“Instead of giving toys…” Update: I originally wrote & shared this post a few years ago, but every year around the holiday season, I like to reshare it (and re-read it myself.) It serves as a great reminder that our kids want time with us to create memories (I also love to find gifts that can create a fun memory and can remind them of past experiences). ♡
Science says instead of giving toys… give gifts that create memories.
They are valued more than toys.
Outings, experiences & vacations are “valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory,” psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained to The Telegraph. “It’s all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you’re going to spend money on something, it’s pretty clear which option makes more sense.”
I love toys for our kids. Toys are wonderful… educational, creative, opening a world of play. I am a play therapist, so kids, play & toys are my job. However… Toys are also overflowing in our house, and if you are reading this, I’m guessing in your house, too. Every year, I take my own Declutter Course (found here: https://yourmodernfamily.teachable.com/). I take time to go through our house & donate toys, but they come back every birthday & holiday.
Just this week, I was in our playroom looking for toys to donate and I realized that our kids rarely play with any of them anymore. Sure, they want toys. They ask for toys. They see them in the store or at a friend’s house and feel like they can’t live without them.
I don’t want our kids special days or holidays to always be about the toys. I want them to get past the “want” for toys and have a “want” to help others, a “want” to create memories, a “want” to see the real reason for the season.
Kids have so much stuff. Too much stuff. (It’s not just the kids… we have too much stuff, too.)
Trucks, cars, barbies, legos, Princesses, Pokemon, Shopkins, Nerf Guns, Droids, trains, dinosaurs, baby dolls (times three!). While I feel so blessed that we are able to give our kids so much, it is a conversation that we have often:
When do you say enough is enough?
When do you say “No” when you know that you can say “Yes”?
There are children in our own town that are sleeping on a cold floor tonight and our kids have three of the same toy… a toy that another child would be ecstatic to receive.
I want our children to know that there is more to giving than just toys. I know that it is so fun for the kids to have new toys, but I don’t want them to stop appreciating (or remembering) what they are being given, because it is so routine for them.
With four kids, 3 boys and a girl, we have accumulated a lot of stuff… you can find most of it in the toybox. That’s kind of where it sits. Yes, they play with these things from time to time, but more often than not, they are playing family or superhero or playing outside on the swings or making forts in our backyard.
Our daughter, on the other hand, loves her dolls and plays with them daily. She is the perfect age for toys right now, but if you ask her to play ‘family’ or dress-up, she’d choose that any day of the week.
Sometimes I feel like we buy just to buy. “What does ___ want?” Why do we all do this? I am certainly no stranger to this notion. I do it constantly, but I want to change this. Last year, my brother and I decided that for each other’s kids, we would give experiences instead of toys. My parents do this for our kids now, too. It’s been so much better!
I’m not saying I’m going to toss out all of our toys or that our kids will stop asking for them. As I said, there is certainly a special place for toys in our homes and in our lives. We use them daily, but if you want to give the best thing to a child, try giving something that creates a memory. Take that child to the movies, on a picnic, out for ice cream. Today, I am sharing my favorite ideas for non-toy gifts. (I found a few affiliate links to make it easier for you to find the things that I already use or have.)
What if we … stopped?
What if instead of buying only toys, we invested our money in memories? Today I’m sharing affiliate links to some things that you can give that aren’t gifts.
Here are some non-toy gift ideas to get you started:
- Make them a photo album of memories from the year (use an album where it has room for you to write and share why you loved that moment.) Our kids each have a “firsts” book where I have a picture of their “firsts” and I write what it was right beside it. (First time at the movies, first car ride, first time on a bike”
- A blanket with a photo on it (how fun to cuddle up with this reminder every night). Our daughter sleeps with her every night (it has pictures on squares that are sewn together to make a beautiful quilt- made by her great aunt)
- Subscription boxes are great because they are a gift that just KEEPS giving. Another one that we like is our subscription to Little PassPorts – this is a great little box that comes every month & introduces kids to new places in the world or to new science experiments (like making an eggshell disappear). Our kids got this from my brother’s family. I find out son reading these all of the time.
