. And when I was probably eleven or twelve, that year was my Lego year. Every gift that I got was a Lego set.
I got a police station Lego set, the train set that runs on the track, I got a pirate ship Lego set…it was Lego mania. It was so awesome, because it didn’t matter what set it was. They had the pirate ship stuff, they had a town theme, they had an airport theme…it didn’t matter, as long as it was Lego, and it had an instruction book with it, I was going to do it. Whatever it was.
It was funny, because I would put them together within an hour of opening them, and then that’d be it. Because I was like, “All right, this one’s done. What’s next?” I would Eat. Them. Up. Just love putting them together. And when I finished them, I was like, “I don’t want this any more.”
I gave them to my brother, and he just tore them apart. He didn’t like Legos. It was like this factory of me making Legos and then he would destroy them.
I was the youngest of three. My older brother was born in 1976, my sister was born in 1980, I was born in ’85. So I would get hand-me-downs for Christmas. Which I never really liked that much, but that was the way it went.
As a kid, it was fine, because my sister and I were close to each other in age, so I would get her toys, and they would be really up to date. But by the time I was about seven or eight years old, my sister’s interests had gone to Barbies and princesses and stuff. So I would only get my older brother’s toys from the ’70s. Which made it very funny, because I was playing with like Mr. T. in the late 1980s.
So the only other option was, my dad would buy these knock-off toys. Like, I was very much into whatever was on TV, stuff like Power Rangers. So it was not the Power Rangers, it was the “Power Warriors,” and it was the wrong color and so forth.
One year, I was about six or seven years old, I was walking through a Dominick’s, which was the neighborhood grocery store, with my dad. And there’s a big stack of Nerf Chainblazers. I didn’t give my Dad one second to talk. I over and over just hammered him, “Dad I want this, Dad I want this, Dad I want this, Dad I want this!”
And he said, “No. Absolutely not. There’s no way we’re going to waste this money on you.” So I gave up.
A few days before, he said, “What are you getting for Christmas, Bryan? You know, I stopped by Walmart and got a bunch of Power Warriors toys.” He was taking me for a ride.
On Christmas Day, we go down under the tree, and there’s this big box, right? And it’s far too big for a Chainblazer, so I’m like, [sighs] “They gave me another hand-me-down, or this is an educational toy.”
I open it up, and there’s just wrapping and pillows and stuff.
I open it more, and inside is the Chainblazer.
I was overjoyed. I was screaming, I was jumping, I was super happy that I’d gotten this thing. And of course I immediately opened it up and started shooting at my sister. I played with it for years.
My father was usually the disciplinarian, made sure everybody did their chores, and go to bed, and all of that. So he was very pleased to have done that. And it was nice seeing that side of him that I didn’t usually get to see. He actually did not buy it at Dominick’s, he got a deal at Costco for it.
Elbow was my favorite doll. She was one of those first baby dolls, with her arms up like a true newborn. I’d bitten some of her fingers off. I called her Elbow. I couldn’t think of a girly name. I was probably about a year old when I got her. I didn’t know too many words, so that was what I could think of.
She was my first and my best friend. Before I had a little sister, I had Elbow. She was on such a pedestal that I didn’t actually play with her like I’d play with other dolls. She was like Madame DuBarry of Versailles, she was the king’s favorite. She slept in the bed with me.
Every year for Christmas, Santa would come in and re-dress Elbow in a new pretty dress while I was sleeping. So I’d wake up and I’d have presents to go to downstairs, but first I got to see Elbow in a new dress.
One year when I was six, we were at a flea market, and I was eyeing up this velvet dress with a white apron pinafore on top of it. A couple months later, my Dad and I were in our hall closet taking out decorations to decorate the tree, and I noticed the dress right there. He saw that I had seen it and kind of froze in his tracks.
And I was like, “Don’t worry. We won’t tell Mommy about this.”
