We've heard that presents aren't always necessary or beneficial for development. And let's be real---gifts also aren't financially feasible for some families. We've also heard that experience gifts for kids are better than many traditional ones that come in a box, but what are experience gifts, anyway?
Here are the experience gifts we like best for kids, each with a way to help make them affordable.
Special performances. Is there a theater within reasonable driving distance? How about taking your kids to a special play or musical? It doesn't have to be on Broadway; your local high school might put on a production that's both affordable and entertaining. These events are often in the evenings, and what child doesn't enjoy going out after dark? It's a novelty for many (even if you choose a daytime performance)!
The ballet. Is The Nutcracker in town? Great! Spring for tickets once per year. You can often find discounts if you call the box office and inquire. Still too lofty? See if your local dance school puts on any special productions this time of year. They often do.
Sporting events. Find an NBA/NFL/whatever-your-area-offers "big event" to enjoy. If those are out of your price range, consider (once again) your local high school as a resource. Many kids have never seen sports played live, and high school versions have plenty of heart and school spirit to get caught up in. Other options to consider are off-season practice scrimmages or less popular teams. We once attended a WNBA team for free just because tickets were available for a homeschool group that didn't use them all. Just ask!
Music/art/cooking/other lessons related to a hobby in which your child has expressed interest. What has your child said he or she wants to learn? Does she enjoy building? Check out your local hardware store to see if they offer any Saturday morning workshops. There are short-term and long-term classes available for almost any interest and ability.
Museum passes or memberships. If a membership isn't feasible, consider a day pass. If a day pass isn't feasible, check with your local library to see if they offer free passes to any museums in your area. Lots do!
A game of mini-golf. If you live in an area with year-round good weather, this is a fun excursion thatusually doesn't break the bank.
Movie passes. Matinees are almost always more economical than evening passes, and the movies don't change depending what time of day it is.
An afternoon at the bowling alley. Or make your own version with cartons / jugs / whatever you improvise in the back yard.
Special time with a loved one (or loved ones). Lots of kids crave time with mom or dad (or mom AND dad)---or perhaps a grandparent or special friend. If you're the person with whom your child craves time, offer some dedicated screen-free time where you focus only on your child, no matter what he or she wants to do. Give them the gift of a day together. Home time. Playground time. Whatever-they-want-together-time.
A day trip. Can you drive to a beach and build sandcastles, even if it's chilly outside? Can you drive to a snowy hill and go sledding? Is a special restaurant or venue just far enough away that you don't go often (or haven't been there but want to check it out)? A dedicated day to "just be" together, wherever you are, can make wonderful lifelong memories.
Science knows it: kids crave time with their parents. Plus, according to Harvard University, experiences are better for children's development. Here's how the brain processes experiences for them.
But what do I put in the box?
This part is easy. You put the tickets in the box; a token representative of what you're doing together. My child still has a Nutcracker ornament that we gave her to symbolize the ballet to which we were going several years ago. Going to the museum? Draw a picture of a dinosaur and put it in the stocking. Music lessons? Give your child a guitar pick. Mini-golfing? Give a golf ball. There's almost always something small you can give as a token preview of what you'll be doing together. As a bonus, it serves as a lovely souvenir afterwards.
So, why not combine experience gifts for kids along with quality time with parents? It's a sure-win combination. After all, Christmas was never supposed to be about the "stuff" anyway, right? There's no better time to connect than at the holidays.
And then carry that connection forward throughout the year.