Educational gifts are either bang or bust. Knowing what to look for can seem daunting. I'm here to help you. This article is oriented towards educational children's gifts in an age range of 4-10 yrs old.
Even though we associate telescopes and astronomy, buying one for a child is a bad idea. Children have short attention spans not suited for using a telescope. The reason why a telescope is a bad idea because;
1) You don't need to spend a hundred plus dollars to have a child looking to the sky
2) Even finding the moon with a telescope can be frustrating to a child due to the difficulty of aiming a telescope at night.
A better idea is to buy a pair of children's binoculars. They are much easier to use since movement isn't backwards, and focusing is easy. Also a child would be less likely to lose interest because they can be used for exploring their whole world.
Good astronomy books are not designed for children, and the ones that are aren't that good. Heres what to look for;
1) Pictures - An image is worth a thousand and one words but a 1001 words is boring to a child. A good astronomy book for children should be full of colorful pictures that ignite their imagination. Make sure to choose a book with:
a> pictures of the constellations including outlines of the characters they depict
b> pictures of deep space.
c> captions that offer brief descriptions that educate without being long winded. Even if the child can't read, it's good to choose a book that offers new things as the grow.
Now that we've gone over the two most important things for a young astronomer lets talk about swag. Beside a telescope stay away from moon crystal growers, software, and home planetariums. These take too much patience to keep a kid interested in astronomy. Things to look for are;
1) Glow in the dark stars - let a kid stick these on the ceiling of their room and they'll be sleeping under their own constellation.
2) Posters - astronomy posters can range from star charts to pictures of far off galaxies and even the entire known universe. Be sure to choose something visually exciting that a child can come back to as they grow up for new information.
3) Toys and game - look for educational items that would be fun, easy, and interesting.
Individually or combined into a kit it can be a great gift. Have a happy holiday. Here are a few web sites;