- $5 McDonald’s gift card & a new set of pajamas…. then go out together and get ice cream in your pajamas with your kids. Our kids LOVE this! (We stay in the car, get our ice cream, park and eat and chat…)
- Photo mug – so we gave each of our kids a photo mug a few years ago. They use them every night for ice cream instead of using a bowl (it’s usually their snack after dinner… mine, too). The mug has pictures of the kids playing in the lake over the summer and each of them has a special picture on their mug as part of the collage.
- A personalized book. This is always going to be a favorite of mine because I still have mine from when I was little. I give these as gifts for birthdays and give them to our own children for special occasions, as a way to remember what special thing happened that year.
- Membership to a local museum (we have a kid-museum close & the kids love it!) I think that it makes for a great day out and if you get a membership, you can go so often and it pays for itself after just a few visits.
- A butterfly kit (my sister in law ordered Ethan a butterfly kit last year and our whole family loved watching them start as caterpillars and end as butterflies)
- Tickets to an event. My mom took our son to the Hip-Hop Nutcracker last year and he loved it. My parents have season tickets to the plays in Charlotte and go every other Sunday. They have kid-tickets, too, so that would be a great way to spend a Sunday with your family.
- A Doodle book like this one… and a little art kit to go with it.
- A membership to Netflix. Our in-laws got this for us & we use it every month.
- A gift certificate to get their ears pierced. My friend did this for my other friend (after asking permission) and it was a HUGE hit.
- Take them somewhere. Go hiking, on a picnic, anywhere that gives you one on one time.
- Classes at a local gym, art studio, dance studio, soccer clinic… whatever they are into. I love giving lessons as a gift because they truly learn from it.
- Passes to an amusement park. If you have a park close to your house, chances are the kids will use it again & again.
- A gift certificate for books – Order a gift card for a gift of education or order a gift-set.
- Clothes. Kids like them, but parents appreciate it. 🙂
- Shoes – our kids go through shoes so fast! (or find some adorable shoes, clothing & accessories here) Our kids LOVE to pick out a new pair of shoes: a memory & a practical gift. (Get them some FUN, neon-colored laces, too.
Let the child pick!) 🙂
- A monthly subscription to something like Kiwi Crate where they send STEM projects for your kids every month. This is so much fun & every month your kids get to open a new gift!
- Gift cards to a movie and a few snacks to go with it.
- A FUN umbrella. You could even get a personalized umbrella like this one. I say this one because our kids have broken at least an umbrella each, but they love them so much that they’ve used them even when they were broken! lol!!
- Their own kitchen tools. One year our son asked for his own set of kid kitchen knives and he has spent a lot of time cooking in the kitchen ever since.
- Recipe cards and ingredients. (Make cookies or even playdough – here’s a playdough easy recipe)
- A sleeping bag and or a Going to Grandma’s Tote a coupon for a sleepover at Grandma’s house (or Aunt’s house… from the person giving the gift). Or a coupon for a night to have a cousin or friend stay at your house.
- Coupon books for things like “One coupon good to skip chores today.” I know that our kids would LOVE this one.
- A tea party. A few years ago, my mom & I went to a ‘tea party’ at a little tea shop and it was so much fun. We shopped around, drank tea, ate the snacks & talked. It was great and I can’t wait to start taking Allie. This Christmas we will have our first one.
- Sewing kit or cake-decorating kit (perfect for kids starting a new hobby)
- A “five senses toy” … something to smell (soap), something to hear (tickets to a play), something to taste (favorite cookies from a bakery), something to see (a book), something to touch (new winter gloves)
- Steve Spangler Science Club – they deliver a box filled with a science experiment every month. We loved ‘making snow’! Our boys had so much fun doing this activity.
- A new bath towel or bathrobe. Our kids love getting their special bath towels, like sharks, princess or even pirate cat towels.
- Dress up clothes- I love when kids play & use their imagination. Give them your old prom dresses, etc… Allie loves to use mine!
- Mini Golf gift certificate. This is not my favorite thing to do, but kids LOVE it, so I try to love it.
- Craft supplies. Make the kids an invention box (here is ours) – it will give them hours of creativity.
- My friend gave her daughters new Bibles last year, along with a plain book protector that fit perfectly, and craft supplies (stickers, markers, etc…) to decorate the book cover & to draw little pictures near their favorite verses. It was a great gift & they loved it.
