The best thing you can give your children, next to good habits, are good memories.
Our home is overrun with more electronic gadgets than there are people. And, with our kids beyond the age where they ask for small toys, it’s difficult to think of anything other than new underwear and socks that they actually need.
There is an onslaught of media aimed at convincing our children and ourselves that there are clothes, shoes, and electronic gadgets we must have to be happy. Thinking back to my own childhood, I’m hard-pressed to remember many gifts I received. And there is only one that I still have and use — my sewing machine. So, as I do each birthday and holiday, I find myself wracking my brain for creative and fun gifts for my kids.
Most tangible, material gifts we’ve given our children over the years are outdated, broken, lost, or unused within months of the gifting. I (and my kids) can hardly remember what the gifts were. We have closets and drawers full of past gifts waiting to be purged from the house and given or thrown away. Like most parents, I realize there are far more important gifts we give our children than the ones we wrap in December for Christmas or Hannukah. I know the gifts that last are the ones that can’t be wrapped. In fact, the best gifts aren’t tangible items but memories. As my dad always shared on his favorite coffee mug, “The best things in life aren’t things.”
In the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d write a list of suggested “gifts” for this season. I hope you find something in here that you can happily give this year.
Read a book together (or simultaneously)
Even older kids like to hear a good book read out loud, but another option with older kids is to both read the same book or series, then meet to have your own “book club” to discuss it when you’re done. I’ve always enjoyed reading with my kids, but now that they’re older (youngest is a freshman in high school), we all read independently. This fall, several of us – including my daughter who’s spent the fall in Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip – have been reading through the Harry Potter series. Another family (and camp) favorite has been Wonder by RJ Palacio; we went to see the movie together a few weeks ago. Wonder is a great read aloud or read alone book for middle readers and above. Adults like it as much as kids do!
A few of our other family favorites (read aloud or read simultaneously) include:
The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis)
The Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Holes (Louis Sachar)
The Redwall series (Brian Jacques)
A nice book wrapped up under the tree (and the time spent reading it together in 2018) is a great gift. If you’re more of an audio book family, or like listening to books together as you commute, try getting some fun family reads on Audible!
I also give books to my local girlfriends! Five years ago, I started an annual tradition of giving them each a book that I’ve either pre-read or has come highly recommended, wrapped up for Christmas by my favorite independent bookseller, Branches Books and Gifts. I drop off or mail the books during the holidays, and include an invitation to my once-a-year book club meeting at the end of January or early February. We’ve discovered that having a salad potluck makes for an amazingly simple and yummy dinner. Here are the books we’ve read in past years:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, Katarina Bivald
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel, Gabrielle Zevin
I can’t share this year’s book because some of my friends read my posts, but I’ll let you know in January!
Play games together
Okay, I have to admit I’m chuckling a little as I write this. I love playing games — our recent favorites are Settlers of Catan, Exploding Kittens, Gin Rummy (a card game), Catch Phrase, and several charades-type camp games we love to play in big groups. Spot It and Taboo are also high on our list of perennial favorites. However, given the competitive nature of most family members, games in our house often end with someone being disgruntled. Our backgammon tournament with brackets comes to mind when I think of “games gone bad.” Still, I imagine us being like the people in the TV commercials, all smiling and laughing together over a game of Monopoly, and honestly most of us do have fun playing games. For sure, game nights produce memories (good and bad), so maybe consider giving a group gift of a new game to play this holiday season.
Invest in a group activity
We have probably gotten the most mileage of family activity time from our basketball hoop, ping pong table, and trampoline (something we held back from getting until last year). These are “big” group gifts that seem to get the most mileage in both years and quality time together.
I know families who have “date nights” with each of their children. I love the idea and would like to work it into my gift giving this year. One child may want a lunch date, while another prefers a bike ride or a game of tennis. In any case, spending time hanging out with our kids, doing something they want to do with us, is a gift indeed (for both them and us!). Time seems to be the hardest gift to give, but it is also most highly valued by the recipient. How about creating a gift coupon for a date that would be special for your child?
Give an “event” gift
These can be costly, but one popular gift we’ve given our kids is concert tickets. Wrapping up the ticket in a gift bag with a ribbon makes it a “real” gift. I like the idea of coupons for events, too. So, if a child has an interest in something specific and would enjoy a specific outing, maybe create a coupon or certificate to present to them. One year, I gave my daughter a one-day photography class using a local Groupon, and we had a great Saturday together in January learning how to use all the settings on our cameras. My husband and I are always on the lookout for “event” gifts for our kids, as those are the gifts that are really memorable and useful, too! I recently came across this excellent post about non-toy gifts that gave me some great ideas: 18 Excellent Gifts that aren’t even Toys. Some of the fun ideas included in the article are magazine subscriptions, the recipe and ingredients to cook something together, and memberships or classes.
Plan fun family events
Anything you do as a family creates memories and is a gift that will be remembered. Whether it’s a movie and popcorn night at home or a walk through the neighborhood to see the holiday lights, the gift of time as a family is so important to our kids. This Thanksgiving, I decreed an electronics-free day from noon on. We ended up finding many fun things to do together. When we don’t default to our phones and computers and TVs, it’s amazing what we discover there is to do! What about taking a family outing to play in the snow in local mountains (if you have some nearby)?
Remember family memories
Like many of my gift suggestions, this one requires time. I love recording and recounting memories (my 36,059 photos on iPhoto prove it!). My kids never get tired of hearing stories from when they were little or watching our scant supply of digitized home videos from when they were toddlers. Take some time this holiday to get out the old photos (or pull them up on the screen!) and create a book or collage or slideshow together. We also like to list our “Top 100 Memories” of the year. It’s fun to reflect on what we’ve done together and what’s happened over the year. In my dream world, I create a Shutterfly photo book with pictures from the year to go along with our Top 100 Memories list. But alas, that dream is going to have to wait until I find some more hours in my day! My kids like going through pictures, though, so I like to enlist them to help with photo sorting. One of my favorite gifts from my husband was a hard drive with all of our family movies digitized on it. We have had hours of entertainment watching our old home movies!
Focus on giving
We live in a self-absorbed culture where our kids are being bombarded by messages about what they need to buy and how they need to look. A huge gift we can give our kids is to show them the joy in giving to others. One year, our children gave each of their grandparents a poster board with their hand prints and messages about what they liked about each grandparent. Two of those boards are now framed and adorning the hallway at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Seeing how much their grandparents valued their homemade gift was an important lesson for our kids. There are many worthy organizations that are requesting gifts this time of year. I think a great gift to give our kids is the chance to participate in giving to others, either in our family or in our community. We like to use the World Vision catalog and select gifts like laying chickens to provide a family with food or a bicycle to allow a child to get to school. Heifer International also has a gift catalog with charitable gifts to give ranging from $10 and up. We’ve had our kids set aside “sharing” money from their allowance, and they can use it how they choose. This year, their school did a shoe box drive for Operation Christmas Child, and the boys enjoyed packing up boxes and writing notes. We used the tracking option, so they will be able to see where their boxes end up.
Another great way to give is to volunteer your time. Many charities need help delivering presents or food to needy families. Why not ask one of your local food banks or other charity organizations if your family can help out for a few hours?
Give friendship, fun, and growth
I’ll wrap up my gift-giving suggestions with one of my favorites, camp! The gift of camp lasts a lot longer than any toy. Campers learn life skills, such as independence and responsibility, while having the time of their lives. Many grandparents or parents give camp as their child’s big gift for the holidays. Especially for kids who have been to camp before, this is a gift they really appreciate. I like the idea of wrapping up the “You’re going to camp!” note with a camp supply item — like a water bottle, beanie, sleeping bag, or disposable camera.
I know there are many super-organized people out there who are done with their holiday shopping by October, but I start thinking about gifts around December 1.
Writing this post has reaffirmed that I don’t need to run out to a bunch of stores this year. Instead, I will take a few minutes to think about each family member and friend and what would be a special, meaningful item or experience I can make or give them this year. I wish you a stress-free holiday season where you can focus less on shopping and more on creating family memories.
I’d love for you to share your ideas for non-material, memorable gifts to give children during the holidays and for birthdays. Please use the comments section here!
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