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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.
Ever since, Joey and I have been big 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, because 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 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!
Ours love the aquarium!
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!
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.
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.
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!
How does this fall under memories, you ask? I was basing this on the fact that I remember naming states and capitals off my placemat as a kid. I read somewhere to gift kids things they need, but will also make them happy, and I thought that was also a cool approach! It’s a dual purpose because it limits toys and takes care of needs at the same time. Mine were tickled pink to receive socks and fitted sheets for their beds last year. Win win!
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.
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!
A couple years ago, we gave Sophia a subscription to Cricket Crate. She loved it! There is loads of different subscription boxes to choose from. I did this ahead of time so she had an actual box to open.
Tickets to a favorite play place.
Again with the hand sanitizer though. Especially in the winter months.
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. I was thinking about including a kids’ sized yoga mat, a book or DVD with kids’ poses, maybe little blocks. I’m going to teach them to stand on their heads and it’s going to be great.
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. I was thinking Operation this year. Apples to Apples, The Game of Life, and The Game of Things are some favorites for adults and older kids.
… Though I admit, this could backfire.
Little ballerinas are the cutest!
Sign them up for a sport (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.
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.
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.
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! Consider looking ahead for this one if they have their calendar up for next year.
For reading and at the recommendation of our pediatrician, we love Dr. Seuss books! Reading with your finger under the word teaches sight words and promotes literacy as early as 6 months old.
Now that Sophia’s getting older, she especially loves interactive books or things they can fill out. She loves the Brain Quest Preschool Workbook.
Journals between moms/dads 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.
Cookie or cake decorating class.
I see classes at bakeries I follow on Facebook doing these all the time!
This could be for one-on-one time too, if it’s a parent and child class!
Fan favorite in our house!
Joining Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts.
This might be better for a little older ones, too. This is more fun in hindsight to me, but hey, fun is fun.
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.
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.
Especially for a movie they’ve been excited to see!
A fun scavenger hunt.
You can either make one of these up, or you may be able to find one online. We actually did a scavenger hunt at an outdoor mall recently as a date night with our friends and had a blast! I found it online, but I’m sure there’s kids’ versions out there, too.
This screams father/son to me.
Pottery class or pottery painting.
We’ve done pottery painting, but I’m excited to actually create it one day!
This would have to be with an older kid, but I feel like it would be a lot of fun.
Awesome for gross motor skills!
Is kids’ yoga classes a thing? If it’s not, it should be.
A children’s gym local to us has a TON of lessons, including music class!
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!
Mini golf “tickets”.
This is a recipe for concussions if yours are still little like mine, so tread carefully.
Local artists count!
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.
If they would enjoy that kind of thing!
Something you made for them.
I was thinking about making some homemade hair bows for their stocking. 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.
Trampoline park passes.
This is only for kiddos over 6. I hate that places like SkyZone 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 6, game on!
Prepackaged monthly “dates” with Mom or Dad.
This requires some planning. I did this for Joey one year, and he loved it!
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!
We were at Michael’s recently and I saw a TON of art kits I could see my girls loving! Soph and Ella are both 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.
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.
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**Photo by Lauren Day Photography.