There is so much joy in giving.
We make the lists. We curate the gifts. We carefully wrap the boxes. And we wait with glee as we watch the givee unwrap that carefully chosen just right for them present.
I find it to be one of my top favorite joys of the holiday season, to show my people love by gifting something I think they will love.
But when it comes to children at least, gifting means stuff.
Children have a lot of stuff.
This is not news to you. In fact, you don’t even need children to feel like you already have lots of stuff. Everyone from Marie Kondo to Apartment Therapy will remind you that you have too much stuff. And that stuff is not making you any happier.
I am not here to tell you how to be a minimalist. If you see behind any of my closets or drawers you would know I was a phony.
But I do have experience living in smaller spaces and moving frequently over the entirety of my parenting to have developed a strong need to careful curate the things that come in and out of this house for my children. Actually, let me correct that, I do not always have control over the things that come in but I do have control over how we use it and how long it stays.
I know I am not alone in this struggle. We want to give the gift of joy to our children at the holidays. We want to see their faces light up when they rip open the paper. We want to sit on the couch with baileys in our coffee on Christmas morning and Bing Crosby crooning in the background with the twinkle lights aglow over our peacefully contented children playing ever so gratefully with the carefully chosen gifts they are blessed to have.
Is that too much to ask?!
When faced with the challenge of limiting stuff at the holidays, the idea of Experience Gifts is often thrown out there. I love the idea and have been practicing it for years. Mike and I rarely give presents to one another instead choosing special date nights to celebrate. I often request museum memberships for the kids from grandparents, especially because this is a gift for me as much as for them. And we plan all year ways to have fun as a family that doesn't necessarily mean adding to the pile of objects that must be reorganized at the end of every night.
But here is the conundrum with gifting experiences particularly for little ones. You lose some of that magical joy of immediate gratification. My kids have never acknowledged the museum pass gift when it is opened. Unless it was an expereince happening that very day, the joy of the future possiblity is lost on them. And when the response is lack luster at gift opening, it kind of leaves everyone disappointed.
But what if there was a way for everyone to enjoy the gifting of experiences? What if the children opening the gifts could have an immediate tangible experience but not add too much to the pile of stuff.
But most importantly, what if we could all have an experience that goes beyond the play of the child with the toy and into a more meaningful and shared experience for all?
Sound like some Christmas Hallmark Channel Magic?
I think what I have learned with kids, and myself, is that in learning and playing, having something to hold is very precious. It expands the learning. It brings it to life. And it also reminds them of the experience even after the experience is gone.
So today I want to share some fun ways to give the gift of experience so that little ones can be just as excited on Christmas morning as they are with the experience later to come. This is a similar concept to my Book and Toy pairings. I could call it an Experience and Toy pairing but really its an Experience and Expansion Gift pairing. I like fancy labels.
I will list some of my favorite Experience Gifts and then list some Expansion Gift ideas. I am listing them separately because many can be mixed and matched for a number of different experiences. It's like a choose your own adventure for gifting! What fun!
Experience Gift Ideas
Museum Membership Gifts
Above all other experience gifts, these are my favorites. We have received a membership to the Local Children's Museum since Caroline was only 4 months old and it has paid off every single time. To know you can pop in and pop out of a museum at any time with a little one is a precious gift. There are endless amounts of learning experiences at museums. Kids never bore of it. And if the day isn't going well, I never have to feel bad about leaving too early because we can always come back another day. Guilt-free. Now that is a gift for a parent right there.
Children's Museums are great memberships but so are Zoos, Art Museums, History Museums, etc. You would be surprised about the fantastic programming offered to little ones and big people alike. And Memberships go to further expand the museums educational experiences for all. Win win win all around.
Another membership to look into if your family is less of a museum type person and more the thrilling rides type person is a membership to an amusement park. Often this means waiting until the summer months but it is something to consider maybe for older kids who can handle the anticipation for that long.
As kids, my parents occasionally gifted us a post Christmas trip to Kansas City to stay at the plaza in a fancy hotel or go to a show. As kids, the idea of swimming in the winter and seeing lights of the big city was as much fun for us as the nice dinner out was for our parents. There was something so special about the big city adventure and the anticipation of it was something to look forward to long after gifts were gone.
Obviously trips to Disney are always high on the Family Trip lists but it doesn't have to be that extravagant. Camping trips are fun to plan for. Visits to the lake or beach that are out of the ordinary routine are also special. Really, if you make a big deal about a trip, your child will get excited about it too. And if it is something you have been saving your money for, you want to remind them why it is exciting.
Christmas is a perfect time to choose an extra special experience just for the day. A performance at a local theatre, a special holiday exhibit, a sporting event can be a special thing to plan for. But you don't need a special event to make a day date. Go bowling, go to a movie, go ice skating. Let them pick a special place to have dinner. Even a fancy ice cream trip can feel important. Whatever you pick, when you call it a date, they know this is special. I think these are great gift ideas for children one on one with a parent or grandparent or other family member. Special "Just Me" adventures are forever memorable.
No surprise here that I would recommend books. But as I have said countless times before, a book is a learning bridge from imagination to reality.
For Museum Memberships, these are fun books talking about exploring a Museum. Bonus points if your museum membership is in the book!
Going on a road trip? There are a few here to get you in the mood.
Headed somewhere specific? There's a book for that! Look it up. I'm sure something has been written. We have always tried to find books on a particular place to get the kids excited and recognizing familiar sites.
These are great gifts paired with adventure experiences as well as museum memberships. Leave them a note that they are becoming a scientific explorer and they are doing research on new lands.
A notebook for recording all the fun, a magnifying glass or binoculars for hunting treasures, and a disposable camera for documentation. Separate or together, they make a scientist out of your child no matter the adventure you have planned.
Something to Wear
They might fight you every morning to get dressed in something other than their red sweatpants and dinosaur t-shirt, but when it comes to special ocassions, with the right accessory, kids really enjoy getting dressed up. They see you getting fancy for a date, so why not get them something for a special day date.
While practical gifts are not fun to open, the silliness of opening something that suggests a potential experience makes the gifting that much more fun.
Once for my cousin we all went in together to purchase a summer pass to an amusement park. He opened up sunscreen, sunglasses, flip flops, etc. from each of us until the final gift which was the pass. Children may not get it right away but they will have fun anyway.
I jokingly told my sister she should just get my kids snacks for Christmas. But honestly, this is not as crazy as you think. What kid doesn't love snacks? Obviously you wouldn't just wrap up a bag of chips. But if you were planning a long road trip, you could pack up all their favorite snacks and call it their emergency food source. It might confuse them until you explain the adventure you have planned for them. Or wrap up fun marshmallows and hot cocoa to have after a cold outdoor adventure. Have a local drive thru movie theatre? Gift a bunch of popcorn and movie candy. Yummy food can make anyone smile.
Share the Memories
Just one final thought here. I hadn't given much thought to this in the past but I recently read this and felt it was such a valuable lesson. If gifting joy is what we are after for both the children and the gift giver, remember to make this a memory you can share. If the experience is something to do together, document the moment with pictures. Write down the story of your day together. Print pictures in a small album. And if this is an experience the giver may not be present for, like a membership, then remember to send pictures throughout the year about the fun. Getting a picture of someone enjoying your gift is like watching them open it all over again. What a joy to experience together, no matter the distance. I"m going to remember this and put this into practice this year as experiences are gifted to my children.