8 Gift Ideas For Children That Aren't Toys

EDIT: This post was written in 2014-2015 – our original One Year of Simplicity. It was such a game-changer for us, that we’ve continued asking family and friends to generously donate experiences, rather than gifts, to our children for the last five years. Re-sharing these wonderful gift ideas (that can also be used for birthdays and anniversaries, too!) in 2020!

Christmas is a really fun time of year in our house! It can also be a really stressful time of year. 

Overspending (and the guilt that follows)
Expectations of what Christmas should look like
Too many presents 

Our family has spent the last three months paring down our belongings, downsizing from a 2,000 sq. foot house to a 948 sq. foot house. We haven’t done any Christmas shopping for our kids yet this year. Not because we don’t want to… but because when we ask them what they want (they’re 4 and 2), they have no idea! They are perfectly happy with what they already have. So why should we feel pressured to keep buying more?

There are 3 Christmases that stand out in my mind from when I was a child – where I actually remember what it is that I received.

1. The year that Santa brought our very first computer
2. The year that I received a keyboard piano
3. The year that Santa built us a go-cart (aka, the best Christmas EVER)

I also remember an ADIDAS jacket somewhere in there around Jr. High!

The rest of the years kind of blur together. Same with birthdays. There’s one thing that I will always remember though: the experience of Christmas. Cutting down our tree in the mountains each year and decorating it to Alabama’s Christmas Album. Church on Christmas Eve, sunlight pouring into the windows on Christmas morning, and family gathered around opening gifts.

It’s the experiences that I remember most – not the gifts themselves. 

I don’t mean to sound like a grinch and suggest that your kids only unwrap underwear and socks this year. Part of the magic of Christmas is knowing that Santa has come and left something special! But it’s got me thinking: what can we gift our kids this Christmas that isn’t a toy? Something that they’ll be able to enjoy for much longer. An experience.

Here are 8 gift ideas for children that aren’t toys!

• Lessons or Classes. Swimming lessons, surf lessons, snow ski lessons, instrument lessons, dance lessons. Gymnastics classes, art classes. Support your child’s interests and hobbies or encourage them to try something new!

• Subscriptions. My kids love to check the mail. Even more, they love receivingmail. There are so many awesome kids magazines (check some of ’em out here!) Why not encourage your child’s reading with a year-long subscription to a magazine of their interest? Most subscriptions will last an entire 12 months and the anticipation of receiving it each month is a thrill. I remember being super excited about my American Girl subscription as a kid.

• Memberships. The gift that keeps on giving! A zoo, aquarium, museum, discovery center or theme park-type membership usually lasts 12 months AND pays for itself within one or two visits. If it’s a place that you visit often or know your child would enjoy, check into a family membership! If we lived near a train museum this would be a no-brainer for our son.

• Sports Registrations. We just signed our son up to play soccer. Santa will be bringing a new pair of cleats this year for the upcoming season. Two birds, one stone.

• Sports Event Tickets. Who doesn’t love the thrill of attending a sports event LIVE? And the anticipation leading up to an event can sometimes be as exciting as the event itself!

• Movie Tickets. What kid doesn’t love going to the movies? The gift of movie tickets paired with a box of candy and a popcorn tub would be enjoyable at any age.

• Books. Unlike toys, I don’t think that one can ever have too many books. There’s nothing like the first few books of a new series or books in-line with your child’s interests. You can’t go wrong with books, especially if you can pick them up second hand for a fraction of the retail price.

• Activities. A day of mini-golf, go-carting, a family outing to the batting cages or a water park. The planned event of time spent together as a family.

What are some of the non-traditional, non-toy gifts that you’ve given to your children?

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