The best gift to enhance children’s creativity and imagination may be more about the box than what is in it. It’s an old cliché that little kids often end up playing more with the holiday present boxes and wrapping paper than the gifts themselves. And I think that is true for some very important reasons.

First of all, never forget that children are naturally curious, are wired to learn and find learning anything in and of itself a rewarding experience. Kids love to explore! And if they are engaged in play of their own doing, there is always a tremendous amount of education going on … and fun.

Kids of all ages LOVE big boxes; you know, the kind that comes from that new refrigerator or appliance. It allows their creativity to go wild. They can build whatever their hearts desire, using their own imagination. Kids will make up games and scenarios that they play out over and over again. It’s the same reason kids love a box of grandma’s old clothes to play dress-up games. The key is allowing kids the freedom to pursue their own interests in their own way and in their own time.

Even better, sit on the floor with your children and follow their lead. Allow them to set the rules of the game they are playing and to set the pace. It can be hard for adults not to get their hands and ideas in there to ensure that kids “do it right.” Resist the urge to take control. Instead, see the game through their eyes. You can learn a lot about your kids by engaging in their play.

So, you don’t need to spend a wad of dough this holiday season to make your kids happy. Give them toys that allow them to use their imagination and creativity. The best toys are the ones with no prescribed directions or rules so that kids can make their own creations. Give them the gift that keeps on giving: some good old boxes.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college. Check out his new online course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need, at