15 Non-Toy Gift Ideas To Give Kids At Christmas


Ready or not Christmas is around the corner. For many, this brings excitement. For others, it brings stress.

I’m speaking to several groups this holiday season on moving from stress to simplicity to splendor during the Christmas season. I thought it would be fun to take a little poll to see what stresses everyone out and solutions they have discovered. I will be sharing tips to simplifying the season over the coming weeks.


Today, I share a common stressor. Too many presents! One of the most common complaints I hear is this, “We have to clean out and purge toys before Christmas because the grandparents buy so much stuff.” 


“We have asked relatives to simplify gift giving, but it is X’s love language, and she just can’t help herself. She brings bags and bags of toys each Christmas.”


“We can never think of anything to get our kids because they have so much stuff.”

This may seem like something silly to be stressed about, but it’s actually not so silly.

When you are trying to model the true spirit of Christmas being about Christ and not material gifts, it’s really hard when kids are bombarded with the gifts. And what kid doesn’t like loads and loads of presents?

A closely related stressor for many people is the materialism and consumerism of Christmas. The pressure of gift buying, the draining bank account, and the ungrateful attitudes that begin to develop.


If you have been a reader here for awhile, you know I love to talk about creating memories and traditions. When our kids were little, we asked the grandparents to try to limit the amount of toys they gave our kids. Toys were bursting through every crevice of our home, and the more our kids had, the less they actually played. At the same time, we wanted them to have something that went beyond Christmas morning- something of value, something that could create a memory.

We began incorporating more experience types of gifts.

About 2 weeks after Christmas, our kids were unable to list the toys they received. And they certainly couldn’t identify who gave them what because there was so much stuff, nothing had much value. However, the gifts they clearly remember and still talk about are the ones that created memories.

I love memory-creating, experience-happening gifts. One year our kids received a day of snow-skiing lessons from the grandparents as a Christmas gift. One year Andrew received 8 weeks of swimming lessons. One year our kids received season passes to the local amusement park. They enjoyed that gift for months and even created sweet memories with the grandparents.

Not only do we as parents love these gifts more, our kids do as well. Even if they don’t realize it now, they will later in life.

When they outgrow the latest video game, the newest all-the-rage toy people wake at 3:00am to fight for, they will not outgrow the memories they created with a gift that is a moment with you or an experience they can hold onto.

Here’s a list of alternative types of Christmas gifts:

  • Lessons– sports, music, art, etc. Do you have a child who wants to play the guitar? Do you have a baseball player who wants a few batting lessons? Do you have a budding artist? Giving a gift such as lessons also begins to instill gratitude and appreciation in a child. They begin to see the gift and sacrifice in something such as piano lessons rather than simply expecting they are entitled to it.
  • Sports registration– season of team soccer and a pair of new cleats, session of swim lessons and a swim bag. Sports registrations are expensive, again this is another way to teach children to appreciate the gift of playing team sports rather than simply believing they are entitled to play.
  • Movie passes with a box of candy and a popcorn bucket. We love taking our kids to the movie theater, but it’s a rare treat for our family of 5. Giving the gift of movie passes allows us to enjoy movie trips through the year we wouldn’t normally be able to enjoy.
  • Hotel night away– use points earned from travel or credit cards to save more money. This is meant to be very inexpensive and not extravagant at all. Really focusing on the simplicity of time together. Grab pizza, play games in the room, swim in the pool, just being together away from home.
  • Tickets to favorite sporting event -MLB, NHL, NFL.
  • Gift cards to favorite restaurants
  • A favorite camp. Camps are expensive, and many kids love summer camps. This is a great way to give a gift they will get to enjoy months after Christmas has passed.
  • Books, books, more books. Now, I don’t feel about books the way I do about toys. I think one can’t possibly have too many books. And books are a wonderful way for children to spend time together with their parents as well.
  • A special date night. This takes a little creativity but would be so special to a child and something they would always remember. If you are a grandpa who likes to fish and one of your grandkids likes to fish, plan a special fishing date for the just the 2 of you. Wrap up a little tackle box of a few fishing supplies with a note inside for a private fishing date.
  • Future project together. Are you a grandma who loves to sew? Plan a day of sewing a special project piece with your granddaughter. Wrap up all the supplies and a picture of what you will create together along with a little note about the date you will do this. Are you a dad who loves woodworking? Gift a project date for you and your son to build a project together. Just the 2 of you.
  • Coupon book of 12 one-on-one dates for the year. One coupon a month. The activities should not be expensive or extravagant but should focus on doing something in particular with that child. A trip to a favorite ice cream shop. An evening walk or bike ride. An early morning breakfast out when everyone else sleeps.
  • A collection– coins, baseball cards, stamps. Collections are fun for kids, but even more fun when someone they love gets excited with them and takes part.
  • Groupons for bowling or skating. Each year we purchase a groupon to the local bowling alley.
  • Family gifts– One year we received a popcorn machine from my dad, and one year he gave us a soda machine. These have been so much fun for our family to use on movie nights or when friends come over.
  • Trip supplies – Are you planning a trip next year? Find a way to include aspects of that trip into their Christmas gift. Are you planning a ski trip? Give ski lift tickets and new gloves as part of their gift.

