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Those Christmas ads are bombarding our grandchildren again – with their usual promises of the biggest and the best, the fastest and of course the most expensive. But have you ever noticed how that must-have toy or game spends a mere few weeks driving you crazy with its beeps and bleeps, before it gets consigned to the playroom shelf of history? This year, ignore the adverts and get back to basics with something your grandchildren will actually want to keep…

When I was young, the toys that made you want to keep playing were the ones that fired my imagination. A microscope kit, complete with slides, kept me happy for years. Books took me to places no film tie-in figurine could approach.

To make present planning easier, I’ve put together a Christmas list of great ideas for presents that will get your grandchildren interested in the world around them:

A science kit. These come in many shapes and sizes, and definitely don’t have to be the smelly chemical sets you remember from your own childhood. Personal favourites include grow kits, which incorporate everything a child needs to grow some weird and wacky plants. From square tomatoes to a Venus Flytrap, there’s something to pique the curiosity of every young gardener: and what could be a better gift than the opportunity to nurture and grow?

A model set. Whether you settle on a matchstick castle or a retro plastic ‘plane kit, you’ll get plenty of mileage from gifts that children can make. Plus, presents like this make ideal projects that you can share with them. From model dinosaurs to WWII planes, a kit like this will encourage creativity and promote an interest in history too.

Books. TV is all very well but only books speak directly to the imagination. There are literally hundreds of children’s classics out there waiting to be read – and once you’ve unleashed the Wild Rumpus for the first time, you’ll wonder how your grandkids ever did without Max and his monsters, or the Very Hungry Caterpillar, or the BFG…

A magnifying glass. There are very few children whose curiosity doesn’t go wild when they’re confronted with the magnified world at the bottom of the garden. A traditional magnifying glass makes a great gift for the curious (as does a microscope set, which has the added bonus that your grandchild can make his or her own slides) – or you could opt for a bug box, which allows your grandchild to safely examine insects up close and personal!

A telescope. If the world under their feet isn’t interesting to your grandchildren, you can bet they’ll be fascinated by the stars. Telescopes don’t have to be super expensive, and again they’re a wonderful way to get involved in activities that you will both enjoy. Lots of junior telescopes or beginner’s astronomy sets come with a map of the constellations to make identification easy and fun; and you can always combine some other gifts as well – like a model of the solar system or membership to an astronomy club.

Some useful links for present planning:

Ask Granny – the online guide for grandparents.

Guardian ideas page – for unusual and retro gifts.

Find Me a Gift – more unusual and unique children’s gifts