Gift Alternatives for Kids: 10 Cool Ideas

Sick of giving your children toys? You're onto something.

As the list for Santa grows and grows, I find myself tripping over the toys that our children already have.

We are flooded with things, yet the pictures in the flyers and catalogs of even more things seem to promise joy on Christmas morning.

We all know what will happen. Within hours of cleaning up the piles of wrapping paper, the luster of newness of those toys so carefully chosen will wear off. Within days, most gifts will be tossed aside. A few items will be favored for a while. Eventually, all will be forgotten. It’s just stuff. Stuff does not bring us happiness. Over time, in fact, it turns into clutter, which turns into frustration. And frustration becomes … anti-happiness.

But you can have it both ways. You can have a crazy, excessive gift-opening frenzy on Christmas morning. You just have to be more creative with those gifts and not let the shiny sales pitches or clever commercials lead you astray.

Here are 10 alternatives to toys this Christmas.

1: Fun Necessities
Our kids do need things. Water bottles. Umbrellas. Sheets. Pillows. Lunch packs. Backpacks. Why not have Santa bring it? Put a Star Wars themed thermos under the tree. Wrap those funky sheets you needed to get the kids anyway. Get a fun animal-shaped pillow. They’ll have fun unwrapping it, and your gifts will have purpose.

2: Toiletries in the Stocking
Instead of chocolate in the stocking, put a light-up toothbrush with their favorite toothpaste in there. Wrap some funky colored bubble bath in a bow. Throw in a fun washcloth, great-smelling chapsticks or lip balms — and a new rubber ducky.

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3: Crazy in the Kitchen
Have your children expressed interest in cooking? Don’t buy the EZ Bake Oven — get them tools to use your actual kitchen, things like kid-sized wooden spoons; a bowl in their favorite color; their very own whisk; a kid’s cookbook; or an apron. Even better than the gifts are the memories you’ll make using their tools and helping them learn to cook.

4: Craft Supplies
When you think of gifts ideas, think of items you run out of anyway. You can never have too much play-doh, markers, paint, paper, sidewalk chalk, colored pencils, or bubbles. Look for fun little projects you can do in the winter together when it’s too cold to go outside.

5: Gardening Gadgets
Buy your babies a flower or a miniature herb garden they can watch grow. Look for plants they can start in the house and then plant outside in the spring. A tiny indoor pine tree for their room can be decorated all year for different holidays and events.

6: Pet Smarts
Giving a pet as a gift is a very bad idea unless your family is truly ready for it. But there are alternatives for a child who is itching for a dog or cat. If goldfish won’t do, look into fostering an animal so your child can understand how much work caring for another living creature can be. You can also investigate volunteering at an animal shelter or just visit animals that are waiting for a forever home.

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7: Getaway Gear
If you’re planning a vacation in the next few months, wrap up something that has to do with that trip, like a pair of hiking boots or ski pants — then break the news on Christmas morning. Even a day trip somewhere is exciting for kids. Wrap a stuffed monkey with a note telling them you’re spending tomorrow at the zoo.

8: Nights Out
The best gift is creating memories. Tap into your child’s interests. Enroll him or her in a gymnastics class. Sign up your culinary whiz for a kids’ cooking class. Wrap tickets to the ballet in a huge box for your tiny dancer to open. Think beyond “things” and find ways to spend time with your kids outside of your home. You could also give coupons to the kids for “A Movie Date with Daddy” or “Ice Cream with Mom.”

9: Picture Perfect
You can find a suitable camera for children of any age. Show them how to use it and set them free. Looking at those pictures will give you a glimpse of your child’s perspective of the world and give your little one a creative outlet. Older kids might get a kick out of a Polaroid or using film. Imagine what it would be like for the younger generations to wait a week or two to see the fruits of their labor! Taking pictures is also a great way for them to document all of the memories they’re making with their family.

10: For the Future
Sure, the 529 isn’t anything your child can “open.” But let’s face it – up until a certain age, kids are more excited about boxes and bubble wrap than actual toys. Why not wrap a box of bubble wrap and put the money you would have spent into a 529? It’s the gift that just keeps giving. It takes all of 30 minutes to set up. You can do a one-time donation or set up for a monthly withdrawal from your bank account. The best part: It’s a gift for Mom and Dad, too. It helps at tax time. And you can feel better knowing you’re contributing to your child’s future. Maybe you can convince the grandparents to give to it instead of buying yet another cheesy sweater or more plastic.