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SENIORS : Grand Presents : Stories on tape and memento collections make special gifts for the third generation.


This holiday season, merchants again hope to exploit an important market--grandparents.

The Toy Manufacturers of America indicated that last year, 1.75 billion toys and $13.4 billion retail dollars changed hands. According to American Demographics magazine (April, 1990), grandparents buy about one-fourth of all these toys, especially the expensive ones.

Nevertheless, many grandparents are clueless when it comes to toy purchases. Their confusion over high-tech, high-ticket items often kills the pleasure of choosing gifts. Fighting the crowds also takes its toll. To many older people, holiday shopping for grandchildren means bankrolling the list from Mom and Dad.

But this year can be different. You don't have to buy that Bart Simpson "rude noises" doll. Don't compromise your integrity or retirement fund for kiddie designer labels. Avoid being a media-hype hostage of the latest trendy toy. Try the following ideas for special, personal gifts that carry more meaning without the high price tag.

* Remember what you enjoyed doing as a child. For younger children, the classic toys and board games never go out of style. But more important is the time--the personal contact--you have with your grandchildren. Shared activities today will provide warm associations far into their adulthood.

* Instead of buying things, hand down memorabilia so grandchildren can attach special meaning to it now. Imbue them with memories. Tell them the story behind the objects and what they meant to you.

* Give older children an album of family photos with explanations of dates and events. Mount awards or mementos in a shadow box. My son treasures such a box that displays his grandfather's military medals and a presidential citation.

* You can read to your grandchildren all tucked in bed no matter where you live. Buy a picture book and read the stories onto a tape recorder. Be sure to make comments about the pictures and personalize the experience.

* Write or tape stories about their parents as children. You could also write or tape your memories and family history.

* Little ones enjoy receiving mail. Send them cards or notes often.

* Create a play store by piling up large boxes and making play money for them to spend. Remember, most kids play with the carton after that expensive toy is forgotten.

* Sew, knit, crochet, or embroider items for them. Many senior centers have ongoing crafts classes to teach these skills. Try fabric painting. You can decorate a sweat shirt for each child. Make a quilt or fabric teaching book that uses zippers, buttons and tie laces. When children are old enough, give them their own set of supplies and teach them these hobbies. Kids love to have their own tools or equipment.

* Each year, make or buy an ornament for each grandchild.

* Compile the family's favorite recipes. Young children would appreciate a child's cookbook and your help in trying out the recipes.

* If you don't know how to make crafts, visit holiday crafts bazaars held in the community. You might even commission a gift.

* Don't overlook garage sales for used toys and books.

* Help your grandchild start a collection or hobby. An atlas and stamp album are great gifts. So are paints or crafts supplies.

* Little ones love to visit. Equip an overnight case with miniature soap, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Remember, your time, attention and personal objects are the best gifts you can give.

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