by Ricardo Castillo

As a magazine that serves the K-12 education community, we believe that mastering life skills can and should be fun. It is the one way we can ensure a generation of intellectually curious individuals that are committed to lifetime learning. The holidays are fast-approaching, and we recommend the products in this guide as ideal gifts because of their clear educational value. A list of our picks for this year is featured on the following pages, but the following six products are particular stand-outs for the way they enhance skill sets and promote the healthy social development of the K-12 generation. 
Calafant craft kits are perfect for the child who is into arts and crafts. And what child isn’t? Child psychologists, doctors and teachers recommend supporting the creative development of children. Calafant crafts projects and building models are easy to construct and fun to decorate. They appeal to different ages. All Calafant models are designed in Germany and made of high-quality, recyclable cardboard, so it is a green product as well. And what parent wouldn’t love a product that promotes creativity but doesn’t require the use of messy glues or dangerous sharp scissors. 
Aside from scissors, today’s headlines signal danger to youngsters who often feel powerless to keep themselves safe and carefree. Worry Eaters is not a product that claims to eliminate the worries and fears that plague young minds. Fear is often a useful emotion. It keeps us from making choices that would put us in real danger. What Worry Eaters do is tuck away those concerns and fears in a plush toy where the child can feel empowered to deal with the worry by talking it over with someone they trust. They learn that worries can be managed and controlled. 
OutlooK-12 editors are particularly drawn to toys that encourage manual and mental dexterity. These toys are especially important for students who may not have the strongest language skills – either because English is not their first language or because of general struggles with reading programs. Toys like 3Doodler require no such skills. It’s a pen that allows creative young minds to “draw” a three-dimensional object using a pen that “exudes” hot plastic much in the way a glue gun exudes liquid glue. The difference is that the plastic cools to a hard structure quickly – almost as soon as it leaves the pen. 
On a similar note, we found that Arckit is more traditional in terms of building kits for students. But this kit is so sophisticated that it is suitable for professional architects to use for client presentations. Building scale models of structures teaches mathematical ratio and the ability to follow sequential instructions to complete a project. 
Exploring creativity in design techniques can be the first step toward careers in everything from graphic design to interior décor. Another toy that promotes thinking outside the box and creativity is The Extraordinaires Design Studio Pro. What sets it apart is the story telling prompts it offers students as they design their school projects. 
Finally, we didn’t want to ignore books, which we view as so important that we regularly feature in OutlooK-12 in our School Library Department each month. Our "2016 OutlooK-12 Book of the Year Award”  is a bilingual book entitled, “Bad Hair Does Not Exist/¡Pelo Malo No Existe!”  The book written by Sulma Arzu-Brown deals with the very important issue of self-image – a crucial determining factor of whether or not we are successful and happy individuals. The author gives the young people permission to accept themselves as they are, and we applaud that. We'll have a review of this book in next month's issue of OutlooK-12.
Our choices this year all have one thing in common. They help young people to be the best they can be physically, emotionally and intellectually. It is a goal that is compatible with the goal of not only of education institutions, programs and professionals but also the mission of OutlooK-12 Magazine. 

MSRP: $19.99
The Pony Farm is an example of Calafant cardboard toys, which encourage and support children’s creativity. Studies have proven that apart from language, creativity is the most important way for children to express themselves. Whenever they paint, do crafts projects, build models or engage in pretend play, they work out emotions, experiences and learn to find their own solutions. Plus, they practice their fine and gross motor skills. Calafant toys are easy to build, fun to decorate and wonderful to play with — for any child. All pieces are pre-cut, pre-punched and can be put together without glue or scissors thanks to the Calafant Easy-Lock-System.

MSRP: $15.99
A doll with a zipper might be the easiest way to calm a small child’s fears thanks to the plush characters known as Worry Eaters. Each character has a hang tag that suggests to tots as young as three years old that they write their concern on paper — or draw it if the child is too young to write — and tuck it into the plush’s zippered mouth. Have no fear, their Worry Eater will hold on to that concern for them. Kids get a good night’s sleep, and parents are given a clue as to what’s worrying their child and an opportunity to talk with their child about their worries. Worry Eaters come in a variety of sizes and styles. The suggested retail price above is for a 9.8-inch plush toy. 

MSRP: $99.99
If a child can use a pen, they can take their doodles and drawings up a notch and begin creating in three dimensions. The 3Doodler brings a new dimension to anyone's creations, and it won’t take up any extra space — no software or bulky gear to distract the imagination. The next masterpiece is just a doodle away. Create anything from art, jewelry, figurines, small-scale model buildings and more with ease! As the young, budding artist draws with the 3Doodler pen, it extrudes heated plastic. When the plastic cools and solidifies, it turns into a strong, stable structure — so anyone can build up sculptures that are as simple, or as complex, as they want. 

ARCKIT is a freeform model-building tool that allows students to physically explore designs and bring their projects to life. Originally designed for architects, the interconnecting components use no glue and are completely modular, making it possible to create a diverse range of scaled models that are ideal for everything from class projects to art shows. Students as young as 12 year olds can work with ARCKIT’s versatile design, which allows for experimenting and tactile learning. And while ARCKIT can be used in the classroom, it is also a great kit for young builders that just want something fun and challenging to create whatever structures they dream up. 

MSRP: $79.95
The Extraordinaires Design Studio Pro is an innovative, engaging activity that features 24 Extraordinaire Characters who possess extraordinary needs and wants such as an Evil Genius, a Wizard and a Ninja. Design projects cover five discipline areas: Inventions, Buildings, Vehicles, Clothing and Gadgets and involve design challenges like designing a music player that’s perfect for a giant or a gift box that’s just right for a robot. With over 720 design challenges and featuring a quality 120 page design manual, the Extraordinaires Design Pro is a must have for all who dream of a career in design or who are just looking for fun projects that are also creatively stimulating. 

