Cool gifts for kids that teach a lesson, too

Feb 6, 2014 at 2:15 a.m. ET

Being an honorary auntie for quite a few little girls and boys means that month in and month out, I'm buying kids gifts for one occasion or another. I'm always on the lookout for things that are fun and engaging but that also teach a lesson, build a skill or encourage healthy habits.

Here are some of my recent favorites and the great, little lessons they impart.

Teach them to be global citizens

The Around the World puzzle is simply a work of genius! Each puzzle piece features a child from one of 32 different countries around the world. All the pieces snap together to form a large, hand-holding circle. I love the message it sends: It's never too early to learn about the importance of unity and world peace. The large, reversible cardboard pieces are double-sided and super-easy to snap together, making them very friendly for little hands. The puzzle creates endless possibilities for hand-holding friendships (Amazon, $15).

Teach them to be thankful

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a stickler for thank-you notes, so when I discovered these starter World of Thanks notes for kids, I just couldn't resist. They provide a fun and colorful way to teach kids the importance of saying thanks, all while decorating their own notes. Each package includes 10 thank-you notes with matching printed envelopes and six sheets of animal and message stickers (Amazon, $10).

Teach them to sow and grow

I was lucky enough to grow up with a big backyard garden, so planting and growing flowers and vegetables was a big part of my childhood. Teaching your kids how things grow is one of the most important lessons you can give them. You don't need a big yard to teach kids about gardening, thanks to Green Toys and their Indoor Gardening Kit. And like all Green Toys products, this one is made with environmentally friendly materials, helping to reduce fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions (Green Toys, $23).

Teach them to create

Crayon Rocks rock! Coloring and drawing were two of my favorite pastimes as a kid, so I love gifting crayons, coloring books or a great pad of paper to encourage the kids' creativity to flow. I love these crayons because they're designed by a former special-education teacher. She not only made them to look like little treasures in their special drawstring bag, but she also created them in a shape that encourages kids to use their thumb, first finger and second finger in a tripod grip. That's critical for developing handwriting skills (Crayon Rocks, $9).

Teach them to explore

If only The Outdoor Explorer Kit (Amazon, $48) were around when I was a kid. I would have begged and pleaded to get this as a gift. It contains everything a budding scientist needs to observe and explore the outdoors, including an LED headlamp and a backpack. All of Seedling's kits are created to nurture and engage young minds by encouraging them to be creative and explore the world around them. Check out the Design Your Own Superhero Cape kit (, $40), my other favorite from Seedling.

Teach them to move

While I can appreciate what's cool and exciting about all the technology that kids have access to these days, I prefer gifting things that encourage kids to get up, get out and move! When I was in grade school, jumping rope was the big activity at recess, and all the cool kids had their own jump ropes. This Fox Jump Rope (, $17) is a fun take on a classic. Giggle has a wide variety of thoughtful kid's items, and you can save 10 percent when you sign up for the Giggle mailing list!

Teach them to eat well

The magnetic Kid O Cutting Fruit Set provides a fun way to get even the littlest ones familiar with healthy, whole foods. The knife is great for getting kids acquainted with basic cutting skills, and for older ones, there is the added bonus of a little lesson on fractions (, $22).