Ever since then, it’s the one story they tell where they get choked up every time they tell it. Because it was me being wiser than my age, and really sweet. I knew that the surprise was ruined, but I didn’t want my mom to know the surprise was ruined, and I was just being so thoughtful.
That thoughtfulness died off! [laughs] I was a very empathetic child. Not so much in adulthood. [laughs] Which is probably why they enjoy that memory so much, because it was the last time! [laughs]
It wasn’t the moment that I stopped believing in Santa. I did still believe in Santa, I just thought maybe Santa didn’t have time to come upstairs and change Elbow’s dress, and that was something my parents did for him. Or maybe they were helping Santa out, because maybe Santa doesn’t go to flea markets in South Jersey. Maybe he’s got his own thing. [laughs]
I was seven or eight. I was a big Star Wars fan. I had all the action figures already. And I got the Death Star Action Set from Star Wars for Christmas. That was my faaaaavorite gift, it was so awesome.
To paint a picture of it, it was like a Barbie Dream House for the Star Wars characters. It was three-dimensional, about four feet tall, it had four layers. It even had the little trash compactor with foam “trash” in it. And you put the Star Wars characters in there and you could make the walls came in together in the trash compactor…it was super cool.
I kept it for all these years. And about three years before I had my son I ended up giving it away. But I wish I’d kept it for my son, because now he’s a big Star Wars fan. But you know, what do you do?
We left Russia when I was one, and by the time we got to America, I was three. It was my mom and my grandparents, and everyone worked, but we just didn’t have anything left for gifts. I didn’t know that gifts were part of the package anyway, at that point. I was too young.
When we first moved from Russia to America, our temple was very involved in sponsoring us, and sometimes we would get gifts from people in the temple. So I’m not actually sure who gave it to me, but I got a bucket of beads. They were the sort of triangular kind that you could stack on top of each other, maybe the size of a fingernail.
I never wanted to make a bracelet or a necklace with them, because then I wouldn’t be able to do other things with them. Sometimes I’d string them together and maybe wear it for a little bit, and then I would take them apart again.
But my favorite activities were playing dolls with the beads, where I would take forks and I’d put the beads on their tines, and act out different scenes; and the other was playing “tea,” where I would group the beads into colors, and try to make, like, “Ok, green and red beads, this is a salad, this is cake,” so I’d have like the sprinkles on top of the yellow. There were just so many possibilities! [laughs]
A little red wagon. My grandmother, she got it for me for Christmas. I didn’t know what it was. I saw it in the box, and I was so happy to get it. I liked it because it was red. And I wanted to pull it.
When I was a kid, I was in the South a lot. When I used to go down to Mississippi, the horse and buggy, we used to be in the back of it and ride through the fields. So when I got the wagon, it reminded me of all that, you see?
When I got it, I wanted someone to pull me in it. And I didn’t have nobody to pull me around in it. I wanted my mom to pull me in it. I sat in there crying, because I didn’t have nobody to pull me. My mother, she wouldn’t pull me in it. I’d just sit in it.
I used to go to the top of the hill – remember in the books, Jack and Jill? So I used to take it and go up on top of the hill, and get in it, and push it down. I got hurt, I got scars. I was about five or six, and I’m still scarred. [laughs] But I loved it! I loved that wagon.
It was funny, because when I got older, I bought a wagon, ‘cause I loved the wagon, and I tried to give it to my kids. They was like, “What is this?!” [laughs] They was like, “What I supposed to do?” I said, “Get in it, and I supposed to pull you!”
My son, he was the first kid. So after I pushed him around, we stopped. And he standing next to it. I said, “Do what I did. You gotta pull it and get someone to push you in it.”
So I came back in the house, and the wagon was in the corner. I said, “Brandon, why you not playing with the wagon? He said, “I ain’t got nobody else to help!” [laughs] He said, “I think this wagon is useless!”[laughs]
I think I got it because it brought a lot of memories of when I saw the wagon. He didn’t understand it, because I didn’t tell him. I just was over-infatuated with the wagon. When I brought the wagon home, my wife said, “What’d you buy that for?” I said, “ I bought it for the kids.” But it was really for me.
