Every once in a while, I go on a cleaning spree. In similar fashion to my son’s miniature John Deere front-loader, I zoom through the house scooping up stray toys, nubby colored pencils and other discarded craft supplies, plus an occasional piece of “hidden” (read “old and nasty”) candy and toss them in a large garbage bag. Then the bag goes out into the garage and sits. And nobody ever asks about it.
Now, to be fair, I do usually retrieve the toys before throwing the rest away (mostly so they can go in the donate pile) but this whirlwind clean-up session always reminds me that my kids simply have too. much. stuff.
And it’s not just the amount that kills me. It’s that because of the overwhelming amount of toys and such that have no lasting purpose, the worthwhile possessions they could be enjoying simply don’t get used.
So when Christmas rolled around three years ago, I was prepared with some non-toy gift ideas for the grandparents and others who asked, “what do your kids want this year?”.
How to Have a Christmas with Less Toys and More Lasting Fun – 20+ Non-Toy Gift Ideas
Having a non-toy (or at least less-toy) Christmas doesn’t mean that our children will have nothing to open or enjoy! Rather it means that the gifts given will be usable beyond January 1, will nurture their learning and/or be experiences that can be enjoyed with loved ones.
Making our gifts less about clutter and more about meaning also reminds our kids again that Christmas isn’t all about them. We have tried the last few years to focus a lot more on Advent activities to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ and also established giving traditions with our family to turn their hearts toward generosity and helping others.
Now that we’re on our fourth year of giving non-toy gifts (for the most part), let me share some fun, engaging and meaningful gift ideas we have loved that provide lasting value and will get your creative juices flowing!
(By law, I need to let you know that some of these links are affiliate links–don’t worry, it doesn’t cost you anything extra if you shop through them!)
1) Music lessons – For a child like my 4 year old daughter who loves to plunk around on the piano and strum our friend’s guitar, music lessons make an exciting gift!
2) Zoo or Children’s Museum Membership – We did this for our kids last year, and the extra benefit is that by having a local zoo membership, which was very affordable, we were also able to get half off passes to the Henry Doorly Omaha Zoo (Put that place on your bucket list. Seriously.)!
3) Sports or Other Extracurricular Activities – Tball and gymnastics have often been made possible by my in-laws, who have actually embraced the idea of buying experience gifts (as long as they also get to give the kids each one toy ;) )
4) Movie ticket gift cards – I love this idea for a fun family activity! This could be a good one to request from Grandparents. Fandango allows you to personalize their movie ticket gift cards with a picture! Their website shows you all the movie theaters available in your area, so your child can choose which movie they want to see and buy tickets, using their gift certificate!
5) Swimming lessons or swim pass – Most outdoor swim lessons don’t have to break the bank (we found the indoor ones to be more costly where we live). And if you combine that with purchasing a family swim pass, you may get a discount on lessons! You don’t have to actually buy the pass at Christmas, you can give them a gift certificate (see the end of the post for a printable one you can use) and maybe some swim goggles and they’ll know the actual “present” is coming later! Check your local Groupon HERE to see if there are any good deals in your area on swim lessons or waterpark passes!
6) Gift cards for family activity, like ice skating or a cupcake bakery (if you have an aspiring chef like I do!)
7) Crafting, sewing or baking tools – Sites such as Craftsy and Kids Cook Real Food have “classes” you can purchase. These classes have lifetime access and can be done at any time! It would be a great way to set aside a special time for your child to connect with you one-on-one doing these activites (or with a grandparent or dad too!).
- Craftsy – baking, sewing, photography classes and more. They are really well done and affordable! Right now you can get any one class for 50% off!
- Kids Cook Real Food – Amazingly well-done teaching videos that show kids how to cook real food in an engaging way. I watched along with my 9 year old daughter and learned a few things too! Although some of us may be comfortable in the kitchen, it’s really nice to have everything laid out, and sometimes kids listen to other people’s advise better than they listen to ours ;)
- Baking Tools
- Usborne Children’s Sewing Kit – No sewing machine required!
8) Local Groupon – I’ve found good deals to local waterparks and attractions from time to time, so Groupon is worth checking out!
