Christmas Gifts that Teachers Really Want

The countdown is on - 19 days until Christmas break. Don't think your child's teacher doesn't already have that on a pad of sticky notes on her desk and is tearing one off each day that goes by. Half the school year is over and it's time to show your child's teacher a little appreciation for all the hard work she's done so far. I've polled some teachers I know and used my past classroom teaching experience to come up with some useful and creative gift ideas for teachers.

First of all, I must mention a few items that are on the "do not give" list:
  • apple-themed anything - Because, really, they have enough of that stuff. Really.  
  • coffee mugs - Yep, they have enough of those, too (and some teachers don't even drink coffee!).
  • coffee mugs with apples on them - Do I really have to explain this one?
So what do teachers really want as gifts?*

Studio Oh! Thank You notecard set.

1. Stationary: Several of the teachers I asked said they like to receive blank thank you note cards and pretty stationary as gifts. Most still hand write thank you notes to parents and students. I thought these whimsical ones from Studio Oh! would make a cute gift for my son's preschool teacher.

Magnetic Memo Note Pads, Seasonal Monthly Themes

Notepads were also mentioned by teachers as useful gifts since they are always making lists and jotting things down. This pack of 12 magnetic memo pads with monthly themes will have them in paper all year long and look cute stuck to the side of their filing cabinet just where it's needed. Of course, you could always buy a pack of regular 'ole Post-It notes and find a creative way to give them to the teacher. This Pin shows a cute DIY way - just use holiday paper and you're good to go. In fact, a search of Pinterest shows lots of ways you can dress up plain Post-Its, if you're crafty and have the time. 

Harry Potter set of 6 character pens

2. And while we're on the subject, School Supplies: Oh, I know teachers can get pens and pencils from the district office, but sometimes it's nice to have cute or interesting supplies to use with the kids or just something fun for them to use during their work day. If these Harry Potter pens had been around when I was teaching, they would have made a great gift for me. I spied some cute Peanuts Snoopy Way To Go Pencils with Toppers - 36 per Pack that I might have to get for Lil' C's teacher. It's rumored that she loves Snoopy, and this would be a fun way for her to reward her class. I think the key is knowing a little bit about the teacher and what he or she likes, then being creative.

3. Almost all the teachers I asked mentioned Gift Cards. I have a friend who hates gift cards. She thinks they are too impersonal. I totally disagree. I think as long as you put a little thought into where to get the gift card (Victoria's Secret? Probably totally inappropriate for your child's teacher. Starbucks for a Diet Coke lover? Nope.), you've given a great and really useful gift. Your local teacher supply store, Target, Wal-Mart, Office Max or Office Depot, or Michael's are great places to start. Of course, if you know the teacher does love her morning cup of Joe, you can always get a Starbucks card. iTunes and Amazon are also sure bets, as teachers can search for specific items or download learning apps for the classroom. This Pin shows a cute way to present gift cards to the teacher.

Write and Wipe Fact Family Boards

4. Books and learning activities: Many schools hold a Book Fair in late fall. Find out what is on the teacher's wish list and purchase that book. Go to Scholastic's website and order books that are geared for that grade level or purchase games from their on-line store. Be on the look out for books or activities that go along with the curriculum of the grade she teaches. Want to get something she can read for the holidays? Check out my list of favorite Christmas books. Something like these write and wipe fact family cards can be used over and over.A classroom can never have enough hands-on learning activities. Or get creative and fun (because you know you want your child's education to be) with these answer buzzers - perfect for classroom test reviews (maybe just slip a bottle of ibuprofen in with them, too).

Learning Resources Answer Buzzers

5. Music: This year, Slim's fifth grade teacher plays music while the students have study hall at the end of the day. That iTunes gift card would sure be handy for her. Maybe she could get the latest Kidz Bop 26 CD? Depending on the age of the students, this is a fun and appropriate gift.I've heard Slim singing along to the radio more than once. You could also get her a CD of classical music to play in her class, especially during test preparation time. Some studies have shown that listening to classical music while studying can increase your overall memory and boost intelligence. Even if the "Mozart Effect" is actually bunk, it couldn't hurt to play calm, soothing music at the end of the day, right? I personally have and enjoy The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music. It's never too early to start kids' enjoyment of the classics.

