Thinking Outside the (Toy) Box - 11 Creative, Non-Toy Gift Ideas for Your Kids

Are you tired of spending your hard-earned money on presents that get played with briefly and then tossed aside? Keep in mind that toys are not the only type of gift that your kids love to receive. The next time you are shopping for a birthday, holiday or other special occasion, try thinking outside the proverbial toy box. You will discover many creative, non-toy gift ideas sure to surprise and delight children of all ages!

1. An annual membership. When you invest in season passes or annual memberships, your kids get to visit the places they love all year long. Choose from favorite local destinations like the zoo, wildlife centres, amusement parks, family entertainment centres, recreational facilities and children’s museums - just to name a few.

2. An experience. Instead of buying a gift card, why not give a gift certificate or voucher for an experience or activity your birthday child will enjoy? Consider options like bowling, ice skating, horseback riding or indoor rock climbing.

3. A subscription. Popular children’s magazines like Highlights, Cricket and Chickadee help build literacy skills - and they also encourage kids to read for fun. Give the child one copy as a gift, and then parents can watch their child’s eyes light up each time a new issue arrives in the mail or becomes available for download.

4. Tickets. Tickets to a sporting event, like a hockey or a football game, make a great gift for a tiny sports fan, especially when accompanied by a team jersey. Not into sports? If your child is more into the Arts, gift tickets to a play, symphony or ballet. Many troupes offer short, interactive performances specifically for younger audiences.

5. Lessons. From weekly dance or karate lessons to a special, parent-child cooking class, kids love the opportunity to learn new things. Wrap up an item they can use for their lessons - perhaps a new leotard for dance or a personalized apron for cooking - so they will have a gift to open the day of their birthday party.

6. A Coupon Book. Turn the tables on those handmade coupon books kids love to give as gifts. Design a book of your own featuring coupons your children will be excited to redeem.

Ideas include:

  • A ‘Get Out of Chores Free’ pass
  • An ice cream date with mom and/or dad
  • A ‘Technology Ticket’ for extra time using an electronic device
  • A chance to stay up 30 minutes past bedtime

7. A homemade gift basket. Instead of buying one large gift, make a themed gift basket comprised of smaller gifts related to something your birthday child enjoys. For an avid reader, build a Book Basket filled with books, bookmarks, a book light and a gift certificate to a local bookstore. For a movie buff, create a Family Movie Night Basket filled with DVDs, boxes of movie theatre candy and popcorn.

8. A shopping spree. For the tween or teen who wants a new wardrobe, a special shopping spree can be a much-appreciated gift. Plan to spend an entire day together trying on outfits, go out for lunch and enjoy quality, one-on-one time.

9. A bedroom makeover. Your son or daughter may have loved their bedroom a few years ago, but does it reflect their interests now? If they are ready for a change, surprise them with a new set of bedding. Include accessories like curtains and pillows, and include paint swatches so they can choose a new color for their bedroom walls.

10. A pet. Give your children the gift of responsibility by surprising them with a pet of their very own. Start small with a low-maintenance pet like a fish or a hamster, or go all out and get a puppy or a kitten. Keep costs down by asking relatives to buy the necessary accessories, such as food, cage and pet toys as gifts.

11. A gift that gives back. Not ready to bring an animal into your home? Make a donation to a local animal shelter. Or buy a new pair of TOMS shoes and a second pair will be donated to a child in need. Because when you give a gift that gives back, you give your children one of the best gifts of all: a reminder that birthdays and special occasions are about more than just the presents you receive.

Alyssa is a mother of two who writes about parenting and family life. Every year, she buys her children fewer and fewer toys as gifts.

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