I was in the mall yesterday, November 1st, and I saw Santa. Yes, Santa. And I thought to myself, “not yet!” I love the thankfulness and family togetherness of Thanksgiving before all of the commercialism that invades December every year and I’m just not ready for mall Santa and holiday ads yet. Granted, the irony of me thinking this while in a mall does not escape me either.
Shopping and commercialism is kind of like overeating, it’s a bad habit I don’t want to pass on to my kids. In fact this year Steve and I have been talking a lot about giving the kids experiences instead of things for Christmas. My kids have tons of things. They have dinosaurs, and dolls, and I’m pretty sure Gracie has 5 pairs of sparkly shoes. They have a million Legos and books which I’m actually ok with until I step on a Lego, but I don’t want to have another crazy Christmas with tons of presents under the tree that get ripped open over an hour or two and then played with a couple of times and forgotten about until I clean the playroom six months later. No more useless stuff! A lot of parent friends tell me the same thing. They want to give their kids a love. A love of nature, a love of science, a love of art or sports or history but a love of something that will last a lot longer than a dinosaur with a motion sensor in it that roars when you walk by. So after a ton of parental brainstorming I’ve compiled a list of ten experiences that parents can give their children this holiday season.
- A Special Visit To A Show
There are a ton of shows that play during the holidays and you can often get a great deal if you keep an eye on Groupon or Living Social. Don’t feel like you have to go all big fancy theater either, we scooped up two tickets to The Light Princess this season for $15 each at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, MA.
What they unwrap: The tickets and a printout of the show poster wrapped in a clothing box. I love it when they think they’re getting a crazy –don’t-make-me-put-on-the-bunny-pajamas outfit and then they don’t.
- Cooking Utensils And A Cookbook
Gracie loves to cook and really enjoys the feeling of presenting a meal that she has made to the family to eat. I think she also likes being in charge of me –the sous chef. This year she’s getting cooking utensils and a coupon saying “I would like to learn how to cook _________ with you this weekend.”
What they unwrap: Some brightly colored cooking utensils (you can get rainbow hued whisks, spatulas and more at places like TX Max and Kohls), a cookbook (with stuff I know I can make), and 6 coupons.
- School Vacation Package
My husband and I are both full time professionals so I know I’m going to be looking for fun school vacation options this February and April. I can kill two birds with one stone by registering early for Winter Camp and STEM Camp at Sayre and get $75 off on the combo registration (after all, it’s money I’m going to spend anyway). Camps in your area will also be opening registrations for school vacation options right around now and it feels really good to get that squared away before December.
What they unwrap: Tuck the registration into something small that represents the camp they’re going to. A sketch pad and colored pencils work for an art themed camp or a new bathing suit or towel for a camp that has swimming. Mine are getting the camp registration tucked in mittens for Winter Camp and I have to admit I’m going to splurge on the all female Lego Research Institute for Grace to unwrap for STEM Camp, but that’s because I want it as much as she does. The parental law of equal gifts dictates that if Gracie gets a Lego set Walt is getting a r/c race car for STEM then because NASCAR car and driver Scotty Lagasse are coming to STEM camp.
- A Day With An Adult Relative Of Their Choice
Ok, you’re going to have to rope in geographically close relatives on this one but sometimes it’s as much about who your child gets to spend time with as what they do. Movies with Grandma? Build a birdhouse with Uncle Rick? Once Walt got to spend the afternoon with Grampy at work (a landscaper) and he got to press the button that tipped the back of Grampy’s dump truck. Made his summer!
What they unwrap: You can do this one a few different ways but I really like the idea of making a scratch off ticket for it. On the top is the person –Grammy, Aunt Sarah, Uncle Rick and underneath is the thing they said they would do with your child –Go to a movie, visit the dog park, build a birdhouse. The child scratches off the part underneath to discover what they will be doing together. You can get some pretty simple DIY scratch ticket instructions here.
- A Class In Something Cool
Everybody has things that they’d like to try, even kids. Horseback riding? Rock climbing? Ice skating? There are a ton of experiences you can book as one-time things without making a huge time and money commitment.