6. Food: I'm not talking about anything homemade here unless you are a professional baker or chef. Food from students' homes can be a little iffy for teachers. I had siblings from a very sweet little family in  my class a couple years in a row, and their mom always brought me homemade bread. I feel horrible admitting this, but it went into the trash after school. Their house was constantly battling lice and fleas and I couldn't even . . . One teacher told me that it's nice to be able to bring something home to share with her family. One year, I got several fun and tasty gifts for the teachers from Trader Joe's. I didn't spend a lot, and I made a cute little basket for each of the teachers.  I even included things like soaps and candles that this teacher told me she would never buy for herself because money on a teacher salary is often tight.

7. DIY gifts: Here's another confession: Over a decade after leaving the classroom, I still have ornaments and holiday decorations that were made by my students and their families that I put up every year (much to Hubby's chagrin). I wrote the student's name and year on the back, and looking at them really brings back some nice memories. Here are 10 Holiday Gifts that Students Can Make, collected by We Are Teachers. Even a search of DIY teacher gifts on Pinterest makes me want to get out my hot glue gun (if I had one).

Other ideas mentioned were jewelry and plants. It really does depend on your interpretation of the teacher's taste and your budget. One thing all of my sons' teachers will be getting this year is a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength, the latest anthology whose pages I'm gracing (*shameless plug*). Teaching takes a lot of strength most days, so I'm hoping the teachers find inspiration within the stories. I might pair it with some wine bubble bath or bath salts, just so they can relax.

Also, don't forget some of the other teachers who work with your children, like music, art, and PE teachers, special educators, speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists, and teacher assistants. One of these "special" teachers responded to my question by saying he'd love anything a student gave to him, mentioning that it's just nice to be remembered and appreciated. Last year, I gave all of the teacher assistants a "winter rescue kit" that contained a lip balm, a small hand lotion, and a $5 Starbucks card. Since they direct traffic during the freezing cold morning hours, I thought it was appropriate. Each kit was under $10. You could buy and break up a Burt's Bees Lip Balm, Superfruit Pack, 4 Count and give one to each teacher assistant or special teacher. Package them creatively like these Pins show, and you've got a darling and inexpensive gift. 

I hope you've found some useful ideas as you start your holiday shopping this weekend. Remember, you don't have to spend a fortune - or even any money at all - on your child's teacher. Even a handwritten note of appreciation will warm her heart and mean a lot.

*This post contains affiliate links. 

Tell us below, do you have a creative teacher gift idea? If you are a teacher, what was your favorite gift you've ever gotten? 


The Best Grief and Grieving Resources for Children

Parents work hard to keep their children safe and to shelter them from anything scary or sad. But sometimes in life, the sad and scary find us anyway. We can't keep death from our children, whether it happens to a pet or a person they love. Knowing what to say (or sometimes what not to say), is only half of a parent's job. Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist parents in explaining tough topics such as grief and death to their children. In honor of National Children's Grief Awareness Day, I'll share some that I have personally used and can recommend.

*Books (best for ages 4-12):

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia. This book was recommended to Hubby by a therapist who specializes in grief. The story is about a leaf who learns about the changing of the seasons in relation to his life cycle, and that death is a natural part of life. Hubby read it to our boys every night near the end of Joey's life, and I think they came to understand what was happening.

