Giving Experiences

Eliza Clark
December 8, 2015

No one experiences the pre-holiday shopping frenzy quite like the parents of young children. We remember the joy and excitement of our own childhood holidays, and we want to give our kids that same thrill. At the same time, we're also aware that our children's accrual of more and more toys isn't always for the best. While a limited number of new, age-appropriate toys each year will promote a child's cognitive and emotional development, too many toys just promotes clutter. And a cluttered environment creates sensory overload for kids, hampering their play and creativity.

The over-accumulation of toys and other gizmos among the kids we know is such that when holidays and birthday roll around, we are always trying to think of ways to give them gifts that don't involve stuff. We want to offer them a memorable experience without cramming one more item onto overcrowded toy shelves.

Before launching into suggestions, we have two cautions about giving children gifts that are not "stuff." First, you need to make the gifts tangible. If you are giving tickets to a circus, then include a picture of the clowns and acrobats or show a short video on YouTube—something to make it real to the child. Secondly, it's important to follow through with the promised event or experience fairly quickly (how quickly depends on the child's age) so that the little one can feel some of the immediate gratification that comes with opening a present, along with the pleasure of looking forward to an exciting event.

Now on to ideas!

Memberships are a wonderful gift to give to a child or family. Whether it's to a zoo, museum, or indoor play space, a membership means that your child's favorite place can also become a place he gets to go to frequently. (See our Savvy Source Places page for local ideas.)

Tickets to special events make thrilling gifts. Sporting events, a musical, circus, children's theater or ballet are very special occasions, even more so if it's a one-on-one outing, or, alternatively, if you offer to take your child with a friend. (There are lots of local possibilities in our Savvy Source Events listings.)

Another concept is to give a child a private lesson (or lesson with one or two friends) in something they are passionate about. Skating, trapeze, pottery, magic tricks... for inspiration, follow your child's interests.

If you want to stay with something "homemade" and inexpensive, there are other fun options. You can give "coupon" for a doll hair styling appointment or a non-toxic pedicure at Mom's beauty salon. A themed sleepover for a few friends is another special treat.

We always love to give children stories, but their bookshelves can quickly get overfull. A good alternative is a subscription to the wonderful online library of picture books, One More Story. And for older kids, a gift certificate to offers access to an amazing selection of digital audiobooks.

Giving a gift to a charity in your child's name may be challenging to explain, but still gratifying. Heifer International, which gives farm animals to impoverished families worldwide, is a good choice for young animal lovers. Donating to your local animal shelter is another appealing idea, especially if you can take your child to visit the animals that her gift will help.

What are your ideas for gifts that aren't stuff? Do you have any thoughts on how to present these gifts in way that's fun for kids? Let us know!

From the Parents

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