We live in a world so harsh and overwhelming, it can be hard to be a kid. So wouldn't it be nice if the stuff we gave the children we love could be calming and inspiring, capable perhaps of offsetting any cynical or inconsiderate thinking that might seep into their minds when we’re not looking?

Frivolity has its merits, and childhood is obviously supposed to be fun. But before you spend your hard-earned cash on something zippy, cute, and empty this holiday season, take a peek at the following toys and web sites that more deliberately promote good values. We feel the following items have a stick-to-the-ribs quality that make them extra special and make you, the giver, feel as though you’ve gone that extra mile.

For Younger Kids (2-5)

Little Buddies for Times of Need
These pocket-sized pixies recall to us the comforts of friendship. Some years back, our two young sons were bussed to school in a van that, by a fluke of schedules, transported them alone. To some parents’ minds, this would be a dream situation: no foul language to worry about exposing them to, no older children pouring soft drinks out the bus window. But imagine the terror if one boy was sick and staying home while the other was obliged to set out on the bus for such a solitary sojourn. How bad was it? Frankly, such mornings turned out pretty well thanks to our pocket pals from Hearthsong.com. Each pocket-sized pouch contains three 2-1/2 inch pixie dolls, enough company for a lonely bus ride, doctor’s visit, or other scary time. $10.95 for a silk sack of three.

Cleaning Up Is Fun to Do
You’ll laugh and say, oh this isn’t a gift, this is a ploy. A kid-sized mop, broom, brush, and dustpan for Christmas? Fact is, children love to help clean up as soon as they are able to walk, so why not load them up with this stuff? Magic Cabin’s set is especially lovely; three of the four components have wooden handles. It’s 24.95. And a wooden stand for the rig is an extra $19.95.

Healers in the Making
Lord knows, we’re going to need dedicated doctors in the years to come. With malpractice insurance, managed care, and other hardships, doctors of tomorrow should be fortified today for the healing of the future. Lillian Vernon is out of scrubs, but you can still get the doctor’s coat and medical case with 16 essentials for $34.98.

Beeswax Angels
Pure beeswax ornaments hold up awfully well and these you can make with children four years old and up. Color, ribbon, molds are all provided for $24.95.

For Older Kids (Ages 6 & up)

Wooden Russian Blocks
Inspire your kids to strive for excellence by giving them this especially gorgeous set of 55 hardwood blocks with which they can build an onion-domed cathedral and other lovely structures. Reasonably priced at $36.00.

Mandala Stencil Set
Way to go, Lillian Vernon! With her candles and infectious holiday spirit, she’s been spreading cheer for decades. Here’s an art project toy that we appreciated. A stencil set that encourages a child to duplicate and color the ancient mandala’s sacred form. $9.98

Moral Master Potter
Harry Potter consistently makes choices that would make morality coach Bill Bennett proud, so we endorse almost anything that spins off J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Believe us, there’s lots of it. We found two lunchboxes that Harry might carry if meals weren’t already provided at Hogwart’s. $7.99 and $14.99.

And here’s a stained glass craft project that puts Harry up in lights for $4.99.

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