- Snacks – what kid don’t love fun snacks? Try a cookie jar filled with cookies – now THAT would be a fun Christmas treat… for the kids! haha!
- Sports Subscription Box– These little boxes are for fans of Baseball, Softball, Basketball & Hockey. They are boxes customized for All Ages & Skill Levels. You can surprise your athlete with a box of training aids, accessories, gear, and other fun products. You can subscribe for one month, 3 months, a year or as long as you choose!
- A watch – I seriously don’t know any child that doesn’t love wearing a watch (at least for a week!)
- Nail polish and play make-up.
- Tattoos – our kids love to use temporary tattoos. They are so much fun! (We have this kit)
- Weighted blankets. They are said to help kids sleep better (our kids have them). We just ordered two here.
- Calendar already filled out with fun things: playdates, special one on one time, birthdays, lunch-date, movie nights.
- Chick-Fil-A calendar (it comes with deals every month)
- Your favorite book from when you were their age. Re-read it with your child (or grandchild) and then talk about it.
- Board Games that kids will love. We like to play this game with the kids & they love it, too!
- Socks– our kids LOVE to wear fun socks!
- Movie for the car. If you have a TV in the car, a movie for the car is perfect! I pick up $3 movies when I see them on sale & save them for road trips. These are great for a family that travels often. When we drive 6 hours to PA to visit family, these movies come in handy!
- Movie night at home – we make “drive-in” movies:
- Headphones (our son asked for these ones a few years ago and they have been the best investment!).
- A comfy sweatshirt. Our boys LOVE their hoodies. They are so soft inside and they wear them at least once a week. In our house, giving them a hooded sweatshirt is like giving them a favorite blanket.
- “Your Day” – give your kids a day to pick whatever they want. Call it “YOUR DAY”. Give them a big poster with a bunch of different ideas.
- Weekend family vacation. I told my husband that I wanted to give each of the kids a little slip of paper that says “Grab your bathing suits! We’re going to Hilton Head for the weekend!”
- Money … in one-dollar bills. Give a child ten one-dollar-bills and see a huge smile on their face!
- Paint your own pottery trip.
- Painting Lessons. We have a place (art shop) nearby where you paint on a canvas with step by step directions from the instructor. You can take snacks & talk the entire time. Perfect place to bond with an artsy child.
- Slippers. My favorite thing is slippers- I hate to be barefoot, especially in the winter, so I wear flip-flops (that I save just for the house) or slippers. Here are the ones that I have (they are so fun, aren’t they?! They were a gift from my mom.)
- A photo of you with just that child, framed. Our kids each have a framed photo of me with them in their room. They also have one of Mickey with each one of them. It’s always been a favorite gift of each of our children.
More posts you might like:
If you liked this post, I’d love to invite you to join me on this parenting journey by joining my free email challenge–>> Spend More One-On-One Time with your kids (I’ll send you the calendar below, as well)
Such great ideas! Thank you so much for compiling this list!
Betty Hester says
Loved this post Great ideas
Love all the ideas. Just wanted to put a note out there that weighted blankets can be dangerous and should only be used with the advice from an occupational therapist and never for sleeping.
Good handsewn quilts have a similar weighted effect and are safe for sleep. Of course not to substitute for true weighted blanket used for therapy. But for the purposes in this article they are great.
Our family has a tradition that you receive clothes on your birthday and toys for Christmas, when we reach the age of 12, we start receiving gifts we could use in our future house, it helps with clutter and as a mom I love the help with buying clothes for a growing boy, I will consider adding the other tradition when he reaches 12, as it was a HUGE help to me when I moved into my own place and I only had to buy the bare necessities.
These are wonderful ideas!
I want to make wonderful memories with our 20-month-old twin boys instead of just showering them with material gifts.
Thank you for sharing! God bless!
P.S. I love your sunroom. It gave me an idea on how to fix ours. Lol. Thanks!
Pam Grissinger says
Love your insight
Elizabeth Payne says
Excellent ideas! Sure wish I would have seen your list of “nontoy” items 9 years ago. : ) However late, I am
looking forward to implementing several of them from your list.