Activity and Learning Gifts
9) Books – My kids love that they have new books for our long holiday travels! If you can get a series for a good price, that’s even better! If you’re a fan of Usborne books, you can visit my website here. For ideas, see our Bible storybook gift guide and great choices for a 12 Books of Christmas tradition! Or check out some top classics on Amazon!
10) Journaling supplies – Because I have a 9 year old daughter who could spend hours in her room writing notes and creating stories, I know there are lots of other young girls (or boys!) who would enjoy journals or journaling supplies! This Sadie Robertson set from Dayspring is so pretty, with a cosmetic pouch along with the journal. This journal could easily be used by both guys and girls.
11) Arts and Crafts supplies – Long and cold winter days mean that arts and crafts will be put to good use! Grab an assorted bucket of supplies and let their creativity shine. Or just head to Hobby Lobby and pick up some googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom poms, foam paper and those craft sticks that look like tongue depressors for lots of random fun :)
12) Magazine subscriptions – Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr Magazine are a favorite for our family, and we are getting my 4 year old a 12 month sub to Ladybug Magazine this year! Some other fun ideas that my kids have enjoyed in the past are Ranger Rick Jr, Highlights High Five and Thomas and Friends!
13) Book of the Month Club – I’m a huge believer in exposing children to any kind of reading material you can get your hands on, as long as it’s at their reading level! Bookroo sends your child 2-3 books a month based on age (0-6) and the Lollipop Book Club sends your child a book and lollipop each month (0-12 yrs). You can view each category of books and pick a variety of subscription lengths.
14) Monthly STEM/Activity Kit – I’m not a super crafty or creative mom, so I really appreciate these small businesses who send out crafts or activity kits monthly that can feed my children’s creative spark, while allowing me to also do the activity with them with no prep! Plus, everyone likes getting “snail mail” :)
- KiwiCo Crate – KiwiCo creates “themed” boxes (arcade, spy, and human body are the ones we’ve received so far) with hands-on activities that are super fun, plus teach STEM skills! Based on age and ability level. If you just want to try it out and not necessarily continue your subscription indefinitely, cancelling or pausing your membership is super easy to do right in your account on the website. Click here to check out Kiwi Crate!
- Green Kid Crafts – STEAM activities delivered monthly right to your door! These are hands-on science and art “Discovery Boxes” with themes like tornadoes, volcanoes, the ocean, etc, that are age-based from 2-10. We had a free trial awhile ago and I liked that you could get them month to month or 3, 6, and 12 month subscriptions! Check out the current specials on a Green Kid Crafts subscription!
ABOVE: Our 6 year old and his 4 year old sister playing with one of the 6 year old’s Kiwi Crate activities–he loved being a doctor, “sewing” stuffed organs (I thought that was a bit weird–ha!) and making X-rays with glow in the dark paper–seriously SO awesome!!
15) Monthly Learning Kit – Bloom Box was developed by a mom who is also a speech and language pathologist, who lives in the same town as we do! From her website, “It’s hard to find toys that inspire your child’s development! And after all the thought and money is put into that perfect toy, it is pushed to the bottom of the toy box in a month or two. The Bloom Box is here to solve all of your problems! A box full of toys and activities to enhance language, social, fine motor, sensory and cognitive development…and an easy to read activity guide to help you make it happen!”
16) Monthly Adventure Kit – Little Passports is a monthly subscription for school aged children to explore the world, one country at a time, as they follow characters Sam and Sofia on adventures around the globe. Lots of fun activities included! Recommended for ages 6-10.
How to Wrap It: Include the gift subscription note found at the end of this post with a sweet treat in a festive bag!
17) Streaming Service Subscription – If you are wanting Christian entertainment for your kids, JellyTelly, a Christian kids’ streaming service, offers TV shows, movies and video devotionals that keep your children’s hearts focused on God and learning about the Bible. There are shows for kids of all ages–even pre-teens! We often choose JellyTelly as our entertainment option, because for our younger kids, we aren’t always impressed with typical children’s TV shows.
Disney+ or Amazon Prime would also be an option for a “family” type gift subscription!
Amazon Music Unlimited, an Audible subscription or iTunes gift cards are a fantastic choice for older kids!
How to wrap it: Put a Disney+ subscription “gift card” in a cute bowl with some microwave popcorn packages! Or slip an Amazon music, Audible or iTunes gift card in a cute box with a new pair of earbuds!