What they unwrap: All of these places have pretty brochures. Take a couple and wrap a small gift in the brochure paper. Hand warmers in the ice skating brochure, for example. A couple of carabiners in the rock climbing brochure (these are useful everywhere. Seriously, everywhere).
- A Camping Trip To Look Forward To
Some of the most popular camping sites book way in advance but if you snag one now for a weekend next summer your child will have something to look forward to for months!
What they unwrap: Here’s where you can go big! Wrap up a sleeping bag and a pillow (they’ll need them anyway) in tissue paper tied at the ends like a giant piece of candy. If your child is a little older -and ready- you can make it even more special by giving her a first time responsibility. For example, wrap up a flint and steel and write a note with it that says, “This year YOU get to build the campfire!”
- A Museum Membership
It can be a little expensive but you’ll use it all year and there are a ton of cool options to choose from. A really reasonable one is the Peabody Essex Museum. It has a lot of family friendly exhibits including a house from southeast China that you can walk through. They also offer (insert shameless scouting plug here) half day merit badge and belt loop programs for scouts in a bunch of cool areas like sculpture and Indian Lore.
What they unwrap: I say on this one, go for it! Museum of Science? Microscope. Peabody Essex Museum? Kids paint by numbers set or a mini pottery wheel. Have fun with it!
- Something They Can’t Get Anywhere Else
All areas have this thing. Here in Massachusetts we have a place called Battleship Cove. It’s an experience museum on a big WWII battleship and destroyer. They have a helicopter collection. You can eat in the mess hall and sleep overnight on the battleship in a hammock. They have Veterans come to talk to visitors during special weekends. Crazy history coming alive type stuff! Your town is going to have the same thing and chances are that if you don’t know right off the top of your head what it is your other parent friends will.
What they unwrap: This is going to be a kind of specialized thing. If I were doing the Battleship Cove experience as a gift I’d wrap up a Battleship board game that we could play together as a family. You should be able to find something similar that will represent the experience and be more to unwrap than a ticket printout.
- A Trip
This could really be any family day or weekend together but I like a ski trip because I can get them a lesson, which gives my husband and I a chance to do a little more than the bunny slopes, and I can drink cocoa in front of a fire back at the lodge. Wachusett Mountain is a good family ski area and Attitash is really nice too and in a very family friendly area. If you just want to do an it’s-my-first-time-be-gentle thing, try something small like the Blue Hills Ski Area in Milton, MA.
What They Unwrap: Hats, Mittens, boots, you can outfit their whole winter here and they’ll be wicked excited about it! Put a copy of one lift ticket in each boot, the reservation for the lesson in the hat, and the brochure in the mittens and they’ll be unwrapping the whole outfit to figure out their itinerary!
I know it sounds like a cop-out but it’s totally true. I work a lot of hours and sometimes when I get home all my kids want is time with me. This year I’m giving each of them a day when I’ll take off of work, keep just that child out of school, and have a special day together. They can each pick the day’s plan, we’ll eat at a restaurant of their choice, and I’ll make their favorite dinner. No work allowed. Only special family time. I know I might catch some flak for this and if they weren’t keeping up in school we’d do a weekend day, but it feels off to get them all excited about this (because they will get all excited about this) and then say, “Not till summer.”
What they unwrap: I’m making a Mad Lib where they fill in the story of our day (see below) and getting a frame from the dollar store to keep it in their room until the day, when we’ll take a photo together and put that in the frame instead.
Gracie and Mommy and the Story of January 15
On January 15 Gracie and Mommy are spending the day together! We will have lots of ________________(thing). In the morning we will have ____________________(food) for breakfast. Then we will not do the dishes! Instead we will go to ______________________________(a place) and do ______________________________________________________________(an activity). Then we will have lunch at _____________________________________________________(Gracie’s favorite restaurant). Dessert will be served! After lunch we will _____________________________________________(an activity) and if we have time we might even ______________________________________________ (another activity). Then we will go home and we will make _________________________________________________________(favorite food to make) together for dinner. After dinner we will all ________________________________________________________ as a family before bed.
Now we won’t be doing all of these this year and I’m pretty sure that there will be some useless stuff under the tree but it’s a start. If one of the kids develops her love of cooking or discovers that he loves to ski it will be worth so much more than any toy or sparkly thing. It will be priceless.