We've all heard the mantra: Give experiences, not more stuff at Christmas.
This is fine advice, except the people who generally dole out such sage wisdom are also those who can afford to give experiences like going to Disney World on Christmas Day or on a Caribbean cruise to ring in the New Year.
For most of us, lavish "experiences" like that are simply not in the budget, and so we turn to the much more affordable and practical option of toys.
But I've come to realize over the last few Christmases that experiences don't have to mean pricey excursions or mind-blowing vacations. Experiences can be as simple as thinking about gifts that allow your child to do, learn or be something instead of just another toy that will get used up, played out and forgotten.
In our house, Santa always brings just-for-fun toys like this. We can count on him to bring the big, wow-factor, totally impractical gifts and ridiculous stocking stuffers. But as parents, we work hard to limit ourselves to two gifts per child:
1. An experience
This is something our kids can do. Last year, this gift was an art set, complete with Dad's promise to teach the girls how to watercolor throughout the year. One year, it was a ski trip. This year, one of my kids who loves rocks and science will get a kit to crack open her own geodes. And all my kids will be getting a Tote-a-Fort, a new product that encourages kids to get creative in their fort building without using all my clean sheets and heavy books as anchors. Win-win!
2. An interest
This is something our kids have shown a skill or interest in this year. One daughter, for example, loves to solve brain teasers, so she'll be getting a few mind-bending puzzles.
No one in our house will be getting any expensive trips this year, but all the gifts we give tell our kids two important things: We notice you and your interests, and we want to spend time with you. The key to these "experience" gifts is you can't just chuck it at your kid on Christmas morning and then go drink your eggnog. The whole point is to use the gifts as a springboard to creating memories together. The real gift is the time spent bonding over a shared experience. You better believe I'm going to be out there busting open some of those geodes on Christmas Day, and I hate to brag, but my fort-building skills are somewhat legendary.
Thinking of these experience-focused gifts is definitely not as easy as buying the new hot toy at the store, but here are some ideas to get started if you're hoping for something a little deeper than stuff under the tree this year:
Give the gift of a year of dinosaurs, science, planetariums and children's museums. For adults, think about a membership to a grocery home delivery company, a spa or even a magazine.
2. Smaller experiences
Take the kids to the bowling alley, the skating rink or a make-your-own pottery class. You can even achieve that Christmas morning wow-factor by having a clue under the tree like a new tent for a camping trip, a new bat for the batting cage or a snowman stuffed animal for a sledding day.
Sign your child (or any loved one) up for art, ballet, music or horseback riding lessons.
What better experience to give a kid than the chance to read and fall in love with places and people in their imaginations.
5. Season tickets
Think orchestra, theater, sporting events.
6. Toys that encourage creativity
The fact is, kids want something wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning. But if you know where to look, you can find toys that are fun and foster creativity/experiences. These can be science kits, coding toys, art sets, craft kits or any other product that encourages your child to make, do, think, create and be engaged.