Why read: If you’re looking for ways to make Christmas less materialistic with non-toy alternatives to traditional Christmas gifts for kids, this list is what you need. There are affiliate links in this blog post. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Christmas gifting didn’t go particularly well for our 2.5-year-old last year.
As a family with a growing child, we were so excited about Christmas. We created a magical Christmasy atmosphere. Our rustic decorations along with the woodland Christmas tree, the food, the family and friends celebrating together – all that was dreamy. We did fail at one important thing though.
Dozens of boxes neatly wrapped up waited for our son under the Christmas tree.
After 3rd box, our boy started to get overwhelmed. Should he play with the first toy? Or maybe the second? Or should he continue unwrapping all other boxes? As a result, when he opened all the gifts he wasn’t particularly interested in any of them. His eyes were wandering around the big pile of toys in confusion. And that certainly wasn’t the effect we were aiming for.
So this year, we know we need to do things differently.
Photo by Mark Michaelis
Is a Completely No-Toy Christmas Possible?
Of course, not!
I’m all for giving our children meaningful gifts, aka experiences instead of toys. Tickets to a museum or a zoo would be such great alternatives that our boy could receive from all of our relatives. But you can’t wrap a ticket, put under the Christmas tree and expect a 3-year-old get all excited about a future trip to the zoo.
Knowing my son he’ll want to go to the zoo right away and might get very upset and even throw a tantrum. “We’ll go to the zoo some other day” – isn’t a good enough present for a small child.
They need something tangible – right now, this second.
And the truth is that toys aren’t always evil. They bring kids a whole heap of enjoyment. And if chosen correctly, toys educate, stimulate creativity and have a big array of other benefits.
Things get out of control when our children receive a lot of useless toys for Christmas than they don’t need.
An easy solution is shifting things around a little bit. Provide some direction to everyone who you expect Christmas gifts from. You’ll make things easier for them and your child will end up with gifts that are both tangible and intangible and will actually last.
Here is how to do it.
Just One Wrapped Box Under the Christmas Tree
I still remember that special barbie I received from Santa when I was little.
Barbies weren’t that easy to find in Armenia at that time. So my dad brought it from abroad. That was one of the best gifts of my life. I’d dress her, I’d comb her hair, I’d talk to her.
Here’s an idea for you.
How about having just one box under the Christmas tree for your child this year?
If you put extra thought into that one gift, it’ll become something very special for your little one. Plus, you can finally get him something that he’s been asking for for a long time. Or something that you know is of particular interest for him.
That ONE gift can be from Santa. Our children’s anticipation is growing leading to the Christmas day. I keep reading my boy books about Santa and telling stories on how Santa is hurrying on his reindeer leigh all the way from Lapland to bring him a very special gift.
“Well, he better not be late or he’ll be grounded” – my boy says to me with all seriousness.
Immediate family members or grandparents can contribute to that ONE special gift if they wish.
Has your child been asking for a piano ever since he got obsessed with music? Is a good piano way out of your budget? Well, here is a good time for everyone to chime in and get it for him.
That way when he starts to delight his grandparents with Chopin’s nocturnes next year they’ll know they have their part in it.
So here’s a challenge for you! Put some extra thought into what is the ONE gift that your child will get extremely excited about and have just that ONE under the Christmas tree.
Ideas for Near and Far Family
Christmas is the time when everyone gets generous. This is the opportunity to turn all the useless toys you receive from your child’s grandparents and relatives to something that he’ll benefit from.
Make a list and send it to the ones who’ll enjoy contributing to your child’s development in a meaningful way. Here’re some ideas for you:
- If grandparents live far, ask for contributions to airfare so that grandchildren can visit more (research shows grandparents who spend more time with their grandchildren live longer).
- Don’t shy to give suggestions in different price range – passes to the zoo, museums, an amusement park or activity center, movie tickets are all great alternatives to toys.
- Or ask them if they’d consider paying for their beloved muchkin’s swim, music, soccer, art lessons. It always delights grandparents to see the success their grandkids are having.
- A week or two at a child’s favorite camp – your kid will be thanking them for the memories he creates at the camp.
- If you have a savings account or college fund opened for your child, any contributions from grandparents and relatives would be super. These can be in lieu of other gifts.
And don’t forget to send them pictures and regular updates, so that they are more willing to go this route subsequent years as well.
Physical Gift Alternatives to Toys
So many of us have family living across the country or even across the ocean.
So you can’t blame the grandparents if they prefer to give a physical gift as opposed to an experience. Experiences are kind of not fun to give if you don’t get to observe the kiddo enjoying it. But even so, give them a hint of some physical gift alternatives to toys that are more educational or useful:
– art supplies, – every child needs a great set of art supplies.
