Gift Ideas Main

10 Gift Ideas That Are Better Than Toys

Am I the only one with a child under the age of 10 who doesn’t need to head to Toys R Us this year? In fact, I didn’t need to head there last year either. It seems strange to admit this, but my daughter doesn’t really play with toys any more.

If you are in the same boat, I encourage you to think beyond the shopping cart to experiences that will feed your child’s interests and ignite his or her passions. Think about what your child loves and discover ways to support them in increasing their knowledge and skills. While you may have fewer boxes under your tree or around your menorah, you’ll create memories that will last much longer than that time it takes to rip open the packages. (And you can always write up a description of your upcoming adventure, put it in a box and have the child open it so that you—and they—get the same pleasure from opening a present.) In the end you’ll have less junk to give away after 5 minutes of play time, and more memories that will last a lifetime.

Toys: No. Experiences: Yes, Please.

Here are a list of 10 ideas to get your family away from screens, out of the house, and engaged in an activity that will up their happiness quotient.

Cricket Magazine cover from December 2005

A trip to theater is a great gift alternative to toys and could be a trip your child remembers forever.
(Cricket Magazine cover from December 2005. Art by Jada Rowland.)

  1. Head to the (Live Action) Theater. Does your child love to act? Do you catch her shaking her booty and tapping her toes? Is he always singing in the shower? Head to the theater! This is the time of year to see The Nutcracker, of course, but there are tons of other ballets, plays, and musical shows you can go to as well. Usually there is a local ballet doing the Nutcracker somewhere nearby (and these are generally fairly inexpensive) but for the complete experience (amazing dancers, costumes, and sets) try the big ballet company in your major city. There are also touring productions of Broadways shows for kids (Matilda and Annie are both making their way around the country right now) and local productions where you might even see a performance from someone you know.
  2. Museums rock. If you take the wrong kid to the wrong museum (think a kid who loves history to the science museum or vice versa), it can be a disaster. But matching a kid’s interests to the right museum: pay dirt! From museums that celebrate fashion, to those that highlight dinosaurs, to collections of Star Wars artifacts, whatever your child is in to, there is someone who has put together a museum dedicated to just that topic. There are even kid-friendly museums aimed at the smallest museum-goers so don’t worry about gifting this adventure to kids as young as 2.
  3. Jump to it at the trampoline park. Your child is one of those kids who just never stops moving. He won’t sit through a show, she hates museums, he needs to be doing something. Let him or her move to their hearts content at the new indoor playgrounds that seem to be popping up everywhere. Trips to trampoline parks, bounce places, ropes courses, indoor swimming pools and water parks, circus schools (yes, they exist!), and sports clubs are the perfect gift for the kids who just want to “do something”.
  4. Check out history. I doubt anyplace in the USA is more than 100 miles away from some sort of local, regional, or national historical site. If your child is a history buff, pique their curiosity for your local history or expose them to a major historical event. Whatever you choose—a battlefield, a house a president used to live in, a local monument—will be absorbed into your child’s growing knowledge of American history and will serve them well through the many history and social studies courses they are bound to take over the years.
  5. Take a city tour. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in the city your entire life, I guarantee there is so much to see, do, explore, and discover in whatever city you live in or near that you won’t know what to do first.

    Cricket Magazine cover from July/August 2013

    The best gift for your animal lover could be a tour through a national park where you might get to see some animals in their very own habitats. (Cricket Magazine cover from July/August 2013. Art by Jennifer Hewitson.)

  7. Excite your animal lover. Zoos and aquariums are obvious choices, but sometimes a trip to Pet Smart to see the birds, hamsters, lizards, and fish they have on display is enough to satisfy a little kid. You can also head to your local cage-free cat shelter (they often love to have people come in and play with the cats), adopt some caterpillars and let your children watch them grow into butterflies you can release in the spring (I’ve used Insectlore in the past), or take a hike to see the squirrels, bunnies, deer, and other animals in the woods near you.
  8. Take in a concert. Pop, rock, classical, jazz, kidsbop, whatever music your children enjoy, you will likely find a concert to attend that will be music to their ears (sorry, couldn’t resist). Remember it doesn’t have to be Taylor Swift to be a concert they will remember forever.

    Cricket Magazine cover from March 2009. Art by Christopher O’Leary.

    How about a trip to the drive-in theater as a Christmas gift this year. That Star Wars film will be even better if you see it under the stars! (Cricket Magazine cover from March 2009. Art by Christopher O’Leary.)

  10. Lessons in whatever…Maybe your child is the type of kid who likes to try new things. Gift them with a series of lesson instead of a toy and let them pick the type of lesson they want to try. Lately my daughter claimed she wants to try (of all things) ventriloquism. Normally, I wouldn’t even consider lessons in ventriloquism, if they even exist, but in lieu of a gift that will probably just sit around and collect dust, I’m happy to explore it. Other suggestions for out of the ordinary lessons include: chess, arts & crafts, fencing, trapeze, Lego-building, rock climbing, and writing.
  11. Restaurant reviews. Even if your family eats out a lot, a trip to a special restaurant can be a fun experience and increase your holiday festivities. Look around for Breakfast with Santa events, tea parties, and other specialty dining activities that could feel much different than the regular meal out.
  12. Time to subscribe. If your child is inundated with gifts during December (I’m looking at you, December babies!), subscription boxes can be the perfect answer to the year-long present drought that comes after the onslaught. There are tons of subscription boxes to choose from (check out My Subscription Addiction for a complete list), but for an extra special treat, I recommend the Wonderful Objects kids box from Wonder and Co. and Cricket Media. This box is a Make-Your-Own-Story Adventure unlike anything you’ve seen, bringing together the best of children’s storytelling and the best of hands-on story-making to make your child the agent of their own imagination. If your child loves to read or write, if he excels at making up stories, if she sometimes pretends to be a character in a book she is reading, then this gift will fire their imaginations for a lot longer than your decorations stay up.

No matter what your child does in your adventure together, you can support his or her interests through a subscription to one of the Cricket Media family of magazines. For your story-maker, try our literary magazines: Babybug (6 month to 3 years), Ladybug (3 to 6 years), Spider (6 to 9 years), Cricket (9 to 14 years), and Cicada (14 and up). For your history-buff, try Cobblestone (9 to 14 years). Travelers and geography buffs will warm up to Faces (9 to 14 years). And if your child loves the sciences and arts, Click (3 to 6 years), Ask (6 to 9 years), Muse (9 to 14 years), and Dig (9 to 14 years) will be the perfect complement to their favorite subjects.