6 'Experience' Gifts That Will Delight the Kids on Your Christmas List

The requests from well-meaning family members have already begun to trickle in, and I can’t help but cringe slightly every time someone asks, “What can I get the boys for Christmas?” Don’t get me wrong — we’re all so grateful to have family to share the holidays with, and people in our lives who want to make our kids’ Christmas a festive, gift-filled experience. But (and I know that many of you have this “but” in your lives too…) we have SO MUCH STUFF.

My husband and I bought our first house almost two years ago. We moved from our over-cramped 2-bedroom apartment in the city to a big, beautiful home in the suburbs. But in no time at all, our big, beautiful home has become chock-full of blocks, Legos, trucks, trains, stuffed animals, baby gear, hand-me-down bags of clothes, books, and mementos from outings and trips that we or other members of our family have taken. The last thing we need is something else to introduce to the playroom that will find its way to a pile in the corner in no time.

This year, we are focusing more on experiences for the kids, rather than material things. How much better would it be for our sons to go an do something with someone they love, rather than play for 15 minutes with a plastic toy that they’ll probably forget about as soon as the next plastic toy shows up? While an experiential gift might not be practical for everyone, we’re doing what we can to make it happen more than not.

According to Wellness Mama, shared family time and experiences have been linked to:

  • Bonding within the family
  • Fewer behavioral problems in children
  • A stronger sense of identity
  • A sense of security for children
  • Higher rates of academic success
  • Lower rates of violence

And did I mention family time and experiences mean less stuff?

If you would like to give your kids an experiential gift this year or want to ask family to chip in for something the kids can do, here are some ideas that I’ve found:

1. Music or gym class

My one-year-old isn’t in school yet, and he gets plenty of time at home playing with his older brother’s toys. But I wanted him to be exposed to other babies his age, and for him to engage in a class. For his first birthday, we asked his grandparents to give us the money they would have spent on a physical gift so that we could put it toward a music class. And he loves it. Every week, thanks to his grandparents, he gets to shake bells and shakers and crawl around a room with other little kids while we all sing. And he’s getting much more out of the experience than he would from some toy.

2. KiwiCo Subscription

KiwiCo is a company focused on STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). With a subscription, an age-appropriate box arrives every month with a new project for a kid to complete. While a full year might be a little more than any one family member might spend on a Christmas gift, we have asked a couple of family members if they would want to chip in for the subscription. My older son will get to complete these projects with us or another adult, and we’ll remind him every month of the people who were kind enough to gift him the activity.

3. Ranger Rick Jr. Magazine Subscription

Who doesn’t love a magazine subscription? The Ranger Rick Jr. magazines are age-appropriate monthly issues that teach kids about animals and the outdoors. (It is owned by the National Wildlife Federation). My 3-year-old gets Ranger Rick Cub (for ages 0-4) and it gives us the chance to learn about animals and discuss things that are related to what we’re reading. It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend some quality time together, and he is learning so much from it.

4. Tickets to a play or a ball game

A grandparent, aunt or uncle might prefer to gift an experience that they can be involved with themselves. Quality time with a family member while seeing a fun play or musical, or attending a local baseball game can mean so much to a little kid. What is better: 20 minutes with that noisy toy that lights up, or an afternoon at the ballpark with a favorite uncle, learning how to keep score?

5. Membership 

Membership to the zoo, a children’s museum, or science center is truly a gift that will keep on giving for the entire year. Whenever you head to the science center on a cold, rainy afternoon in the winter, your little one will know that he is doing so because of Uncle Joe’s generosity.

6. Pottery making

It seems like there is a pottery making/decorating place practically everywhere these days. An afternoon spent painting a new ceramic piggy bank or mug with someone special is a great way to get quality time together, and to personally create something your kid will use. A flower pot that your daughter made is far more special than one that arrives via Amazon Prime.