Non-toy gifts don’t have to be complicated! I love these because they teach fulfillment in memories over things; plus it saves me from tripping on more stuff in the house!
If you need some ideas to make some memories and encourage your kids to live purposefully, read on!
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It’s official. My Starbucks cup tells me that my favorite time of the year is here and I am here for it.
I’ve been thinking about Christmas since last December 26th, but I can officially do so out loud without getting a pumpkin spice latte launched in my general direction.
I remember one Christmas, it must have been Sophia’s first. We were at the end of the day and had had two separate Christmases with family. Now, our kids have a literal army of grandparents; all of whom love the fire out of them and want to make them happy.
I remember us looking at a literal mountain of toys, probably 50, in absolute disbelief because number one, where were we going to put them in our 750 square foot house?? And because it was just. So. Much. Like piled halfway up a wall.
We knew come her next birthday, we had to do something different, and we started talking to our families about a minimalist approach and the value of experiences and memories over more toys.
From that point forward, we attempted the non-toy gifts approach – though it’s been easier said than done.
Ever since, Joey and I have been firm believers in experiences and memories over material things.
We have always valued doing things and gifting things to our girls that will create memories for them.
They’re not going to remember what they got for Christmas when they were 4 (I definitely don’t), but they are going to remember going to the zoo with their family.
They’re going to remember getting their nails done with Mommy or going to the “train place” with Daddy.
These were two of their Christmas gifts last year, and Sophia STILL talks about doing these things last January! But she would have no idea what toys she got if you asked her.
A lot of people love watching a kid light up opening the newest, coolest, shiniest, biggest, baddest, whatever… But that fades so quickly. In a few weeks, there’s a good chance it’ll be at the bottom of the toybox, rarely shown the light of day.
Building a happy childhood is so important to me for my kids because they only get one, and we are largely in charge of how they remember it.
In light of how quickly they forget things, and how they hold on to dear memories, I invite you to take a non-toy gifts approach with me!
I have come up with a list of some super fun memory making experiences that are sure to bring a smile to your sweet kiddo’s faces that I hope you love as much as I do!
Best Non-Toy Gift Ideas for Kids
1) Aquarium tickets.
Ours love the aquarium! There’s something magical about fishies when you’re a kid. Ripley’s has been our favorite so far!
These are the ones we’ve enjoyed:
2) Zoo passes.
My parents gave us zoo passes for Christmas one year and we loved it! The girls loved it, but it also became an easy thing to do to get out of the house if we didn’t want to spend money, because hey, we had passes. Giraffes, here I come!
We have loved these zoos:
We loved feeding giraffes at the Cincinnati Zoo and camel rides at the Columbus Zoo! Columbus also has an awesome waterpark.
3) Children’s museum passes.
Children’s museums can be a blast! Such a fun environment to let them learn and explore. Remember the hand sanitizer though, because germs are real and it’s flu season.
These can seriously be so fun! These are a few that we have enjoyed:
Pro Tip: Many museums have membership deals where you can discounted tickets at associations where they’re partners. Usually this can be found under “Membership details” or FAQs. If not, try giving them a call and asking what information they can give you!
Joey came home with these little V-tech cameras randomly for the girls one December night last year, and they STILL love them. They take real pictures which I have been the unfortunate awkward aim of many times.
Ella recently coined the phrase “taking cheeses” and I don’t hate it. They also have little games on them they love, too, which they might love more than taking pictures. If they were older, they would something like a Nikon digital camera. I loved these as a teenager.
These are the cameras they have and love.
5) Personalized or educational placemats.
I recently got Sophia and Ella personalized placemats on Shutterfly.
I put Elmo and Minnie Mouse on them (their favorites) and they have the alphabet around the edges. Bonus points because sometimes they talk about letters while they’re eating!
These are the exact mats I got them.
I also recently got them several dry erase mats like these from Michael’s with dry erase markers to work on states and capitals and keep them sharp on writing.
6) Coupons for a date with mom/dad.
We started this last year and it was probably their favorite thing we did! This is awesome to make sure you’re getting one-on-one time.
The more kids you have, the harder this gets; but it’s still important to remember.
7) Manicure with Mommy.
This was the one-on-one gift I did with Sophia and Ella last year. Ella liked it, but Sophia LOVED it.
She still talks about the “lady that gave her unicorn nails” and doing it again almost a year later! Granted that kid has the memory of an elephant, but still. Making happy deposits into their little memory banks are priceless!
8) Subscription boxes.
A couple years ago, we gave Sophia a subscription to Koala Crate. This one is geared towards ages 2-4 but they have boxes from birth all the way through high school!
She loved it! There are loads of different subscription boxes to choose from. I did this ahead of time so she had an actual box to open.
These are a few that I don’t have personal experience with, but have heard of and thought they looked like they might be fun to try:
9) Tickets to a favorite play place.
