Raise your hand if you’re looking forward to crowded stores, long lines, and the endless hunt for the season’s “hot” toy! Keep it up if you love the idea of spending a small fortune on things your kids will forget about by New Year. I’m betting very few of you have your hand in the air, right? Okay, now, raise your hand if you prefer gifts that teach values that last a lifetime, like kindness, empathy, and generosity. If your hand shot way up into the air, you’re in the right place! Keep reading for tons of meaningful gifts for kids of all ages (and adults, too).
Beautifully Meaningful Gifts for Kids of All Ages
Did you know that, according to the Toy Association, holiday toy sales average in the $26.5 billion range each year? While it’s hard to find out how many toys the average child has, if you ask most parents you’ll get a response somewhere between “too many to count” and “it looks like Toys R Us exploded in our living room.”
While toys definitely have value and I’m not saying children shouldn’t have any, studies show that having too many toys is actually bad for your child’s development. An overflowing playroom is distracting, overwhelming, and counterproductive to encouraging imaginations. Handing your kids yet another shiny toy doesn’t really do much to teach them about compassion, empathy, and helping other people. It also doesn’t really help them understand that there are people all over the world who can’t even get what they need, let alone want.
So, this holiday season, consider giving your children meaningful gifts that remind them money isn’t everything. Below, you’ll find 30 fantastic ideas and that help them learn to care about other things, like experiences, feelings, family togetherness, and helping other people. I’ll even break it down into easy categories for you!
Meaningful “experience gifts” that build memories
Have you heard the saying, “give memories, not things”? It’s a fairly popular saying in the Hygge philosophy but you don’t have to be a minimalist to appreciate it. Experience-centric gifts allow your children to make memories that last throughout their entire lives. Most of us can’t remember what we got for Christmas when we were, say, 10 years old, but we do fondly remember the family vacation we took that year! If you need some inspiration, check out some great experience gift ideas below.
1. A family vacation
Take all the money that you would have spent on random toys & other gifts and spend it on a family vacation instead! The great thing about this idea is you can spend as little or as much as you want. For example, if your typical holiday budget is in the thousands, go ahead and book a week-long trip to Europe or a cruise vacation. On the other hand, if you only have a few hundred dollars for your holiday budget, use it for a weekend getaway to a town nearby.
2. A fun class
Whether you take a fun painting class together as a family or let your child take those tennis lessons he’s been begging for, this experience-based gift not only helps create memories but gives them life skills they can use later in life. If you’re not sure where to look for classes, check your local community college or technical school. Many offer workshops and non-credit classes for all ages, including kids as young as five.
If you’re not really feeling the whole “let’s all go to school together” vibe, you can also try virtual classes. Again, it’s not hard to find free or very cheap options. Here are a few that sound promising:
- Dozens of cooking classes from the Institute of Culinary Education
- 10 different art classes from MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)
- Hundreds of free classes on Udemy
- Free coding lessons from Google
3. A family membership
Buy season passes to your local theater, conservation zoo, aquarium, museum, or other fun places that you can all enjoy. Then, make sure you use them regularly! Not only will you make great memories, but you’ll also learn new things every time you visit. A meaningful experience the family will definitely enjoy.
4. Take a helicopter tour of your town
Have you ever seen your city from the sky? It’s definitely an experience, even if you live in the smallest town. Of course, this one is only appropriate for kids that aren’t afraid of heights. We want them to have happy memories, not traumatic ones! Other alternatives include a boat tour (if you live on the water), a bus tour, or even a walking tour. The point is to see your own home in a whole new way and gain a new appreciation for what you have.
5. Volunteer as a family
One of the most meaningful gifts you can give is the gift of your time. Choose a cause that’s dear to your family’s heart and volunteer to help out together. You could help out at an animal shelter, serve food at a soup kitchen, or even combine #1 with this one and take a volunteer vacation (where you go help out somewhere instead of just heading to a theme park).
6. Family Date Night Coupons
If you’re having a hard time finding experiences in your town that are age-appropriate, here’s one you can use for any age and pretty much anywhere: family date night coupons. Print up colorful coupons that allow your kids to choose your family night activity. You can also find tons of cute coupon books for kids on Amazon. I like the ones below.
