15 Out of the Toy Box Gift Ideas

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.

15 Out-of-the-Toybox Gift Ideas
© J. Burris | Little Lake County.com | 2016

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.

out of the toy box gift ideas

15 Out of the Toy Box Gift Ideas

1. Memberships

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.

Yu Kids Island Birthday Express Collage

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.

For older kids, try:

Bella's Bounce Slide
3. Tickets

I love dates with the kids. Make a special trip downtown for one with lunch or add in a special outfit.

  • Theaters/Shows
    • 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
    • Snowball maker is great for little mittened hands that want to participate in a snowball fight.
    • Sleds
    • Skis or snowboards for your adventurous ones.
    • Snow brick maker is great for making forts and is pretty cheap fun!
  • 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.)
    • Coats
    • Snow pants
    • Boots
    • Gloves
    • Ski goggles.
 ©T. Rubel | Little Lake County.com | 2015
© T. Rubel | Little Lake County.com | 2015

5. Ornaments

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.

6. Pajamas

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
  • Hobby
  • 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.


© J. Burris | Little Lake County.com | 2016

9. Learning Activities

Keep those brains working! There are some great local learning and gift centers to check for learning resources. Brainstorm in Lindenhurst or Learning Express in Lake Zurich.

  • 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.
    • Binoculars 
    • 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
  • 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
  • Special Day Trip
  • 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.

12. Subscriptions

I would have loved a magazine gift subscription as a kid.

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.

14. Clothes

Kids always need these. And hey, money for clothes does not just grow on trees.

  • Fancy dress or suit for the holidays
  • Winter gear
    • hats
    • scarves
    • snow pants
    • coat
    • boots.

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.


About Jenna Burris 27 Articles
Jenna is an active wife and mom of 2 game changers (Benjamin 5 years and Jillian 2 years). A professional Counselor by trade, Antioch resident and native Cheesehead, this mindful momma is laid back and up for any mess or adventure, doing her best to live in the moment. When not tuning out or taming tantrums she’s running, cooking, reading, creating music, or shopping local.

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