Every year before Christmas, I take a look around the house and wonder how on earth we are going to manage to fit more “stuff” in our already stuff-filled home. And every year, even when I cut back on spending or try to get creative, we still manage to end up with an overflow of new toys, gadgets, and gizmos. The thing is, even if we as a family try to cut down on the amount of toys that come into the house, there are still well-meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends that like to shower the kids with gifts – often in the form of toys – during the holiday season. And of course, you have to multiply the influx by the number of kids you have, as well as factor in birthdays and other special occasions. Don’t try to do the math, because it will make your head spin. That’s why, this year, we here at Richmond Mom went on a quest to find the best non-toy gift ideas for kids – and we’re sharing the list with you!
The best part about this list is that it doesn’t have to JUST be tied to the holidays. In fact, everything on the list is something that can be given at other times of the year, as well. All of these non-toy gift ideas are perfect for celebrating kids’ birthdays, special events or occasions, report card rewards, or “just because.” From small items that don’t cost much to larger items that will be used throughout the year, we’ve found some incredible products that you can give in place of toys this holiday season or anytime you want to pamper the little (or not-so-little) people in your life.
Take a look at our list and if you have any other great non-toy gift ideas for kids (or adults), let us know! Drop us a line anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Non-Toy Gifts Ideas For Kids
1. Charitable Gifts and Sponsorships
When it comes to making a contribution to a cause or charitable organization as a non-toy gift, it can be tough explaining to a three-year old that his “gift” is actually for someone else. That’s why we love organizations like ChildFund International. Not only does ChildFund International have offices right here in Richmond, but they have been working since 1938 to help alleviate poverty worldwide with gifts that are meaningful not only to the families receiving them, but to the givers themselves. Best of all, they offer a number of opportunities for giving that allow you to provide your child with a tangible experience. Here are some of the ways in which you can turn a donation to ChildFund International into a gift for your child:
Sponsor a child. When you choose to sponsor a child, you and your family have the chance to give in an ongoing capacity and connect directly to another family. You can even choose a child to sponsor based on age to make it more relevant to your own kids.
Give a “real gift.” The ChildFund International Real Gifts Catalog is filled with actual gifts you can donate to families around the world. From livestock and drinking water to school uniforms and scholarships, the catalog lets you show your children tangible images of the people they are helping and explain the value of each gift. You can even match your gift to a ChildFund International family with a stuffed animal or other item that represents your donation and helps them better understand the “real gift.”
Donate to ChildFund International directly. If you have kids old enough to understand the importance of giving, or just want to know that you’re making a difference, consider a one-time or ongoing monetary donation in their name to ChildFund International. Your funds will support critical missions throughout the world and your kids will gain the invaluable knowledge that they can make a difference.
2. Educational STEAM and STEM Subscription Boxes
For a gift that keeps on giving, we can’t say enough about educational and STEM subscription boxes. If you remember the days of anxiously awaiting your latest copy of Ranger Rick, Highlights, or my personal favorite, National Geographic Kids, then consider subscription boxes as the next generation of those magazine subscriptions we used to love as kids. Like the magazines we grew up with, these boxes arrive monthly (many offer flexible subscription periods – three, six, or 12 months) and are filled with a new, creative activity every month. Here are five of our favorites:
KiwiCo Project Crates – Award-winning STEM, STEAM, and science activities for kids. Each monthly box is filled with a new activity or experiment designed to challenge and encourage creativity and critical thinking. Available for ages 0 – adult, starting as low as $19.95/month. No commitment, cancel anytime. Click here for holiday specials.
Little Passports Global Adventures – Award-winning cultural and scientific activities for kids. Designed to teach kids about the world we live in, Little Passports offers monthly educational activities and scientific mysteries. Available for ages 3-12, starting as low $12.95/month. Click here for holiday specials.
Sensory Theraplay Box – Activities and toys specifically designed for children with sensory processing needs and those on the autism spectrum. Each box includes five to seven tactile, textured, or stimulating toys, as well as activities, crafts, and games. Each month’s box is carefully curated by a licensed occupational therapist and includes a description card inside. Available for young children, as well as teens and adults; $39.95/month; choose from month-to-month, three month pre-pay, or six month pre-pay.
Green Kids Craft Boxes – Award-winning STEAM activities, reading, and crafts to encourage creativity, literacy, and learning. All products are made with made with carbon-neutral, sustainable materials. Boxes hold up to six projects and include a 12-page educational magazine filled with puzzles, games, book recommendations, and additional project ideas related to the monthly theme. Available for ages 2 – 10+, starting at $24.95/month.
Girls Can! Crate – Activities, literature, and games focused on positive female role models who inspire. Each crate includes an activity book with the story of that month’s fearless leader along with two to three STEAM activities or experiments and props for play and learning. Each purchase supports nonprofit organizations that empower young girls. Available for ages 5-10, starting at $27.95/month for subscriptions and $18.50 for mini-mailers.
Keep in mind that there are tons of options out there…these are just a few of our favorites. If you’re interested in a subscription box, you can find one for just about every age and interest, including book subscriptions, boxes just for teens and tweens, and much more.