MSRP is $59.99
The Girl Scouts® Cookie Oven is a new toy that allows young cookie bakers to create delicious treats inspired by some of their favorite Girl Scout Cookie™ flavors, including Thin Mints® and Trefoils®, letting children engage in equal parts fun, creativity and learning. The Girl Scouts® Cookie Oven helps teach little bakers some of the most basic and important culinary skills like how to properly mix and measure ingredients. Plus, they can watch their sweet treats bake through a special viewing window. The Girl Scouts® Cookie Oven comes with mix packets, a spatula, a baking pan and The Perfect Cookie measuring tool. No assemble is required, and the oven is made from ABS plastic.

MSRP: KITS RANGE FROM $24.95 TO $59.95
Beginning your butterfly adventure is easy with Insect Lore's Original Butterfly Garden. The award-winning butterfly kit lets one experience the magic and wonder of nature at home or in a classroom. This version of this best-loved kit comes with a voucher, which can be redeemed at InsectLore.com for one cup of 5 live caterpillars. The Original Butterfly Garden Includes pop-up, reusable 11.5" tall mesh habitat, feeding pipette and “caterpillars to butterflies” instruction guide. Once the caterpillars begin their transformation, they become glittering, jewel-like chrysalides. Transfer your chrysalides into the butterfly habitat, a cylindrical mesh container, perfect for up close butterfly viewing. 

MSRP: (see below)*
One of the most popular categories of playthings that many parents turn to for their children are those that spark an interest in constructing creativity with toys. Ocho, the latest innovative building set from the people that created KnuckleStrutz®, is an educational toy that encourages creativity and imagination in a child. It’s easy to learn how to build with Ocho pieces and connections, making the toy a great success with children ages three and up. The pieces easily stack or crisscross or even slide through each other. They can be connected in eight different angles, allowing for a wide variety of building options. Ocho building play sets come in small to jumbo sizes. 
*Ocho had not yet officially premiered prior to this magazine’s deadlines.  For the latest prices visit http://fungamesandtoys.com/product-category/ocho-building-kits/

MSRP: $29.95
Amarillo College professor named Deb Avara’s board game, Key to the Front Door, tackles one of the most important life lessons for adults and students, alike — financial literacy. An award-winning, educational, reality money game, Key to the Front Door is suitable for ages eight and above and is perfect for the home, ESL, G&T, Life Skills and transition classes for Special Ed plus helps meet the financial literacy requirements for schools. The goal of the game is to furnish an apartment all while paying bills; saving for emergency, college/retirement and vacation; maintaining a budget; make wise shopping/buying decisions; choosing wants versus needs; and much more. 

MSRP: RANGES FROM $14.95 TO $79.90
Geography can seem like a remote and dull subject for students. A plush toy like Hugg-A-Planet, which can also be tossed around like a ball, makes geography come alive for children. It’s been shown that children as young as two can start learning geography. For preschooler on up to eighth grade, children are exposed to the media always mentioning geography in the news, or they can find references while reading books and magazines or even listening to music. Different than a heavy metal globe on a stand, Hugg-A-Planet can always be in arms’ reach for easy reference. Often this becomes an opportunity for the parent, grandparent, teachers and children to interact. 

MSRP: $26.95
Tall Tales: The Game of Infinite Storytelling brings back the classic magic of imagination through electronic-free fun. Family and friends of all ages can enjoy this creative, non-competitive game because playing Tall Tales is simple. Players choose a story card for their setting and then draw random story elements from the bag. Using those element, the players then twist their best tale, continually adding more and more twists to their story. Some of the 24 story card settings include: a quirky game show, a colorful ocean, a fun theme park and a crazy circus. The story bag contains a wide range of 3-D pieces, including: a treasure chest, a baby, a unicorn, a light bulb, a stop sign and a rocket ship.

MSRP: SETS RANGE FROM $11.99 TO $74.99
KnuckleStrutz® products are educational toys that encourage creativity and imagination in ways that no other construction toy can offer since KnuckleStrutz grows up with the individual. It can be enjoyed as a basic toy for younger builders then advances to a complex engineering system for more advanced players as knowledge and imagination expand. The fun and sophistication of KnuckleStrutz goes way beyond traditional block toys. Each KnuckleStrutz piece can be connected to the next in a wide variety of ways, making solid, bendable, spinning and even morphing joints. The unique design of the pieces allows completed KnuckleStrutz creations to move, collapse and expand — all while still connected.

MSRP: $9.50
Hair can be a sensitive subject. Too often people complain their hair is too thin, too thick, the wrong color or just in general not what they feel meets societal standards. But in Sulma Arzu-Brown’s bilingual book “Bad Hair Does Not Exist/¡Pelo Malo No Existe!” hair moves past fashion and appearance and into the areas of self-esteem, empowerment and cultural solidarity. “It looks like a children’s book, however the message is a mature one,” Arzu-Brown writes on her book’s official website. “Its target demo is from the age of comprehension to adulthood.” Arzu-Brown’s book seeks to empower by demonstrating that hair is not bad and not something to feel self-conscious about.

MSRP: $18.00
On August 31, 1939, Raymond Fishler went to sleep at about midnight dreaming of the wonderful future he envisioned for himself. He was awakened from his peaceful slumber by the start of World War II. After living through a brutal German occupation, his family was torn apart, and he was sent to a concentration camp. Raymond has told the story of his life's journey in classrooms and lecture halls and also on the March of the Living, an annual education program for youth, and now adults, who travel to Poland to learn about Jewish life there before and during World War II. Perfect book report material for young adults who want to sample something similar to “The Diary of Anne Frank.”