10 Gift Ideas that Aren't Toys

My kids birthdays are December 19th and January 5, so between that and Christmas they get swamped this time of year with a whole lot of STUFF. While some of it is useful, most of it sits in drawers or on shelves hardly to be touched in the coming months (or ever). I am all about the experience gifts and charitable giving in lieu of gifts. So here are some ideas to add to your kid's lists to the grandparents.

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1. Memberships: Our family loves to visit museums, but they can be really pricey. While memberships can be pricey too, they last all year so if you visit a particular museum, zoo or garden multiple times per year the membership should pay for itself. I've learned some tips and tricks over the years about purchasing memberships.

  • Do your Research- Not all memberships are created equal. Some included discounts to the gift shop or cafe, free parking or other benefits- like additional guest passes. This is a great time to buy because many are on sale.
  • Should I upgrade? If you like to travel and visit museums on your travels it may be worth upgrading. If you upgrade to have reciprocal benefits you will receive at least 50% off admission at other participating museums, so it's best to buy the membership for the museum you will visit most often. Note: not all museums participate in the reciprocal program so be sure to check if yours is on the list: Children's Museums, Zoos and Aquariums, Science Museums, and Gardens and Arboretums
  • Be Aware of Local Exclusions: The ASTC Travel Passport (for science museums) excludes science centers and museums within a 90-mile radius of the museum where you are a member and your home address. So if you live in an area with many science museums (like we do in the Philadelphia area), you may want to buy a membership from a museum out of town. For example, since we have a second home in Denver, we bought a reciprocal membership from The Denver Museum of Nature & Science then we had free access to all our local science museums. If your kid's grandparents or friends live out of town they could buy it for you as a gift in your name. 
  • Find out what Age gets in for free: Another thing to research is the age and price for a "child" ticket. It may be less expensive to buy an individual membership for yourself and use the guest passes you get with your membership for the kids (or they may get in free depending on their age). 
  • Best Value: The best value membership we've ever purchased was The American Horticultural Society. My kids were 4 and newborn at the time, so I bought an individual membership and after just 2 visits it paid for itself. That year we visited the Denver Botanical Gardens (multiple times), The Morris Arboretum, The Tyler Arboretum, and UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum all for $35!

2. Subscriptions: Kids love getting mail! How fun to send them something once a month by filling out a simple form online. Some of our favorite subscriptions include:

  • Highlights Magazine-  They have different magazine options for all the kids on your list. They also have stand alone books you can send to give the kids something to open on Christmas day. My kids favorite are the hidden pictures and the sticker books.
  • Kiwi CrateFor the kids on your list who love arts and crafts or science these are great. You get one box a month and it includes all the supplies you need to create the projects. It also comes with a book that gives scientific information in a fun way and provides additional activities. 
  • Pley- This we haven't tried yet, but I will be signing my kids up for Christmas! You basically rent toys then you can return them when your kids tire of playing with them and trade it for a new toy. For every new sign up they also donate a toy to a child in need. This is right up my alley ;)

3. Photo Books- What kids doesn't love looking at photos of themselves? I have been making my kid's photo books every Christmas since they were born and they love them. Every year they look forward to getting their books and sitting with us to look over the adventures we shared. It's such a great keepsake and easy to make with services like Shutterfly. We get mall Santa photos every year and they always include a gift card to Shutterfly. This time of year the photo books are on sale, so it's a great time to buy them.

4. Donations to a Cause: This may not be very exciting to kids, but as a parent, I would much rather our family's money go towards helping those less fortunate than adding more clutter to my house. Our kid's school relies on donations to keep in the black every year, so I encourage my parents and in-laws to make a donation to their school instead of buying them extra toys for the holidays. Other causes could be:

  • World Wildlife Fund: If the child on your list loves wildlife, consider donating to The World Wildlife Fund to help protect these animals for the next generation. With your donation, the child will also receive a stuffed animal.
  • The Front Row Foundation: If your child has a heart for people suffering from life-threatening illnesses they could help them get to have a front-row experience with a donation to this amazing organization.
  • Your Local Food Bank:  Help your child understand that not everyone knows where their next meal is coming from. Give your kids a gift card to the grocery store and let them help pick out some food to donate to your local food bank. Last year in lieu of gifts, Tyler asked guests to his birthday party to bring food donations that he gave to our local food bank. It made him happy to give to those less fortunate and he didn't miss the gifts.

5. Tickets to a Live Show: Have a budding dancer, actor, athlete or musician? Take them to see a live show or sporting event. National touring shows and teams can be expensive, but you can find smaller local performances that won't break the bank. Take them to the local college or high school performances or games for a fraction of the cost. 

  • Sporting Events
  • Concerts
  • Ballets
  • Ice Shows
  • Theater Performances



6. Lessons: My kids do a lot of activities throughout the year and they really add up! Why not ask the grandparents to pitch in and pay for some of their activities or lessons as a gift. 

  • Sports Leagues or camps
  • Music Lessons
  • Other Extracurriculars: supplemental science or math programs, summer camp, or a club they are involved in.


7. Gift Certificates: My kids really love going to the store and picking out their own clothes, toys, and books. Why not gift them a shopping trip with a gift certificate. Even better would be a trip with the person who gifted it to help them pick out their "prizes." My kids think Amazon.com is the coolest thing in the world. They can go on a computer and choose anything they want and it shows up in the mail a few days later! They also love Target, Chuck E. Cheese, and craft stores.  

8. Coupon Books: Don't have money for anything above? Then make them an old-fashioned coupon book full of no cost experiences with you. All it will cost is your time and some creativity. Some great coupon ideas are a trip to the playground, a nature hike at a local park, an extra half hour of screen time, a hug, drop everything to play a board game of their choosing, a tea party, a cookie baking session, an extra bedtime story, get out of family contribution for the day, allowance advance (get their allowance before the designated day), sleepover at grandmas or cook their favorite dinner that night. 

9. Tickets for an Experience: If your kids are like mine, they love to do things. Get them tickets to take them to do something like go skiing, go to a movie, get a mani/pedi, get a haircut, swim at a local pool, go to an amusement park, or paint pottery. You can always get them something small to open to present the gift. For example, if you got them tickets to go mini-golfing you could include a putter and ball for them to practice with at home or if you get movie certificates you could get them a box of popcorn to open. 

10. Set up a 529 Account: This is another idea that may not excite the kids much but will benefit them in the future. You can ask for contributions to a 529 college savings plan instead of physical gifts. A fun way to tell the kids it is to get them a play cash register, piggy bank or football jersey from the college you went to and let them know that you started an account to save money for them to attend college. 

I am grateful my kids have generous grandparents who shower them with lots of love and gifts. I'm grateful for the thoughtfulness of everyone who buys my kids gifts for their birthday's and the holidays. I'm grateful my kids have everything they need that we have to think about gift alternatives. I'd love to hear your ideas and thoughts. You can comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook Community