15 Great Gifts for the Classroom

15 Great Gifts for the Classroom via Wonder Teacher Photo Credit: Kasia via Clickr, CCL 2012

Christmas gifts can be such a tricky issue for teachers. We are always touched and so grateful that our families care about us and want to “gift” us with goodies. However, sometimes we feel guilty that they are spending money on us or regret that the items they purchase are things we can’t use. (Such as “smelly” candles and lotions- they make my husband sneeze like a maniac.)

The gifts I’ve received over the years have run the gamut from generous (jewelry, paintings, big $ gift cards) to lovingly homemade (bath soaps, baked goods) to hilarious (ice cream sundae set with cow-shaped bowls.) Some have even brought me to tears. Early in my career I taught a 3rd grader who lived in poverty. He had so little that it shocked me to receive a small box wrapped in comic newspapers from him. When I opened it I found a child-made necklace from what appeared to be painted clay beads strung on a piece of dirty elastic. After I oohed and aahed over it, I asked him where he got the clay. Get ready for this: he dug it up out of his backyard, made the beads, “cooked” them in his microwave, and painted them with some leftover paint from a dollar store craft set. All by himself.

That is the kind of gift that makes you cry. I treasured that necklace until finally one day it crumbled back into dust.

So, what is a teacher to do about holiday gift-giving? Do we just leave it open-ended and let parents give at will? Do we ask them not to send anything at all? (Knowing that they will anyway.) There isn’t a right or wrong answer. It depends a great deal on your teaching situation and students. If you teach in a high-poverty area you will have different “gift” issues than a someone teaching in an affluent area.

Today I want to share one approach my son’s kindergarten teacher used last year that I thought was quite clever. Late in November she sent home a gracious note that said (in summary:)

  • She knew it was gift-giving season,
  • That teaching our sweet children and being so supported by us (the parents) was the greatest gift…
  • That she respectfully requested that we not purchase personal gifts for her…
  • That, as an alternative, she would love for us to either 1)Donate to a charity in the name of the class or 2) Send in a gift “for the class.”
  • She then listed some ideas for “class gifts” (See my suggestions below.)
  • She stated that any “class gifts” would be opened as a group activity on the last day of school before Christmas break and reiterated the fact that there was no expectation for a gift to be sent in.

I thought it was a nice way to approach the “gift” issue and was quite happy to purchase a game to send in for classroom use. So, while you shouldn’t feel guilty if you decide to let the parents give you some personal gifts (!), here are some of my favorite suggestions for a class gift list.

15 Great Gifts for the Classroom

Let’s start with some games! Games are my favorite “Friday afternoon fun” or “Rainy Day Recess” solution. Teachers can’t have too many good games!

Blokus Jr. 1) Blokus Jr.- Blokus is a great game to help kids think spatially and strategically. If you teach older kids, you might want the regular verious of Blokus instead of the Jr. version. My son loves this game and adults enjoy it too. Fun, quick game.

Color Stix game




2) Color Stix – This is a fun, “back to basics” game. No batteries, blinking lights, or sounds! It’s simple- each stick has multiple colors. To play, divide the sticks into even piles (one pile per player) and then start the timer. Players race to line up their sticks into groups of matching color before the time runs out. Each color block group is worth one point. Players add up their points. (I like to make it cooperative at school instead of competitive- how many points can we get each round. Can we beat our high score?)

Suspend by Melissa and Doug game 3) Suspend by Melissa and Doug- This is a cool game. It’s all about balance and eye/hand coordination. While it can be played competitively, I’d recommend introducing it as a cooperative game. (i.e.- How many bars can we “suspend” before it comes crashing down?) Lots of fun.





Crayola Watercolor paints

4) How about some art supplies? What could you use in your classroom? How about some fresh pans of watercolor paints? You could suggest that a great gift would be 1/3 of a class set. For example, 8 pans of Crayola Watercolor paints would cost about $20.






