Fewer Toys: Give a Different Gift This Season

Let’s talk toys. How many children do you know that have a room full of toys? How many do they play with on a weekly basis? If they are anything like the children I have known they have between 10-20 toys that they use on a regular basis. I will admit, I do not have kids (yet) and do not have tons of experience with a wide range of ages. However, I want to offer some alternative ideas to save you space and give your kids something different: skills and experience, instead of toys.


This group includes anything, even if picked up at the toy store, which helps children to develop adult skills. Some things that I think are particularly important for today’s youth include: cooking, gardening, and building. If some of these things seem too difficult for the child you have in mind, then check out this list from the New York Times of age appropriate chores. Kids can often do a lot more than we think they can.

If the child you are buying a present for loves helping in the kitchen, buy them a whisk or their own set of cookie cutters (These dinosaur cookie cutters are awesome!). Most parents I know actively look for ways to teach their kids to cook, but many of my friends from college were at a loss when they began cooking for themselves (there really is a reason Easy Mac was invented). Why not give a child something grown up of their own to spark a greater interest in cooking?

Gardening is something I wish my own parents had spent a little more time teaching me. I suspect

Terrarium on my desk.


that we never did because my mom was somewhat infamous for having a black thumb. Perhaps because of my lack of experience I was fascinated by the families I met, after moving to Virginia, who grew their own vegetables. There is even a trend now called agriscaping which encourages combining agriculture and landscaping, so no need to worry that adding edible food will make your yard look bad. For kids you can purchase seed packs and trowels, even families without land can have successful container gardens. You can even give them the items necessary to make a terrarium (I made the one pictured).

Building is a little trickier, because adult supervision and experience is needed. However, you can give a child the tools and experiences that will DEFINITELY come in handy. This was easy for me since my dad has a shockingly vast amount of knowledge about building things. I have helped my Dad build an observatory, wire electrical sockets, varnish boats, paint walls and finish a basement. One idea for those of you without my Dad’s skills would be to volunteer with a group that does construction for the needy, like habitat for humanity. Also, see if your local home depot is hosting any DIY classes that kids can attend, then everyone can learn together. That being said, basic tools like screwdrivers and wrenches are always needed and even come in fun colors now.


My co-worker just told me she got her two daughters (who are college aged) a dog sledding trip. They will get to spend two days out in the woods dog sledding. What a great experience. Some of my best childhood memories are the experiences my parents gave us, singing lessons for my sister, ballet for me and (because we’re from Southern California) sailing camp in the summer. One great place to look for affordable things to do is on Groupon. A brief search of our local “Things to Do” section yielded dance classes, laser tag, kids’ art parties, and martial arts lessons.

These are just a few ideas. Here is a list of 60 alternative toy ideas for more inspiration. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.


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