The holiday season is a wonderful mix of sights and sounds, family and gift-giving, celebration and thanksgiving. It seems the season gets bigger, noisier and more hectic with each passing year. In fact, in addition to the increased volume of traffic, crowd noise and music during the holidays, some of the toys on the market today emit sounds so loud they can permanently damage hearing.
So as we scurry around trying to find the right present for each loved one, maybe it’s time to get back to basics. Instead of opting for things that whistle, ding, toot and entertain to wrap for our loved ones, think about giving one of these items from the Healthy Hearing Quiet Toy List. Each one generates noise levels well beneath the accepted healthy hearing levels of 70 decibels while providing a good measure of old-fashioned fun.
Gifts as quiet as normal breathing -- 10 decibels
Whether you’re a child or a child at heart, developing a daily reading habit has enormous benefits beyond the quiet nature of this activity. Reading stimulates your mind, reduces stress, increases knowledge and vocabulary, improves memory and writing skills, and strengthens analytical thinking, focus and concentration.
Here are a few titles you can download to a personal electronic device or really go old school and buy a hardcopy from your local bookstore. Either way, the only noise they generate is the sound of measured breathing -- depending, of course, upon the volume of the reader’s wild imagination.
- If the child on your list hasn’t read these classics, this might be a good year to give them a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, or Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank.
- Teenagers might appreciate reading I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban or True Grit, by Charles Portis.
Here’s some good news. Coloring books have seen a resurgence in popularity lately, especially among adults. Besides the fact that coloring is fun, experts say it puts your mind in a meditative state, which is good for reducing anxiety and stress and makes them appropriate for every age on your gift list. While you’re at it, buy one for yourself, too. And, don’t forget the crayons or colored pencils.
Any problem-solving activity is a puzzle, so let your mind wander past those large-piece jigsaw puzzles your children put together when they were young (just don’t forget about them completely). Today’s puzzles can be 3-D, interactive or solved with a #2 lead pencil. In the event you’ve been out of the puzzling habit for awhile, here are a few gift suggestions designed to provide hours of quiet, perplexing entertainment.
- Kanoodle -- 4-14 years of age: There are only 12 puzzle pieces in this game, but more than 100 puzzle challenges to solve using the 44-page illustrated book. The handy carrying case means it can tag along anywhere.
- Sudoku -- teens and adults: Just when you thought numbers couldn’t be any more fun, this logical reasoning game comes to the rescue. We like this board because it’s suitable for one player or lets the whole family play.
Gifts as quiet as normal conversation -- 50 decibels
There are so many benefits to playing with construction toys, it almost warrants an article all by itself. Playing with blocks helps children learn shapes and colors, develop manual dexterity, patience, and focus, and encourages thinking and reasoning.
Beyond blocks, classic favorites include Lego, Tinkertoy, Lincoln Logs and K’nex. The best part of these gifts is their interactive nature. Many of these sets come with idea books which contain instructions for building basic items. They’re perfect for playing alone or collaborating with others. By the way, play dough counts as construction play too, so buy a couple of art smocks and let the squishing begin.
What benefit would anyone derive from playing with a piece of string? How about manual dexterity, concentration, memory, teamwork, patience, persistence and the fun of creating interesting patterns and designs using only your hands? Some patterns are simple, others can be intricate and complex. Some are created using two hands, while others involve more than one person. Most will be multi-generational topics of conversation the young can have with the young at heart.
Gifts as quiet as the sound of laughter -- 60-65 decibels
If you grew up playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, here’s some good news -- these two board games are still popular among the toddler and preschool set. Besides the obvious benefits of playing board games together -- fun family time, cognitive development and stress reduction -- the laughter these games produces is like music for your ears. If you’re looking for a few new games to add to those old classics in the closet, may we suggest these fun options?
- Bananagrams -- ages 7 and up. Use letter tiles to build a crossword grid creating as many words as possible in a race against others. Fun, portable and educational.
- Yoga spinner -- ages 5 and up. Fitness and fun for the whole family! Promotes flexibility, balance and teamwork.
- Lift It! -- ages 8 and up. Strap a plastic crane to your head and compete with family members to build structures before time runs out. Ridiculous? Perhaps -- but that's what makes it so much fun!
Card games have been around since the 15th century, but don’t let their age deter you. A deck of cards can provide hours of entertainment in the right hands, not to mention a host of physical and social benefits for adults and children. Chances are, you have a few of your own favorites. Here are a few of ours.
- Dr. Suess Cat in the Hat -- ages 3 and up; promotes confidence, early reading skills, creativity and social skills
- Tabletopics family -- ages 6 and up; promotes communication, conversational skills and thinking skills
- Uno -- ages 7 and up; promotes strategy, numbers and colors
And now, a word about hearing loss
Today’s kids are exposed to more environmental noise than their parents or grandparents, due in part to the electronic gadgets they play with and elevated levels of industrial and recreational noise. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), more than 16 percent of teens ages 12 to 19 say they have some hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud noise.
What’s the good news? Noise-induced hearing loss is easily preventable. Some of the gifts on Healthy Hearing’s Quiet Toy List may sound familiar while others are new versions of old favorites, and they benefit more than just your hearing health. Our increasingly noisy world is ours alone to quiet, beginning with the gifts we give our families during the holidays.