Kids love time. Kids love moments. Kids love experiences. Kids also love stuff. But stuff doesn’t give much beyond the moment. Time, memories, and experiences go far beyond Christmas.

As a bonus, when you give gifts that you don’t necessarily buy at a store, you effectively combat the consumerism of Christmas. Spend less and give more.

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9 replies
  1. Kelley Krohnert
    Kelley Krohnert says:

    Along the same vein, something I like to ask grandparents for is memberships to the local zoo, aquarium, children’s museum, etc. It lasts a whole year and every time we go, we talk about how grandma and grandpa got us our passes.

  2. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    We give the grandchildren each a subscription to a magazine. There are so many wonderful and different children’s magazines to choose from! They love getting them in the mail and reading or sharing them with a parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend.

  3. tina lopez
    tina lopez says:

    It seems to me that people have forgotten the art of receiving gifts. If someone cares about you or your family enough to give a gift it is very inappropriate to dictate what that gift should be. Your job is to receive the gift graciously and thank the giver. the end. that is your only role in receiving a gift. If you already have one, dont like the style, color, etc., or your kids already have alot of toys, too bad. Smile nicely, say thank you graciously and sincerely, then later on do what you will with the gifts. the ideas you have given sound like you want the grandparents to be giving things and doing things that the parents should be giving and doing with their kids. It is not your place to say what someone should give your children or yourself as a gift. The giver gives what they think will make the person happy not what you want them to have. The art of receiving a gift appreciatively and graciously is a an art lost due to a generation of spoiled people who not only want to dictate what people should give to them but also to their family. So controlling and sad. I am sorry if this offends anyone but this is my opinion. People no longer have manners.

  4. Renee
    Renee says:

    Hi Tina, thank you for taking time to comment. I would disagree, however. This list isn’t dictating what we will receive. In our cases, the grandparents ask us what our kids would like and are more than happy to give something that would mean more to them than a toy that will sit in their closet unused. I also disagree with the generalization of a generation that is spoiled. The point of this list is to offer ideas that go beyond material things, the opposite of spoiling. It has nothing to do with manners. We’ve never declined a gift. The point is that kids typically receive many, many, many gifts. If you have people looking for alternatives, this gives them ideas. Blessings!

  5. Kayla
    Kayla says:

    I agree with Renee. I am looking for something “different” to get my nieces, something that won’t be busted up in 2 months, or clothes that they will grow out of in 6 months. I much rather give them memories as far as having a girls day or a day at the zoo then a doll they won’t remember I got them. And they get so many toys already, this list was very helpful! Definitely thinking about the Zoo pass!

  6. stacey
    stacey says:

    i am a grandparent and my grandkids like to look at pictures of stuff we did with them so i am making them photo albums of their own putting where we were and when and who is in the picture with them

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] read a blog a few weeks ago about non-toy gifts for kids like books, trips to the movies, museum or zoo memberships. Aside from the books, these […]

  2. […] If you have any influence over the people who buy gifts for your kids and don’t want an avalanche of stuff this Christmas, send them this: 15 non-toy gifts for children. […]

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