18) Audio Stories and Audio Adventures – In my opinion, one the BEST choices for non-toy gifts! Whether you use audio stories during holiday travels to keep your kiddos occupied and engaged or during cold winter afternoons indoors to relieve boredom, they’re a super fun gift that can be listened to over and over again (long-term benefit!).
- Jonathan Park – Audio stories about a Christian family of scientists who learns to defend their faith during dramatic and exciting adventures! The stories are thrilling and the narrators speak clearly and with feeling, without the annoying muffled audio that is sometimes experienced on audio recordings. They show how science reveals the Creator and helps kids make the connection between faith, apologetics and real life. Find a favorite new audio adventure from Jonathan Park!
- The Adventures of GA Henty from Heirloom Audio – Historical audio stories, great for kids ages 6 and up! We have several of these and love them! They are quite dramatic, so I would not recommend them for children under 6, or kids who are very sensitive.
- Lamplighter Theatre Audio Stories
- Adventures in Odyssey
- American Girl Stories – my 9 year old daughter’s very favorite!
Gifts that Encourage Creativity
19) Learning Activities – Do these cross the line to “toys”? I prefer to think not, so that’s why I share them! :)
- Musical instruments, like these rhythm sticks that my kids use along with their homemade oatmeal container drum or these super fun, gentle-sounding maracas like we have, provide a lot of entertainment! You could make DIY shakers and maracas too, like these!
- Magnifying glass, for the curious explorers in your life!
- Wooden pattern blocks, so much fun. You could grab a bucket of these and then print out and laminate these FREE alphabet wooden pattern block printables for a frugal and meaningful gift!
- Lauri Pegs and Pegboard sets – I first discovered these when my oldest was little and then lost the set in our move–it was a sad day! Thankfully, a friend of mine was selling some and so I snatched them up quickly. Perfect for 2 and up, my four year old plays with these constantly and they are great for developing motor skills.
20) Sporting Equipment!! Balls, ice skates, baseball mitts, the list goes on! Pair these with an extracurricular activity gift (see #3)! Sometimes you can find very quality, gently used sporting equipment at buy/sell/trade stores, Craigslist or thrift stores! Or what about a RadioFlyer trike or bicycle? :)
21) Board Games and Card Games! My husband didn’t grow up playing board games, but at my grandparents’ house, where 30 cousins and 20 moms & dads, plus Grandma and Grandpa would gather each holiday, we could often be found playing Kings in a Corner, Pinochle (when we got older), Rummikub, Scrabble and Battleship!
Some of our favorites:
- The aforementioned Rummikub
- Scrabble or Bananagrams
- Busy Town Airport Game
- The Game of Life
- Hi Ho Cherry O
- The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game
- Spot It and Spot It Junior
22) Personalized Gifts – If you have an older child who loves to write down their thoughts, you could give them a personalized journal, like one of these beautiful options from Erin Condren! (Just type “notebook” or “journal” into the search bar for many choices!)
Other personalized gift ideas:
- Personalized Christmas stocking
- Personalized straw cups
- Customized name print on Etsy
- Personalized 2019 Planner
23) Coloring and Art – My 9 year old enjoys painting and coloring, so these cards to color, watercolor paper and paints (which you can find for less at Michael’s) are on her wish list right now! (This is her favorite Scripture coloring book and these are the colored pencils she got for her last birthday!)
- Modeling Clay
- Greeting Cards to Color
- No Sew Blanket Making Kit (or DIY and buy some fleece on sale at Joann’s and wrap it up in a cute box!)
- Gardening Supplies
24) Dress Up Clothes – My 6 year old son found this Marine dress blues outfit at a garage sale (my brother in law is a retired Marine) and that he has really enjoyed wearing. My 4 year old daughter is of course a huge Elsa fan, but really you can pick any type of dress up outfit that will help your children be creative and imagine!
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I hope these ideas gives you some inspiration for having a meaningful Christmas with less toys this year! :) Feel free to share your ideas in the comments!
If you need some gift tags or if you’re gifting a subscription, subscribe via email and I’ll send you some pretty printable gift tags and a “delivery note” for your gift recipient!
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