Geocaching is a great way to spend time outdoors as a family! Plus, it’s even easier and cheaper now than when it first became popular, thanks to smartphones with built-in GPS. If you want to make it a screen-free activity (and maybe even teach your kids some basic survival skills at the same time), you could buy a geocaching kit like this one.
Remember when rollerskating was THE thing to do on a Friday night? Why not introduce your kids to the joys of gliding around under a disco ball to top 40 hits? Most rinks sell season passes, so you can skate as much as you want for a fairly low price.
10. Take a family trip down memory lane
If you still live in (or close to) your hometown, spend a weekend literally taking your kids on a trip down memory lane. Show them your first house (or where it used to be if it’s no longer there), take them to all of the places you used to hang out when you were their age, and basically just recreate a fun weekend from your childhood.
Handmade gifts to make for each other
A wonderful way to teach kids (and adults) about enjoying the simpler things in life is to start a handmade gift tradition. Put all of your names into a hat, then have each family member draw from it (think Secret Santa style). Then, each person makes a gift for their recipient rather than buying it. See below for some great ideas for all ages & family members.
1. Cute bath bombs for kids
Make these adorable bath bombs for your kids. You can hide a little surprise inside (like these cute squishies) or just leave them plain without. Either way, they make bath time fun and they cost very little to make. You can even make them for adults on your gift list.
2. Homemade chocolates
Forget the expensive store-bought stuff, make chocolates instead with this easy 3-ingredient tutorial. Older kids can easily help make them for a chocolate-loving adult on their list. And by the way, these DIY chocolates taste way better than any store-bought in my opinion.
3. Homemade potpourri or scent sachets
Potpourri from a store isn’t really a gift that’s on everyone’s wish list. However, the homemade stuff is divine and so easy to make! If your kids want to make it for an adult, let them choose the scents and the container (a decorated mason jar, pretty mesh bags, etc). Then, you can add the scents for them. Check out this tutorial for making scent sachets. You can easily adapt it for jars of potpourri.
4. Hand-painted mugs
This one is great for all ages. Even toddlers can get in on the fun with non-toxic fingerpaints. Once your kids have completed their creation, seal it with a food-safe glaze, like dishwasher-safe Mod-Podge.
5. Treats in a Jar
This classic handmade gift is popular for a reason: it’s such a versatile idea that entire books have been written about them. Basically, pick a favorite treat or recipe (cookies, cake, or healthier things like soup) and layer the ingredients in a jar. Add a tag with the recipe, wrap a ribbon around it, and voila, a meaningful handmade gift that’s ready to give!
6. Popsicle stick frames
With a handful of craft sticks, a little paint or markers, and a great imagination, even very young kids can make a beautiful popsicle stick frame. You’ll just have to print out the picture for them, they can do the rest. Check out the easy tutorial here.
7. Handmade jewelry
Handmade jewelry is easy for kids of all ages to make, and all you need is some pretty yarn! Check out the tutorial below for three easy ways to make friendship bracelets. Once your kids master that, they can use the same basic tutorial for making necklaces, adding beads and so on.
8. Drink coasters
There are a TON of different ways to make homemade drink coasters, but I really like the decoupage tutorial in the video below. It’s easy enough for all ages and doesn’t really require any special tools or sewing skills.
9. Fairy jars
These are so beautiful, and they’re super simple to make. You just need a jar with a lid, some glowsticks, and some glitter. Check out my DIY Magical Fairies In a Jar Lamps tutorial to learn how to make them.
Grab some heavy-duty paper (cardstock works well, or even cardboard boxes) and cut it up into bookmark-shaped strips. Give your kids some crayons, markers, paint, stickers, and other art supplies. Then, sit back and let them unleash their creativity! Laminate the finished product so that it lasts longer. Voila, you now have the perfect handmade gift for readers!
11. A recipe book with all your secret family recipes
A book filled with all of your family’s favorite recipes is a great gift to give a teenager or young adult getting ready to head out on their own soon. Even better, include a “certificate” good for cooking lessons with you so they can learn and master all of your secrets. You could just use a notebook or binder, but I really like the blank recipe book below from Amazon.
Educational subscription gifts that keep giving
While most toys lose their appeal after five minutes, educational subscription gifts keep giving all year long. The key is to choose a subscription that offers a totally new experience each month. A few great options include:
1. Little Passports
With options for kids of all ages, including toddlers, this one is great for teaching kids about the world. Each month they travel to a new country and do activities inspired by that culture. It helps them learn that the world is much bigger than what they see in their own backyard.