– bubble baths – is there a kid that doesn’t love bubble baths? My boy can sit in the bathtub for hours. I just put his favorite music on, give his toys. The best time for singing and pretend plays.
– gardening stuff for kids (even for indoors) – if you don’t have a spacious backyard or balcony, you can still introduce your child to planting. There’re great kits for indoor planting, like this Bonsai Garden Seed Starter Kit
– kids’ cookbooks – the earlier you introduce your child to cooking the sooner he’ll start feeling comfortable around the kitchen. My 3-year-old son runs to help me every time I cook.
– kids books, in general, are always great. Your child can never have too many books.
– Backpacks – another gift idea if your child needs a new backpack.
Meaningful Gift Exchange Tradition with Friends
Unlike family and relatives, things are so much easier with friends. You’re most likely on the same page with your mom friends when it comes to Christmas gifts and already follow some type of tradition. But if you need more ideas here’s what I do with my friends that works really well.
When friends do join gift – even better. That way it’s a similar price point for them and one awesome gift for your child.
- You can all have an Amazon wishlist and add everything that you and your child need there in different price categories – your friends can choose a gift from that list (you still get an element of surprise but receive what you actually need);
- For older kids who have piggy banks – cash is the best gift and will get them all excited.
- Contributions to college funds or saving accounts work quite well with friends too.
- Activity exchange – every family plans an activity for everyone to do together. That way there are multiple chances to spend time with friends. Plus, holiday spirit extends for longer.
Subscriptions Instead of Random Toys
Subscriptions make perfect gifts!
They take the burden of research and finding age and developmental level appropriate toys off of your shoulders. There’re so many different varieties. You can find the one that suits your child’s age and interests the best. Try it out and then subscribe for a year. Your child will be looking forward to the monthly package to arrive. What can be more exciting than rushing to the door every month to find out what’s inside of that special box?
These subscriptions work as perfect gifts from other family members or friends too.
Here are some of the best subscriptions for kids:
A fun and engaging way to teach children about the world. Every month a new destination and theme are featured. Choose from the Early Explorers (ages 3-5), the World Edition (ages 6-10) or the USA Edition (ages 7-12). They often run promotions for Christmas holidays, especially on their 12-month subscription. So you might get a pretty good deal now.
With this subscription, you receive high-quality materials for 2-3 creative activities for kids. They cover all ages. And most importantly all kits are reviewed by experts and tested by kids. So your child receives developmentally appropriate and enriching experience every month.
Kiwi Co are currently having a Christmas promotion:
Dates: Saturday 12/15 – Monday 12/31
Another amazing box helping to raise tomorrow’s leaders, artists, scientists, designers, and engineers. Their hands-on science and art kits are made for ages 2-10+ and delivered each month. The best part is that the crafts are not only creative and fun but also eco-friendly. Don’t you love children’s toys and crafts that are “green”?! Each box includes 6 STEAM kits, project materials with instructions, activity magazine and a book. Give it a try! I’m sure both you and your kids will love it.
Each month you get a few snacks and candies from another country, a booklet talking about each snack, some trivia about the country, and lots of other info. This might not be the healthiest food to try but it’s a treat to share as a family just once a month. By trying a snack that is unique to different countries both you and your kiddo will learn a lot in the process.
With Amazon’s Prime Book Box you get hand-picked children book’s delivered to your doorstep every 1, 2 or 3 months. The best part is that these books come at a great discount of 40% off List Price. The books are broken by different age categories. Give your child the gift of reading!
Best Magazine Subscriptions for Kids
- National Geographic Kids
- National Geographic Little Kids
- Highlights for Children
- Ranger Rick Jr.
Tradition of Giving
It’s never too soon to teach your child about being grateful and giving back. Even if you do your part in trying to receive as fewer toys as possible, you can’t cover everyone. So there is no need to stress about it. You can look through all the gifts with your child and set aside those he doesn’t need. Donating to children that are less fortunate will teach your little one to be more appreciative of what he has
Another way of having a more meaningful Christmas is helping someone who’s been affected adversely in a natural disaster. We live in Northern California, where a lot of families have lost everything in the devastating wildfires this year. There are FB groups that help coordinate these efforts. Natural disasters happen throughout America every year. Whether it’s a fire, tornado, earthquake or storm, you can give a helping hand to those who’ve been affected. You can even “adopt” a family and consider sending them toys and some basic necessities.
One Last Thing
There it is – a comprehensive list of Christmas gift ideas for kids that’ll help you with getting your child what he actually needs. You can either speak with everyone about these ideas or just forward this blog post to them and let them choose. And if you found these ideas helpful, I hope you’ll spare a minute to share it through social media for others to see.