I was that parent who insisted that my boys were going to have all wooden, all natural, and “real life” toys. I stuck to that rule for quite some time and, I’m not going to lie, I’m still happy that my boys have, on their own, become interested in things like animals, boats, police/fire/coastguard/etc., vehicles, fishing tackle, and sports cards…rather than Power Rangers, Pokemon, and whatnot. I guess what I love the most about their interests is that they are “real” and they’re not going anywhere. You can never learn too much about wild animals, real life heros, sports, science, and such. But, it isn’t just that, I’m also cheap and I’m happy that they haven’t gotten into the it items that are going to be replaced by new it items in 6 months.
So, they’ve been playing with many of the exact same toys for probably YEARS. They, at 5.5 and 7.5, still can not get enough of their collection of Hess trucks, fishing boats, rescue vehicles, match box cars, and Schleich animals. They also have 100s of small whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, etc that they spread out and play with for hours. On the other hand, they also have iPod minis, for when they need some down time…or I need a break!
I say all of this (in my incredibly long-winded own way) because all of that means that I had NO idea what to get them for Christmas this year. They truly don’t need a thing. They still use and love so many of their toys…why replace them with stuff just for the sake of having more stuff? Likewise, we have a tiny little home. I truly can’t bear the thought of buying crap that they are not going to use. That having been said, clearly we want to get them things…and not super lame things….for Christmas.
They did ask for a few things…so that helped. They both wanted a couple of pairs of new sneakers. Shot, score! Cause, you know, I was going to have to buy those soon anyway. They wanted “rollie” hockey bags. Ummm….ok…awesome! The less I need to lug their gear around the better. It totally rocks that I was also able to get the Grit Pod hockey bags that actually have a compartment for each item of their gear! TOTALLY addresses my OCD issues. I couldn’t be happier. They wanted new backpacks. That one kind of hurt, because they both have ones that I love…and that don’t really need to be replaced….but, since they were cheap and easy…I got them. And, they always get the new Hess truck. So, not bad. We were making progress.
They’ve been dying to take guitar lessons, but with hockey, school, etc. that hasn’t really been in the budget. Thank goodness for grandparents, because thanks to Nammy they will have guitars and an amp and thanks to Grampy they’ll have their first three months of lessons. Tremendous.
So, now what?
From here it is all about the Experience Gifts! Here’s a little secret. Shhhh. If, like us, you find yourself to be on a budget, Experience Gifts can be great because you don’t really have to pay for them before Christmas. For example, last year I put together a little gift basket with some Providence Bruins stuff, a photo of a hotel in Providence, a brochure for the Providence Dave and Busters, and a brochure for the Roger Williams Zoo. A quick little one night getaway stuffed to the gills with activities that they were going to love to help kill the post holiday/winter doldrums….that didn’t have to be actually paid for until a few weeks after the holidays when we actually booked the hotel and got “baby Bruins” tix online…for super, super cheap I might add.
Another great quick getaway that is on my favorite list is The Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg…again, give them a getaway for Christmas by putting together a cute basket (think Wolf ears or nose from a party shop, swim goggles, one of their own bathing suits and/or flip flops, maybe a cheap new towel, a brochure) and then book it in January or February for a mid winter retreat. Does that sound cheap? What evs….it works.
Experience Gifts don’t have to be in the form of overnight trips though!!
Here are some other ideas:
A membership to Maritime Gloucester. Get a cheap sand pail (or find one of the 1,000 you already own), throw in a ocean dwelling stuffed animal (or go buy one from their awesome gift shop), maybe a small fishing net, grab a brochure, and you’re good to go.
A season pass for the Water Taxi. Buy a little toy boat (can you say Toodeloos) and tie on the pass with a cute little bow. Maybe even find a sailor or captains hat to go with it!
Gift cards to Friendly’s, Orange Leaf, Cape Ann Lanes, Island Art and Hobby, Gloucester Cinema, the Rainforest Cafe, or Art Haven (which also means GLAZED!). Of course, there’s also things like the Museum of Science, the Boston Children’s Museum, the PEM, the Elizabeth Stewart Gardner Museum, the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Sky Zone, The Legoland Discovery Center. You name it!! Don’t forget their favorite store. Seems like a no brainer, but my boys love nothing more than a gift card to Fisherman’s Outfitters or Fin and Feather in Essex! I buy them a couple of new fishing lures and tie them onto the envelope from one of those stores and they’re the happiest of campers.
Two things: First of all, ALL of these kind-of-lame-to-open gift cards can be made super fun with simple extras. A little bowling pin (I’ve seen them but probably couldn’t find one when I actually need one so you’re on your own there) or a roll of quarters for the video games to go with the bowling gift card. Some microwave popcorn and some candy put into a cute box (Michael’s Crafts in Danvers sells really cute boxes…sometimes even ones that look like popcorn boxes…see below) to go along with the movie gift card. An actual container from Orange Leaf (which they give out with their gift cards) filled with some gummy bears, cookies, or other toppings. A paint brush, crayons, cheap set of markers to go along with the Art Haven gift card. A magnifying glass for the MOS, some small plastic animals/insects to go with the Museum of Natural History. An art book to accompany the art museum visit. A pair of gym shorts or a new water bottle for the trip to Sky Zone. A small Lego kit to go with the trip to Legoland in Somerville. Whale Watch tickets work well with a brochure or post card of a whale, a stuffed animal, or maybe even a t-shirt from one of the local whale watching companies. You get the point! Secondly, if a place doesn’t necessarily make/give real gift cards….just make your own and then pay cash when you go for real. I’ve done that plenty of times.
One of my favorite gifts is a “A Day Your Way” ticket. Each of my boys get one and then they get to redeem it for a day that is planned totally by them (with in reason and budget!). They only get one or two a year so if they choose candy for breakfast and breakfast for dinner I don’t really care! They also get to choose one activity: movie, mini golf, museum, hike, etc. and we follow their lead all day long.
Aside from day trips, are also simple staycation ideas. Super easy, no brainers. Hot cocoa, ice cream sundae toppings, popcorn, and a movie in a fun basket for a family movie night! Some snacks, a pizza coupon, and a new board game for family game night! A new book and some snacks for a guaranteed long session of read aloud time together. A basket of crafting supplies for a day or arts and crafts. Some binoculars, a compass, a map, a nature map or field guide, maybe a disposable camera…and you’re off for a fun hike together! You get the idea.
For those of you who are super eager beavers, plan a scavenger hunt! Some small gifts and clues that will lead your child all around town with some fun stops along the way! Again, my boys love to search for different boats, see which boats are in and which are out, hit a playground, go for a hike, grab a hot cocoa, search for more clues…. Super fun day!
And, finally…. here are some other Non Toy ideas that I love.
1. A magazine subscription. We love National Geographic Kids, National Geographic Little Kids, Boys’ Life, and Time for Kids. The novelty of getting their new magazine in the mail has never worn off and we make certain to make special time to read it together within 48 hours of its arrival.
2. To up the ante, a book club. I’ve used Gift Lit before. Think wine of the month club, but in a book form for young (or any aged) reader!
3. Equally, if not more, awesome is Kiwi Crate!! I really hope at least someone has hung on and read this far because this is one of my favorite ideas ever! Same idea as the monthly book club, but you sign up and then all that you need to complete a fun craft together is shipped right to your house! Total excitement the day it comes in the mail!