Again with the hand sanitizer though. Especially in the winter months.
10) Stuff for a new hobby.
There is so much room for creativity here! I had an idea to do yoga kits for Sophia and Ella this year because here recently they have loved doing yoga with me.
Pro tip: Use whatever your child is expressing interest in and facilitate that interest! When Sophia started expressing interest in ballet, I got her some little ballet flats and a tutu and put ballet lessons for her on YouTube. Follow your child’s lead and they will always be willing to learn!
11) Board games.
For some reason Candyland is where it’s at with Sophia. I’m here to tell you that at some point, you have got to let go of your morals and let the kid win.
If you don’t, it’ll go on until Jesus comes back. It will literally last longer than Amazon takes to deliver a package.
These are some of our favorites:
For older kids/adults who want some serious laughs:
12) Karate lessons.
… Though I admit, this could backfire.
Little ballerinas are the cutest! I also did the cheap version recently and got a tutu and ballet flats when Sophia started talking about taking lessons.
Youtube has some cute lessons, like this one!
14) Sign them up for a sport such as gymnastics, soccer, baseball, etc.
Depending on your kid, they may or may not consider this a gift. I know the 8-year-old version of myself would have been less than impressed with a “gift” which required me running.
There are lots of options at most YMCAs and local kids’ gyms!
15) Rock climbing passes.
After you do the beginner class, this can be really affordable! This feels like a great place to let them burn off some steam and build some strength.
16) Weekend family getaway or surprise them with a vacation you’re planning.
I mean, if you’re going to Disney World next month, it only makes sense. Or Amish country.
We love AirBnB for finding unique stays and experiences!
This can be as frugal or as luxurious as you want it to be! If you need some budget attractions, be sure to check out how we went to Great Wolf Lodge for 4 days for under $600 or read this for our favorite family attractions in the Gatlinbug area!
17) Train tickets.
There’s a train near us that does special events all year, like The Polar Express, PJ night and cookies with Santa, Pizza train, Fireworks; you name it!
Pro Tip: Consider looking ahead for this one if they have their calendar up for next year. Many book out for at least a year and I have learned that earlier reservations can sometimes mean better seats and more options to choose from!
At the recommendation of our pediatrician, we love and read a ton of Dr. Seuss books!
Pro tip: Reading with your finger under the word teaches sight words and promotes literacy as early as 6 months old!
Now that Soph and Ella are both getting older, they are really showing more interest in interactive books or things they can fill out.
We love these books:
And these interactive work books:
**Note: I linked the preschool level because that’s the level my girls are at, but many of them go up to 5th/6th grade!
19) Journals between parents and kids if they’re old enough.
Obviously at the ripe old ages of 4, 3, and 8 months, ours are a little young for this one, but it’s on my list for when they’re older.
I have saved this one for when my girls are old enough to try to foster trust and make them feel like they can talk to me.
20) Cookie or cake decorating class.
I see classes at local bakeries I follow on Facebook doing these all the time!
You can also use AirBnb for finding local classes!
21) Swim lessons.
This could be for one-on-one time too, if it’s a parent and child class!
22) Waterpark tickets.
Fan favorite in our house! If you haven’t already, check out this to see how we went to Great Wolf Lodge for under $600 with our family of 5 for 4 days!
23) Joining Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts.
I have so many fun memories in Girl Scouts as a little girl!
YMCA also similar programs called Princesses and Indian Guides!
This might be better for older kids, too. This is more fun in hindsight to me, but hey, fun is fun.
25) A pet.
I’m hesitant to even put this because of the amount of people that get a pet until the cuteness wears off, then gets rid of them within a year.
I am here to tell you a dog is at least a 15 year commitment. If you’re not into that, get a fish. Pets are furry family members, and we don’t get rid of them when things get hard. We drop them off at Grandma’s and come back 3 hours later.
Also, if your kids are under the age of 9, bear in mind there is a 95% chance you’re going to be doing the heavy lifting on caring for your new furry family member. Proceed with caution.
Please consider adopting from a shelter first. 😊
26) Amusement park tickets.
Bonus points for annual passes so Mom and Dad can go back alone for a date and get out of Spongebob Land!
This is a really cool guide for Best Amusement Parks by State!
27) Movie tickets.
Especially for a movie they’ve been excited to see!
28) A fun scavenger hunt.
You can either make one of these up, or you may be able to find one online.
I love the Scavenger Hunts from Primary Playground!
29) Archery lessons.
This screams father/son to me, but could be a lot of fun for daughters, too! I love archery!
30) Pottery class or pottery painting.
We’ve done pottery painting, but I’m excited to actually create it one day!
31) Glass-blowing class.
This would have to be with an older kid, but I feel like it would be a lot of fun.
32) Gymnastics class.
This would be awesome for gross motor skills, balance, and strength building!