Thank you for sharing your creativity!
Sarah Alloway says
FANTASTIC article, thank you!! I needed this, and I have shared to my facebook page and tagged all my family.
I am a Mimi to 7 & I LOVE your ideas! I plan to incorporate them into our birthday & Christmas gift giving. Thank you!
I love this list. If only I could get all of my family (especially grandma’s) on board with this. Thanks for the post.
To add to your sock idea, there is a monthly sock subscription site called Sock Cardigan. It’s so awesome!! And the socks are super fun and unique.
Your article is exactly what I’ve been looking for without knowing it!!! All the toy clutter in our house is making me a grumpy mummy doubled by the frustration I probably bought it because it was a birthday or Christmas and I HAD to give them something. I’m saving your list and i’ll have fun picking from all those great Ideas. Thanks so much!!!!
ti keep the Asking Mobster at bay, each of my kids was given a small 3×5″ notebook to record ANYTHING she wanted: a toy in the store, candy at the checkout register, an item seen while shopping, or a toy a friend received. Anything a kid wanted was written in her notebook right away, “so we won’t forget!” This saved arguments and tantrums, etc. — there were no hystrionics because we didn’t purchase an item one of them saw. A item had to be in the book at least 3months before we’d think of getting it. It cut out a LOT of superfluous items, because these wants and @need-to-have” items were so easily forgotten! We also stopped waiting for Christmas or a birthday to purchase gifts, thereby making these times a bit more special for other reasons. This “technique” also taught that instant gratification isn’t necessary for a sense of well being — and that we. n make decisions based on resources available — which are NOT unlimited!
Great list and Omg your drive in movie is adorable!
Yes ma’am nail on the head. Best post I’ve ever read. ❤️
Robyn Rominski says
Terrific,imaginative ideas. Thank you! I wish I had thought of these years ago. We over complicate gift giving for our own kids(and I am the toy queen, dont get me wrong) and for birthday /holidays not just for children but our adult relatives as well.
FANTASTIC!! I’m a proud grandmother of two and always looking for new ideas. Spending time with them is wonderful but the memories are a blessing.
My kids are now in their late twenties and we also loved the book No Room for Elephants! Oh, Grandma Tildy…what a fun read.
Holy smokes! You just described all of my feelings perfectly! Which is why I have been going crazy going through our things since the beginning of this year and it’s already September! I’ve been purging and organizing every couple weeks and it never ends…I even started selling the expensive things because I feel so bad for the family members that spent all their hard earned money. I appreciate your creative list because I always give special memories as gifts to other families so that they don’t feel the way I do about their home and their kids. It’s so nice to be able to refer to these ideas when I’m stumped!!
Birute, I LOVE your ideas!! No kids yet, but when/if we do, I’ll be putting into effect so many of your ideas!! Sofia is so beautiful and growing so fast!! Love and miss you guys, the doggies say hi!! Congrats on all the books and this path you’re on 🙂
Lynsey Harper says
I LOVE this!! Memories and out of the box gift ideas are my favorite!!! I wish people understood more that what is most important to a child (and adult) is the chance to have a genuine connection with another person. Thank you for writing this!
I sell Children’s books as a consultant with Usborne Books and More! (They are like a higher quality version of scholastic books and most of our books are under $10) If anyone is interested in getting their children/grandchildren some amazing books for Christmas find me on facebook (Lynsey Harper) or comment below with your email.
Mary Lou says
I have used most of these ideas over the years with my own 4 children. I now have 6 grandsons and we have continued. One thing that was not on you list that I loved doing was helping them buy for others that they know, but also for the needy. We used to have a Giving Tree in our church and I would let each of my 4 pick a boy or girl their own age. If there was not a “wish” on the tag, they would choose an age-appropriate gift to give, with the knowledge that they were getting one less gift at Christmas so they could make another child their age have a nicer holiday. They loved picking it out, wrapping it with the original tag on it and returning it to the church so that it was given anonymously to the needy family. I thought it would teach them about giving and not always receiving. Unfortunately, the tags on the Giving Tree are asking for gift certificates for local stores, which is so impersonal (but still helping needy families, so we do it). It is just not the same.
