I would like to get real with you for a moment. This is what our living room/play room looks like on a regular basis.
Beyond the war zone of LEGO, Imaginext action figures, stuffed animals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are more shelves of Batcaves and cleverly hidden toys. So when I think of Christmas lists, I start to go into panic sweats at the idea of adding one more toy to this madness. However, we do want the holidays and gift giving to be special and memorable for all parties involved. In an effort to save my sanity, and hopefully yours, too, I have compiled a list of great non-toy gifts for the kids this year.
15 Out of the Toy Box Gift Ideas
We are a family who loves outings and adventures, and what better way to promote family time than with things to do! Consider requesting memberships to a few of or favorites (which many offer reciprocity with other similar venues nation wide). We received a membership to the Chicago Botanic Garden last year and have returned numerous times to check out the holiday train, the new children’s’ garden, the corpse flower, and have also experiencced beautiful day adventures. These are my favorite kinds of gifts.
- Chicago Botanical Garden
- Museums (These are perfect for the winter months when we are feeling all cooped up in our homes and cabin fever sets in.)
2. Punch Cards
There are so many great local play places for rainy or cold days where kids can burn off some steam. We are frequent visitors Bella’s Bouncies and Artist@Heart, and they have GREAT deals on the multiple use punch cards. We have out-of-town family who look forward to taking the kids to these places with us.
- Bella’s Bouncies Indoor Bounce House
- Hippocampus (A unique sensory play space for younger kids.)
- Yu Kid’s Island (An indoor gross motor play area at Hawthorn Mall.)
- Jump America (Indoor trampoline fun for all ages.)
- Artist@Heart. (A studio providing art classes for all ages, tots up to adults.)
For older kids, try:
- Movie passes to Marcus cinemas, Regal cinemas, or one of our great small local theatres.
- Passes for mini golf at one of Lake County’s great mini-golf venues.
- One of Lake County’s big or small town bowling alleys.
I love dates with the kids. Make a special trip downtown for one with lunch or add in a special outfit.
- Marriott Theatre. They have wonderful children’s and adult shows. Check out The Nutcracker this holiday.
- Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee. My personal favorite place to see live music and often host children’s live character shows like Daniel Tiger Live.
- Genessee Theatre in Waukegan is becoming a go-to for big names like Jack Hanna and Peppa the Pig.
- PM&L Theatre, Antioch’s community theater, and other local community playhouses have all-ages shows to enjoy together.
- Disney on Ice performance or other live shows such as the circus that are often held at the United Center.
- Historical Fun. My son has currently been on a “things that happened a long time ago” kick and cannot get enough of things like this and history museums and cabins. A ticket to one of these is in his future.
4. Outdoor Winter Fun
We can only be in denial of snow and cold for so long. Embrace it and send the kids outside for a bit.
- Ski passes
- Snow play accessories
- Snow gear (Younger kids do not know if they are new, just new to them. Green Kids Resale is my go to for winter gear.)
- Snow pants
- Ski goggles.
Give kids a commemorative or personalized ornament each year.
Every year since his early childhood, my husband has received an ornament from his parents. And he still gets one every year at Christmas, and he and each his eight siblings look forward to this well, thought out tradition. The ornament symbolizes something from the previous year (one example is a house ornament for the year we bought our first home). Each ornament is hung on our tree every year, and we reminisce as we bring each one out. My sweet husband is now extending this tradition with our kids.
My sister-in-law has the kids open new pajamas every year on Christmas Eve so they have something special to wear while opening presents and eating breakfast on Christmas morning.
7. Art, Music and Hobby Supplies
I especially love no-mess art, or art that someone else cleans up, and gifts that support our children’s passions. Consider shopping at your small local businesses for these great gift ideas such as Artist @ Heart, Green Kids Resale, or Knight Music Academy.
- Art supplies
- Washable paints
- Smocks (I’ve seen some cute handmade ones at the local art fairs.)
- Art easel
- Coloring books
- Bathtub paint (Pair with a new bathtub character towel for a cute, themed gift set.)