2. Green Kid Crafts
A STEAM-based box filled with fun science experiments and crafts, everything in their boxes is totally eco-friendly. Every box is designed by a team of scientists and parents, then tested by kids. It also comes with a monthly magazine filled with tips on how kids can help the planet.
3. Raddish Cooking Subscription for Kids
This new themed box is designed to help teach kids how to cook, and each one even included high-quality kitchen tools. It’s neat because the recipes are healthy and delicious, like Chicken Tikka Marsala, so kids get exposed to new foods. They’re more likely to taste them when they help make them.
4. Prime Book Box
Give kids a gift designed to foster a love of reading with Amazon’s Prime Book box. Each month, experts choose a selection of books just for your child’s age level. Then, you can either choose the ones you want from the curated list or be totally surprised. They offer boxes for ages 0-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.
5. Spangler Science Club Box
Budding scientists ages 5-12 will love getting fun new experiments each month, especially when they’re designed by award-winning scientist & TV personality, Steve Spangler. The STEM-based challenges are perfect for kids to work on with their parents, making this a gift for the whole family.
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6. Wonder Crate
Wonder Crate is a new box for kids ages 7-12 that focuses on a new inspirational person each month. It’s designed to teach kids about traits that change the world, like curiosity and persistence. Along with a “Who Is” book, kids also get fun activities that help drive the message home. For example, a box about a famous painter may have an art project to do.
7. Pickup Sports Kids Subscription Box
Encourage kids to spend more time outdoors being active with this unique subscription box. Each monthly box comes with all of the supplies you need to learn a new sport, including access to a virtual class.
8. Bitsbox Coding Subscription
If your kids want to learn how to code, Bitsbox is a great gift idea! It was voted the #1 STEM box, and it’s designed for kids ages 6-12 who have no coding experience at all. Kids will learn how to make their own video games, greeting cards, and more.
9. Little Dreamers Club
Encourage your kids to use their imaginations and dream big with this cute craft subscription. There are two options. One is for younger preschool kids age 3-5, and the other is designed for slightly older kids, ages 6-8. Each box comes with between 5-8 crafts and activities.
10. My First Reading Club Monthly Book Subscription Box
Another cute book box, this one is designed for the youngest readers of all (newborn through about age 2). Each box comes with 3-4 different age-appropriate books curated by experts. At under $20 per box, it’s a great way to build your infant’s library without spending a fortune.
Turn “regifts” into meaningful gifts
Regifting gets such a bad rap, and sure when you do it wrong (regifting your mother-in-law’s thoughtful vase back to her by accident, for example) it’s pretty crass. However, there’s a way to turn “regifts” into meaningful gifts. Start by discussing your intentions ahead of time with your family. Let them know that rather than buying new gifts, you want to start a regifting tradition in which everyone exchanges something that they already own and know someone else would love.
Like your handmade gift tradition, draw names from a hat until everyone has a recipient. Now, here’s the thing, you can’t use this as a “get rid of stuff I don’t like” event. You actually have to give up something that you know your recipient will truly love, something they’ve been eyeing for a long time, or an item that truly means something to both of you. This is no time to offload that “not your style” sweater your great aunt bought for you. Some ideas include:
1. Passing a family heirloom on to your sibling
If you have your grandmother’s silver serving platter from her wedding and you know your sister would cherish it, pass it on to her along with a handwritten note sharing your favorite memories of times with your grandmother.
2. Regifted toys from child to child
Ask each of your kids to go through their toys and find something they know their siblings really want. Again, it can’t be something broken or discarded. Instead, they should really dig deep and choose something they love but know their sibling will love even more. This teaches kids that giving up something we adore can bring someone else even more joy than it brings us, and that’s one of the most meaningful gifts we can give them as parents.
3. A book that you really loved and want to share
Books are perfect for regifting because they just become more beautiful with age. Don’t believe me? Go into a used bookstore and marvel at the wonderful scents wafting from those lovingly turned pages! Choose a book that you absolutely loved and pass it on to a family member that you want to share it with.
4. A filled journal
Did your mom give your daughter a beautiful journal last year? Ask her to fill it with her favorite memories of grandma, poems, and/or drawings, then let her regift it back this year. The best thing about this one is that kids of all ages can do it. Even a toddler can fill a gifted sketchbook with pictures for grandparents.
