The people who touch the lives of our children daily certainly deserve consideration during the December holidays, but gift selection can present a dilemma where child-care workers and teachers are concerned. While a cash bonus may be suitable for someone who comes to your home every day, it is not appropriate for your child's second-grade teacher.
"If the gift is from the child to the teacher or caregiver, then it should be handmade," says Philadelphia-based etiquette expert Mary Mitchell, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" (Alpha Books, 1996). "If the gift is from the parents, it should be modest but thoughtful."
Mitchell suggests that if the recipient is on your family payroll, a cash bonus apropos to the amount of time they have worked for you is fitting, but should not take the place of going out to select a gift. Good ideas for gifts from children are drawings or craft projects such as decorated candles or place mats. Drawings, crafts, photographs, a story or poem all reflect the spirit of the season. Children can also bake cookies, Mitchell says. "The important point is that parents convey to their children that gift-giving is more than going to purchase an object."
Mitchell also advises that alcohol is never an appropriate present and gift givers should always be sensitive to anyone who is dieting.
Jessie Sullivan, principal at Whelan Elementary in Lennox and an educator for 25 years, remembers the woman teacher who received men's cologne from a kindergartner. The embarrassed mother told her he insisted on picking it out for her.
"Fragrance isn't always such a great idea," Mitchell says. "Children can learn this is not a time to impose your own taste on somebody else."
Clothing and jewelry may also be too personal for the teacher, but might be OK for the caregiver in your home because you probably know that person better, she says.
"Children tend to know their teachers likes and dislikes," Sullivan says. Many times they will know if the teacher has a specific collection or particular hobbies.
"I always appreciate it when people took the time to know my special interests," says Cindy Nutt, a Houston-based second-grade teacher. "I could have had my weight in soap and potpourri."
By the same token, Nutt says teachers agree it's the whole idea of giving a gift and the child should be the center of that. "A drawing from a first-grader is just as precious as a book for my collection," she says.
A poll of teachers found gifts for the classroom are appreciated as much as personal gifts. Here are some suggestions for both:
* Baked goods
* Magazine subscriptions
* Books (classroom, hobby or inspirational)
* Classroom games
* Stationery with stamps
* Video rental or movie gift certificates
* Teacher's supply store gift certificates
* Restaurant gift certificates
* Tree ornaments