Oil pastels 5) Oil Pastels– I also believe that every teacher should have a class set of oil pastels! They will last you more than 1 year and you can get some amazing results! (In fact, my son’s current teacher has mastered oil pastels and is using them to create the most fantastic, content-integrated art! I’ll have to feature her one of these days!) Ask parents to send in a few packs. They can be shared easily and go a long way.



Books on CD for the listening center – Students of all ages can benefit from listening to books read fluently while following along with the text. The titles you choose will depend on your grade level and content area. However, here are a few of my favorites:

Poetry Speaks to Children 6) Poetry Speaks to Children – Poetry is meant to be spoken and heard, not just read. For that reason, poetry makes a great addition to the listening center. This anthology is well done and has a diverse mix of poems.

Chronicles of Narnia CDs




7) The Chronicles of Narnia (Radio Theater)– This is an amazing set. All 7 stories that make up the “Chronicles” were recorded in London with professional actors and a full score. Magical!





Cat in the Hat CD

8) The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites – Here’s one for the earlier grades. Some big-time stars (Billy Crystal, Dustin Hoffman, John Lithgow, etc.) have recorded Dr. Seuss’s best stories including The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Horton Hatches the Egg, etc. (11 stories in all.) It’s a good deal, especially if you already own the books or can check them out for the library. If your school celebrates Dr. Seuss each year, this would be a great addition to your classroom library.


How about some building toys? These sets are fun to have (even for older kids!)

webz magnetic building set 9) Webz Magnetic Building Set– This can be pricey (though it’s on deep discount at the moment via Amazon.com) It’s one of those items that 2 or 3 parents could purchase together. However, kids love building with these magnetic sets and it’s great to have as part of a science center.




Zoob building set


10) Zoob building set– This is another one my own children (and preschool students) loved. I’ve also seen “big kids” have a blast building with zoob pieces. You can purchase sets in a variety of sizes. (Note that the “zoob junior” pieces are bigger.) The larger set is another item parents could “cost share.”



Woodkins doll

11) Woodkins – If you teach early childhood aged children, you need some Woodkins! My daughter (and preschool students) absolutely loved playing with my Woodkins. It’s basically a wooden “paper doll” with a hinged front. If you raise the top piece, you can lay different fabric scraps on top of the doll to dress her up. It’s a great, old-fashioned toy. You’d be surprised by how long children can remain engaged with it! There are lots of different types of dolls- fairies, Raggedy Ann, etc. They are all fun!


Silly pen 12) Goodies for a Writing Center – It’s also good to list some general items that parents could pick up anywhere. One category that works well for this is the writing center. I let parents know that I am always looking for fun pens, colored pencils, fine tip markers, blank books, small notebooks, envelopes, colored paper, and stationary sets. Children *love* to have access to these kinds of materials at an open-ended writing center and they do so much good literacy work!


Date Stamp for Literacy Center 13) Date Stamp– I also love to have a couple of date stamps for journal work and the writing center. These aren’t too expensive and can be picked up at local office supply stores.







Rock Collection for Science Center

14) Science Center Goodies– Think about your science center. What would you like to have there? A rock collection? (This set is only $18 on Amazon.) Shells? Magnifying glasses? Think of a few things you need and put them on the list.


15) Last, but certainly not least, is books. Books are what we often wish for the most! You will need to create a list depending on your grade level and content. However, here are a few of my “wish list” books right now:

hello hello! Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell – I expect this book (recently published) to win some awards. The idea is that Lydia’s family is too busy with all their gadgets to engage with her, so she goes outside on her own and has a magical, imaginative journey. It’s got a great message about turning off the technology and tuning into the world and our families!




I'm Bored I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black – Just when this little girl thinks she couldn’t be more bored, a potato challenges her by saying there is nothing more boring than children. She sets out to prove him wrong. What fun!






Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger – Another book that is up for some awards. In this book, Seeger explores all the different greens that exist in our world. This would be such a fun book to “innovate!” Kids could mix their own versions of a color and name them “bubblegum pink,” “Barbie pink,” “Pig’s snout pink,” etc.

I hope these ideas help! Do you have any suggestions for great classroom “wish list” ideas? If so, please post them in the comments.

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