5. Something old made into something new
Still have all of the clothes your aunt gave your son when he was born? Regift them back to her as a beautiful quilt. Maybe you have a unicorn calendar that your daughter gave you last year (because she was 5 and hey, if she likes unicorns, you must, too!)? Regift it back to her as framed photos to decorate her room. Basically, take something that you loved but can no longer use and turn it into something that someone else will adore.
6. A “pass it along” gift
Even if you’re not a fan of the regifting tradition for all of your gifts, the “pass it along” gift is one tradition everyone will love. Here’s how it works: the first year, you choose a gift to be the “pass it along” present. Make it something small, especially if you have family scattered all over the place. Then, before the holidays, choose a name from a hat. That person gets the gift for the year. Then, the next year, they pass it on along to the next person, along with a photo of themselves with the gift.
Meaningful gifts that give to others instead
While all of the ideas so far are certainly more meaningful than another cardboard-encased toy, these next ideas are perhaps the most meaningful of all, as they’re 100% about helping others. There are countless charitable organizations out there that accept donations (both monetary and actual donations). Read on for some ideas as well as how to help your kids understand the impact of their gift. Plus, studies show that kindness has enormous health benefits for the giver as well, so by helping others, you’re also helping yourselves.
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1. Donations to children’s hospitals
Children’s hospitals are always looking for new stuffed animals, books, and other toys that help make their sick patients’ days a little brighter. Ask your kids what they think would make a sick child feel better. You don’t have to go into specifics with young children, just ask, “When your tummy hurts or your nose is stuffy, what is your favorite snuggle toy?” You can also donate toward researching or curing an illness that’s close to your heart. For example, my family donates to esophageal atresia since my son was born with the condition.
2. Help feed the hungry
Did you know that an estimated 815 million people worldwide don’t get enough to eat, according to WorldHunger.org? If you’re doing the math in your head right now, let me save you the trouble: it’s about 11.64% of the world’s population. In the United States alone, 42 million people go to bed hungry every night, many of them children. Give a monetary donation to an organization like World Hunger or Feeding America or make an impact locally by going shopping with your kids and filling up your car with groceries to take to a food pantry. Even better, volunteer as a family at a local food pantry or soup kitchen. Remember, your time is one of the most meaningful gifts you can give and it doesn’t cost a dime.
3. Ask your kids to donate a “wish list” gift to children who have no toys
Every year, I ask my kids to choose a toy from their wish list to donate to a charity or place where kids don’t have many (or any) toys of their own. I also like to help people in Ecuador, where my family lives now. This year, I want to do something special, like send a donation to a poor family there. It’s so sad to see less advantaged kids when I go to visit and to see families that don’t even have enough to eat, let alone a budget for toys.
4. Donate to an organization that helps save lives
Every year, millions of children die from completely preventable and treatable diseases. Tens of millions of people around the world have little to no access to medical care. It kind of makes you feel petty about complaining when your doctor is 20 minutes late, doesn’t it? Choose an organization as a family and literally give one of the most meaningful gifts ever- the gift of life. A few good organizations include Doctors Without Borders, Against Malaria Foundation, and DirectRelief. That last one is currently raising funds to help those affected by Dorian in the Bahamas.
5. Give the gift of literacy
Reading isn’t just an important part of basic education; it opens up whole new worlds for children to explore. For kids living in war-torn countries, in poverty, or even just in an unhappy home right here in the US, books offer an escape from everyday problems. So many kids around the world have zero access to books. Why not sit down with your child and ask them to choose their favorite books, then go online and buy new copies to donate to a literacy foundation? The American Library Association has a list of organizations that accept both new and used book donations.
6. “Adopt a…” gifts
If your family is passionate about preserving endangered species (or your kids just really love a particular animal), consider an “adopt a…” gift. Organizations like World Wildlife Fund and The Aspinall Foundation let you “adopt” an endangered species. Your donation goes towards the cost involved in protecting them, and your kids can even get updates about their animals.
Choose the ideas that match your values and those you want to teach your children. Do one, do them all. It’s up to you! All of these meaningful gifts teach kids to focus on others- from families around the world to the people in their own families rather than just themselves. That’s a value that lasts throughout their entire lives.
Last update on 2022-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API