- No mess water pens and books. These are a GODSEND! My kids love them, especially for car rides. These books result in zero mess and the kids recolor them over and over and over…check Green Kids Resale for lots of these.
- paint brushes
- Sports Equipment
- baseball glove
- new cleats
- new supply of balls
- Music-related items
- Musical instruments (such as a guitar, drums, or a violin. Don’t go expensive if they have never played before. See if they like it, and then upgrade later. Also purchase musical instruments at an actual music store, NOT a big box retailer. Those instruments are insufficient for actual learning. This comes from a former guitar instructor).
- Music stand
- Sheet music
8. Lessons or Classes
Is there anything that your child has been itching to try? Give them a gift that lasts for months and initiates a pure joy response from them.
- Swim lessons from Foss Swim School, British Swim School, Gurnee Park District or Goldfish Swim school are great local options.
- Equestrian lessons from Creekside Farm (Hawthorn Woods), Briar Hill Farm (Wauconda) or Millenium Farm (Mundelein).
- Art or painting classes from Artist@Heart in Libertyville.
- Theatre camp or classes at the Improv Playhouse in Libertyville or at your local park districts.
9. Learning Activities
- Books (to read or learning workbooks).
- Puzzles. We are big fans of Melissa and Doug puzzles. They are sturdy and last forever.
- Science or learning kits
- Butterfly garden kits. We did one this year and it was THE BEST. For Christmas though, order the kits, and don’t get the caterpillars until later. Kits will either come with the caterpillars or vouchers to order them at a later time. So much learning happens from observing and the daily care.
- Ant farm. This is seriously what my husband wants to get my four-year-old (or for himself).
- Children’s cookbook with apron (get a handmade one from a craft fair!).
- Gift card for online activities
- Apps for iPad or other devices. Read about Jennifer V.’s favorite apps.
- iTunes gift card
- Gaming credits
- Journal for writing or drawing.
10. Adopt-an-Animal Programs
Adopt-an-animal programs are a great way to welcome an animal into your life without all of the work.
11. Family Experiences
This gift could go big or small. Have a brochure or ticket or home made ticket for the experience. Just make some memories and give the gift of something to look forward to.
- Family trips
- We have done a bunch of the work for you in our LLC Gas Tank Getaways
- Special Day Trip
- Check out Loralie’s trip to Chicago in $20 or less!
- Check out our local museums free days.
- Date nights with your child. Give each kid a special date alone with a parent or a favorite aunt or grandparent. Some towns have special child/parent date events. Every year I take my son to Antioch’s mother/son date.
- Coupon Book. Make you own coupon book and fill it with coupons to redeem for special family time activities.
I would have loved a magazine gift subscription as a kid.
- Children’s magazines
- Monthly subscription boxes (I always google for coupon codes on these):
13. Paying it Forward
Sometimes it can be great to teach about giving by helping your child give to others.
- Give to a local charity in your child’s name.
- Give a volunteer experience plus lunch. Spend a day at a local animal shelter like Save a Pet or Feed My Starving Children.
- Global Giving: organizations such as World Vision allow you to “give” sustainable gifts of survival like chickens, goats, water wells, educational scholarships and more to families in poverty around the world.
- Shop fair trade businesses who provide fair living wages to workers in developing nations.
Kids always need these. And hey, money for clothes does not just grow on trees.
- Fancy dress or suit for the holidays
- Winter gear
- snow pants
15. Other cool ideas
I love stealing other people’s great ideas.
- 12 Books of Christmas: Wrap 12 books and open one each night leading up to Christmas. You can find great used kids books at Green Kids Resale. Or if your budget is really tight, just do this with library books and keep and read them during the holidays before you return them.
- Simplify holiday gift-giving to just a few gifts: “Something you want, something you need, something you wear and something to read.” I love the idea of this and to simplify “stuff” to one item in each category. I have yet to be brave enough to implement it.
What non-toy gifts are you planning on giving you kids or other family members this year? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.