3. Classes and Gear
We all want to provide our kids with opportunities to explore their interests and talents through activities like sports, dance, art, or music. But if you have kids that participate in after-school activities, then you already know that the costs can add up quickly. Many of us consider this part of the cost of raising kids, but there’s no reason it can’t be highlighted during the holidays or for special occasions. Consider “gifting” your child with lessons or activities (and encourage grandparents, etc. to do the same) and add in a tangible gift item like new soccer cleats, dance gear, music accessories, or art supplies. Be sure to visit our extensive Guide to After School Activities for local classes and programs.
4. Tickets to an Event or Special Outing
“Experience” gifts are one of our favorites non-toy gift ideas for many reasons. Giving the gift of an experience allows you to set aside time to make special memories – either one-on-one or as an entire family. Plus, these gifts can be as simple as movie tickets or as elaborate as theme park tickets. Consider your kids’ interests and check local listing (including Richmond Mom’s event calendar) for ideas from upcoming theater shows to concerts and more. You can even find local cooking classes, paint nights, or other specialized activities. Then create a package that includes the tickets and maybe throw in a special outfit, travel bag, or other related accessory.
And of course, experience gifts are great for everyone on your list. Be sure to check out our Best Experience Gifts to Give in Richmond for ideas for dads, moms, teens, kids, and the whole family!
5. Create Your Own Coupon Books
This gift is simple, but effective! Best of all, you can be as creative as you want. Here are few ideas for kids’ coupons:
- Stay up 30 minutes later
- A date night with mom or dad
- A weekend sleepover
- Movie night – they get to pick the movie!
- Choose what’s for dinner
- An extra 30 minutes of TV/screen time
- An extra story at bedtime
To make a coupon book, you can either create your own, or find a free, printable coupon book online. Try this pre-filled coupon book from Happy You, Happy Family or choose a blank design like this one from Simply Kinder.
6. Family Game Night Kit
Here’s a non-toy gift idea that’s fun for the whole family! We’re all familiar with the idea of a family game night, but it can be hard to get motivated for yet another round of Candy Land. This year, consider beefing up your game collection with some fun new family games. Games can be gift-wrapped and given to children individually based on age and interest or addressed to the whole family. Add in some fun accessories like special popcorn bowls and a box of microwave popcorn, then be sure to set aside a regular night, weekly or monthly, for your family game night. You can even print out calendar pages with the schedule, making it easy for everyone to remember.
Even in the days of digital everything, books never stop being a great non-toy gift idea for everyone on your list – from babies to adults. Since my kids were babies, they have received a book each year with an inscription that commemorates the year and talks about something special they did or experienced that year. We’ve also read several series out loud. Consider a box set of books from your own childhood such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, or Anne of Green Gables and read them aloud together. Or go for a specialty book that your kids can personalize. Here are few types of specialty books to consider:
Personalized Books: These are are books that include your child as the main character. You can choose the story, provide your child’s name, and include a physical description for illustrations. Get ideas from Wonderbly, Put Me In The Story, or Shutterfly – or do your own online search.
Journaling/About Me Books: These are books that your kids can fill out themselves. Oftentimes, they can draw pictures or add photos; include their aspirations; or write about their age, school, friends, and more. A classic example is the Dr. Seuss-themed My Book About Me, a book that I had as a kid and that my kids still love to look at and discuss. You can also do a search online or at your local bookseller for journaling books that allow your kids to write from prompts, draw pictures, answer questions, or write freeform – and best of all, they’re available for every age from preschool through the teen years.
Write Your Own Story: Who doesn’t want to see their name in print? With write-your-own storybook kits, kids can write and illustrate a manuscript that is sent back to the publishing company and turned into an actual book. Not only do these kits encourage creativity and literacy, but they will become a treasured keepsake that your kids can share with their own children one day. For ideas, visit Lulu Jr, Student Treasures, or StoryJumper, which includes online publication tools, audio features, and the chance to read other books written by kids.
8. Audio Book Subscriptions
While digital media will never take the place of “real” books in my head or heart, it’s hard to escape technology. When even our toddlers know how to navigate our phones and iPads with more dexterity than us, audio books are a welcome option. Audio books (which are simply books read aloud by a narrator) offer kids, even pre-readers, a great storytelling experience. Whether you’re using them to pass time in the car, provide kids with a distraction at the store, or as a replacement for other screen time, audio books can be fun for all ages. Subscriptions are available from companies like Audible or Scribd, or you can search for companies like Chirp who offer one-time purchase with no subscription or membership fees. Consider pairing this gift with a new set of headphones to be used with a phone or tablet. And of course, keep in mind that like all things online, especially if you have tech-savvy kids, you’ll need to monitor content.
9. Piggy Banks
This might seem like an overly simple idea or even a bit trite, but it’s never too early to teach kids about the value of saving and money management. Find a “piggy” bank (it doesn’t have to be a pig!) that will suit your child’s tastes or room decor and fill it with a starter fund of coins. Then offer incentives to help them save throughout the year. You could offer to match an amount once they’ve saved up to the goal, offer a special shopping trip every time the bank is full, or any other reward you might want. Not only is this a great way to teach them savings, but they’ll also learn counting because one thing is certain, they’ll be checking their balance more often than you think!