Cristi Myrup says
It looks like you live in the same area that we just moved to. We would love some info on the best little weekend or daytrips to take the kids on here in the Carolinas.
Becky (Your Modern Family) says
There are a ton of FB groups in the area- you should join some. :). Our family likes to go to Charlotte to look at Holiday decorations, museums, etc… We like Pilot Mountain, Boone & Asheville for day trips.
A great list, but I have to disagree with a few of these if we’re talking accumulation and making memories. Even as an adult, I find myself receiving a ton of clothes, mugs, memory books, decor, etc. that accumulate every holiday/birthday with gift-giving. And every year I am cleaning out old stuff just to replace it with new stuff that will just enter the cycle of stuff.
Kids will be the same way and there are many kids who might see the clothes, mugs, memory books, etc. as “grown up/boring” gifts and these can (and will) accumulate in the dusty corner of their rooms just like the toys if they don’t like them. Overall, if you really want to give these kids experiences over stuff, I would really just give them the tickets to parks, museums, etc., arts and crafts, or even low-cost sports equipment as suggested. Of course, every kid is different so some kids might need more stuff like clothes, towels, etc. than others. Just be careful when deciding what kind of memory you want to give to your kid.
Marsela Tarelli says
I am Marsela Tarelli from Albania. I am an English teacher. Mother of three children. This article was awesome. Thank you so much for these wonderful ideas.
I love Psychology of development. I have translated some books from English which are published here in Tirana. I am writing a research paper on brain development of children 0-6. You are a source of inspiration for me.
Becky (Your Modern Family) says
Thank you 🙂
Tiffany Holbrook says
This is the best idea that I have started to incorporate! I also have 4 children. 3 boys and a girl. I have also asked family members to start doing some of these ideas as well.
Becky, Thank you for such wonderful ideas! They are so simple, but are gifts that will invoke a positive/happy memory and truly be treasured!
My granddaughter asked for a pet giraffe. My daughter was wondering how she could do this and saw a commercial on TV for World Wildlife Fund. She adopted a giraffe! She received a stuffy, picture, certificate of adoption and information about giraffes. So Lily got a real giraffe that lives in Africa! She was thrilled! This year, she is getting a narwhal!
Becky (Your Modern Family) says
Don’t order a butterfly kit for Christmas unless you live in the deep south. Savethat for birthdays.
We ordered one and were not able to release the butterflies because it was winter and they’d die.
I didn’t read through all the comments, so someone may have already mentioned this:
We have a new baby and we are hoping to start a minimalist, but thoughtful and purposeful Christmas gift tradition for him and future kids – I’ve heard this is a Scandinavian holiday gift tradition.
One thing you want
One thing you need
One thing to wear &
One thing to read
what you can do instead: Just spend time with them. Take them out for ice cream, or a date to the zoo, or even to the park down the street. They will love that more than any toy, I promise. They will remember it longer too.
Richard Fountain says
Thank you for such a nice informative list! I will look forward to give these to my son along with some toys.
Such a great, comprehensive list! I have two lovely, but very overzealous giftbuying Grandmas in my sons life so I literally never buy him toys. Like maybe two in 2.5 years.
They know how I feel about it but do it anyway so I am trying to practice what i preach regarding experience over things.
I recently threw my niece a tea party for her third birthday and am going to a science experiment day for her 4th.
Thank you for all these great ideas!
Donna Neace says
Thanks “Becky” for sharing an amazing recommended list instead of toys.
Children always receive toys on various occasion then instead of toys are a really great idea for gifts. I really like A FUN umbrella and gift certificate for book ideas.
peter clark says
Thank you for writing this! We just had a similar issue and got rid of all of ours. I also had to unwrap and return 2 presents.
I love this list.I will look forward to give these to my son along with some toys.Thanks for sharing
Becky (Your Modern Family) says
So glad you found it useful! 🙂
Mia A. says
Great Tips! Thanks for the amazing ideas.
By the way, I found a unique website that offers personalized portraits for babies and children. They saved us when we missed our photoshoot due to the pandemic. Try them out! Here’s the link: loveandbub.com
Lindsay Ingram says
Aww-I love that! Thanks for sharing!