I’m still infatuated with red wagons. When I see ‘em in the store, especially at Christmas time, I just be standing there looking at ‘them. Maybe it’s the color. The white wheels, the black and white wheels. And then you can pull it, you know? That’s it. Really nice.
My daughter still has it in her house. She said she took it because she saw I liked it. She got a teddy bear sitting in it. My grandmother gave it to her before she passed.
When I was nine years old, I received my first train set. It was a big one, too. A metal train, ’cause I’m kind of up there in age, so they made the real, strong, tough one. I forgot what company made it, but that was the best gift I ever received when I was growing up. Because I was infatuated about trains.
My cousin used to come from Washington. He was a little older than me. He used to take me all over the MTA. Back then the tokens were only twenty cents. That’s how long ago it was. In the ’70s. They were tiny, they looked like the size of a dime and they had a Y in them.
I had it until I was about eleven or twelve. My mother and father gave it to me. I kept it for a long time. And I passed it down to my son.
But they wrecked it up. I wouldn’t spank ‘em for that, though. The train set was old. But it was still functional.
The best Christmas present I ever got was a kitten.
My sister is seven years older than I am. So when she went to college, I was in sixth grade, in Mrs. Pavelka’s class. And we had rats in that class.
We were doing an experiment on whether protein or vegetables were better. So we fed one rat peanut butter and one rat carrots and celery and stuff.
At the end of the one month experiment, you could take the rats home. And on the weekends, they’d get kids to take the rats home and care for them.
So I begged. And I got to take the rat on the weekend. I cared a lot for the rat. I really liked it.
I begged and begged to have the rat at the end of the experiment. And my mom said, “No.” [laughs] She did not want me to take the rat.
But they knew that I was responsible, and could care, and they felt I was really missing my sister, and looking for something.
So that Christmas, we went to the ten o’clock church service. My mom had picked up the kitten that day, and had given it to our neighbors, who had it all afternoon. My mom was surprising us with this kitten that the neighbors were supposed to bring over after their church service, at midnight on Christmas Eve. And they were late. I was tired, and my sister was tired.
And I was like, “No, we want to go to bed.” And she was like, “No, let’s just stay up a little more!” But we went to bed.
Then the neighbors came over. And I came down in my ‘jammies, ’cause they were like, “Come down!” So I came down.
And it was my tiny little Christmas kitten.
I was ecstatic. I didn’t sleep that whole night. I mauled this poor kitten.
I named her Tasha. And she lived forever. She passed away maybe two years ago. She was awesome. The best little cat.
There once was a beautiful collection of handmade children’s accessories by Jen List and Stacy Waddington. The story began with The Three Little Pigs, but those little pink piggies aren’t the only adorable animals in Storybook Land. Before we get to the part where everyone lives happily ever after, we’d like to introduce you to some more cuddly creatures, the stars of chapter two of our uncommon fairy tale, The Three Bears. (And their friend, Goldilocks, of course!)
Last week’s favorites, Modern Cat Scratch Frames and Fortune Teller Napkins are still going strong in our community voting app, but we’ve also added a few new items for your voting pleasure this week!
Our community is speaking up to share their feedback on a cozy hoodie that keeps your phone comfy, extra padding for your baby’s little knees, and more potential uncommon goods.
We fully support your efforts to make your cat a lover of the arts. Thanks for the comment, Judy!
It’s still warm here in Brooklyn, but it is almost October. We’re going to have to face the fact that it’s fall, and winter’s right around the corner.
With the frosty season on the way, parents out there are likely dreading having to bundle up their little ones in over-sized hats, itchy scarves, and probably-going-to-get-lost-anyway mittens. Fortunately, we have some great new winter wear for kids that’s comfy, cute, and so fun your little munchkins won’t want to leave it behind!