Each year I expect this will be the year that I feel organized and composed for the holiday season. I will have gifts bought and wrapped without feeling time pressure or financial lunacy. I will have cards sent, menus chosen, and guests invited at the appropriate times (i.e. not the week before Christmas.) Of course, this time of year ends up seeming awfully similar to Groundhog Day…the movie. I repeat myself every year. There’s a personal growth lesson in there, but that wouldn’t be a mathy moment!

So, where is the mathy moment? It’s in the stocking! Because I have not yet bought stocking stuffers, and they are the one thing that I know exactly what to do with. (As further proof of my ability to procrastinate this year…ahem, every year…I have managed to write this post just after Chanakah, leaving my Jewish friends without the opportunity to give 8…count ’em, EIGHT…mathy moments. Luckily, gifts can be given at any time of year.)

So, if you are like me and your family’s stockings are still empty, or you need to bring a little gift to a friend’s child (think housewarming gifts for those holiday gatherings), read on.

1. Wooden puzzles:  Classic. Simple. Engaging. Here’s an example of the kind I loved playing when I was a kid. Also, puzzles like this are beautiful to look at, engaging, and fit in a stocking. These will help build spatial reasoning and pattern recognition skills. And they are fun.
2. Disentanglement puzzles: Classic. Simple. Engaging. (Yes, it’s a theme. Good observation.) You can find these at many toy stores and game stores. Here’s an example, but if possible, try to touch these gifts first so you are pleased with the weight and quality of the metal.
3. Spinning tops / Gyroscopes: Continuing the theme. There is something wonderful about things that spin. You can go super simple and place a wooden top in your child’s stocking, or you can try this one with a marker on the tip for making art while spinning. The marker tipped top in combination with a paper roll spread out on the floor keep my kids busy and happy for joyous chunks of time. Gyroscopes are also super cool, fun to play with, and expose kids to physics concepts. And math and physics are good buddies.
4. The 15 Puzzle: Consider this a handheld video game without the video. Or the screen. Or the batteries. You might be surprised at how willing your kid is to play this game in the car or at a restaurant. The mathy moment here is strategic. It’s a puzzle that is a lot less frustrating than Rubik’s Cube!
5. Flexi Puzzle: This is another great handheld game that requires strategic manipulation. There’s 3-dimentional spatial reasoning involved in this one. But your kid will just think it’s fun to fiddle with. (An adult friend of mine almost walked off with my son’s Flexi Puzzle, she found it so engaging. Never steal toys from children. Perhaps this would be a good gift for an adult friend of yours.)
6. Rush Hour: This one will not fit in the stocking. I love it so much that I had to put it on the list. I’m hoping someone will get it for me. This is a single player game that starts out with simple puzzles to solve, then it grows in complexity. It’s like the Fifteen Game, but more.
7. Set: This card game is one of my all time favorites, and it will fit in the stocking. Or it can be a terrific family gift. The first time I played Set as a math teacher, three 14-year-olds crushed me. This is a fantastic game of mental agility and organization. The more you play, the better you get…and your 9-year-old may be better at it than you are.
8. Dice – Getting back to our theme…classic, simple, engaging. Dice fall into the category of toys that have multiple creative uses. There is no one way to play with them. Roll ’em. Stack ’em. Sort ’em. Make up games with them. You can also get these Math Dice for your kids. Here are some posts about how to play with dice: Coffee Shop Math and Manipulating with Manipulative Play.
9. Manifold I recently wrote about this one. It fits in a stocking. Great for all ages. You could even drop it into your spouse’s stocking. Perfect.
10. Foam Pattern BlocksThese foam shapes are fabulous bath toys! For more details, you can check out this post. They will stick to the sides of the bath tub, and while your child builds mosaics with them, she will also be developing understandings of angles, shapes, and space. You can jam them down into the toe of the stocking!

I can’t help myself from buying games and toys like these. Some people’s closests are overflowing with shoes and clothing. Mine overflows with games and puzzles. Thank goodness for the library where I can borrow some rather than buy them all. I have controlled myself this year. My big game buy was Othello. A classic. And mathy. Simple in it’s visuals and rules, complex in strategy and the variety of combinations that can happen. An excellent mathy moment! Doesn’t fit in the stocking though.

Photo credit: dbtelford on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA