The best thing you can give your children, next to good habits, 
are good memories.
-Sydney Harris

Most tangible, material gifts we give our children are outdated, broken, lost, or unused within months of the gifting. I (and my kids) can hardly remember what the gifts from past years were.

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. This is a good time to remind ourselves that the gifts that last are the ones that can’t be wrapped. 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. 


I love giving books as gifts, especially when I’m excited to have found one I think the recipient will really enjoy. And, although books are a tangible item, I believe a good book has a longer lifespan than any toy or electronic. Books have the potential to be re-read, passed around, and enjoyed by many. They can take on a life of their own!

I treasure my own book collection, and I especially love the old books that belonged to my grandparents and parents and have their names inscribed. Passing along a favorite, loved book (even if it’s well-used), inscribed with a personal message, is a fun gift idea.

Some of our family favorites to read independently and then discuss include the Harry Potter series and Wonder by RJ Palacio. This year, my adult daughters and I enjoyed reading and discussing Educated by Tara Westhover.

A few of our family favorite read-alouds from my kids’ younger years include:

The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis)

The Little House (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Holes (Louis Sachar)

The Redwall series (Brian Jacques)

For more on kids and reading, check out my post, Raising a Book Lover, or listen to my podcast episode with Anne Driscoll, Raising Kids Who Love to Read!

A nice book wrapped up under the tree (and the time spent reading it together in 2019) is such a great gift!

Another fun idea is listening to a book together on a holiday drive! Check out some fun family book listens on

I also give books to all of my local girlfriends! Six years ago, I started an annual tradition of giving them each a book that I’ve either pre-read or has come highly recommended. 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
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

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. These are “big” group gifts that got the most mileage in both years and quality time together.

Schedule “dates”

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.  When we don’t default to our phones, 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.  

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.

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 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!

More Gift Ideas:

Visit my Pinterest Gift Ideas board for almost 200 creative, thoughtful, home-made gift ideas (none of which I’ve actually made)!
What’s the Best Non-Material Gift You’ve Ever Received?
Last-Minute, Non-Material Gift Ideas

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