Real World Advice

Give Experiences This Holiday Season Buy Less Stuff to Make More Memories

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10 super fun experience gifts for kids - instead of toys

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~


Ah, the holidays, a time for giving, receiving, and most likely overspending. Data suggests that parents spent an average of $500 per child on Christmas gifts.  Regardless of income, that’s a lot of moola, especially if you have more than one kid. Add in all the other expenses of the season, family and friend gifts, holiday meals and drinks, home decor, Christmas cards, travel costs, teacher gifts and more, let’s just say it’s likely the most expensive time of the year.

On top of finding the cash, thinking about how we’re going to get everything done before the big day can send us into a mild panic.  How the hell are we going to put it all together while keeping the Christmas magic and staying on top of our day jobs? The holiday overwhelm is no joke. I don’t have answers for that, unfortunately.  The reality is a ton falls to us to and while I could suggest recruiting help, delegating tasks, and lowering the bar, the reality is, we’re gonna muscle through it like we do every year because mom’s get shit done.

For me, the gift shopping struggle is real. I love giving but my kids do not need a damn thing.  They have way more toys than they ever play with. I literally have unopened gifts in the closet from last year. With 3 boys, there’s only so many trucks, cars, construction toys, and sports stuff one family needs. My daughter doesn’t play with toys, seriously.  The girl can entertain herself for hours with a package of princess band-aids, tape, construction paper, stickers and scissors.  I really should buy her a Rumba to clean up all the snipings of paper she leaves everywhere she goes.

Give the gift of experiences this holiday season

So what do you get the kids that have it all?  How do you make sure your hard earned cashed isn’t being wasted on crap they don’t want or need? How do you teach them to appreciate what they have, not add to the clutter, and still give something meaningful they will enjoy?

The Gift of Experiences

Why do we give gifts in the first place?  To make people happy right? We want to see their face light up with joy and to know we helped created that feeling. But the reality is, that happiness is fleeting, especially in children. Their attention span is that of a gnat. How long does it take for that excitement and interest in a new toy to wear off completely?  5 days?  5 minutes?

Studies have shown that most physical objects don’t keep you happy for long. Ironically, the fact that a material thing is ever present works against it. It fades into the background and becomes part of the new normal. I definitely see this in my kids (and myself). Think about how excited you were to buy something big and exciting, say a new TV or car.  The exhilaration and joy is real.  Buying new stuff just feels good…until it doesn’t.  Until you start to take it for granted as “just the TV” and continue to look for the next little burst of joy you can acquire.

In contrast, our experiences, can bring joy long after they’re over. Think back to some of your fondest memories.  Time spent with friends, vacations, one off adventures.  Even the worst calamities can become a fond memory (like the time we froze our butts off camping in the Wyoming mountains, unprepared for the 25 degree lows in the end of May)

Give the gifts of experiences this holiday season

Not only are experiences enjoyable in the moment, even when they’re over, we carry it with us. The adventures, both big and small, become a part of us. Our experiences are an ingrained part of our identity.

So instead of investing your hard earned cash into more stuff, why not give the gift of experience to your kids this year?  Yes, most experiences are a bit harder to put under the tree, but with a little creativity you can give them a box to open that will fill them up in the moment and for years to come.  I’ve put together a list of 12, non-toy, experience based gift ideas for the kiddos in your life.  And, ahem, feel free to share this list with grandparents…along with the stats that toys don’t make kids as happy as experiences do.

12 experience gift ideas this holiday season: and why experiences are better than toys.

1. A Family Experience

This gift does not need to be complicated, pick your favorite family activity (or one you haven’t tried yet), say bowling or going to a movie, and make a sweet bundle to prepare for the event. You could make coupon vouchers, circle a date on a calendar, buy adorable matching T-shirts to wear or just print out a flyer, announcing the fun. Another option is to give an unplanned family day and let them choose what to do, where to go, what to eat.  Bonus points if you get your kids to cooperate to come up with a plan together.  Spending quality time as a family, watching mom cut loose and play (instead always hustling behind the scenes) is something our kids need to see more often.  They will remember and enjoy one simple day together laughing, and having fun.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids - instead of toys

2. Trip to the Bookstore

I don’t need to tell you how important reading is, how many doors of adventure, imagination, and exploration books hold or how valuable reading is to building their vocabulary. Children who can read well by the age of seven are more intelligent in later years.  Learning to read at an early age has ramifications far beyond simple literacy. I love browsing a book store, seeing all the beautiful covers and creative ideas.  I get inspired and invigorated knowing so much knowledge and entertainment is within arms’ reach. Help children learn to not only appreciate reading, but gain an appetite for consuming as much as they can. Take them to a bookstore and let them pick up 3 or 5 or even 10 books of their choosing.  Help them explore new subjects, genres, and topics to broaden their horizons.  This can be done with kids of any age and is one of my favorite things to give my children.