33) Yoga class.
Is kids’ yoga classes a thing? If it’s not, it should be.
34) Music class.
A children’s gym local to us has a TON of lessons, including music class!
35) Lessons for an instrument.
This might be worth a conversation before you go out and buy a piano, but if your kid shows any kind of interest, let them give it a try!
36) Mini golf “tickets”.
This is a recipe for concussions if your kids are still little like mine are, so tread carefully.
37) Concert tickets.
Local artists count!
38) Broadway type local shows.
Joey and I took Sophia and Ella to their first Broadway style show recently and they loved it! It was a child’s show version of Johnny Appleseed.
I would look ahead on their events calendar and see if any child’s shows are coming up.
39) Ballet tickets.
If they would enjoy that kind of thing!
40) Something you made for them.
I think something Mommy or Daddy made for them would be really special to them, even if it’s small and doesn’t take much time to put together.
We just had their birthday party and I painted all three girls a painting. They absolutely loved them. I think it made them feel special to have their own painting from Mama!
41) Trampoline park passes.
I say this cautiously because this is only designed for kiddos over 6. You can read this article for more information.
I wish places like SkyZone wouldn’t advertise “toddler time” and similar programs, because it sounds like a blast! But unfortunately, their little femurs aren’t able to withstand the repetitive jumping motion on trampolines and it has resulted in broken legs.
But once they’re older than 6, it is safer!
42) Prepackaged monthly “dates” with Mom or Dad.
This requires some planning. I actually did this for Joey one year, and he loved it!
It doesn’t have to be complicated or overly expensive! It could look something like this:
January: Visit an indoor playplace.
February: Go to the library.
March: Go on a donut date. Mom gets coffee!
April: Build and fly a kite together.
May: Go to a movie.
June: Ice cream date.
July: Go swimming!
August: Visit a local farm.
September: Apple picking.
October: Pumpkin patch with hay rides.
November: Make a turkey craft and a list of things you’re thankful for.
December: Make homemade gingerbread houses. Drink hot chocolate and watch The Grinch or your favorite Christmas program! Drive around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights.
43) Baking kit.
My husband’s parents did this for the girls one year. They made up a family baking night kit with aprons for all of us, little baking utensils, pans, and brownie mix.
The girls loved it and we had so much fun doing it!
44) Art kits.
We were at Michael’s recently and I saw a TON of art kits I could see my girls loving! Sophia is especially into really into crafty stuff, drawing, painting; stuff like that.
I saw Spirographs, beading kits, “staining glass”, huge velvet coloring pictures, painting rocks, and all kinds of other options.
45) Science kits or tools.
For some reason, I vaguely remember attempting to “grow crystals” with a kit I had as a kid.
I also remember this one Christmas my dad thought I needed to expand my horizons and got me a microscope, metal detector, and something else sciencey… I want to say a telescope? They were all blue and green like the Nick Jr. version, but I thought they were cool.
There is so much room for creativity, expanding their horizons and what they are exposed to, and cultivating your little one’s strengths!
I love thinking outside the box about what they could use to make memories that add to the memory banks of their childhoods.
46) Magazine subscriptions.
47) Photo albums.
My mom did this one year for the girls. She put together an album with pictures of the family, and the girls loved going through them!
Shutterfly also has some awesome photo books I have used many times as gifts! The quality is always excellent.
I also love Personalization Mall for gifts! Be sure to check out the Gift Ideas for Kids section – they have some super cute things and their quality is always wonderful, as well!
48) Pocket Microscope.
I haven’t personally used one yet, but I heard of them recently and thought it sounded so cool for kids to see things in nature up close!
Bugs, dirt, and leaves would be fun to see!
49) The gift of giving.
This one wouldn’t technically be one you’d wrap up for your child to open – instead, help them make their very own box to send through Operation Christmas Child.
This has become a tradition on our house. I love this organization and I love teaching my girls to be givers.
What are your favorite gifts to encourage memory making? Leave a comment below with your favorites for your family and remember to pin this for later!
50) Classes at a local craft store.
If you’re like me, you might not have even known this was a thing! Last year I heard of this and started snooping.
I found that many craft stores like Joanns, Michaels and Hobby Lobby often offer craft classes – for different age groups!
I’ve seen Cricut classes, crochet, cake decorating, sewing, knitting, and more!
Pro tip: This would be a great way to do a Home Economics class if you’re a homeschooling family!
51) Stuff to redo their room.
We did this last year, and they absolutely loved it! Since we had just moved Ella into a room with Sophia, so it was perfect.
We got some new pictures with uplifting quotes and scriptures from Hobby Lobby and I made and painted a few things. We wrapped it all up in a big box. Their faces were priceless!
I hope you loved this article and that it helps your family build memories that last a lifetime!
**Photo by Lauren Day Photography.