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, creators of the famed Arthur series of books. I wish I would have known about this book when Joey was sick. Rather than a story, the book answers questions that children might have such as: What does dead mean? and What comes after death? It also covers feelings that kids might have and customs and traditions for remembering loved ones. I like that it touches upon many different cultures' ways of handling death and what comes after. I highly recommend this book.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). This is a sweet little story about a boy whose beloved cat dies. His family plans a funeral, and the boy is tasked with finding 10 things he loved about his pet. He thinks of nine, but can't find a tenth. After doing some gardening with his father and talking about the cycle of life, he comes up with a beautiful tenth reason why he loved Barney. My ten year old - who, admittedly, is very sensitive - cried when I read this book. I took that as the message getting through loud and clear.

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie. "There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living." The author talks about how plants, animals, and even people all have a beginning and an ending and how each creature's life in between is different. A life can be longer or shorter, it can end naturally or due to an accident or illness. The common tie that binds every living thing is that it has a beginning and an end and a life in between. The repetition and easy flow of this book makes it a solid read. My boys really understood the concept of this book.

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen In this book, Grandy has just suffered a big loss in her life (the book doesn't say what it is), so she begins making a big batch of 'tear soup.' There are many things that go into tear soup, and everyone's is different; but ultimately tear soup helps you heal. This concept may be above some younger children's heads, but the book does a good job of explaining it in the end. The back also contains "cooking tips" (advice about grief) and numerous grief resources (some of which you can see below).

Another book that came highly recommended, but that my local library did not have is:

When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) How could anything the beloved Mr. Rogers wrote be wrong? I see this book on several lists of the best books to explain grief to children. The book "helps children share their feelings about losing a pet, while offering them reassurance that grieving is a natural, healing thing to do." I really want to check this one out.

Other titles that came up in my Amazon search that looked good and helpful and are on my short list to find are:

I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (pet death)
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (the ties that bind us)
I Miss You: A First Look at Death (First Look at Books) by Pat Thomas and Leslie Harker (expressing feelings about the loss of a family member or friend)

The important thing to remember about books is to read them yourself first and make sure they are appropriate for your situation and child. *Please note, all of the above are affiliate links, and I will make a little money if you buy one of them after clicking on the title or picture. 

Also, see information here about a sweet little book on grief written by Stephanie Giese of Binkies and Briefcases.

My local library had what they called "Grief Kits" - one for young children and one for teens and tweens. They were put together by our local Ted E. Bear Hollow (see below) and contain grief-related books and DVDs for children and their caregivers. Check to see if your local library or Children's Hospital has something similar.

It's a bag that you can take with you.
It even contains a stuffed friend.

There are a number of websites that offer tips, advice, and additional resources on talking about grief of all kinds.

The Fred Rogers Company: Under Parent Resources and Challenges, there is a section about "dealing with death." Topics covered are children's curiosity about death, how to talk about death and express feelings, responding to a child's needs and feelings, and taking care of your own feelings. Very sweetly done, in classic Mr. Rogers fashion.

The Compassionate Friends: Provides support for parents and siblings after a child dies. There are over 600 chapters located in all 50 states; but if none is convenient for you, they also provide on-line support.

Centering Corporation: Looking for a resource on any and all types of grief and loss? You can probably find it here. Their mission is simply to provide the best grief literature possible on everything from pet loss to pregnancy and infant loss to adult grief.

The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children and Families. This website provides wonderful resources and activities for grieving children and teens. One activity I have used with my kids is their "Finish the sentence" activity. It really got us talking about things that needed to be said. I like that this site has help for teens and young adults, a Spanish support group, and advice on getting through the holidays.

Kids Said: The daughter site of GriefNet.org, this is a place for kids by kids. Kids can join an online support group, share artwork and stories, ask questions and support one another. It is a safe place monitored by a clinically trained grief counselor and psychologist.

Ted E. Bear Hollow: I love these helpful hints for adults supporting grieving children.

National Alliance for Grieving Children: I really feel like this website has it all: Support for grieving children and teens, activities and advice for talking about grief, and crisis resources. It even has information on local and national groups and camps for grieving children.

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It really sucks that death is a natural part of life simply because it hurts our hearts so much. I hope I have given you some resources to make the grief process easier and to support your child's grief awareness journey. Click here for helpful hints on talking to your child about death.