10. Digital Camera and a Photo Album
If your kids are too young for a phone, consider a kid-friendly digital camera. If they already have a phone then you can skip the camera, but either way, give them a blank photo album or scrapbook and offer to have their favorite pictures printed. This can be a one-time offer or something you do on a regular basis. They can then fill in the photo album or you can throw in a few extra craft supplies and they can make their own scrapbook. There are tons of affordable kid-friendly cameras on Amazon or check out Watchdog’s list of Top 25 Digital Cameras for Kids.
11. A “Smart” Watch
I know, I know…we’re trying to cut down on screens, right? Well, there are some advantages to technology and smart watches are one of them. Smart watches can be a great tool for kids (and teens). Not only will you have the fundamentals of telling the date and time, but many of these devices offer parental controls, communication options (texting, voice messaging, and calling, but keep in mind, you may need a SIM card with cellular support), and GPS tracking for added safety. These features can be especially nice if your kids aren’t quite ready for a phone or you’re on the fence about the matter. Many of these watches also offer fitness features to encourage activity, games, and scheduling, as well. Check out the list of Best Smart Watches for Kids from SafeWise for ideas, reviews, and comparisons.
12. Organizational Items and Room Decor
There are a number of things that we tend to get our kids throughout the year without thinking about it – but there’s no reason not to turn those “everyday” things into special gifts. New bedding, storage boxes, toy boxes, and other items can be great ways to encourage your kids to take care of their space. Whether it’s redecorating their room (GREAT for teens and tweens!) or finding cool storage boxes for toys, you can easily turn Christmas into an organizational project – without your kids knowing the difference. One of our favorite ideas is the Stuff n’ Sit – a “bean bag” pillow/chair that you can fill with stuffed animals. Not only will your kids have their own special seat, but they’ll have to clean up their stuffed animals to make it work!
13. Weekend Away Supplies or Travel Gear
A new suitcase, duffel bag, backpack, sleeping bag, or accessories kit can be a fun non-toy gift idea for any age. For teens and tweens, you can kick it old style with a Caboodle (who doesn’t need somewhere to keep their shiny lip gloss and scrunchies?) or you can do kid-sized, kid-friendly suitcases so they can be responsible for their own things when you travel. Even a new everyday school backpack will be fun – and practical. The same goes for sleeping bags – they can be used for special nights of sleeping in the living room, sleepovers, when you need your kids’ bed for out-of-town guests, or just for fun!
14. And Now for the Actual Weekend Away…
For those family members or friends who never know what to get your kids…well, they should be careful what they ask, because this non-toy gift is just for them! Before the holidays, ask a grandparent, other family member, or a close friend if they would be willing to host a “weekend getaway.” This could be something that you do with your kids or they do on their on. Either way, your kids will get a thrill out of their very own mini-vacay with someone special.
15. Special Clothing and Shoes
No one wants to find new underwear in their stocking or a pack of socks under the tree, but holidays and other gift giving occasions can be a great time to splurge on special things like that pair of designer jeans, a new winter coat, a dressy outfit, or the latest and greatest footwear. Again, the idea here is to turn things that we might buy throughout the year into special gifts, making them more meaningful and helping our kids to appreciate the value of “things.”
Other Gift-Giving Ideas to Consider During the Holidays
Of course, no matter how many non-toy gift ideas we come up with, we still might face a “stuff” overload during the holiday season. So last but not least, we’ll leave you with a few ideas for getting rid of clutter before big gift-giving events, simplifying the gift giving process, and giving back throughout the year.
Fill at least one large bag with toys, clothes, games, etc. before Christmas and donate it to a local charity. For little kids, you can let them know that these things are headed back to Santa’s workshop to be fixed up for other kids in need. You can also do a “birthday bag” anytime of the year.
Four Gift Rule
Many families have adopted the four gift rule in recent years as a way of cutting back on spending and clutter and creating greater appreciation. With the four gift rule, everyone receives four gifts at Christmas – something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. It’s not for everyone, but it does offer some valuable benefits in terms of managing expectations and simpliflying shopping and budgeting. But it also teaches sensitivity in the sense that “Santa” doesn’t bring everyone a huge pile of presents for Christmas. Some kids get very little out of necessity. The four gift rule prevents your kids unintentionally creating disparity when discussing what they got with friends who may not have gotten as much.
Donating or Volunteering at Local Charitable Organizations
The holidays can be a stressful time, but for those facing housing instability, financial insecurity, or a food shortage, that stress is multiplied ten-fold. Donating or volunteering at local organizations can be a great way for your to teach your kids the value of giving back, as well as a create an opportunity to spend time together as a family. Check out our Best Holiday Volunteer Opportunities for Families in Richmond to get some ideas or contact your favorite charity or organization to see what they might need this holiday season.
If time isn’t readily available, be sure to consider groups like Feed More, Henrico Chirstmas Mother, Toys for Tots, Little Hands of Virginia, or Mason’s Toy Box and pick up some extra items to donate as you’re out shopping.