I love Christmas shopping for my kids – it’s just SO much fun plan out gifts I think they’ll love and then watch them open them Christmas morning. I try really hard to buy gifts I know will get used and will promote lots of play time (in fact, I just posted 20 ideas for great gifts on Wednesday, plus I have a 20 gifts for girls and 20 gifts for boys posts from last year). HOWEVER, having recently moved, I’ve realized we accumulate SO MUCH STUFF each year that often doesn’t even make it a whole year before it gets tossed or donated. One of my friends recently told me she and her husband are focusing on providing “experiences” for their kids for Christmas this year, with the idea that their gifts will contain less stuff and more meaning. I think this is a stellar idea, so I’ve brainstormed the best “experience” gift ideas for kids to help you (and me!) focus less on stuff and more on fun this Christmas.
1. City passes Many cities across the US offer a “City Pass” which includes vouchers for admission to a number of different attractions at a huge discount. We purchased city passes last year (ours were called the connect pass), and for about $50 per person we were able to visit 13 different attractions including the children’s museum, the natural history museum, the planetarium, the zoo, a ropes course, a mountain tram/skylift and more. Be sure to purchase a year long pass, which gives you an entire year to visit each attraction once. Buying passes for the entire family is an investment, but our pass gave us a different outing every month for the entire year, and we got a great deal on Groupon, so it was totally worth it.
2. Passes to a favorite activity. Think about your child’s favorite “fun place to go” and purchase pre-paid passes for them (or create a gift certificate for the outing). Start brainstorming and you’ll come up with all sorts of ideas: roller skating, ice skating, swimming, mini golf, paint ball, laser tag, skiing, bowling, a ropes course, rock climbing, indoor bounce houses or trampoline areas, movies, the arcade, go karts, ski lifts, river rafting trips, places you can make and paint pottery, and more! Many indoor amusement areas run specials on weekdays, so during the winter break is a great time to go.
3. Lessons Your child may already be taking music lessons or dance lessons, but consider other type of lessons that would make great Christmas gifts: art, cooking, exercise, computer programming, digital scrapbooking, cake decorating, sewing, photography, robot design, languages, etc. Be sure to check with the local YMCA, your library, your city, and your school district (ours offers “community school” classes in a huge variety of topics for extremely reasonable prices), as well as online class providers like lynda.com or craftsy.com. Finally, check Groupon for “one time” class offerings – last year my sisters took a trapeze class – how awesome is that?
4. Gift certificates for you&me time Even simple activities, like going out for burgers or making cookies, can be pretty exciting for a child when they’re getting special one on one time with a parent. Create a gift certificate and wrap it up like a present so your child can open it. Consider: reading a favorite book together, making homemade ice cream, shooting hoops, going camping, going sledding, or teaching your child how to do something. These gifts are especially popular in our family, where 5 children means each kid doesn’t get a ton of one on one time with the parents.
5. Equipment Consider investing in a larger or more expensive item that will allow your child to develop a skill (meaning it will be well worth the money in the long run). Items such as: a camera, a sewing machine, a musical instrument, a kitchen aid, golf clubs, a basketball standard, camping gear, etc. These gifts might be better suited to older kids or teens who have already developed an interest in a certain area so you know you won’t be wasting money on something that never gets used. Consider checking Craigslist or the classified to find some of these items gently used at a great price!
6. Performances Check local theaters for plays, puppet shows, recitals, and performances. If you live near a large university, you’re in luck – you may be amazed at the amount of things you can get tickets to for very reasonable prices, and it’s really fun for kids to get dressed up for a special night out. Tickets to a concert are a great idea too. We took our kids to see The Piano Guys last December – I wasn’t sure whether it would be worth the money, but it was hands down everyone’s favorite Christmas memory from the whole season.
7. Software & apps I generally don’t want to buy my kids anything related to computer games or apps, since they spend enough time playing computer and video games already, but there are plenty of apps and software options that really promote learning and creativity. This post from Common Sense Media gives ideas for apps that allow kids to create art, cartoons, books, comic books, music, and videos as well as apps that help kids design fashions, edit photos, write songs, and more, and tells what ages the apps are best suited for (ranging from 3-15). I listed stop motion software on my 20 best gift for kids list; programming software, photo & video editing software and digital scrapbooking software are also great ideas for tweens and teens.
8. Memberships A membership to a favorite attraction can be a great way to give your family “something to do” all year long at a reasonable price, especially if you have a big family since the cost of a membership is often not much more than the cost of getting in once. Look into membership options for: museums (especially children’s museums!), the zoo, the aquarium, the local rec center, pool, or waterpark. Even places like bouncy houses and nickel arcades often offer month long memberships.
9. Books Ok, I know books technically count as “stuff” but in my opinion, books are worth every penny! If your kids are readers, consider investing in Kindles for them – my older boys each have one and I’m amazed at home much time they spend reading. Kindles make it easy for them to share books and keep the clutter to a minimum. They love getting kindle credit so they can choose their own books to order, and they coordinate to make sure no one buys the same book. Many local libraries now offer ebooks to check out, too! Even if you don’t go the e-reader route, books make fantastic gifts, especially when kids get to pick them out themselves.
10. Take a trip For a really memorable gift, consider a trip of some sort. Big family vacations are fantastic, but even a weekend away or a day trip can be exciting. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to grandparents, some one-on-one time with a grandparent (no sibling or parents allowed) can be a really special gift for a child.