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The Joy of Giving : Finding holiday presents for grandchildren need not be an unpleasant chore. Here are some suggestions.

December 05, 1991|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This is the season when my mother complains, "I just can't buy him anything," referring to her grandson. "Either he already has it or it's one of those video games.

"When I was a kid," she continues, "we ordered from Montgomery Ward's Wish Book. Girls got a doll, boys got a spinning top. And we were thankful to get an orange in our stockings."

Mom is not alone in her indictment. Last year, grandparents made almost one-fifth of the nation's $13.1 billion in retail toy purchases, according to the Toy Manufacturers of America. Nevertheless, for many well-intentioned grandparents, choosing gifts for grandchildren has become an annual adventure devoid of pleasure.

Holiday gift-giving doesn't have to be an ordeal for seniors. Here are some tips to make the process a success:

For future reference, if you cannot weather holiday crowds, shop months early. If that isn't possible, order from catalogues, create presents at home, or commission relatives to make purchases for you. Also, watch for special shopping events when stores only admit seniors and the disabled. They usually provide a discount on purchases, extra staff to assist you, and free gift-wrapping services.

Try to be flexible in your choices.

"Older people relate more to toys they used as a child or those their own children played with," said Ed Roth, vice president of toy services at the NPD Group, a marketing research firm in New York. "So grandparents are often more comfortable purchasing plush or ride-on toys instead of high-tech video or computer toys."

You may have your own notions about what Susie or Bobby would enjoy. But parental input could result in a more appropriate and appreciated present.

Which doesn't mean that you have to buy a toy you hate. Toy industry experts say that familiar classic toys such as dolls and erector sets are making a comeback. A wristwatch or inexpensive camera loaded with film belong to this category. So do bicycle accessories and equipment in the Scouting catalogue.

Help your grandchild start a collection or hobby. An atlas and stamp album is a good start. Such "theme gifts" are very popular, said Lisa Leonoudakis, who manages the Imaginarium toy store in Thousand Oaks.

"You can buy glow stars for the child's bedroom ceiling and get a book about astronomy or space. You could also get a telescope," she said.

Regardless of where you shop, follow the manufacturers' age guidelines on the box. Never give a child a toy to "grow into." If the child is too young, the toy can be frustrating or contain small parts that could be swallowed.

Intrepid shoppers should have exact information about requested toys.

"Write down the full name and brand of the toy, the particular color, style, and what it looks like," advised Mark Pokrzywnicki, manager of Toys R Us in Ventura.

For some seniors the enjoyment of gift giving is diminished when grandchildren live far away. Often they just bankroll a list submitted by Mom and Dad. But many things can be sent almost as easily as a check.

For instance, magazine subscriptions are very welcome, especially by children who love to receive mail. And you can still read to grandchildren no matter where you live. Buy a picture book and read the stories on a tape recorder. Be sure to make comments about the pictures and personalize the experience. Use a bell as a signal to turn the page.

Also write or tape stories about the child's parents when they were youngsters or offer your memories and a family history. There are several family history books available that help by posing a series of questions.

Regardless of where you live, a tight budget does not have to be a problem. Remember, your time and personal attention never go out of style.

Create a play store by piling up large boxes and photocopying Monopoly money for them to spend. A jar of assorted buttons to sort can entertain kids for hours. And do not overlook garage sales for used toys and books. Or pass on your own memorabilia and tell what the objects have meant to you.

Put your handicraft skills to work. Then give older children their own set of supplies and teach them these hobbies.

Jaennine Tapking of Thousand Oaks knitted a multicolored "round-the-world" sweater that displays the world map and Great Lakes for her grandson. And for her granddaughter, Marilyn Crowley molded a porcelain doll and crocheted its clothes.

Children up to age 7 or 8 enjoy being the main character in a personalized book. And books can be purchased that have cutouts to display a photograph of the child on every page.

"Kids like stories about themselves. And it really sparks their interest in learning to read," said Bill Molinari, owner of Keepsake Personalized books in Newbury Park.

To help children visualize the passage of time, let them remove a loop from a construction paper chain each day until the holiday arrives. In addition, children enjoy opening the tiny colorful doors of an Advent calendar. But those should be given by Dec. 1.

Finally, recognize that at some point due to declining health, income, or the large number of grandchildren, it may be unrealistic to provide gifts for everyone. So work out something with your grown children.

Better yet, let them spoil you for a change.

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