Toys that teach make great children's Christmas gifts

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- 'Tis the season for toy shopping, and in many cases, that "must have" item will be at the bottom of the toy box in a matter of weeks or months -- so how do you find a gift that will leave a longer-lasting impression -- or better yet, a gift with lasting lessons?

Shoppers looking for gifts for little ones may want to think smaller -- going beyond the big names and big trends for gifts that inspire imagination.

"2013 is the year of the Rainbow Loom. There's no doubt about it. Boys and girls are both obsessed with these kits. They're great. Parents like them because they're crafty," Liz Gumbinner with

The Rainbow Loom kit allows kids to make bracelets and necklaces out of colorful rubber bands -- and there are plenty of YouTube videos that show how to make different items.

It's all about "toys that teach."

Bettina Chen met Alice Brooks while they were among few female engineering grad students at Stanford. They drew upon their experiences to create "Roominate" -- a wired dollhouse with circuits and motors -- a science and engineering twist.

"With a dollhouse, it's easy to see that connection of, 'I'm building this setting for a story, or I'm building this house for my doll.' Whereas a lot of building toys, they build it, but they don't really see a reason to reach that end goal," Chen said.

Roominate is one of those items found in boutique toy stores. A website, like can help parents find independent stores with similar education-based items locally.

Because the hot toy of the season may not be what's best, or even what a child wants -- it can be best to think outside of the box.

"It doesn't matter what every other kid in the block is getting. Get your kid something that you know that they want, that they'll enjoy, and that's all that matters," Gumbinner said.