12 super fun experience gift ideas for kids - that aren't toys

3. Annual Pass

An annual family membership is often, hands down worth the cost in the long run. We are members at our local Children’s Museum and the annual pass is $95 a year for my entire family of 6.  Compare that to the cost of one visit at $42 and it’s a no-brainer.  I love being able to make an impromptu trip on a rainy day or as an incentive for good behavior.  Consider what you have in your area and if it’s s a place you’ll visit often…zoo, museum, rec center or sports facilities are great places to start.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids: instead of toys

4. Camping Gear

We love camping and while I know driving across country to National Parks is not for everyone, most kids would love simply camping in the backyard. If you don’t have any gear, start with the basics, tent, sleeping, bag, etc. If you already have that, expand into cool cooking gadgets, fire starting kits, camping cook books, cots, battery powered lights & lanterns, smores making gear, comfy lawn chairs…the options are nearly limitless.  The most important part though, GO CAMPING.  Include with the gear a plan to do it as a family as soon as the weather cooperates.  Your kids will love it, and you just might too.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids: instead of toys

5. Music Subscription

I’m trying to get my 11 year old into real music. Not top 40 crap (sorry!) but appreciate the classics, singer songwriters, rockers, and the leagues of different genres and musicians before his time.  We recently watched Jack Black in School of Rock and my kids absolutely loved it!  We ended up watching YouTube videos of AC/DC performing live.  The kids danced and air guitared around the living room in pure joy.  We have a family Apple Music subscription that I’m encouraging them to use, but if you don’t, consider buying one for your kiddo, along with the quality time of navigating new music together.  Open their minds to consider different sounds and genres then what they hear with their friends.  There are lots of different options to consider, Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora Premium, etc.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids - instead of toys

6. Day to the City (or Country)

We are smack dab in the heart of corn country.  We love road trippin to National Parks and generally prefer the great outdoors to city living, but I still want my kids to enjoy and appreciate all that big cities have to offer.  Plan a trip to the city as a gift.  Stay in a fancy hotel, see local attractions, ride the subway or hail a bright yellow cab.  My kids legit thought they were in the heart of a Curious George episode, being a part of the bustle of downtown.  If you live in a city, go to the country.  Gift your kids the experience of a new place and help them see the world beyond their day to day.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids - instead of toys

7. Art Supply Box

As I mentioned earlier, my daughter is obsessed with making random art projects. For her 4th birthday, instead of a bunch of gifts I got her a box filled with the most random assortment of supplies.  Things like pipe cleaners, washi tape, envelopes, googly eyes, stickers and whatever I could find in Target’s dollar isle.  I made a point to spend time with her and share the box, showing her how to cut paper plates and fold post it notes.  We created crazy monsters and beautiful crowns and whatever else her imagination could conjure and we did it together.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids - instead of toys

8. The Gift of Exercise

Kids have a lot of energy, especially when cooped up inside all winter. Find a local gym, trampoline park, or fitness center that offers opportunities for kids to burn some damn energy…and then give them all your money because there is nothing better than a worn out kid at the end of a day.  Gift a one time pass or gift card that can be used to visit multiple times. Consider gifting your kids classes in a new sport like gymnastics, tumbling, karate, or dance.  Another idea, invest in your own backyard energy burning device…otherwise known as a trampoline. I was soooooo hesitant to let my mom buy this for my kids a few years ago (hello dangerous eye sore!), but I am so glad we did.  They spend hours and hours out there, almost year round.

 

Give the gift of experiences this Christmas

9. Art or Music Lessons

Music has been a huge part of my life since I was about 8 years old when I started piano lessons on a crappy, hand me down keyboard.  My parents got it for me for Christmas and signed me up for lessons with a local piano teacher.  I was beyond ecstatic and have been playing ever since.  I’ve always consider art and music a vital part of my children’s education.  Studies support me on this. Kids in music lessons are more competent in other subjects, show greater memory and vocabulary skills, have improved language-based reasoning skills, stronger planning and organization skills, and are better at controlling their behavior (can we say win win?). Research has also found art lessons have a notably positive effect on children’s visual and spatial memory. Sign them up for a class, private lesson, or research self-teaching options.

12 super fun experience gifts for kids: instead of toys

10. Subscription Box

Spoiler alert, my kids are getting subscription boxes for Christmas this year.  I absolutely love the idea of a gift that gives year round.  There are dozens out there to choose from based on age and interest.  My oldest is getting an Engineering box, my 9 year old a science kit, my 6 year old an exploration one and my 4 year old an art box.  Each month they’ll get a package delivered with materials, instructions, books and more. And hopefully, they’ll actually learn something.

Give the gift of experiences this holiday season

11. Tickets to a Show

Disney on Ice, a musical, play, concert, or monster truck show?  What events are in your area and budget that the kids would enjoy?  Take the whole family or give individual experiences, dividing them up and taking one kid at a time.  Rodeo, Blue Man Group, Elmo Live, opera…the possibilities are endless.

Give the gift of experiences this holiday season

12. Creativity Challenge

Sometimes my kids need a little help remembering how to play.  They stare at their toys and exclaim in exasperation, “There’s nothing to doooooo!” Usually I ignore them and hope they figure it out, but when I invest a little time into getting them started, they can play for hours.  Consider putting together a creative project that will challenge your kids and get them out of their day to day grind.  Maybe buy them some new Legos, clear the entire kitchen table and encourage them to build an gigantic city.  Buy a giant roll of butcher paper and help them get started on a huge mural.  You can help, get involved, or just inspire them to challenge their creativity to make something new.  My kids love making  “adventure maps,” as we call them, all over the driveway with chalk. Think hopscotch on steroids. We make logs over alligator pits, lava mountains, wobbly bridges and whatever else our imagination can conjure up…then hop along the path trying not to get eaten by hungry sharks or fall into the snake pit.

Give the gift of experiences this holiday season

As parents, it is our job to create our children’s childhoods (no pressure). And while I firmly believe we need to let go of all the ridiculous expectations around what this means, the fact remains there are endless opportunities to give them meaningful memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. Our lives are busy and despite best my intentions, I don’t give them the time and attention they need as often as I’d like.  Gifting experiences we can share is not only great for them, but helps connect the entire family.  Kids don’t need more stuff, they need more adventure, quality time, and appreciation for the moments that matter.

What do you think?  Any other suggestions for experience gifts?

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